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Islam and Pluralism ( 19 Jun 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islamic Concept of Tolerance—an Essential Prerequisite for Peaceful Coexistence


 By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi, New Age Islam

19 June 2018

Tolerance in Islam, rightly understood, is patience toward a practice or opinion one disapproves of. This understanding may come as a surprise to many people who interpret tolerance simply as a synonym for the words ‘acceptance’ or ‘agreement’. Islamic tolerance entails disagreement yet a firm moral commitment to the decent treatment of the person with whom one disagrees. So tolerance in Islam can be understood as a patient forbearance against something which is disliked or disapproved of. 

Tolerance in Islam is viewed as a prerequisite essential to maintaining peaceful coexistence. Islamic concept of tolerance can be exercised against a broader spectrum of differences; social, cultural, racial, political, ethnic, religious, and domestic. Islam abhors intolerance causing murder, genocide, violence, religious persecution, injustice and creating disorder in any parts of the globe. 

Tolerance in Diversity

Islam recognizes diversity, enumerating it among the signs of Allah for the people of knowledge, as the Quran reads, “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the differences in your languages and colours; indeed in this are signs for people of knowledge” (30:22). This verse asserts that creation of the sky and earth as well as diversity in colours and languages is among the Divine signs. The human beings are divided into many races, having different physical forms and colours—white, black, yellow etc. and this can be easily understood by “the people of knowledge”.

Allah Almighty also says,

“O mankind! We have indeed created you from one man and one woman, and have made you into various nations and tribes so that you may know one another; indeed the more honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is one who is more pious among you; indeed Allah is All Knowing, All Aware. (Piety is the basis of honour in Allah’s sight.) (49:13)

“And had your Lord willed, He would have made mankind one nation – and they will always keep differing.” (11:118)

“And O dear Prophet (Mohammed – peace and blessings be upon him) We have sent down the true Book upon you, confirming the Books preceding it, and a protector and witness over them – therefore judge between them according to what is sent down by Allah, and O listener, do not follow their desires, abandoning the truth which has come to you; We have appointed for you all, a separate (religious) law and a way; and had Allah willed He could have made you one nation, but the purpose (His will) is to test you by what He has given you, therefore seek to surpass one another in good deeds; towards Allah only you will all return, so He will inform you concerning the matter in which you disputed.” (5:48)

The afore-mentioned verses recognize diversity and differences in gender; colour, skin, language and belief, implying that differences will always be there and hence these differences must not only be expected but be tolerated. So through the recognition of diversity in beliefs and cultures, Islam seeks to establish tolerance—tolerance that establishes peaceful coexistence with various religious communities. 

From acknowledging diversity to encouraging pluralism, Islam outlines a firm standard for Muslims to develop peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims. For Islam, establishing peace is the ultimate goal, and if there is to be peace, there must be tolerance and tolerance is seen only in terms of diversity and differences.

The following Quranic verses also recognizes diversity and thus lays a strong foundation for Islamic tolerance.

Allah Almighty says,

“Indeed We have honoured the Descendants of Adam and transported them over land and sea, and gave them good things as sustenance, and made them better than most of Our creation.” (17:70)

“For this reason; We decreed for the Descendants of Israel that whoever kills a human being except in lieu of killing or causing turmoil in the earth, so it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoever saves the life of one person, is as if he had saved the life of all mankind; and undoubtedly Our Noble Messengers came to them with clear proofs – then after this indeed many of them are oppressors in the earth.” (5:32)

“And it is He who produced you from one soul and [gave you] a place of dwelling and of storage. We have detailed the signs for a people who understand.” (6:98)

“Say, “We believe in Allah and what is sent down to us and what was sent down to Ibrahim, and Ismael, and Ishaq, and Yaqub, and to their offspring, and what was bestowed upon Moosa (Moses) and Eisa (Jesus), and what was bestowed upon other Prophets – from their Lord; we do not make any distinction, in belief, between any of them; and to Allah we have submitted ourselves.” (2:136)

