Islam’s broader vision of Coexistence, and the Threats to it
by Dr. RK Noor Mohammed
Living in a society in which different religions, cultures, languages and behaviours exist is a need of a human being. This kind of living in unison with different societies is known as Unity in diversity.
God has originated human beings to live peacefully, lovingly, without hatred and jealousy. We can learn from the life of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), how he lived in Mecca peacefully and united with the tribes of Mecca. Even in Medina he lived with the Jews to sustain peace among them.
We have to be tolerant and work along with the people who differ with us. There will be differences among people. But we have been ordered to keep up with them within the purview of Islamic Sharia rulings. If not then injustice, corruption, chaos, wrong doings and falsehood will prevail. Human societies based on pluralism will face problems of religious differences, cultural diversity and differences in values and ethics, due to the diversity of the institutional backgrounds of this plurality.
Problems can be dealt practically with awareness which will transform contradiction into integration, collision into coexistence, and intolerance into tolerance, or it can be dealt by manipulating with the emotions of the people, which will only add fuel to the fire and lead to destruction.
What is Coexistence?
Coexistence is that you are open-minded and pleased with the person who lives with you, that he lives by his doctrine, or his religion, or his group.
Establishing Peaceful coexistence—Realistic knowledge of self and of others
Man is an enemy of which he has no knowledge of and lack of knowledge makes one fanatic and irritable. Verily there are many incidents happened due to the lack of proper assessment like self-conceited attitude and belittlement of the others.
Some scholars said, “Verily we gathered many forums for religious conversations with Christians, so it made us realize that we did not understand each other properly, as we deal with them on the basis of what we know about them from our books, while many developments have occurred in their ideas and beliefs. The misunderstanding between us has complicated the crisis and expanded the split. It is our lack of understanding of others that puts us in systematic errors, and resulting in strategic mistakes”.
In this multicultural society, it is necessary for one to live with tolerance. We should not harm the people of other religion nor make their lives difficult whereas, we should tolerate with each other and live in peace.
God says in Quran (6:108), “Do not abuse those who invoke other than Allah, because they will abuse Allah in ignorance out of spite”.
The only way to achieve this reconciliation (establishment of harmonious relations), is through dialogues, and dialogue is not through philosophical discourse, or winning over other’s opinion, and to triumph over it, and wanting the others to be defeated.
The dialogue that we propose and support is so, that we reach ideas that coexist in them without compromising on basic fundamentals of each group. The idea is to keep the fundamentals intact and come to terms with the others to live peacefully.
Dialogue is a legal matter, and it is derived from the Noble Quran. The term dialogue is mentioned thrice in the Quran. This shows the importance of dialogue and it is considered a fixed origin of the Islamic civilizations and a fundamental of Sharia law.
Civilization deals with tolerance, freedom, peace and tranquillity with all those who entered it. Therefore, it has made pluralism as a characteristic. Pluralism in religion, languages and sects and as a result of that a new culture has been evolved over time.
Any civilization in the world and any major country will accept pluralism, because if they intent to wipe out another civilization or other language or other religion, it will be self-destructive action. The downfall of any civilization begins when it eliminates the minorities in it. The power of great states or any civilization comes from the power of the minorities in them.
Importance of dialogue cannot be denied. Not only it is used for self-defence but rather as a step towards a peaceful mankind and building a single civilized conception for an integrated world. Positive and effective dialogue is achieved when both the parties opens up to each other and clears all the misunderstandings.
Coexistence is the building of the human civilization that we live in it. We live in this land, whether we are Muslims or non-Muslims, there is no difference in this. We all eat, we all drink, we all sleep, we all study, and we all learn and we all have our own rights in humanitarian matters.
Goals of Dialogue
Some of the important goals in dialogue are:
- Search for commonalities with others to solve existing problems, or lessen their effects on man in our mission in essence.
- Ensuring access to the truth, narrowing the gaps in the dispute as much as possible, and bringing views closer.
- Responding to suspicions and appeals against Islam. In order to show Islam as it is of perfection and beauty.
- Benefiting from the scientific achievements and civil progress of others.
Communication between religious groups
Knowledge about coexistence and communication deepens when one practically knows and experiences the culture of others, because the actual reality is more informative than theorizing, as many people take their positions on the basis of incomplete information and they are wronged and oppressed. And they may testify based on that information that is part of the truth, not all of them.
The media, for example, convey the information from their available angle, that is, of the cameraman or the viewer’s point of view, but there are still other angles that the media has not been able to access.
