By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
01 December 2016
Contrary to common belief, Islam is not
intolerant to other religions. It teaches its adherents to give mutual respect
to, to be tolerant of and to have dialogue with people of other religions.
This can be clearly seen from the following
example of the Prophet. When the Prophet reached Medina, it was also inhabited
by some idolaters and Jews, who were in a minority. The Prophet decided that
some form of law should be established so that there would be no
misunderstanding or hostility of any sort, in the future between them and the
Muslims. To solve this problem the Prophet of Islam issued a charter, commonly
known as the Covenant of Medina. Since the Muslims were in the majority, the
Prophet's position became that of a leader, or a head of state. In this
capacity, he declared in this charter that all the inhabitants of Medina would
enjoy equal rights. Everyone would be free to follow the religion and culture
of his or her choice: the affairs of the adherents of each religion would be
decided according to their belief.
Here I would like to quote an event in the
life of the Prophet of Islam, which illustrates the true spirit of religious
tolerance. One day a funeral procession was passing along a street in Medina.
The Prophet, who was seated there at the time of its passing, stood up in
respect to the deceased person. One of his companions said, ‘O Prophet, it was
a funeral procession of a Jew!’ meaning that he should not demonstrate such
respect for a non-Muslim. The Prophet replied: ‘Alaisat Nafsan’: ‘Was he
not a human being?’ This ‘humanitarian’ outlook was typical of the Prophet’s
vision of life. He was able to see everyone basically as a human being. In this
case, he discovered a commonality between himself and that Jewish person. He
felt that just as he was a human being, so also was the Jew a human being. Just
as God had created him, so also had God created the Jew. People may have their
differences in belief, religion, culture, etc., but a common bond has to be
discovered between them, which shows them all to be human beings.
This shows that Islam teaches tolerance and
mutual respect. Realizing that religious differences have always existed
between people, Islam also teaches us to have open dialogue with people of
other religions. That is why inter-religious dialogue has been found in one
form or the other since the beginning of Islam. In fact, fourteen hundred years
ago, Prophet Mohammad held, what can be said as the first inter-faith dialogue
in Medina when a three-religion conference—in modern terminology, a
trialogue—to exchange views on religious issues took place between the
followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
Such attempts have repeatedly been made in
history. The circumstances that unfolded following the Second World War led the
Christian Church, in particular, to pay great attention to this matter. Through
its continuous efforts dialogues of this nature are regularly being held in
various countries, between Muslims and Christians in particular. I too have had
the occasion to participate in several of these dialogues. These efforts have
borne fruit, at least partially. For instance, it is as a result of these
efforts that on the one hand, a Church has appeared once again in Ben Ghazi
(Libya) while on the other, a mosque has been built in Rome for the first time
in recent history.
If the Qur’an is consulted with this point
in view, we find two main principles on which to hold dialogues. One is derived
from this verse of the Qur’an:
Say: O People
of Book, let us come to a word common to us and you that we will worship none
but God (3:64).
The first and foremost principle for any
dialogue held to discuss two or more religions is to strive to find a mutual
basis for peaceful co-existence.
It is a fact that finding a common ground
in secular matters is comparatively easy, for nothing is held as sacred in
secularism. On the contrary everything acquires a sacred character in religion.
That is why it becomes the most difficult task to find a basis for agreement in
religious matters. However, despite all difficulties, we must continue our
efforts, peacefully, irrespective of the results.
The second principle given by the Qur’an is
purely a matter of pragmatism. That is, matters should be settled on practical
grounds by avoiding their theoretical aspects. This principle is derived from
this verse of the Qur’an:
To you your
religion and to me mine (109:6).
This principle is generally referred to, in
today’s context as religious co-existence. This means that whenever common
grounds for agreement between two or more parties cannot be arrived at on an
ideological basis, then the way of practical co-existence must be adopted.
