By Rameez Bhat
Nov 23 2017
Before directly addressing the principle and practice of tolerance in Islam, of what actually tolerance means, according to the oxford dictionary tolerance means; the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinion or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with, ‘an advocate of religious tolerance’.
What is the secular concept of tolerance in the west, for this question a visionary philosopher, a founding father of a liberal thought and a great physician John Locke, widely known as the father of liberalism wrote a famous scripture A Letter Concerning Toleration. This letter is widely viewed as instrumental in the process by which the ethical value of religious tolerance was transformed into a universal ethical imperative, as far as individual value is concerned, and into a legal obligation, incumbent upon the upholders of political authority, as far as the state is concerned. John Locke was deeply struck by the contrast between tolerant—barbarians—the Muslims ottomans, and violently intolerant Christians. The contrast was compounded by the fact that Muslims exercised more tolerance towards Non-Muslims than Christians did to each other.
In John Locke’s writing, he ruefully reflected on the absurdity that Calvinist’s and American’s were free to practice their faith if they lived in the Muslim Ottoman Empire, but not in a Christian Europe. He stormily proclaimed the need for “universal tolerance” whatever one’s religious beliefs are. The current unquestioned right of freedom of religious beliefs and worship in the western world is thus not simply a corollary of secular thought; it is a principle inspired at least in part, by the influence of Islam. During the period of the dominance of the Christians; the West was indulging in a periodic of anti-Jewish programs, some of the historians from the Jew community have termed a kind of “golden-age” under the Muslim rule. And same hold good for Christians under Muslim rule in Spain.
According to Bernard Lewis, a British American historian having specialization in oriental studies and author of several books including The Jews of Islam and Islam and the West, describes the real character of Muslims in his books that Jews and Christians were much procure under the Muslim dominion and in other words Jews and Christians under the Muslim dominion were not normally called upon to suffer martyrdom to their faith.
In the present era political analysts are fond of pointing to give examples of religious intolerance in the contemporary Muslim world and attribute the absence of tolerance to the backwardness of Islam, and in particular to the insistence by Muslims that religion must dominate and fashion the whole of life, restoring God to the public and the private sphere in non-negotiable and essential. This refusal to separate Masjids from State, such analysts conclude, is one of the main reasons why the Muslim world lags behind the west as regards both the principle and practice religious tolerance.
This type of analysis is not only simplistic and erroneous; it also obscures an irony at once historical and theological. The principle of religious tolerance has historically been one of the hallmarks of Muslim world, right up to its decline in the pre-modern period. The rise of religious tolerance in the west appears to be correlated to the diminution of the influence of Christian values in public life in the modern period; conversely in the Muslim world, it’s the decline of the influences of Islamic values that has engendered that peculiar inferiority complex of which religious tolerance is a major symptom.
Meanwhile Muslims ought to be tempted to become aware of the tolerance which veritably characterizes the spirit and the history of the Islamic tradition.