Other Religions & Beliefs
Islam is an inclusive religion. It stresses equality of all human beings where there cannot be a people superior to another. The differences people share are only there to learn from each other as the Qur’an says:
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 honoured 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 49:13)
For Muslims, a person is either your brother in religion or your brother in humanity.
Hence brotherhood should be extended to people of all faiths. The same way God loves and provides for the whole of His creation, just so are Muslims expected to model themselves with the attributes of God. They must therefore treat others with love, respect and equality.
Islam from its very inception has encountered other faiths, especially the two Abrahamic faiths – Christianity and Judaism, adherents of these are referred to in the Qur’an as Ahl al-Kitab, Peoples of the Book. Historically as the Islamic empire expanded Muslims were able to extend this definition of Ahl al-Kitab to include Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Hindus. Following the Prophet’s proclamation of his mission, there followed intense persecution of Muslims, which led to the migration of eighty-three men and nineteen women to Abyssinia, a Christian land in 616 CE. Other examples include the Constitution of al-Madinah, the Prophet allowing a Christian delegation from Najran to pray in the Mosque and there are numerous verses of the Qur’an (Surahs 2:62, 3:63, 3:113-115, 3:199), that clearly instruct Muslims to tolerance of other faiths and the Shari’ah guarantees religious freedom to all faiths. The following verse especially is so relevant for our times:
[…] To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah. It is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute (Surah 5:48).
This however does not mean that Muslims from a literalist persuasion will not ignore these verses and rather seek to utilize verse 5:51 and argue against friendships with Christians and Jews. Their interpretation is literal and flawed. It fails to take into account the asbab al-nuzul, the occasion of revelation. In this instance this verse was revealed during a time at which the very survival of the nascent Muslim community was at stake. A number of Muslims sought to make alliances with Christian and Jewish tribes, if they were permitted to do so, this would have broken Muslim unity and led to a possible annihilation of the community by the pagan Arabs. This verse therefore instructed Muslims not to take those Christian and Jewish tribes as their supporters or friends. The word ‘awliya’ can mean ‘friends’ and also ‘supporters’, subject to context. At another point the Qur’an states:
Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just. (Surah 60:8).
Over the last decade, interfaith activity throughout many of our cities has begun to intensify.
Pluralism combined with post-modernism has forced religious traditions to seek to develop a theology of mutual respect, accommodation and tolerance. Muslims, particularly living in western pluralist societies are drawing on aspects of their Sufi heritage that has been neglected for the last three centuries. The recovery of Sufi teachings means often that the majority of British Muslims are re-discovering the Islam of their parents, and this will also lead to a movement towards the emergence of a British Islam that is rooted in Muslim beliefs but is expressed through the British social and cultural context. A famous Sufi dictum is: ‘The other is my Brother’. This worldview allows Muslims to work with and build friendships with people of other faiths or of none and yet remain rooted to a deeper Ihsanic vision of Islam.
Human beings have been created to worship (Ibadah) God. The concept of Ibadah is broad and all-embracing, is not simply confined to the practice of the 5 pillars – Shahadah (Oneness of Allah and the finality of the Messengership of Muhammad), Salah (five daily prayers), Sawm (Fasting in the month of Ramadan), Zakah (Alms) and the performance of Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) if one is able to physically and financially. The concept of ibadah, of worship penetrates and permeates through every aspect of human action. Imam BaihaqI for example informs us that even the removal of some litter from the street is part of one’s faith. Smiling at one’s parents, kindness to neighbours, visiting the sick, contributing to the betterment of society and earning a halal living are just some examples of Ibadah, of worship. In sum it is to serve God and service is through worship, through ethical and moral action, indeed to serve our fellow human beings and the rest of creation is the true realisation of the concept of Ibadah. Citizenship therefore is to develop and instil in our young and old a sense of responsibility and duty to positive action for the benefit of the individual and society.