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  October 2004

Current Affairs
Islamís call for mutual tolerance and peace in the human family
By Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef
President, World Muslim Congress*

Throughout history, man’s fate has swung be tween right and wrong, though his natural disposition and inner yearnings have always however craved for that which is good. As a result, man has always looked forward to a brighter world inundated with love, tolerance, brotherhood and solidarity.

Human Family

Islam recognizes the existence of a human brotherhood based on mutual concord and affection among mankind. Allah has created human beings and gave the concept of one human family. He declares that all men are descended from the same origin, thus establishing the unity of mankind and destroying the hated tyranny of racial prejudice. It has established one measure of human worth, which rests not on the colour of skin, birth or language, but exclusively on the fear of Allah and obedience to Him, and doing good to the people. And these are entirely personal matters without relevance to colour or race. Allah says in the Qur’an, “O you people! We have created you from (a single pair of) male and female, and made you into communities and tribes that you may know one another (not that you may despise each other) verily, the most honourable among you in the sight of Allah is he who is most pious.”

In the same sequence, the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) says: “O you people! Your Lord is one, and your father is one. There shall be no preference for an Arab over a non-Arab except by piety. You all belong to Adam, and Adam was created from dust.” He also said: “All creatures are the dependents of God. The most beloved of them to God is he who is most beneficial to his family.

Diversities within One family

Although Islam lays stress on universal brotherhood of man, it however recognizes peculiarities and diversities within a framework of fair play and justice. Allah knows and recognizes that human family cannot be one race; it will be part of different tribes, nations and states. They have their own colour, culture and way of life. They can be recognized, they can be identified with their own different identities.

The Qur’an repeatedly maintains that differences between men, in terms of colour, wealth, race and language, are natural. Allah even describes ideological and religious pluralism as God-given: “…and if God had so willed, surely He could have made you one single community, but (He willed otherwise) in order to test you by what He gave you. Therefore, compete with one another in all virtues. The Prophet even predicted that his own community would split into many groups, indulging in excessive pluralism.

That this attitude of tolerance is corroborated in other verses of the Qur’an: “And say: The truth is from your Lord, so let him who so pleases believe in it, and let him who so pleases reject it.” Thus it is clear that Islam does not sanction the kind of aggressive preaching practiced by other religions.

Islam seeks to bring peaceful understanding between various religions, races, colours, tribes and communities. It views religion as a continuous cultural tradition of man and the duty of a Muslim is to honour all the Prophets equally. In the words of the Qur’an, “There has been no community to which God’s messengers have not come and Muslims should make no distinctions between them.” The Islamic concept of God is not the god of any particular race or nation or community but of the entire human race and a source of Rahman (beneficence) for all. Its greeting for everyone is ‘Peace be upon you.’ The Prophet of Islam said, swearing by God he is no believer; by God he is no believer, by God he is no believer, whose neighbour does not live in peace because of his mischief make up.’

Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) was once asked: “What is Islam?” to which he replied: “Obedience to Allah’s commandments and kindness to His creatures.” On another occasion he was asked, “Who is a Muslim?” and he replied, “A Muslim is he from whose tongue and hand people are safe,” and on yet another occasion he said, “The test of a man’s religion lies in his dealing with others.”

A true Muslim cannot do any harm to anyone either by word or deed. Islam is a structure of peace and the outstanding principle of Islam is peace and submission to One and the Only One God, Allah. Islam shows the most straight and finest way to achieve peace with man. Peace with Allah implies complete submission to His Will; and peace with man implies the doing of good to fellow men and refraining from doing injury or harm to them. The Qur’an says, “Who is better in religion than he who surrenders his purpose to Allah while doing good (to men) and follows the tradition of Abraham, the upright?”

One can easily visualize how Islam teaches love of one’s fellow beings and ensure good treatment of even those who are hostile to Islam provided they do not break the peace. Those who make mischief in the land are denounced, and the Muslim’s first duty is to ensure peace where he lives – not only for himself but for others as well. He should even risk his life in this noble endeavour. He is enjoined to fight for religious freedom and the protection of all places of worship – be they mosques, churches or synagogues.

