Tolerance in Islam, rightly understood, is patience toward a practice or opinion one disapproves of. This understanding may come as a surprise to many people who interpret tolerance simply as a synonym for the words ‘acceptance’ or ‘agreement’. Islamic tolerance entails disagreement yet a firm moral commitment to the decent treatment of the person with whom one disagrees. So tolerance in Islam can be understood as a patient forbearance against something which is disliked or disapproved of.
Tolerance in Islam is viewed as a prerequisite essential to maintaining peaceful coexistence. Islamic concept of tolerance can be exercised against a broader spectrum of differences; social, cultural, racial, political, ethnic, religious, and domestic. Islam abhors intolerance causing murder, genocide, violence, religious persecution, injustice and creating disorder in any parts of the globe.
Islam recognizes diversity, enumerating it among the signs of Allah for the people of knowledge, as the Quran reads, “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the differences in your languages and colours; indeed in this are signs for people of knowledge” (30:22). This verse asserts that creation of the sky and earth as well as diversity in colours and languages is among the Divine signs. The human beings are divided into many races, having different physical forms and colours—white, black, yellow etc. and this can be easily understood by “the people of knowledge”.
Allah Almighty also says: “O mankind! We have indeed created you from one man and one woman, and have made you into various nations and tribes so that you may know one another; indeed the more honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is one who is more pious among you; indeed Allah is All Knowing, All Aware. (Piety is the basis of honour in Allah’s sight.) (49:13)…“And had your Lord willed, He would have made mankind one nation – and they will always keep differing.” (11:118)
The afore-mentioned verses recognize diversity and differences in gender; colour, skin, language and belief, implying that differences will always be there and hence these differences must not only be expected but be tolerated. So through the recognition of diversity in beliefs and cultures, Islam seeks to establish tolerance—tolerance that establishes peaceful coexistence with various religious communities.
From acknowledging diversity to encouraging pluralism, Islam outlines a firm standard for Muslims to develop peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims. For Islam, establishing peace is the ultimate goal, and if there is to be peace, there must be tolerance and tolerance is seen only in terms of diversity and differences.
Tolerance is linked with freedom of religion. In this context the oft-quoted verse is of Surah Baqarah (2:256) in which Allah Almighty says, “There is no compulsion at all in Din (Religion). Surely, the guidance has become evidently distinguished from error. So he who rejects false gods and believes in Allah has grasped such a firm handhold that will never loosen. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing” (2:256). This verse establishes a basic Islamic principle upon which the idea of non-compulsion is built, guaranteeing religious freedom for all non-Muslims including Hindus, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Sikhs etc.According to the overwhelming majority of classical Muslim scholars (Ulama-e-Jamhoor), this verse (2:256) is non-abrogated and was revealed in the Madani period, when the Muslims had attained political ascendance and were in a position of strength and not weakness.
Islam also commands Muslims to protect the life ofpeaceful non-Muslims and has made it impermissible to kill any one of them unless he is sentenced for murder or a capital crime. This is mainly because Allah Almighty says:“And do not kill the soul whose (killing) Allah has forbidden, except when it is rightfully due (according to law in self-defence against disruption and whilst combating terrorism). It is these (injunctions) He has enjoined upon you so that you may apply reason”. (6:151)
Allah Almighty also says: “Whoever kills a human being except in lieu of killing or causing turmoil in the earth, so it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoever saves the life of one person, is as if he had saved the life of all mankind; and undoubtedly Our Noble Messengers came to them with clear proofs – then after this indeed many of them are oppressors in the earth”. (5:32)
This verse asserts that killing a person unjustly is tantamount to killing all mankind and saving a person is like saving all mankind. The message of this verse is applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims.