Jews, Christians, & Muslims: From A Conflicting Past To A Future of Tolerance

For lack of time for a detailed reply, I only mentioned to him that the verse mentioned does not appear in the Qur?an. However, it appeared to be based on another verse that was taken totally out of context. A few weeks later, another Christian friend of mine, who had been reading the Qur?an, sent me an email in which he asked me to explain verse 5:51, likely the same verse that raised the other question.

It was now necessary to do some detailed study of the issue and reassure our friends that this verse does not refer to personal friendship and normal association, and most importantly, it may only be understood within the proper context. This article attempts to clarify that position as well as to explain what the Qur?an actually teaches the believers regarding the Jews and the Christians.

Interpretation of the Verse

The verse in question is translated as follows by Yusuf Ali:

“O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors; they are but friends and protectors to each others. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”

In the footnote, Yusuf Ali provides the following explanation:

“That is, look not to them for help and comfort. They are more likely to combine against you than to help you. And this happened more than once in the lifetime of the Prophet, and in after ages again and again.” [1]

In Sayyid Mawdudi?s translation Towards Understanding the Qur?an [2], it appears as follows:

“Believers! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for your allies. They are allies of each other. And among you he who takes them for allies, shall be regarded as one of them. Allah does not guide the wrong-doers.”

In Sayyid Qutb?s In the Shade of the Qur?an [3], it is translated as:

“Believers, do not take the Jews and the Christians for your allies. They are allies of one another. Whoever of you allies himself with them is indeed one of them. God does not bestow His guidance on the wrongdoers.”

Finally, Muhammad Asad, formerly a Jew himself, translates it as follows in his “The Message of the Qur?an”:

“O you who have attained to faith! Do not take the Jews and Christians for your allies: they are but allies of one another - and whoever of you allies himself with them becomes, verily, one of them; behold, God does not guide such evildoers.”

He provides the following note:

“... as has been made abundantly clear in 60:7-9 (and implied in verse 57 of this surah), this prohibition of a “moral alliance” with non-Muslims does not constitute an injunction against normal, friendly relations with such of them as are well-disposed towards Muslims. It should be borne in mind that the term wali has several shades of meaning: “ally”, “friend”, “helper” “protector”, etc. The choice of the particular term - and sometimes a combination of two terms - is always dependent on the context.” [4]

The purpose of providing several translations is to point out that this verse does not refer to the normal associations and friendships that a Muslim may have with non-Muslims. In fact, none of the translators, except Yusuf Ali, used the word ?friend? in his translation. As Muhammad Asad pointed out, the verse does not constitute a prohibition against having normal, friendly relationships with non-Muslims who are friendly to Muslims. Instead, that prohibition is against those who maintain animosity towards the Muslims. This has been made abundantly clear, as Asad says, in the following verses:

“O you who have attained to faith! Do not take for your friends such as mock at your faith and make a jest of it ? be they from among those who have been vouchsafed revelation before your time, or [from among] those who deny the truth [of revelation as such]; but remain conscious of God if you are truly believers ... “. (5:57)

“As for such as do not fight against you on account of (your) faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for verily God loves those who act equitably. God only forbids you to turn in friendship; God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for verily God loves those who act equitably, towards such as fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid [others] in driving you forth ... “.  (60:8-9)

Thus Muslims are asked to show kindness and behave equitably with all, including those who differ with them, except only those who fight against them or are inimical. But even so, God reminds the Muslims that some of those whom they consider enemies may one day become their friends. This is an important lesson to keep in mind so that they do not take their enmity personally, but show forgiveness, as God is Forgiving.

“It may well be that God will bring about [mutual] affection between you [O believers] and some of those whom you [now] face as enemies: for God is all powerful, and God is much forgiving, a dispenser of grace.”  (60:7)

There should now be no doubt left regarding the position of the Qur?an on taking non-Muslims as friends. Indeed, what should be clear from the above discussion is that Muslims are asked to be just, equitable, and forgiving even when they find it necessary to act in self-defense.

This suffices in clarifying the matter and closing the issue. However, to fully appreciate Islam?s tolerance towards the Jews and the Christians, one will need to examine how the Muslims have been treated throughout the ages by their Jewish and Christian coreligionists. This we will now do, which will be followed by a further examination of Islam?s position towards the Jews and the Christians and what has been the practical behavior of the Muslims with them.

