Culture of Tolerance in Islam

Culture of Tolerance in Islam

Bigotry is one of the most serious matters that can easily sow division and enmity and set the fire of war within societies and even among members of the same society or country. Tolerance is the only solution out of such problems, and in Islam it is a very important teaching which leads to moderation and social peace.
Sources of the Culture of Islamic Tolerance

Characteristics of the Culture of Islamic Tolerance

Creedal and Ideological Pillars of Islamic Tolerance

Bigotry here does not refer to being proud of one’s faith or thoughts with which one is willingly content, as this cannot be rebuked. Rather, bigotry means that a man totally isolates himself with his faith or ideology while considering all others to be his opponents and enemies. This makes him have apprehensions toward them, and to harbor evil and spread notions of violence and hatred against them, which makes people lose the merit of living in peace and tranquility. Security is in fact one of the greatest blessings which Allah has bestowed upon man. That is why Allah reminded the Quraysh about this favor, saying: [So let them worship the Lord of this House, Who hath fed them against hunger and hath made them safe from fear.](Quraysh 106:3-4) Moreover, the Qur’an describes Paradise as an abode of inclusive security: [And it is said unto them: Enter them (i.e. gardens of Paradise) in peace, secure.](Al-Hijr 15:46). The Qur’an also describes “dearth and fear” as the worst things with which a society can be afflicted: [… so Allah made it experience the garb of dearth and fear because of what they used to do.](An-Nahl 16:112).         

Some people think that religious faith (or believing in a religion) is necessarily inseparable from bigotry, because a person who has faith in a certain religion believes that it is true and that any other religion is false. He also believes that his faith is the way to salvation, and that whoever does not stick to his faith as strongly as a “firm hand hold” will not be guided to this salvation. Moreover, he believes that he who does not believe in the Book revealed for him and the Prophet sent to him will definitely go to Hell where none of his good deeds would avail him because they were not based on faith. Such deeds would be of no value in the sight of Allah, as Almighty Allah says: [As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are as a mirage in a desert. The thirsty one supposeth it to be water till he cometh unto it and findeth it naught…](An-Nur 24:39) Allah also says: [A similitude of those who disbelieve in their Lord: Their works are as ashes which the wind bloweth hard upon a stormy day. They have no control of aught that they have earned…](Ibrahim 14:18)

Such conceptions toward others create enmity and animosity among people, and in many cases they flare bloody wars between sects and nations which are of different religions (or beliefs). History has recorded repercussions of such hostile conceptions to have taken place in various ages: between religions, as in the case of Muslims and Christians; as well as between sects and schools following one and the same religion, as in the case of Catholics and Protestants, Sunnis and Shiites.

The question is: What is the solution for these ideological-factual problems which represent challenges calling for confrontation and inquiries lacking answers? I would like to take the initiative (to answer this question) by saying  that: Islam has already treated these theoretical conceptions and material problems through a clear well-established culture which stands for tolerance not bigotry, acquaintance not alienation, love not hatred, dialogue not conflict, clemency not violence, mercy not cruelty, and peace not war.

Sources of the Culture of Islamic Tolerance

The sources of Islamic tolerance are numerous and well-established. Undoubtedly, the greatest of these sources is the Noble Qur’an, which has established the sources of tolerance in its Makkan and Madinan Surahs through infallible rhetorical styles which address the entire human entity: persuading reason, satisfying sentiment, and motivating will. Moreover, readers will observe that the shar`i and logical bases – on which we shall depend in our call to tolerance as well as spreading and fastening it – are basically derived from the Qur’an.    

After that come the Prophetic Sirah (biography) and the Sunnah which explain, clarify, and detail (the Qur’an). The Sunnah is the theoretical explanation and practical application of the Qur’an, as Almighty Allah says: [With clear proofs and writings; and We have revealed unto thee the Remembrance that thou mayst explain to mankind that which hath been revealed for them, and that possibly they may reflect.] (An-Nahl 16:44)

Then comes the example set by the Prophet’s Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), especially the Rightly-guided Caliphs. This is because their sunnah (way of life, sayings, and actions) is an extension of the Prophet’s Sunnah as they were the Prophet’s disciples who followed his guidance and derived from it their legislations and instructions, so they were rightly guided. 

Also in this regard, we shall refer to sayings of the Ummah’s leading Imams, jurists, and scholars who are inheritors of the Prophet and conveyers of his knowledge. That is why they used to refute distortions of extremists, allegations of liars, and interpretations of the ignorant.

