Tolerance in Islamic Tradition

We are living in a globalised world, with diverse religious, ethnic, cultural, social, economic and political backgrounds. All these suggest the importance for a better understanding one another through interfaith partnership. The objective of interfaith partnership is to create mutual understanding, respect and tolerance to work in unity for peace and prosperity of humanity without harming the identity of any religious group in multi-culture societies.

Every religion has some universal values as a common ground. The Holy Quran appeals its followers to engage in interfaith partnership with the people of other faiths on the basis of what they have common in doing righteous deeds for a better society.

Literally the word tolerance means “to bear” As a concept it means respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of the world’s cultures, forms of expression and ways of being human. In Arabic it is called “tasamuh”. There are also other words that give similar meanings, such as “Hilm” (forbearance) or “`afu” (pardon, forgiveness) or “safh” (overlooking, disregarding). Thus it means to hold something acceptable or bearable. Tolerance is a deliberate choice of non-interference in the conduct that one disproves.

Tolerance is man’s ways of declaring his superiority to God, or to the unfaith hummable loved one- by not arraigning the latter, man transcends his complete dependence on the beloved. The divine has many attributes, enumerated by religious poets themselves, but tolerance does not appear to be among them. Tolerance is a specifically human and humane quality.

Tolerance is a multi-faceted concept comprising moral, psychological, social, legal, political and religious dimensions. The dimension of tolerance addressed by this essay is specifically religious tolerance, such as this principle finds expression within the Islamic tradition. Tolerance is a noble Islamic thought suggested in many verses of Quran in different forms, with complete emphasis and explicitness. The Islamic tradition, in principle as well as in practice, provides compelling answers to many questions pertaining to the relationship between religious tolerance and the practice of one‘s own faith.

Indeed, there is significant value in exploring Islam‘s rich tradition of tolerance. The Qur‘an reveals an inherent ethic of tolerance. The Quran says: “O humankind, God has created you from male and female and made you into diverse nations and tribes so that you may come to know each other.” (Qur‘an 49:13) An often-repeated verse, “There shall be no compulsion in matters of faith.”(Qur‘an 2:256) The Qur‘anic declaration emphasizing this Islamic injunction, numerous Hadith demonstrate a congruity between the Qur‘an‘s directives toward tolerance and peaceful coexistence. 

The Quran is clear on its stand on religious tolerance.  Religious tolerance as practiced during the life of Muhammad (PBUH). The spirit of tolerance and respect displayed by Muhammad was not a case in isolation in Islamic history. The first reign of Muslim civilization was born, where people of different tribes and faiths were united and bound by the Madinah Charter. The very first provision of the Charter states that it is binding on all the people of Yathrib, who are now one community.

Islam emphasizes tolerance in different ways; the Quran mentions that God has created people as different nations, societies, religions, race and color. It gives responsibility for individual commitments and it should be done in a particular way. The Holy Quran provides a framework of social equality and universal brotherhood. Islam stands for justice and fair play for all, whether Muslims or non-Muslims. Islam is a progressive religion and approves pluralism, tolerance and acceptance. Islamic teachings negate extremism, radicalism, fundamentalism or fanaticism. 

(Dr. Meraj Ahmad Meraj is Assistant Professor Department of Arabic, Aliah University, Kolkata)