I have tried to avoid the ongoing debate on the level of tolerance within Islam but social media never allows you to escape anything does it. This debate is a bit sensitive for me as I have a soft spot for Muslims and I have Muslim friends, great friends I might add. It is also important to note that I have not read the entire Koran or Hadith so my opinions on this matter may not be holistic. However, there are universal principles I can apply to the debate and I can read Islāmic texts in-depth thanks to the internet.
An article by Safina Iqbal on Monday, 24 November 2014 titled ‘I Refuse to Apologize for the Al-Shabaab’ caught my attention. Safina, who seems nice and you can actually feel her positive energy throughout the article, raises some important points in the article. She points out, with evidence, that Christians are equating Muslims with Al Shabaab. She tries to set the record straight with a verse from the Koran and practical examples of a global and local nature. She questions the media portrayal of Muslims after terrorist events and she questions the role of security agencies that allow these events to occur.
You can read her article by clicking on the link below:
No Muslim should apologize for the actions of any terrorist group in the past, present or in the future unless that particular Muslim committed the atrocity in question. The same principle applies to Catholics. The Catholic Church, under the Pope, should apologize for atrocities committed by the institution of the Church during the crusades and Inquisitions. However, Catholics can only apologize for the actions of the institution but not for being Catholic. Remember, humans can abuse teachings using institutions but it is an abuse of teachings i.e. the teachings are still valid when used properly.
Muslims have also shown an enormous amount of religious tolerance in the past, which is quite unbelievable to some people. For example, the Golden Age of Jewish Culture in Spain (711 – 1031 AD) took place when Muslims ruled much of Spain whereas the expulsion of Jews from Spain under the threat of conversion and death took place under Christian rule (1492 AD). King Richard the Lionhearted massacred 2000 Muslim soldiers when there was a miscommunication in ransom payment. It was Saladin, a strict Muslim and leader of the opposing Muslim forces, who offered King Richard a horse when he learned that Richard’s horse died during battle. Today, we have Muslims such as Safina, a nurse and Malala Yousafzai who champion tolerance within the Ummah.
Safina should look into couple of areas so that her arguments can hold under further scrutiny. For example, simply saying that Muslims should not apologize for Al Shabaab is not enough. Muslims should recognize and appreciate the fact that such terrorists commit these acts in their name. It is upon Muslims to analyze the assertions made by Al Shabaab, dispute them theologically and then rally their community against them. Similarly, Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paull II disputed anti-Semitism theologically so that Christians especially Catholics could no longer target Jews based on their historical involvement in the death of Jesus. I cannot stand by as a Christian and watch other ‘Christians’ abuse my faith in support of certain personal agendas. I criticize them constantly even those within the Catholic Church. A passive approach as that taken by Safina is unacceptable, harmful and therefore, undesirable.
This article assumes that Islam is a tolerant religion and hence the call toward a more tolerant interpretation of the religion. However, the question remains as to whether Islam is a tolerant religion given that Islāmic expansionism is the rallying cry behind the majority of terrorist attacks today. Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a founder of Hamas and now a Christian, once said that Muslims are tolerant but Islam as a religion is not tolerant. Could this be true? For example, the verse quoted by Safina (see the text below) is alarming when looked at critically.
> Did you know that according to the Quran, The Prophet said: “Beware! Whoever oppresses a Muahid (Non-Muslim) or snatches any of his rights and causes him pain which he cannot bear, or takes anything from him without his permission ,I will fight such a Muslim on the day of Judgement” <
Muahid according to my research is ‘is a non-Muslim citizen living in an Islāmic state. He pays a tax and in return is guaranteed safety.’ As you can see, this verse does not show tolerance in the strict sense because the Muahid by definition pays in return for this safety. Therefore, it only becomes oppressive to ask from him more than what he is already paying. Moreover, the verse by definition of the word ‘Muahid’ does not apply to non-Muslims living outside Islāmic states. More importantly, it does nothing to urge against militant expansion in support of Islam. The other verses popularly quoted in support of Islam as a peaceful religion also fail to hold when looked at critically so is Islam really a religion on peace. Only Muslims can answer this theological question but the single verses thus far quoted do not help one bit.
Mixed signals emanating from the Muslim community on terrorism in Kenya and elsewhere are also not helpful. The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) and Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) come out forcefully when extra judicial killings of suspected terrorists takes place but the same organizations come out timidly when condemning terrorist attacked in Kenya. Moha from Jicho Pevu highlights scandals in Christian Churches, does extensive features on extra judicial killings of suspected terrorist Sheikhs and tweets angrily when police raid mosques. The same Moha tweets passively when Islāmic terrorists carry out attacks in Kenya and he has never done a feature on radicalization at the coast even though he is in the best place to do it and/or condemn it.
Safina reminds me so much of my Muslim friends, great people with big hearts caught up in a world at odds with itself. Her voice is one we need to amplify against the voices of those who now speak so loudly through devious words and evil deeds. I believe that there is tolerance in Islam otherwise the examples I mentioned above would not exist. In addition, Safina would not speak so articulately in support of tolerance if Islam were inherently intolerant. It has to have some level of tolerance right. I believe the arguments put forth by Safina among others in support of Islam as a religion of peace are unconvincing but she should not try to convince others on such matters for religion is inherently subjective, based on belief and not convincing arguments. Likewise, she and others should not present such arguments as convincing facts.
Constructive discourse within the Islāmic community is necessary so that Muslims can develop a common and unshakable theological ground on Islāmic extremism. I can only hope that this ground promotes multiculturalism and not militant Islāmic expansion just as Catholics have a common and unshakable theological ground on anti-Semitism that promotes multiculturalism. In any case, the state should protect everyone including Muslims from militant religious groups. Christians and other faiths continue to watch developments in Islam. We will take action if the state fails in its duty to protect us from religious extremists but tolerant Muslims loyal to the idea of multiculturalism should play a part in this action if it comes down to it.