Islam & Pluralism

To every knowledgeable person it is clear that Muslim countries put together are no match to U.S. not to speak of the West as a whole. Muslim countries are backward in the field of education. Technologically Muslim countries are far behind the West. The Muslim countries jointly or singly cannot challenge the U.S. let alone the West. Why then the West is suspicious of the Muslim ummah? This question needs to be addressed afresh from an academic point of view to erase misgiving of the West towards the Muslim world for nobody can hope for a peaceful future in the world unless the mistrust between the Muslims and Judeo-Christian West is removed.

Why West considered people of Timor who fought for separation from Indonesia as freedom fighters whereas it considers the Palestinian or Kashmiri or Chechen or Moro fighters for freedom and independence as terrorist? Why is this attitude? Why is this hypocritical behavior of the West towards the Muslims? Why is this double standard? What is the underlined reason? Is the West afraid that Muslims world will retaliate for the past misdeeds of the West once they become powerful? Is Britain or U.S. afraid that if the Arab Muslims become powerful they will avenge the illegitimate creation of the state Israel by expelling Jews from Palestine? Are the former colonial powers and new-colonial powers of the West afraid that if Muslim countries become powerful they will have to pay back for plundering of the Muslim wealth and resources? Is it the sole and only reason or more than one reasons are liable for the existing bitter and sour relations between the Muslims and Judeo-Christian West? 

One must not overlook the fact that Western scholars, the Occidental intellectuals frequently quotes from the text, from the revealed verses of the Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet (saws), sometimes out of context to justify their contention. It cannot however be denied that our earlier scholars sometimes did interpret texts in a way that as if it was the only valid explanation and that the prevailing situation of their time was the last situation. They forgot that newer conditions might arise afterwards which will need to be addressed by interpreting the revealed text of the Quran and sayings and practices of the noble Prophet (saws) and what he (saws) had endorsed by remaining silent when certain things happened before him (saws) and he (saws) did not oppose them. Islamic scholars of the golden era thought that Muslims are born to translate the teachings of Islam worldwide and make Islam a victorious deen, way of life. The classical jurists took it for granted that Muslim society would remain powerful and established for forever. They therefore could not contemplate today’s situation where Muslims are living. They took very rigid stand on many matters at a time the Muslims were rulers although the Divine Guidance is definitely more flexible and elastic to suit ever changing environment. What is important is that Western scholars are using these very interpretations of the imams, the eminent jurists and scholars of the earlier generation, to prove that Muslims are intolerant. The oriental scholars and Western media are making concentrated propaganda to prove that Muslims do not believe in pluralism and there is no question of living with them peacefully and no hope of coexistence with them. 

The beauty of Islam is that its followers, the Muslims submit if new truth is established through ijtihad, research and investigation. The Muslims therefore always change their position if more appropriate and correct conclusions are arrived after careful and meticulous use of reasoning. Islam therefore is a dynamic religion which is able to match with the ever changing milieu. The West however intentionally repeats the old ijtihad made by some of the eminent scholars and intellectuals of the earlier generation of Muslims. One example is that it repeats the thousand years old ijtihad which had divided the world into dar al Islam (the abode of peace) and dar al harb (the abode of war). The contemporary Muslim scholars and jurists have however divided the world into two realms: dar al ijabah (the land of acceptance, land whose people have accepted Islam and Islamic values are practiced) and dar al dawah (the land of invitation, land to which dawah has been presented and its people are invited to  Islamic values and practices) [Globalization: Centralization not Globalism. p vii. Vol. 15. No. 3. Fall 1998. Fakhr al Din Al Razi quoted by Dr. Taha Jabir al Alwani in The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. IIIT.U.S.]. Dr. Alwani, president of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and also a member of Jeddah based International Academy of Fiqh in an interview with the ‘Islamic Horizons’ pointed out that an “example of misguided rulings is the fatwa that countries like the United States are dar al kufr and dar al harb, where Muslims have the right to circumvent their laws and regulations” [Muslims in the West need contemporary fatwa. Available in].Dr. Alwani pointed out: “We are living in North America as a small minority among non-Muslims in a pluralistic, multicultural and multi-ethnic society. Muslims have the facility of opting to live their lives as Muslims according to the Islamic shariah and fiqh. We need a lot of understanding from our fuquha and ulema in the North American environment, and if they issue fatwa without studying this environment, they will be doing a great disservice to the North American Muslim community. Indeed their rulings, or rather their misinterpretations, will have a serious effect on the future of Islam in this continent” [ibid]. Dr. Alwani pointed out that “in the past, scholars were unanimous in their view that the entire earth was the land of Allah and did not divide it into such spheres. Instead, some scholars like Imam al Razi considered the earth to consist of dar al ijaba, which replaces the term dar al Islam, and dar ad dawah, which replaces the term dar al harb. Dar ad dawah means a land for dialogue and inter-faith communication, a land where people are not classified, but all human being are considered one family. This family has two parts. One is identified as ummat al ijaba, instead of ummat al Muslim, and other as ummat ad dawah, instead of kuffar or harbiyun. This part of our heritage and legacy represents Islam more correctly than the other part, because the whole earth has been created by Allah as humanity’s home. The Prophet (saws) told us that the entire earth is a masjid and pure. The only difference is that in dar al ijaba, the message of Islam has been established, and in dar ad dawah the message has to be spread. We all know what the nuances of performing dawah are, and certainly that misguided dar al harb / dar al kufr ruling is not among the instruments of dawah” [ibid]. “The famous 5th Hijra century Imam al Mawardy, in fact said that even if we have one Muslim family living in a non-Muslim state, their home will be the home of Islam.  The reality is that wherever Muslims find the freedom to practice Islam, that place will be dar al Islam for them, and there is no need for them to migrate to some other dar al Islam for this purpose” [ibid].

