The Basis Of All Toleration
Intolerance is the child of arrogance. It is the direct result of what is known to the Neo-Psychologist as the formation of a ‘superiority complex.’ When a man comes to feel that all knowledge is his monopoly, and that there is none who shares the Truth with him, then he ceases to be tolerant. He despises the ignorant and the sinner as doomed to perdition, nay, he considers them as the enemies of God, and as such to be persecuted. He can have no respect for any religious leader or reformer except his own, because he belongs to the favoured nation, the elect upon whom only God s blessings descend, and who are the sole recipients of the divine message through their prophet. He, therefore, rejects every religious leader except those recognized by his own. The rejected leaders are ‘impostors’; their characters are ‘despicable’, their messages ‘forgeries’ and their teachings worthy of nothing but scorn. Hence the followers of other creeds except the chosen one are to be converted by fair means or foul, and if they do not conform to this benevolent desire of the elect, they should not be left to themselves for eternal perdition but made to taste the fire of hell in this world. Hence there come into existence the institutions like the Spanish Inquisition and the burning of heretics.
Unfortunately no nation is totally free from this narrow-minded arrogance. Bigotry, very often, goes hand in hand with orthodoxy. An open mind is very often a lax mind. This would lead one to believe that religion and bigotry are identical, but this would be blasphemy against religion. True religion must be tolerant. It must make its followers appreciate Truth and Beauty wherever they can be found. It must make the believer humble and respectful. No religion which teaches the love of God can be the handiwork of the Devil. The great sages who taught the worship of God should be respected. The believer must look up to all of them for inspiration. Of course, there grow up excrescences here and there in their teachings as Time rolls by; but nothing succeeds in taking away all the beauty of their message. The believer can reject the excrescences, he can even ask the people who believe in them to reconsider their position, but he cannot ignore the greatness of the great teacher who delivered the message when it was pure, nor, can he reject the truth of what still remains unalloyed in the message itself.
Such a man cannot afford to be intolerant. If he disagrees with any part of a religion other than his own, he will say so in a gentle and persuasive manner, but he will not call the religious teacher an impostor, or the religion a hoax. If he does so, he will belie his own religion, which would certainly enjoin respect for all religious teachers. A genuine respect for the great founders of the different religions can be the only solid basis of toleration as well as peace and amity; for a man will bear anything except a slur upon his Master. Calumnies against religious teachers and the feeling of contempt for them are the greatest disturbers of amicable relations between the followers of different religions. Unfortunately, most of the great religions of the world have yet to learn this lesson; and therefore, we come across this bitterness and hatred amongst the followers of different creeds.
But what does Islam enjoin upon the Muslims? Do its teachings follow the general trend of the majority of religions or is there a better guidance in this respect?
The first clue to the solution of this problem is the fact that a believer in Islam is not a “Mohammadan” as the world would wrongly christen him but a Muslim. He does take the Holy Prophet Muhammad (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to be his master and guide, but he does not believe that the Truth was revealed to Muhammad (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) only. Muhammad’s (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was the final message, the most complete message delivered to the world. “We have this day perfected your religion,” says the Quran, “and completed our (spiritual) blessings for you.” But a Muslim does not claim that truth was denied to others. The great devotion of a Muslim to his Prophet is due to the fact that he received the final truth from him, not because he is the sole teacher of religion. According, to a Muslim’s belief, the Truth has been revealed from time to time since the days of Adam (, peace be upon him). Laws have been given to humanity since the very dawn of man’s consciousness according to the requirements of every age and every nation. No age and no nation has been the sole recipient of Divine favour.
“And every nation had an apostle.” (X:47)
“And there is not a nation but a warner has gone among them.” (XXXV:24)
(A Warner is a prophet in Quranic terminology.)
“All nations have had their guides.” (XIII:7)
“And certainly we raised in every nation an apostle saying: ‘Serve Allah and shun the Devil.” (XVI:136)
What Muslim can believe in the theory of a favoured nation in the face of these clear verses of the Quran?
