Online Islamic Learning Resource


Quran and Tolerance

Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi

In this media-controlled world, when violence is associated to the Quran and Muslims are labeled as terrorists, it may sound strange to many that it was Quran which first proclaimed the slogan of universal brotherhood, equality, justice and tolerance at a time when the humanity was fast asleep in the gruesome darkness of ignorance and injustice. The message of the Quran was very clear. That was the reason that it appealed millions of minds through ages and now also its adherents form one fifth of the entire population of the world.

Teaching of Equality

The first and foremost fundamental of the Quran about equality is that all human beings are descended from one father and mother, thus on the basis of humanity they are equal. The Quran says: “O mankind, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you into races and tribes, so that you may identify one another. Surely the noblest of you, in Allah‘s sight, is the one who is most pious of you. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (49:13)

The Quran very explicitly declared that the differences of races, tribes, colours and places are of no value and importance and they are only for identification. Only on the ground of race, colour and nationality one can not be considered higher and superior. By this, the Quran aimed at levelling the differences and discriminations of nations, races and tribes. The second thing which Quran proclaimed in the verse is that the cause of nobility is only ‘piety’. Thus Islam uprooted the racial pride and ego of the so-called higher classes.

This fundamental of equality was more elucidated in Hadith by the Prophet (peace be upon him): O people! Behold, your Lord is One, there is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for a black on a red, nor for a red on a black, but due to piety and righteousness, in deed the best amongst you are those who are more pious and righteous. Behold, did I conveyed you the message? The people shouted: Yes, O the Messenger of Allah! Then the Prophet said: Those who are present should convey this message to those who are not present. (Baihaqi, Roohul Ma’ani 13:163-164)

Another Hadith says: O people! People are of two types; pious, righteous, estimable before Allah or nefarious, wretched, insignificant before Allah. All the people are descendants of Adam and Allah created Adam with soil. (Timizi, Baihaqi)

This was the first example of its kind in human history that the Quran eradicated racial prejudice so vehemently and emphatically, and asserted Muslims to consider the people of the world their brother and a human being like themselves. It uprooted racial hatred and asked to treat each other with good conduct. It is the fundamental principle of tolerance to consider the other communities human being like yourselves; since then only you can behave with them tolerantly and morally. If we consider them humiliated, abject and lowly then it is impossible to have a moral and tolerant conduct towards them.

Freedom of Expression

Second thing which the Quran taught about tolerance towards non-Muslims is granting freedom of expression. Islam regarded freedom of expression a birth right of human being and termed force and oppression as unfair and forbidden. The Quran strictly forbids forcing something on somebody which his conscience does not accept, it clearly and vividly declared: “There is no compulsion in Faith.” (2:256) Everyone is allowed whether to believe or to deny: “Now, whoever so wills may believe and whoever so wills may deny.” (18:29) At another place the Quran says: “We have shown him the way to be either grateful or ungrateful.” (76:3)

Islam utterly abhors conversion by force and called those who accept Islam due to any force, fear or greed as ‘munafiq’ (hypocrite). It regarded ‘nifaq’ (hypocrisy) such a great sin that the lowest part of Jahannam (Hell) has been allotted as abode of the hypocrites: “Surely, the hypocrites are in the lowest level of the Fire, and you shall never find for them a helper.” (The Quran 4:145)

Justice and Fairness with Others

The Quran asked Muslims to maintain justice and transparency with non-Muslims: “But if you judge, judge between them with justice. Surely, Allah loves those who do justice.” (5:42) At another place it says: “Allah does not forbid you as regards those who did not fight you on account of faith, and did not expel you from your homes, that you do good to them, and deal justly with them. Surely Allah loves those who maintain justice.” (60:8) Justice is to be maintained even if it goes against ones near and dear ones: “O you who believe, be upholders of justice – witnesses for Allah, even though against (the interest of) your selves or the parents, and the kinsmen. (4:135)

Muslims must hold on justice and fairness with people in every condition even if they have enmity with them to any extent, the Quran warns: “O you who believe, be steadfast for (obeying the commands of) Allah, (and) witnesses for justice. Malice against a people should not prompt you to avoid doing justice. Do justice. That is nearer to taqwa (piety).” (5:8)

The enmity against any people should not motivate you to do justice. If you have some malice and rivalry against anyone you should not find fault with him in every matter, but you must accept what is good in him. You should not violate the obligation of honesty in any matter only because the other party is your opponent, rather you must observe justice and fairness.