Lebanese jurist and professor at T.C Williams School of Law, University of Richmond, USA Dr. Azizah al Hibri while addressing a selected gathering in Dhaka preferred to divide the world in to land and people where dawah, the message of Islam has been presented on the one and where dawah, the call and guidance of Islam has not been presented or yet to be presented on the other rather than dar al Islam (the abode of peace) and dar al harb (the abode of war). Yet other scholars grouped lands and people dar al sulh (the abode of peaceful coexistence or on contractual peace). There can be further classification of states in the light of the spirit of the Quran and the sunnah, the Traditions of the Prophet (saws).

The West also repeats the old ijtihad of the Muslim scholars that non-Muslims living in Muslim countries have to pay jiziah tax even though contemporary jurists have ruled that paying of jiziah is not compulsory and binding. In fact the second rightly guided caliph Omar bin Khattab (ra) reviewed the jiziah policy (tax imposed on the non-Muslims) and abrogated the jiziah imposed on old people, children, orphans and unsupported women [Islam & Democracy: Mutually Reinforcing OR Incompatible. p 87. Dr. Hassan Al Alkim. Article contributed in Dr. Azzam Tamimi edited Power-Sharing Islam. Liberty for Muslim World Publications. U.K. 1993]. Omar (ra) even ordered to pay monthly allowance to a Jew when he (ra) saw him begging door to door. As long as non-Muslims pay some taxes as a mark of their obedience to the Muslim state, there is no need for a special tax only to be paid by the non-Muslims. The renowned Islamic jurist Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi is his book Fiqh-uz-Zakat mentioned that Caliph Omar bin Khattab (ra) dropped jiziah on the Christian of Banu Taglib tribe on their request and imposed another tax.  Dr. Qaradawi opined that it is not necessary that non-Muslims pay jiziah. It is enough if the non-Muslims pay a tax equal to zakat [Fiqh-uz-Zakat. pp 144-152. Vol. I .Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi.. Bengali Edition. 1982]. Eminent Arab economist Dr. Monzer Kahf currently working with Islamic Development Bank (IDB) opined that jiziah can be charged only from the subjects of the conquered lands [Quoted in Zakat and the Tax System. Shah Abdul Hannan. Unpublished work]. Moulana Maududi also holds the same view. Moulana argued that Pakistan not being a conquered land the question of imposing jiziah on the non Muslims citizens of Pakistan does not arise. [Rasail Wa Masail. p 158. Vol. IV. Bengali Edition. 1999].The day of colonization is over. Modern states have been established by the joint struggle of both Muslims and non-Muslims. The imposition of jiziah has therefore become irrelevant and impractical. In fact Islam makes no difference between Muslims and non-Muslims as far as the basic necessities are concerned [Al Quran 2(Surat Al Baqarah): 126].

Islam and Muslims are being accused by the West on the basis of the old ruling of the Muslims jurists that if a Muslim leaves Islam or converted to some other religion such person is beheaded for being murtad (leaving Islam). But eminent contemporary Islamic scholars hold different view on the basis of renewed ijtihad, research and investigation. The West however continues to beat drum and propagate that Islam is against the freedom of conscience and Muslims do not believe in liberty, free will and choice. In fact there is not a single instance that Prophet Muhammad (saws) did treat apostasy as a prescribed offence under hudud (capital punishment) only for leaving Islam. Prophet (saws) never put anyone to death for apostasy alone rather he (saws) let such person go unharmed. No one was sentenced to death solely for renunciation of faith unless accompanied by hostility and treason or was linked to an act of political betrayal of the community. As a matter of fact the Quran is completely silent on the question of death as a punishment for apostasy. Apostasy does not qualify for temporal punishment. In fact the Supreme Court of Malaysia ruled that conversion to Christianity by a Muslim is not a punishable offence [Freedom of Expression in Islam. pp 87-107. Mohammad Hashim Kamali. Chapter IX. Freedom of Religion (Al-Hurriyyah al-Diniyyah). Ilmiah Publishers. Kuala Lumpur. 1998].

