Living in Harmony: An Islamic Perspective

Mankind without religion is a pretty sorry lot. It has never been able to survive without faith. Yet, surprisingly agreement is never reached on a such vital subject. Thus, they have their own zealots who attack the religions of others, the result of which is intolerance and contention. Inter-group relations, especially when religion is also involved, are full of conflict and suffering. To this end, men have been suffering throughout history from lack of toleration of others’ beliefs. The present leaflet is a brief study of the living in harmony from the Islamic
point of view.

Mankind without religion is a pretty sorry lot. It has never been able to
survive without faith. Yet, surprisingly agreement is never reached on a such
vital subject. Thus, they have their own zealots who attack the religions of
others, the result of which is intolerance and contention.

Inter-group relations, especially when religion is also involved, are full of
conflict and suffering. Martyrology feeds the myths, and prejudice adds
bitterness to the legend. Political expediency and biased scholarship invest the
legend with the status of history.

To this end, men have been suffering throughout history from lack of toleration
of others’ beliefs. With the cry Deus Vult! (God wills it)  rivers of blood
have flowed as a result of religious intolerance. Crusades, Roman Inquisitions
and Holy Offices established by the papacy in the Middle Ages, charged with
seeking out, trying, and sentencing persons of heresy, brutal massacres and
inhumane torture of Spanish people, and Albigensians of southern France, leave
the man of our age with no doubt that intolerance is a very destructive
activity. Thus, in order for us all to survive on this planet it is important
that we respect the religious beliefs of others and learn how to exercise a
peaceful and harmonious religious coexistence under the principle of ‘the right
to believe as one chooses’.

The present leaflet is a brief study of the living in harmony from the Islamic
point of view. From the inadequate material at my disposal, it is not easy to
fully construct the issue as it supposes to be. Nevertheless, there is enough
ground in Islam to call for religious peaceful coexistence.

Characteristically, Islam is usually classified as violent, intolerant,
oppressive, obscurantist and opposed to enlightenment.

My objective in this paper is to clarify one of the dimensions of this biased
opinion. I will, with the help of God, demonstrate the way Islam treats living
in harmony. Does Islam respect and tolerate religions other than itself, and do
their followers have the right to express and practice their own faiths in an
Islamic state? In a multicultural society where different cultures and religions
are practised, should Muslims, from the Islamic perspective, integrate with, or
segregate from, other parts of the society?

This study is also essentially based on the following material:

1. The Holy Quran, as the main source in Islam.

2. The Tradition of the Prophet of Islam and his Pure Progeny (peace be on
them), as the role models of Islam.

3. At the end, however, I have suggested some further resources for in-depth
study.

Islam and Religious Coexistence

Although the idea of religious liberty and tolerance is a new issue in the West
initiated with philosophers of the 18th century like John Locke and M Voltaire,
it has always been a simple fact for Muslims, clearly declared in their
religion.

A glance at Islamic literature fully supports the idea of religious coexistence.
Islam not only respects other divine religions and acknowledges their rights,
but also prohibits any forms of contempt to them. Any Islamic state is also
obliged by Shariah to provide welfare and support to the followers of other
divine religions equal to the Muslims.

Islamic Principles to Achieve Religious Coexistence

In order to establish a peaceful religious coexistence in society Islam has
suggested four principles:

1. No Compulsion in Religion

No doubt, there are different factors involved in forming people’s opinions and
faiths. The physical structure and the organic compounds, time, place, diet,
education and so many other factors have inevitable effects on people’s faiths.
Thus, the healthy way to change their opinion is to encounter them from their
origins. Utilising force and compulsion not only cannot change the hearts of
people, but it may in many instances increase hatred and animosity.

To this end, the Holy Quran clearly denounces the use of the force in terms of
religion. It is ultimately the right of people to choose any religion they are
happy with, and the duty of the Prophets is not more than educating people and
reminding them of the right path. They have never been authorised to force
people to the Truth.

The following Ayat are the examples of many:

1/1: “Let there be no compulsion in religion; Truth stands clear from error.”
2:256

1/2: “If it had been the Lord’s Will, all who are on earth would have believed.
Will you then compel mankind against their will to believe?!” 10:99

1/3: “Say, the Truth is from your Lord, let him who will believe, and let him
who will reject.” 18:29

1/4: “And you are not the one to overawe them. Therefore, remind with this Quran
those who reverence My warnings.” 50:45

1/5: “You shall remind, for you are the reminder. You are not one to manage
(men’s) affairs.” 88:21-22

1/6: “Enlightenment has come to you from your Lord. As for those who can see,
they do so for their own good, and those who turn blind, do so to their own
detriment. I am not your guardian.” 6:104

1/7: “If they reject you, then say my work to me and yours to you. You are free
from the responsibility of what I do and I for what you do.” 10:41

1/8: “The sole duty of the messenger is to deliver the message, and Allah knows
everything you declare and everything you conceal.” 5:99

1/9: “If they argue with you, then say I have simply submitted myself to God; I
and those who follow me. And you shall proclaim to those who received the
scripture as well as those who did not, ‘would you submit’? If they submit then
they have been guided, but if they turn away, your sole mission is to deliver
this message. God is Seer of all people.” 3:20

1/10: “You shall obey God and you shall obey the messenger, and beware if you
turn away, then know that the sole duty of our messenger is to deliver the
message efficiently.” 5:92

The above Ayat utterly denounce the practice of inquisition and pressuring the
followers of other religions in order to change their beliefs. Nevertheless,
preaching and enlightening people is permitted and is the duty of the messengers
in a logical manner.

