There seems to be some subtle feelings of concern in the social and other media about religious tolerance in the aftermath of Dr Naik’s lectures. I thought I would send in a contribution to remind ourselves, if not to reassure or reiterate the position of Islam on religious tolerance if we are to go by the Holy Qur’an and the example of our Holy Prophet (SAWS) so as not to make a non-issue an issue.
First and foremost, there is the oft-quoted verse of the word of Allah *SWT) in the Holy Qur’an –
“To you be your Way, to me mine.” (Qur’an Chapter 109 Verse 6).
I have also caught on the quotation syndrome!
The Holy Prophet (SAWS) led the life of a perfect person in character and thus lived to the word of the Holy Qur’an. During his life time there were several faiths or religions such as Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and polytheists whom he lived together with in Mecca and particularly in Medina. In the latter years, an Islamic State was born with his migration to Medina where a “constitution” for governing the new state was developed – a constitution that was highly tolerant in dealing with people of other faiths. In order words, it became necessary to lay down rules of governance at a period of great discord – rules that were guided by the requirements of Islam and yet incorporated the needs, in terms of peace and security, of the non-Muslims of the society. This “constitution” provided for the conduct of members of the Medina society – their obligations, rights and responsibilities towards each other and society as a whole. One of the articles provided that “the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs.”
The first thing that the constitution outlined was to establish a statehood in which all inhabitants – Muslims, Christians, Jews, polytheists, etc were considered as one nation and all were considered as citizens of the society they were living in, i.e. regardless of race, religion or creed. Each was protected. To buttress this point, The Prophet (SAWS) gathered all the various tribes which had different pacts and allegiances with different other groups under one umbrella of allegiance in Medina – any attack on one religion or group was an attack on the state – both Muslims and others). He went further to tell the Muslims and gave strict warning against any maltreatment of non-Muslims: “Whoever kills a person who has a truce with the Muslims will never smell the fragrance of Paradise.” (Saheeh Muslim)
“Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)
There were several other provisions such as those that dealt with disputes amongst the inhabitants of Medina, be they Muslims or not. The interesting thing to note is the fact that such disputes were to be referred to “God and His Messenger” – i.e. in accordance with the laws of Islam but there was provision that non-Muslims could refer to their own religious books or their men of knowledge for their personal disputes. This was buttressed in the Qur’an: “…If they do come to you, either judge between them or decline to interfere…” (Quran Chapter 5:42)
Two things to note: every faith was protected, provocation or intolerance was strictly not allowed and each member of the society was allowed to be judged in accordance with his or her own scriptures and by learned men of his or her faith as long as it does not go against the Constitution. In other words, in Islam there is tolerance and the acceptance of plurality of religions and every member of the society may decide which faith to follow. There has never been any compulsion in religion during the days of the Prophet (SAWS).
“…There is no compulsion in religion…” (Quran Chapter 2: Verse 256)
The Gambia and the immediate sub-region in general have always strictly adhered to this overall concept in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet (SAWS). No good Muslim deviates from this conduct as laid down in what may be called the first constitution of the state of Islam and I don’t think it has ever been encouraged. Remember, The Gambia is blessed as a closely knit society with social bonds and blood ties that knit us together one way or another. Dr Naik’s lectures must not be misrepresented with regards to other religions. We must not despair on our centuries old high degree of tolerance by nature. Islam is a tolerant religion as required by the percepts of our Holy Book and the practices of the Holy Prophet (SAWS). By the way, the latter had even appointed non-Muslim ambassadors.
To conclude, I wish to recall reading somewhere recently about an issue of racism. Some football club in US had been called some name like “Redskins” (I think) for decades. But suddenly some ‘wise’ guy thought it wise (or unwise) to comment on the issue that the name depicted the Indians in the wrong light and thus racist. It suddenly became a huge debate. The point I am making is that let us not bring the issue of religious tolerance to the fore front of public debate since it has never been an issue in The Gambia – that would appear to make it an issue and I only hope that this article would contribute to that attitude of making it a non-issue.