By S M Hali
June 16, 2015
Islam lays great emphasis on religious tolerance but currently, it is at its lowest in many Muslim societies. Islamic State’s (IS's) destruction of churches and massacre of members of the Shia faith has also tarnished the image of Islam. In Pakistan too, certain segments of society show a lack of tolerance towards other sects of Islam and other religious and ethnic minorities. At the slightest hint of alleged blasphemy, boisterous groups take to the streets, indulging in violence to vent their anger. This volatile behaviour is exploited by those who bait the gullible in the name of freedom of speech, provoking protestors to react violently. Consequently, the western media is quick to brand the entire Ummah (Muslim world) as intolerant and barbarous.
It is time that we Muslims stop being provoked by deliberate allegations of blasphemy and instead, recognise the numerous efforts of the Occident to bridge the religious gap by bringing about interfaith harmony. The well-meaning overtures of Islam and its Prophet (PBUH) are drowned out by our loud remonstrations.
Few people in this part of the world are aware that our Prophet (PBUH) is one of the 18 greatest lawmakers in human history, along with the Prophets Moses and Solomon, statesmen and thinkers like Charlemagne, Confucius, Hammurabi and others in the US Supreme Court Building's pantheon in the US capital. Acknowledging that the Quran provides the primary source of Islamic law and the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) teachings explain and implement Quranic principles is a great tribute to Islam.
There have been incidents of a few misled Muslims in Pakistan attacking churches and temples, while mosques have been demolished in India and incidents of arson have occurred in mosques in the US. The dogmatist Reverend Terry Jones of Florida burned copies of the Holy Quran, despite warnings by the US President. On the positive side, there have been large groups of people in the west reaching out to Muslims. Jersey City’s Tawheed Islamic Center mosque was burnt down due to an electrical fire but the Muslim congregants have been offering their prayers at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sip Avenue, at the invitation of the Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s administration, until the mosque is rebuilt.
Church of England vicar Reverend Giles Goddard of St John's Church in Waterloo, London, has been allowing a Muslim prayer service in his church. He calls this an “inclusive Mosque” event, finishing his prayers with the words: "Allah, God, is always with us and around us, and is within us.”
More importantly, Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, has reached out to Muslims in particular. Shortly after his election, in a meeting with ambassadors from the 180 countries accredited with the Holy See, Pope Francis called for more interreligious dialogue, "particularly with Islam" and expressed gratitude that "so many civil and religious leaders from the Islamic world" had attended his installation Mass. This heartening move to overcome Islamophobia was put into practice when Pope Francis used his office to try and bring about a rapprochement between Israel and Palestine. The Vatican is signing a treaty that includes recognition of the state of Palestine, lending significant symbolic weight to resolving the six decades old Palestine issue. The Papal visit to Sarajevo, reaching out to the Muslim majority as well as other faiths, was symbolic because he pointed out that the historic city, which has suffered so many bloody conflicts in the past century, has once again become a place of dialogue and peaceful coexistence.
This blessed month of Ramadan, in which the Quran was sent down as a guide to mankind, as us Muslims strive to get closer to Allah and reap fruits from His bounty, let us also resolve to practice religious tolerance as envisioned by our beloved Prophet (PBUH). His abhorrence for war and preference for peace motivated him to enter into peace treaties with his opponents, even if they appeared unfavourable to Muslim interests. Notably, he established Madina, the first peaceful sanctuary, without resorting to war. He did defend that sanctuary when it was threatened but essentially, according to Chicago’s Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, the total time of actual fighting in Madina’s defence was not more than six days in his eventful life of 63 years. Those misled Muslims who kill and maim others, claiming to have “avenged Prophet Muhammad” (PBUH), should remember that our beloved Prophet (PBUH) banned revenge. It is time for us to reiterate his message for peace and tolerance.
S M Hali is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and a television show host