(Formerly Vice-Chancellor of Osmania and Aligarh Muslim Universities)
Presented by the author in a seminar held in the University of Chicago, on April 26, 1998.
The Rand Corporation a leading think tank in the USA conducted a high level study of Middle Eastern countries in which State Department officials, FBI and CIA officers as well as senior policy analysts participated. They discussed such topics as Islamic fundamentalism, regional security and ethnic divisions by analyzing every Middle Eastern country. The results of this study were published in 1995 in a book “A Sense of Siege ” The Geo-Politics of Islam and the West.
Three main ideas emerged from that study:
· Islam has yet to prove its claim of tolerance towards others. It can not be trusted with state power at this moment.
· Islam as a faith is great, but its vocal champions are primarily militants, fundamentalists and those prone to violence. They are driven by a zeal to control the world. They are anti-modernity, anti-pluralism and anti-democracy. They must be confronted directly or indirectly.
· Islam had its supremacy at a certain point in history. However it is no longer an effective ideology. The Muslim world is plagued with ethnic, sectarian and regional conflicts. The more these conflicts spread and assume a violent nature, the more Islam will lose its grip on people.
With these assumptions in mind, the participants predicted the future of the Muslim World that they said, would undergo a terrible period of violence and disunity in the next five years. Countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq may split into small ethnic states. Larger states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran may fulfill their hegemonies' goal of controlling their neighbors and thus emerge as regional competitors. The policy analysts also believe the entire Muslim world might face a deep economic crisis resulting in depleting GNP and rising unemployment.
Need to distinguish between the teachings of a religion and the behavior of its followers
The purpose of this article is to examine whether the conclusions of this high level group on which the government of USA obviously depends for the formulation of its policies are a correct understanding of Islam as a religion, or whether they are result of dealing with an existing political need for which the application of double standards is generally necessary in international politics. It may also be necessary to state at the very outset that a clear distinction is necessary between the original teachings of a religion and the interpretations given by its commentators and the behavior of its followers in different historical and political situations. It has to be clearly understood that the genocide of native Americans and Australians, the burning of people at the stakes, the breaking of people's will on the torture rack, the Spanish Inquisition, the lynching of black slaves, the Holocaust and the recent ethnic cleansing by the Christian West do not exemplify Christianity. In the same manner, any acts of unjustified violence or intolerance shown by some oppressed and aggrieved Muslims is not Islam. If French Resistance against Nazi occupation and oppression was heroism, the resistance of Muslims against forces of occupation, dictatorial regimes, imperialism, exploitation and oppression must also be treated on the same footing unless we are applying double standards. Any unjustified killing of innocent non-combatants is condemned in the Qur'an in the following words;
“If anyone slays another for other than manslaughter or for disorder on the land, it shall be as if he has slain all mankind. But if one saves the life of a single person it shall be as if he has saved the life of all mankind.” (5:32)
The scope of this paper is restricted to the examination of three issues
1. Is Islam anti- pluralism?
2. Is Islam intolerant?
3. If not, what are the reasons for Muslim intolerance?
Religion as defined by the Qur'an
Let us now try to find out the definition of Religion according to the Qur'an
O mankind! Serve your Lord who created you and those who went before you, that you may protect yourselves against evil -- (Your Lord) who has made the earth a place for you to live on, and the sky a canopy, and sends down water from it, and (by it) brings forth fruits for your sustenance. Do not then knowingly set up peers for God. (2: 21,22)
The way of life acceptable to God is submission to His Will (Islam).....(3:119)
Although what was enjoined was simply this: that they should serve none but God, being sincere in faith as persons upright by nature, observe prayer and pay charity. That is the right religion. (98:5)
Assuredly those who say our lord is God and remain firm with God in their belief, no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve. These are they who shall remain inmates of paradise, abiding therein for ever. A reward for what they have done. (46:13,14.)
And who has the nobler religion than the person who surrenders himself to God, does what is right and follows the faith of Abraham, the upright, whom God Himself chose to be his friend (4:125)
To every people We have sent an apostle saying: Serve God and turn away from forces for mischief and disorder. (16:37)
And truly this religion of yours is one religion; and I am your Lord. (23:52)
Religious tolerance, Islam's gift to humanity
The primary purpose was to see that all humankind serves but one God and live together in mutual love and affection. All believers in God are therefore called a single brotherhood. History however has shown that even the Jews and the Christians had such strong differences and followers of other religions were who also very intolerant, the Qur'an made it an article of faith for its followers to believe in all earlier scriptures and prophets. Religious tolerance is therefore Islam's gift to humanity.
O you who believe! Believe in God, in His Apostle, and in the Book He has sent down to His Apostle, and in the Books He has sent down aforetime; for, he who denies God and His angels and His Books and His apostles and the Last Day, has surely gone far astray. (4:136)
Thus submission to the Will of God is the real religion. The word for this in Arabic is Islam and it also means Peace. The name itself is the very essence of religion. According to the Qur'an innumerable prophets or messengers of God brought the same message of self-surrender or submission to the Will of God, or Islam and an ethical and moral value system or Deen common to all. All such monotheistic believers in the one universal God were therefore called Muslims -- or People who submit to the Will of God.
All prophets and their followers were called a single brotherhood.
Verily, (O you who believe in Me) this community of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am the Sustainer of you all: worship then, Me (alone).. (Q.21: 92).
Submission to God or Islam was the basic message of all the prophets. The word Islam was not limited by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) to his own followers. It was used ungrudgingly to his Judeo-Christian predecessors treating them as fellow-believers. There is no word more fitting for the religion of the human race.
According to Bernard Lewis: ‘Islam was the first to create a multi-racial, multi-cultural, inter-continental civilization and to borrow, adapt and incorporate significant elements from remoter civilizations of Asia.”
Pluralism and Tolerance
Pluralism is defined as “a condition of society in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious or cultural groups co-exist within a nation. It also means that reality is made of many ultimate substances. And also the belief that no single explanatory system or view of reality can account for all the phenomenon of life."
Intolerance to other religions is exhibited by refusing to accept or by denigrating other prophets and their scriptures. While the Jews and Christians did this for centuries, there is not a single instance of such intolerant behavior by the Muslims towards prophets Moses and Jesus (Peace be upon them), in the whole history of Islam. Mary (Peace be on her) according to the Qur'an is the most exalted of women.
O Mary! God has selected thee and sanctified thee and chosen thee above all the women of the World. (3:42)
Muslims are asked to make no distinction between any of the earlier prophets. Only a few with whom the Arabs of the Prophet's time were familiar, have therefore been mentioned in the Qur'an. The Qur'an repeatedly confirms the earlier scriptures but also mentions that they have undergone some changes. A fact that has been accepted by modern researchers of the concerned religions.
There have been no people among whom a Warner has not passed. (35:24)
And We have certainly sent apostles before you; of some We have told you and of others We have told you nothing. (40:78)
We have not sent any apostle to any people except one born to their language so that he could explain to them in a manner clear to them. (14:4)
He has sent down to you (Muhammad) the Book of truth confirming the Scriptures which have preceded it. Hitherto He sent down the Torah and the Gospel for mankind's guidance. Now He has sent down the Criterion (The standard by which to discern the true from false). (3:3)
Verily, We have sent down the Torah affording guidance and light. It was in accordance with it that the prophets dutifully administered the Law to the Jews even as did their Rabbis and those learned in law who were to safeguard its integrity and interpret it properly. Therefore (You Jews) none but heed Me and do not barter away My Commandments for a pal [MC1] try price. And they who do not judge by what God has sent down, they are indeed rebels. (5:44)
In the line of prophets We caused Jesus, son of Mary to confirm that which was already in the Torah and We gave him the Gospel with guidance and light afforded therein and confirming what was already in the Torah-- a guidance and admonition to those who are God-conscious. (5:46)
Let the followers of the Gospel administer justice in accordance with what God has revealed therein. Those who do not judge by what god has revealed -- they are indeed reprobates. (5:47)
To you (Muhammad) also We have sent down the Book in proper form confirming the scriptures already delivered. Judge therefore between them by that which God has revealed and follow not their desires by setting aside the truth that has come to you. To every people We have given a law and a ritual, and if God had so willed He would have made of you all but one society; but it was His wish to test you by what He has given to each of you. Be emulous then in good deeds. To God you shall all return and He will make you realize the evil of wrangling over what were mere variations (in law and rituals).(5:48)
Say: O people of the Book! Nothing will avail you unless you uphold the Torah and the Gospel and that which has been sent down to you by your Lord.