2. Logical Debate and Discussion

Islam whilst respecting other religions and beliefs, may disagree with some of
their teachings, finding them illogical, and hence invites their adherents to
open discussion and debate in a peaceful and logical manner far from any type of
fanaticism and prejudice.

The following Ayat are the examples of this approach:

2/1: “And dispute you not with the People of the Book except with means better
(than mere disputation) unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong. But
say, we believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which
came down to you, our God and your God is One, and it is to Him we submit.”
29:46

2/2: “Invite all to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching,
and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.” 16:125

2/3: “So announce the good news to My servants, those who listen to the word and
follow the best of it. Those are the ones whom Allah has guided and those are
the ones endued with understanding.” 39:17-18

2/4: “Say produce your proof if you are truthful.” 2:111, 21:24, 16:64, 9:6

3. Divine Religions, Grades of one School

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a great deal in common. They are all based
on monotheism and are committed to increase justice in the world, and the
accountability before God. Their historic roots go back to Prophet Abraham and,
as such, they are often described as ‘Abrahamic Faith’. They are also the basis
of great world civilisations.

Therefore, despite the followers of other religions who consider themselves the
chosen nation and the only saved ones, Islam considers all of the divine
religions as different grades of the one school. From the Islamic point of view
each new divine religion has been the upgraded version of the previous one,
prescribed to complete its teachings.

All of the Prophets are the teachers of one school, teaching different grades
according to the requirements of the people of their age. Hence, if
hypothetically all of them descend to earth they were to live together
peacefully and each will acknowledge his successor and the one who has come
after him.

An old debate has gone around between the followers of different religions as to
who will go to hell and who to heaven. The followers of each religion, with no
hesitation claim the eternal life in heaven for themselves, and see hell as the
place for all who oppose them. Islam, despite this fanaticism, suggests a very
liberal idea. The following Ayat are vividly revealing this idea.

3/1: “They say: become Jews or Christians if you would be guided. Say, nay! (I
would rather) the religion of Abraham, the True, and he joined no gods with
Allah. Say we believe in God, and in what was sent down to us, and in what was
sent down to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs; and in what was
given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We make no
distinction among any of them. To Him alone we are submitters.” 2:135-136

3/2: “The Religion before Allah is Submission to His Will. Nor did the people of
the Book dissent therefrom except through envy of each other.” 3:19

3/3: “And they say: none shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.
Those are their (vain) desires. Say produce your proof if you are truthful. Yes,
whoever submits his whole self to Allah and is a doer of good, he will get his
reward with his Lord, on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”
2:111-112

3/4: “Those who believe (in Islam) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures)
and the Christians and the Sabians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day,
and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall
be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” 2:62

4. The Principle of Righteousness and Justice

The last suggestion prescribed by Islam, to achieve living in harmony among
people of different cultures and religions, is that Islam has always advocated
for the principle of justice and righteousness within humankind. Muslims are
encouraged to deal kindly and justly with all people, Muslims and non-Muslims
alike with the exception of those who are fighting Muslims. The Holy Quran
revealing the above fact utters:

“Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for your faith,
nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them, for
Allah loves those who are just.” 60:8

Living in Harmony and the Prophetic Traditions

Following the Words of God, the Prophet of Islam (saww) has emphasized on the
issue of religious coexistence with the followers of different divine religions.
The following are some examples of the Prophetic treatment with them.

1. “Whoever annoys a Dhimmii ( a Jew or Christian living in an Islamic state)
then I am his enemy and whoever I am his enemy I will be his enemy in
hereafter.”

2. “Whoever Muslim launches a charge against a chaste Dhimmi he will be punished
in the Hereafter with a lash of fire.”

3. “Whoever Muslim acts unjustly with a confederate or diminishes his right or
over burden him or takes away something from him out of his desire, then I will
be his enemy in the Hereafter.”

4. Imam Ali (p), the Caliph of Muslims after the Prophet, in his Document of
Instruction written to his Governor in Egypt where around 15 million Christians
were living, writes: “… Accustom your heart to mercy for the subjects, and to
affection and kindness for them. Do not stand over them like a greedy beast who
feels it is enough to devour them, since they are of two kinds, either your
brother in religion or one like you in creation.”

