Translation: The Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Al-Baqarah: 256)
Explanation: Intolerance is on the increase in the world today, causing death, genocide, violence, religious persecution as well as confrontations on different levels. Sometimes it is racial and ethnic, sometimes it is religious and ideological, other times it is political and social. In every situation it is evil and painful. How can we solve the problem of intolerance? How can we assert our own beliefs and positions without being intolerant to others? How can we bring tolerance into the world today?
Tolerance is a basic principle of Islam. It is a religious moral duty. It does not mean “concession, condescension or indulgence.” It does not mean lack of principles, or lack of seriousness about one’s principles.
Tolerance comes from our recognition of:
1. The dignity of the human beings 2. The basic equality of all human beings 3. Universal human rights, and 4. Fundamental freedom of thought, conscience and belief
The Qur’an speaks about the basic dignity of all human beings. The Prophet (saws) spoke about the equality of all human beings, regardless of their race, color, language or ethnic background. Shari`ah recognizes the rights of all people to life, property, family, honor and conscience.
Islam emphasizes the establishment of equality and justice, both of these values cannot be established without some degree of tolerance. Islam recognized from the very beginning the principle of freedom of belief or freedom of religion. It said very clearly that it is not allowed to have any coercion in the matters of faith and belief. The Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Al-Baqarah: 256)
If in the matters of religion, coercion is not permissible, then by implication one can say that in other matters of cultures and other worldly practices it is also not acceptable. In Surat Ash-Shura Allah says to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, “If then they turn away, We have not sent you as a guard over them. Your duty is but to convey (the Message) (Ash-Shura: 48). In another place Allah says, “Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. Your Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” (An-Nahl: 125)
All these verses give note that Muslims do not coerce people. Islam may tolerate anything, but it teaches zero tolerance for injustice, oppression, and violation of the rights of other human beings. Islam teaches tolerance on all levels: individual, groups and states. It should be a political and legal requirement. Tolerance is the mechanism that upholds human rights, pluralism, and the rule of law.
There are many levels of tolerance:
A. Between family members, between husband and wife, between parents and children, between siblings etc.
B. Tolerance between the members of the community: tolerance in views and opinions, tolerance between the Madhahib (Islamic Juristic Schools).
C. Tolerance between Muslims and the people of other faiths (interfaith relations, dialogue and cooperation).
Muslims have been generally very tolerant people. We must emphasize this virtue among us and in the world today. Tolerance is needed among our communities: We must foster tolerance through deliberate policies and efforts. We should teach our children respect for each other. We should not generalize about other races and cultures. We should exchange more visits and meetings with each other.
With non-Muslims we should have dialogue and good relations. We should inform them what is acceptable to us and what is not. With more information, I am sure respect will develop and more cooperation will be manifested.