InsightJuly August 2007

Muslim Non-Muslim Relations In The Islamic Perspective

Prof. Mohammed Rafi

In the new world order everything remotely reflecting Islam or Muslims is being targeted, ridiculed, criticized and condemned. The so called enlightened West and secularists have joined this band wagon without realizing the hollowness and long lasting disastrous effects on humanity of this attitude. With the progress that has been made in all the fields of knowledge, man should have achieved the ultimate goal of peace and human development. But unfortunately wrong perceptions and misplaced priorities are leading the entire humanity to disaster. Religion has become the dominant factor and the time has come to reassess the relations of Muslims with followers of other religions.

It is the foremost duly of a Muslim to recognize the respect and dignity of all human beings. The Quran says “Verily we have honoured the children of Adam (human beings)”. The Quran admits of racial, geographic and national differences among peoples, but firmly disowns them as the basis of the classification of mankind.

‘O men! Behold we have created you all out of a male and female and made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another (not despise one another) verily, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is deeply conscious of Him’.

The true basis, the Quran, tells us, of inter-group relationships are the three cardinal values of Al-Qist (Equity), Al-Adl (Justice) and Al-Birr (Kindness). The Quran says”.

“As for such that do not fight against you on account of your faith and neither drive you from your homelands. Allah does not forbid you to behave towards them with full equity, for verily Allah loves those who act equitably.”

The requirement and importance of justice lapse under no condition. The Quran clearly warns

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety, and fear Allah (5:9)

The People of the Book:

In this vision of human relationships, the Jew and Christians occupy a special place. They are acknowledged and honoured as the people of the Book, as recipients of Allah’s revelation and as object of His favour and consideration. They are of the family of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), the Patriarch whom the Quran terms as the first Muslim. The spiritual antecedents of Islam are traced back to him. A true Muslim encompasses in his beliefs these early traditions and they form an essential and indispensable ingredient of his faith. In the most unambiguous terms the Quran commands Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him) to declare.

“Say (O Muhammad): we believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Moses and Jesus and the Prophets from Allah. We make no distinction between any of them, and into Him we have surrendered. (3:85).

Because of these close spiritual bonds, Muslims should show special consideration to the people of the Book.

“And argue not with the people if the Scriptures unless it be in (A way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong, and say we believe in that which had been revealed unto you: our God and your God is one, and unto. Him we surrender.” (29:46)

These shared relationships also provide a clear basis for inter-faith dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews. This is not a basis laid down under the exigencies of our time but a pristine invitation proffered by the first Muslims and applicable to all times (3:64).

Christians and Muslims are the two largest communities in the world today, together they constitute more than half of the total population of the world and are widely scattered all over the globe. There are large areas, especially in Europe and America, where the followers of these faiths live in close proximity, even sharing several traits of culture and language and living under the same political system. Yet despite this, a certain distance has remained between them. Of all religions on earth, Islam is the only one, which approves the Christians fundamental dogma that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin in an immaculate manner, without a father. Should Christians then take Muslims as their friends and allies or as enemy number one? According to Dr. Hamidullah “In the museum of the History of Religions in Moscow, there is a statue of Virgin Mary with a note,’Poor girl who did not know the method of contraception”. There are others who attempted to inflict the death penalty on Jesus himself, and insult the memory of his virgin mother. Should Christians love end support such communities or Muslims who share their basic religious faith ?

Muslims have always had Christians, among other non-muslims, as neighbours. Waraqah Bin Naufal at Makkah before the Hijrah(Migration), people of Abyssinia when many Makkans took refuge there, tribes of Najran (Yemen), of Ailah, Jaraba and Adhruh (Palestine) etc. The Quran confirms the thankfulness of Muslims: “You will surely find closest in friendship to the Believers (Muslims) those who designate them selves as Nasara (Christians)(5:82).

In the present complex world order we find no country where the laws are implemented in accordance with the religious beliefs as ordained in the divinely revealed books. There is no longer an Amir-ul –Momineen (Leader of the Muslims) ruling over the entire Muslim world. Similarly problems are also not the same with each and every category of non-muslims. Inspite of their great tolerance, Muslim rulers of India during the Mughal period forbade ‘Satti’ to their Hindu subjects, who religiously burned widows along with the body of dead husbands. Even among Christians there are great sectarian differences. Muslims who have made the West their homes for decades and even those back home in Muslim countries find it difficult to identify true Christian beliefs. The Western countries call themselves secular, but major parts of their population are religiously Christian and misunderstand Islam. This is primarily due to the media onslaught and their lack of knowledge, even about their own religion.

Islam makes it incumbent upon every Muslim to respect other religions. They feel that Islam should also be understood and respected by the others. Thus living in Christian dominated countries, Muslims would very much like to have a better understanding of Christianity and Christian values.

Christianity does not mean what Gospels record as saying of Jesus, but what the theologians decide. This is also the case with Jews and Hindus who act according to the interpretation of their religion by theologians.

For example Jesus said “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law (Tora) or the books of the prophets_ _ _ whosoever shall break one of these commandments and shall teach men, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven “(Matthew 5:17-19) but a later convert after the departure of Jesus, St. Paul affirmed “For Christ is the end of the law” (Romans 10:4). Pork is openly consumed in the Christian world while Jesus himself never touched it.

We are living in difficult times in a world beset by threats of total extinction. We are increasingly being divided on the basis of color, language, race, ideology, nationality and politics. Additionally there are problems of poverty, hunger, famine, drought, pollution and disease, which afflict large areas of the world. The severity of these conditions often forces their victims into adopting radical and nihilistic doctrines and practices.

These problems are not Muslim or Christian problems, but the problems of humanity. We Muslims, as members of the human family bear a grave responsibility towards them. As a community, with Quranic permanent values, our responsibilities are even greater.