Yet all that has been bestowed on you (O Prophet) is bound to make many of them yet more stubborn in their overweening arrogance in their denial of truth. But sorrow not over people who deny the truth. (5:68)
The basic cardinal doctrine of Islam is none other than the unity of God, proclaimed and preached by all the prophets of old, only restated, reinstated and restored, not initiated by
the prophet of Islam. Intolerance can only be against anything that is different from what one believes in. The Qur'an repeatedly emphasizes on the unity of revelations to all the prophets.
Say, “We believe in God and in what has been sent down to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac and Jacob and his descendants and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. No distinction do we make between any one of them and to Him we are all resigned.” (3:84)
To you We have commended a faith which We commended to Noah and which We have revealed to (Muhammad) and which We commended to Abraham, Moses and Jesus saying: observe this faith and do not divide yourselves into sects therein. (42:13)
Say to them (O Prophet) as one of the messengers, I deliver no novel doctrine and I know not what will be done (by God) either to me or to you. I only follow what is revealed to me, and I am but a plain Warner. (46:9)
Was this not a clear indication that all those who believe in God should constitute a common- wealth of believers in God, following their own forms of worship and rituals and their own laws as prescribed by their own prophets? The following verses indicate that this privilege is not confined only to Abrahamic religions but to followers of all other Scriptures throughout the world.
To every people We have appointed ceremonial rites that they observe, therefore let them not wrangle over this matter with you but bid them to return to your Lord (since that is the main objective of religion). You are indeed rightly guided. (22:67)
(We had sent the earlier prophets) with clear proof and the scriptures. And to you also have We sent a scripture (the Qur'an) that you may bring afresh to their minds what has already been sent down to them; so that they may reflect over it.(16:44)
The above verses of the Qur'an clearly show that even among those who believe in God, through the scriptures of earlier prophets, there are differences of law and ritual that should not come in the way of mutual understanding and cooperation in the cause of God.
The Qur'an has mentioned only those prophets with whom the people of Arabia or the Arabic speaking people of the time of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) were acquainted. The prophets of other areas in the world have not been mentioned by name.
The survey of the relevant material in the Qur'an brings out the following points.
· Revelation is universal and for every nation there is a messenger.
· Every messenger is born to the language of the concerned people.
· All messengers and prophets must be universally respected.
· The infallibility of other scriptures is doubtful as their followers did not preserve them as they should have.
· The Qur'an confirms the essential truths still preserved in them. However Qur'an as the final scripture clears up all uncertainties and corrects the aberrations that have crept in these Scriptures.
· In the light of these general doctrines Muslims have to respect all scriptures considered holy by the followers of those religions even though the scriptures are not mentioned in the Qur'an. They may however not accept them as infallible.
· The Qur'an regards the different scriptures as only parts of one heavenly Book (3:23). In view of this the Qur'an criticizes the Jews and Christians who put themselves in a false position by rejecting one another though they both claim to study the Book. (2:113).
· The Qur'an expects followers of all scriptures believing in God not to divide themselves in to sects of each prophet.( 42:14) and also blames them for having divided into sects within the same religion (6:159). This applies to all other religions not specifically mentioned in the Qur'an where sects and castes are numerous.
The Qur'an describes Prophet Muhammad as
A messenger from God, reciting to them pure pages, wherein are (inscribed the truths advanced by) all true scriptures. (98:2,3)
In spite of this repeated assertion that the same God has sent the same message for those who still are not aware of Him or do not believe in Him, the attitude of extreme tolerance is exhibited in the following verse:
So if they dispute with you (O Muhammad) say: I have entirely surrendered myself to God and so have those who follow me, and say to those who have received the Book and also to those who have not; do you also surrender yourself to God? and if they do they will be regarded as rightly guided; but if they decline, your function is but to deliver the message, and God is cognizant of what his devoted servants do .(3:20)
Was it not an indication of the highest level of heed tolerance, an indication that all those followers of earlier prophets, or even those who believe in Him without a scripture are rightly guided? Is it also not a clear injunction that even a prophet of God can not compel anyone, his job is only to deliver the message?
No compulsion in religion
The point that there is no compulsion or coercion in matters of faith is repeatedly asserted in the Qur'an. A few verses are given below.
There is no compulsion in religion: for the right way is clearly distinct from the wrong way. Whoever therefore rejects the forces of evil and believes in God has taken hold of a support unfailing, which shall never give way, for God is All Hearing and knowing. (2:256))
Yet if God had so willed, they would not have ascribed divinity to aught besides Him, hence We have not made you their keeper, nor are you a guardian over them. (6:107)
And so, (O Prophet!) exhort them; your task is only to exhort; you cannot compel them to believe. (88:21,22)
We have not sent you (unto men O Prophet!) with power to determine their faith. (17:54).
But if they turn away (do not grieve); for We have not sent you to be a keeper over them: your function is just plain preaching. (42:48)
The above verses of the Qur'an clearly show that Islam accepts the existence of other religions and also of those who do not believe in God and even the Prophet is restrained from the thought of compelling others by a rather clear reminder that he is not appointed as a keeper or guardian over people who do not heed him. In spite of this extremely clear injunction if any one is intolerant and believes in compelling others he is not following Islam.
There is absolutely no question of waging war for compelling people to embrace Islam; that would be an unholy war.
Being the Last Testament of God the Qur'an points out certain aberrations that have crept into the beliefs of the followers of earlier scriptures that are briefly stated below.
The Unity Of God
Say: He is God, the One God, the Eternal! Neither begets He nor is He begotten, and there is none like unto Him. (112:1-4 )
No Original Sin
S o they (Adam and Eve) both ate (the fruit) thereof and their naked state dawned upon them and they began to cover themselves with the leaves of the Garden. Thus it was that Adam went against the wishes of his Lord, and took the wrong way. Thereafter his Lord raised him (from his fallen state) and turned kind towards him......... Hereafter shall guidance come from Me to you (Adam and Eve and their progeny): and whoso follows My Guidance shall neither fall into error nor court misery. (20: 121-123)
No Vicarious Atonement/ No Unqualified Intercession
...No one shall be responsible for what one does except himself; and no bearer of a burden shall bear an other's burden. Eventually shall you all return to your Lord; He will then make you realize that about which you were at variance. (6:165)
And beware of the Day when no soul shall avail another in anything nor shall any intercession of one for another be considered nor shall any form of compensation be accepted, neither shall they be succored. (2:48)
Again what will make you comprehend what the Day of Judgment is? It is a day when no one shall have the power to help another; on that Day all sovereignty will rest with God (82:18,19)
Now those things that some people invoke besides God can not create anything, since they themselves are but created: they are dead not living, and they do not even know when they will be raised from the dead! (16:20)
Unity in Diversity
All believers in God are a single brotherhood
O you Apostles! Partake of the good things of life, and do righteous deeds: Verily I have full knowledge of all that you do.
And, verily, this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: remain then conscious of me.