Historical Context: the Early Muslim Community

Verse 5:51 can also be better understood in the light of what the early Muslim community underwent. Muslims were repeatedly attacked by the pagans of Mecca from without and faced enmity and conspiracy from the Jewish community from within who were living in Medina [5] at that time and with whom the Prophet (pbuh) had a peace treaty. In violation of the treaty, the Jewish community continued to conspire against the Muslim community. As a matter of fact, one of the major battles in which the pagans came from Mecca with a large army and superior weaponry to obliterate the Muslim community in Medina was actually organized by the Jews who lived in Medina. They maintained enmity towards the new Muslim community in Medina, and time and again collaborated with the pagans of Mecca in their attempts to obliterate the new faith that was rapidly growing and was perceived to be a challenge against the status quo. That was despite the fact that Muslims worshipped the same One God and believed in Moses and Jesus as honorable prophets, while the pagans worshipped idols and had no respect for law, order, and justice.

Besides collaborating with the pagans to destroy the small Muslim community, they also attempted to kill the Prophet (pbuh) several times. Once they invited him to come to a neutral place with three companions where both parties could engage in a religious debate. In good faith, the Prophet (pbuh) agreed. Before he started, however, a Jewish lady informed her brother, who was a Muslim, that the Jews were coming with weapons and their intention was to murder the Prophet (pbuh). Knowing this, the Prophet (pbuh) cancelled the trip.  On another occasion, the Prophet (pbuh) went to the Jewish quarters to mitigate a dispute between two contending parties. Finding him insecure, they attempted to roll a rock over his head from the roof of the house in which he was sitting. Miraculously, he escaped. Once, his food was poisoned and it is said that the poisoned lamb from which he had eaten contributed to his deteriorating health when he passed away a few years later.

If one keeps in mind such an atmosphere of animosity where a small community of believers, outnumbered and outgunned, tries to survive attacks both from within and without, he or she will hopefully understand the context in which verse 5:51 and other war-related verses were revealed. 

Historical Context: Western Treatment of the Muslims

Considering Yusuf Ali?s remark ?And this happened more than once in the lifetime of the Prophet, and in after ages again and again?, one may say that the truthfulness of this statement can be evident to a student of history who takes a look back at the past. We consider such examination of history as appropriate and relevant, especially during this time when Muslims are accused of being fanatics and of having no respect or tolerance for the believers of other faiths. Such accusations can result not only from misunderstanding a people, but also from ignorance of one?s own history.

Stating first that our purpose is only to educate and not to narrate stories of past conflicts, we would like to consider the historical attitude of the Jewish and the Christian world against Islam and its Prophet (pbuh). The Prophet of Islam (pbuh) has been labeled ?anti-Christ?, ?imposter?, and so on and the Muslims as ?heathens? and ?infidels?. Western Orientalists of the last few centuries had mostly produced biased materials against Islam and Muslims. They did not even spare the Prophet (pbuh) from personal attacks on his character (in contrast to the respect that Muslims accord to Moses, Jesus and all other prophets). Some of them went as far as suggesting that he suffered from epilepsy and his revelations were caused by epileptic fits! Among the few who had some objectivity in studying the Prophet (pbuh), the French writer Emil Dermenghem is one. He writes:

“After the war between Islam and Christianity had been going on for centuries, the misunderstanding naturally increased and we are forced to admit the most serious ones were on the side of the Occidentals ? Hate and prejudice were tenacious of life. From the time of Rudoplh de Ludheim until the present, Nicholas de Cuse, Vives, Maracci, Hotinger, Bibliander, Prideaux, etc. present Mohamet as an imposter, Islam as the cluster of all the heresies and the work of the devil, the Mussulmans [Muslims] as brutes, and Koran as a tissue of absurdities ? In 1876 Doughty .. called Mahomet ?a dirty and perfidious nomad,? while in 1822 Foster declared that ?Mahomet was Daniel?s little goat?s horn ...”. [6]

?What a nether world of degradation have the writers of the West sunk to! What a chronic, centuries-old obstinacy to go astray and to stir hatred and hostility between men!?, exclaims Haykal. [7]

