Islam and Co-Existence

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Author’s note : The Inter­faith Coali­tion of Nashville orga­nized this year’s inter­faith con­fer­ence in the Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty, Nashville, USA. Judaism was rep­re­sent­ed by Dr. Don­na Whit­ney, Chris­tian­i­ty by Dr. Tom Davis, Hin­duism by Dr. Howard J. Resnick (HD Goswa­mi), and Bud­dhism by Pro­fes­sor Win Myint. I rep­re­sent­ed Islam. The con­fer­ence was opened by Dr. Jawaid Ahsan. Dr. Charles Hem­brick, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Reli­gion at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty, mod­er­at­ed the conference.


It is not easy to dis­cuss about a reli­gion that is not only the least under­stood of all major reli­gions but is now con­sid­ered to be on a col­li­sion course with the rest of the world. The offen­sive car­toon con­tro­ver­sy has only height­ened the mis­trust and seemed to embold­en those who have been sell­ing the poi­so­nous pill of clash of civ­i­liza­tions”. There is no deny­ing that 911 has pro­vid­ed big­ots, racists, and self-pro­claim­ing experts” and think tanks” to define Islam in ways that only unmask their lev­el of hatred and big­otry. The Islam” they define is sim­ply unknown to my people.

Yet the hard fact is there are Mus­lims who come in dif­fer­ent shades and col­ors, ori­en­ta­tions or mind­sets. Not all are saints nor are all mujahids in being able to con­trol their low­er instincts of anger, pas­sion and ego. So we have the Zar­qaw­is today as much as we had the Hashishyyin that had ter­ror­ized the Mus­lim world in the 12th and 13th cen­turies. And then there are those who believe that their sui­ci­dal attacks would set oth­ers free.

As the specter of vio­lence has become a fact of life today, the temp­ta­tion is too great to con­demn an entire reli­gious tra­di­tion for the sense­less or des­per­ate actions of a few. But that would be wrong. If we can­not con­demn all faiths for the crimes of their adher­ents, we sim­ply can­not have a dif­fer­ent set of stan­dards for Mus­lims. For exam­ple, if we can­not con­demn Chris­tian­i­ty for col­o­niza­tion and mas­sacre of unarmed civil­ians across the globe dur­ing the last two mil­len­nia, includ­ing the mas­sacre in Jon­estown (Guyana) and Waco (USA), killings in Ire­land, Ugan­da, Haiti and Liberia, eth­nic cleans­ing in Bosnia, Koso­vo, Chech­nya, Dagh­es­tan, Nagorno Karabach and Min­danao Islands (in the Philip­pines), and geno­cides in Con­go, Rwan­da, and in today?s Afghanistan and Iraq ; if we can­not con­demn Judaism for the crimes of Baruch Gold­stein or Rab­bi Meir Kahane?s group, or the war crimes of Israeli lead­ers ? Sharon, Olmert, Netanyahu and oth­ers — in Occu­pied Pales­tine and Lebanon ; if we can­not con­demn Hin­duism for the mur­der of MK Gand­hi, and mas­sacre of thou­sands of Mus­lims in Kash­mir, Mum­bai, Assam and Gujarat, and the killings of Sin­halese Bud­dhists in Sri Lan­ka ; if we can­not con­demn Bud­dhism for the killing fields in Cam­bo­dia, or the mas­sacre of Rohingya Mus­lims in Arakan (Myan­mar), or the killings of Tamils in Sri Lan­ka and Mus­lim minori­ties in Thai­land ? we sim­ply have no right to con­demn Islam for 911.

If a Mus­lim youth today appears to be frus­trat­ed and angry it is not because of the the­ol­o­gy of Islam but due to his appar­ent inabil­i­ty as a human being to com­pre­hend and/​or tol­er­ate mon­u­men­tal hypocrisy and dou­ble stan­dards that he sees, plus the mis­treat­ment of his fel­low brethren as third-class cit­i­zens of this plan­et. From one con­ti­nent to anoth­er, he sees how his fel­low human beings are mas­sa­cred, maimed and muti­lat­ed ; how colos­sal abus­es of human rights are rou­tine­ly car­ried out against them. And yet there are none, not even their own lead­ers in the post-colo­nial nation-states, who speak and take action for them. It is a sad and humil­i­at­ing expe­ri­ence for them.

