Islam And The Right Of Freedom Of Religion
A common misconception about Islam is that it is intolerant of other religions and that Muslims are notorious for attacking people of other religions. This could not be more wrong. In many countries with a Muslim majority, like Egypt and Syria, Muslims have existed in harmony with Christians and Jews for hundreds of years. Most conflicts between religions are not due to religious teachings but to underlying political causes. Religious fanaticism and religious extremism also is to blame for these kinds of conflicts and violence between people of different religions.
In fact, Islam has a notoriously good track record in regards to its relationship with other religions, compared to the other great monotheistic religions in the World. The Qur’an specifically states that Christians and Jews worship the same God as Muslims and are to be respected and treated as brothers. Historically, Muslims have also been known for respecting the religions of the people in countries conquered by Arab armies. Such was the case of Moorish Spain, conquered by the Arabs. In this area, Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together and interacted with each other in peace for centuries. It was only in the 1490s when the Catholic Spaniards drove the Arabs out and established the Inquisition. The Inquisition was not as tolerant and tortured, killed and deported all Jews and Muslims that refused to convert to Catholicism.
The Qur’an explicitly guarantees each person’s right to choose his own religion. A passage in the Qur’an states that in matter of faith people cannot be forced to follow Islam. That is why Arab armies always respected the religious traditions of the people of the countries they entered. In Islam, it is not only faith that counts but deeds as well. To believe in God is important, but deeds are essential and the Qur’an also states that Jews and Christians can receive the rewards of the afterlife if they do no evil and their hearts and actions are righteous. Muslims should not force other people to follow Islam. The Qur’an urges Muslims to let other people know of God and the Qur’an, but that every person must choose for themselves. This is the very definition of freedom of religion and the right to choose one’s beliefs without the intervention of others.
This freedom of religion applies to everyone, including those that are not Muslim as well as Muslims that have decided to leave Islam. The Qur’an is clear that only God can decide what will happen to each person and that no human being should try to usurp this function. Radical Islamic extremists have often based their violent acts against innocent people by referring to a verse of the Qur’an that allows Muslims to fight against others in case of attack by an aggressor. They have conveniently forgotten the hundreds of verses that urge Muslims to be peaceful and to respect the rest of humanity, Muslim or non-Muslim. Religious persecution in some Arab countries is not based in any way on the teachings of the Qur’an. Rather, it is based on bigotry, xenophobia, and politics.