As we see the images of burning embassies and burnt flags unfolding across the Muslim world, it is easy for non-Muslims (and some Muslims too) to jump to the conclusion that there is an inherent lack of tolerance amongst “religious” Muslims.

A lot of this is down to the hypocrisy of trying to judge others by standards that are completely your own.

Generally speaking, just because the West tolerates blasphemy on a grand scale, this does not mean that people who condemn blasphemy are necessarily intolerant.

Some of it is down to pure Islamophobia, in which Muslims are seen as irrational, violent, and pathological zealots. A fair proportion of this is rooted in a deep-seated ignorance of the supremely tolerant history and nature of Islam.

Here are just a few examples of exceptional Muslim tolerance:

5. The Success of Non-Muslim People in Muslim Ruled Lands

Here's a quick game you can play…

What happened to the Muslims of any land in which Non-Muslims ruled them?

In Communist Russia they were forcibly marched into the gulags of Siberia. In Eastern Europe it was the genocide of Bosnia and Srebrenica that awaited them. In Palestine, it is 60 years and counting of occupation, humiliation and imprisonment. In Spain, it was total annihilation, such that not one man was left to call the adhan.

Now, what happened to Non-Muslims living in Muslim lands?

In Moghul India, the Hindus survived, prospered and eventually took over. In Umayyad Spain, they all lived happily in the most modern state in all of Europe. In the Ottoman Empire, the Jews found shelter and a new golden age. In Egypt and Syria, a significant minority of the country is still Christian despite living under Muslim rule for 1400 years. Contrary to modern perceived wisdom, Muslims have almost always been tolerant of Non-Muslim minorities/ majorities in lands that they ruled. Had Islam been as intolerant as other ideologies, the non-Muslim communities in the Muslim world would have disappeared just like the Moors of Spain.

4. Preserving the Wisdom of Other People

It is customary for a conquering people to see nothing of value in their vanquished foe. Indeed, to this day, the Orientalist bigotry of the Colonial West towards Islam and Muslims is evidence of this.

Islam is often described as having nothing of benefit for mankind, and Muslims as being backwards despite huge amounts of evidence to the contrary. However, during the Muslim Caliphate there was a healthy respect for the culture and legacy of other cultures. It was this tolerance of the wisdom of others and the humble acceptance that there were things that they, the conquerors, could learn from the conquered that allowed Muslims to be the guardians of world knowledge.

It is little wonder that the oldest Universities in the world are all in Muslim lands. Everything from the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, the numerical system of ancient India and the agricultural marvels of ancient Persia were all preserved for posterity and built on, rather than destroyed.

3. The Conquest of Jerusalem

The Crusader chronicles mention in vivid detail the scene that took place when they conquered Jerusalem.

“Our horses waded knee-deep in the blood of the Saracens,” wrote one Knight Templar.

They celebrated their bloody triumph by converting the beautiful Dome of the Rock and masjid Al Aqsa into palaces and stables. Under a century later, Salahuddin had finally reached the gates of Jerusalem after righting the wrongs of the 1st and 2nd Crusades. Having ground the Crusader army to dust at the horns of Hattin, Salahuddin could have stormed the city like the Crusaders before him and leveled the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Indeed that is exactly what some in his army wanted. Instead he negotiated the surrender of the city with every inhabitant having to pay a certain amount in ransom. When he saw that many of the poor Christians had not enough money to ransom themselves, this tolerant Muslim leader paid their ransom out of his own pocket. Seeing his example, his soldiers did the same.

2. Saving the Jews of Spain – Twice 

The Jews of Europe have always been a persecuted minority. Living in ghettos, derided openly and victims of regular pogroms – their suffering seemed endless. Nowhere was this worse than in the Iberian peninsula where the Visigothic kings chose to show off their new-found Catholic faith by making life hellish for all Jews.

First they took their children and when that wasn't enough to stamp out the Jewish presence in Spain, they decided to kick them out. But before they could complete their ethnic cleansing, the Muslims had arrived and put an end to such barbarity. The Jews were now not only free to live their lives, but also immediately promoted and allowed to take up high positions in government.

This situation lasted for nearly 800 years until eventually the Catholics regrouped and, showing that old habits die-hard, expelled both the Jews and the Muslims out of Spain. The Muslims were absorbed as refugees into the Muslim world, but where did the Jews go?

They were welcomed into Muslims lands as well with the Sultan of Turkey sending boats to bring them to Istanbul and entire districts in Morocco being allocated to them. Muslims saved the Jews for a second time.

1. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Of course, no example of tolerance can be greater than that of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself. When he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was struggling in Mecca with a few followers, he would not raise his voice against those who heaped rubbish on him.

