Islam and Other Faiths
09/16/2015
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God says in Qur’an: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full Knowledge and is well-acquainted (with all things).” (Al-Hujurat)(49:13)
And says: “Let be there no compulsion in religion…”(Al-Baqarah) (2-256)
These two verses, we can say, set out the principal of tolerance in Islam towards all people and faiths. The differences that may appear to people as a cause for enmity, Islam views them as natural. Therefore, Islam, from the beginning, practiced religious tolerance regardless religion, race or ancestry.
In the next few pages, we will explore the aspects of this tolerance towards the divine and earth religions. We will look at tolerance manifestations in general as called for in the Qur’an for all people in all times and places in addition to the examples during the life of the Prophet.

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The Islamic View of Jews and Christians
The term “People of the Book” is used in Qur’an to refer to all monotheists, namely; Muslims, Christians and Jews. Islam states that God sent Messengers to all nations with guidance and the same message: “THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD”: God that is indivisible and all-powerful, and God of all creatures and everything else.
Islam tells us that religions such as Judaism and Christianity were actually of the same message as Islam; worshipping God. However, their books, the Torah and Gospel, rituals and teachings were perverted and misunderstood by man over decades until unorthodox doctrines were introduced in them.
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Comprehensive thought in Islam

There is a consensus among Muslim scholars entailing that all people of faiths, in either Christianity or Judaism worship and serve the same God. For them God (Allah in Arabic), God and Yahweh are of the same. They cite verses such as:
“Those with Faith, those who are Jews, and the Christians and Sabaeans, all who have Faith in God and the Last Day and act rightly, will have their reward with their Lord. They will feel no fear and will know no sorrow.” (Al-Baqarah)(2:62).
“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and argue with them in the kindest way. Your Lord knows best who is misguided from His way. And He knows best who are guided.” (An-Nahle)(16:125).
“…You will find the people most affectionate to those who have faith in God are those who say, ‘We are Christians.’ That is because some of them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant.” (Alma`idah)(5:82).
“Only argue with the People of the Book in the kindest way – except in the case of those of them who do wrong – saying, ‘We have faith in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him.”(Al-Ankabut)(29:46).
While Muslims believe that People of the Book had actually the same message of Islam, they, with the passage of time, perverted monotheism. Moses’ followers worshipped the Golden Calf, while the followers of Jesus thought of him f divine nature. Muslims believe that the people of the book misinterpreted their holy books (the Tawrat and Injil as pronounced in Arabic), and what they call their holy books are actually distorted versions.
Muslims believe that the message of Muhammad is the last one, and by completing Qur’an, no religion will be accepted by God. But this does not mean that followers of the religions are compelled to become Muslims.
The differences between Muslims and followers of other faiths may be imputed – in the point of view of some Muslim scholars, as stated in many verses in Qur’an – to the “misinterpretation of the meaning” of Torah and Gospel. In other words, the old and new testaments are true in Islam, but Jews and Christians misunderstood their entailments, and hence the Qur’an came to clear and correct their views about God.
Muslims believe that either way the misinterpretation is in the meaning or text, all correct teachings written in the previous books can be found in the Qur’an:
” To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the Scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what God hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have We prescribed a Law and an Open Way. If God had so willed, He would have made you a single People, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you; so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute” (Alma`diah)(5:48)
According to Qur`an, the people of the book are to be granted a special status “the protected people”. As such, they are left free to practice their religious rituals, maintain possession of their prophecies, practice life in their own way i.e. drink alcohol, eat pork,….etc. Also, they enjoy charity (for the poor in society), maintenance of their churches or synagogues. However, they have to pay a special tax called (Jezia) because they were exempted from military service.
Muslim scholars interpret certain verses and Prophet traditions as orders to not humiliate non-Muslims.
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Views of Monotheist Religions

Islam, in view of itself, is the pinnacle of all previous messages, especially Judaism and Christianity. Both religions are the same as Islam with concern to monotheism. The difference with them originated from their refusal to acknowledge Muhammad as God’s Prophet and that Qur’an is His last revelation to his last Messenger. Moreover, Islam regards Jesus as a Prophet of God as Muhammad and Moses.
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Views of non-Monotheistic Religions

When Muslims entered India, they were faced with Hindu worshiping multiple gods. Images of these gods resembled in their temples may actually reminded Muslims with polytheist practices the Arab used to do before Islam. This could have justified the ambitions of some Muslim leaders especially in the context of the Prophet’s war against the pagan Makkans. However, Islam did not spread in India by force or compulsion and Hindus were allowed to practice their pagan rituals even though they were not monotheist in belief.
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Tolerance of the Prophet towards Other Religions

