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Tolerance is mandated in Islam. In the Quran, the holy scripture of the Islamic religion, it says the following:
"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things." (2:256).
There are many other similar quotes to this.
Although our organization is not Muslim, we decided to write about this topic because the Islamic religious revolution was one of the greatest religious revolutions in history. Within a thousand years of one man coming out of the desert, Islam had created an empire which stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the snowy caps of the Himalayas. Islam for that thousand years became the dominant religion on the planet that's a reality. And how did this happen? A key part of that was the mandate of tolerance toward other peoples and religions.
WHAT IS TOLERANCE?
First, let's just clarify the concept of tolerance. Tolerance doesn't mean you agree with somebody else. Tolerance doesn't mean that you put up with evil behavior from somebody else. It does mean that you are willing to adopt at least some kind of live and let live ideal if we are talking about the case of religion with somebody who practices a different faith. In the Quran, it states, "To you is your religion and to me is my religion." (109:6)
PROBLEMS IN TODAY'S WORLD RELATING TO ISLAM
Today we talk about Islam because there are some major problems in our world relating to Islam. There are major problems in the West in terms of how Islam is understood. To be frank, there are also major problems inside the Muslim world where there are some factions who seem to believe that violent acts of intolerance, or violent acts of terrorism are somehow legitimized by the teachings of Islam. These ideas are wrong.
THE BASICS OF ISLAM
SUBMISSION TO THE ABSOLUTE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE
Now in order to understand all this, you need to understand the basic principles of Islam. Or at least, some of the key basics in our view. Islam is the world's newest major religion. It's the only major religion where we know the person founded it actually existed for sure and Islam is in many ways the world's simplest religion. Islam means submission to God, a simple line that means so much. What that means is that you're here to serve God, who is defined as "Allah," the supreme God. In our view, God is defined as this way for very intelligent reasons. This is to define him as the master of reality, the supreme God, not to confuse him with the hodgepodge of gods, and also to clarify who is the absolute master of the universe, Lord of the worlds, and so on. So people are here to serve Him and to carry out His rules, and one of those rules is defined in the Quran as tolerance. That's just what's there.
A HISTORY OF TOLERANCE
ISLAM - THE GREATEST RELIGIOUS REVOLUTION IN HISTORY
We also need to look at how the Islamic Caliphate dealt with other religions. They implemented this policy of tolerance. That's why Islam was very popular when it came in. Religious minorities knew they weren't going to get crushed when the Muslims came into their lands. With Christianity, it was a different story. Christianity was horrendously intolerant. They organized a series of persecutions for over a thousand years. This was a nightmare for the Jews as well as different sects of Christians that were not well tolerated by the Catholic Church. When Islam came in, Christians were not burned at the stake. They were not massacred, contrary to lies peddled by some people today. Jews, Zoroastrians, Christian minority sects and other people Islam conquered were allowed to continue their faith. They were required to pay a tax but that was basically it. They were allowed to continue their faith and to go on living unmolested by the state. While it didn't necessarily meet the standards of modern concepts of civil liberties, it was tolerant by the standards of the medieval era. So that's a reality.
What went wrong?
INTOLERANCE IN INDIA
Now insofar as Islam has not been successful, there are cases of where intolerance may have been part of the problem. The original Islamic invasions of India were very violent and very cruel and that may have been a reason why Islam was never able to displace Hinduism. In deference to our Hindu friends, that does not mean that we think Hinduism is wrong. But it's just we're making a tactical observation, not a theological observation about Hinduism. We know for sure that the collapse of the largest Islamic state in the world, the Mughal Empire, starting in around 1700, was directly caused by the intolerant policies of the last Mughal Empire of any importance.
ISLAM SPREADS TO INDONESIA IN A PEACEFUL MANNER
Today, the world's largest Muslim country is Indonesia. Islam spread in Indonesia in a tolerant and largely nonviolent manner. So these are the facts. Now as we mentioned in our time, there are people who have called themselves Muslims who've gone around murdering and blowing up civilians. This is evil. This is wrong. This is not Islam. This is contrary to what Islam says. Unfortunately, at the other end of the political spectrum, the people run around in reaction to that claiming that Islam is a bunch of pacifism and so on and so forth, and Islam and American-style democracy are just up two peas in a pod. That is also nonsensical. Islam is Islam. It doesn't need to define itself in terms of anything other than itself.