When he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) went to Ta'if he would not curse those who stoned him. When he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw his beloved wife and uncle die during the years of expulsion and starvation, he would not raise his hands against those who decimated his beloved family members. When he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) entered his hometown as a conqueror, he would not seek vengeance against anyone – even the killer of his dear uncle. Of course, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) did stand up against oppression, unprovoked aggression and injustice. There was a balance in his behavior that is missing from the discourse of both, those whose first instinct is to burn stuff and those who say that all provocation should be ignored.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us tolerance and taught us its limits.

As the Western world grapples with the cancerous spread of dangerous Islamophobia in their lands and the Muslim world grapples with tendency to reflexive actions in theirs – we would all do well to remember his ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) example. Muslims have a choice – we can either use our limitless love for the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to burn the world to avenge him or to reunite, refocus and re-build the world in honor of him. It is not hard to guess what he would have wanted.

No wonder he is known as “Rahmat lil-'Alimeen” – a mercy to ALL the worlds.

37 Responses

  1. Abdul Raheem

    SubhanAllah, it is a good reminder to follow the best example for mankind, the Prophet Muhammad (S).

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  2. Ali Saeed Farooqi

    JazakAllah for such a nice write-up. But Brother Muhammad Wajid, would nt it be too naive to just say ‘reunite, refocus and re-build the world in honor of him’. For a less literate reader like me it would be more beneficial if you can shed some light on the steps that can be counted as condemnation of the act of blasphemy through this movie. Should nt muslims around the world ban American products? Would that be violent? Should nt the muslims protest in the form of articles and literature where the personality of the Prophet PBUH can be revealed to the people of other religions or even those with no religions? Should nt there be a proper PR campaign to advocate a legal framework which can not only protect Islam and our beloved Prophets honour but also other religions and their prominent personalities?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • WAJiD

      Walaikum asalaam brother Ali,

      Wa iyakum. I don’t think the formula I set forth is unrealistic. In fact, in my opinion it is the only solution that is a permanent solution to all our problems.

      Everything else – whether burning a car, boycotting goods, writing articles (such as my own) or even a PR campaign – pales into insignificance when compared to the dream of a united Muslim Ummah.

      Why is it that the French courts are falling over themselves to ban indecent pictures of Kate Middleton, but allowing denigration of our Prophet (SAW)? Why is it that holocaust denial is a crime in certain countries but they will defend the freedom of anyone who wants to insult our faith? Why is it a criminal offence to burn a pound note but it is not an offence to burn the Quran?

      The answer is simple – because everyone else is worth respecting and we are not. There was a time when we commanded respect and when we were able to back this respect up by a civilization that protected its citizens as well as its holy symbols, but today we command contempt and everything is fair game. And no amount of writing, boycoting, burning or screaming is going to change this… only when we are united upon Islam.

      I hope I’m making sense inshaAllah.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
      • Ibn Colujoog

        You wrote ‘…everyone else is worth respecting and we are
        not.’ I agree with this statement 100%. Think about this: In the last
        Democratic Convention, Obama ordered the addition of ‘Jerusalem is the eternal
        capital of Israel’ to the Party’s Platform. To my knowledge, not one single
        word was uttered by any Muslim protesting.
        Now, how do you expect others to respect you when you don’t care about one
        of your most holy places?

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • WAJiD

        Walaikum asalaam,

        Actually – when I watched clips of this absolute farce on “The Daily Show” there were images of Muslims at the convention protesting. Still, they were ignored.

        But even if there were thousands of us protesting (like against the Iraq war) it would make no difference. When we are divided and secular/ nationalisitic/ unprofessional and illiterate – when we are not united upon Islam – no one will care what we feel or what we think.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Ibn Colujoog

        Assalamu alaikum,

        I think the protests/responses should have come from Muslim governments, because now you have the ‘address’ of who to respond to. It is President Obama and the American System as a whole. So far, any government responding to this affront.

        Ibn Colujoog

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. sadmuslimah

    great article BUT it makes me sad that we need articles like this, though. :(

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  4. Fatima Haffejee

    Asalaamualaikum Muhammad. I’m a journalist with a South African based radio station that is broad casted internationally, We would like to conduct an interview with you on the topic of your article ‘tolerance’ on live radio. Would you be willing?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • WAJiD

      Walaikum asalaam sister Fatima,

      I’m sure you have many more qualified people than myself to speak on this subject. Of course I am willing to help if needed.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  5. Nazim

    Wajid, I remember you well from the FOSIS annual conference in Nottingham in 2002. I doubt you remember me – I was a medical student and President of the Islamic society of Edinburgh back then. Masha allah good to see your works after over a decade!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • WAJiD

      Walaikum asalaam brother Nazim,
      It is difficult to forget you scottish brothers. JazakAllah khairun for the kind words and hope that we meet sooner than another ten years.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  6. Brother