How the Prophet – PBUH – dealt with other religions can be best expressed by this verse of the Qur’an:
“Say: O ye that reject Faith! I worship not that which ye worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your religion, to me be mine.”(Al-Kafirun)(109)
When exploring the life of the Prophet, we can put our hands in many examples that honestly reflect his tolerance towards other religions, especially in a context of multi-religious society. The Arab Peninsula at the time was populated with followers of varied faiths, such as Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, and even those who were not affiliated to any religion.
The examples are too many be surveyed, many before migration out of Makkah (the 13 years the Prophet stayed in Makkah at the beginning of his message) and much more after migration. However, we will stick to the second period, for the examples of tolerance in Makkah may be reasoned as a way to raise the profile of Muslims and the social status of Islam. Therefore, our discussion will be limited to the period in which the Prophet lived in Medina after migration, specifically once the constitution or “Saheefah” was established.
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The Document “Saheefah”
The “Saheefah” is considered the best example of tolerance practiced by the Prophet towards other religions.
His migration from Makkah to Medinah constituted a shift and a switch in the Islamic society. The Prophet became the political leader of his companions, which demanded the presence of clear laws to govern the emergent state and ensure harmony and stability in the society, especially in the presence of non-Muslims such as Jews, Christians and polytheists.
The Prophet had to establish a constitution that defines the responsibilities of each individual and group towards the society, he had to lay down their obligations towards each other and the rights expected to be respected by all of them. The constitution or Saheefah was the law that all must obey and any breach of its articles is an act of treachery.

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One Nation

The first article of the constitution provided for that all inhabitants of Medina; Muslims, Jews, and Arab idolaters tribes who lived beside Madinah were “one nation to the exclusion of all others.”
They all constituted the society of Medina as stated in the Saheefah and they all protected as much as Muslims regardless their religion, race or ancestry. It is stated in another article “To the Jews who follow us belong help and equity. He shall not be harmed nor his enemies be aided.”
The tribes used to live in Medina before migration were at persistent conflicts and wars. Each tribe formed its own alliances and pacts to oppose their enemies. But the Prophet united these different tribes under the umbrella of one system of governance that eliminated these previous alliances and formed a new society based on brotherhood and equality. Under this system, all acted as a whole in Madinah against any attack. The Prophet said:
“Whoever kills a person who has a pact with the Muslims will never smell the fragrance of Paradise.”
In the new society, Muslims emerged as the dominant group. Therefore, the Prophet prohibited any harm to be acted by Muslims against the people of other faiths. He said:
“Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.”

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To Each Their Own Religion

Another article in the Saheefah says: “the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs.” This article entails that tolerance is the standard that must prevail in all interactions with the people of other faiths despite the differences and enmity. Each had its own religion and had the right to practice his rituals freely without restrictions or discrimination.
The constitution contains many other articles that emphasize this notion, one of which says: “If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise, it must be referred to God and His Messenger.” The purpose of such article is to set a higher authority to be referred to in order to solve any issue that may have consequences that would destabilize the society. Such principle establishes the pillars of justice as it cannot be prevailed if there were many individual leaders. There must be one leader for the state who is consulted for such issues. However, the Prophet allowed the Jewish tribes to refer to their own religious scriptures as long as the disputes were domestic and did not stand in opposition to articles of the constitution. But if they wish, they could seek the judgment of the Prophet in their matters. God says in the Qur’an:
“…If they do come to you, either judge between them or decline to interfere…” (Al-Mai`dah) (5:42)

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Freedom of Religious Assembly and Religious Autonomy

Jews, who constitute one of the biggest minorities in Medina, gave their consent to the constitution, and hence they had complete freedom to practice their religious rituals. They even had their own religious-educational institution, named Bait-ul-Midras, where they could learn and teach themselves, practice their worshipping rituals and recite Torah.
Moreover, The Prophet insured his belief in religious tolerance in many letters addressed to his emissaries. This protection coverage extended to include those who sought the protection of the Muslims, even if they were outside the Arab Peninsula. A good example of such letters is one sent to the religious leaders of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai who sought Muslims protection:
“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, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything 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 anything from it to the Muslims’ 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 that 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 to marry a Muslim, marriage not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are declared to be protected. 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)”
As evidenced in the letter, it covered all vital aspects concerned with human rights, including but not limited to protecting minorities living in the Islamic state; it allowed freedom of worshipping and movement, freedom to possessing and maintaining properties, freedom to have their own judges and to be exempted from draft, finally and significantly the right of protection in wars.
In another evident example of religious tolerance practiced by the Prophet, a delegation of sixty Christians came to Medina from Najran, North of Yemen, and the Prophet received them at the mosque. When their prayer time arrived, they directed their faces to the east and prayed. This was alien to the direction the Muslims prayers, but the Prophet ordered for them to be left praying as they want without harming them.

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Politics
During the life of the Prophet, there were many examples of political cooperation with non-Muslim people. For example, He selected Amr-ibn Umaiyah-ad-Damri, who was non-Muslim, to be his ambassador to Negus, the King of Ethiopia.
The examples are too many to be listed here. However, we can conclude that Islam recognizes the differences between people in religion. These differences are not, in view of Islam, a cause for discrimination but tolerance. These differences are variance in the composition of the Islamic state that is natural. Religion, since the beginning of the message, was never be forced upon individuals against their will. These examples of tolerance are actually a practical interpretation of the verse of the Qur’an, which calls for religious tolerance. God says:
“… Let be there is no compulsion in religion …” (2 : 256)

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