Religious tolerance in Islam has been a hotly debated aspect of this religion for decades. However, these debates tend to overlook a very important point, the need to differentiate between the actions of Muslims and the teachings of Islam. The two may seem interchangeable but that is not the case in reality and following this course often leads to incorrect conclusions. On many occasions throughout the history of Islam, we see that the actions of Muslims do not reflect the teachings of Islam. Taking these transgressions and follies of individuals or groups or even states, as an evidence to support the arguments against Islam, is an error that prevents the proponents of these arguments from clearly understanding the issue. It is important to understand that in Islam, or any other religion, for that matter, the actions of its followers do not define the faith. It is the other way around. If all of the Muslims in the world get together and proclaim that they believe in more than one God, it will not change the monotheistic nature of Islam. Similarly, if Muslims act in reprehensible manners, it does not constitute that they do so based on the teachings of their religion.
What Does Islam Say about People of Other Religions
In order to decide whether or not Islam preaches intolerance and oppression against non-Muslims, we will have to visit the sources of Islamic teachings, i.e. Quran and hadith of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
From the Quran:
One of the arguments of the non-Muslims in Makkah was that if God wanted them to become Muslims, why didn’t He just make them so. The response from Allah is a clear statement that the duty of the prophets is to only convey the message not to ensure conversion.
“Had God so willed, we would not have worshipped anything other than Him, neither we nor our forefathers; nor would we have declared anything unlawful without (a commandment from) Him. Even so did those who lived before them (and associated partners with God like them). But, then, is any duty laid upon the Messengers except to convey the Message clearly?” (Quran 16: 35).
“There is no compulsion in religion…” (Quran 2:256)
“If your Lord had so willed (and, denying them free will, compelled humankind to believe), all who are on the earth would surely have believed, all of them. Would you, then, force people until they become believers?” (Quran 10:99)
Furthermore, the following are some of the statements from the Prophet forbidding any abuse of non-Muslims:
“Anyone who kills a Non-Muslim who had become our ally will not smell the fragrance of Paradise.” (Saheeh Bukhari)
“He who hurts a Non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state, I am his adversary, and I shall be his adversary on the Day of a Judgment.” (Saheeh Bukhari)
Examples of Religious Tolerance from Islamic History
While there are several examples of the religious tolerance of Islam, these two should suffice for an open mind:
1. One of the most amazing examples comes from the earliest period of Islam during Muhammad’s (pbuh) lifetime. At the time of the conquest of Makkah, an army of 10,000 Muslims walked into Makkah having absolute control of the city but the non-Muslims were not forced to convert. Can you imagine any conqueror uttering these words which Prophet Muhammad did: “This day there is no reproof against you; Go your way, for you are free.” (Tafseer Ibn Kathir)
2. During the reign in Spain of the Visigoth king Reccared (612 C.E.), the Jews, who had lived in Spain for centuries, were ordered to accept Christianity within a year and in 638 C.E., the Visigoths declared that only Christians could live in Spain. In contrast, the first four hundred years of Muslim rule in Spain (8th to 11th century) are considered as the “Golden Age” for Jews.
Historical accounts can be deceiving due to the bias of the historians and the differences in the interpretations of the texts; therefore, there will always remain some room for disagreements. Therefore, considering the happenings of the present may lead to relatively more objective conclusions. With that in mind, I leave you with this parting thought. According to religioustolerance.org, the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, Islam is growing at a rate of 2.9% per year, which is faster than the growth of the world population (2.3%). Who is forcing all these people to convert to Islam?
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