Tolerance of Religions Under Islamic Rule
When Islam becomes the religion of a state it does not compel non-Muslims to accept it. Some Western writers tell us that it was attempts at such compulsion that caused the famous European Wars of Religion that led finally to secularism and the relegating of religion to the private sphere.
Because Islam did not make such an attempt it could tolerate non-Islamic religions, especially Christianity and Judaism and give them more than the rights that are now given them by secular states. That is not to say that they were given the same political rights and opportunities as those given to Muslims. They were not. Such political equality was not possible in a religious state, neither is it possible in secular states. A secular state gives believers in religions like Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity or Islam the opportunity to occupy a political position on condition that they abide by the secular constitution that separates church and state. Some American religious writers complain that the freedom given to religious people is a freedom given them according to the secular definition of religion. But this has to be so. They cannot be given freedom to practice their religion in ways that make them encroach upon the sphere of the secular state. There is thus no difference in this respect between a secular state that gives religions this kind of limited freedom, and a religious
Reasons for Resorting to War
Can there be a place in a religion like Islam for war? Yes, but for reasons other than conversion. We live in an imperfect world in which some people have to be fought for others to live in peace. These are people who resort to acts of injustice and aggression. This resort to injustice is made in Islam the sole justification for war. Unjust and oppressive acts that justify the waging of war against their perpetrators can take many forms like:
i. Persecution by those in authority of those of their people who accept Islam
ii. Banishing such people from their land.
iii. Waging war against people of other lands who hold such beliefs.
iv. Waging wars against other people (Muslims or non-Muslims) with the intention of occupying their land or looting their wealth, or forcing them into slavery.
We are living at a time in which, unlike previous times, people of different beliefs, nations, colors and ethnic origins found themselves obliged to live side by side in a global village wherein their interests are interdependent. But it is also a world in which piles of so called conventional weapons can inflict great damage to human life and every thing on which that life depends, and in which stockpiles of weapons of mass-destruction in the U.S. alone can rid the globe of all of its living inhabitants. It is obvious that there is no choice for humans to willfully avoid that catastrophic result except by deciding to live peacefully with each other whatever their differences might be. It is not however enough for people of the world to desire that peaceful life. They must take the necessary measure that makes this possible:
World institutions that safeguard peace and abide by moral principles without which those institutions cannot serve their purpose. They must be based on justice.
Great powers must understand this justice to be ultimately in the human interest of their people, an interest that must be acknowledged to be more important for them than narrowly perceived temporary national interests. A great power might use the economic and military power that it yields to subdue or even subjugate weaker nations and justify this injustice by claiming it to be in defense of its national interest. The fact however, is that there is no moral difference between this kind of logic and that of an individual who robs another of some of his or her possessions with the pretext that he needs it to improve his living standard.
World institutions like the United Nations fail to achieve their purpose as means of safeguarding world peace if they become tools in the hands of great powers. But this unfortunately is now the case. It is not so as perceived by weaker nations, but as great powers admit it to be so. They even brag about their making it so.
The dominant elite view with regard to the UN was well expressed in 1992 by Francis Fukuyama, who had served in Reagan-Bush State Department: the UN “is perfectly serviceable as an instrument of American unilateralism and indeed may be the primary mechanism through which that unilateralism will be exercised in the future”.
This means that when the US threatens to punish or actually punishes countries for not complying with UN decisions, it is in fact threatening or punishing them for not carrying out its orders.
Compliance with moral principles, especially that of justice, is the only ultimate safeguard against the proliferation of WMD. Weaker countries will not see the need for such weapons if they feel that lacking them is not endangering their survival or the sovereignty of their states; they will deem it wise to spend the little they have on more important things. But if they are made to feel humiliated because they lack those weapons then they are sure to be keen on possessing any kind or amount of them at whatever cost, and irrespective of any treaties they might be signatories to.
Those who are driven by the impulse to dominate must remember that there is a stronger motive force: dignity. There are many in the world who would readily sacrifice their lives to protect and preserve the dignity of their people.
And it is not moral values alone that should induce those who have great military force not to use it unjustly; it is prudent to do so. Thanks to the development in the industry of weapons, it might soon be possible for individuals and small groups to possess some of them that are small in size but massive in their destruction, and not very difficult to have access to.
The imposition on people of beliefs and values that they consider to be inimical to their own can be seen by some people to be more humiliating than unjustly depriving them of some of their material rights. The UN and other international institutions must not therefore be platforms for great powers to impose their values, especially secularist ones, on others who are averse to them. Members of the U.N. belong not only to different countries, but also different cultures, and thus different beliefs, values, traditions and histories. For these people to come together under one umbrella to cooperate in combating the problems that they all face as inhabitants of one globe, it is absolutely necessary for them to acknowledge and tolerate these fundamental differences and to resort to none more than peaceful means in trying to resolve them. Cultural changes, whether to the better or to the worse, come only gradually and peacefully. Using a useful and much needed organization like the UN to force such changes on people will only foster disrespect for it and encourage nations to pay little or no heed to its resolutions. But this sadly is how many people in the West now think: they want other people to have the same political system as theirs, to understand religion in the same way as they do, to have the same kind of relationship between the sexes as they have, and to avoid behaving in any way that a country like the US deems not to be serviceable to its interest.
- Uri Avnery, Muhammad’s Sword, strketheroot.com, September 27. 06
- Karen Armstrong, We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam, The Guardian, Sept., 18. 2006.
- Arnold, Sir Thomas W., The Preaching of Islam, a History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, Westminster A. Constable & Co., London, 1896, p. 80. quoted in Jihad Explained, The Institute of Islamic Information & Education, P.O. Box 41129, Chicago, IL 60641-0129 http://www.irshad.org/idara/,
- Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2003, p. 29.
Taken with slight editorial modifications from www.jaafaridris.com.