The sources of the culture of Islamic tolerance also include Muslim heritage which proves that Islam throughout history was based on a relation of tolerance with its opponents. This principle was never contravened by any Caliph, Sultan, leader, or vizier in the east or in the west, whether during the caliphate of the Umayyads, the Abbasids, or the Ottomans, as certified by fair-minded historians in the west and elsewhere, such as  Thomas Arnold, Gustav Le Bon, and others whom we have quoted in more than one of our books.

Characteristics of the Culture of Islamic Tolerance

The culture of Islamic tolerance has many characteristics, but there is a specially important characteristic which is that its character is religious and its source is Divine, for it is originally derived from Divine commands and Prophetic instructions. This gives it a power over Muslims, springing from their hearts and conscience, so they submit to it and comply with its rulings motivated by faith and the fear of Allah.        

There is a big difference between the authority of secular laws which many individuals try to disengage themselves from and try to evade their rulings, and between Divine rulings which believers have been given glad tidings that Almighty Allah will be pleased with them, reward them in the Hereafter, and grant them tranquility and peace of mind in worldly life if they respect and follow them. Almighty Allah says: [Whosoever doeth right, whether male or female, and is a believer, him verily We shall quicken with good life, and We shall pay them a recompense in proportion to the best of what they used to do.] (An-Nahl 

Creedal and Ideological Pillars of Islamic Tolerance

The culture of Islamic tolerance is based on a number of creedal and ideological pillars, including the following:

Confirmation of Multiplicity

The first pillar is the confirmation of multiplicity or diversity as a natural phenomenon and universal norm. Just as the Muslim believes in the Oneness of the Creator, he believes in the multiplicity of creation in various fields.   

There is ethnical multiplicity: [… and We have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another…] (Al-Hujurat 49:13) There is also linguistic multiplicity: [And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Lo! herein indeed are portents for men of knowledge] (Ar-Rum 30:22) Moreover, there is religious multiplicity: [And if thy Lord had willed, He verily would have made mankind one nation, yet they cease not differing, save him on whom thy Lord hath mercy; and for that He did create them…] (Hud 11:118-119) Exegetes (of the Qur’an) have remarked that (it means) Allah created them to be different(1), because just as He gave each one of them intellect and will power, their attitudes and religions would be different and various. Additionally, there is sectarian and ideological multiplicity, within the same religion, because Allah revealed the religion as texts that could be seen and interpreted from different perspectives. If Allah had willed to make all Muslims follow one opinion and one school, He would have made the entire religion based on definitely authentic and decisively indicative texts where there would be no room for difference. 

Besides, there is political and partisan multiplicity. Just as multiplicity of schools is admitted in Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), multiplicity of parties should be admitted in politics as well, because parties are schools in politics and schools are parties in Fiqh.(2)

Difference is According to Allah’s Will

The second pillar is that difference of religion comes out of and according to Almighty Allah’s will, which is always connected to His Wisdom. Therefore, Allah would not will except that which reflects wisdom, as “The Ever Wise” is one of His Names. Thus, He neither creates anything in vain nor legislates anything for no good reason.    

The Qur’an has declared that this difference in religion is according to Allah’s will (Glorified and Exalted be He), as He says: [And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers?] (Yunus 10:99) and says: [… If Allah willed, He could have brought them all together to the guidance, so be not thou among the foolish ones.] (Al-An`am 6:35) Had Allah willed to make all people guided believers who would always obey Him, He would have made them in a different image (i.e., with a different nature), just as He created the angels with a natural propensity to obey and worship Him. Allah says: [They glorify (Him) night and day; they flag not.] (Al-Anbiya’ 21:20) [… who resist not Allah in that which He commandeth them, but do that which they are commanded.] (At-Tahrim 66:6) Since this religious difference is according to Allah’s will, who could stand against His will or think of erasing all religions except His religion? If he tried to do so, he would get nothing but failure, for Allah’s will always prevails, as He is the One, the Almighty.
The Different Views will be Settled on Judgment Day

The third pillar is that we are not responsible for the accountability of those who are different in their religions and doctrines, or their religious and ethical inclinations with which they rose. Allah alone, being the Creator of all, will bring them to account, not in this worldly life, but in the afterlife. This has been confirmed by the Qur’an in various contexts; addressing His Messenger, Almighty Allah says: [And if thy wrangle with thee, say: Allah is best aware of what ye do. Allah will judge between you on the Day of Resurrection concerning that wherein ye used to differ.] (Al-Hajj 22:68-69)