But they (who claim to follow you) have torn their unity wide asunder, piece-by-piece, each group delighting in (but) what they themselves possess (by way of tenets). (23:51-53)
A commonwealth of true believers in God
After calling to mind some of the earlier prophets in verses 48-91, of Surah 21 the Qur'an returns to the principle of oneness, as it ought to be reflected in the unity of all who believe in Him.
Verily,(O you who believe in Me) this brotherhood of yours is one single brotherhood, since I am the Sustainer of you all: worship then Me (alone). (21:92)
Addressed to all who truly believe in God, whatever their historical denomination, by the preceding reference to all God's apostles, the Qur'an clearly implies that all of them are inspired by, and preached the same fundamental truths, not withstanding all the differences in rituals or the specific laws which they propounded in accordance with the exigencies of times and the social development of their followers.
Salvation: There are no chosen People
The Qur'anic term believer means those who believe in God, do not attribute divinity to others and work righteously. Unlike most other religions whose followers believe that salvation is reserved for them only and all the others are condemned to hell, the Qur'an in several verses lays down a fundamental doctrine of Islam that there are no chosen people and that God judges every one according to his deeds. With a breadth of vision unparalleled in religious faith, the idea of salvation is made conditional upon three elements only; belief in God, belief in accountability on the Day of Judgment, and righteous action in life. It clearly negates the Jewish belief that their descent from Abraham, entitles them to be regarded as God's chosen people.
And they say no one shall enter paradise unless he is a Jew or a Christian. Such is their wishful thinking! Say: cite your authority if you speak the truth. Nay, whosoever surrenders his whole being unto God while doing good, his reward is with his Lord: and all such need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve.(2:111,112)
Verily, those who have attained faith in this Divine writ (The Qur'an), as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabeans- all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds- shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. (2:62) and (5:69)
And yet before this there was the revelation of Moses, a guide and a (sign of God's) Grace; and this (the Qur'an) is a Divine writ, confirming the truth (of the Torah) in the Arabic tongue, to warn those who are bent on evil doing, and (to bring) a glad tiding to the doers of good; for behold who say, “Our Sustainer is God,” and thereafter stand firm (in their faith) -- no fear need they have. And neither shall they grieve: it is they who are destined for paradise, therein to abide as a reward for all that they have done.(46:12-14)
And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelations there are indeed such as (truly) believe in God and that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God's messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer -- for behold God is swift in reckoning! (3; 199)
The above verses clearly indicate that salvation is not reserved for any particular denomination but open to every one who consciously realizes the oneness of God, surrenders himself to his will and by living righteously, gives practical effect to this spiritual attitude.
Respect for all houses of worship
The Qur'an enjoins respect for all houses of worship.
Hence, who could be more wicked than those who bar the mention of God's name from (any of) His houses of worship and strive for their ruin, (although) they have no right to enter them save in fear (of God)? For them in this world, there is ignominy in store; and for them, in the life to come, awesome suffering. (2:114)
... For, if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, (all) monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques -- in (all of) which God's name is abundantly extolled- would surely have been destroyed another (ere now). (22:40)
Dialogue with non-Muslims
In this pluralistic world it is not possible to live in isolation. The Qur'an enjoins upon Muslims to be kind and fair with the decent people of other faiths and to avoid the hostile, the unfriendly and the wicked.
And tell My servants that they should speak in the most kindly manner (unto those who do not share their beliefs) verily, Satan is always ready to stir up discord between men -- for, verily, Satan is man's open foe! (17:53)
God does not forbid you to be nice and kind and to behave with full equity to those who have not made war upon you because of your faith and hence have not driven you forth from your homes, for God indeed loves those who act in fairness. (60:8)
Argue with the people of the Book in a gentle manner, save those who are intemperately disposed towards you and say to them: We believe in whatever has been delivered to us and also what has been delivered to you and our God and your God is but one to Him do we surrender ourselves. (29:46)
Invite people to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation and argue with them in a most kindly manner: for behold your Lord knows best as to who strays from His path, and best knows He as to who are the rightly guided. Hence if you have to respond to an attack (in argument) respond only to the extent of the attack leveled against you, but to bear yourselves with patience is far better for you, (since God is with) those who are patient in adversity. (16:125,126)
This stress on kindness and compassion and the use of reason and tact in religious discussions with people of other faiths has a twofold purpose. One, to have peaceful relations with people of other religions, and, two to obey God's injunction that
There is no compulsion in matters of faith ... (2:256)
Liberalism and tolerance go even further. Treating believers in God as a single brotherhood, it permits Muslims to marry women following earlier scriptures and has made their food lawful to them, thus breaking the tribal, religious, racial and other barriers and making it possible for the believers in God to come together socially and even have matrimonial relationships.
“Today, all the good things of life have been made lawful to you. And the food of those who have received the scriptures is lawful to you. And lawful to you in wedlock are chaste believing women and chaste women from among all those who have received the Book before you provided you give them dowers and enter into wedlock with them with no thought of mere sexual satisfaction, nor as secret love companions.” (5:5)
The Qur'anic attitude towards those who do not have a scripture or who have no concept of a Supreme Being and worship idols or other things is also very peaceful and tolerant.
But do not revile those (beings) whom they invoke instead of God, lest they revile God out of spite, and in ignorance: for, goodly indeed have We made their own doings appear unto every community. In time, (however) unto their Sustainer they must return; and then He will make them (truly) understand all that they were doing.(6:108)
Say: O you who deny the truth! I do not worship that which you worship, and neither do you worship that which I worship! And I will not worship that which you have (ever) worshipped, and neither will you (ever) worship that which I worship. To you your religion, to me mine. (109:1-6)
As against the present campaign against Muslims, stereotyping and maligning them, the Qur'an does not stereotype the followers of other religions and in several verses points out that among the followers of all scriptures there are good and bad people and the number of the truly devout is generally less than the indifferent and the bad ones and that there are believers and unbelievers in every group.
“And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there indeed such as (truly) believe in God, and in that which has been revealed to you and that which has been revealed to them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God's messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer -- for, behold, God is swift in reckoning. (3:199)
They are not all alike: among the followers of earlier revelation there are upright people, who recite God's messages throughout the night, and prostrate themselves before Him.
They believe God and the Last Day, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and vie with one another in doing good works: and these are among the righteous. And whatever good they do, they shall never be denied the reward thereof; for, God has full knowledge of those who are conscious of Him.(3:113-115)
And among the followers of earlier revelation there is many a one who, if you entrust him with a treasure, will (faithfully) restore it to you; and there is among them many a one who, if you entrust him with a tiny gold coin, will not restore it to you unless you keep standing over him. For they say we are not bound to keep faith with these unlettered folk (non-Jewish Arabs). Thus they deliberately say of God what is untrue. Indeed who keep faith and guard themselves against evil know that God loves the righteous. (3:75,76)
The above verse also lays down the Islamic concept of honesty. It lays down the principle that honest dealings are necessary with every one and not merely with people of your own religion.
So far we have dealt with the text of the Holy Qur'an. We will now deal with the Prophet's method of dealing with those who either opposed him or did not respond to his preaching.
Relations with Jews: The Constitution / Covenant of Madinah
The prophet spent the first fifty years of his life in Makkah living among idolaters, Christians, Jews and Hanifs (people who believed in the unity of God). He received his first revelation from God when he was forty and faced extreme persecution for the next thirteen years. He was forced to send some of his followers to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) that was ruled by a Christian king. A few years later he himself had to migrate to another non-Muslim area when the idolaters of Makkah decided to assassinate him. This started a totally new phase for Islam in a totally different environment. Yathrib, the town (now called Madinah) to which he migrated and the surrounding tribes were inhabited by pagan Arabs, Jews and Christians. The region did not have a ruler to control the internecine feuds between tribes.
