Islam ordaines inter-faith harmony in multi-religious societies

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, WordForPeace.com
One of the brightest aspects of the Prophet’s teachings, as many Islamic traditionalists have recorded, is that he commanded his followers to accept other prophets and their scriptures as well.

A Muslim is one who believes in God and all his books and messengers, without differentiating between any of them.

“All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers, [saying], “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.”(2:285)

This unique and glorious aspect of Islam is generally overlooked not only by non-Muslims but also by many adherents of Islam. In respect of faith, a Muslim cannot pick or choose. Rather, he or she is entitled to accept and follow each of God’s injunctions. According to Islamic doctrine, mere lack of faith in any messenger or book of God is tantamount to heresy. In other words, a Muslim who accepts only one or some parts of God’s mandate is not a Muslim in the Qur’anic view:

“O you who have believed, believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Book that He sent down upon His Messenger and the Scripture which He sent down before. And whoever disbelieves in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day has certainly gone far astray.” (4:136)

In such clear, strong and unequivocal terms, the Holy Quran has, actually, propounded an idea of universal religious harmony and inter-faith dialogue. Since the principle of universalism is enshrined in the basic teachings and essential message of the Quran, we cannot do away with it. But we can realise it only when we show only toleration but also acceptance and sincere openness for others. Qur’anic approach to inter-faith dialogue is based on the very broader notion of acceptance and large-heartedness.

There are numerous verses in the Holy Quran that aims at promoting inter-faith dialogue among different religious communities of the world.

Islam has ordained Muslims to adopt peaceful methods and manners in dealing with multi-religious society. This is precisely why inter-faith dialogue is so much emphasised and greatly valued in the Holy Quran. Given below are some key verses that define Qur’anic approach to inter-faith dialogue:

“Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and hold discourse with them in the finest manner”. (16:125)

“And do not hold discourse with the People of the Book except in that which is finest, except with those who do wrong. And say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. Our God and your God is one, and unto Him we surrender”. (29:46)

Here, mention is made explicitly of the ‘People of the Book’—the Jews and Christians, but the boundaries defining this category are flexible and not fixed. All revealed religions can be placed within this category, which thereby comes to embrace the whole of humanity, given that no human community has been deprived of revelation. The following verses uphold this key premise of dialogue, stressing the inner unity of the message of religion per se, on one hand, and the outer diversity of the forms clothing this unique message, on the other:

• “For every community there is a Messenger”  (10:47)

• “For each of you [communities] We have established a Law and a Way. And had God willed, He could have made you one community. But in order that He might try you by that which He has given you [He has made you as you are]. So vie with one another in good works. Unto God you will all return, and He will inform you of that about which you differed”. (5:48)

• “And We never sent a messenger except with the language of his people, so that he might make [Our message] clear to them”. (14:4)

• Truly We inspire you, as We inspired Noah, and the prophets after him, as We inspired Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and as We bestowed unto David the Psalms; and Messengers We have mentioned to you before, and Messengers We have not mentioned to you. (4:163–164)

• And We sent no Messenger before you but We inspired him [saying]: There is no God except Me, so worship Me. (21:25)

• Naught is said unto you [Muhammad] but what was said unto the Messengers before you. (41:43)

“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better, unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): 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 bow” (21:46)

“Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- anyone who believes in God and the Last Day, and does righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (1:62)

“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”. (6:48)

“Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides God, lest they out of spite revile God in their ignorance. Thus have We made alluring to each people its own doings. In the end will they return to their Lord, and We shall then tell them the truth of all that they did”. (7:108).

“We only send the apostles to give Glad Tidings and to give warnings: But the unbelievers dispute with vain argument, in order therewith to weaken the truth, and they treat My Signs as a jest, as also the fact that they are warned!” (15:56).

“Say: “O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you…..”(3:64)

With such clear, unequivocal, and unambiguous Quranic declarations for inter-faith dialogue, Muslim clerics the world over are still wavering whether to participate or not in an interfaith dialogue, or whether doing it is permissible or not in Islamic Sharia. They have terribly failed to put forward a universally coherent formula to tackle the challenges and consequences of a global inter-faith dialogue. The Qur’an has enjoined upon them to bring out the best of their religion that not only the Muslim Ummah can benefit from, but to a greater extent, the entire world could emulate to build a more promising future. But their collective efforts on this ground seem to be abysmally nil.

Nevertheless there are certain Islamic organizations and Muslim clerics who engage in global efforts to foster inter-faith harmony, but they appear to be extra-careful in their approach and lay certain methodological conditions before entering any form of religious dialogue, thus impeding the way to broader and more inclusive notion of inter-faith dialogue as enunciated in the Qur’anic ideology.

It is high time both Ulema and Islamic scholars from non-madrasa backgrounds come up with a crystal clear idea for inter-faith dialogue and outline their pre-conditions, approaches and methodologies in full accordance with the Quranic enunciations for inter-religious harmony.

One of the most remarkable lessons that Prophet Muhammad pbuh taught his followers with regard to inter-faith harmony, was that they should co-exist with others like flowers, and not like thorns.

The Jews and the Muslims lived side by side in peace in Madinah. The Prophet (pbuh) allowed them to practice their religion freely. In addition to this, he warned his followers that if anyone murdered or mistreated a non-Muslim in any way, he would not even be able to smell the aroma of Paradise, and the Prophet himself would speak in the non Muslim’s defence in the hereafter.[ Sunan Abu Dawood Vol.3. P.170 Hadith no.3052. Also Bukhari. Vol.3. Hadith no. 2995.)

Thus, the Prophet pbuh always desired peace not only with the people of the book, Christians and Jews, but also with pagans of the Mecca.

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