In another context referring to the People of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), Allah says: [Unto this, then, summon (O Muhammad). And be thou upright as thou art commanded, and follow not their lusts, but say: I believe in whatever Scripture Allah hath sent down, and I am commanded to be just among you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. Unto us our works and unto you your works; no argument between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and unto Him is the journeying.] (Ash-Shura 42:15) Moreover, the Qur’an counts the followers of different religions, including the People of the Scripture and idol-worshipers, to make it clear for us that Allah is the One Who will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection:  [Lo! those who believe (in this Revelation), and those who are Jews, and the Sabaeans and the Christians and the Magians and the idolaters. Lo! Allah will decide between them on the Day of Resurrection. Lo! Allah is Witness over all things.] (Al-Hajj 22:17)    

This idea or belief is apt to alleviate the melancholic look toward the others, irrespective of the conviction of the follower of a certain religion and how he looks at others. This is because each follower of a religion believes that he is the guided one and the others have gone astray, and that he is the one who can see while the others are blind. Still, all this is to bejudged by Allah on the Day of Resurrection when all secrets (deeds, prayers, etc.) will be examined as to their truth: [On that day Allah will pay them their just due, and they will know that Allah, He is the Manifest Truth.] (An-Nur 24:25)
Regarding all Humanity as One Family

The fourth pillar is that Islam considers all mankind – including people of all races, colors, languages, countries, and classes – to be one family which belongs to one Lord as their Creator, and one man as their father. The Qur’an calls upon all people:  [O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom ye claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bare you). Lo! Allah hath been a Watcher over you.] (An-Nisa’ 4:1) The word “wombs” in this context can be interpreted as referring to all human wombs (which connect them as one family). Highlighting this meaning, a Muslim (Arab) poet said (what means): “Since my origin is from dust, then all mankind are my relatives!” 

The Messenger of Islam declared this fact – i.e. unity of the human family – before the large Muslim crowds during the Farewell Pilgrimage (Hajjatul-Wada`), saying: “O people! Verily, your Lord is one, and your father is one. All of you are from Adam, and Adam was (created) from dust. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab except by virtue of piety. The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct.”(3) This Prophetic saying confirms the content of the following noble verse of Surat Al-Hujurat: [O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made `you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.] (Al-Hujurat 49:13) The “male and female” cited in this verse refer to Adam and Eve, who are the parents of all human beings. This can also be confirmed by a hadith narrated by Ahmad and Abu Dawud on the authority of Zayd Ibn Arqam, though its isnad (chain of transmitters) involves weakness. It reads that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to say after finishing each prayer: “O Allah, our Lord, and the Lord and Possessor of everything, I bear witness that You are (the) One (God), with no partner (in worship). O Allah, our Lord, and the Lord and Possessor of everything, I testify that Muhammad is Your Servant and Your Messenger. O Allah, our Lord, and the Lord and Possessor of everything, I testify that all servants are brothers (and sisters).”(4)
Moreover, the Qur’an has proved that there is religious brotherhood (or brotherhood in religion) between believers or followers of one religion, as Almighty Allah says, [The believers are naught else than brothers…] (Al-Hujurat 49:10) and [… so that ye became as brothers by His grace…] (Alu `Imran 3:103) The Qur’an also affirms that there is “national ” and “tribal” brotherhood like that which has been confirmed as between Messengers and their people who belied them: [And unto (the tribe of) Aad (We sent) their brother, Hud…] (Al-A`raf 7:65) and [And We verily sent to Thamud their brother Salih…] (An-Naml 27:45) Brotherhood, here, is definitely not in religion, but in nationality. That is why every Messenger would start his call to his people with words like: [… O my people! Serve Allah. Ye have no other God save Him…] (Al-A`raf 7:59)  Accordingly, there is  undoubtedly a human-based brotherhood that goes back to Adam, the father of humanity. That is also why the Qur’an calls all humans:  {O Children of Adam] in five separate places.   
Honoring Man by Virtue of his Humanity

The fifth pillar of tolerance in Islam is that man has been honored basically by virtue of him being human, irrespective of the color of his skin, eyes, or hair, or how his nose or face looks like, and no matter what his language, country, race, social class, or religion may be.   