These Orientalists did not even accord the Muslims their right title, calling them ?Mohammedans?, a highly offensive misnomer that suggests that Muslims worship ?Mohammed? and not God. It is largely to their poisonous effort that Islam remained the ?most misunderstood religion?. Beginning with the last few decades of the 20th century, that understanding has now been improving. But even today, many are surprised to find that Muslims believe in Jesus as a Prophet or that ?Allah? is not an idol but the same One God whom the Jews and the Christians worship. James Michener wrote in a 1955 article:

“One of the strangest facts in today?s world is that Islam, a religion which in many ways is almost identical with Christianity and Judaism, should be so poorly understood in America and Europe.” [8]

The process of understanding has begun, but a proper understanding of Islam continues to be a difficuilt one as certain media carry on anti-Islamic prejudice - day in and day out (Hofmann).

We would also do well to consider the history of the several hundred years of Crusades. To the faithful Christian, the word ?Crusade? is synonymous to bravery and courage. To a Muslim, that word brings to mind acts of pillage and massacre. What is known to the average faithful Christian is not quite history, as far as the history of the Crusades goes. When Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders in 1099, they killed 90,000 Muslims. They did not keep anyone alive whom their sword could reach, be that a woman or a child. The “carnage lasted for a week”, and to what extent it went can be surmised from this remark made by a French eyewitness:

“...under the portico of the mosque the blood was knee deep and reached the horses’ bridles.”

Another historian remarks:

“So large numbers gathered for the Crusades. Among them were good and earnest people; but there were also many who were far from good who were attracted by the hope of plunder. It was a strange collection of pious and religious men and these Crusaders, or many of them, going out to serve in what was to them a noble cause, committed the vilest and most disgusting of crimes.”

Jawaharlal Nehru, the First PM of India said:

“...riffraff of the population, who were capable of every kind of crime. Indeed, these Crusaders, or many of them, going out to serve in what was to them a noble cause, committed the vilest and most disgusting of crimes. Many were so busy with plundering and misbehaving on the way that they never reached anywhere near Palestine. Some took to massacring Jews on the way; some even massacred their brother-Christians. Fed up with their misbehavior, sometimes the peasantry of the Christian countries they passed through rose and attacked them, killing many and driving others away.” [9]

What crime did these Muslim ?infidels? commit, one would wonder. Their offense was that they considered Jesus to be a human being, but not God. The fact that they revered him as an honorable Prophet of God like other Old Testament prophets and never mentioned his name without following it with the phrase “peace be upon him” did not matter.

Next, we will consider the Spanish Inquisition. The last remnant of Muslim rule in Spain was finally vanquished in 1492 by a combined force of Ferdinand and Isabella. What followed then was a dark chapter in the history of the world. Muslims and Jews were massacred and driven out of Spain. It was then that the infamous “Spanish Inquisition” was established by the Church to crush the ?infidels?. They were forced to change religion or be tortured or burnt to death. No one was spared, not even the children. Changing religion was not enough ? they were forced to transform into being Spanish. Nehru quotes a historian:

“The infidels were ordered to abandon their picturesque costume, and to assume the hat and breeches of their conquerors, to renounce their language, their customs and ceremonies, even their very names, and to speak Spanish, behave Spanishly, and re-name themselves Spaniards.” [10]

Thus, in a short period of time, Muslim Spain transformed into a Christian Spain. For all the thousands of mosques in the country, there was not one Muslim left to make the call for the prayer.

Several centuries after this, a new chapter began with the colonization of the Muslim lands by the European colonial powers. One historian mentions that like a python that gobbles up small creatures, the European powers took over Muslim lands one after another— in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, thanks to the superior arms and a scientific justification by Charles Darwin [11]. The wealth and resources of the Muslims’ lands were transferred to Europe. One of my sociology professors once remarked that the reason why Europe became wealthy and the Muslim lands remained underdeveloped was due to Europe?s colonization of the Muslim lands and the transfer of their wealth and resources to Europe. It was only after many years of struggle ? often bloody and brutal ? that these lands regained their independence.

Lastly, coming to our age, we must consider the events of the last century. From the creation of the Palestinian problem in the early part of the century to the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans in the latter part of the century, it is interesting to consider what community has largely been the victims: whether it was the Jews and the Christians who suffered at the hands of the Muslims or if the opposite was the case.