In just a few weeks he succeeded in consulting and rallying all the inhabitants of the region around a new order. He visited the chiefs of surrounding Jewish tribes and cultivated the friendship of their nobles. He fasted with them on the days they fasted and prayed towards Jerusalem as they did. He created a political structure with them in a pact of friendship and an alliance of mutual cooperation.
He created a political and administrative unit in which the Muslim immigrants from Makkah, the local Muslims, the Jewish tribes and the pagan Arabs all entered into a state organization by means of a social contract. The prophet drew up a constitution according to which autonomous tribes and villages acceded of their own free will, to a confederate state.
The constitution of Madinah was the first written constitution in the world dealing with a pluralistic society. It was one of the greatest political documents which history has known. It was based on the principles of unity, justice, peace, mutual support and cooperation, self-exertion and respect and fulfillment of commitments. This was achieved by the spiritual unity of all his followers and the political unity of all people of the new state created by this constitution. Thus a new geo- socio- political entity was created with the consent of autonomous units. The political, diplomatic, administrative, judicial and military decisions he took goes to prove that Islam is a method rather than a ready made solution.
The constitution gave the world some new concepts.
By integrating all Muslims from different places, races, tribes, the immigrants and the local Muslims as one Ummah -- the spiritual Ummah -- he gave the great concept that Muslims belonging to any race or place anywhere are one Ummah or one people or community.
By bringing the tribes of different races and religions in one political unit and calling them one Ummah inclusive of Muslims, thus creating a concept of a political Ummah, or a community or people of one political unit as one people, with equal rights and obligations. Thus the element of territory became the basis of granting the right of citizenship. The use of the word Ummah for Muslims alone has resulted in some misconceptions. The word Ummah means people of one time, one kind (Zamakhshari), or a nation, a community, a way of life, behavior (Jawhari). Thus the expression in the constitution that the Jews are one Ummah with the Muslims gives them equal status as citizens of the state. The principles of equality of all citizens were confirmed the same type of equality was given in Europe only after the French Revolution about a thousand years later.
A summary of important articles of the Covenant relevant to this paper is given below:
The Muslims of Quraish, Yathrib and those who followed them, joined them, or fought with them, constitute one Ummah (people, nation, community) to the exclusion of all others.
Whosoever among the Jews follows us shall have help and equality; they shall not be injured nor shall any enemy be aided against them
No separate peace will be made when the believers are fighting in the way Allah
The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war with the believers as long as they are at war with a common enemy.
The Jews are one Ummah (people, nation, community) with the Muslims. The Jews shall maintain their own religion and the Muslims theirs. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.
The Jews shall be responsible for their expenses and the Believers for theirs. Each if attacked shall come to the assistance of the other.
The valley of Yathrib shall be sacred and inviolable for all that join this treaty. Strangers under protection, shall be treated on the same ground as their protectors; but no stranger shall be taken under protection except with the consent of his tribe..... No woman shall be taken under protection without the consent of her family.
Whatever difference or dispute between the parties to this covenant remains shall be referred to Allah and to Muhammad. Allah is the guarantor of the piety and goodness that is embodied in this Covenant... The contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib. If they are called to cease hostilities and to enter into peace, they shall be bound to do so in the interest of peace; and they make a similar demand on Muslims it must be carried out except when the war is against their religion.
Allah approves the truth and good will of this covenant. This treaty shall not protect the unjust and the criminal.
There was no separate tax for non-Muslims. The only verse on Jizya (Poll tax/ Exemption tax from military service) came nine years later in the 9th year of Hijra and applies to people of conquered territories after being humbled in war.
In the new state of Madinah the Prophet allowed the Jews and the Christians to be governed by their own laws and even have their own judges. He accepted the validity of their own laws and gave a new orientation that Islamic state is a free and open state where any one is welcome provided aggression and war are renounced and a commitment to peace and reason is declared. In the Islamic state while Islamic law is sovereign, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian or whatever laws of their own the non-Muslims wish to observe are “de jure” Thus the new concepts of territorial and personal laws together provided a pluralistic arrangement in government structure enabling non-Muslim communities in Muslim states to enjoy autonomy in their personal affairs. The Prophet offered even territorial autonomy and self-government to the Christians of Najran.
The Prophet recognized the Zoroastrians as people of the Book (8-9 Hijra /630-31 CE) Thus laying down another guideline that people with a Book not mentioned in the Qur'an could also be treated as people of the Book.
A few months after the establishment of this new state, the Prophet concluded treaties of defensive alliance and mutual aid with the pagan Arabs of the neighborhood of Madinah. In 2 Hijra he appointed Amr ibn Umaiyah, a non-Muslim as ambassador to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Thus laying down a guideline that treaties of friendship and appointments of non-Muslims in government are permissible.
The failure of the Covenant
The Jews of Madinah were not loyal to the Covenant which had given them rights and equality never before given to them by the Christians. They proved untrustworthy not only in political and military issues but also in the matters of faith. According to Dr. Israel Wolfenson “When the Quraish asked the Jews whether or not Muhammad's religion was better than Makkan religion. The Jews answered by giving preference to Makkan idolatry to Islam's monotheism. It was the duty of the Jews not to allow themselves to get involved in such a scandalous mistake. They should have never declared that the worship of idols was better than Islamic monotheism. The Jews have for centuries raised the banner of monotheism in the world and have suffered throughout history, the greatest misfortunes, murders and persecutions for the sake of their faith in the One God, should have, on loyalty to this tradition, sacrificed every interest -- nay even their lives- to bring about the downfall of paganism. By allying themselves with the pagans they were in fact fighting themselves and contradicting the teachings of the Torah which commands them to avoid, repudiate--indeed fight-- the pagans.”
Such acts of animosity resulted in action against them and the Jews scuttled the magnanimous gesture of the Prophet to create a political brotherhood in a pluralistic society.
The history of the world would have been very different if the spirit of this constitution had continued ensuring peaceful co-existence and cooperation between followers of different religions. It was too modern to succeed. The necessary infrastructure did not yet exist to sustain it.
After the breakup of the Covenant and after the war with the Jews of Khyber, the Prophet returned the copies of the Torah seized by the Muslims in the course of the hostilities. This noble and honorable conduct is in direct contrast with the manner in which the Romans treated the Jews when they conquered Jerusalem and burned all the sacred writings they found in the Temple and trampled them under foot. It is also far from the Christian persecution of Jews after the Crusades and in Spain where every Torah seized was put to the torch.
Until the exit of Banu Nadir from Madinah, the Prophet's secretary was a Jew. He had chosen him for his capacity to write letters in Hebrew, Syriac as well as in Arabic. After the evacuation of the Jews from Madinah the Prophet no longer trusted him and appointed Zaid bin Thabith in his place.
In spite of this early experience with the Jews, there were always flourishing Jewish communities in the Muslim realm, notably in Spain, North Africa, Syria, Iraq and later in Turkey. Jews fled from Christian persecution to Muslim countries for refuge.
According to Samuel Huntington, “If the Jews today knew, that under Islamic rule, they had security, prosperity for themselves and their properties, they would have refrained from oppressing the Palestinians.”
Relations with Christians
As with the Jews, the early period of Muslim rule had been one in which relations between Christians and Muslims had been fruitful. Christians had still formed the majority of the population at least in the part of the world west of Iran.
The day on which the Prophet received the first Revelation, in the cave of Hira, from Archangel Gabriel, he was over-awed by the experience. He came back home and narrated it to his wife Khadija. She comforted him and ran to her cousin Waraqah ibn Nawfal who was a Christian. When she finished telling him what Muhammad had seen and heard and of her compassionate and hopeful response to her husband, Waraqah told her “Muhammad must be the prophet of the nation. Tell him that he must be firm.” It was thus a Christian who first recognized Muhammad as a prophet.