This vision of inter faith relationship is not an outgrowth of recent historical circumstance, but one that has guided Muslims endevours throughout their history. At times we have failed to live upto this vision. Perhaps on some occasions we have been guilty of willfully betraying it. But we posses a positive and clearly defined standard of values by which we ourselves, as well as others, can judge us. In the current international perspective we have to periodically review our conduct as a community and make corrections where necessary. For this a comprehensive and proper understanding of the Quran is absolutely necessary. We have to give top priority to education, knowledge, science and technology.

The need of the hour is to inform the followers of other faiths about the guiding principles of Islam.

“Call unto Allah’s path with wisdom and kindness and reason with them in the most kindly manner”(16:25)

The tirade against Muslims has taken another abhorable shape; even priests and highly educated and responsible men occupying important positions are speaking out openly against Islam and even the Nabi (Peace be upon him).

All killings and acts of sabotage and terrorism are being attributed to Islam and not to the misguided Muslims. The world has to be told that the enemies of Islam waged war against Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and in all these wars, totaling about eighty eight, the casualties amounted to only around seven hundred on both sides and most of these wars were defensive. By contrast scores of millions of people were killed in Communist Russia and the two world wars. Is it religion that caused the Russian and American massacre of Afghans, Chechens, Bosnians and Kashmiris? The French killed a million Algerians before they got their independence.

The new world order which the Western powers are trying to impose in the name of world peace, democracy and freedom is only meant for their own political and economic advantage. They claim the right to commit atrocities on Muslims.

Their scant knowledge of Islam has made the so-called new world order something monstrous and lawful. The right wing extremists in India are making a mockery of humanism and secular norms. The Hindu religion regards all non-Hindus as ‘Malich” or unclean and therefore to be avoided. How then can a person professing such an ethic and sincerely committed to it come to terms with Muslims or even Christians? The Jewish claims to being the selected and favorites of God also belong to this genre of diverging ethics given by their religions to their followers. Hence it becomes absolutely necessary that the existence and sanctity of all religious be respected.

The world has to realize the fact that the Islamic Civilization was the first in the world, which bought about a highly fruitful cooperation among peoples of different faiths, cultures and races in the fields of science, philosophy, medicine and literature. As a result a brilliant, intellectual culture was produced in Baghdad, Spain and elsewhere wherein Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and others participated on an equal footing. In modern times the Western Civilization has achieved this kind of participation, but only on a secular basis, the Muslim’s did it as Muslims.

According to Fazalur Rehman what Muslims find wrong with Western democracies is not the democratic processes that are at work in these countries, but the fact that the average. Westerner is disoriented in ethical terms and has no higher vision of life beyond consideration of how to earn a dollar.

The current world situation in the Muslim and non-Muslim world is a direct reversal of whatever ground was gained in the past. While the Muslim modernist thinkers have always insisted that the Qur’an had given Muslims clear guidelines in all the fields of human endevour, including the political, they themselves had distorted the teaching of the Qur’an and abandoned it in favour of the cultural traditions.

They should now have a close look at the Qur’an and learn from it the purposes it stands for and then give this knowledge to the average member of the Muslim community so that the whole community possesses an adequate insight into the teachings of Islam for a better adjustment in the changing world trends. While it is correct that Muslims cannot regard the western social ethics as normative and adopt it blindly, nevertheless, a blind and violent reaction against it and a retrogression towards medievalism is equally both unwise and against the teachings of Qur’an.

The reaction against the Muslims in the West is understandable but not pardonable, Islam has the merit that it teaches Muslims to transcend all discriminations and to be fair (49:13). In fact it asks the Muslims to be fair even towards those people who have been their enemies (5:8).

The Turkish author Ali Unal (Islam addresses contemporary issues) says that Religion is a contract between God and man, all of whose conditions are in favour and for the benefit of mankind. As a complex civilized being in need of secure4 co-existence with his fellow beings, man seeks peace and justice in his life. God’s guidance is the only comprehensive source that can lead man to the path of peace, security and happiness. In terms of essential nature and needs, man has never changed nor will do so. All Nabis preached the same fundamentals of religion.

The world has to realize that Islam means submission to Allah for peace and justice in man’s individual and collective life. Judaism and Christiamty are the names given to the distorted forms by others. No Israelite Prophet mentioned the word Judaism. Jesus never claimed to establish Christianity and never called himself a Christian. The word Christian is mentioned only three times in the New Testament.

Islam is the first religion to accept plurality of religions. The Nabi (Peace be upon him) has been asked to tell the unbelievers that:.

‘I worship not that you worship and nor will you worship that which I worship — to you your way and to me mine” (109:1 to 6).

For a peaceful co-existence people have to understand each other’s faith. A phenomenological study of religions suggests that this cannot be settled in terms of concepts; it can only be understood in terms of attitudes.

A revival is taking place in the Muslim world. The Muslims are dedicating themselves to the realization of the values of Islam in all walks of life. As people of faith and as groups equally committed to the vision of a better life, Muslims expect the Christians and Jews, above all others, to empathize with their aspirations and to seek to grasp the real impulse behind their strivings for a now world order based on equity and justice. Muslims should also realize that they have an obligation to remain steadfast to the vision of life given by the Qur’an. The ideal set before them by the Qur’an is to make the whole of humanity into one single indivisible community and not to believe in the artificial divisions into which humanity has been divided by the folly of man. The Nabi (Peace be upon him) said in equivocal terms that the whole humanity is one family and advised us that each of us has an obligation to the other. We have to strive to be the best community and to be the agents of good, and that is what a good Muslim means. The Qur’an does not wish away the natural and historical divisions of mankind, it only calls upon us to be good and to compete in the way of goodness through this permanent values.

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