Tolerance through Fulfilling Promises

One of the most significant teachings of the Quran about tolerance towards others is to fulfil every promise made to them, lest government, prestige and power or racial pride make you to go against your promises. So, the Quran states: “And fulfil the covenant, surely the covenants shall be asked about (on the Day of Reckoning).” (17:34) It asserted: “So, fulfil the treaty with them up to their term, surely Allah loves the God-Fearing.”  (9:4)

Some Muslims enquired the Prophet (peace be upon him) about the pledges they made to non-Muslims in ‘the Days of Ignorance’ (before Islam). The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “Fulfil the promises and pledges made in the Days of the Ignorance; since Islam emphasizes more to fulfil them.” (Mishkat p. 347, Tirmizi)

Good conduct with Others

The Quran commanded the believers to observe tolerance and good conduct with people: “Worship Allah, and do not associate with Him anything, and be good to parents and to kinsmen and orphans and the needy and the close neighbour and the distant neighbour and the companion at your side and the wayfarer and to those (slaves who are) owned by you. Surely, Allah does not like those who are arrogant, proud.” (4:36) In the abovementioned verse, those who were asked to be treated kindly have not been discriminated on the basis of their religion. Muslims were asked to have good conduct with them whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims.

The Holy Quran taught Muslims very clearly and openly to behave the non-Muslims with tolerance, good conduct and politeness: “Allah does not forbid you as regards those who did not fight you on account of faith, and did not expel you from your homes, that you do good to them, and deal justly with them. Surely Allah loves those who maintain justice.” (60:8)

While another verse says: “Allah enjoins to do justice and to adopt good behaviour and to give relatives (their due rights).” (16:90)

The Quran laid down a high scale law that no person (whether Muslim or non-Muslim) is hurt and offended. The Quran says: “Allah does not like the evil words to be said openly except from anyone wronged. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” (4:148) Having established this law, Islam obstructed the passage of many evils that may occur due to offending and slandering others.

Treatment with Enemies

Leave alone the free people, Islam taught tolerance to such an extent that it asked Muslims to have good conduct with their enemies: The Quran requires Muslims to observe high grade tolerance with enemies in tough and trying situations as well, as it says: “Good and evil are not equal. Repel (evil) with what is best, and you will see that the one you had mutual enmity with him will turn as if he were a close friend.” (41:34)

When the oppressions and transgressions of enemies go beyond limits then punishing them is also in complete accordance with the law of nature. But, the moderate law about those oppressors deserves to be written with golden water as the Quran asserts to forgive and tend to reconcile. The Quran says: “The recompense of evil is evil like it. Then the one who forgives and opts for compromise has his reward undertaken by Allah. Surely, He does not like the unjust.” (42:40)

Love towards Other Religions

One of the tolerances which the Quran showed to non-Muslims is that it did not create any ill-will and hatred in its followers about other religions and their leaders; rather it pushed forth their love and strengthened their relation with other religions by various means. Sometime, it admitted the greatness of the leaders and prophets of other communities saying: “We did raise a messenger among every people, with the message.” (16:36) While sometimes, it sowed the seed of love in idolaters stating: “Do not revile those whom they invoke other than Allah.” (6:108)

The Quran presented a model of high grade tolerance that it regarded all the prophets and messengers of the Jews and the Christians as true prophets sent down by Allah. The Quran says: “Surely, We have revealed to you as We have revealed to Noah and to the prophets after him.” (4:163) And, it regarded the books believed by the Jews and the Christians as divine revelation from Allah: “Surely we have sent down the Torah, in which there was guidance and light.” (5:44) “We gave him the Injīl (Gospel) having guidance and light therein, and confirming the Torah that was (revealed) before it; guidance and a lesson for the God-fearing.” (5:46) Thus it extended the hand of friendship towards the Judaism and Christianity which were the well-known and prominent religions of the age. As far as other religions and nations are concerned, it declared that there were prophets from Allah to other nations and communities: “and there was no community without a Warner having passed among them.” (35:24)

Concisely, it secured the honour of the sacred figures of other religions in the eyes of Muslims forever and stopped Muslims absolutely to abuse any religious leader of others. Thus, it established the foundation of universal brotherhood, sympathy and tolerance which was extinct before the advent of Islam.

How to Preach and Argue?

Islam is for all humanity and the Prophet (peace be upon him) was sent down for all those in the world: “We did not send you but as mercy for entire people.” (The Quran 34:28) So, it was necessary to deliver the message of truth to the whole world, but the Quran observed complete tolerance in this regard also and ordered Muslims: “Invite (people) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good counsel. And argue with them in the best of manners. Surely, your Lord knows best the one who deviates from His way, and He knows best the ones who are on the right path.” (16:125) In short, at every step the Quran enjoined Muslims to be so tolerant that no harsh and tough discussions take place during debate too.

The Quran asked Muslims to remain calm and exercise maximum restraint with people of other faith in order to avoid clash. It advised Muslims to forgive and overlook, as it says about the Jews and Christians: “They change words from their places, and they have overlooked a good deal of the Advice they were given. Every now and then you come across a certain treachery from all of them, except a few. So, forgive them and forego. Indeed, Allah loves those who are good in deeds.” (5:13) At another place it says: “So, turn away from them (disbelievers) and wish them peace.” (43:89)

Even if the non-Muslims strive to deviate Muslims from their religion then also Muslims were asked not to be provoked:  “(O Muslims,) many among the people of the Book desire to turn you, after your accepting the faith, back into disbelievers — all out of envy on their part, even after the truth has become clear to them. So, forgive and overlook till Allah brings out His command.” (2:109)