This is because “honoring” in the sight of the Qur’an is based on humans’ being “children of Adam,” as Almighty Allah says: [Verily We have honored the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good things for them, and have preferred them above many of those whom We created with a marked preferment.] (Al-Isra’ 17:70)Allah also says: [Surely We created man of the best stature.] (At-Tin 95:4)  [The Beneficent. Hath made known the Qur’an. He hath created man. He hath taught him utterance.] (Ar-Rahman 55:1-4) Allah moreover says in the first revealed verses of the Qur’an: [Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous, Who teacheth by the pen;teacheth man that which he knew not.] (Al-`Alaq 96:3-5) The Qur’an also relates: [And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy in the earth, they said: wilt Thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee? He said: Surely I know that which ye know not.] (Al-Baqarah 2:30)

A contest was held between Adam – the father of humanity – and the angels, and it showed his superiority over them. For all these reasons, Islam ordains that man should be respected. Therefore, it is not permissible to harm or offend him, or to backbite him with words he would dislike to be described with, even if they should be true, because this would annoy him. Even after his death, only good things are to be said about him, and the sanctity of his body must not be violated whether he is alive or dead; a hadith reads: “Breaking the bones of a dead (person) is as (heinous) as breaking the bones of a living one.”(5)   

One of the authentic hadiths which are specially indicative in this regard is a hadith narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, relating that once a funeral procession passed by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) whereupon he stood up for it as a sign of honoring. The Companions remarked: “O Messenger of Allah! It is a funeral procession of a Jewish man!” meaning it was not of a Muslim. The Prophet’s reply came out with these marvelous words: “Is it not a soul?”(6) How impressive this Prophetic attitude is! And how expressive his justification is! “Is it not a soul?” Yes, it was a human soul; and in Islam every soul is to be respected and sanctified. (The Prophet said so) in spite of the Jews’ numerous offensives and harms against him and his Companions.

 Showing Kindness to and Dealing Justly with Peaceful Non-Muslims

The sixth pillar is confirming kind and just dealing with peaceful non-Muslims. I recorded this in the first book I wrote – “Al-Halal wal-Haram fil-Islam” (The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam) – about half a century ago. Under the title “Muslims’ Relation with non-Muslims,” I wrote: 

“Contemplating the Islamic teachings concerning dealing with non-Muslims in relation to the lawful and the prohibited, we find that the following two verses of the Qur’an are sufficient to be comprehensive guidelines in this regard. Almighty Allah says, [Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers. Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them. Whosoever maketh friends of them (all) such are wrong doers.] (Al-Mumtahanah 60:8-9)
The first of these two verses not only calls for justice and fairness in dealing with non-Muslims who neither fight Muslims on religious grounds nor drive them out of their homes – that is, those who are neither at war with nor hostile to Muslims – but also urges Muslims to be kind to and just with them. The word “birr” (whose meaning is indirectly translated above as “showing kindness”) comprehensively signifies (various and) wide-ranging meanings of “goodness,” (and with this meaning) it is over and above justice. That is why Muslims use “birr” to describe the Muslims’ most dutiful right: birr-ul-walidayn (to deal with one’s parents dutifully and kindly).
We have said that the (first) verse “calls for” this (justice and kind treatment) because Allah says, [… Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers] and the believer always tries his best to do what Allah loves. Interestingly enough, the verse started with the words: “Allah forbiddeth you not…” but this does not contradict the meaning of “calling for and urging (birr)” as interpreted in the verse. This is because by using this expression, Allah wanted to remove from peoples’ minds the erroneous idea that non-Muslims – being followers of a different religion – do not deserve any justice, affection, or kind treatment (from Muslims). Thus, Almighty Allah made it clear that He did not prohibit the believers to show kindness to non-Muslims “in general” but only to those who are at war with and hostile to them.