Looking back on history, such is the general pattern that an objective mind would see. Unfortunately, the reverse is known to the general public in the West. Muslims are considered intolerant and oppresssive towards the people of other faiths, thanks to biased reports. 

We must get past the writings of the Orientalists and the recent phenomenon of selectively quoting Qur’anic verses out of context by some individuals motivated by hatred. A friend, Nicholas Powell, once said, “History is reflected by the people writing it?. It is also true that history is nourished in a nation?s collective memory if it is comforting and forgotten if it is not. But history not only can help us better understand our current world, but also to draw valuable lessons as we collectively strive to improve the condition of the human society at large by correcting our past mistakes.

It needs to be said, once again, that narrating stories of past conflicts is not the objective here, neither is it to discuss the merits and demerits of the Western civilization. The objective is to narrowly look at what has been the general pattern of treatment of the Muslims by the West without discussing the Western contributions to human thought and civilization.

Blaming the West only for its wrongdoings and never acknowledging its contributions to humanity is not reflective of sound judgment. The one who only sees the bad and never the good does an injustice, and certain Muslims are guilty of doing this. Do not some Western societies, especially the American society, provide religious freedom to millions of Muslims who cannot practice their faith fully in their own homelands? [12] Was it not the West who came to the rescue of the Muslim Kosovars when Milosovic, a Christian, started a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them?

After providing the historical context, we would now like to discuss what the practical behavior of the Muslims has been towards the People of the Book [13] i.e., the Jews and the Christians.

Religious Tolerance Towards the People of the Book

“It is quite remarkable that despite their historical treatment, Muslims have generally been respectful towards the The Qur’anic command of tolerance explains why Greece, in spite of 500 years of Ottoman rule, emerged as a Greek Orthodox nation; why enroute to Cairo airport, one sees more Coptic churches than mosques.” - Dr. Murad Hofmann

Jews and the Christians, whether in Muslim Spain, Egypt, Greece, or Jerusalem, as non-Muslim minorities, enjoyed religious freedom under Muslim rule - The Qur’anic command of tolerance explains why Greece, in spite of 500 years of Ottoman rule, emerged as a Greek Orthodox nation; why enroute to Cairo airport, one sees more Coptic churches than mosques; why the Bible is available in Moroccan bookshops and why church steeples in Damascus bear neon-lit crosses at night. [14]

Jews and Christians living in Muslim Spain are a particularly vivid example of religious tolerance. Driven from one land to another, the Jews were persecuted throughout the ages. But there was a period in history when they had a cultural renaissance known as the ?Golden Age?. It was the period when they lived in Spain under Muslim rule:

It is a fact of history that when the Jews were being persecuted in Europe during the middle ages they found peace, harmony, and acceptance among the Muslim people in Spain. In fact, this was the era of Jewish history that they themselves refer to as ?the golden age.? [15]

Religious intolerance, therefore, is not typical of Islam [16]. Tolerance, rather, is fundamentally rooted in the Qur?anic teaching that emphatically states that there must not be any compulsion in religion. Truth and falsehood has been manifested, and it is the responsibility of each individual to choose or not to choose the truth:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error.”(2:255)

“To each among you have We prescribed a law and a way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made of you one single community, but Compete with each other in good deeds. The return of you all is to Allah. (His plan is) to test you in what He has given you. So compete with each other in good deeds. The return of you all is to Allah; then He will inform you about the matters over which you used to differ.” (5:48)

“Whoever receives guidance receives it for his own benefit, and whoever goes astray does so to his own loss. No bearer of burdens can bear the burdens of another.” (17:15)

“If it had been the Lord?s will, they would all have believed ? all who are on the earth. Will you then compel mankind against their will, to believe?” (10:99)

Faith, therefore, is to remain a matter of conviction and not of compulsion. If that is the case, then there should be no justification whatsoever to hate someone because of him being a Jew or a Christian. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said,

“Whoever hurts a person from the People of the Book, it will be as though he hurt me personally.”

