Given the amount of violence and instability in countries with Muslim majorities, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, some people mistakenly assume the violence stems from Islamic teachings, when in fact Islam does not condone such actions. The media does not help the matter, often focusing on the activities of terrorists who claim to be Muslims, instead of identifying these individuals as criminals and shedding light on the true essence of Islam.
The media shows Muslim terrorists with guns performing prayers but rarely associates terms like terrorist, fanatic and fundamentalist with any other religious group. For instance, the phrase “Hindu fanatics” or “Jewish terrorists” are seldom used even though in each faith there are people that do not represent the larger group.
The vast majority of Muslims are peace loving and coexist harmoniously with those around them; they would say that the core of Islam is tolerance, co-existence and respect for all religions. In fact, Prophet Muhammad was known for his superior manners, merciful demeanor and tolerance toward all people, regardless of their race or religion.
Islam is a universal religion, for all times and places. It encourages tolerance and respect for differences. As our world becomes a global village, with technology bringing cultures together and increasing interaction among civilisations, we must embrace religious tolerance as one of the basic principles behind flourishing democratic societies.
There are many verses in the Qur’an that support this message of peaceful coexistence and harmony. Among the basic features of Islam is freedom of religion and non-compulsion: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and “If it had been the Lord’s will, they would all have believed – all who are on earth. Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will to believe?” (10:99).
When the Prophet Muhammad established the first Muslim community in Mecca, he guaranteed freedom of religion, the sanctity of the human soul, and the right to security for non-Muslims, including Christians and Jews – the “People of the Book”, as they’re referred to in the Qur’an. They were privy to the same rights and subject to the same duties as Muslims, and were granted protection from outside threats.
In addition to recognising the right of freedom of religion for non-Muslims, Islam calls for respecting Jews and Christians and their faiths, noting that faith is a personal matter between the individual and his or her Lord.
Most Muslims respect the idea of religious freedom established in the Qur’an. I see this idea lived out in my own country, Morocco, a Muslim-majority country where Jews have lived for centuries and practiced their faith freely. The Moroccan Jewish community has its own judges for family law, covering things such as inheritance, marriage and divorce, and demonstrating one way that religious tolerance can be lived out.
The Prophet was keen on establishing relations based on respect, equality and justice with non-Muslims, and recommended that they be treated well. He said: “He who hurts [non-Muslims] is my enemy until Judgment Day” and “He who killed a person under a treaty shall never go to heaven.” This respect is also reinforced in the hadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad) by the Prophet’s companion Jaber Ibn Abdellah: “A funeral passed by, and the Prophet stood up in respect. We said to him, ‘It is a Jewish man’s funeral.’ He said: ‘If you see a funeral, you shall stand up. Is it not a soul?’”
The teachings of Islam encourage acquaintance and communication among all people, as well as the blending among societies: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another” (49:13).
It is important today for everyone – and especially the media – to move away from discussing Islam only in association with terrorism, and toward spreading an understanding of Islam in all its diversity.
* Hind Al-Subai Al-Idrisi is a Moroccan blogger (hindapress.canalblog.com) who participated in a Rabat-based workshop for bloggers organised by the international conflict transformation organisation Search for Common Ground. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).