One of the most important aspects of the Human Rights issue is the respect and tolerance which society must show towards the religions of other people; this, of course, includes the issue of freedom of religion.
Tonight I would like to talk very briefly about the Islamic point of view on religious tolerance.
Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, believes in prophets and messengers of God- One interesting way of understanding the Islamic view on freedom of religion is to look at the role of the prophets and messengers.
Had they been sent to forcefully bring the people into their teachings? Were Moses, Jesus and Muhammad ordered by the Almighty to impose their teachings upon the people by sword? Absolutely not! Look at the Qur’an, the holy scripture of Islam; the revealed words of God where He clearly outlines the duty of his messengers by saying:
“(And as for My messenger,) there is no (obligation) on him except to deliver (the. message). God knows what yon expose and what conceal”. (5:99).
Once the people of Mecca said to Prophet Muhammad that if god did not want them to worship idols then why He does not forcefully prevent them from doing so. Then God sent the following message:
“(O Muhammad) This is not a new excuse; those who left before, them made, the same excuses. Is there anything upon the messengers except the dear conveying of the message”. (16: 35).
So we see that from the Qur’anic point of view, the mission of the prophets and messengers of God was not to forcefully impose their teachings on the people but to guide them and ask them to accept God with their own will, in one revelation, God says to Prophet Muhammad:
“But if the people turn away (then do not be sad because) We did not sent you to be a guardian over them. It is for you only to deliver the message.” (42:43).
The Qur’an clearly says that religion cannot be forced on anyone. It says,
“There is no compulsion in (accepting) the religion (of Islam)…”
“truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error. ” (2:256).
The Prophet of Islam faced much difficulty and opposition in his own birth- place, the city of Mecca. He was eventually forced to migrate to Medina. But in spite of all the opposition and even physical torture that his followers suffered in Mecca, Prophet Muhammad always approached the unbelievers of Mecca with tolerance.
At one stage of his mission, the Prophet read to them a short chapter from the revelation:
“O you who do not believe! I worship not what you worship, and you are not worshipping what I worship; nor am 1 worshipping what you worship; neither -art you worshipping what I worship. Therefore, to you your religion; and to me my religion!” (chap. 109)