On reviving the legacy of Islamic religious tolerance and coexistence

Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.

Sometimes people take things for granted. Muslims, for example, have been heedless about their historical heritage of religious tolerance and interfaith dialog until they were hit by the backlashes of 9/11. Suddenly, most Muslims woke up to the harsh Western accusations that claimed all Muslims hated the West and everything about it. Yet, the majority of Muslims practicing mainstream Islam and not its extremist ideologies did not hate the West or its citizens. But what was their proof? The lack of their expressions was further aggravated by the loud voices of the extremists who claimed to be representing the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Misrepresentation is a serious crime to the intellect and Muslims today need to fight this crime with every means they have.

Muslims today need to revive the legacy of their religious tolerance and coexistence. Andalusia is not the only era where Muslims and non-Muslims happily and peacefully lived together for ages, but it is the most famous. Since the birth of Islam, Muslims have acknowledged the religious diversity on earth and that this entitled human dignity. Muslim scholars in the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad in the eighth century as well as in tenth century North Africa not only accepted non-Muslims but cooperated with them in building civilizations as well.

Diversity among human creeds and cultures is a fact not only acknowledged, but celebrated, in the Qur’an: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” Surah 49, verse 13.

Knowing one another is then a Qur’anic command to Muslims. Muslims are not only required to tolerate others but they are expected to know them, build relationships with them, and make community with them. This is how Muslims, the Qur’an tells us, can reach righteousness. Righteousness should not be achieved easily; it comes after exerting an effort. And what greater effort is it that one looks at the different person in front of them, recognizes their humanity, and decides to be God-conscious of their presence, needs, and spirit?

Building relationships with people of other faiths takes a lot of courage because people are naturally inclined to interact with those who are like them. People, especially in the 21st century social media world, are accustomed to engage in monologues; that is in conversation with like-minded people. A dialogue, on the other hand, takes a lot more effort and character. It also takes a greater faith. It is life-transforming in the way it makes the participants humble toward God’s creation. It spreads peace in the heart and peace in community; things that are much needed today.

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