The Prophet started preaching about the Unity of God in an idolatrous society. He and his few followers faced severe persecution. When intensified further and Muslims became subject to torture and murder, the Prophet advised them to escape to Abyssinia (Ethiopia), a Christian kingdom--where “ a Christian king rules without injustice, a land of truthfulness--until God leads us to a way out of our difficulty.” When the first batch of refugees reached Abyssinia, a delegation of idolaters from Makkah made a representation to King Negus against the new religion. After hearing the Muslim refugees, the king drew a line on the floor and said with great joy, “Between your religion and ours there is really no more difference than this line”.
The King allowed them and a future group of refugees to live in peace and tranquillity till they finally shifted to Yathrib after the Prophet's own migration to that city.
Thus a Christian king was the first to accept Islam as a sister faith believing in the same God.
A Charter for Christians
In 628 CE the Prophet granted a charter of privileges to the monks of St., Catherine Monastery in Mount Sinai. It consisted of several clauses covering all aspects of human rights including such topics as the protection of Christians, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property.
The English translation is given below.
This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.
Verily, I, the servants and helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against any thing that displeases them.
No compulsion is to be on them.
Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs, nor their monks from their Monasteries.
No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry any thing from it to the Muslim's houses.
Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His prophet. Verily they are my allies and have my secure charter against all they hate.
No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them.
If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.
Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.
No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).
Courtesy shown by the Prophet
When a deputation from the Christian king Negus of Abyssinia arrived to see him, he rose to serve them. His companions sought to stop him, but he said to them: “The Abyssinians were kind to our companions when they went to their country; I would like to treat them likewise and reward them.” When the Prophet received the news of the death of King Negus, he performed the funeral prayers along with his followers.
Here is a striking illustration of the Prophet's treatment of the deputation of Christians from Najran, which came to see him in the year 10 H. The Prophet allowed them to stay in the Mosque and also allowed them to pray in it with their religious rites, although their adoration of Jesus as the son of God, and of Mary as the mother of God were fundamentally at variance with the Islamic beliefs.
The First inter-faith congress of three religions .
The Najran delegation started a public debate with the Prophet and was joined by the Jews, thus resulting in a tripartite dialogue between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Jews were obstinately denying the prophethood of Jesus as well as of Muhammad and pretending that Ezra was the son of God. The Christians were defending the Trinitarianism and the Divinity of Jesus. Muhammad was calling men to the unity God and the spiritual unity of mankind. He told them that he believed in all previous prophets and scriptures and does not make any distinction between them. He criticized them in strong terms for their compromise of the monotheistic faith that God is one, for tampering with the words of God in their scriptures and for interpreting them in ways violating the understanding of the prophets whose Prophethood they themselves acknowledged. He argued that their prophets had received the same eternal message, which has been received by him. Muhammad was commanded by God to address the delegates:
Say, O people of the Book, come now to a fair principle common to both of us, that we do not worship aught but God, that we do not associate aught with Him, and we do not take one another as lords besides God. But if they turn away, then say “Bear witness that we submit to God only” (3:64)
The offer here is of a federal principle for the reunification of the human race, by resting human relationship at least on a common belief in the unity of God consciously operating for the unity of man, a common ground on which all humanity may unite. The world order on which the Prophet set his heart was to be composed of not merely those who would follow the Qur'an, but all others who believed in the unity of God and righteous living. The Qur'an desired him to forge a sort of federal link with the followers of Judaism and Christianity and for living together with them as a single composite community.
The Jews were already under governance of the covenant of Madinah. The Christians resolved neither to oppose Muhammad nor the missionary activity of his followers. They asked to appoint for them a Muslim to act as a judge in their own disputes. The Prophet sent Abu Ubaydah ibn al Jarrah, who was vested with proper judicial authority.
This magnanimous treatment is in total contrast to the treatment given to the people of Najran by Dhu Niwas the Jewish king who had burned twenty thousand Christians in a trench full of fire when they refused to get converted to the Jewish faith. This event is mentioned in the Qur'an in the following verse according to some commentators:
Cursed be the fellows of the trench who fed the fire with fury, sat by it and witnessed the burning of the believers whom they threw therein. They executed the believers only because the latter believed in God, the Almighty, the Praiseworthy. (85:5-9)
It may be noted here that the Qur'an calls the Christians as believers, in total contrast to the Crusaders who called the monotheist Muslims as infidels.
The Treatment of early Caliphs.
When Jerusalem submitted to Caliph Umar, the following conditions were drawn up:
In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate, the following are the terms of capitulation, which I Umar the servant of God, the Commander of the Faithful, grant to the people of Jerusalem.
I grant them security of lives, their possessions, and their children, their churches, their crosses, and all that appertains to them in their integrity; and to lands and to all, of their religion. Their churches therein shall not be impoverished, nor destroyed, nor injured from among them; neither their endowments nor their dignity; and not a thing of their property; neither shall the inhabitants be exposed to violence in following their religion; nor shall one of them be injured.
In company with the Patriarch, Umar visited the holy places, and it is said while they were in the Church of Resurrection, as it was the appointed hour of prayer, the Patriarch bade the Caliph offer his prayers there, but he thoughtfully refused saying that if he were to do so, his followers might afterwards claim it as a place of Muslim worship.
The Christians had prohibited the Jews from entering or living in Jerusalem. This order had been a tradition since the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE The Christian Bishop of Jerusalem made this observance the condition of his surrender of the City to Caliph Umar, and the Muslims had to honor it because Jerusalem was then a completely Christian city. This ban was lifted during the Umayyad period. It is therefore thanks to Islam's tolerance, and to its universalism that the Jews succeeded in re-establishing their presence in the holy city.
In the time of Caliph Umar certain Muslims had usurped a piece of land belonging to a Jew and had constructed a mosque on the site. Learning the news, the Caliph ordered the demolition of the mosque and the restoration of the land to the Jew. Professor Cardatin a Christian of Lebanon speaking in a series of lectures in 1935 had stated that this house of the Jew, Bait Yahudi still exists and is well known.
Another classical example cited by Ibn Kathir and others is that of the Grand Mosque of Damascus. An Ummayad Caliph had occupied a church to enlarge the mosque. Later when a complaint was brought before Caliph Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, he ordered to demolish a part of the mosque and restore the church. But the Christians themselves preferred a monetary compensation and the matter was thus amicably settled.
During the time of the same Caliph, the consulting rooms of a Christian doctor just below the minaret of Islam's holiest mosque, Kaaba, in Makkah.
According to Albert Hourani “By the end of the tenth century, possibly a majority of the people of Andalus were Muslims but side by side with them there lived those who did not convert, Christians and a considerable Jewish population of craftsmen and traders. The different group were held together by the tolerance of the Umayyads towards Jews and Christians and also by the Arabic language which had become that of the majority of Jews and Christians as well as the Muslims by the eleventh century. Toleration, a common language and a long tradition of liberal rule all helped to create a distinctive Andalusian consciousness and society. Its Islamic religious culture developed on rather different lines from those of the eastern countries and its Jewish culture too became independent of that of Iraq, the main center of Jewish religious life.”
The Jews and Christians worked as secretaries and financial officials of Muslim rulers. Jews in Spain came to use Arabic for philosophy, science and poetry. The Jews spread more widely throughout the world of Arabic Islam. They were found in most cities for they played an important part in trade, manufacture, finance and medicine. A large part was Arabic speaking. Until early modern times the main centers of Jewish population and culture lay in the countries ruled by Muslims. During the early part of the Islamic period Iraq continued to be the main center of Jewish religious learning. They adopted Arabic as the language of their secular life although they continued to use Hebrew for liturgical and religious purposes. There was also a flowering of Hebrew poetry both religious and secular, in Andalus (Spain), under the influence of Arabic poetic conventions and styles such as the Qasida or Mawashaha The most famous poet was Judah Halesi (1075-1141).