Mohammad Hashim Kamali put forwarded verse 137 of Surah 4 (Surat An Nisa) as conclusive proof of argument against the death penalty for apostasy: “Those who believe, then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve and then increase in their disbelief – God will never forgive them nor guide them to the path”. Commenting on the verse Mohammad Hashim Kamali pointed out: “The implication is unmistakable. The text would hardly entertain the prospect of repeated belief and disbelief if death were to be the prescribed punishment for the initial act. It is also interesting to note that the initial reference to disbelief is followed by further confirmation of disbelief and then ‘increase in disbelief’. One might be inclined to think that if the first instance of apostasy did not qualify for capital punishment, the repeated apostasy might have provoked it – had such a punishment ever been intended in the Quran”(emphasis added)[ ibid pp 97-98].

Mohammad Hashim Kamali pointed out to the hadith, the Saying of the Prophet (saws) which “makes it clear that the apostate must also boycott the community (muifariq lil-jamaah) and challenge its legitimate leadership, in order to be subjected to death penalty” [ibid p 96]: “The blood of a Muslim who professes  that there is no god but Allah and that I am His Messenger, is sacrosanct except in three cases: a married adulterer; a person who has killed another human being; and a person who has abandoned his religion, while splitting himself off from the community (muifariq lil-jamaah)” [Muslim. Mukhtasar Sahih Muslim.  p 271.Hadith No. 1023. Quoted in Freedom of Expression in Islam. p 96].

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah explaining the aforementioned hadith of the Prophet (saws) inferred that “the crime referred in the hadith under discussion is that of high treason (hirabah) and not apostasy (riddah) as such” [Al Sarim Al Maslul. p 52. Ibn Taymiyyah. Quoted in Freedom of Expression in Islam. p 96].

S. A. Rahman, former Chief Justice of Pakistan in his monograph The Punishment of Apostasy in Islam looked “into the evidence in the Quran and the sunnah in detail, and draws attention to the fact that the Quran is silent on the question of death as the punishment for apostasy, despite this subject occurring no less then twenty times in the Holy Book” [ibid p 93].  Justice Rahman examined the hadith “kill whoever changes his religion” (man baddala dinahu faqtuluhu) and found “some weakness in the transmission (isnad)” [ibid p 93]. Justice S. A. Rahman’s conclusion is also supported by other evidence, such as the fact that neither Prophet (saws) himself, nor any of his Companions (ra) ever compelled anyone to embrace Islam, nor did they sentence anyone to death solely for renunciation of faith [The Punishment of Apostay in Islam. pp 63-64. Justice S. A. Rahman.  Quoted in Freedom of Expression in Islam. p 93]. Justice Rahman’s view is supported by such eminent earlier scholars as Ibrahim al Nakhai and Sufyan al Thawri (both held the view that “apostate should be re-invited to Islam but should never be condemned to death”), the renowned Hanafi jurist Shams al Din al Sarakhsi (“apostasy does not qualify for temporal punishment”), Malaki jurist al Baji (“apostasy is a sin which carries no prescribed penalty, hadd”) and modern scholars as Abd al Hakim al Ili and Ismail al Badawi (apostasy to be punishable by death has to be  “political in character and aimed at the inveterate enemies of Islam”), Mahmud Shaltut (“apostasy carries no temporal penalty”), Mahmassani (“death penalty was meant to apply, not to simple act of apostasy from Islam, but when apostasy was linked to an act of political betrayal of the community”). Selim el Awa raised a very rational argument that if the hadith “whoever renounces his religion shall be killed” is literally applied it would be applicable also “to Christians, who convert to Judaism and vice versa” which “manifestly fall outside the intention” of the hadith [ibid pp 93-95]. 

The great Iranian scholar Ayatollah Mutahhari highlighted the incompatibility of the coercion with the sprit of Islam, and the basic redundancy of punitive measures in the propagation of its message. He wrote that it is impossible to force anyone to acquire the kind of faith that is required by Islam, just as “it is not possible to spank a child into solving an arithmetical problem. His mind and thought must be left free in order that he may solve it. The Islamic faith is something of this kind” [Islam and the Freedom of Thought and Belief. Al Tawhid. p 154. Ayatollah Mutahhari .Quoted in Freedom of Expression in Islam. p 95].

Dr. Hassan Turabi, the ideologue of the Sudanese Islamic movement, raised a very pertinent rational argument on the validity of the opinion of those scholars who hold the view that apostasy in Islam is punishable by death. He pointed out: “How can it be imagined by a rational person that Allah, Who has compelled none to believe, allows us the right to compel others and force them to believe?” [Al Mustakillah. Issue No. 96. 11 March 1996. English translation by The Diplomat, U.K].

“If Almighty Allah has granted us the merit of freedom, he who wants to believe is allowed that right and so too the one who wants to disbelieve. If He has chosen to distinguish us from other creatures through His gift of freedom, instead of creating us believers by necessity like stones, mountains, and the earth, which all fear the responsibility of freedom shouldered by Man, the ignorant, the unjust; if that is so, then the exercise of that freedom will become a matter of course – a self-evident truth confirmed by the Quran as in, ‘No one is to be compelled to believe’ ”.