Hostility is not Everlasting Among People

The seventh pillar, which Islam has confirmed, taught Muslims, and inculcated in their minds and conscience, is that people may be hostile to one another for different reasons – religious or worldly – but their hostility – whether based on truth or falsehood – do not remain forever. This is because hearts change, and so do conditions and circumstances. Thus, an enemy of yesterday may be a friend today, and an opponent today may be a proponent tomorrow. Such is a significant rule in people’s mutual relations, so they should not exaggerate in their hostility so much that there may be no room for reconciliation. This has been clearly affirmed by the Qur’an. At the beginning of the Surah of Al-Mumtahanah, Allah forbids Muslims to take Allah’s enemies – who are also their enemies – as friends (verse 60:1), giving an example of the firmness shown by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and those with him, when they said to their folk: [… ‘Lo! we are guiltless of you and all that ye worship beside Allah. We have done with you. And there hath arisen between us and you hostility and hate for ever until ye believe in Allah only…] (Al-Mumtahanah 60:4) After that Almighty Allah says, [It may be that Allah will ordain love between you and those of them with whom ye are at enmity. Allah is Mighty, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.] (Al-Mumtahanah 60:7) 

This possibility expressed by the words “It may be that…” fills hearts with hope that feelings may be changed from hostility and hatred into love and affection. This is because Allah is Mighty, so he is able to change feelings as He controls hearts. He is also Forgiving, so He would forgive the previous hatred and grudges; and Merciful, so He would show mercy to His servants whose hearts are free from such hostile feelings. That is why Muslims usually repeat: “Hate your opponent moderately, as he may become your proponent someday”.(7)
Calling for Dialogue in the Best Way

The eighth pillar of Islamic tolerance is the call for holding dialogues with opponents in a fair way, as expressed by Allah’s saying: [Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way. Lo! thy Lord is best aware of him who strayeth from His way, and He is Best Aware of those who go aright.] (An-Nahl 16:125) “Calling with wisdom and fair exhortation” is mostly done with proponents, while “reasoning in the better way” is done – also in most cases – with opponents. Thus, Muslims are commanded by their Lord to reason with those who oppose them in the best way that would be accepted by those opponents.    

“Reasoning in the better way” refers to dialogue to which we invite our opponents. Such dialogue does not kindle rancor in hearts or stir up differences and division; rather, it reconciles between opponents and brings their hearts close to one another, as Almighty Allah says concerning arguing with the People of the Scripture:[And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender.] (Al-`Ankabut 29:46) This verse focuses on common inclusive points in which both parties believe, not on points of difference and discrimination. Such is one of the fundamentals of fair dialogue. Therefore, dialogue between opponents is necessary in Islam, and it does not adopt “conflict” between them as a necessity, as claimed by Samuel Huntington, the American strategic writer.

Islamic-Christian dialogue started about forty years ago, and relevant activities have been undertaken until recently. I myself participated in more than one conference adopting this dialogue, including: the conference of the Muslim-Christian Summit held in Rome, October 2001, requested by the Community of Sant’Egidio and attended by prominent Muslim and Christian figures; the Muslim-Christian Summit held in Barcelona 2003; and the Muslim-Christian Dialogue with the Oriental Churches in Cairo. Yet, following the statements of Pope Benedict XVI in his lecture in Germany, September 12th 2006, in which he offended Islam and its Prophet, creed, Shari`ah, and civilization, the dialogue has stopped between Muslims and Christians until another situation appears and removes this offense.   

The Highest Degrees of Tolerance are by Muslims Alone

The ninth pillar is that the highest degrees of religious tolerance are to be shown by Muslims alone, as there are several degrees and levels of religious and ideological tolerance:

The lowest degree of tolerance is to secure freedom of religion and faith for your opponent, without obliging him to convert to your religion or faith (in some cases if the opponent refuses, fanatics would sentence him to death, torture, confiscation, exile, or any other form of punishment or oppression practiced against their opponents in faith) … They may therefore let them believe freely (in whatever religion they want) but without letting them practice their religious obligations and refrain from doing what is prohibited according to their faith.   
The medium degree of tolerance is to let him believe in any religion or faith he wants, but without obliging him to give up something obligatory or do something prohibited according to his faith. For instance, as Jews believe that it is prohibited to work on Saturday, it is not permissible to assign any work to a Jew on this day, because he would be doing it while feeling that he is disobeying his religion.(8) Similarly, as Christians believe that they must go to church on Sunday, they should not be prevented from doing so on that day.

The degree right above this level is not to tighten the grip around opponents in what they believe as lawful according to their religion or faith, even if you believe that it is prohibited according to your religion or faith. This is what Muslims do with their dhimmi citizens (dhimmis: non-Muslims living under the protection of an Islamic government), thus rising themselves to the highest degree of tolerance. They do not forbid a non-Muslim from practicing anything which he believes as lawful in his religion, although they can do this as a matter of consideration for the Shari`ah and religion of the Islamic state, and they would not be accused of any bigotry simply because when a religion legalizes something, it is not a must that its followers do it. 

