One of the many things I love about my religion is how inclusive it is. However, I’ve always had this problem of reconciling what Islam means and what it has been in the past, with current Muslim rhetoric that goes against the teachings of the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad. It’s a paradox I DON’T wish to resolve.
In my view, Islam is an inclusive and tolerant religion because of what it stands for: submitting one’s self to Almighty God. This definition alone speaks volume to the beauty of this religion. A Muslim is not defined by his daily rituals, but by what he or she ultimately believes in. But to be the best Muslim that deserves to enter God’s Jannah, one has to abide by the rules set out by the Creator, and I am far from dismissing their importance. What disturbs me is that Muslims today forget that these rules and rituals were taught by Prophet Muhammad in the early 7th century. What does that make of previous prophets? What about Adam, Ibrahim, Musa, and Isa? Are they less of a Muslim because the rules and rituals were different from what were taught to us?
Islam in theory is the most tolerant of all religions because unlike others that view Prophet Muhammad as a false prophet and Islam as a false religion, Islam acknowledges the status of Judaism and Christianity as revealed by real prophets that are also revered by Muslims worldwide. When we think of a Muslim today, we think of shahadah, five daily prayers, fasting during Ramadhan, zakat, and Hajj. In the Qur’an, however, the usage includes followers of Prophets that came before the Qur’an was revealed, precisely because they submitted to God. Furthermore, if we choose to focus on them, there are actually many similarities between Islam and these religions. For example, similar to Judaism, Islam is staunch in its concept of tawhid, or the oneness of God, and similar to Christianity, Islam was revealed as a universal religion that is not limited to a Chosen People.
Unfortunately, our fixation on modern political history has caused us to overlook how our beloved Prophet treated the Jews in Medina, with their rights clearly stated in the Charter of Medina. We forgot how the Caliphs treated the Jews and Christians they encountered during the Islamic expansion. We forgot about God’s command to be kind to those who have received the revelation before us. Some would argue that God’s command to respect the Jews and Christians is invalidated by the fact that their books have been distorted, thus no longer are they the ‘true’ People of the Book. Take a moment to reconsider this oxymoron – the Taurat (Old Testament) and Injil (New Testament) have been ruined by the hands of men centuries before the Qur’an was revealed. If they hadn’t, there would have been no reason for God to send the Seal of the Prophets to correct what has been wronged. Yet, rather than chastise the Jews and Christians for corrupting God’s laws, the Qur’an calls for us to acknowledge the truth-seeker among our Jewish and Christian brothers.
“Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds — shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.” [2:62]
“Say, ‘We believe in Allah and what has been sent down to us, and what was revealed to Abraham and Ismail and Isaac and Jacob and the Tribes, and what Moses and Jesus were given, and what all the Prophets were given by their Lord. We do not differentiate between any of them. We are Muslims submitted to Him’.” [2:136]
“They are not all the same. There is a community among the People of the Book who are upright. They recite Allah’s Signs throughout the night, and they prostrate.” [3:113]
“And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there are indeed such as [truly] believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as in that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God’s messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer — for, behold, God is swift in reckoning!” [3:199]
“When it is recited to them they say, ‘We believe in it; it is the truth from our Lord. We were already Muslims before it came’.”[28:53]
It saddens me very much to see the level of hatred and misunderstanding today. We have turned Islam into a club where one has to pay a premium to be a part of. In our zeal to protect the sanctity of Islam we disregard everything that was taught by our Prophet. I’m not only talking about the terrorists that use Islam to justify their actions, but also about the extremists who are keeping Islam away from others in fear of tainting it. First of all, Islam can NEVER be tainted; it is perfect as it is. Second of all, when the Day of Judgment comes, we are accounted for all our actions, and when God asks why we kept Islam at arm’s length from others by our intolerant and disrespectful ways, there will be no one to defend us but ourselves.
I feel that this is a good opportunity to share with those who may not be aware of it the Achtiname of Muhammad, a document ratified by Prophet Muhammad granting protection to the Christian monks of Mount Sinai:
“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).” [Translation by Muqtedar Khan]
Besides the People of the Book – Jews, Christians, and Sabians –, it is worth reminding that Islam does not discriminate against others who were not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an either. As I’ve previously written in earlier blog entries, we as Muslims are required to show humility in regards to the scope of our knowledge. We know only of what God wants us to know while there are undeniably many other mysteries that God keeps away from us out of His wisdom, including the groups of people that have received revelation before the time of Prophet Muhammad. We do not have the names or the numbers, but we cannot deny what the Qur’an told us which are that:
“And as [We inspired other] apostles whom We have mentioned to thee ere this, as well as apostles whom We have not mentioned to thee;” [4:164]
“Now every community has had an apostle; and only after their apostle has appeared [and delivered his message] is judgment passed on them, in all equity; and never are they wronged.” [10:47]
“And never have We sent forth any apostle otherwise than [with a message] in his own people’s tongue, so that he might make [the truth] clear unto them;” [14:4]
“Verily, We have sent thee with the truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner: for there never was any community but a warner has [lived and] passed away in its midst.” [35:24]
These ayahs showcase the limitation of our knowledge and the beauty of this religion. Again, Islam is not an exclusive religion that was taught to a Chosen People who has the right to condemn those who do not exercise the same practices; instead, Islam has been sent to ALL of the people of the world – men were the ones who then corrupted the message. Therefore I do not understand the need to bear arms against other religious groups who may or may not submit to God, because we are only one of the many groups of people who were very fortunate to have received God’s revelation. It is not our place to judge the fidelity of a group or person when God has asked us in the Quran,
“Is not God the most just of judges?” [95:8]
Islam is not just tolerant to others who do not practice the same religion as we understand it to be, but Prophet Muhammad was also a firm proponent against racial discrimination. If any of you have been following my blog, you would know how I truly, severely, and relentlessly HATE racism. I could never understand the logic behind racism, especially if one professes to be a Muslim. As mentioned earlier, Islam is a universal religion for ALL, so when I hear racial slurs against Africans, it sometimes pushes me over the edge. I understand that we tend to fear what we don’t know, and the influx of Africans into the country is a relatively new experience, but as Muslims we need to look beyond Bilal ibn Rabah and remember that the Prophet’s adopted son and grandson, Zayd ibn Harithah and Osama ibn Zayd, are Blacks. Furthermore, Zayd ibn Harithah was an especially trusted companion to have commanded seven military expeditions in his lifetime. And what about Umm Ayman, an Ethiopian slave who was there since the Prophet’s birth until his death, and who the Prophet used to call ummi? For these reasons and more, when I see racism by Muslims I cannot help but feel bad for them because their religiosity lacks knowledge, which is unfortunate.
However, when I am in a state of rage or disbelief over the current state of religious and racial discrimination, I always remind myself that whenever someone denies the Prophet his rights, he would always make excuses for them, but when people abuse the rights of others, the Prophet would be the first to stand up for them. It is not my place to judge the actions of others, for there may be reasons I am not aware of. All I can do is to fight for those whose rights have been taken from underneath them, because I know and still remember what it feels like to be a minority in a society that appreciates diversity. I’m ending this long entry with a reminder especially to myself to treat others, regardless of their religion or race, the way you want to be treated, for the Qur’an says,
“For, [true] servants of the Most Gracious are [only] they who walk gently on earth, and who, whenever the foolish address them, reply with [words of] peace;” [25:63]