 “At the time of the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, the Quran tells us of those who believed and then disbelieved again and so forth. The opinion of the people of those days changed so easily and freely – between belief and disbelief – that it appeared to swing like a pendulum”.

 “The Prophet’s saying about apostasy is a short statement pronounced within the context of war conditions. Muslims were greatly affected to see one of their companions desert his faith and join the ranks of disbelievers. They were not sure if they should kill him or spare his life because he was a Muslim once. The Prophet, peace be upon him, explained that one who abandons his religion and deserts his fellows should be killed. Regrettably, people of the subsequent generations have taken the Prophet’s saying out of its historical context and generalized it. In so doing they deny one of the basic truths of Islam: the freedom of faith”.

“The saying is related to the case of the Muslim who deserts his fellows and joins the enemies of Islam. Such a person will either be killed or kill someone else” [ibid].

It is therefore clear that the Prophet’s saying about the apostate is restricted to times of war, when a Muslim deserter joins the ranks of the enemies to wage war against Islam, rather than seeing this hadith as a measure for controlling the faith of those who do not bear arms.

In fact “any attempt by a Muslim forcibly or by unfair pressure to convert a Christian subject … was punishable to death. This law existed in the Turkish Empire even in our day”[Eminent German orientalist Adam Mez.. Die Renaissance des Islam. English translation The Renaissance of Islam tr. S. K. Bakhsh and D. S. Margoliouth. Delhi. Idarah-i-Adabiyati.1937. p 33. Quoted in Prof. Zafar Ishaq Ansari and Prof. John L. Esposito edited Muslim and the West: Encounter and Dialogue. p 110.Chapter 4. Article contributed by Ahmet Davutoglu, Professor of International Relations and Political Science at Beykent University, Istanbul Turkey in Civilizational Self-Perception and Pluralistic Coexistence: A Critical Examination of the Image of the Other. A joint publication of Islamic Research Institute, Islamabad, International Islamic University, Islamabad and Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington DC].

If anybody however takes a very penetrating look into the revealed text of the Quran, the verses related to the creation, the very pluralistic approach of Allah swt will be crystal clear. Allah is All Powerful [Al Quran 57 (Sura Al Hadid): 1-2] and He created everything to worship Him alone [Al Quran 51(Sura Az Zariyat): 56]. He even then tolerated the rebellion of the Satan and allowed Satan the opportunity to misguide men and women from the worship of Allah [Al Quran 7 (Surat Al Araf): 11-18]. When Allah swt tolerates Satan, how Muslims can be intolerant to some people or powers who do not subscribe their view and way of life? The Prophet Muhammad (saws) was sent as a mercy on humankind and not to force people [Al Quran 3 (Surat Al Imran): 164, Al Quran 21 (Sura Al Anbiyaa): 107 and   Al Quran 50 (Sura Qaf): 45]. The very principle of Islam is persuasion and not to force. There is no compulsion in religion [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 256]. How then Muslims can be intolerant and deny other religious communities the opportunity to live with them peacefully?

Prophet (saws) was considerate and sympathetic in his (saws) attitude and behaviour towards the non-Muslims. Some Jewish families lived in the neighbourhood of the Prophet’s (saws) quarter in Madinah. If some of their children fell sick, Prophet (saws) would visit the sick child. If funeral passed through the streets of Madinah and Prophet (saws) was around, he (saws) would stand up as a mark of respect for the deceased [Pluralism and Multiculturalism: An Islamic Perspective. p 134. Prof. Abdur Rahman Momin. Department of Sociology. University of Bombay. India. American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. IIIT. U.S. Vol. 18. No. 2. Spring 2001].

The scheme of Allah swt is basically and essentially plural. He created humankind into many tribes, races and nations. Humankind speaks many languages and is of many colours. [Al Quran 49 (Sura Al Hujurat): 13 and Al Quran 30 (Sura Ar Rum): 22]. Every race is different from the other in their physical appearance and nature, which is the reflection of His beauty. Had Allah willed He could make humankind into one nation [Al Quran 5 (Surat Al Maida): 48 and Al Quran 11 (Surat Hud): 118]. But His scheme is different.

The shariah is very flexible and gives only the outline and leaves the matters of details to humankind. We therefore find that the attire of the Nigerian Muslims is different from the Arab Muslims or Indonesian Muslims. Muslims man everywhere use cap, but the cap of one Muslim country is different from the other. The cap used in Central Asia is different from what is used in neighbouring Pakistan. The Nigerian cap is different from the Malaysian cap. The Muslim women do hijab, but the hijab used by the women in Indonesia-Malaysia is different than the Iranian chadder or the Saudi abaya, the cloak.

