By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
I’m always sad to hear about the persecution of anyone due to their religious convictions. I must stress that Islam does not teach persecution of other faiths. Where this occurs it is due to ignorance on the part of those who persecute, and radicalisation of Muslims.
Muslims too have suffered in those countries where extreme religious fanaticism prevails. Intolerant extremists declare anyone who doesn’t accept their fanatical doctrines as “kafirs” (infidels), even if they’re other Muslims. Like all fanatics believing only they are right and everyone else will go to hell.
In the Holy Qur’an, Christians and Jews are called the “Ahl Al-Kitab” (People Of The Book). God doesn’t call Christians or Jews ‘kafirs’. He called them the People Of The Book, ie the people who believe in His previous prophets and revelations. We cannot go around calling people “kafirs” just because they do not follow Islam. Actually, the word “kafir” doesn’t even mean “non-Muslim”, it is a much stronger term implying someone who completely rejects and covers up the truth. The word is offensive to people and should never be applied to people of faith, especially Jews and Christians who believe in the same God as Muslims. Although they may differ on certain theological points and in the ways they worship, they still worship God and are therefore brothers and sisters of Muslims in faith. In the words of the Holy Qur’an, Muslims are taught to come to common terms with Jews and Christians.
“Say:’O People Of The Book! Let us rally to a common formula to be binding on both us and you: That we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than God.'” Holy Qur’an 3:64
People of faith should work together for the common good, creating harmonious communities, resolving societies ills, and building a better society. We must develop respect and trust with each other, in order for this to work. In the Holy Qur’an God teaches us to respect Jewish and Christian places of worship which are protected by God.
“…if God had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where God’s name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed. God will certainly help those who help Him – God is All-Strong, Almighty” Holy Qur’an 22:40
There have been throughout history, and even today many Muslims who work with people of other faiths, atheists and agnostics, without wishing anyone any harm. Tolerance, understanding, co-operation and most importantly love, are integral parts of traditional Islamic teachings and practices all over the world.
Muslims are neither anti-Christian or anti-Jewish. We believe as God says in the Holy Quran;
“Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error” Holy Qur’an 2:256
It is wrong for anyone to foist a religion upon anyone else. Faith must be discovered by each person in his or her own way. Enforced religion has no value in the sight of God, and anyone who mistreats people of other faiths is not following Islam. Indeed they are problematic for people of all faiths, including us Muslims too.
“Those who believe (in the Qur’an) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians† – Any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.” Holy Qur’an 2:62
Islam doesn’t teach an exclusive doctrine, it isn’t meant exclusively for one people. Most of the teachings of Islam can be found in the Jewish, Christian and other religious scriptures. Prophet Muhammad never claimed to preach a new religion. The God of Islam is the God of all the prophets, the God of creation, and the God of the Bible. The central teaching of Islam, indeed the meaning of ‘Islam’ is submitting to and obeying God. This has always been the teaching of all heavenly revealed religions. Real believers of sincerity and true faith have nothing to fear from their Lord.
†This refers to a religious tradition with similarities to Judaism and Christianity, they could well be the subba – Sabians, also known as Mandaeans or Christians of St John. There still exist a small community of these follows of John the Baptist who used to live mainly in Iraq.