When every nation has received a prophet and guidance from God, its views on life and religion are not only worth consideration but demand respect. They are not to be despised, nor can they be rejected unless they are obviously the fabrications of the nation itself forged after the death of its prophet.
But the Quran does not leave the matter here. It enjoins nothing short of belief in all these prophets and their books, and a Muslim has to do this if he wants to remain a Muslim. The Quran lays this down in unambiguous, clear words:-
“Surely those who disbelieve in Allah and His apostles and (those who) desire to make a distinction between Allah and His apostles and say: We take a course between (this and) that…
“These it is who are truly unbelievers, and We have prepared for the unbelievers a disgraceful chastisement…
“And those who believe in Allah and His apostles and do not make a distinction between any of them, Allah will grant them their rewards; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (IV: 150-152)
“And who believe in that which has been revealed to you (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before you, and they are sure of hereafter.” (II:4)
“Say: We believe in Allah and in that which has been revealed to us, and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and (in) that which was given to (all) the prophets from their Lords; we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit.” (II:136)
The last verse has been repeated almost verbatim in III:83.
Lest there may arise any misapprehension in the mind of the reader that this verse enjoins respect only to the prophets mentioned by name in the Quran, the book lays down the following in equally clear words:-
“And (We sent) apostles we have mentioned to you before and apostles We have not mentioned.” (IV:164)
“And certainly We sent apostles before you (Muhammad); there are some of them that we have mentioned to you and there are others whom We have not mentioned to you.” (XL:78)
Thus a Muslim cannot be disrespectful to any of the great teachers of humanity whether he is mentioned in the Quran or not for the simple reason that he may be one of the prophets in whom it is essential for him to believe. Neither can he disbelieve in the truth of his message, because he must believe in what has been revealed to the prophets before the advent of Muhammad (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). And therefore the Muslim formula of faith contains a statement to the effect that the reciter believes in all the apostles of Allah and His books.
This will show that the Quran has struck at the very root of intolerance. But it may be said that this is true of its attitude towards revealed religion only. It is asserted that Islam is nothing if not intolerant towards Polytheism and idol worship. To a certain extent this is true, because the grand object of Islam is to establish the great doctrine of an absolute and pure monotheism. This is no place to discuss the relative virtues of monotheism and polytheism and their good or sinister influence upon the whole character, nay, the very life of individuals and nations. But people forget that the intolerance of a doctrine is not the intolerance of its followers. Islam does condemn in the strongest terms the beliefs and the practices of the polytheists and the idol worshippers, but it nowhere permits a Muslim to deal arrogantly or unjustly with them. Of course a monotheistic religion could not be consistent if it were to enjoin respect for anything that is believed to be an associate of, or partaking of the virtues of the Almighty. A man can be either a monotheist or a polytheist. There is no half-way house between the two. Either you believe in one God, or in more than one God. Therefore it was constitutionally impossible for Islam to share with the polytheists any respect for the alleged associates of Allah. But Islam has done what it could. If it could not enjoin respect, it has enjoined courtesy. The Holy Quran says:-
“And do not abuse those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest exceeding limits they should abuse Allah out of ignorance. Thus have we made fair seeming to every people their deeds; then to their Lord shall be their return so He will inform them of what they did.” (VI:109)
The Muslim, however strongly he may condemn idol worship, is not allowed to abuse the idols because that would result in mutual bickering and possibly a breach of peace. This is the attitude of Islam towards what it was and has ever been its mission to oppose.
Polytheism is the very negation of Islam, yet no Muslim has been allowed to injure the feelings of the Polytheists.
A religion which recognizes the Truth to be found in any creed, which enjoins respect for all the great religions of the world, and which expects its followers to be courteous even to idols and others associated with Allah strikes at the very root of intolerance. If all the religions of the world could appreciate and follow this great injunction of Islam, there would be great amity and peace among their followers. Islam lays down canons of tolerance which should excite the admiration and envy of all free thinkers and lovers of goodwill and toleration.