The essential teaching of Islam is tawheed, unity of Allah. Allah is alone and there is no partner of Him [Al Quran 17 (Surat Bani Israil): 111] Still then Allah has ordained Muslims not to criticize even the idols [Al Quran 6(Surat Al Anam): 108]. This precept of Islam has direct bearing to the life and activities of the Muslims. The Quran played and continues to play a major role in forming and maintaining values in Muslim conscience and social system. The Quran shapes Muslim outlook. Muslims are therefore by and large tolerant.

The plural nature of Islam can be understood from the fact that Muslims are permitted to eat food of the Jews and Christians. Accordingly Muslims can eat the flesh of otherwise lawful animals Jews and Christians have slaughtered or hunted [The Lawful And The Prohibited In Islam. p 59. Dr.Yusuf Al Qaradawi. American Trust Publications. U.S.A.].The Muslim bridegroom can marry Christian and Jew bride without conversion to Islam. Islam has made the marriage of Jewish or Christian women lawful for Muslim men for they being the People of the Book, ahl al kitab [ibid p 183].

According to Imam Abu Hanifa non-Muslims are not subjected to Muslim legal punishment (hudud) for committing adultery and theft [Towards an Islamic Theory of International Relations. p 10. Dr. AbdulHamid AbuSulayman.  IIIT. U.S. 1994.].

The Islamic state guaranteed not only the safety of the lives and honour of the non-Muslims and the protection of their religious beliefs and rituals but also the protection and maintenance of their personal laws, institutions and endowments [The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybanbi’s Siya’r. M. Khadduri.  Johns Hopkins Press. Baltimore. MD. 1996; The Cultural Atlas of Islam. p 199. Dr. Ismail Raji al Faruqi and Dr. Lois Lamya al Faruqi.. Macmillan Publishing Company. New York. 1986]. In some cases, the expenses for the maintenance and repair of the places of worship of the non-Muslims were met from the public treasury (bayt ul mal). Similarly the salaries of rabbis and priests were often paid from the state treasury [Pluralism and Multiculturalism: An Islamic Perspective. P 135. Prof. Abdur Rahman Momin. Department of Sociology. University of Bombay. India. American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. IIIT. US. Vol. 18. No 2. Spring 2001.].

There was no pressure on Jews or Christians to convert to Islam; Muslims continued to uphold the old religious pluralism of the Middle East and learned to coexist with the members of other religions, which according to Quran, were earlier revelations. Karen Armstrong rightly pointed out: “In the Islamic empire, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians enjoyed religious freedom. This reflected the teaching of the Quran which is a pluralistic scripture, affirmative of other traditions. Muslims are commanded by God to respect the People of the Book, and reminded that they share the same belief and the same God” [The Curse of the Infidel. Karen Armstrong.  The Guardian. 20 June 2002].

“What distinguished Muslim Empire from Christian mediaeval Europe is the fact that within the borders of the former, unlike the latter, lived a large number of peoples of other faiths than Islam. … The necessity to live side by side created an atmosphere of toleration, absolutely unknown to mediaeval Europe” [Adam Mez. “Die Renaissance des Islam”. Quoted  in “Muslim and the West: Encounter and Dialogue. p 110.Chapter 4. Article contributed by Ahmet Davutoglu].

“The Quran and the sunnah are replete with strictures calling for peace, mutual tolerance, justice and equity among the Peopleof the Book. Because of the spirit of tolerance of Islam Muslims, Jews and Christians coexisted in harmony from the beginning of the Islamic Empire, through Umayyad and Abbasid eras until the end of Ottoman Empire. Nor should we forget that in Spain both Jews and Muslims, who had lived peacefully for seven centuries, suffered at the hands of Christian inquisitions. It is also interesting to note that French Jews began to flee the Nazi occupation of France the only country to offer them refuge was Morocco under late King Mohamed V” [Osama El Baz- Chief Political Advisor to the President of Egypt. Contaminated Goods. Al Ahram Weekly. 2-8 January 2003. Issue No. 619].

It has never been a problem for Muslims to coexist with the people of other religions. The Islamic caliphate was able to pay host to Christians and Jews for centuries; but West has found it almost impossible to tolerate Muslims as aptly demonstrated in Bosnia and more recently in Chechnya. John Major, the then British Prime Minister, is on record to have said that Britain is not ready to have an independent and sovereign Muslim state on the soil of Europe.

If we fall back to the history we find that Arab Muslims-Christians-Jews were living together peacefully during the Muslim rule in Jerusalem. The conquest of Jerusalem (637 AD) “put an to the centuries of instability, religious persecution and colonial rule once by the Egyptians, another by the Greeks, a third by the Persians and a fourth by the Romans. …  To the natives of Palestine, the Muslims were a new breed of humans, different from all those who invaded their country before. …  For both Jewish and Christian inhabitants of the conquered lands, Islamic rule signaled the start of the golden age. The territories under Muslim rule became the safe havens to which many Jews and Christians fled to escape persecution in their own homelands. It was in Muslim metropolis that many Christians and Jews found the opportunity to acquire learning and to excel in various fields of knowledge and expertise. Many of them had become historic figures who benefited from as well as contributed greatly to the Arab Muslim civilization” [Jerusalem During Muslim Rule. Dr. Azzam Tamimi. Al Aqsa Journal. Vol.1. No. 2. April 1999].