The Concept of Tolerance in the Qur’an

Islam recognizes the fundamental rights of all faiths, and therefore denies unequivocally the right of compulsion in matters relating to religion. It states that belief in this religion or that religion is one’s choice; one is free to choose one way or the other. If he accepts the truth, it is for his good, if he sticks to error, nobody else will be responsible for it. Human beings are divided in their rituals, creeds, dogmas, and modes of worship. Now, since man has been given discretion, he can follow the right way by using the best qualities latent in him. Hence, coersion in faith is not allowed in Islam.

Freedom in religion is mentioned in various verses of the Qur’an: “There is no compulsion in religion: the right direction is henceforth distinct from error,” “We have surely shown him the Way; he may be grateful or disbelieving.”

Islam does not make any distinction between different revealed religions. It proclaims the true religion is one in origin and inculcates an understanding of the basic truth which was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) and other revelations to the humanity, to all nations of the world. Islam’s attitude to other revelations can be judged from the fact that the Qur’an is the first religious book in the world history, which makes the beliefs in other revelations a part of its faith.

The Qur’an is emphatic in proclaiming that Islam is the religion of Jesus, Moses, Abraham and the Prophets Jesus and Moses are not Jews but Muslims: “Surely those who believe (in that which is revealed to Muhammad) and those who are Jews and the Christians, and the Sabians – Whoever believes in Allah, and the Last Day and does good, surely their reward is with their Lord, and there is no fear for them nor shall they grieve.”

Mutual Tolerance

The believers are forbidden to abuse the idols of the polytheists, though Islam vehemently condemned associating them with Allah;(11) the use of force or pressure for the propagation of Islam was also categorically prohibited by the Qur’an. The Prophet was asked to influence people by precepts and by presenting the message in an appealing way and Muslims were advised not to vilify the gods of others: Do not revile whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance,” “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation and argue with them in the best manner.”

Mutual Responsibility

Islam stands for mutual responsibility. It not only imposes on its followers the obligation of not harming others, but it also obliges the Muslim to prevent one individual from causing harm to another with all his might, in order to safeguard his life, wealth and honour. Failure to do so amounts to sin and the injured person is entitled to hold such negligent person responsible before the court and demand compensation for the injuries he had suffered; for instance failure to save a person from an outbreak of fire, a blind man from falling into a pit. Thus, it is easy to prove that all the basic human rights are enshrined in the teachings of Islam. Man is indeed honoured by Allah, and his natural disposition is inclined towards peace. God says, “We have indeed created man in the best of moulds,”(14) “And have given you shape, and made your shape beautiful.”

Co-operation and Treaties

Human beings have to cooperate; they have to create treaties to establish relationships, to live together. Islam lays great emphasis on the strict observance of charity and good deed towards the followers of other religions who do not transgress. “God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for your Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; For God loves those who are just.”

Islam attaches great importance to the fulfillment of obligations regardless of the parties involved. “Fulfill the covenant of God when you have entered into it. And break not your oaths after you have confirmed them; indeed, you have made God your surety; for God knows all that you do,” To further interpret this commandment, it is reported in certain traditions of the Prophet (peace be on him) that; “He whoever kills a man who has entered into an accord with the Muslims would never smell the scent of paradise.” This means that, contrary to common erratic belief, Islam recognizes and respects the existence of a treaty zone, besides the Islamic zone and the war zone (non-Muslim countries).

Islam lauds any treaty or alliance that is bound to help the wronged and deter the wrongdoer. It is reported in the traditions of the Prophet (Peace on him) he once said: “I was a witness to an alliance which was concluded in the house of Ibn Jadan which I cherish more dearly than an entire herd of red coloured camels. Were I to be invited to a similar treaty after the emergence of Islam, I would have accepted the invitation.” The alliance in question is of course none other than the alliance of Fudhuool have to come back sooner or later to the better. So this identity of human life has to be recognized and has to be stressed.

