Originally published in The News and Observer
In the wake of the despicable terrorist act at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher supermarket in France, a lot of questions are being asked about the tolerance and peaceful nature of the followers of Islam. Studying the Quran and the prophet Muhammad’s life, however, it becomes abundantly clear that this barbaric act is against the true teachings of Islam.
Tolerance, peaceful co-existence and respect for humans irrespective of their skin color, political ideology and religious belief are what Muhammad preached and practiced as head of the community in Medina consisting of Christians, Jews, Muslims and nonbelievers. Prophet Muhammad, in keeping with the tolerant teachings of Islam, set an unprecedented example by allowing a delegation of Christians to hold religious services at the prophet’s mosque.
The example of the prophet came close to being fulfilled in our own time by Duke University, which was going to allow the Muslim call to prayer to be announced from its chapel. While university leaders were trying to use the call to prayer as a model of tolerance and peaceful co-existence, external pressure forced them to abandon this noble idea. It is true that the recent actions of some Muslims have given critics ample ammunition to exert immense pressure on the university. These actions do not, however, reflect the true teachings of the faith or the example of its founder.
Co-existence and tolerance are emphasized greatly in Islam, which extends universal love and brotherhood to all other faiths. The Quran chapter 3 verse 85 says: “Say, we believe in Allah and that which has been revealed to us, and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we submit.” This verse is especially pertinent today to ease religious tensions and to foster unity and tolerance in society.
Doctrinal differences exist among all religions. However, core moral values based on tolerance and peaceful co-existence have kept society together for thousands of years and need to be encouraged and protected. A great example is the plan by Germans to build a common house of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims in Berlin. This would serve as a beacon of interfaith dialogue among followers of different religions, which can serve as an ideal solution to dispel long-held rumors, fears and suspicion of other faiths in society.
Islam as a religion has existed for about 1,400 years with about 1.6 billion followers worldwide. It is among the fastest-growing religions in some parts of the world, making it clear it is not going away. As a peace-loving society, we cannot allow our actions to be dominated by a few individuals with political views that instill fear, who murder in the name of a truly peaceful religion and who follow a doctrine alien to true teachings. We need to decipher truth from falsehood about Islam to reduce the fear, mistrust and suspicion and to foster tolerance and co-existence.
Although Duke University’s plans never saw the light of day, the initiative was commendable, and hopefully a reciprocal gesture as demonstrated by the founder of Islam will be a reality among Islamic centers of learning in the country.