Muslims are no special people and their history has not always been perfect. There are cases of discrimination, and even humiliation, of Jews and Christians living under some Muslim rulers [17]. But thanks to the Qur’anic teachings, religious tolerance towards the non-Muslim communities has been the norm, not the exception. That is why it comes out as particularly painful to the entire Muslim world whenever, in sharp contrast to their historical legacy, a few extremists attack and hurt non-Muslims as happened a few days ago in Pakistan where some innocent Christian worshippers were killed. Such deplorable incidents, however, are not frequent and they occur within the context of political turmoil. The Pakistani government should bring those evildoers to justice as soon as possible and assure both the Muslims and the non-Muslims in the rest of the world that it will do its utmost to protect the security and welfare of the minority communities living under its guardianship.

Seeking Common Ground

Qur?anic verses that relate to the Jews and the Christians should be understood within their proper contexts. It should be kept in mind that despite the fact that Islam recognized all the previous prophets, denounced worshipping idols and called people to worship only One God, put an end to oppression and tribal hostilities, established social justice, and called people to live a moral and righteous life consistent with the previous messages, the Jews and the Christians rejected it. Further, the Jewish community collaborated with the Meccan pagans and attempted to destroy the early Muslim community. Yet, an overwhelming number of Qur?anic verses promote peace, tolerance, forgiveness, and mercy.  The Qur?an calls the believers to stand for justice and fight against injustice but it frequently reminds them not to transgress limits (see verses 2:190, 2:229, 65:1, 17:17).

Faced with opposition from the People of the Book, the Qur?an often reminded them about the common ground that exists between them and the Muslims so that animosities may be replaced with understanding:

Say: ?O People of the Book ? come to common terms as between us and you, that we worship none but God, that we associate no partners with Him, that we erect not from among ourselves Lords and Partners other than God ...? (3:64)

... say ?We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; our God and your God is one, and it is to Him we submit.? (29:46)

Say: ?We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and the revelation given to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between one and another of them, and to Him we submit.? (2:136)

Those who believe (in the Qur?an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians, and the Sabians, any who believe in God and the Last day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)

If one conveniently ignores these verses and selectively takes a handful of verses without context in order to level a charge that Islam teaches violence and hatred, then he only becomes a victim of his own self-imposed ignorance and bigotry.

Cross Migration has been Possible Due to Tolerance

That the Muslims did not understand verse 5:51 within the context of normal and personal relationship with the People of the Book can also be evident by examining their practical conduct. If Jews and Christians could not be trusted, then how could those millions of Westerners work in many Muslim countries in government and non-governmental agencies and private corporations owned by Muslims? And how about those millions of Muslims who have been migrating to Western countries fleeing political and economic oppressions in their own Muslim lands? As a matter of fact, when Meccan pagans severely persecuted the early Muslims, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), himself, instructed a group of his followers to migrate to neighboring Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, which was ruled by a Christian king. He was known as a just ruler and so the Prophet (pbuh) trusted that his followers would be safe under his rule. The king not only provided them safe refuge, but also refused to deport them back to Mecca when the Meccan delegation requested him to do so.

It should be noted here that the Muslims sought protection under a Christian king, which goes against the generalization that a Muslim cannot take a Christian as his protector.

Permissibility of Marriage

In the following verse, the Qur?an teaches the believers that it is acceptable for Muslim men to marry Jewish or Christian women:

(Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers but chaste women among the People of the Book revealed before your time when ye give them their due dowers and desire chastity not lewdness nor secret intrigues. If anyone rejects faith fruitless is his work and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good). (5:5)

This verse shows that chastity is not an exclusive right of the Muslims. Jews and Christians can also be chaste regardless of the doctrinal differences between their faiths. And, therefore, a Muslim man can take a Jew or a Christian as his wife and grant her complete freedom to practice her faith. This points out that just because one happens to be a Jew or a Christian does not make him or her unworthy of friendship. For marriage is much more than just friendship; it is a life-long partnership of mutual trust, love, and compassion. Indeed, according to the Qur?an, husband and wife are so mutually bonded as to be considered ?garment? of each other (2:187).

Food of the People of the Book is Lawful

The first few verses of sura 5 state what food is lawful for the believers and what food is not. This list ends with following:

This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (5:5)

Everything that is ?good and pure? is made lawful for the believers to eat, which includes the food of the People of the Book. This verse makes it clear that Muslims should eat the food offered by Jews and the Christians without hesitation (except foods that are prohibited). Further, Jews and the Christians should also eat the food of the Muslims without any reservation.

Beyond making the food of the People of the Book lawful for the Muslims and vice versa, it appears that this verse also contains an implicit encouragement for hospitality among the believers of the three faiths.