    Regarding the people who made the cartoons/movies, it really shows the level of hatred and hostility they have towards Muslims. Your examples are great for showing how Muslims should react to such attitudes. Jazakallahkhair!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  7. Hassan

    French newspapers just in recent days published blasphemous cartoons against our beloved prophet Muhammad PBUH. Yet if I am not mistaken holocaust denial is crime there, and also they banned muslims from protesting against youtube video (before the newspaper cartoon). So I am not sure what kind of freedom of expression they are trying to pretend having.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  8. Abubucker

    There is a difference between tolerance in strength and tolerance in weakness. While i agree both are required, we should focus a bit more on the necessity to be intolerant to certain things especially around Prophet’s (saws) honor.

    Leaders of non-muslims think that muslims should be defeated/enslaved in all spheres (intellectually, economically,politically,militarily) today. Just an observation of global scenario is sufficient to understand this. No conspiracy theory.

    We should encourage the idea that “We will give back in kind” irrespective of our position. If that means going to oblivion, so be it. Never without a fight though.

    while we harp on tolerance, we should also harp on our reaction as an ummah otherwise extremists will take the lead as they do today.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  9. Euthyphro

    Salam!

    I appreciate your zeal for history, and especially where Muslims stood out as models of tolerance, knowledge, and respect. However, I must for the sake of stirring up discussion present a brief critique. For this referring to the past seems to be a scapegoat that we Muslims have become accustom too. We love boasting about the Islamic Golden Age when we conquered the world. It’s as if somehow how our “glorious” past justifies our current situation, which includes lack of scholarship, learning institutions, deplorable literacy rates, etc.

    Most young Muslims I know go on to become engineers, medical doctors, IT consultants, lawyers, or business people, leaving the social sciences (economics, political science, sociology, etc) and the humanities (history, religion, art, philosophy) with very few Muslim minds. Why is that? It seems our problems are social, ethical, economic, political, psychological, and yet we don’t study (or at least in large numbers) the sciences that target these issues and help any people to cope creatively, constructively, and pragmatically.

    Aren’t Muslims over due for another Islamic renaissance? A revival of the sciences that are based on reading, writing, and thinking. In the words of the late scholar, Fazlur Rahman Malik, “A people that deprives itself of philosophy necessarily exposes itself to starvation in terms of fresh ideas – in fact, it commits intellectual suicide.” In closing I think this reference can and should be extended to the social sciences and humanities, where a surfeit of ideas exists.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  10. Ahmad

    Allahu akbar ! The saddest thing is that despite the disunity caused by so many factors in Islam,some muslims are still ignorant that they follow the west sheepishly. Subhana’llah. I am very sad !

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  11. hamida bithi

    Masha’Allah, what an amazing article!
    I never knew these tremendous facts, and I’m even more proud to be a Muslim now as I’ve always been Alhamdulillah. I pray that we could all come together as a a better nation & implement in our lives the true, authentic teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and those who’ve followed his footsteps. Ameen.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  12. Paul Ogden

    It is evident to me that the Muslim prophet, Muhamed, would not storm consulates and kill people just due to offensive words or actions against him personally or against Allah. Nor would he order retalliation by his follwers. The problem is that he is not here to speak and his words, though memorialized in the Qur’aan, are interpreted by disparate groups, clics and individuals just like the various Christian sects, Jewish adherences and diverse claimants of every religion. For lack of a clear and perfect mutual understanding of God’s identity, how can any of them get along indefinitely. Tolerance is fine, but wars break out as ignorance of one’s own faith exaggerates our incompatibilities. Is there not a prophet today? Has God really abandoned his people, the human race? Are His words only available in print or recitation? Is revelation obsolete or passe’ in God’s modus operandi?
    Must we resign to atheism in order to agree?
    Pray we can really, really get to know the Father of us all.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  13. Carlos

    Insulting religion must not be made an exception to freedom of speech. I have read that Pope Urban VIII felt very insulted by Galileo’s masterpiece, “Dialogue Concerning the Two World Systems.” Where would human civilization be now if Galileo had been burned at the stake (like Bruno Giordano)? I’m not saying the film “Innocence of Muslims” is on par with Galileo’s work. I watched some of that film on Youtube, and it is comically bad filmmaking; religious and historical criticism posing as (laughably amateur) entertainment. But everyone must resist calls to create laws prohibiting the “mocking” of religion. One person’s honest criticism is another person’s “mocking.”