The Community of Saint Egidio provides a
good example of a continuing dialogue of this nature. This promotes interaction
on a mass scale between adherents of different religions. In view of its
vastness it may be rightly termed a super dialogue. The religious meet held
under the auspices of the Community of Saint Egidio on a large scale each year
makes a considerable contribution towards the achievement of the goal targeted
by inter-religious dialogue.
Here I would like to add another point. We
should not judge our efforts in this matter only by the results of meetings
held in the name of formally arranged inter-religious dialogue. The truth is
that “inter-religious dialogue” is not now limited to specific meetings held in
the field of religion. It has rather assumed the form of a vast historical
process—spontaneous, ongoing and perhaps never fully recorded. Negotiation in
controversial matters is in tune with the spirit of the age. Today, it has
permeated all walks of national as well as international life.
Modern industrial revolution and modern
communication have added such vast dimensions to human relations that now the
entire world has been converted into a global village. People of various
persuasions are coming closer, on a universal scale. This interaction serves as
an on-going dialogue of an informal nature. In this way with distances
narrowed, the confrontational attitude now gives way to compromise.
Interaction in itself is an un-proclaimed
dialogue. When, as a result of circumstances, interaction between people of
different persuasions increases, the purpose of the dialogue is served on its
Today, in educational institutions,
offices, and factories, in travel, on playgrounds and in national and
international activities, adherents of different religious traditions are
meeting one another on a scale hitherto un-witnessed.
In the course of this continuous and vast
interaction, for the first time in human history, people seem less like
strangers to one another. A great gap has been bridged. People are learning one
another’s languages. They are becoming familiar with one another’s culture.
Making concessions to one another has become a need of the people themselves.
These factors have brought people closer
right across the world. And it is a psychological truth that closeness and
interaction in themselves serve the purpose of a practical dialogue.
Probably the most signal result of this
historical process is that after a long intellectual struggle religious
intolerance has been universally rejected. Religious intolerance has now been
replaced with complete religious freedom. Today under auspices of the United
Nations all the nations of the world have signed the universal declaration of
In accordance with this declaration
religious freedom has been accepted as the natural birthright of all human
beings. As opposed to practices in ancient times, no one now enjoys the right
to persecute anyone on the basis of religion. This is the change, which has
confined the sphere of religious difference to peaceful negotiation.
The effects of this can be seen in all
walks of life, whether religious or secular. Every one of us, consciously or
unconsciously, plays a part in making religious co-existence a reality.
Interfaith dialogue becoming a part of the
historical process holds great promise for us, as in this case its success is
assured. This is how every great revolution of history has got under way.
Whenever a movement goes beyond the stage of individual or group efforts and
joins the historical process itself, then the continuity of that movement is
ensured and ultimately nothing can stop it reaching its destination.
In short, inter-religious dialogue had its
beginnings in individual interaction, paving the way for discussions held in
religious gatherings. Ultimately the time came when it became a part of a world
movement. Now, if the course of events is any indication, God willing, that day
too will dawn when the world is no more ridden with religious disputes, and we
are able to live in a peaceful and harmonious world.
"Determined to get to the bottom of
what was happening, an alarmed Nehru commissioned a small mixed-faith team to
go to Hyderabad to investigate.
It was led by a Hindu congressman,
Pandit Sunderlal. But the resulting report that bore his name was never
Only recently it became public. That too by chance
"At a number of places members of the
armed forces brought out Muslim adult males... and massacred them”
At each one they carefully
chronicled the accounts of Muslims who had survived the appalling violence:
"We had absolutely unimpeachable evidence to the effect that there were
instances in which men belonging to the Indian Army and also to the local police
took part in looting and even other crimes.
"During our tour we gathered,
at not a few places, that soldiers encouraged, persuaded and in a few cases
even compelled the Hindu mob to loot Muslim shops and houses."
The team reported that while Muslim
villagers were disarmed by the Indian Army, Hindus were often left with their
weapons. The mob violence that ensued was often led by Hindu paramilitary