Tolerance of the “Other” in Islam?: Dr. Prof. Mohammad Ahmed Qadri


*The opinions expressed in this article are attributable solely to its author and neither to “goatmilk.wordpress” or its other contributors.*
dr-mohammad-qadri.jpg By Dr. Prof. Mohammad Ahmed Qadri


The Islamic tradition teaches us that peace is achieved through tolerance, forgiveness, and responding to evil with good. This is a three-tiered approach that gives the human being opportunities to exercise increasing spiritual efforts.

The concept of tolerance comes into play when one is dealing with the “other”, something or someone different. The Holy Qur’an offers guidance in this matter:

“O mankind! We have indeed created you from one man and one woman, and have made you into various nations and tribes so that you may know one another; indeed the more honorable among you, in the sight of Allah, is one who is more pious among you; indeed Allah is All Knowing, All Aware.” 1

This verse is very clear that the diversity in creation is inherent and by Divine Design and that its purpose is to interact, to get to know one another, to learn from one another, to be a part of the global picture. The many different cultures that exist in the world today are a blessing. What a boring world it would have been if we were all the same! It is this interaction that allows for increased understanding and enrichment that contributes to the promotion of peace between various communities.

Within the religion of Islam, there is much room for scholarly interpretation, which is what gaves rise to four authentic jurisprudential schools of thought and forty spiritual schools of thought that make up the rich fabric of the Islamic intellectual and spiritual tradition. The Holy Qur’an says:

“There is no compulsion in religion.” 2

And the Holy Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam said:

“The differences of opinion amongst my Ummah (Community) are a blessing.”

One of the great luminaries of the Islamic intellectual tradition, Imam Shaf’i (d. 820 CE, may Allah Almighty be pleased with him) would say on a given issue: “I am right with the possibility of being wrong, and you are wrong with the possibility of being right.” This is reflective of the attitude that the early community, who lived with the Holy Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, adopted. It is also the attitude of the later generations who follow in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, when dealing with differences. This is far from the modern-day polemics that people engage in where more attention is paid to “who is right” versus “what is right”.

Islam stresses co-existence. The Holy Qur’an clearly tells Muslims to protect the Christian church, the Jewish synagogue, and places of worship of all other peoples as much as they defend their mosques 3. This is clear evidence of the emphasis that Islam has laid on tolerance and co-existence with other religions and civilizations. Islam also exhorts its followers to ensure the protection of all educational, charity and cultural centers of other civilizations. It may be deduced that the non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) working in the field of education, health and social welfare also fall in this category. One can also refer to the word Sawamiah used in verse 40 of Chapter Al-Hajj, which stipulates that all kinds of establishments of other civilizations must be protected.

Whenever Christian scholars came to the Holy Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam for a dialog, the Holy Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam arranged their stay in Masjid-e-Nabawi. On such occasions, the Holy Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam not only held talks there, but also allowed the Christians to perform their religious rituals within the mosque.

In order to keep alive the spirit and teaching of the Holy Qur’an, the most significant charter of tolerance was granted by the Holy Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam to the Christians in the 9th year of Hijra. It reads:

“To the Christians of the Nijran and neighboring territories, the security of Allah Almighty and the pledge of His Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam are extended for their lives, their religion, and their property – to the present as well as the absent and others besides; there shall be no interference in (the practice) of their faith of their bishopric, nor any monk from his monastery, nor any priest from his priesthood and they shall continue to enjoy everything great and small as heretofore; no image or cross shall be destroyed; they shall not practice the rights of blood vengeance as in the days of ignorance; no tithes shall be levied from them; nor shall they be required to furnish provision for the troops.” 4

We may also recall the diction of the Holy Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam shortly before passing on to the Divine Realm:

“Observe scrupulously the non-Muslim subjects.”5

Another saying of the Holy Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam is:

“Whoever oppresses the non-Muslim subjects, I shall be their advocate [of the non-Muslim subject] on the Day of Resurrection (against the oppressing Muslims).”6

On the occasion of the farewell pilgrimage, the Holy Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam exhorted the believers:

“You are all born of Adam and Adam was made out of clay. An Arab has no superiority over the non-Arab. Neither does a white man enjoy superiority over a black man, nor a black man over a white man except by piety. Remember that your lives and properties are sacred and inviolable among one another.”7

Equality in the matter of justice applies to members of all faiths. The Messenger of Allah sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam stressed about taking care of minorities in an Islamic state:

“Their property is like our property and their blood is like our blood.”8

Therefore it can be seen that Islam provides equal protection to members of other faiths. Islam inculcates the love of God’s creatures in general and of the human family in particular, as corroborated by the following statement:
“The best of you is he who is best to God’s family (i.e. humanity)”9

The Holy Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam said that Islam regards Muslims as one fraternity, inside which it affirms the existence of the Islamic brotherhood, wherein all distinctions of caste, creed, tribe, color, language, and territory are suspended and obliterated, and which has been allotted the function of acting as the servant of and the torchbearers of Divine Guidance for the larger human brotherhood.
Side by side with the code of conduct meant to be observed within the circle of the Islamic brotherhood, Islam also gives a definite code of human love, which relates to the dealings of Muslims with the larger human society. In this regard, the Holy Qur’an says:

“The believers are brothers to each other; therefore make peace between your two brothers and fear Allah, so that you may gain mercy.” 10

The Dutch orientalist Snouck Hurgronje observes:

“The ideal of a league of Human Races has been approached by Islam more nearly than by any other ideology, for the league of nations founded on Muhammad’s religion takes the principle of equality of all human races so seriously as to put other communities to shame.”11

H.G. Wells says:

“Islam created a society more free from widespread cruelty and social oppression than any society that has ever been in the world before.”12
Next week – Part 2: Tolerance of Being Wronged

    • The Holy Quran 49:13
    • The Holy Quran 2:256
    • The Holy Quran 22:40
    • Mohammad bin Yousuf Al-Salahi Shammi, Subul-al-Hudu, Lebanon, Vol 5 1993 p. 225
    • Allama Suyooti, Durr-e-Mansoor fi Tafseer bil Ma’soor, Iran, Vol 3 p. 135 n.d.
    • Alauddin Ali Al-Muttaqi, Kanzul Ummal, Beirut, Lebanon, Vol 15 p. 55 n.d.
    • Allama Qastallani, Mawahib-ul-Laduniyah, Lebanon, Vol 6 1993, p. 195
    • For details about minorities and their rights in an Islamic state, please refer to Allama Sanaullah Pani Patti’s Tafseer Mazhari, Vol 5 p. 234 and different Tafaseer such as Tafseer Abu Saud, Tafseer Ibn-e-Abbas, Tafseer-e-Madarak (Nisfi), Tafseer Durr-e-Mansoor, etc.
    • Imam Fakhr-ar-Razi, Al-Tafseer Al-Kabeer, Qum Iran, Vol. 25 p. 95 n.d.
    • The Holy Quran 49:10
    • Snouck Hurgronje, Muslim World Today, New York, 1991, p. 135
    • Barbara Keith, History of Philosophy, Calcutta, 195, p. 78

Dr. Qadri is the Founding Director of the Islamic Educational and Cultural Research Center. He is also the recipient of many prestigious international awards such as the Ambassador for Peace Award presented by the Universal Peace Foundation and Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace in Canada, the National Education Award presented by the Pakistan Education Forum, and the Award for Research in Social Sciences presented in Dubai.

Article originally appeared in Pakistan Link and given to “goatmilk.wordpress” by its author.

3 thoughts on “Tolerance of the “Other” in Islam?: Dr. Prof. Mohammad Ahmed Qadri

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