The Spirit of Tolerance in Islam

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This allowed for a remarkable accommodation between all the faiths, producing a society which became progressive and evolving. The tolerance of the Muslims, nurtured by the spirit of Islam, turned Al-Andalus into the top cultural centre on European soil.

The Spirit of Tolerance in Islam : Reza Shah-Kazemi :

In the ensuing centuries it became a bridge between the Islamic East and the Christian West, bringing all the accumulated knowledge of mankind up to that period into the emerging nations of Christendom, setting them off on the road to progress and advancement. Arabic became the mark of culture for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike and the most unifying factor for the all the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula. Anwar Chejne in his excellent book, Muslim Spain, writes that Christians and Jews entered the mainstream of Muslim society and were eventually Arabized to a degree that they no longer were distinct from the Muslims.

The Arab-Muslims, as a whole, had little hatred for the other religions and always tried to bring down the barrier between them. Through the centuries, many important positions, including the highest offices under Muslim rulers, were held by Christians and Jews. In spite of the fact that in the remainder of Europe non-Christian faiths were, in the main, not accepted, the Muslims of Al-Andalus remained faithful to a policy of scrupulous tolerance. At times, this respect for other religions was sorely tested, like that which happened during the 9th century in Cordova.

Some Christians found that it was almost impossible to maintain their religion in a country that offered no apparent persecution. Alvaro, a Christian theologian, is reputed to have complained that the Arabic language had become so alluring to young Christians that they could hardly write a letter in Latin, their own language. Rather, they revelled in the intricacies and beauty of the Arabic tongue.

The clergy, seeing that their flocks were becoming Arabized and many embracing the Islamic faith, tried to stop the conversions.

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Nuns and monks began to publicly blasphemize the Prophet Muhammad, but the Muslims never changed their policy of tolerance. Only the guilty were persecuted after the judges tried every method to have them recant their denunciations.

'Muslims, be tolerant'

Due to the open society in the Iberian Peninsula, the Jewish golden age in literature developed under Muslim rule, especially between the 10th and 12th centuries. During this period, when Jews in the remainder of Europe were hardly tolerated, in Al-Andalus, the Hebrew tongue developed its grammar and vocabulary on the model of the Arabic language. The uncommon openness of life in this medieval state gave a chance for a great number of Jews to become renowned literary men in both Arabic and Hebrew.


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There were no laws and scarcely any customs that confined Jews to any place or occupation. When their gates were shut they were the ones who shut them. At the same, in the remainder of Europe, all life revolved around rigid Christianity. If one were to accept the explanation of Religious Pluralists, then all the religions of the world would become strictly inward looking in religious matters and would cease to attempt any possibilities of influencing people of other faiths. That would indeed deprive religion and its followers of the vibrant spirit of serving their faith that keeps them motivated.


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It would be a tragedy to kill that spirit because of the fear that its misuse could cause damage. The fact that aeroplanes do sometimes crash doesn't lead us to conclude that we should do away with them.

Reza Shah-Kazemi. The Spirit of Tolerance in Islam

What is attempted instead is that more measures are introduced so that the frequency of such accidents could be minimized. Likewise should be our attitude towards exchange of religious views and preaching. This process also ensures that religious beliefs of people do not remain the end result of the process of brain-washing but should be the outcome of intelligent choice-making. It is this process of preaching and exchanges of religious views that enables the intelligent believer to feel confident that he is not believing in his faith as a consequence of being subjected to the process of one-sided propaganda for his faith and that he is not being negatively brain-washed against other faiths due to his ignorance.

He would know, and many religious people do know, that his faith is the end result of a process of exchange and voluntary selection. The questions that remain unanswered are: i Is there any one version of true religion?

Table of Contents

Muslims have normally been considered Religious Exclusivists, who would not consider people of other faiths worthy of respect for their religious commitments. This author believes that although this view truly reflects the attitude of many — though not necessarily most — Muslims it is not consistent with the correct understanding of the teachings of Islam. The following presentation attempts to show how Islamic teachings propose to tackle the issue of religious plurality.


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Islam, on the one hand takes a firm position in claiming that its teachings are the true version of reality from God, on the other hand it also calls for genuine respect for all non-Muslims. Even though a person influenced by the understanding of Religious Pluralism may not be immediately impressed by this view, a better understanding of the various verses of Qur'an on the subject would suggest that not only is it the correct Islamic understanding, this position can be supported rationally as well. Man started his religious journey with utmost clarity.

This clarity was gifted to him by God a priori. However, because the temporary worldly life was meant to be a trial, humans were granted freedom. This freedom inclined them to differ and disagree in religious matters. In response, God sent prophets who confirmed what was right and rejected what was wrong. In the presence of the prophets, their addressees could see religious reality in its pristine form and therefore they had no justifiable excuse to reject it. Those who rejected it were declared, after an adequate time of effective preaching had passed, Kafir, which means a person who denies the truth from God despite knowing it to be from Him.

In times when prophets are not present, neither anyone can be identified as a Kafir nor can he be punished in this world for not believing in a message brought by a messenger, because of the existence of the possibility that the message may not have been properly and fully delivered by the non-prophet preachers. Believers are therefore expected to only preach intelligently in the absence of prophets.

Since Muhammad was the last Rasul and Nabi , the possibility of anyone getting labeled as a Kafir or punished for his disbelief after his death is eliminated for ever. While they are preaching, believers are expected to show respect to other faiths and behave in a manner that would not tarnish the image of their own religion. In case a non-Muslim or a disgruntled Muslim is drawn away from Islam because of a Muslim's poor behaviour, the latter will be held responsible for his misconduct and its consequences.

The Qur'an says:. Call them to the path of your Lord with wisdom and words of good advice, and reason with them in the best way possible. Your Lord surely knows who stray from His path, and He knows those who are guided the right way.

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So do not make your oaths a means for deceiving one another, lest a foot should slip after having found its hold, and you taste of evil for having hindered [others] from the way of God, and suffer a grievous punishment. Politeness, concern, respect, and tolerance are therefore at the heart of a Muslim's desired behaviour towards non-Muslims. It was freedom of choice given to them that led to differences.

Prophets were then sent to clarify the truth. Teachings of prophets clarified truth beyond any possibility of doubt:. Mankind were [to begin with] 19 one community [then they differed among themselves], so God raised prophets, as bearers of good tidings and as warners, and sent down with them the book containing the truth that He might judge between people wherein they differed. Those to whom We gave [a part of] the Book [earlier] recognize him [Muhammad] as they recognize their sons. But those who ruin their souls, they will not believe.

When there came to them that which they knew [to be the truth] they rejected it. Let the curse of God then be on the disbelievers. You shall see many of them [the Jews and Christians] making friends with those who disbelieve [against Muslims]. Surely evil is that which their souls have sent on before for themselves, so that God is displeased with them. The expression used in the above verse is not 'those who are disbelievers" i.

The People of the Book are only accused of being more friendly with the disbelievers than the believers i. In other words, there was a stage in the preaching mission of the Prophet Muhammad sws when the non-believing Jews and Christians were not categorized as disbelievers Kuffar. And if you judge, judge between them with justice. Indeed God loves those who are just. And how do they make you their judge when they have with them the Torah, wherein is God's judgment, yet in spite of that they turn their backs.

They are certainly not believers. It can be inferred from the above verse that an individual is acknowledged as a believer so long as he honestly believes and sincerely follows what he thinks is the truth. The Qur'an is not condemning the people of the Book for not accepting Islam in the above verse, even though the prophet was in their midst.

It is condemning them for not following a message they themselves claimed was from God.

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