Respect Towards the People of the Book

One day Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sitting among his companions when a Jewish funeral processing passed them by. Out of respect for the deceased, the Prophet stood up. That the deceased was Jewish was irrelevant to him.

Once he allowed a visiting Christian delegation to stay in his mosque for several days. He also allowed them to worship in the mosque. This is a remarkable example of tolerance and good gesture. In another incident, once a Jew and a Muslim quarreled about whether Moses or Muhammad was superior than the other. When the matter was brought to the attention of the Prophet (pbuh), he told the Muslim:

Do not give me superiority over Moses, for on the Day of Resurrection all the people will fall unconscious and I will be one of them, but I will be the first to gain consciousness, and will see Moses standing and holding the side of the Throne (of Allah). I will not know whether (Moses) has also fallen unconscious and got up before me, or Allah has exempted him from that stroke. [18]

Watching in the news media the protests in the streets of many Muslim countries against the US air strikes in Afghanistan, some have erroneously concluded that Muslims hate Westerners. One of my respectable friends one day asked me to explain to him if Muslims really respect others as I have said, and why are they protesting. First of all, it would be incorrect to assume that a group of protesters, whatever the reason or the circumstance may be, always represent the majority of the people. Commercial news media?s objective is to entertain people, and not necessarily to provide an accurate reflection of a particular situation. Secondly, if a group of people protests against warfare or against a government engaging in warfare with another whom they consider their brethren, then it should not be concluded that their protests are directed against the people of the given country. Thirdly, expression of anger and loss of tolerance is not too infrequent a phenomenon during times of warfare or political crisis.

General Muslim populations display a high degree of respect towards the people of the West, who are usually the Jews and the Christians. Indeed Muslims are famous for their hospitality towards their guests, whoever they happen to be. This has been experienced by many Westerners who visited Muslim countries or interacted with Muslims. About his experience in Pakistan, Dr. William Baker mentions:

[I have] traveled to Pakistan many times concerning the plight of the people of Kashmir and human rights. I have met and worked with the citizens of Pakistan on every level of society, from the President to educators, writers, and the common hard working citizens. Never have I, as a Christian, received even a suggestion of prejudice or disdain towards myself or my faith. [19]

There are Muslims who may cherish, disrespect or even hate the Westerners or non-Muslims. That can, however, be found among the people of other faiths as well. The number of such people are not many. Their attitude may be explained in terms of the colonial rules that are still fresh in the collective memory of the Muslims. Again, it is the Islamic teachings that play an important role in maintaining a respectful attitude towards the People of the Book -

And nearest (among people) in love to the believers you will find are those who say ?We are Christians?, because amongst thee are priests and monks, and because they are not given to arrogance. (5:82)

And dispute you not with the People of the Book except in the most kindly manner. (29:46)

And dispute you not with the People of the Book except in the most kindly manner. 
We sent after them Jesus son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel, and We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. (57:27)

Behold! The angels said: ?O Mary: God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the hereafter. (3:45)

Thus, Jesus was held in honor in this world and he would be held honor in the Hereafter. And God placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him.

Understanding Leads to Mutual Respect

The famous war novel, “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque [20], has an episode that is as touchy as it is unforgettable. In the darkness of the night at the frontline, Paul Baumer stumbles across an enemy soldier. During the combat, he stabs him with his knife. Fatally wounded, the soldier falls to the trench and gurgles for air. After killing a human being - he thought the wounded soldier was dying - for the first time, Paul suddenly feels remorse. He realizes that he did not really have any animosity against the soldier neither was he himself an enemy to the soldier. They never knew and saw each other before, and yet one was trying to kill the other to avoid being killed. As heavy machine gunfire continues and bullets crisscross a few inches above the ground, he lay trapped in the trench for many hours with the wounded soldier gurgling for breath by him, unable to speak. Driven by compassion, he desperately tries to care for him, but the soldier, who was possibly a farmer before being drafted in the military, silently falls to death. “Comrade,”, speaks Paul to the dead soldier, “I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it again, if you would be sensible too. .. .For the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony ? Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life, comrade, and stand up ? take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now.” Paul retrieves the soldier?s wallet. There he finds a picture of a woman and a small girl, and a few letters.