To illustrate this, the religion of a Magian for example allows him to marry his mother or sister, but he can marry any other woman without blame. By the same token, Christianity allows eating swine, but a Christian may not eat it throughout his lifetime, as instead he could eat the meat of cows, sheep, or birds. The case is the same with khamr (intoxicants in general): some Christian books mention that it is lawful to drink khamr or a little quantity of it for healing the stomach, yet it is not an obligation in Christianity that a Christian must drink khamr.

Therefore, if Islam told dhimmis to abstain from marrying unmarriageable relatives (incest marriage), drinking khamr, and eating swine as a sign of consideration for their fellow Muslims’ feelings, there would be no religious blame on their part (i.e. dhimmis), because not doing such things would not be regarded as a sin or an abominable act in their religion, nor would they neglect any sacred duty if they did not do it.

Despite this, Islam did not ask them to do so, because it does not want to exert any pressure on non-Muslims in what they believe in as lawful, and as such, Islam has ordered Muslims to leave them free in their own religion.

The Spirit of Tolerance Among Muslims  

The tenth pillar of Islamic tolerance is what we call “the spirit of religious tolerance” among Muslims. There is something that is not included in the rights which are regulated by laws, binding to jurisdiction, and their fulfillment is supervised by governments: that is, the spirit of clemency, which is reflected in dealing with others kindly and gently, maintaining the rights of neighbors, and spreading noble human virtues like dutifulness, mercy, and beneficence. Daily life needs such matters, and neither law nor jurisdiction can be a substitute for them. This spirit is almost found only among the Muslim community.

This clemency or tolerance is indicatively expressed by the Qur’an when speaking about polytheist parents who try to drive their son away from monotheism to polytheism: [… and consort with them in the world kindly…] (Luqman 31:15)  Also, the Qur’an describes Allah’s righteous servants as: [And they feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him] (Al-Insan 76:8) When this verse was revealed, prisoners were only from among polytheists. Another Qur’anic statement replies to a doubt raised by some Muslims as to whether it is permissible to spend on their relatives and neighbors who insist to adopt polytheism: [… And whatsoever good thing ye spend, it is for yourselves, when ye spend not save in search of Allah’s countenance; and whatsoever good thing ye spend, it will be repaid to you in full, and ye will not be wronged.] (Al-Baqarah 2:272)   

Muhammad Ibnul-Hasan, one of Abu Hanifah’s followers who recorded his madhhab (school of Islamic Jurisprudence), narrated that when the people of Makkah were withheld (rain), the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) sent them money to be distributed among their poor people.(9) He did so in spite of the hardship and harm he and his Companions suffered at their hands. Moreover, Ahmad and the two Sheikhs (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) narrated that Asma’ Bint Abu Bakr said, “My mother came to me when she was a pagan, following the covenant of Quraysh (on which they had agreed with the Prophet). I went to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! My mother has come to me and she desires (to receive a reward from me). Shall I keep good relations with her?’ He said, “Yes, keep good relations with her.’”(10) 
Showing how Muslims should ethically argue with their opponents in faith, the Qur’an states: [And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong…] (Al-`Ankabut 29:46) This kindness is also exemplified clearly by the Prophet’s dealing with the People of the Scripture, whether Jews or Christians. He used to visit them, treat them hospitably and kindly, visit their ill persons, and exchange dealings with them. In the Prophet’s biography according to Ibn Ishaq, the latter mentioned that when the delegation of Nejran – who were Christians  – came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in Madinah, they entered upon him in his mosque in the afternoon. The time for their prayer became due, so they stood up to offer it in the mosque. The people wanted to prevent them, but the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Leave them!” Therefore, they offered their prayer while facing the east direction.(11)   

Commenting on this story in his “Al-Hady An-Nabawi”, Ibnul-Qayyim derived the following juristic ruling from it: It is permissible to allow the People of the Scripture to enter Muslims’ mosques and to enable them to offer their prayers inside them in the presence of Muslims, as long as this is on a temporary or accidental basis, as they should not be allowed to do this regularly.(12)

Abu `Ubayd narrated in “Al-Amwal” on the authority of Sa`id Ibnul-Musayyab that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) assigned a portion of alms to be given regularly to a Jewish household.(13)      