“He has kept for you the same path of religion which He commanded Nooh, and what We divinely reveal to you (O dear Prophet Mohammed – peace and blessings be upon him), and what We had commanded to Ibrahim and Moosa (Moses) and Eisa (Jesus) that, “Keep the religion proper, and do not create divisions in it”; the polytheists find the matter what you call them to as intolerable; Allah chooses for His proximity whomever He wills, and guides towards Himself whoever inclines (towards Him).” (42:13)

Tolerance Linked with Religious Freedom

Tolerance is linked with freedom of religion. In this context the oft-quoted verse is of Surah Baqarah (2:256) in which Allah Almighty says, “There is no compulsion at all in Din (Religion). Surely, the guidance has become evidently distinguished from error. So he who rejects false gods and believes in Allah has grasped such a firm handhold that will never loosen. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing” (2:256). This verse establishes a basic Islamic principle upon which the idea of non-compulsion is built, guaranteeing religious freedom for all non-Muslims including Hindus, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Sikhs etc.

According to the overwhelming majority of classical Muslim scholars (Ulama-e-Jamhoor), this verse (2:256) is non-abrogated and was revealed in the Madani period, when the Muslims had attained political ascendance and were in a position of strength and not weakness. Sir Thomas Walker Arnold (1913) and many modern scholars including the orientalists also support the same view (See “Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, p. 6.). There is a divine message in this verse that Muslims cannot force another’s heart to believe. The famous theologians belonging to different schools of thought, who consider this verse (2:256) to be non-abrogated are Imam Jalaluddin Suyuti (Al-Itqan Fi Ulum al-Quran vol. 2), Al-Nahhas (al-Nasikh wal Mansukh fi al-Quran al-Karim), Al-Jassas (Ahkam al-Quran), Ibn Ashur (al-Tahrir wat Tanwir), Al-Tabari (Jamiul Bayan An Tawil Al-Quran), Abi Ubayd (Kitab Al-Nasikh Wal Mansukh), Makki bin Abi Talib (Al-Idah Li Nasikh Al-Quran Wa Mansukh), Ibn Taymiyya (Qaida Mukhtasarah Fi Qitalil Kuffar), Ibn Qayyim (Ahkam Al-Dhimma) and many others.  

Notably a famous classical jurist belonging to Hambali school of thought, Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi writes, (translation from Arabic) “It is not permitted to force any non-Muslim to accept Islam. Such a person would not even be considered a Muslim until it is confirmed that he accepted the Islamic faith by his own free choice.” He also says, “The reason for the prohibition of any compulsion or coercion is the Qur’anic verse, “There is no compulsion in Religion” (see al-Mughni).

It is reported that although the Ansar were the reason behind revealing this verse 2:256, the application of its message is general in meaning (Tafsir Ibn Kathir). Given the famous maxim "العبرة بعموم اللفظ لا بخصوص السبب", meaning, “Consideration is granted to the Generality of the Language, not to the Specificity of the Reason for Revelation”, it is proclaimed that this verse (2:256) is general in meaning and applies to all non-Muslims. Hence it means that none of the non-Muslims should be coerced to accept Islam. The rationale behind this generality is explained this way that since the revelation has distinguished the path of guidance from the path of misguidance, it is now up to the will of people to choose one or the other path and therefore accepting Islam because of compulsion would not benefit the convert in any way.

More significantly it is also reported that when Hadhrat Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) invited an old Christian woman to accept Islam, she said in reply: “I am an old woman nearing death.” Hearing this, Hadhrat Umar did not force her to come into the fold of Islam. In fact, he recited this very verse 2:256 “There is no compulsion in Din (Religion)” (Al-Nahhas “al-Nasikh wal Mansukh”)

Undoubtedly the idea of compulsion to make one accept Islam is not possible at all. This is because Islamic faith is not related to outward physical response, but rather it relates to the heart. (See also Tafsir al-Qurtubi)

Tolerance towards Non-Muslims in Islamic Governance

Islam command Muslims to protect the life ofpeaceful non-Muslims and has made it impermissible to kill any one of them unless he is sentenced for murder or a capital crime. This is mainly because Allah Almighty says:

