By Samir Khan
December 24, 2015
One of the most important aspects of the human rights issue is the respect and tolerance a society must show towards the beliefs and practices of different communities, this of course, includes the issue of freedom of reli¬gion.
Today intolerance is on the rise, causing conflicts on different levels. Sometimes it is racial and ethnic; sometimes it is religious and ideological, while the other times it is political and social. In every situation it is evil and painful. How can we solve the problem of intolerance? How can we assert our own beliefs and positions without being intolerant to others?
Today on the occasion of Milad un Nabi (Prophet Muhammad’s birth anniversary) let us try to delve into the injunctions and directives the Holy Qur’an has laid as regards to the various aspects of religious tolerance. And the practical examples we can find in the life of Prophet Muhammad.
Islam preaches total social harmony which includes religious harmony. Islam provides an excellent and practical model of plural society and this model was practically implemented by Prophet Muhammad and the whole world has seen its fruits.The message and life of Prophet Muhammad possesses extensive resources that favour modern concepts of democracy, human rights and religious pluralism. For instance, The Holy Qur’an epitomises religious tolerance in a nutshell “There is no compulsion in religion” Holy Qur’an (2:256). This verse in the Qur’an constitutes a charter of freedom of conscience unparalleled in the religious annals of mankind. The Qur’an further says: “If it had been thy Lord’s wish, everyone in the world would have believed; will you then compel people, against their will, to believe” Holy Qur’an (10:99).
The outlook of the Prophet towards the Jews and Christians in Madinah (Saudi Arabia) exhibited remarkable tolerance and compassion. Some Jewish families lived in his neighborhoods in Madinah. When one of their children fell sick, the Prophet would make it a point to visit the distressed family as a gesture of goodwill. When any funeral of a Jew passed by and if he was around, he would stand up as a mark of respect for the deceased soul, and when ‘informed’ by companions that it was the funeral of a Jew, the Prophet would ask: “Wasn’t it a human soul?” Or reply: “When you come across a funeral, (you ought to) stand up.” (Bukhari)
In fact, the Prophet’s conduct towards people, men or women, rich or poor, adult or child, was the same all the time. He spoke to all with civility and politeness and taught others the same
Even in wartime the Prophet issued strict instructions to the effect that women, children, old, and religious functionaries of other religions should not be harmed.
As far as religions are concerned, Islam has a clear pluralistic outlook. It does not favour the forced assimilation or conversion of non-Muslims Holy Qur’an (2:256; 109:6) .The Qur’an advises Muslims to refrain from reviling the deities worshipped by the people of other faiths Holy Qur’an (6:108). According to the Islamic view, God’s mercy (prudence and providence) transcends the diversity of modes and places of worship.
The approach and conduct of Prophet Muhammad towards the beliefs and traditions of the followers of other religions exhibited exemplary tolerance, understanding and magnanimity. He allowed a delegation of polytheists and idolaters from Taif in Saudi Arabia to stay in his mosque at Madinah. Some Christians from Najran, who visited the Prophet, sought his permission to say their prayers in the mosque, which was granted. When he set up a state at Madinah, he drew up its constitution, and it is known as the first written constitution of the world. The emerging Islamic state included not only Muslims but also Jews, Christians and the pagan Arabs, and guaranteed to them religious, cultural, and judicial autonomy. Thus the state of Madinah provided the first model of an Islamic State which incorporated in practice the democratic pluralism envisioned today.
The Islamic State guaranteed not only the protection of the lives and honour of the Dhimmis (minorities) but also of their religious beliefs and rituals, personal laws and endowments. In fact, the Constitution of Madinah was the first declaration of human rights in history. It gave the people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the rights of security, peace and justice. It recognised Jews as a separate religious and ethnic minority, and conferred on them the right to practice their religion freely. In fact, Jews were considered on equal terms with Muslims. They were protected from all external and internal threats of aggression, persecution and prejudice. They were allowed to follow their own personal law.
The protection of minority rights under the Islamic dispensation has no parallel in the annals of history of religions. Several articles of the Constitution of Madinah, when read together, provide for complete religious, social, economic and cultural freedom to the Dhimmis, and individuals who joined the Islamic State as confederates.
The Prophet exhorted his followers to scrupulously protect the rights of the religious minorities. He said: Whosoever oppresses any minority, I shall be his prosecutor/accuser on the Day of Judgement. Thus, for the early Khulafa (Rightly guided Caliphs) and later Muslim rulers in various parts of the world, safeguarding religious minorities’ rights was an article of faith as well as the covenant of the state.
It is unfortunate that the recent tragedies throughout the world – including in Paris, have been linked to Muslim extremists and also to religious intolerance. These extremists claim they are inspired and infused with Islamic tenets. In fact, ISIS says it wants to establish a new caliphate, and an Islamic state. But the matter of fact is that these group’s ideology and their extreme behavior and doctrines are not in alignment with any of Islam’s tenets, scriptures, or even remotely connected to Prophet Muhammad’s life.
Islam strongly rejects fanaticism in any form. Prophet Muhammad clearly distinguished fanaticism from loyalty. He legitimised loyalty by saying: To love one’s people is not fanaticism but to wreak cruelty on other people is. He condemned those who facilitate such cruelty.
Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) integrated Arabia and transformed it into a world power of reform and liberation without assuming the reins of a dictator. His way of governance was based upon consultation. He secured loyalty and obedience by his personal charm and charisma. His power did not proceed from the sword. Today, we need to live the true spirit of Islam. If the Prophet’s teachings are implemented in the right earnest, then the world peace will cease to be an unreal idea.