BY SHEIKH ABDULLAH MAKWINJA
Muslims, are very popular in the media nowadays. Worldwide debates rage about various topics that invariably involve Muslims. Almost continuous media exposure means that there is hardly a person left in the world that has not read or seen something about Islam or Muslims, or both.
In addition, most people have an opinion. Many base their opinions on misconceptions or misunderstandings about Islam. Many base their opinions on the actions or words of people who call themselves Muslims but actually have very little knowledge about their religion.
Thankfully, many base their opinions on sound knowledge and research. However, in a media saturated century it is only fair to ask the question, do all Muslims represent Islam?
I thought it to be the appropriate moment especially this time when Muslims are celebrating the birth anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad to show how the Holy Prophet lived and interacted with followers of other divine revealed religions such Christianity.
Prophet Muhammad was described as a “Mercy for all the Worlds”, as God said in the Quran: “We have sent you as a mercy for all the worlds.” (Quran 21:107)
The recipients of this quality were not limited to just the Muslim nation, but also extended to non-Muslims, some of who spent all their effort trying to harm the Prophet and his mission. This mercy and forgiveness is clearly demonstrated by the Prophet who never took revenge on anyone for personal reasons and always forgave even his staunch enemies.
The Arabian Peninsula during the time of the Prophet was a region in which various faiths were present. There were Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, polytheists, and others not affiliated with any religion.
Looking into the life of the Prophet, one may draw many examples that portray the high level of tolerance shown to people of other faiths. At times the Prophet would permit Christians to conduct their prayers in the Mosque. Islam is a religion revealed by God for the benefit of humankind and it wholeheartedly forbids harming innocent people in any way.
This includes their bodies, wealth, or honour.
Islam teaches Muslims to treat everybody, no matter their religion, ethnicity, colour or social status, with respect and kindness. Islam forbids oppression and safeguards rights and it commands the Muslims to live in peace and harmony and uphold justice even towards one’s enemies and even in times of war.
When Islam is called the religion of peace it is meant literally. Islam comes from the root word “sa-la-ma”, as do the words Muslim (one who follows the message of Islam) and which among many meanings also denotes peace, security, safety and implies submission and surrender to Almighty God.
Peace and security are inherent in the submission to the One God. The Quran was revealed for all of humankind and Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to all humankind. Each person is entitled to sustenance, shelter, and security and if some are denied their God given rights, it is the responsibility of the rest of humankind, to restore those rights, not blatantly take them away.
Therefore when atrocities that defy belief and defy the teachings of Islam are committed, it is important to remember that not all Muslims represent Islam.
Groups such as the Boko Haram, Al-Qaida, Al-Shabab etc cannot possibly claim to speak or act on behalf of all Muslims. Not all Muslims represent Islam and not all Muslims understand and follow their religion. Culture often dictates action. Knowing this, it becomes essential to recognise that just because a person, a group or country is known as Islamic, does not mean that it is automatically a perfect follower of the laws sent down by God.
To understand and judge this tolerance, one must look into the period in which Islam was a formal state, with the specific laws laid down by the Prophet in accordance with the tenets of religion. Even though one can observe many examples of tolerance shown by the Prophet in the 13 years of his stay in Mecca, one may incorrectly think that it was only due to seeking to raise the profile of the Muslims and the social status of Islam and in general.
The discussion will be limited to the period which commenced with the migration of the Prophet to Medina, and specifically once the constitution was set.
When the Prophet migrated to Medina, he laid laws to ensure harmony and stability in a society which once had been distraught by decades of war, one which must ensure the peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Jews, Christians and polytheists. The Prophet laid down a “constitution” which detailed the responsibilities of all parties which resided in Medina, their obligations towards each other, and certain restrictions which were placed on each.
All parties were to obey what was mentioned therein, and any breach of its articles was regarded as an act of treachery. All were considered members and citizens of Medina society regardless of religion, race, or ancestry. Since the upper hand was with the Muslims, the Prophet strictly warned against any maltreatment of people of other faiths.
Individual tribes, who were not Muslims, were allowed to refer to their own religious scriptures and their learned men in regard to their own personal affairs. Each was allowed to practice their beliefs freely without any hindrances, and no acts of provocation would be tolerated.