The title might have alarmed you – Intolerance in Islam? Does that mean I am going to prove to you that the cause of growing intolerance in our society is due to Islam? No, in fact, it is the contrary. There is no sanction for intolerance in Islam rather it is an illness of the hearts and minds that has crept into our society and caused widespread destruction. The killings associated with a rift over the ‘method of praying’ in a mosque in Karachi recently are the worst form in which such intolerance is expressed.
Many people today, in their rightful disgust with such deranged behavior, put the blame on religion whereas Islam (and even the honorable Imams – the early scholars) set no precedent for intolerance towards different points of view. In fact, this is a subject which needs to be clarified in our society so that people are able to look for the solution in the right place – Islam itself – instead of abandoning Islam.
Firstly, let’s look at the manifestations of intolerance. The high rate of illiteracy in our country only complicates the matter where it is possible to incite the people with a few simple words as rumors. The result is an angry mob destroying everything good in its path. Or, you have the formation of violent groups, armed with weaponry, the sole aim being to gun down the Kafirs – who is the Kafir? The definition of a Muslim is quite basic – belief in Tauheed (Oneness of God), Prophethood (and its finality in Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him), the Revealed Books, the Angels and belief in Al-Qadr (the Destiny). So does a difference in ‘prayer methods’ suddenly label a person as Kafir?
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Abusing a Muslim is sinful and killing him is disbelief.” (Reported in Sahih Bukhari)
What causes a person to go to that extent – to kill his fellow Muslim? The problem stems from the underlying belief that there is only one correct way to perform the different practices in Islam, such as prayer. The practitioners of a particular style of prayer (involving very minor differences) see all others as outside the circle of Islam. Not only does this confer on them a very negative attitude towards other Muslims but they themselves are deprived of the Spirit of Islam. The heart of a Muslim is full of love and this love brings peace into his/her own life as well as benefits the society through different manifestations of this love. However, an aggressive and hateful attitude is so ingrained in our society when it comes to talking about our beliefs that we consider talk of love and humility as cowardice and ‘going soft’.
But what comes of intolerance? Progress, in all dimensions, staggers to a nil. In fact, there is a backward trend into ignorance. People are constantly engaged in judging each other’s beard and trouser lengths, or the extent of the Hijab, such that they forget the real purpose of Islam. How does this benefit our community, our nation and our greater Muslim circle? The overall result is hatred, distrust, anger, tension and instability. That is not what Islam was meant for.
In fact, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Near the establishment of the Hour, there will be days during which (religious) knowledge will be taken away (vanish) and general ignorance will spread, and there will be Al-Harj in abundance, and Al-Harj means killing.” (Sahih Bukhari)
During the Last Sermon at Arafat, the Prophet (pbuh) also said, “Do not revert to disbelief (become infidels) after me by striking the necks of one another (killing each other).” (Sahih Bukhari)
What is the cure to this illness? Start with your own self – recognize the fact that difference of opinion does not mean only one opinion is the right one. To weigh the different points of view over a differing matter, the mind must be opened and our hearts must be receptive to the Truth, wherever it may come from. The Imams that represent the four major schools of thought in Islam never said they were absolute and that a person had to be a rigid follower of anyone of them. In fact, these wise scholars have been known to have, for example, prayed in the manner followed by each other’s school of thought when meeting amongst themselves.
Imam Ahmed said, “Neither follow me blindly, nor Imam Malik, nor Imam Shafi’ee nor Imam Auzaii, nor Imam Thauri but deduce the religious commands from the sources from where they have been deduced (i.e. from the Quran and Sunnah).” (Al Falani)
The so-called followers of the four schools of thought know very little, if at all, about the great Imams themselves. If the followers of, for instance, the Shafi’ee school knew what Imam Shafi’ee had said, they would understand that difference of opinion is natural.
Imam Shafi’ee said, “When you find an authentic Hadith – that is my religion. (He further stated) If you find any saying of mine against the Sunnah, then act upon the Sunnah and throw away my saying on the wall.” (Mentioned in Auqdil Jeed)
This is the centre-point around which we must base our practice and this is the same methodology that we must teach our children. There is no wrong in weighing opinions and reaching a satisfactory conclusion. In this, in fact, is a mercy for us that we are able to practice what comes closest to the Quran and Sunnah and be united still within the fold of Islam. True goodwill and brotherhood can only be achieved when we look upon others with a view to gain knowledge and that perhaps they could be closer to the Quran and Sunnah than ourselves.
In such a setting, it would not be uncommon to see a person who generally agrees with the Maliki school of thought, offering prayers behind a Hanafi Imam in the mosque – as happened similarly in the time of the Imams. In Pakistan, that is what we need to pull our nation together and we must work towards this common goal – inculcating in ourselves the Spirit of Islam to rise above petty differences and take ourselves forward.
The prospect is not bleak if even one person reading this right now, decides to unlock his/her mind to understand this issue in Islam and to convey the message of unity to his/her fellow-beings. The efforts of knowledgeable scholars in our community for this goal are laudable and we must learn this methodology from them, in serving our community. We can also learn from prominent Muslims and Da’ees across the world (such as Yusuf Islam, Yusuf Estes, Bilal Philips, Yassir Qadhi etc.) that are doing great services to Islam and progressing both in the spiritual and the physical sense – that is the fruit of an open heart and the result of shunning intolerance in all aspects of the Deen.