The Attitude of Religious Tolerance

“To every community We have appointed ways of worship which they observe. Hence, do not let them draw you into disputes on this matter, but invite people to your Lord, for you are on the right way”. Quran [22:67]

The attitude of religious tolerance is described in this verse. It is in recognizing the authenticity of the different ways of worship found among different people. Different religious traditions represent different possible paths to God-consciousness, and it is a mistake to argue with people about their traditions and rituals.

The opposite attitude is to consider our own particular ritual of prayer as the only one acceptable to God. An extension of this belief is that all other ways are misguided and those who follow them are bound for Hell. This belief is the root of intolerance. It has caused enmity and bloodshed between religious communities for centuries.

Even amongst Muslims in the United States, there are several examples of this chronic tendency. In the 1980’s, when Muslims were settling in as part of a new community in a prominent New York suburb, they formed an association but did not have a building of their own. They approached a church and the elders of the church gladly gave the Muslims permission to hold their prayers in the church. The church elders demonstrated the wisdom conveyed by the verse given above.

In a few years the Muslim community collected enough funds to build a mosque of their own and moved their congregation to the new building. A few years later a group of Ismaili Muslims approached them because they were new to the area and did not yet have a building of their own. They asked the officials of the mosque for permission to hold their prayer services in the mosque. The mosque officials denied the permission. “The Ismailies are misguided people and their prayer is not correct”, said one of the mosque trustees. The mosque trustees did not understand the message of the verse given above.

This attitude is common in mosques throughout the world. It is at the root of the deep suspicion many Muslims display towards peoples of other faiths, not only non-Muslims but also Muslims with alternate traditions. Minority Muslim populations such as the Ismailis and the Ahmadis feel isolated and persecuted in many Muslim countries. An essential part of Muslim reformation is to see that tolerance is not a western idea , but it is a universal concept from the Quran. It is beneficial to everyone who practices it. Societies where people accept each other irrespective of religious beliefs are strong and dynamic, and societies where there is intolerance among faith groups are splintered and weak.

The attitude of self –righteous intolerance comes partly from feelings of insecurity about your own ways. If you have not thought about your rituals of worship deeply and are not sure why you do them you feel threatened by the alternatives offered by others. If on the other hand you are sure that “ you are on the right way” as the verse above points out, you will gladly acknowledge that other people have their own authentic ways of worshipping God.

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