Prof. T. W. Arnold in his book ’The Preaching of Islam’ wrote : “When the Muslim army reached the valley of the Jordan and Abu Ubaidah pitched his camp at Fhil, the Christian inhabitants of the country wrote to the Arabs saying: ‘O Muslims, we prefer you to the Byzantines, though they are of our own faith, because you keep better faith with us, and your rule over us is better than theirs, for they have robbed us of our goods and hour homes’. The people of Amessa closed the gates of their city against the army of Heracl and told the Muslims that they preferred their government and justice to the injustice and oppression of the Greeks” [The Preaching of Islam. p 55. Prof. T. W. Arnold. Quoted in Fanaticism, Intolerance and Islam. p 44. Dr. Khurshid Ahmad. Islamic Publications Ltd. Lahore. 1960.].

Commenting on the visit of Omar bin Khattab (ra) to Jerusalem, Prof. T. W. Arnold wrote: “In company with the Patriarch, Omar visited the holy places, and it is said while they were in the Church of the Resurrection, as it was the appointed hour of prayer, the Patriarch bade the Caliph offer his prayers there, but he thoughtfully refused, saying that if he were to do so, his followers might afterwards claim it as a place of Muslim worship”[The Preaching of Islam. p 57. Prof. T. W. Arnold. Quoted in Fanaticism, Intolerance and Islam p 52. Dr. Khurshid Ahmad. Islamic Publications Ltd. Lahore. 1960. Also see Al Khulfa al Rashidun p 36.  A. S. Hashim. Maryland, 1955 quoted in Non-Muslim Under Shariah (Islamic Law). Prof Dr. Abdur Rahman I. Doi pp 78-79, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 1994]. This was the attitude of the Muslims and noble example of Muslim’s tolerance towards non-Muslims.

History is the testimony that Christians and Jews in Andalusia, Spain under Muslim rule lived very peacefully and therefore non-Muslims could survive in Spain even after 700 years (around 800 to the late 15th century) of Muslim rule. It was however when the Muslim caliphate became weak and the Muslim rule ended that Muslims were systematically killed and massacred. “King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella drove the Moor Muslims out of Spain, forced everybody to embrace Catholic Christianity or be killed, and promoted the exquisite Christian tortures of the Inquisitions. Under Muslim rule, Christian and Jewish communities generally flourished from Spain to Iraq. On the other hand, until recent times, Christian intolerance prevailed throughout Europe” [Gary Leupp. Associate Professor of History. Tufts University. Challenging Ignorance on Islam: Points for Americans. Available in].How then Muslims can be described as intolerant?

“To be a foreigner in the Abbasid court was not really a drawback since the culture encouraged diversity and rewarded people for speaking many languages and bringing the richness of their backgrounds. In fact during that time scholars, artists, poets and litterateurs came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds (speaking Aramaic, Arabic, Persian and Turkish), colours (white, black and mulatto), and creeds (Muslim, Christian, Jew, Sabian and Magian).It was this cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism of Baghdad that made for its enduring strength as a great centre of culture” (Scheherezade Goes West: Different Cultures-Different Harems. p 124. Fatima Mernissi. Washington Square Press. 2001.). It is therefore evident that today’s multiculturalism and pluralism has its roots in the 7th and 8th century Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates.

The Muslims ruled India for nearly 800 years. Even then Hindus always remained the majority in the old quarters of Delhi, the seat of Mogul dynasty, all through history. The Hindus held prominent position in Mogul courts, from Emperor Babur to Awrangzib and thrived in all fields of knowledge, from music to military craft. Awrangzib punished the grandson of his Prime Minister Azad Khan, Mirza Tafakhur who outraged the modesty of a non-Muslim woman. Awrangzib wrote: “It is my duty to prevent oppression on the people who are a trust from the Creator” [Anecdotes of Awrangzib. pp 109-111. Sarkar. Quoted in Fanaticism, Intolerance and Islam. p 43. Dr. Khurshid Ahmed. Lahore. 1960.].

Is it not a sufficient testimony that Muslims are tolerant, they believe in pluralism and all religious communities can live with them peacefully? It is however the Hindus who throughout the history behaved in an intolerant manner. The recent happening in Gujrat is the glaring example of the intolerant attitude of the Hindus towards their neighbour Muslims who are living in India side by with the Hindus for thousand years. As a result of this brutal communal violence, in which the Indian government machinery took part, 19,000 Muslims were killed and another 12,000 Muslim women were gang raped whereas 90 percent of the total persons arrested during the riots are Muslims. This is the example Indian Ghandian justice [for more information on Gujrat riots visit].