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  14. Um Aneesa

    Salam alaykum
    Jazakumullahu khayra for the article. I feel that your description of life for Non Muslims under the Mughals or under other Islamic dynasties is incomplete. It would be nice to have a follow up article that gave more specific examples of tolerance of other faiths. It would also be important to acknowledge to what extent has Muslim History had its share of less tolerant rulers.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  15. FUS

    yes definitively Of course, no example of tolerance can be greater than that of the Prophet himself.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Paul Ogden

      Intolerance is not incited by the true religious leader. It may be mixed in with sermons at grass roots or lay levels, but it actually stems from a lack of understanding of the essence and goodness of the faith. Presumptive ministers may find it difficult to separate their own agenda from that of the prophet so the tenets are thereby contaminated.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  16. Anne

    i agree with alot of what you say in this article but i feel like your argument is extremely one sided. You are putting muslims in a perfect light, stating that there are few instances that muslims have not been tolerant. I come from a large family that is catholic and muslim so i think i offer a unique perspective since i see the argument from both sides. While all the above examples are true, there have been instances where muslim people have done unspeakable things. for example, the killing and humiliation of the patriach of constantinople in the Greek war of independence by the ottoman empire, which we all know was largely muslim. though it is true that the ottomans were tolerant of other religions in their culture, there were also extremely brutal if their empire was threatened but i dont think any threat warranted the killing of an elderly man who couldnt even defend himself. with all this, I am not saying muslim people are horrible because i am muslim myself but we just have to face facts that no matter the religion, people who supposedly follow and worship it will do unspeakable things. I think the statement i am trying to make is that while muslim people have been tolerant, there are instances where they have been intolerant as well and i think we can see this copied in almost every major religion. I would also like to agree with what some people stated above. i do feel like our voices arent heard and sometimes we are made to look like the bad guys, the scapegoat and i think this needs to stop. Alot of us are tolerant people and sometimes our voices arent heard and its a shame especially in the world we live in today. just wanted to share my opinion

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  17. Paul Ogden

    Anne, your coment shows wisdom in yur perspective. If we could all realize that we are indeed together in a multi- faith / multi-tribal / multi-ethnic family we would find it easier to love our siblings and to be tolerant of our individual efforts to seek the identity of ourselves and of the diety we hope to emulate.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  18. WAJiD

    Unfortunately Anne- I have to disagree with your basic premise implying that we’re all basically just as bad as each other.

    I’m sure your views are partially due to the fact that you have Muslim and non-muslim relatives, but that doesn’t mean there’s any historical basis to your arguments.

    The execution of the pope Gregory V by the ottomans after the Greeks had rebelled against the empire that had given them centuries of freedom of religion, business & protected them can hardly be compared to the Catholic inquisition where millions were wiped out in the Iberian peninsula or the native populations of south America, Australia & North America were brought to the point of extinction or even the 2 world wars….

    We’re not perfect & we certainly have had intolerant episodes in our history (& our present…) But to suggest that there is some kind of equivalence between our history & that of others is simply inaccurate.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  19. WAJiD

    Oh… & as further proof – guess where the current Greek patriarch still lives to this day?

    Yup – the Muslim city of Istanbul.

    We are not perfect, but we are not the same as everyone else.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  20. Kyle

    Assalamu alaikum
    I’ve enjoyed reading your article. As a young man living in the United States, I am doing my best to educate myself on Muslim history and fundamentals so that I may pass the knowledge on to others of varying faiths. I am a student and I’ve come to notice that most of my peers’ (whether Jewish, Christian, Atheists etc.) views on Islam as a whole are fueled by a blind and biased hatred that is without historical merit. I’ve often had to defend my Muslim friends in the midst of verbal onslaught and persecution while at school. This ignorance and intolerance shown by some greatly disturbs me… I hope that I can play a part in changing the way that followers of Islam are treated in my community. Peace be with you, Muhammad Wajid.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    Reply
  21. fred laister

    And what of today, still stoning women to death, slicing the throat of men, blasphemy against Christianity! Would any Islamic country tolerate Christians insulting the muslims prophet?
    Whatever western country muslamites have settled in there are problems. Why don’t they stay in their own countries and leave the west in peace?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Aly Balagamwala

      And what would you have those who are not ‘settlers’ yet Muslim do? And I guess come to think of it unless your ancestors were Native Americans you should hike it out of the country too…. #JustSaying

      *Comment above is posted in a personal capacity and may not reflect the official views of MuslimMatters or its staff*

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
    • WAJiD

      Dear Fred,

      I can feel the frustration in your post. Believe me, many of us Muslims are even more frustrated at how far we are from our religious ideals and noble past. We have many, many problems – some self-inflicted, others externally thrust upon us.

      However, I hope you press pause on your anger long enough can see that we have also contributed much to the world and any community we’ve settled in, that we have shown grace under pressure and – most importantly – we are humans just like you.

      Reach out to us and you’ll be pleasantly surprised I hope.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      Reply

Leave a Reply