Concern for the truth, combined with a personal loyalty to one’s faith, tend to keep the believers of one religion at a distance from those who adhere to another.
If this distance is rigidly maintained over time, communication usually breaks down, attitudes become frozen, and some degree of bigotry is bound to emerge.
Islam is unique among the world’s major religions in that the Qur’an explicitly provides five guidelines for Muslims on how to view other faiths.
Throughout history, when Muslims followed these Quranic precepts — whether they were in a position of authority, or even as a numerically weaker minority group — they, as well as members of other religions living around them, benefited greatly. The degree of compassionate and just treatment by Muslims to adherents of other religions far exceeded that meted out by authorities of other religions toward Muslims. Consider these historical examples:
In the early days of Islam, Muslims were instrumental in helping to safeguard the distinctive traditions of the Christian Coptic Church in Egypt from the oppressive practices of the dominant Church of Rome.
Similarly, Muslim Turks are credited in Islamic history with safeguarding eastern European Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians alike from pressure and persecution exerted by the Church of Rome.
The “golden age” of Jewish religious scholarship in pre-medieval Spain was achieved in an environment of religious freedom supported by the dominant Muslim society.
In many Arab, Middle Eastern and Asian countries, religious minorities — especially Jews, Christians and Hindus — have flourished under Muslim rule and, thus protected, their ancient places of worship have survived to this day.
What are these five divine guidelines that the Qur’an clearly presents to Muslims for building tolerance and understanding among differing religions?
Everyone’s God-given human dignity must be respected, regardless of their religion, race, ethnic origin, gender, or social status (17:70). Because everyone is created by God Almighty, the Maker of All, humans must treat one another with full honour, respect and loving-kindness.
Islam teaches that it is by Divine Will that God’s human creation has followed different religions, or no religion at all (“no religion” is also a belief system, or faith) (11:118), (10:99), (18:29). But God Almighty is not pleased when some of His servants (all humans are servants of the Creator in one way or another) choose not to believe (39:7).
The Qur’an states clearly that freedom of religion is a God-given right (18:29), (10:99).
The final judgment of all humanity lies in the hands of the One Almighty, their Creator, to whom we all return (22:68-69), (42:15).
God loves justice and those who strive to practice it, especially toward people who are different from them in any way, particularly in religious belief (5:8), (60:8).
Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.