Al-Bukhari narrated on the authority of Anas that once the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) visited a Jewish man when he was ill and asked him to convert to Islam. The man embraced Islam, so the Prophet went out while saying, “Praise be to Allah Who has saved him through me from the Fire.”(14) Al-Bukhari also narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) died when his armor was mortgaged to a Jew, as the latter had sold him some foodstuff for his family.(15) The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) could borrow what he needed from his Companions, who would never let him down, but he wanted to teach his followers a lesson. By the same token, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) accepted presents from non-Muslims(16); he also sought help from some of them at times of peace and war, as long as he was sure that they were faithful to him and would not harm him or plot against him.

Furthermore, Islamic tolerance was demonstrated by the way the Companions and their Successors dealt with non-Muslims.

`Umar ordered that a fixed pension should be paid for a Jewish man and his family from the Public Treasury, then he said, “Almighty Allah says, ‘The alms are only for the poor and the needy…’ (At-Tawbah 9:60) This man is from the needy among the People of the Scripture.”(17)        

On a journey to Ash-Sham (the region now covering Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria), `Umar passed by some leprous Christians. He ordered social aid for them from the Public Treasury. Moreover, although Abu Lu’lu’ah Al-Majusi – who was a dhimmi – stabbed him (causing his later death), this did not prevent `Umar from instructing the would-be Caliph: “And I advice him to maintain (the rights of dhimmis, who are under) the protection of Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him): he should fulfill their covenant (of protection) and fight behind them (i.e. fight to protect them), and they should not be charged with anything beyond their capacity.”(18)      

`Abdullah Ibn `Amr instructed his servant to give his Jewish neighbor from the udhiyah (sacrificial animal). He did that once and again until his servant was astonished, and asked him why he cared that much for a Jewish neighbor. Ibn `Amr said, “The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Jibril (Gabriel) kept instructing me (to keep good relations with my) neighbor until I thought he would make him an heir (of mine).”(19) Besides, when Al-Harith Ibn Abi Rabi`ah’s mother – who was Christian – died, the Prophet’s Companions joined her funeral procession (to her grave).(20)             

Some prominent Successors (of the Prophet’s Companions) used to assign a portion of the fast-breaking alms (sadaqatul-fitr) for Christian monks, and they did not see any legal objection to this. Even some of them – including `Ikrimah, Ibn Sirin, and Az-Zuhri – maintained that it is permissible to give them help from Zakah (Obligatory Charity) itself. Additionally, Ibn Abi Shaybah, the paternal uncle of Jabir Ibn Zayd, narrated that he (Jabir) was asked: Where should sadaqah (alms) be put (i.e. to whom should it be given?); and he said: “In (to) your fellow Muslims, and those who are under their protection (i.e., dhimmis)…”(21)    

Judge `Iyad cited in Tartibul-Madarik that Ad-Daraqutni related that once `Abdun Ibn Sa`id – who was a Christian vizier of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mu`tadid Billah – entered upon Judge Isma`il Ibn Ishaq(22), who stood up to welcome him, but those who were present did not like that act. After the vizier left, Judge Isma`il said: “I know you did not like what I did, but Almighty Allah says, [Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers.] (Al-Mumtahanah 60:8) This man fulfills Muslims’ needs and works as an ambassador (or mediator) between us and Al-Mu`tadid… This is also part of Al-Birr (piety, righteousness, and each and every act of obedience to Allah; see Al-Baqarah 2:189).(23) 


(1) This interpretation has been attributed to Al-Hasan, Muqatil, and `Ata’. See: Al-Qurtubi (9/99) and Ibn Kathir (2/610).

(2) See our book: Min Fiqhid-Dawlah fil-Islam, the chapter on “Multiplicity of Parties under Islamic State,” pp. 147-161, published by Darush-Shuruq, Cairo.

(3) Narrated by Ahmad in Al-Musnad (23489), and the verifiers of its authenticity said its isnad (chain of transmitters) is authentic up to those who heard it from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Also, Al-Haythami said in Majma`uz-Zawa’id: It was narrated by Ahmad, and its transmitters are known for their authentic narrations (3/586).  

(4) Narrated by Ahmad in Al-Musnad (19293), and its verifiers said its chain of transmitters is weak; also narrated by Abu Dawud in the section of “Prayer” (1508), and by Al-Bayhaqi in Ash-Shu`ab (1/433) on the authority of Zayd Ibn Arqam.

