Tolerance in Islam

Dr. Abdallah H. AI-Kahtany
When defining one of its important aspects, Islam means complete submission to Allah by choice and conviction, not through seduction or compulsion. Islam accommodates and welcomes all people as brothers and sisters regardless of their distinctive or particular affiliations or backgrounds. The Islamic attitude towards the followers of other religions is not only to show tolerance towards their beliefs, but also to affirm a non-negotiable Islamic principle of tolerance and religious responsibility.

“There is no compulsion in [accepting} religion. The right course has become clear from error. So whoever disbelieves in taghut [i.e. false deities] and believes in Allah has grasped the trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 256)

In fact, through the course of history of Islam, it has granted the people of other faiths the highest degree of tolerance by allowing them to follow their way, although some of their practices might have been in conflict with the religion of the majority. It was this degree of tolerance that the Muslims adopted towards their non-Muslim citizens.

There is another aspect of this matter which cannot be found in the written laws, nor can it be enforced by courts or the governments: this is the spirit of tolerance which underlies upright attitudes, benevolent dealings, respect for one’s neighbors, and all the sincere sentiments of piety, compassion, and courtesy. Execution and report of such attitudes are required of every Muslim and cannot be obtained through constitutional legislation or court jurisdiction. The spirit of tolerance which can only be found in Islam is exclusively practiced in a true Islamic society[1].

Many Qur’anic verses have emphasized dealings with non-Muslims with justice and respect, especially those who live in peace with the Muslims and do not raise enmity against them.

“Allah does not forbid you concerning those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes from being righteous towards them and acting justly towards them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.”

(Qur’an, Surah Al-Mumtahinah, 60:8)

“And they give food in spite of their love for it to the poor, the orphan, and the captive, [Saying]: We feed you only for the acceptance of Allah. We wish neither from you reward nor gratitude.” (Qur’an, Surah Al-Insan, 76: 8, 9)

Although Muslims might disagree with other ideological systems and religious dogmas, it should not prevent them from demonstrating the correct manner of discussion and interaction with non-Muslims:

“And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say we believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is One; and we are Mu slims [in submission] to Him.” (Qur’an, Surah Al-Ankabut, 29: 46)

In this context it seems appropriate to raise the question:

Is tolerance of other religions as preached by Islam a matter left to the Muslims to decide about? As a matter of fact, tolerance in Islam has ideological basis in the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and it is not subject to any human interference. Therefore, it is a constant Islamic principle that does not change over time or place. According to the Qur’an, every human being is to be honored as Allah has honored him/her:

“And we have certainly honored the children of Adam, and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created with [definite] preference.” (Qur’an, Surah Al-Isra’, 17:70)

Islam is the final revelation of Allah the Almighty and it is the religion of universal truth for all mankind. All of its doctrines can withstand any challenge. Therefore, the existence of various religions–man-made or supposedly revealed religions–is only to allow the human intellect to choose. The following verses of the Qur’an emphasize these principles:

Allah witnesses that there is no deity except Him, and [so do] the angels and those of knowledge – [that He is] maintaining [creation] in justice. There is no deity except Him, the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

“Indeed, the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam. And those who were given the Scripture did not differ except after knowledge had come to them, out of jealous animosity between themselves and whoever disbelieves in the verses of Allah, then indeed, Allah is swift in [taking] account.” (Qur’an Surah Al-‘Imran, 3:18-19)

“And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed, all of them entirely. Then will you compel the people until they become believers?” (Qur’an, Surah Yunus, 10: 99)

In Islam, injustice is regarded as one of the greatest sins. Therefore, oppressing people because they have different beliefs is rejected. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:

“The supplication of an oppressed person, even though he be a pagan, is heard (by Allah) directly, without any veil.”[2]

[1] Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Non-Muslims in the Islamic Society. (Tr. by K. M. Hamad and S.M. A. Shah) American Trust Publication, Indianapolis, 1985. P. 28.

[2] Related by Imam Ahmed in his Musnad. As reported in al-Qaradawi 1985.

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