War is a necessary evil that cannot be avoided at times. The point in this story is that our attitude can transform if we try to understand the ?other? people and try to look at us and at the world from the viewpoint of that ?other? person. Ignorance can lead to misunderstanding, and from misunderstanding to suspicion and hatred. If we broaden our perspective and understand each other well, then it quickly becomes evident that beyond the apparent differences in color, shape, culture, and creed, we are all people with the same basic human qualities: love, hate, compassion, bias, prejudice, emotion, passion, mercy, anger, joy, sadness, greed, virtue, and so on. We all look for a secure and comfortable life, we are all motivated by similar instincts. This realization of our basic similarities can result from our studying of or interactions with the ?other? people, thanks to this age of cross migration. We can discover that contrary to what we have concluded in our minds about a particular nation or a community, they are actually a very wonderful people.

Dr. Hassan Hathout is a scholar of Islam who was born in occupied Egypt. Here is his experience of the British people when he later went to England to study:

“My generation followed in the footsteps of previous generations in combating the British occupation by whatever means necessary. To the British and their surrogate Egyptian governments we were terrorists, to the rest of the country and the world we were freedom fighters. When I lived in Britain to pursue my studies, I acquired love and admiration for the British people. I realized that people can be very different from the foreign policy of their politicians and statesmen. The same also happened to me much later, when I came to America to make it my home.” [21]

Dr. Hathout now lives in California, and it would be appropriate to close this discussion with his following comments:

“I strongly believe that it is a basic human right to be known for what one is. I also believe that peace, harmony and goodwill between people can be based only on correct understanding and not on myth or falsehood. People will then become aware of true similarities and differences, and hopefully respect their differences and agree to tolerate and live with them.” [22]

“Hearts cannot harbor a vacuum and must be filled with love, hate or indifference. In my late sixties, and after life-long study, reflection and insight into my Islamic faith, I feel my heart bursting with love. It is nonspecific love that has no address attached to it. I feel love towards my fellow humans, animals, birds, trees, things, the earth and the universe in which we live, and deep in my heart I wish it were contagious.” [23]

Such is the result of his true understanding of his faith and its reflection on him. Hopefully many of us will be able to walk in these similar footsteps.

1 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur?an, American Trust Publications, Brentwood, 1991, p. 265
2 Sayyid Mawdudi, Towards Understanding the Qur?an, vol. II, The Islamic Foundation, Leicester, 1992, p.171
3 Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur?an, vol. IV The Islamic Foundation, Leicester, 2001, p.142
4 Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur?an, Dar Al-Andalus, Gibraltar, 1980, p. 155
5 Medina lies 200 miles north of Mecca. As the persecution against the Prophet and his followers intensified, he migrated to Medina where he was welcome by its inhabitants.
6 Emil Dermenghem, The Life of Mahomet, The Dial Press, New York, 1930, pp. 119-121. Quoted by Muhammad Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, American Trust Publications, Plainfield, 1976, pp. xliii-xliv
7 The Life of Muhammad, p. xliv
8 James A. Michener, Islam: The Misunderstood Religion, Reader?s Digest, May 1955, p. 67
9 Jawaharlal Nehru, Glimpses of World History, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989. First pub. 1934
10 Glimpses of World History, p. 191
11 That justification comes from the notion that man is an animal and it is but natural that the strong will overpower and subdue the weak
12 Remember what happened recently when a Turkish parliamentary member wanted to put on her headscarf.
13 People of the Book, a Qur?anic term, refers to the communities that received revelations from God, such as the Jews and the Christians.
14 Dr. Murad Hofmann, Religion on the Rise, Amana Publications, Beltsville, 2001, p. 51
15 Dr. William Baker, More In Common Than You Think, Defenders Publications, 1998, p. 36
16 Religion on the Rise, p. 210
17 Dr. Jeffrey Lang, Struggling To Surrender, Beltsville, 1994, p. 216
18 Bukhari, vol 3, no 594
19 More In Common, p. 82
20 Remarque?s novel is based on WWI in which he participated himself and thus was a firsthand witness to what a horror and devastation a war can cause.
21 Dr. Hassan Hathout, Reading the Muslim Mind, American Trust Publications, Plainfield, 1995, p. xxix
22 Reading the Muslim Mind, p. xxx
23Reading the Muslim Mind, p. 141

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