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  On Religious Tolerance

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Join date : 2011-06-29

PostSubject: On Religious Tolerance   Sun Jul 10, 2011 1:58 am

On Religious Tolerance

While on his deathbed, Umar ibn
al-Khattab, may Allah bless him, dictated a
long Will consisting of instructions for the next Khalifah (Muslim President).
Here is the last sentence of that historic document: “I instruct you on
behalf of the people who have been given protection in the name of Allah and His
Prophet peace be upon him.
[That is the non-Muslim minorities within
the Islamic state]. Our covenant to them must be fulfilled, we must
fight to protect them, and they must not be burdened beyond their

At that time Umar was lying in pain because of
the wounds inflicted on him by a non-Muslim who had stabbed him with a dagger
soaked in poison while he was leading the fajr prayer. It should also be
remembered that he was the head of a vast empire ranging from Egypt to Persia.
From normal rulers of his time or ours, we could have expected vengeance and
swift reaction. (The enlightened rulers of today have sent bombers even on
suspicion of murder conspiracy). From a very forgiving head of state we could
have expected an attempt to forget and forgive and that would be considered
noble. But a command to protect the minorities and take care of them?
What is even more remarkable is that for Muslim
historians the entire affair was just natural. After all it was the Khalifah
himself who had established the standards by writing the guarantees for the
protection of life, property and religion in decree after decree as Muslims
opened land after land during his rule. The pattern established here was
followed for centuries throughout the Muslim world.
Of course, Umar, may Allah bless him, was simply following what he learnt from the
Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him himself. That the protection of life,
property and religious freedom of minorities is the religious duty of the
Islamic state. That he personally would be demanding justice in the hereafter on
behalf of a dhimmi who had been wronged by a Muslim. That there is no compulsion
in religion and that Muslims must be just to friends and foe alike

The result of these teachings was a Muslim rule
that set the gold standard for religious tolerance in a world that was not used
to the idea. Not only that the Muslim history is so remarkably free of the
inquisitions, persecutions, witch hunts, and holocausts that tarnish history of
other civilizations, it protected its minorities from persecution by others as
well. It protected Jews from Christians and Eastern Christians from Roman
Catholics. In Spain under the Umayyads and in Baghdad under the Abbasid
Khalifahs, Christians and Jews enjoyed a freedom of religion that they did not
allow each other or anyone else.
This exemplary tolerance is built into Islamic
teachings. The entire message of Islam is that this life is a test and we have
the option of choosing the path to hell or to heaven. Messengers were sent to
inform about the choices and to warn about the consequences. They were not sent
to forcibly put the people on the right path. The job of the Muslims is the
same. They must deliver the message of Islam to the humanity as they have
received it. They are neither to change it to make it attractive, nor to coerce
others to accept it. In addition, the results in the hereafter will depend upon
faith. For all good acts are meaningless in the absence of the proper faith. And
faith is an affair of the heart. It simply cannot be imposed.

It is not an idea that followers of other religions
have shared with Islam. The result is, Muslim experience in the area of
tolerance has been exactly opposite of the rest of the world. As Marmaduke
Pickthall noted: “It was not until the Western nations broke away from their
religious law that they became more tolerant, and it was only when the Muslims
fell away from their religious law that they declined in tolerance.”

The path that the Western world took to provide
harmony in society was to banish religion from the public square. For this
achievement, it thinks that it has earned lecturing rights over the issue. So it
may be good to remember that while it has indeed made huge progress in the area
of tolerance during the last century (which should be appreciated), it has a
long way to go before it can reach the standards established by Islam. First,
while Muslim Personal Law is not recognized in the West, the Personal Law of
non-Muslim minorities has always been recognized in the Muslim world. Second,
while throughout Europe and America, Muslims are not permitted to make the call
to prayer (Adhan) on loud speakers, church bells ring freely in the Muslim
world. Third, the wide spread anti-Islamic prejudice in the Western media is
both a cause and a consequence of the underlying intolerance. Fourth, hate
crimes are a fact of life in the West. As just one small indication, nearly
two-dozen incidents of vandalism have taken place against Mosques in the
peaceful USA during the last seven years, not to mention hundreds of attacks
against individuals. Fifth, the will to admit this state of affairs is also not
sufficiently strong. Again here is just one indication: In 1999 two resolutions
were floated in the US Senate and House, titled “A resolution supporting
religious tolerance toward Muslims.” While the Senate resolution passed, the
House resolution was gutted under pressure from several Jewish and Christian
The situation of the rest of the “international
community” is not much different. With this background, extortions to display
tolerance become a vehicle for imposing one's own intolerance.
Recently some people declared that the demolition
of Buddhist statues in a country with no Buddhist minority violated Islam's
teachings on religious tolerance. They forgot that religious tolerance means
accommodation to religious minorities; it does not mean undermining the
majority. Here the issue of religious freedom had been turned on its head. For
the real question to ask was, why the Muslims in Afghanistan must endure the
statues they abhor?
For Muslims religious tolerance is not about
political posturing. It is a serious religious obligation. They must be a force
against all intolerance, even that which is promoted in the guise of
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