During his (saws) life time, Prophet Muhammad (saws) concluded many treaties with the Jews and Christians and the community of the believers lived peacefully with the Christians and Jews as long as the concluding parties remained faithful to the terms of the treaties which are the reflection of the plural nature of Islam and its capacity to live with other communities peacefully and its tolerant attitude. Some misunderstandings have however arisen regarding verses 3-16 of Surat At Tauba. Surah 9 [Surat At Tauba] of Al Quran is “entirely devoted to treaty-breakers” [Standard Missionary Islamphobia. G. F. Haddad. Available in]. Westerners have however inferred on the basis of Surat At Tauba that “Islam teaches the destruction of the non-Muslims” [Jerry Vines. Pastor of First Baptist Church. Jacksonville, Fla. Available in]. The Westerners, the Christian and Jews particularly took exception to: “… slay those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place. Yet if they repent, and take to prayer, and render the purifying dues, let them go their way: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace” [Al Quran 9 (Surat At Tauba): 5]. 

Muhammad Asad (formerly Leopold Weiss from Polish/Austria and brought up in a Jewish family) in his monumental commentary of the Quran pointing to this verse observed: “Every verse of the Quran must be read and interpreted against the background of the Quran as a whole. The above verse, which speaks of a possible conversion to Islam on the part of “those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God” with whom the believers are at war, must, therefore, be considered in conjunction with several fundamental Quranic ordinances. One of them, “There shall be no coercion in the matter of faith” [2 (Surat Al Baquarah): 256] lays down categorically that any attempt at a forcible conversion of unbelievers is prohibited – which precludes the possibility of the Muslims’ demanding or expecting that a defeated enemy should embrace Islam as the price of immunity. Secondly, the Quran ordains, “Fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you; but do not commit aggression, for, verily, God does not love aggressors” [2(Surat Al Baquarah): 190]; and, “if they do not let you be, and do not offer you peace, and do not stay their hands, seize them and slay them whenever you come upon them: and it is against these that We have clearly empowered you (to make war)” [4(Surat An Nisa): 91]. Thus, war is permissible only in self defence, with the further proviso that “if they desist – behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace” [2(Surat Al Baqarah): 192], and “if they desist, then all hostility shall cease” [2(Surat Al Baqarah): 193]. Now the enemy’s conversion to Islam – expressed in the words, “if they repent, and take to prayer (lit., “establish prayer”) and render the purifying dues (zakat)” – is no more than one, and by no means the only way of their “desisting from hostility”; and the reference to it in verses 5 and 11 of this surah certainly does not imply an alternative of “conversion or death”, as some unfriendly critics of Islam choose to assume. Verses 4 and 6 give a further elucidation of the attitude which the believers are enjoined to adopt towards such of the unbelievers as are not hostile to them. In this connection see also 60 (Sura Al Mumtahana): 8-9” [The Message of The Quran. pp 255-256. Muhammad Asad. Dar Al Andalus. Gibralter.1980.].

Eminent Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutub commenting on the verse “Fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you; but do not commit aggression, for, verily, God does not love aggressors” [2(Surat Al Baqarah):190] quoted above pointed out: “War should not be pursued for glory or dominance, nor for material aggrandizement, nor to gain new markets or control raw materials. It should not be pursued to give one class, race or nation of people dominance over another” [In the Shade of the Quran. Fi Zilal al Quran. p 209. The Islamic Foundation. UK. Vol. I. 1999].

This makes it clear that Islam is essentially tolerant and does not really intend to fight back unless compelled by rebellious circumstances. Now is the time to reflect why the West established the vessel state Israel in the Middle East and nourishing it with all military and economic assistance against the rights of the Palestinians in their homeland. [Time Magazine immediately after 11 September 2001 reported that U.S. alone annually provide Israel $3 billion military aid plus access to advanced U.S. weapons in addition to another $84o million economic assistance. Why The Hate? Roots of Rage. Lisa Beyer. Quoted in The New Nation. 28 September 2001]. Why U.S and U.K want to make renewed attack on the Iraq? The good intention of U.S. to invade Iraq is to “turn Iraq into another U.S. oil protectorate” [Mr. Bush’s War. Eric S. Margolis. Toronto Sun. 25th August 2002]. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair are out attack Iraq now for they think that if Iraq acquires nuclear arms it will “alter the strategic balance in the oil rich Persian Gulf” [U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts. Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller .The New York Times. 8th September 2002] to the disadvantage of the interest of the West. According to the report of the U.S. Air Force Counter Proliferation Center located in the Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, Israel has 400 atomic and hydrogen bombs and thermonuclear weapons with nuclear cruise missiles range of 350 kilometers []. The West is however silent about the possession of nuclear arms by the Israel. U.S. is now threatening the world community that if the U.N. do not take any action against Iraq for the alleged possession of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction and non compliance of the Security Council resolutions and if Iraq does not allow U.N. inspectors (Earlier reports showed that U.S. intelligence personnel entered Iraq under the cover of U.N. inspectors. Reuters in a report from Stockholm released on 4th October 2002 claimed that U.N. inspector team members made “too many copies of their of the finding documents and passed on to U.S. and Israeli military” as is evident from the fact that “some targets checked out by the weapons inspectors were bombed by the U.S. and its allies just immediately after the inspection”. Ake Sellstrom, Swedish expert employed by the U.N. weapons inspection organization UNSCOM led by American Scott Ritter “accused that ‘90s arms inspectors in Iraq were spies” and the inspectors were therefore forced to leave Iraq in December 1998) than it would take unilateral action against Iraq. However U.S and its Western allies are silent about the continued violation of U.N. resolutions by the Israel. In this connection it will suffice to mention that when the U.N. Security Council by an unanimous resolution decided to send five member facts finding team headed by former Finish President Martti Ahtisaari to investigate the massacre in Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin early April 2002, the Israel blocked the mission to probe the atrocities committed by the Israeli military forces and the fact finding team could not proceed to Israel to begin its assigned task. Neither U.S. nor U.K. nor any other member state of the so called civilized club, the champion liberty and freedom, spoke a word condemning the Israeli defiance not to speak of forcing Israel to comply the U.N. Security Council resolution. The Western war on terrorism is nothing but a “smokescreen”, as rightly pointed out by John Pilger. 