The greatest figure of medieval Judaism, Musa ibn Maymun (Maimonites 1135-1205) found a freer environment in Cairo under the Ayyubids than in Andalus. He was the court physician of Salah-al-Din and his son. His life and thought give evidence of easy relations between Muslims and Jews of education and standing in the Egypt of his time. The Christian re-conquest of Andalus led to the destruction of Jewish communities there. They went into exile, some in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, but many of them in Istanbul and other cities of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman fiscal policy and the growth of trade with Europe led to the importance of the Christians and Jews in cities. Jews were influential as moneylenders and bankers of the Central government and provincial governors and as managers of tax. They were important in the trade of Baghdad, Tunis and Algeria.
As against this exemplary example of religious tolerance, the brutal treatment of Jews and Muslims after the Christian re-conquest of Spain in 1492 and the final expulsion of Muslims from Spain in the seventeenth century stands out as a dreadful contrast.
As with the Jews the early period of Islamic rule had been one in which relations between Christians and Muslims had been fruitful. Christians had still formed the majority of the population at least in the part of the world west of Iran. The coming of Muslims improved the position of the Nestorian and the Mono-physite churches, by removing the disabilities from which they had suffered under Byzantine rule. The Nestorian patriarch was an important personality in Baghdad of Abbasid Caliphs. As Islam developed it did so in a largely Christian environment and Christian scholars played an important part in the transmission of Greek scientific and philosophical thought into Arabic.
In total contrast to this tolerant and broadminded treatment given by the Muslims, the Crusaders behaved in a totally different manner. In the words of Ruby Wright: “ the zealots committed the equivalent of modern-day ethnic cleansing, murdering Jews and warring against Muslims en route to Palestine. In 1099 when they reached Jerusalem, blood flowed freely. Crusaders burned a Synagogue into which thousands of Jews had fled and stormed a mosque slaughtering thousands of Muslims.”
Muslims in India
Muslims ruled in India for nearly a thousand years. The first conquest took place in AD 711-12, when Muhammad bin Qasim came to rescue a shipload of Muslim merchants whose boat was shipwrecked near the present day Karachi. The second set of invasions occurred at the end of the tenth century by Turks.The final stage which led to the establishment of Muslim rule in India consists of invasions by Muhammad Ghori two hundred years later.
Muhammad bin Qasim who came across two new religions, Hinduism and Buddhism consulted his superior in Baghdad. After consulting the Caliph, Hajjaj the Governor of Iraq wrote to him. “As they have made submission and have agreed to pay taxes to the Caliph, nothing more can be properly required from them. They have been taken under our umbrage and our protection and we cannot in any way stretch our hands upon their lives and property. Permission is given to worship their gods. Nobody must be prevented from following his own religion. They may live in their houses in whatever manner they like”
Muhammad bin Qasim directed the nobles, the principal inhabitants, and the Brahmins to build their temples, traffic with the Muslims, live without fear and to strive to better themselves. He also enjoined upon them to maintain the indigent Brahmins with kindness, observe the rites and customs of theirs and give oblations and alms to the Brahmins according to former practice.
It should be noted here that in India there was a departure from the treatment of subject races. Idolatry was tolerated. Temples were left standing and their worship was not disallowed and thus for all practical purposes they were treated similar to the People of the Book.
The invasion of the Ghaznavids was undertaken more for the sake of plunder than conquest. The demolition of the temple of Somnath by Mahmood Ghazni was opposed by his own advisors and commanders and has remained in the historic memories of the Hindus of India as a major grouse against the Muslims. After the Ghaznis came the Ghoris and other dynasties ending up with the great Moghuls. All Muslim rulers in India accepted, when it suited them to do so, the allegiance of Hindu rulers and landholders, and confirmed them as vassals in the possession of their hereditary lands. On this population, the Muslim rulers relied not only on the means of support, but also to a great extent for the subordinate machinery of the government. For there can be no doubt that practically all minor posts connected with the assessment and collection of land revenue and with accounts of public and state finance generally were filled, as they were many generations later by Hindus.
Though the rulers were Muslims it is a mistake to call the medieval state of India as theocratic for it did not function under the guidance of Muslim theologians. Almost every one of the Muslim monarchs expressed his inability and indicated the impossibility of conducting government in accordance with the Shariah, which had developed under totally different conditions from those prevailing in India. They were wise rulers who saw the justification and even the wisdom of not interfering with the religion of the people. Ziauddin Barni - the historian in his Fatawa-i- Fahandari says, “True religion consists in following the Prophet. But royal government on the contrary, can only be carried on by following the policies of Khusro Parvez and the great emperors of Iran.”
Iltutmish was approached by some ulema (Religious scholars) that as the Hindus were not the people of the Book (ahl-e-Kitab) who could be taken under Muslim protection as dhimmis, (protected citizens of a Muslim state) they should be asked to accept Islam and in the case of refusal put to the sword. Iltutmish asked his wazir to give an answer and he replied that the request was impossible of execution.
Akbar inaugurated a state policy which treated all religions alike and regarded it his duty to make no difference between his subjects on the basis of religion. He threw open the highest appointments to non-Muslims. He married Hindu princesses and allowed them to retain their religion. Their sons were successors to the Mogul throne. In many social and other matters he showed respect to the sentiments and traditions of his non-Muslim subjects. Among the most important was the abolition of jizya (poll tax on Hindus) Sanskrit books were translated into Persian. A new language developed as the synthesis of the Indian language Hindi and Persian the language of the rulers, and was called Urdu.
Aurangzeb sought to turn back the hands of the clock. But he too realized the futility undesirability of mixing religion with politics. In his Ahkams (precepts) collected by Hamiduddin Khan, the following passages occur: “What have the worldly affairs to do with religion? And why should bigotry intrude into matters of religion” He then quoted the Qur'an “For you there is your religion and for me mine” (109:6) and stated if the law were followed it would have been necessary to annihilate all the rajahs and their subjects.” Another of his precepts was “What concern have we with the religion of anybody? Let Jesus follow his own religion and Moses his own.”
Biased historians have alleged that he was anti-Hindu but the research done by Bishambhar Nath Pande clearly shows that he has himself seen several orders issued by Aurangzeb in which land grants were given to several temples.
The eminent historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar says: “Two hundred years of Mogul rule from the accession of Akbar to the death of Muhammad Shah (1556-1749) gave to the whole of northern India, and much of the Deccan (south India) also, oneness of the official language, administrative system, and also a popular lingua indica, even outside the territory directly administered by the Mogul emperors, their administrative system, official nomenclature, court etiquette and monetary were borrowed more or less by the neighboring Hindu rajas.”
The need of the hour was religious tolerance, social and cultural synthesis, political integration and a secular outlook. Destiny had ordained the Moghuls to play this unifying role. Such was the unifying force that even Aurangzeb could play the bigot only halfheartedly and with considerable self-restraint.”
It must however be admitted that while the majority of the Muslim rulers showed magnanimity and tolerance, there were some zealots who did destroy some temples. This has made a damaging impact on the historical memories of the Hindus regarding the Muslim rule in India and has resulted in the demolition of the four-century-old Babri Mosque and continued vendetta against the Muslims. The history of a thousand years of Muslim rule is excluded from the syllabus of the most Indian Universities.
Evil rulers cannot be denied to have existed in the Muslim world and where they existed, Muslims as well as non-Muslims suffered.