THE BRUTAL WESTERN IMPERIALISM IN THE MUSLIM WORLD
Since the 18th century, the world of Islam has been the target of a ruthless campaign of imperialism by European nations and America. This started in India in the 18th century and led to the conquest of what is now India, Pakistan and Burma by the British in the 19th century. This was a rule of evil that led to the slaughter of millions of people in the Indian subcontinent. In the Middle East, Anglo American imperialism seized whole sections of Muslim lands after World War One. What was particularly despicable is that this was done in the context of one of the biggest frauds in history, Lawrence of Arabia, who claimed that he was trying to help the Arabs while selling them a completely fraudulent proposal that was actually designed to carve up Arab lands by England, France, and Russia. Still more Arab lands were later thrown in to other people to try to get them to support England in World War One.
In the 21st century, things took a particularly evil turn. The US President, George Bush, launched an unprovoked and fraudulent invasion of Iraq that killed one million people, displaced millions more and was certainly one of the greatest war crimes in modern times. Bush's policies were expanded by Obama, who launched more wars against Muslims that killed at least a million more, specifically in Syria and in other places. Obama put more American troops in Afghanistan than the Russians and he ended up losing. The whole American campaign in Afghanistan ended in disaster.
MUSLIM REACTIONS TO WESTERN IMPERIALISM
Muslims have the right and indeed the obligation to defend their lands and their faith from these kinds of evil foreign invasions. This is a fact. A problem in history, however, is that people sometimes tend to copy their enemies. Nietzsche once said when you fight your enemy, you need to be careful you don't become your enemy. Muslims of the world need to keep in mind that they are here for only one reason, the service of Allah. That is the only reason and to follow the teachings of Allah. Vengeance can become a dangerous temptation. It is a human reaction to retaliate for atrocities by creating new atrocities. Unfortunately, this tends to set in motion a downward spiral of disaster.
What the Muslim world needs to understand, as we just said, is its obligation to follow the teachings of Allah. The enemies must be defeated, but the world that is to be created is to be that which is defined in the Holy Quran. That is a world of strict rules of toleration for people of different beliefs. Now this does not mean that Muslim states should tolerate the kind of subversion promoted by America with its so called "promotion of Democracy," which is really just an attempt to meddle in other countries and promote American imperialist interests. This is also true of a lot of western foundations and NGO's, who are not there to help the people, but who are there to promote the interests of foreign powers in Muslim lands. There is every reason why Muslims should crack down on such activities inside their countries, but at the end of the day, a system has to be set up in accordance with the rules of Islam and that is what has worked in the past.
IMPORTANT LESSONS FROM THE PAST
The greatest religious revolution in history did not occur because Muslims unleashed some kind of reign of terror like Christianity did. That would not have worked. Islam set up a system of tolerance which did work. So this all needs to be thought through and there needs to be emotional discipline. When you look out as to how things are going to be created, as in other things in life, it's important to keep in perspective the goal is not an eye for an eye. The goal is not one atrocity in retaliation for another atrocity. The goal is to create a just society that will last and the reign of terror unleashed by Christianity was its undoing, and one of the reasons in the 7th to 8th centuries why over half the world's Christian population abandoned Christianity and never looked back. Now Christianity had other problems with the massive self contradictions and absurdities of the Bible, particularly the New Testament. That was an issue, but a major issue is that Muslims came in and created some kind of system of tolerance as opposed to the endless persecutions, witch hunts and atrocities so on that were such a staple of Christian rule. So this is a factor which needs to be kept in mind.
The goal is to create a just society, not a never ending cycle of violence. Islam cannot emulate the West to defeat the West. It needs to learn western technology and to learn western military power. These are relevant points, but to copy the political evils of the West will simply be an ever escalation of evil around the world. In short Islam needs to get back to basics. We know what worked and we know what is mandated. Tolerance is not just a feel good thing. It is not a concession to the West. It is a rule of the Almighty as to how to create a just society. It was the foundation of the greatest religious revolution in history.
Our Collection of Reports on Islam