Why the West is supporting client governments in the Middle East against the wishes of the people of these countries? It is undoubtedly to ensure their economic interest and plunder oil resources of the region. It is the Western desire to dominate and control the resources of the Central Asian republics which encouraged U.S. led Western coalition attack Afghanistan and install a puppet government in the name of resisting terrorism. 

It is high time to review the current world scenario and state of affairs. The West is pursuing a policy, a strategy to keep the West dominant power. Ever since the demise of the Soviet Union, the U.S. is pursing a policy that no new Centre of Power can emerge. What the West, particularly U.S. and U.K. is doing is nothing but attempt to impose hegemony over the Third World and Muslim countries. U.S. and U.K. are now planning to attack Iraq and trying to mobilize a coalition of Western countries although these very countries are silent against Israeli oppression of the Palestinians old, women and children and continuous occupation of Palestinian land, creation of new Jewish settlement in Palestinian land expelling the original Arab Palestine population from their homeland.

The need of the hour is to identify the real enemies of the tension and conflict and sincerely work to eliminate the existing bitterness – thus rekindling hope among the peace loving people and making this world a safer and happier abode for all of humankind. This however cannot be achieved unless the developed West makes genuine change of attitude and develop a new paradigm of equitable relationships. This would require adopting new policies that would pave the way for a healthy exchange of ideas and creating opportunities for dialogue between civilizations. This calls for the construction of a New World Order where different civilizations could coexist peacefully without resorting to war and mutual destruction.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith in 1965 summarized the fundamental weakness of both Western civilization and the Christianity in the following words:

“[It] is their [West and Christianity] inability to recognize that they share the planet not with inferiors but with equals. Unless Western civilization intellectually and socially, politically and economically, and the Christian church theologically, can learn to treat other men with fundamental respect, these two in their turn will have failed to come to terms” [‘Islam and Modern History’. p 305].

The reality is that Islam and the West share a common tradition for both affirm monotheism, profess belief in revelation, in Prophets and in scriptures. Muslims shares many teachings with the Christians: it accepted all Biblical Prophets, emphasized moral responsibility and believed in the Last Day. From the time of the Prophet Muhammad (saws), Muslims have recognized this, but the West cannot accept it. Today some Muslims are beginning to turn against the cultures of ahl al kitab, the People of the Book, which have humiliated and disgraced them. The Arab Muslim mind towards the West is depicted in the just conducted opinion poll of Weekly Al Ahram, Cairo. The result of opinion poll on ‘what the Egyptians think about the West’ reported by the weekly in its issue of 12-18 September 2002 shows that 68 percent respondents see the U.S. war on terror “as a means of asserting the U.S.’s global dominance” and 51 percent consider “a war against Arabs and Muslims”.

The paradox of history is that the West accuses the Muslims of being intolerant towards the West whereas its leaders are behaving in manner, which directly reflect the prejudiced and intolerant attitude of the Western leaders towards the Islamic civilization and their abhorrence towards the Muslims. Immediately after the Twin Towers attack, President Bush Jr. without losing time declared “crusade” which undoubtedly reflect his subconscious mind and the U.S. President outlook and stance towards Islam and Muslims. Following the foot steps of President Bush Jr. the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared that “Western civilization is superior to Islamic culture”. Speaking at a news conference Berlusconi said: “We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for religious and political rights” [AP from Manama. 26th September 2001].

If Muslims need to understand Western tradition and institutions more thoroughly today, the West needs to separate it from some of their prejudices. “Perhaps one place to start is with the figure of Muhammad: a complex, passionate man who …  founded a religion and a cultural tradition that was not based on the sword- despite the Western myth- and whose name ‘Islam’ signifies peace and reconciliation” [Muhammad: A Western Attempt to Understand Islam.  p.266. Karen Armstrong. Victor Gollancz  Ltd. London. 1992]. 

1st Octoner 2002