Activism & Civil Rights Islamic Character Misconceptions Non-Muslims

The Statute of Tolerance in Islam

by Dr. `Ali Gom`a | Translated by Farida Khalil

The Qur’an establishes clear principles for mankind (to live by). It declares unequivocally that all human beings were created from one being and are united by common origin.

Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (Exalted and All-Mighty) says:


“O mankind, be mindful of your Lord, Who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them spread countless men and women far and wide; be mindful of God, in whose name you make requests of one another; and beware of severing the ties of kinship: God is always watching over you.” (Qur’an, 4:1)

The Prophet ﷺ also said: “All people are children of Adam, and Adam was created from dust.”1

Thus, from the Islamic perspective, everyone has a right to live honorably, without distinction or discrimination. The human being is honored in the Qur’an, irrespective of religion, color, or race.

Allah (swt) says:

17:70“And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them by land and sea; and We provided good sustenance for them, and favored them specially over many of those We created.” (Qur’an, 17:70)

It is not right for people to initiate discord and enmity over race, color, language, or religion. On the contrary, this [diversity] should be an opportunity to get to know one another, and to collaborate over mutual interests. As Allah says:


“O mankind, indeed We created you from a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes for you to get to know one another. Indeed, the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah are the most righteous.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

The only qualification for distinction put forth by the Qur’an is one’s contribution to the well-being of all mankind: “Indeed, the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah are the most righteous.”

As such, Islam’s approach to non-Muslims, especially People of the Book (Jews and Christians), is one of coexistence and cooperation—particularly over mutual interest based on values and ethics that are encouraged not only by all religions, but accepted by all of humanity.

Islam’s injunction in dealing with non-Muslims is summed up in the following ayah:


“Allah does not forbid you from dealing kindly and justly with those who have not fought you in your religion or driven you out of your homes. Indeed, Allah loves those who are just.” (Qur’an, 60:8)

In this ayah and others, Islam defines the basis of one’s interaction with others; it is rooted in tolerance, which is deeply connected to pardoning others by overlooking mistakes, pursuing excellence in conduct, and increasing virtuous deeds.

The foundation of this tolerant view of other faiths is a set of beliefs and truths that Islam inculcates in the hearts and minds of Muslims. The most essential of these are: humanity’s common origin; the dignity of human beings; religious differences existing by Allah’s will; Muslims not being charged with judging people of other faiths. Also, in addition to prohibiting forced conversion, Islam has encouraged establishing justice among people, which is required for stable and peaceful coexistence.

Islam deals with non-Muslims on two levels:

  1. A non-Muslim individual or group within a Muslim community.
  2. A non-Muslim group dealing with a Muslim state (externally).

Islam provides some of the greatest examples of coexistence with non-Muslims on both levels. It illustrates how to deal with other people, both through legislative theory and practice – and human history is witness to this throughout the centuries.

The Prophet ﷺ went to great lengths to show mercy, tolerance,and pardoning of non-Muslims. He ﷺ also warned us against being unjust to them: “He who is unjust to amu`ahid (non-Muslim covenanted with Muslims), detracts from his rights, burdens him beyond his capacity, or takes something from him without willful consent, I will argue against him on the Day of Judgment.”2

When the Islamic state expanded during the Prophet’s time ﷺ, there were many Arab Christian tribes, especially in Najran,3 that he signed pacts with. These pacts guaranteed them freedom of belief and practice, protection of their places of worship, as well as freedom of thought, education and work. The pact between the Prophet ﷺ and Najran’s people states: “The people of Najran and its surrounding areas have the protection of Allah and His Prophet over their lives, their religion, land, and property—including the present and absent of them—and their markets and places of worship. No bishop shall be removed from his bishopric, nor a hermit from his hermitage, nor an endowment from its state of endowment. The agreements of this pact are guaranteed protection by Allah and His Prophet forever, until Allah’s order comes, and as long as the people of Najran remain faithful and adhere to the conditions made for them.”4

During ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab’s caliphate, the Muslims followed the example of their Prophet ﷺ when they signed a pact with the people of Aelia (Jerusalem). ‘Umar radi allahu ‘anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) secured for them freedom of religion and the sanctity of their temples and rituals. He states: “Do not take over their churches, or destroy them or detract anything from them; do not take from their property, or crosses, or their wealth. They should not be forced to leave their religion, and none of them should be harmed; and let none of the Jews live in Aelia with them.”5

This is how Muslims have dealt with people of other faiths throughout history.

It is important to note that the Egyptian Copts enjoy a special status amongst Muslims, especially Egyptian Muslims. Umm Salama (may Allah be pleased with her) narrates that the Prophet ﷺ counseled before his death:  “(Be mindful of) Allah, (be mindful of) Allah with the Copts of Egypt. You shall overcome them, and they will add to your numbers and support you in the cause of Allah.6

In another narration, he said: “You will conquer a land where carats (used in currency) are mentioned, so treat its people with kindness, for they have rights and (share) kinship7(with us).”8

All these documented examples, and many others which are too lengthy to include here, illustrate the tolerance of Islam and Muslims in their heritage, thought, and perspective towards non-Muslims.

  1. Sunan Abu Dawud 331/4, al-Tirmidhi 735/5.
  2. Sunan Abu-Dawud 170/3, al-Tirmidhi 336/3.
  3. A city in Southwestern Saudi Arabia.
  4. Dala‘il al-Nubuwwah by Imam al-Baihaqi
  5. History of al-Tabari 449/2.
  6. Al-Tabari 265/23.
  7. The shared kinship is because Hajar (mother of Isma’il, peace be upon him) was Egyptian.
  8. Sahih Muslim 1970/4.

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