Historical Cases

1. The Time of Prophet Muhammad (saww)

1/1: The Treaty of Sinai: In the year 2 A.H. the Prophet of Islam signed a
treaty with the Christians of Sinai Land which was written by Imam Ali (a). A
part of that treaty reads: “ I (Prophet Mohammad) promise that I will not change
their priests and monks nor do I expel them from their worshipping places. I do
not prohibit their pilgrims from their travels, nor do I destroy their churches.
I do not convert any churches to mosques and whichever Muslim does so has
violated God’s covenant… Muslims should not force them to anything. They must be
kind to them and respect them all… Should their churches require any repair,
Muslims should help them as much as they can and they should allow Christians
practice their rituals…”

1/2 : The Treaty of Najran: Najran was a village in the border of Yemen. The
following treaty was signed between the Prophet and the Christians of Najran in
the year 9 A.H. in a situation that Muslims with no doubt had an upper hand over
the Christians, and yet the Prophet did not take advantage of their miserable
situation.

A part of the treaty reads: “No priest or monk should be expelled from his
church or its surroundings. No Muslim has the right to humiliate them. Our army
shall not occupy their lands…”

It is interesting to note that according to the authority of Halabi when the
delegate of the Christians of Najran came to Madina to negotiate the treaty it
was the time of their prayer. They asked the Prophet of Islam if they could pray
beforehand. The Prophet gave them the permission to pray in the Mosque, where
they all prayed facing the east.

Despite the sabotage and the mischief that many of the People of the Book were
engaged in against Muslims in the beginning of Islam, the Prophet of Islam never
deprived them of his blessing and merciful attitude. He attended their parties;
escorted their dead; visited their sick, and borrowed from them and loaned to
them. The Following story is an example of many:

1/3: Respecting a dead Jew: It is quoted from the authority of Jabir Ibn
Abdullah that: “A Jewish funeral was passing where the Prophet and we were
sitting. The Prophet in respect of the dead body stood up. We surprisingly
asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah! Isn’t he a Jew?!’ The Prophet replied: ‘Was he not
a soul?!’”

2. After Prophet Mohammad

2/1: People of the Book are included in Social Security:

As it mentioned in Islamic Jurisprudence, it is the duty of the Islamic State to
cover the basic expenditure of retired citizens irrespective of their culture
and faith. Muslim jurists from the first century of Islam have opened a
particular chapter in which they have approved that non-Muslims should enjoy
equal right for Social Security. Also, it is the duty of the State to cover
their basic expenditures from the Public Treasury if they are old or unable to
work. The following story is one of their proofs:

Imam Ali (p) was passing by a road. He saw an old beggar asking people for help.
He asked his companions who the man was? “He is a Christian”, replied the
companions. Imam Ali while he looking upset said: ‘You used him as much as he
could work for you, and now that he is old and unable, you have left him behind!
Make sure you provide him a reasonable life from the treasury.’

2/2: Justice for All: As mentioned earlier in this paper, Islam is the religion
of justice. According to the Holy Quran, the provision of social justice is one
of the major purposes of the dispatching of Prophets to humanity. The following
story reveals the spirit of social justice in an Islamic society.

“Imam Ali, the Caliph of Muslims, was sitting at the Mosque of Kofa. Abdullah
Ibn Qofl a Jewish man from the tribe of Tamim passed by holding armour at hand.
Imam Ali recognising the armour enquired as to where he had taken the armour
from, for it had already been stolen from the treasury? The Jewish man, trusting
Islamic justice agreed to follow the Imam to court. Shorayh, the Judge of the
court was the delegate of Imam Ali. The Imam asked the Judge to ignore the
background of both of parties and issue a just verdict. Utilising the Islamic
judicial methodology the Jewish man won the case against the Caliph of the
Muslims and the man was not found guilty. Nevertheless, as soon as he left the
court, his conscious smote him, and he was impressed by the Islamic justice. He
then turned back to the court and confessed that he had found the armour
somewhere on the way and was happy now to return it to the treasury. Upon his
confession Imam Ali gave him a gift and the man converted to Islam.”

2/3: Don’t Forget Your Neighbour:

One of the servants of Ibn Abbas, the companion of the Prophet, narrates: “One
day we slaughtered a sheep at home. Ibn Abbas told me to leave a share for our
neighbor who happened to be a Jew. He repeated his statement several times until
I asked him why he was so much concerned about that Jewish neighbour. He
replied: The Prophet of Islam advised us so much about our neighbours that I’m
afraid he may have a share in my inheritance.”

2/4: A Grand Muslim Clergy’s Poetry Eulogises a non-Muslim Clergy

Sayyed Radhi, the collector of Nahjul-Balagha (The Peak of Eloquence) and one of
the greatest Muslim clergies of the fourth century of Islam wrote an eulogy in
memory of Abu Ishaq Assabi, one of his contemporary clergymen who was a Sabian.
After being criticized by some narrow-minded Muslims, his answer was I eulogized
his knowledge.

Georgi Zaydan after quoting several stories as above concludes: “ Muslims of early Islam, after conquering a new land, would not interfere in the internal
affairs of the inhabitants of that place. Christians were all free to practice
their own culture and rituals. They even did not interfere with papal edicts of
Constantine regarding Christians of Damascus… Muslim Caliphs would never force
any non-Muslim to convert to Islam. They were even participating in some of
their religious celebrations such as Christmas and Palm Sunday. If a school or
hospital was built by the Islamic State Muslims, non-Muslims would enjoy those
facilities equally.”