Islam prevents its followers from debating with followers of other religions except in the best manner. “And dispute not with the people of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation) unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury).” Allah also says “And argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.” It of course goes without saying that, debate with the followers of other religions from the Islamic point of view is one that is both meaningful and conducive to agreement rather than mere show.

Prophet’s Teachings and Practice of Tolerance

The above paragraph shows that it is far from the truth to think that the Prophet (peace be on him) compelled the followers of other faiths to accept Islam at the point of sword. For more than a decade the Prophet made all attempts to let those tribes leave the Muslims to follow their own faith in peace on the basis of mutual tolerance. But the pagan Arabs let loose their persecution on the Muslims and prevented the believers from performing their religious faiths. The Prophet was persecuted, oppressed, reviled and abused for more than twelve years at Makkah and the Muslims were subjected to the severest persecution, which ultimately compelled them to take refuge in Madinah. The Qur’an provides us with the details of their persecution. But when the Prophet returned triumphantly to the city, he accorded to the citizens of Makkah such treatment as they never deserved or imagined. This magnanimous treatment meted out to the erstwhile enemies of Islam, in the opinion of Hitti, stands out unparalleled and unsurpassed in the annals of the ancient world.

Allah says, “And if they incline of peace do then incline to it and trust in Allah. He is the Hearing, the Knowing. And if they intend to deceive you then surely Allah is sufficient for you.” The Prophet carried this divine injunction into practice and concluded peace treaties with the unbelievers like that of Hudabiah, the terms of which were humiliating to Islam. As directed by Allah, the Prophet made agreements of peace even with the idolater Makkans who had compelled him and his companions for the sake of their belief in Allah and who had attacked him again and again.

The Concept of Non-Muslim Minorities and Islam

Islam recognizes and fixes up the rights of the enemies, and this it does not merely conventionally but in a very positive and emphatic form. It lays down the injunctions and threatens the violations with dire punishments. “And let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety; and fear Allah. For Allah is well acquainted with all that you do.” This lays down the general and governing obligation of dispensing absolute and perfect justice to all non-Muslims, irrespective of their being friends or foes, covenanters or belligerents. History is replete with many shining examples of toleration towards non-Muslims by the Muslim kings and Sultans and the Muslim divines and Qadis.

Terrorism

It has to be recognized that like any other religion, there are both positive and negative sides of the followers of Islam. Everybody does not follow every religion. There are some people who are very weak in the practice; similarly there are some other people who are very strong believers. Some people go wrong but come back after some time.

Murad Hofmann said, “Of course the phenomenon of political terrorism, religiously coloured, exists in many regions of the world. But this has nothing to do with Islam or any other religion. At least no more than the violence of non-Muslims, also on the point of despair, has to do with Christianity: supporters of liberation theology in South America, Northern Irish urban guerrillas, members of the German ‘Red Army Faction,’ the French Action Director,’ and of the Italian ‘Brigate Rosse’.”

Thus, like other groups, society or nations, there are some mad or unbalanced people belonging to the Muslim community who can do that type of violence or cause harm. They neither represent the religion of Islam nor the Muslim society in general. The unbalanced people do not know what they are doing and what their religion orders them to do. And it is not the general proposition.

It is alleged that Islam is outdated; it is not appropriate and applicable to the present day circumstances. It is a very awful notion. Islam is a very modern religion which respects human life and human rights. Many verses of the Qur’an and many examples in the Hadiths have emphasized about human individual life. Nobody can harm it or cause it death.

Islam teaches that every human being is neither more nor less than a creation of Allah, and all are equal. Sadly, the worth of individuals as they grow into adults become spoiled by the extent to which they fall away from the standards set for humanity by the Creator.

Equality and Human Rights

One of the fundamental principles of Islam is that all humans belong to the family of Allah, and are equal – whatever sex, colour, class or country they happen to be born in. Their worth comes from the quality of their lives, and not from any aspect such as mental ability, wealth, particular talent, and so forth – all of which were given to them at birth and over which they had no choice or control. “All people are equal, as the teeth of a comb. There is no claim of merit of an Arab over a non-Arab or a white over a black person or of a male over a female. All-fearing people merit a preference with God.”

