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World Religion Day 2023: Islam and tolerance

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DEI specialist Fahim Islam explores and reveals the overlap of Islam and tolerance in honour of the 2023 World Religion Day.

13th Jan 2023
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Every year on the third Sunday of January, the world gets together to celebrate the diversity of religious beliefs across the world. What a beautiful concept, right? 

In a world which is progressively becoming more divided and polarised, this day aims to remind us that most of the world’s religions consist of the same underlying principles. Love, tolerance, respect and kindness. I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the importance of religious tolerance within Islam, the faith to which I personally adhere and have built a career in fighting Islamophobia. 

What many don’t know is that Islam shares many common values with most world religions. From the headscarf of Mother Mary in Christianity, to not having images of God like the Sikhs, there is more to bring us together than to divide the faiths. So what does Islam say about tolerance?

What do Muslims believe in a nutshell?

There are five fundamental pillars of faith in Islam. They are; 

  1. Profession of Faith (shahada) by stating "there is no God but Allah and prophet Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah". Allah is a term which purely denotes one God, without gender or a human-related definition in the way a person can become a lord (such as a landlord).
  2. Prayer (salat) where Muslims face the Kaaba in Mecca five times every day in worship to Allah.
  3. Alms (zakat) where Muslims donate a fixed portion of their wealth to community members in need, every Islamic calendar year.
  4. Fasting (sawm) where during the daylight hours of Ramadan, healthy adult Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink.
  5. Pilgrimage (hajj) which is required by every Muslim whose health and finances permit it, to visit the holy city of Mecca. 

Muslims believe in Allah, in the succession of the prophets (including Abraham, Noah, Jesus and ending with the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him) and in the need to love one another for the sake of Allah. We believe in the Quran being the revealed word of Allah, and a part of our belief is to also believe that Allah revealed the Torah and the Gospel.

How does Islam exhibit religious tolerance?

The Quran makes it clear that forcing religion on others is not accepted, nor is it a part of the Islamic belief system.

"There is no compulsion in (accepting) the religion (of Islam) …” (chapter 2: verse 256) 

Prophet Muhammad was sent to share a message, similar to what we believe Moses and Jesus did. Religions should be able to coexist in harmony, and this is something Islam initiated in a time where divide and conquer was the status quo.

“For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” (chapter 109: verse 6)

In the city of Madinah, the Aws and Khazraj tribes were at perpetual war with one another. So much so that the inhabitants of Madinah began to grow hopeless that peace would ever be established. 

There were also the Jewish tribes amongst the demographic of Madinah and the recently migrated Muslims from Makkah known as the Muhajirun. The first thing the Prophet Muhammad did was establish peace amongst the tribes by unifying the inhabitants as one Ummah, a community. 

All individuals of whatever origin who have made common cause with them, shall all constitute one nation.

Prophet Muhammad established a charter which brings all the tribes together, following are excerpts;

  • "The protected neighbour is as the man himself so long as he does no harm and does not act treacherously".
  • “All individuals of whatever origin who have made common cause with them, shall all constitute one nation.”
  • “The Jews who are a part of our commonwealth shall be protected from all insults and vexations; they shall have an equal right with our people to our assistance and good offices.”

People were safe and respected, with the freedom to practise their beliefs and would be protected in doing so. Only a few years later, the Muslims signed a peace treaty of Hudaibiyah with the pagans of Makkah, allowing the Muslims and pagans to interact peacefully with each other. 

The following points were decided then;

  • Muslims will return to Madinah without visiting the Kaaba that year but the next year, they will be allowed entry and a peaceful stay in Makkah for a period of three days.
  • Hold a ceasefire between the parties for a period of 10 years. During this time, people were to live in safety and harmony.

These are only a few examples where Islam promoted peace among religions. If you are interested in learning more, I would recommend you to look at useful websites such Religious Tolerance in Islam and the Islam and the tolerance of other religions.

He who is deprived of kindness is deprived of goodness

What about day-to-day Islam?

Islam promoted kindness and mercy as prominent character traits of a Muslim. Whether that was directly ordered through the Quran or the prophet Muhammad’s sayings, it was important to establish this religion by improving relationships and bettering society.

‘Show kindness unto parents, and unto near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and the neighbour who is of kin to you and the neighbour who is not of kin and the fellow traveller…’ (Chapter 4: verse 34)

In fact, the Prophet Muhammad said: “he who is deprived of kindness is deprived of goodness.” He treated people with kindness, which truly brought people to the religion by observing his conduct. 

His kindness to non-Muslims, conducting business fairly (excluding unfair interest and debt mechanisms), rejecting racial discrimination and bringing in cleanliness as part of daily affairs, these practices were profound 14 centuries ago.

‘Allah does not forbid you from dealing kindly and fairly with those who have neither fought nor driven you out of your homes. Surely Allah loves those who are fair.’ (chapter 60: verse 8)

It is clear that regardless of someone's religious identity, Muslims are commanded to act fairly and kindly with all people, hence being torchbearers of what the Prophet Muhammad came with, tolerance of religion. 

If you would like to read more about Islam through a diversity lens, you can visit Fahim’s other articles on Linkedin.

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