Scriptures not mentioned in the Qur'an
. The Prophet had accepted Zoroastrians as people of the Book though their Book has not been mentioned in the Qur'an . In India, in spite of a long rule of nearly a thousand years, Muslim scholars do not seem to have done a study of the local Scriptures. This may be because of two reasons. 1) The Brahmins did not allow non-Brahmins to learn the Sanskrit language. 2) No one among the Muslim scholars had the authority to declare the Hindus or the Buddhists as people of the Book. In spite of this difficulty, the well known scholar Syed Sulaiman Nadvi in his biography of the Prophet” Seerat un Nabi” states on the authority of the Indian saint Hadhrat Shah Mirza Mazhar Jane Janan: “According to the teachings of the Prophet, it
is necessary to believe that in countries such as China, Iran or India, there appeared prophets before the advent of Prophet Muhammad. No Muslim can really deny to the people in these lands, the truth of the faiths ascribed to the mentors venerated by them. On this basis some ulema have described India's Rama and Krishna as prophets.
Mirza Abu Fazal, a scholar of the Mogul period in his book “Faith of Islam” goes so far as to assert that according to the Qur'anic declaration not only Moses and Jesus but all the Vedic rishis of old and Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Mahavira of India, Zaratushtara of Persia and Confucius of China have alike a place in the hearts of true followers of Islam.
Arvind Sharma, a Hindu scholar after a study of the relevant verses in the Qur'an has come to the following conclusion about the Vedas (Hindu Scriptures):
· that they are revealed by God;
· that they are to be respected by Muslims;
· that though venerable they cannot be regarded infallible by the Muslims;
· that the Hindus and non-Hindus and followers of other religious traditions of Indian origin place themselves in a false position by differing amongst like the Jews and Christians
· that the Hindus further compromise their position by being full of contending sects;
· that the Hindus have forgotten part of the Vedas
· that the Hindus are also liable to the charge of concealing their scriptures like the Jews and Christians, though in a different sense, and
· although the texts of the Vedas may not have been corrupted or altered the lack of clarity about its message greatly diminishes its usefulness as a revelation specially when compared to the Qur'an which is described as a clear sign.
The Muslim world was always multi-religious
Due to its structural tolerance vis-à-vis the “people of the Book” the Muslim world has always been multi-religious. Islam expanded into Christian, Jewish and Hindu territories without eliminating the existing religious communities. In the western world, the development was entirely different. Here religious intolerance became endemic, even between Christian churches; many sects were outlawed (as during the first Ecumenical Council in Nicacea), massacred (e.g., the Donatists in north Africa in the fifth century and the Albigensis and Cathari in the thirteenth century), subdued as victims of a crusade (Constantinople in 1205) or deserted (like Orthodox of east Rome during the siege of Sultan Fateh in 1453). In Germany a war lasting thirty years between Protestant and Catholic princes decimated the population (1618-1648).
Under these circumstances and fueled by the church dictum extra ecclesia nullum salus (no salvation outside the church) even minimal tolerance of Muslims could not be expected. The expulsion of both Muslims and Jews from Spain in the sixteenth century -- the first case of ethnic cleansing in modern history - made Europe virtually “Muslim- free”.
The above facts clearly prove that the conclusions drawn by the policy Seminar held by the Rand Corporation and senior policy makers of the United States of America that Islam is anti-pluralism and intolerant are not correct. On the contrary it is seen that the concept of religious pluralism and tolerance is Islam's gift to the world. It was the only religion, which made it a basic belief and duty for its followers to believe in all the previous scriptures and prophets. It was the first to make the laws of non-Muslim citizens as de-jure under a Muslim state and allowed them to have their own judges to deal with disputes. It was the only religion which had not precluded all adherents of earlier faiths from attaining God's Grace and salvation and has assured that those among them who believe uncompromisingly in the One God and accountability to Him on the Day of Judgment and live righteously, “need have no fear, nor shall they grieve.”(2:62; 5:69)
The Reasons for the present Muslim intolerance
· Inspite of the clear teachings of Islam, there are several reasons for the present Muslims intolerance. As people who had shown great magnanimity in moments of victory they are now showing defiance in defeat. Most Muslim countries have become legally free after nearly two centuries of Western colonial rule but their own rulers are subservient to dominant Western powers and oppressive towards their own people. The resentment to foreign domination has resulted in the resurgence of Islamic societies for the revival of their traditional cultures and to rediscover their identities. Western powers have generally supported their unpopular rulers instead of the nationalistic and patriotic aspirations of the people. Some of the issues that provoke them are discussed below.
· The Qur'an upholds the honor of all prophets of God to whatever race or age they may belong and asks its readers to believe in the teachings of all of them. In contrast the Jews and Christians have not acknowledged the prophet of Islam even after fourteen centuries when his followers are over a billion. The Muslims have never denigrated Prophets Moses and Jesus (Peace be on them) but find a lot of false information being disseminated against Islam and the Prophet (Peace be on him). I recently heard a priest in a morning radio program that the Muslims do not believe in God but in some one called Allah. This, about a people who take pride in their undiluted monotheism.
· While Islam believes that the diversity of race, color and territory is a sign of God and treats all human beings as a single family, the West has not yet got over its prejudice against these differences in humankind even at the end of the twentieth century and has consistently discriminated against those who are different.
· No Muslim country is following the social ethics of early Islam, like governance by consultation, justice, benevolence, compassion and wisdom. Autocratic and corrupt rulers are governing most Muslim countries. The West has taken upon itself the very admirable task of advocating democracy to them. But when an Islamist group wins the elections the West goes all the way to see that it does not survive. The case of Algeria and Turkey are the most glaring examples of this attitude. The people naturally become intolerant and react violently to such unjust policies.
· Perhaps the West is always in the need of some external ideological enemy. With the demise of communism, Islam is being groomed as the new demon by stereotyping and scapegoating it and its followers. Samuel Huntington has formalized this in his book The Clash of Civilizations. This stereotyping in the Western press and the films like Executive Decision aggravates the relations between the Muslim world and the West. Muslims have to wonder as to why no films are made about the merciless genocide of the Bosnians Muslims and Croats committed by the Serbs, or the brutal Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, or the amazing heroism of the Chechan freedom fighters against the Russian giant.
· When the West-backed oppressor commits violence by bombing helpless non-combatants it is considered necessary and justified, and when the victims retaliate even by throwing small stones they are branded as terrorist monsters. When the oppressed groups found the West to be totally indifferent to their sufferings, they decided to hurt the West in their own domain to enable them to become conscious of how it feels. The Muslims resent the fact that Christian terrorism in Ireland and Serbia or Jewish terrorism by Israelis is reported without maligning the religion to which the terrorist belongs but Islam is always mentioned to create a false stereotype of Muslims. Ted Koppel of the ABC television Nightline had described terrorism as “The weapon of the weak against the strong and of the few against the many.” This definition should apply to all cases.
· The Qur'an describes the arrogance of dominant nations by giving the example of Pharaoh who denigrated the Children of Israel as a contemptible band before depriving them of their gardens and wells and of their erstwhile honor.(26:53,54). The Qur'an thus illustrates the psychological truth that as a rule a dominant nation is unable really to understand the desire for liberty on the part of the group or groups, which it oppresses, and therefore attributes its rebelliousness to no more than unreasonable hatred and blind envy of the strong. The present attitude of Israel against the Palestinians is exactly similar to the behavior of the Pharaoh, and the struggle of Palestinians is similar to the struggle of Jews against Pharaoh's oppression. The present hardening of the Muslim attitude towards those who support Israel is but natural. Those who are talking of a new World Order should address the basic cause before complaining of the intolerance of Muslims.
· The UN and the West and specially the United States as the only super power in the world have a great responsibility and trust placed on them. If the new world order of the twenty first century has to ensure peaceful co-existence for the progress of humankind, the present prejudices and injustices against Muslims and other non-western groups have to end. A sincere effort for the creation of just and hatred-free world would automatically end the defiance and intolerance of Muslims.· The West and the Pope have regretted their injustices to the Jews. It is high time that a similar soul searching is done about injustices to Muslims also and concrete steps are taken to do justice to them. There can be no peace without justice.
