No place for religious intolerance in Islam

By S. M. Hali                     

The ugly head of religious intolerance raises its head time and again in Pakistan like the mythical ten headed Hydra that possessed many heads—and for each head cut off it grew two more—and poisonous breath so virulent even her tracks were deadly.

In Pakistan, religious intolerance sometimes strikes in the form of rekindling Shia-Sunni strife and others it targets religious minorities like Christians, Hindus or Ahmadis. It does not refrain from killing high profile targets like Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and vocal opponent of the controversial blasphemy law, or even the all powerful Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who was gunned down for demanding reform of the harsh statute. The hapless Hazaras of Quetta have paid a heavy toll of lives while most recently, more than 150 residences of Joseph Colony in Lahore were torched for alleged blasphemy committed by one of its residents.

Religious intolerance has permeated in the Pakistani society to such an extent that disagreement of views is construed as a terrible crime and dissent leads to murder and elimination. This heinous practice is in direct contravention to the tenets of Islam, which preaches tolerance. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) himself forgave his opponents and was kind and magnanimous towards those who chose to differ with him. How can those who bear the torch of love for the Holy Prophet (pbuh), kill and maim their fellow beings for mere difference of opinion. The masses being devoid of in-depth knowledge of Islam; get carried away by the emotional appeal to their so called reverence of Islam and The Holy Prophet (pbuh). It is imperative that the record is set straight in light of teachings of the Holy Qu??n, the practice (Sunnah) and Hadith attributed to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and research and studies of erudite scholars.

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Even a cursory glance of the teachings show Islam to be a religion of mercy to all people, both Muslims and non-Muslims.  There is no place for religious intolerance in Islam, but unfortunately it has pervaded the Pakistani society to such an extent that bigoted pseudo religious leaders have distorted the tenets of Islam and are preaching violence against perceived offenders against Islam. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was described as being a mercy in the Qu??n due to the message he brought for humanity:

“We sent thee not, but as a mercy for all creatures.” (Qu??n 21:107)

When a person analyzes the legislations of Islam with an open mind, the Mercy mentioned in the above quoted verse will definitely become apparent.  One of the aspects constituting an epitome of this Mercy is the way the legislations of Islam deal with people of other faiths.  The tolerant attitude of Islam towards non-Muslims, whether they be those residing in their own countries or within the Muslim lands, can be clearly seen through a study of history.  This fact is not only purported by Muslims, but many non-Muslim historians also accept it. Marmaduke Pickthall (7 April 1875 – 19 May 1936) was a Western Islamic scholar, an Englishman who converted from Christianity to Islam and is noted for his translation of the Qu??n into English. He states:

In the eyes of history, religious toleration is the highest evidence of culture in a people. 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 and other evidences of the highest culture. Before the coming of Islam, tolerance had never been preached as an essential part of religion.

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If Europe had known as much of Islam, as Muslims knew of Christendom, in those days, those mad, adventurous, occasionally chivalrous and heroic, but utterly fanatical outbreak known as the Crusades could not have taken place, for they were based on a complete misapprehension.

Innumerable monasteries, with a wealth of treasure of which the worth has been calculated at not less than a hundred million sterling, enjoyed the benefit of the Holy Prophet’s (Muhammad’s) Charter to the monks of Sinai and were religiously respected by the Muslims. The various sects of Christians were represented in the Council of the Empire by their patriarchs, on the provincial and district council by their bishops, in the village council by their priests, whose word was always taken without question on things which were the sole concern of their community.

The tolerance within the body of Islam was, and is, something without parallel in history; class and race and color ceasing altogether to be barriers.

Will Durant (November 5, 1885 – November 7, 1981) a prolific American writer, historian, and philosopher, in his renowned work, The Story of Civilization,comments:

‘At the time of the Umayyad caliphate, the people of the covenant, Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Sabians, all enjoyed degree of tolerance that we do not find even today in Christian countries.  They were free to practice the rituals of their religion and their churches and temples were preserved.  They enjoyed autonomy in that they were subject to the religious laws of the scholars and judges.’

These just relations between Muslims and people of other faiths were not due to mere politics played by Muslim rulers, but rather they were a direct result of the teachings of the religion of Islam, one which preaches that people of other religions be free to practice their own faith, only accepting the guidance offered by Islam by their own choice.  Allah ordains in the Qu??n:

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“Let there be no compulsion in religion…” (Qu??n 2:256)

Not only does Islam demand their freedom to practice religion, but also that they be treated justly as any other fellow human.  Warning against any abuse of non-Muslims in an Islamic society, the Prophet (pbuh) stated:

“Beware!  Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, curtails their rights, burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)

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