“And do not kill the soul whose (killing) Allah has forbidden, except when it is rightfully due (according to law in self-defence against disruption and whilst combating terrorism). It is these (injunctions) He has enjoined upon you so that you may apply reason”. (6:151)

Allah Almighty also says,

“Whoever kills a human being except in lieu of killing or causing turmoil in the earth, so it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoever saves the life of one person, is as if he had saved the life of all mankind; and undoubtedly Our Noble Messengers came to them with clear proofs – then after this indeed many of them are oppressors in the earth”. (5:32)

This verse asserts that killing a person unjustly is tantamount to killing all mankind and saving a person is like saving all mankind. The message of this verse is applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said,

أَلاَ مَنْ ظَلَمَ مُعَاهِدًا أَوِ انْتَقَصَهُ أَوْ كَلَّفَهُ فَوْقَ طَاقَتِهِ أَوْ أَخَذَ مِنْهُ شَيْئًا بِغَيْرِ طِيبِ نَفْسٍ فَأَنَا حَجِيجُهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ‏"

Translation: “Beware, if anyone persecutes any peaceful non-Muslim citizen [Mu’ahid], or diminishes his right, or forces him to work beyond his capacity, or takes from him anything without his consent, I shall plead for him on the Day of Judgment.”

The beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) is also reported to have said,

“Whoever kills a peaceful non-Muslim living in minority [Mu'ahid] shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise, though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of travelling). (Sahih Bukhari, Book 87, Hadith 52)

Similar Hadith has been narrated by Nasa’i, (Sunan Nasai, Book 45, Chapter “Seriousness of killing the Mua’hid”, Hadith 42), Abu Dawud (Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 15, Hadith 284) Tirmidhi (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Book 16, Hadith 19),Ibn Majah (Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 21, Hadith 2789-Arabic reference).

Tolerance in Domestic Sphere

Islam also encourages tolerance among family members, intimate partners, relatives and neighbours. If tolerance is practiced, the routine acts of violence will not take place in our domestic settings.

The Quran asks the believer to “do good to parents” (4:36), “behave benevolently with his parents” (29:8) “be benevolent towards his parents” (46:15), and asks him not to “say even ‘Ugh’ to them”. The beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, “He is not from us who does not have mercy on our children and does not honour our old” (Tirmidhi and Al-Hakim) and “to be good and dutiful to one’s parents is one of the deeds loved most by Allah Almighty” (Bukhari). These Quranic verses and Ahadith imply that the act of kindness, goodness and benevolence should be performed even when there is difference between parents and children in thought and action.      

For promoting tolerance between husband and wife, the Quran asks the believers to “live with them in kindness; even if you dislike them” and says to them, “perhaps you dislike something in which Allah has placed much good” (4:19) According to a Hadith, those who behave well with their wife and daughters are the best (Al-Baihaqi). To be best for wife and daughter, it is binding upon a husband or father to keep away from intolerance.

Tolerance in Neighbourhood

Tolerance is necessary to maintain a good and strong relationship and neighbourhood. The beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "By God he is not a believer, he is not a believer, he is not a believer,” It was said, "Who is that, O Allah's Apostle?” the one who could not provide peace and security to his neighbours.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Number 45). These and the following Ahadith teach the believers to develop good relationship, as;

“Maintaining good ties with kinship, good manners, and being kind to neighbours brings blessings to the house hold and increases its life span” (Ibn Majah).

“Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind." (Bukhari & Muslim)

“Whoever is kind, Allah will be kind to him; therefore be kind to man on the earth and He Who is in heaven will show mercy on you."(Abu Dawud & Tirmidhi)

“He who desires that his life be prolonged and he be granted more provisions and to be protected from the evil end, then let him fear Allah and maintain good ties with kinship". (Al-Hakim)

Also that “Maintaining good ties with kinship brings love between relatives and increases wealth and prolongs life” (Al-Tirmidhi).