 (5) Narrated by Ahmad in Al-Musnad (24686) on the authority of `Aishah, and its verifiers said its transmitters are trustworthy as certified by the two Sheikhs (Al-Bukhari and Muslim). The hadith was also narrated by Abu Dawud (3207), Ibn Majah (1616), and Ibn Hibban (3167), all in the sections dealing with “Al-Jana’iz” (funerals)”

(6) Narrated by Al-Bukhari in “Funerals” (1312), Muslim in “Funerals” (961), Ahmad in Al-Musnad (23842), An-Nasa’i in “Funerals” (1921) on the authority of Qays Ibn Sa`d and Sahl Ibn Hunayf. 

(7) Narrated by At-Tirmidhi in “Righteousness and Good Relations” (1997) on the authority of Abu Hurayrah; Abu `Isa said: “This hadith is strange, as we do not know it with this isnad (chain of transmitters) except from this way of transmission.” The hadith was also narrated on the authority of Ayyub with a different isnad. It was moreover narrated by Al-Hasan Ibn Abi Ja`far whose narration is weak with this transmission up to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), but the certified verification (of this very way of transmission) is that the wording (of this hadith) was attributed to `Ali in particular. (The following part has been abridged to avoid redundancy) Additionally, the hadith was narrated by Ibn Abi Shaybah in his Musannaf (37026), Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad (1321), and Al-Bayhaqi in Ash-Shu`ab (6593). Finally, Al-Albani recorded it among the authentic narrations of Al-Bukhari’s Al-Adab Al-Mufrad (992) as well as of At-Tirmidhi’s Sunan (1625).   

(8) It is mentioned in Ghayatul-Muntaha, a Hanbali book: “It is prohibited to bring a Jew (to work) on a Saturday, and this prohibition is permanent for Jews as a legal exception of working during a vacation, as An-Nasa’i and At-Tirmidhi have narrated: ‘… and You, Jews, in particular must not transgress the Sabbath.’” (vol. 2, p. 604).

(9) Sharhus-Siyar Al-Kabir, vol. 1, p. 144.

(10) Narrated by Al-Bukhari in “Gifts and Their Excellence” (2620), Muslim in “Zakah” (1003), Ahmad in Al-Musnad (26913), and Abu Dawud in “Zakah” (1668).

(11) Ibn Hisham, Sirah (1/573).

(12) Zadul-Ma`ad, vol. 3, As-Sunnah Al-Muhammadiyyah edition.

(13) Abu `Ubayd, Al-Amwal, p. 613.

(14) Narrated by Al-Bukhari in “Funerals” (1356), Abu Dawud in “Funerals” (1290), Ahmad in Al-Musnad (12792), and Ibn Hibban in “Funerals” (2960)

(15) Narrated by Al-Bukhari in “Jihad and Biographies” (2916) on the authority of `Aishah, An-Nasa’i in “Sales” (4651), Ibn Majah in “Mortgages” (2438), Ahmad in Al-Musnad (25998), and Ibn Hibban in “Mortgaging” (59369).  

(16) For example, he accepted presents from Al-Muqawqis, ruler of Egypt. (Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, 5/340).

(17) Abu Yusuf, Al-Kharaj, p. 26. See also our book: Fiqhuz-Zakah, vol. 2, pp. 705-706

(18) Narrated by Al-Bukhari in “Funerals” (1392) on the authority of `Amr Ibn Maymun.

(19) The story was narrated by Abu Dawud in “Al-Adab” (morality) (5152) and At-Tirmidhi in “Righteousness and Good Relations” (1942). The hadith marfu` (a hadith directly traced back to the Prophet) (cited in the text) was narrated by Al-Bukhari in “Al-Adab” (6015) on the authority of Ibn `Umar, Muslim in “Al-Adab” (2624), and Ibn Majah on the authority of `Aishah also in “Al-Adab” (3673.

(20) The story was narrated by `Abdur-Razzaq in his Musannaf (6/36).

(21) Ibn Hazm mentioned this in Al-Muhalla (5/117).

(22) A prominent Maliki scholar, and Judge of Baghdad (d. 282 A.H.). See his biography in Tartibul-Madarik (3/166-181), Darul-Hayah edition, Beirut, ed. Ahmad Bakir Mahmud.  

(23) Ibid., p. 174.