Peace Between Religions

Originally published in Winter 1992 issue of The American Muslim

No peace is possible unless there is peace between religions. According to Maulana Azad, “The fundamental basis of the Qur’anic message is that divine revelation has always remained one and the same. But the vagaries of history are so strange that the greater the emphasis the Qur’an lays on this truth, the stronger the inclination on the part of the world to relegate it to the background has been. In fact, no other truth of the Qur’an has been kept so deliberately out the sight.”

The Qur’an devotes more than 1,300 verses out of 6,247 to other prophets, scriptures and religions. This means that nearly one-fifth of the Qur’an deals with the theme that all religions came from God to teach mankind to surrender to God and to act in a righteous manner. This concept of the unity of revelation has been propounded strongly and repeatedly by the Qur’an. Beginning with the Patriarch of monotheism, Prophet Abraham, innumerable messengers of God have delivered the message of submission or surrender to God and righteous deeds forming part of a moral and ethical system common to all. Those who received this message, accepted it and acted upon it, thus became Muslims. This message of Islam (the eternal religion) was sent to all people in the world, but the names of the prophets of the Semitic people alone have been mentioned in the Bible and Qur’an, obviously because the Semitic people of the time were acquainted with them only. The Prophet did, however, accept Zoroastrians, a non-Semitic religious people, as People of the Book in the Treaty of Bahrain.

Although the early Muslim scholars did not undertake any research about the scriptures of the major religions of the world and did not test them against the Qur’anic norms of surrender to God and righteous conduct, the Qur’an is very clear on this issue. “There has been no people among whom a warner has not passed” (35:24) see also 40:78, 14:4, 10:99.

These verses show the realism of the Qur’an in a multi-religious world where there are about a dozen major religions and hundreds of minor ones. The Qur’an makes belief in God, the angels, the scriptures, the prophets and accountability to God on the Day of Judgment, compulsory for all Muslims or believers. The psychological satisfaction a non-Muslim would have if a Muslim were to tell him “My religion accepts your prophets and your book”, and the good will that would be created, would make daw’ah work easier and reduce the tension between those of different religions and bring peace.

The Qur’an clearly indicates that all apostles form a single community. (21:92, 23:52, 3:84 and 42:13). The Qur’an further asserts: “In truth hath He sent down to thee the Book, which confirms those which precede it; For He hath sent down the Torah and the Evangel aforetime, as man’s guidance. (3:2) According to Maulana Azad, the way of life of all prophets is the same, but the manner of implementing it (the shariah) is different. (Based on 22:67 and 5:48). Thus, the Qur’an impresses all those who believe in one God –––– followers of the Qur’an and other scriptures alike –––– that the differences in their religious practices should encourage them to “Be with each other in doing good works” rather than lose themselves in mutual hostility.

While confirming the previous scriptures, the Qur’an also points out that these scriptures, have undergone a change and also points out the changes and misinterpretations in the two scriptures which were known to the Arabs of that time (The Bible and Torah). A total rejection of these scriptures when Qur’an confirms them and calls them a guidance to mankind (3:3, 48, 65, 93; 5:43, 66, 68, 110; D7:157; 9:III; 48:29; 61:6; 62:5) does not seem proper. These scriptures have the same moral code that has to be accepted, except those portions which are not in accordance with the Qur’anic concepts. (46:9, 2:120, 3:20, 4:125).

I would like to call attention to the fact that, in these verses, Islam is being called the faith of Abraham, the Patriarch of monotheism, to emphasize the point that submission to God is the basic faith, that was completed in the book revealed to the last prophet. The following verse clarifies it further. “Yea, indeed: everyone who surrenders his whole being unto God and is a doer of good deeds, shall have his reward with his sustainer, and all such need have no fear and neither shall they grieve.” (2:112).

Thus, according to the Qur’an, salvation is not reserved for any particular denomination, but is open to everyone who consciously realizes the oneness of God, surrenders himself to His will and by living righteously gives practical effect to this spiritual attitude. See also 5:69, 2:62. It is one of the fundamental principles of Islam that every religion that has a belief in God must be accorded full respect, however much we may disagree with its present form. The following verse very clearly expresses it by mentioning all types of houses of worship found in Arabia at that time. “Had not God rejected some people by means of others, cloisters and churches, synagogues and mosques wherein God’s name is abundantly extolled would surely have been destroyed.” (22:40).

Muslims are unhappy when stereotyped, when the whole community is called uneducated, backward, emotional, irrational, reactionary or terrorist. Similarly, there is a tendency among the Muslims to treat the People of the Book as those who do not believe in God (Kafirs ). The Qur’an refrains from this generalization and expands the scope of godly people to others also. See 42:15, 3:199, 3:75, 60:8, 29:46, 16:125. These verses stress kindness, tact, and the use of reason alone in religious discussions with people of other creeds. This has a two-fold purpose. First, to have graceful relations with people of other religions.  Second, to stress the divine injunction that there is no compulsion in religion. (2:256).

Qur’anic realism and liberalism goes further and, perhaps for the first time in history of taboos and restrictions, permits Muslims to marry women following earlier scriptures and has made the food of the People of the Book lawful. In Surah Maida, which according to all available evidence constitutes, one of the last sections of the Qur’an, while blaming the Jews and Christians for having no valid grounds for their beliefs unless they truly observe the Torah and the Gospel (5:85), the Qur’an says: “Today, the good things of life have been made lawful to you. And the food of those who have received the scriptures is lawful to you and your food is lawful to them. And lawful to you in wedlock are chaste believing women and chaste women from among those who have received the Book before you, provided you give them dowers and enter into wedlock with them with no thought of mere sexual satisfaction or of keeping them as concubines.” (5:5)

Marriage with women of primitive religions, who have no concept of a “Supreme Being” and are polytheists and idol worshippers is not allowed, but the Qur’an continues to show tolerance: “Revile not those whom they pray besides God, lest their ignorance revile God by way of rejoinder.” (6:108).  “I worship not that which you worship and you do not worship that which I worship. I shall not worship that which you worship. Nor will you worship that which I worship. To you your religion to me mine.” (100:1-6)

Ahadiths also show the Islamic focus on graceful relations between sections of mankind: “Mankind is a fold, every member of which is a shepherd unto the other and is responsible for the welfare of the entire fold. All creatures of God are a family of God, and he is the best loved of God who loves best His creatures. O Lord, Lord of life and of everything in the universe, I affirm that all human beings are brothers unto one another.” Islam demands a united life for mankind. Unity is bliss, disunity is misery. Wish for others what you wish for yourself.

I wonder, how anyone could doubt that the quest for peace as ordained by Islam should be the objective of Muslims all over the world.