By Rasheed Reno
January 07, 2017
When I accepted Islam 25 years ago, one of the major factors that attracted me was the inclusiveness of Islamic teaching. Both the racial inclusion as well as religious, not the least of which was the concept of freedom of religion in Islam. As an American, I value the right to choose and practice my faith, a right that is written into the US Constitution. Since the day I accepted Islam I have been uninhibited in my practice or belief. Yet this concept of religious freedom is not unique to the US Constitution, and as I discovered, was already present in Islamic teaching centuries before.
A unique feature of the Holy Qur’an as a religious scripture is the verse that proclaims “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Even when the Muslims were compelled to take up arms in self-defence, the verse that first granted this permission states that the purpose for fighting in self-defence was the preservation of freedom of religion (22:40). Not just for Muslims, but for everyone as these verses specifically mention the preservation of synagogues and churches in addition to mosques. The practice of this principle of religious freedom was demonstrated very clearly throughout the lifetime of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW). In Medina, in consultation with the resident Jewish tribes, he wrote the Charter of Medina which granted freedom of religion to all residents of the town. Each community managed their own affairs without the interference of the state.
Furthermore, in the final stages of his lifetime he wrote charters for the Christian communities of Arabia, which guaranteed the free practice of religion as well the protection of that right by the Muslim led government. Even those who were deemed as hypocrites in the Qur’an were still allowed to identify as Muslim without hindrance. The teaching of the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet would take a millennium to be matched in the constitutions of the Western world. It was revolutionary and unprecedented in any other religious scripture.
It is shame that some Muslim nations have not taken up the practice of Islam in regards to protecting religious freedom. Pakistan provides one of the poorest examples in this regard with their state sponsored persecution of Ahmadis. Pakistan’s Anti Ahmadi laws have no basis in the Qur’an, the Sunnah, international law, or civilized society in general. They block Ahmadis from professing belief in Islam and infringe on their right to practice their faith as they see fit, though their practice impacts no one else.
Recently, an Ahmadi 'place of worship' was attacked by a mob in Dulmial where it was damaged and fires were set. The attacks were a reaction the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s audacity to recognize the achievements of the late hero, Abdus Salam, the Ahmadi who was Pakistan’s first Nobel Prize recipient. These types of attacks are common in Pakistan and hundreds of Ahmadis have been murdered and many 'places of worship' and homes have been destroyed or desecrated. Sometimes even the police participate as they cower before the demands of extremists and their threats of violence. Very seldom is anyone brought to justice for these hate crimes. The ulema, who incite these acts, have little fear that they will be punished for these crimes.
Are these so-called scholars of Islam unaware of this Qur’anic statement?
“And who is more unjust than he who prohibits the name of Allah being glorified in Allah’s mosques and seeks to ruin them? (2:115)
I find it incomprehensible that Muslims who claim to love the Prophet of Islam would completely ignore the beautiful teachings of Islam in regards to religious freedom. Pakistan’s Ulema have taken this beautiful gift given to them through the Prophet Muhammad and turned it into something ugly and repulsive. During Europe’s dark ages, the Muslim world was a world leader in religious tolerance while Europe suffered under the religious intolerance of an oppressive mentality that allowed little freedom of thought, let alone freedom of religion. Yet, the Ulema of Pakistan seem to be inspired by that same backwardness. Do they feel so threatened by anyone that may disagree with them that they feel no other alternative than to ignore the Qur’an and Sunnah for more desperate measures? Do they not have any faith that God will guide them rightly? Do they have such little faith in the people of Pakistan to choose the right way that they must coerce them with the threat of violence and persecution? Is it an admission of incompetence for the task of leading their flock? It is time for Pakistan to put the good of the people ahead of the power lust of the Ulema and reject their bigotry and insecurities.