Another Hadith reads, “O people spread greetings, feed people, keep kinship ties and pray at night while people are sleeping and you will enter paradise safely” (al-Hakim)

The above mentioned Ahadith apply to all neighbours, Muslims and non-Muslims, and outline a firm foundation for tolerance.

Examples of Tolerance in the Life of the Prophet (peace be upon him)

Tolerance can be seen in the life of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who is referred to in the Quran as a model example for humanity. His many policies reflect the Quranic view of tolerance of others.

An example of this may be ‘Constitution of Madina’ (Mithaq-e-Madina), which described Muslim, Jewish and pagan groups as ‘one community’ sharing in the obligation of protecting one another from outside aggression, while each group enjoys their religious freedom.

Once, while the Prophet was on the way to Ta’if where the Hijaz aristocracy used to while away their summer days, he was so badly stoned by his enemies that the blood streamed from all over his body. When he attempted to call them to Islam, instead of listening to his words of wisdom, they set the street urchins upon him, who kept chasing him till nightfall. Even after all this, he did not curse them. When he was at all exhausted and bleeding from head to toe, all he said was, “O my Lord, guide my people along the true path, as they are ignorant of the truth”.

According to a Hadith, whenever any issue of legal retaliation was brought to the Prophet, he would always recommend his Ummah for being patient and pardoning the criminal.

Anas bin Malik reported:

 “I never saw a case involving legal retaliation being referred to the Messenger of God, (peace be upon him) except that he would command pardoning the criminal. (Sunan Abu Dawood 4497, Source: Sahih)

The Prophet is reported to have said, “Whoever suffers an injury done to him and forgives (the person responsible), Allah will raise his status to a higher degree and remove one of his sins.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhi)

The Prophet said,

 “Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong if they do evil.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhi)

Uqbahibn Amir reported: I met the Messenger of Allah and I started speaking, taking his hand and saying, “O Messenger of Allah, tell me about virtuous deeds.” The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “O Uqbah, reconcile whoever cuts you off, give to whoever deprives you, and turn away from whoever wrongs you.”

In another Hadith it is reported that the Prophet said, “You shall keep relationship with one who cut it off from you, you shall give one who disappointed you, and you shall pardon on who oppressed you, Whoever wants an increase in his sustenance, increase in life [and riddance from a horrible death], should fear Allah and be helpful and kind towards his relatives”.

Allah Almighty says:

“And We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds.” (Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:107).

This reflects that the Prophet’s distinctive quality was that he was the embodiment of a blessing in word and deed, not only for a particular Muslim community but for the entire world. His impassioned engagement and dedication was just with the distribution of love, peace and tranquillity among all mankind.

According to a tradition recorded in Sahih Muslim, when the Prophet’s opponents greatly increased their persecution, his Companions asked him to curse them. At this, the Prophet replied, “I have not been sent to lay a curse upon men but to be a blessing to them.” His opponents continued to treat him and his Companions unjustly and cruelly, but he always prayed for them.

In the discussion above we can see that Islamic concept of tolerance teaches us that even those with different religious beliefs, colours, languages, races, ethnics, nations deserve tolerance. Islam prevents its followers from adopting intolerance that leads to murder, genocide, violence, religious persecution, injustice and creating disorder in any parts of the globe.

Most of cases causing death, genocide, violence and terrorism are absolute results of intolerance. The flame of Intolerance has burnt a major part of humanity and whatever humanity is left is indebted to the people who, at all costs, want to embrace or develop tolerance. I have focused, though briefly, on presenting Islamic concept of tolerance and that does not mean that I see intolerance only in Muslim community. Obviously intolerance can be seen in any community living in this world but I want my Muslim community first to adopt tolerance in all spheres of their life and then call other communities towards tolerance. For this purpose, I request all the Muslim intellectuals to design a special syllabus for teaching values and significance of tolerance and teach it in their Madrasas, schools, colleges, universities and religious or secular institutions. Non-Muslim organizations can also necessarily design such a syllabus or something else to help tolerance be rooted in overall circles of our society and country.

A regular Columnist with, Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi Dehlvi is a Classical Islamic scholar with a Sufi background and English-Arabic-Urdu Writer and Translator.


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