Back­ground infor­ma­tion on Islam

The entire his­to­ry of mankind has been a class strug­gle between the forces of light and dark­ness, good and bad, truth and false­hood. The forces of good­ness have strug­gled to bring about an ide­al soci­ety that is just and bal­anced both inward­ly and out­ward­ly. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, more often than not human­i­ty has failed to find that equi­lib­ri­um, bal­ance and har­mo­ny between the out­ward and the inward, the exter­nal and the inter­nal. The ide­al that Islam has been seek­ing for the past four­teen cen­turies is also a uni­ver­sal one — the estab­lish­ment of a just soci­ety. Tru­ly, in this pur­suit, the mis­sion of Muham­mad (S), the Prophet of Islam, was very sim­i­lar to those of all the prophets and sages that came before him.

Islam came as a guid­ing light into a dark world ? a world that need­ed a light­ning bolt to wake up from its deep slum­ber. It came in an age of truth-defy­ing Igno­rance when the wor­ship of one True God from Chi­na and Japan in the East to Moroc­co and Ice­land in the West was replaced by wor­ship of myr­i­ads of demigods. There were false notions of supe­ri­or­i­ty and ego­tism on the basis of race, col­or, tribe and eth­nic­i­ty. Islam came to a nation that boast­ed of its depth of cor­rup­tion and debauch­ery in social and moral issues. His­tor­i­cal­ly, Islam came after the fall of the Roman Empire and the col­lapse of the ?dark ages.? In the near­by Per­sian Empire, there was a lot of polit­i­cal bick­er­ing for pow­er and in far-away Roman Empire, there were signs of deca­dence every­where, and in Ara­bia, the land that was sup­posed to reshape the des­tiny of mankind, its peo­ple were devoid of com­pas­sion and moral values.

But it was in Ara­bia, at the con­flu­ence of the three great con­ti­nents of Asia, Africa and Europe, that Muham­mad (S) — the Prophet of Islam, a Mec­can from the illus­tri­ous fam­i­ly of the Quraysh, a descen­dant of the Baby­lon­ian Abra­ham, and the Egypt­ian Hagar — was born in 570 CE (or 53 BH of the Mus­lim cal­en­dar). And here it was that the Qur’an was revealed to Muham­mad (S) in Ara­bic when he was 40 years old (in 13 BH). Com­ing into a world that was stained by cor­rup­tion and dis­in­te­gra­tion, Islam pro­vid­ed a unique pat­tern that was unknown in the entire his­to­ry of man?kind. Islam pro­vid­ed three basic ele­ments — faith in one God (Allah), reform of self and reform of the soci­ety at large. Islam remained as a reli­gious com­mit­ment, a socio-eco­nom­ic-polit­i­cal pro­gram, but above all a vehi­cle for the con­tin­u­ous reform” of the society.

The sub­ject I want to dis­cuss here is : what does Islam say about peace­ful co-exis­tence with peo­ples of oth­er faiths ? Does Islam believe in diver­si­ty, mul­ti-cul­ture and plu­ral­ism ? The answer to all these ques­tions is an emphat­ic yes.

In what fol­lows, I shall quote from the Qur’an to sup­port my claim.

Islam rejects racism and preach­es alter­na­tive cri­te­ria for God’s people :

Islam rejects the notion that God is biased or par­tial to a par­tic­u­lar race or tribe, and that His Mer­cy is locked up to a cer­tain group. Allah says, O mankind ! Lo ! We have cre­at­ed you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes so that you may know one anoth­er. Lo ! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in con­duct. Lo ! Allah is Know­er, Aware.“Qur’an 49:13

With such pro­found state­ments in the Qur?an, Islam was able to wipe out age-old eth­no­cen­tric notions of super­fi­cial supe­ri­or­i­ty and exclu­sive noble­ness of mankind. Chal­leng­ing the claims of the ego­cen­tric peo­ple who claimed that none shall enter par­adise unless he belongs to their race and eth­nic­i­ty, the Qur?an says, Bring your proof if you are truth­ful.“Qur?an, 2:111 As to the true cri­te­ria for such a qual­i­fi­ca­tion, the Qur?an pro­claims, Nay, but whoso­ev­er sub­mits him­self to Allah and he is a doer of good, for him there shall be his reward with his Lord, on such shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.“Qur?an, 2:112

Islam preach­es uni­ty of mankind :

The Qur’an repeat­ed­ly empha­sizes the uni­ty of mankind, i.e., they come from the same par­ents : Mankind were but one com­mu­ni­ty ; then they dif­fered?“Qur’an 10:19

Prophet Muham­mad (S) in his farewell Hajj ser­mon deliv­ered on the 9th day of Dhul-Hij­jah, 10 A.H. in the Uranah val­ley of Mount Arafat in Makkah, said, All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no supe­ri­or­i­ty over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any supe­ri­or­i­ty over an Arab ; also a white has no supe­ri­or­i­ty over black nor a black has any supe­ri­or­i­ty over white except by piety and good action.”