· Some political, social and economic concepts that developed while Islam was a dominant power in the then known world are no more relevant. New and totally different problems need fresh thinking and a new set of interpretations. But, unfortunately, though the Qur'an disapproves the argument that “Our fore fathers were doing the same”(26:74 ) the ulema or people educated in the traditional religious schools who have assumed the sole right to interpret and define Islam remain in medieval bondage in the sense that they blindly adhere to the interpretations given by scholars during the medieval period and are unable to understand the complexities of modern life. According to Zamakhshari: “The ancient usage and precedence in time are no proof of a concept's soundness.”. According to Razi, another great scholar: blind unquestioning adoption of religious concepts and practices on the basis of one's uncritical faith in no more than the “authority” of a scholar or a religious leader amounts to an immorality according to the Qur'an.
· Some of these classical interpretations devised in response to the needs of maintaining the medieval social system of the imperial dynastic period of Islam have put some of Islam's basic conceptions into deep sleep. For example the offensive interpretation of Jihad by some medieval scholars would amount to the abrogation of a total of 124 verses of the Qur'an according to Ibn Arabi and Ibn Salamah and of over 140 verses according to Abu Zaid and require re-interpretation.
· Similarly while the spiritual Ummah of Islam transcends national boundaries, to try to have a single political unit for all Muslim lands requires rethinking keeping in view the time-space element, the modern international political system, the vastness of the area inhabited by the Muslims, the total change in the concept of warfare, self determination, democracy, the different problems of each region and the presence of Muslim minorities in a majority of countries. The Muslim political thought is disconnected from the present political realities and the historical reality that the single Khilafa system had already collapsed in the eight century after the Abbasids. But as mentioned in the Rand Corporation report a fringe group of Muslims still believes in these two medieval interpretations. Illiteracy, poverty and a feeling of defiance to the prevalent injustices provides the necessary following to such concepts.
· The need of the day, therefore, is to free Islam from this medieval bondage by the Muslim World collectively developing a system by which all problems, social, economic and political are examined by eminent scholars of all relevant subjects including religious scholars and new norms are evolved by Ijtehad ( rational deduction) and Ijma (consensus), in the true spirit of justice ordained by the Qur'an and Sunnah.
· The West and the Muslim world must come together for a just re-examination of past history and present conflicts, with a spirit of reconciliation, mutual understanding and respect, truth and justice. Without this effort, all talk about a new and peaceful world order would be nothing but hypocrisy. A noble Jewish lady gave the finest example of a sense of justice, truthfulness, compassion and forgiveness in the saddest moment of her life when her young daughter Samadar was killed by a suicide bomb attack. Ms. Nurit-Peled-Elehanan, the daughter of Israeli General Motti Peled, reacting to this great tragedy, had the greatness to say, “ These attacks are a result of oppression, of enslavement, of the humiliation and the siege which Israel imposes on the Palestinian people.” (Chicago Tribune) If the West and the United Nations were as fair as this great lady, peace can easily be achieved.
· Perpetuation of conflicts on the basis of religion is not necessary after globalization. Poverty, ignorance, prejudice, intolerance and irreligion are common enemies of mankind. The brotherhood of all believers in God should fight them together.
· Muslim countries have to resolve their mutual differences and become more effective in the new world order to be created in the cause of peace and progress for the whole of humankind and implement the dictum of the Prophet that
“ Mankind is a fold every member of which is a shepherd unto the other and responsible for the welfare of the entire fold.”
1 Graham and Ian O. Lesser: A Sense Of Siege: The Geo-Politics of Islam and West, A Rand Corporation report
2 Muhammad Husain Haykal : Life of Muhammad
3 Dr. M. Hamidullah: The First Written Constitution of the World
4 A.H.A. abu Sulayma: Islamic Theory of International Relations
5 M.S. El Awa: The Political System of Islamic State
6 Alija Ali Izetbegovich: Islam Between East and West
7 Ismail Raji al Faruki and Lamiya al Faruki: The Cultural Atlas of Islam
8 Israel Wolfenson: The Jews in Arabia
9 Samuel Huntington: Speech in Frankfurt based Alfred Herr Haussen Institute for International Dialogue Between Cultures and Religions of the World.. Reported in Islamic Horizons, Eid 1998.
10 Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Huq: Prophet Muhammad's Charter of Privileges to Christians: Letter to the Monks of Saint Catherine Monastery
11 Imam Bukhari: Sahih al Bukhari
12 Dr.S.A.Latif: Approach to the Study of the Qur'an
13 Sir Thomas Arnold: The Preaching of Islam
14 Albert Hourani: A History of Arab People
15 Ruby Wright: Christians Retrace Crusaders' Steps. Christianity Today, Oct.9, 1996 reprinted in Islamic Horizon
16 Dr. Bishamber Nath Pandey: Religious Policy of Muslim Rulers
17 Sir Jadunath Sarkar: History of India
18 Dr. Rafique Zakaria: Is Islam Secular
19 Arvind Sharma: The Vedas and the Qur'an, Open Page of Hindu
20 Murad Wilfried Hoffman: Muslims as co-citizens in the West, The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Vol. 14, 1997
21 Bernard Lewis: The West and the Middle East, Foreign Affairs (1997)
22 Dr. M. Hamidullah: Introduction to Islam
Translations of the Holy Qur'an
1 Muhammad Asad
3 Abdullah Yusuf Ali
4 Abdul Majid Daryabadi
About the author.
Mr. Syed Hashim Ali was born in Hyderabad, India in 1924. He took his M. Sc. degree from Osmania University. He started his professional life as a college Lecturer in 1944. He stood first in the competitive examination of the higher civil Service and was awarded the Sir Akbar Hydari Gold Medal in 1946. He was later selected to the prestigious Indian Administrative Service. Among the many posts he held he was collector and District Magistrate, Head of the departments of Civil Defense, Protocol, Government Hospitality, Sugar Production and Cooperative Societies and Secretary to Government and Commissioner for Irrigation Utilization. His pioneering work on irrigation management won him many laurels. He was selected as one of the four experts from the developing countries by the Food and Agricultural Organization USA for expert consultation. He also worked as a consultant of the World Bank, The Asian Development Bank and the Ford Foundation. He was invited to speak in many international seminars on Irrigation management. Some of his papers on Irrigation management were published in European and Indian journals. On Promotion as Principal Secretary he was appointed as Agricultural Production Commissioner for the state of Andhra Pradesh, one of the largest states in India with a population of seventy million. His last assignment in Government was as Chairman State Commission for Irrigation Utilization. His two-volume report is the first of its kind and was adopted by the World Bank for auditing the irrigation projects financed by it. After retirement from the IAS he was appointed as Vice-Chancellor of his Alma Mater, the Osmania University Hyderabad, a state University in South India. This was followed by his appointment as Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, a Central University in North India.
He was a member of the Executive Council of the Common wealth Universities Association, a member of the Board of Governors of the Administrative Staff College of India and a member of the Prime Minister's Scientific Advisory Committee on Irrigation.
He was active in the cultural and literary life of Hyderabad. He was the President of Institute of Urdu Literature and The Literary Trust. He migrated to USA in December 1993. He has been invited by many literary, social and religious organizations in the States and Canada to speak on different subjects.
He has been writing both in English and Urdu. His Urdu articles were published in the newspapers and journals of India and Pakistan. A collection of his speeches and articles was published as a book entitled ‘Nishan-e-Manzil.' Some of his English speeches were published as monographs : Indian Muslims at Crossroads: Peace Thy Name is Islam: Pluralism and Peace Between Religions ( Parliament of World Religions, 1993): Pluralism and Secularism with reference to India etc.
An English book “The Essence of Islam ” dealing with the beliefs, concepts, social ethics and moral code of Islam in under print by Iqra International Foundation of USA, Chicago.
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