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Quran forbids abuse of people of different religions

Amir Suhail Wani

Islam is a religion practiced by a large number of people in India, Asia, and around the globe. As a global religion, Islam made its presence felt in different geographies, eras, and through different people.

From the beginning, Islam encountered different religions, revelations, and faiths. Thus, it became mandatory for Islam to define its attitude towards other religions unambiguously. It had to take a stand on how it perceives other faiths and what importance it ascribes to their truth. When the Prophet of Islam migrated to Medina, he encountered practicing Jewish and Christian communities.

This was Islam’s first and most important encounter with other faiths as it was going to lay the ground for further course of actions. So, how did the Prophet of Islam address the Jews and Christians? To this effect, the Quran made an explicit revelation in Chapter 2, verse 62: “Surely those who believe, those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, shall have their reward with their Lord”.

Thus, the Quran made it open that salvation is not the monopoly of any religion, let alone Muslims, but is open to everybody who places his faith in God and hastens to good deeds. Thus, the primary attitude adopted by the Prophet of Islam towards other religions wasn’t a passive tolerance, but an active acceptance of their truth value and the possibility of salvation outside Islam. We are often told that Islam preaches tolerance towards other religions, which is just a half-truth. Instead, Islam teaches respect for other religions, asks for valuing their truth value, and keeps open the possibility of salvation in religions beyond Islam.

Islam teaches that God sent various prophets to various communities in different epochs to relay the message of God. These prophets taught people the doctrine of divine unity, belief in human accountability, and the presence of cosmic moral law. The prophets and envoys of God called people towards righteousness and forbade evil, shameful, and immoral. These prophets came to each corner of the globe and warned people of their moral laxity and indifference to God.

Thus, Islam sees all religions of the world as local adaptations of one great Truth, which manifested itself in different forms at different times and in different places. Thus, world religions are like branches and shoots of one great truth, which has been perennially present with mankind. When Islam espouses this doctrine of the unity of religions, it is natural that it extends great regard and respect to other religions. 

To disrespect another religion is explicitly condemned in the Quran; “Do not abuse those whom they worship besides Allah” (6:109). Islam doesn’t associate salvation with any specific creed, it rather upholds that “True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west – but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance – however much he may cherish – it – upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God” (2:177). Thus, Islam believes that salvation lies not in the creed but in the deed. By making salvation independent of creed, Islam cuts at the root of religious chauvinism and instead directs us to the path of egalitarianism and plurality.

To create people in different communities and creeds underlines the divine wisdom and divine scheme. Quran enunciates that “Had Allāh willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good.2 To Allāh is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ” (42:8). So it is Allah’s scheme that he created us in different faiths and different religious traditions. This doesn’t mean my religion is the only way to God and all other people are destined to go astray. This was the attitude adopted by some people in medieval times who thought that salvation lies in belonging to this creed or that faith. But all the scriptures of the world, and the Quran in particular instruct us that all religions are like different tracks which all culminate on the same summit and which lead to the same destination. When we accept that other religions can be as true and as liberating as our own, we not only shed off the trivial and external differences, but this approach also inspires us to love and respect other people belonging to other faiths. It inspires us to define others as individuals of equal worth, honour, and human dignity. Islam has always forwarded the message of universal brotherhood and unending peace. The saying of Imam Ali goes “Know that people are of two types: they are either your brothers in religion or your equals in creation.” 

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Muslim mystics and Sufis have been the greatest advocates of religious plurality and respect for different religions. Having reached the height of wisdom and realization, they saw, by their spiritual vision that different religions were like different rays of light coming out from the same Sun of divinity. It was an obeisance to this universal spirit that Ibn Ul Arabi said:-

My heart has become capable of every form:

For gazelles a meadow, a cloister for monks,

For the idols, sacred ground, Kaaba for the circling pilgrim,

The tables of the Torah, the book of the Qur’an.

I profess the religion of Love:

Wherever its caravan turns, that is my belief and my faith.

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