Sahl Ibn Sa’d recorded:

“The Book of Allah is One, and among you are the red, and among you are the black,” Abu Musa Al-Ashari recorded, “Allah created Adam from a handful of dust which He took from the whole of the earth, some red, some white, some black, some a mixture, also smooth and rough, bad and good.”

In his final sermon, the Prophet said: “No Arab is superior to a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab superior to an Arab, except by having a greater degree of God-consciousness.” Another saying of the Prophet was: “O people! All of us belong to One God, one father and one religion. Arabic is only a language and he who speaks Arabic is an Arab.”

If you recognize all people as one family, are aware of their rights, grieve when they get hurt, are determined to bring about their good and not their harm.

Muslims believe that whether they are aware of it or not, all human beings are the creations of God, and loved by Him. Therefore, there are certain basic rights which should be shared by the whole of humanity, and which should be observed in any society, whether the people are Muslims or not. For example, all human beings have the rights to be fed, clothed, educated and cared for by the society, which governs their existence. No society could possibly be called civilized that did not tend its sick, or take care of its orphans and old people, and bury (or otherwise courteously dispose of) its dead.

People have the right not to be disturbed or hurt or victimized by others – and since so many people are selfish and cruel this often involves taking defensive or protective action. Abu Hurairah reported; “He will not enter Paradise whose neighbour is not secure from his wrongful conduct.”

Life is sacred, and is considered by the Muslim to be a divine gift, which we are meant to preserve, enjoy and put to its fullest use. Life should never be ended without justification, and no true Muslim should ever consider attempting suicide or exposing himself or herself foolishly to unnecessary danger. Life is not a human’s personal property; to be disposed of as an individual might wish, but the precious gift. The Muslim therefore has the duty to protect all forms of life and treat them with respect. No person, no matter how great or powerful, has the right to usurp another’s right to life.

Muslims insist that every citizen must have completely equal rights. Everyone has equal rights, for they are all born equals. “God brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers knowing nothing, and gave you hearing, sight and hearts that hopefully you might give thanks.”

Abu Hurairah recorded:

“Your God is one and your father is one. All of you belong to Adam, and Adam was created from dust. Those who fear God are the most noble. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab or a non-Arab over an Arab or a black person over a white or a white over a black person, except by being more righteous.” “People are all equal like the teeth of a comb,” Justice should be impartial, even if it involves making decisions against members of one’s own family.

Justice and Just Society

Islam is a religion of peace and justice. Justice is Allah’s attributes, and to stand firmly for justice is to be witness to Allah; even if it is detrimental to our own interests. Allah says, “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor; For Allah can best protect both.”

There are innumerable references in the Qur’an to the supreme necessity of establishing a just society, a just order. We, the individual men and women, are invited to be just, to hold scales of justice evenly, and are forbidden from employing false measures in weighing things or artificially tilting the balance in our favour. We are called upon to advance the cause of justice by offering testimony should the need to do so arise. “Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and giving to kith and kin, and He forbids all indecent deeds, and evil and rebellion: he instructs you, that you may receive admonition.”

It is sad to note that most Muslims today do not represent Islam properly. Their bad behaviours have reflected on Islam in general. We have to explain it to the world that Islam is something to be respected and reflected. Islam can participate with others to correct the situation – to introduce harmony to the society, to bring peace, order and justice, because justice has been eliminated in most of the parts of the world.

Conclusion

Thus, Islam can be and should be judged only by its teachings and principles because behaviour of handful of its followers should not be treated as Islam. We have to bring justice back and we have to stress upon this on this auspicious occasion.

It is a great pity that the world today is not doing anything worth which can bring love and peace to humanity. It is high time we realized that world peace and harmonious international relations can only be achieved in following the principles of Islam. It is no mere assertion, for a time will surely come, sooner or later, as foreseen by eminent thinkers of today, when the whole world will be forced to admit that the only means to end all its troubles is to follow the perfect teachings of Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him). The world is drifting towards Islam.