Tolerance in Islam

Islam promotes tolerance for all cultures, races and faiths. The differences amongst us are a manifestation of the complete and perfect power and existence of Allah. The Qur`an proclaims, “Oh Mankind, We have created you from a male and a female and fashioned you into peoples and tribes so that you can come to know each other” and that, “And it is among His Signs, the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colours.” The Prophet (peace and salutations be upon him) also said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve; an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a non-white nor a non-white has any superiority over white except by piety.” Malcom X once said, “America needs to understand Islam because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.”

It is impermissible in Islam to violate the rights of others, discriminate against them or deal with them unjustly on the basis of their race, culture or even faith. Similarly, it is impermissible to compel others in religion. The Qur`an explicitly states, “there is no compulsion in religion.” It is recorded in the books of Jurisprudence that it is impermissible to expose non-Muslim citizens to any harm, to destroy any swine or wine owned by them or to swear at them. It is in fact impermissible to even call them with words which may hurt them, such as “Oh infidel (kafir)” or “You are an infidel”. Similarly, backbiting non-Muslim citizens is unlawful just as backbiting a Muslim is unlawful. To oppress against non-Muslim citizens is in fact more worst. This is because Islam advocates a life of co-existence based on tolerating others in their culture and faith. [The scholarly discussion can be reviewed in the works of the jurists, Ibn al-Humam and Ibn `Abidin].

Similarly, there are many prophetic traditions which promote a life of co-existence based upon true tolerance of one another. There traditions include:

  • Do not cause harm or return harm
  • “The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand the people are safe.”
  • “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him not harm his neighbour.”
  • “He will not enter Paradise whose neighbour is not secure from his evil.”

It is important to note that the meaning of neighbour could be extended to comprise of the neighbourhood and community. Furthermore, the message in the prophetic traditions is in relation to all people and all neighbours regardless of their culture, beliefs or faith. If we want peace, we must be peaceful to others. If we want respect, we must be respectful to others. If we want tolerance, we must be tolerating to other. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever would love to be protected from Hellfire and entered into Paradise, then let him leave this world with faith in Allah and the Last Day and let him treat the rest of mankind the way he would love to be treated.”

The following examples will illustrate how the Prophet and the earlier Muslims tolerated other faiths and cultures:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) codified some agreements in a text as he settled in Madinah known as the Constitution of Madinah. The oasis`s Jewish community were given total freedom to practice their religion as they wished. An extract from The Constitution reads: The Jews will be considered a community with the believers. They will be guaranteed the right of religious freedom along with the Muslims. [This is applicable] to their clients and to themselves with the exception of anyone who is guilty of oppression or who violates the treaties, for he harms only himself and his family.

Uthman RA (the third Caliph of Islam) sent a Muslim embassy to China during his reign to establish diplomatic relations between the Tang Dynasty and the caliphate.

Harun al-Rashid (who was an Abbasid caliph) had a reputation of possessing great wealth and maintaining diplomatic relations with various states around the globe. In 802, he sent an embassy including a water clock and elephant to Charlemagne in France.

In 1492, all Jews were expelled by the Spanish government from their territories. Bayezid II, the Sultan of Ottoman Empire, sent out proclamations to all his governors and military to welcome all Jewish refugees from Spain. He also sent out the Ottoman Navy to evacuate the refuges safely to Ottoman lands. The refuges were given permission to reside in the Ottoman Empire and become Ottoman citizens. It was until the twentieth century that a sizeable Jewish community descended from these Spanish Jews still remained in Istanbul.

In 70 AD, the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem by the Roman Empire. They were permitted back to the Holy City only after it was conquered by the Muslim in 637.

None of the Constantinople`s inhabitants were compelled to submit to Islam when the city was ruled by Sultan Mehmed. The people were at total freedom to continue to practice their own religion as before.

Sultan Sulieman lowered taxes on peasants throughout his empire as part of his administrative reforms. This resulted in many Christian peasants immigrating from the rest of Europe to reside and work in the Ottoman Empire with all their freedoms.


The Ask Our Imam site hopes to respond to queries relating to Islamic law. It is not an Islamic Law Shari`ah Court. The questions and answers found on this website are for educational purposes. However, many of the rulings rendered here are distinct to the specific scenario and thus should be read in conjunction with the question and not taken as a basis to establish a verdict in another situation or environment. This site bears no responsibility in these responses being used out of their intended context, nor to any party who may or may not follow the responses given and is being hereby exempted from loss or damage howsoever caused. None of the responses rendered may be used as evidence in any Court of Law without prior written consent of Our Imam. Any reference to another website or link provided in our responses or article should not be taken as an endorsement of all the content on that website; in fact, it is restricted to the particular material being cited.

Posted in General on 1st Feb 2016 by Our Imam | 495 Views