No monop­oly in God’s message :

The Qur’an says, And there is not a nation but a warn­er has passed among them.“Qur?an 35:24) That is, Allah, in His infi­nite wis­dom, has sent prophets and mes­sen­gers to all the nations for their guid­ance.See also Qur’an 2:213 and 10:37

The call of the Qur’an is a call to uni­ty of belief : He has laid down for you the reli­gion which He enjoined upon Noah, and which We revealed to you, and which We enjoined upon Abra­ham, Moses and Jesus : Estab­lish the reli­gion, and be not divid­ed there­in.“Qur’an, 42:13

Fur­ther : Lo ! This, your reli­gion, is one reli­gion, and I am your Lord, so wor­ship Me. And they have bro­ken their reli­gion among them, (yet) all are return­ing unto Us.“Qur’an 21:92 – 93

Islam presents itself as a way to rec­on­cile the dif­fer­ences between Jews and Chris­tians. The com­pro­mise offered by Islam affirms com­mon ele­ments between Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty, and accepts Moses and Jesus Christ (AS) as two of the great­est prophets of all time, sent for guid­ance of human­i­ty. Islam accepts the vir­gin birth of Jesus and con­sid­ers both Mary and Jesus (AS) as chaste and pious, but rejects Trin­i­ty. To accept only some of the prophets to the exclu­sion of oth­ers is to fail to heed the divine call : Ver­i­ly those who deny God and His apos­tles and desire that they dif­fer­en­ti­ate between God and His apos­tles and say We believe in some and we deny, some,’ and intend to take a course between this (and that), these are the infi­dels, tru­ly, and We have pre­pared for the infi­dels a dis­grace­ful tor­ment.“Qur’an, 4:150 – 151

To have faith and to be a faith­ful is to believe and put one’s beliefs into action. The Qur?an says : It is not right­eous­ness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, right­eous­ness is rather one who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book, the apos­tles, and gives his wealth out of love for Him to the kin­dred and the orphans and the poor and tire way­far­er and the needy and for those in bondage, and estab­lished prayer and pays zakat and those who ful­fill their promise when they make a promise and the patient ones in dis­tress and afflic­tion and in the time of war. These are they who are the Truth­ful and these are they who are the pious.“Qur?an, 2:177

The Qur’an epit­o­mizes the con­cept of plu­ral­i­ty when it pro­claims : Ver­i­ly We sent down the Torah in which there is guid­ance and light…“Qur’an, 5:44

And We caused Jesus son of Mary to fol­low in their foot­steps con­firm­ing the Torah which was before him and We gave him the Evan­gel in which was guid­ance and light…“Qur’an 5:46

Ver­i­ly, those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Chris­tians, and the Sabeans, who­ev­er believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there shall be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.“Qur’an, 2 : 62

Islam abhors coer­cion and intolerance

Islam does not believe in coer­cion and intol­er­ance, as is clear from the Qur’an­ic verse 2:256 ?la ikra­ha fid-din ? (mean­ing : there is no com­pul­sion in reli­gion). Belief or faith is a thing that peo­ple must choose for them­selves. That is why Allah has not forced any­one to be a true believ­er and has giv­en him the free will to choose between var­i­ous options. The Qur?an says : Say : The truth is from your Lord’: Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject (it).?Qur’an 18:29 Reli­gious aggres­sors are threat­ened with a humil­i­a­tion” in this world and a mighty chas­tise­ment“Qur’an 2:114 in the Here­after. Church­es, monas­ter­ies, syn­a­gogues and mosques, accord­ing to the Qur’an, are all places of wor­ship.Qur’an 22 : 40 The Qur’an cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly says, To you be your reli­gion, to me my reli­gion.“109:6

The Prophet Muham­mad(P) was repeat­ed­ly told not to feel bad when he was reject­ed by some peo­ple : And if they deny you, those before them also denied. Their mes­sen­gers came unto them with clear proofs, and with Psalms and the Scrip­ture giv­ing light.“Qur?an 35:25 Muhammad?s (S) duty was only to con­vey the mes­sage : If then they turn away, We have not sent you (Muham­mad) as a guard over them. Your duty is only to con­vey (the mes­sage)?“Qur’an 42:48 In anoth­er place, like­wise, the Qur?an says, And say, The truth is from your Lord, so whoso­ev­er wants let him believe and whoso­ev­er wants let him deny.’ Qur’an 18:29

All these vers­es make it clear that there is no room for coer­cion or com­pul­sion in mat­ters of faith.

Islam wel­comes diver­si­ty in mat­ters of faith

Islam teach­es that human diver­si­ty is a sign of God’s mer­cy and a por­tent for men of knowl­edge : And of His (God’s) signs are the cre­ation of the heav­ens and the earth, and the dif­fer­ence of your lan­guages and col­ors.“Qur’an 30:22

The Qur’an accepts the real­i­ty of dif­fer­ence and diver­si­ty with­in human­i­ty. It gives the impres­sion that diver­si­ty is part of the divine plan : If the Lord had willed, He would have made mankind into a sin­gle nation?“Qur’an 11:118

The Qur’an rec­og­nizes the legit­i­mate mul­ti­plic­i­ty of reli­gious con­vic­tions and laws, as can be seen from the verse : To each of you God has pre­scribed a Law and a Way. If God would have willed, He would have made you a sin­gle peo­ple. But God?s pur­pose is to test you in what He has giv­en each of you, so strive in the pur­suit of virtue, and know that you will all return to God, and He will resolve all the mat­ters in which you dis­agree.“Qur’an 5:49

Mus­lims are there­fore told to pro­claim : Say (O Mus­lims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abra­ham and Ish­mael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no dis­tinc­tion between any of them, and unto Him we have sur­ren­dered (as Mus­lims).“Qur’an 2:136

It is because of such lofty notions of diver­si­ty and tol­er­ance that the Islam­ic civ­i­liza­tion was plu­ral­is­tic and unusu­al­ly tol­er­ant of var­i­ous social and reli­gious denom­i­na­tions, some­thing that was sim­ply unthink­able else­where in the mid­dle ages. Jew­ish his­to­ri­ans tes­ti­fy to the fact that, had it not been for the pro­tec­tion and tute­lage pro­vid­ed by Mus­lim rulers, Jews could not have sur­vived in the Mid­dle Ages. It was all too nat­ur­al for Euro­pean Jew­ry to find refuge among Mus­lims in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire when Chris­t­ian Europe was resort­ing to inqui­si­tion, pogroms and holo­caust to exter­mi­nate them. Mus­lim rulers nev­er inter­fered with the reli­gion of their sub­jects either. There was nev­er any­thing like the inqui­si­tion or the fires of Smith­field. Thus a num­ber of small Chris­t­ian sects, regard­ed as hereti­cal by the larg­er sects, which would inevitably have been exter­mi­nat­ed if left to the mer­cies of the larg­er sects whose pow­er pre­vailed in Chris­ten­dom, were pro­tect­ed and pre­served by the pow­er of Islam. Even to this very day, there are groups like the Moun­tain Jews, Yazidis and Sabaeans (Sabi­ans) that are sur­viv­ing with their cul­ture and reli­gion intact.

Today we stand on the car­cass of reli­gion. Many reli­gious lead­ers have become the vul­tures who devour our corpse. They breed hatred and intol­er­ance. And then there are the sec­u­lar fun­da­men­tal­ists who would only have it their way.

Nat­u­ral­ly, there is a debate today what is worse : a sec­u­lar fun­da­men­tal­ist or a reli­gious fanat­ic ? In my opin­ion, both are bad. As much as the for­mer needs to respect reli­gious sen­si­bil­i­ty of oth­ers, the lat­ter needs to incul­cate God-con­scious­ness that helps him to tol­er­ate oth­er human beings for if your Lord willed, all on the earth would have believed, in total ; will you then com­pel them to believe?“Qur’an 10:99 It was that easy for Him.

Con­clud­ing remarks

While igno­rance is bliss, lit­tle knowl­edge is dan­ger­ous. Near­ly 70 years ago, Mar­maduke Pick­thall, the Eng­lish poet and trans­la­tor of the Qur’an said :

If Europe had known as much of Islam, as Mus­lims knew of Chris­ten­dom in those days [of the Cru­sades] those mad, adven­tur­ous, occa­sion­al­ly chival­rous and hero­ic, but utter­ly fanat­i­cal out­break known as the Cru­sades could not have tak­en place, for they were based on a com­plete mis­ap­pre­hen­sion.“Mar­maduke Pick­thall, Madras Lec­tures on Islam (1927)

I wish I could say that sit­u­a­tion has improved in this age of infor­ma­tion super-high­ways. Alas, it has not ! My hope is that inter-faith pro­grams like this would help peace-lov­ing peo­ple of this plan­et to come togeth­er to fight and oppose big­otry and intol­er­ance in what­ev­er shade they come. Islam and Co-Existence 26Endmark

Dr. Habib Sid­diqui deliv­ered this speech at the Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty, Nashville, TN on March 11, 2006. Appar­ent­ly it had attract­ed the atten­tion of a rabid Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ary who offered a response to it. The rebut­tal to that Chris­t­ian response is here.
Cite Icon Cite This As : 

Write A Comment