Genuine information about the people of any culture requires personal touch and to connect with the real people to know and understand the reality of their culture. Therefore, one of the means of consolidating (bringing together) a culture of joint coexistence is the exchange of visits and entry into the society concerned to know the rules that are based on it, and the systems by which it manages its affairs.
There are various fields which provide joint work among diverse people irrespective of their belief, culture, ethnicity, like human knowledge, economic activities, humanitarian aid for the war, natural disaster victims etc.
Implementing the joint programs by mutual cooperation with those who are affiliated to different religions, cultures and ethnicities will definitely give a practical model for co-existence. Such programs indeed broke many barriers and crossed many hurdles.
That which strengthen the idea of co-existence is the strong resolve to be present between the people. Because lack of resolve is a reason for incoherence, conflict, division and disagreement.
And the need for peaceful coexistence should be a concern to everyone; be it an educator, preacher, citizen, journalist or politician. We all are required to be as much responsible in this regard.
One of the most important things is to establish a culture of tolerance, which is to know the factors of conflict and the causes of conflict and get rid of them so that the way is clear towards relations based on trust and sustainability.
Peaceful coexistence is a great asset. One of the ways by which it can be promoted is by understanding the importance of good neighbourliness. Being good to the neighbour is necessary for living in a cohesive society.
God says in Quran (4:36), “Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbour, the neighbour farther away, the companion at your side, the traveller, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful.”
Good neighbourliness brought out the characteristics of the Muslims. Their kindness, behaviour and refrainment from harming their neighbour which made other people realize and bond with the Muslims.
Fulfilling the promise
It is important that every group of the society fulfils the agreement that was discussed among themselves for a peaceful living.
God says in Quran (17:34), “And fulfil [every] commitment. Indeed, the commitment is ever [that about which one will be] questioned”.
The Threats of Coexistence
Just as there are factors that promote peaceful coexistence, there are threats to it that must be recognized and addressed consciously. Among these are the following:
First Threat: Cultural Superiority
When a group of citizens exercise superiority over other groups on the basis that they have the sole right to the homeland and that their culture is superior over all others, this attitude would threaten the social fabric where others feel inferior to the dominant culture, and this would lead to the small groups’ apprehension because of its weakness, lack, strength, and abundance of others, for fear of absorption and melting, which makes them apprehensive of any activity carried out by others, interpreting it as targeting it and seeking to eradicate it.
Supremacy may be apparent or implied in social culture, it may be real or dead, and in all cases, it will be an obstacle and threatening the unity of the social fabric.
Second Threat: Inequality in Rights and Duties
If the state distinguishes its citizens according to belief, culture, race, or any difference other than giving, then this is considered the greatest threat to coexistence.
Third Threat: Provocation
A normal person respects and appreciates others because he has self-respect, and treats people as he likes others to treat him, just as he does not accept humiliation, and offense to himself. It is natural from him not to insult others and humiliate others. In any society, people need to respect each other. If people start to humiliate each other then it is difficult to live in coexistence and peace.
Once while a Jew was selling something, he was offered a price that he was not pleased with. So, he said, “No, by Him Who gave Moses superiority over all human beings!” Hearing him, an Ansari Muslim man got up and slapped him on the face and said, “You say: By Him Who Gave Moses superiority over all human beings although the Prophet (Muhammad) is present amongst us!”
The Jew went to the Prophet and said, “O Abu-l-Qasim! I am under the assurance and contract of security, so what right does so-and-so have to slap me?”
Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) asked the other, “Why have you slapped”. He told him the whole story.
The Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) became angry, till anger appeared on his face, and said, “Don’t give superiority to any prophet amongst Allah’s Prophets, for when the trumpet will be blown, everyone on the earth and in the heavens will become unconscious except those whom Allah will exempt.
“The trumpet will be blown for the second time and I will be the first to be resurrected to see Moses holding Allah’s Throne. I will not know whether the unconsciousness which Moses received on the Day of Tur has been sufficient for him, or has he got up before me. And I do not say that there is anybody who is better than Yunus bin Matta”.
Reference of this incident is the Hadith book of Sahih al-Bukhari. In this narration, Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) prevented his companion to prefer him over Moses in order to respect the feelings of the Jew and not to hurt him.
Fourth Threat: Discrepancy in discourse within one group
There should be unity among the people who follow a particular religion. If differences exist among themselves, then it is difficult to live in coexistence with the people of the other religion.
It has been proven that the difference is a universal reality and a divine will that cannot be abolished. Pluralism is a social necessity, and citizenship is a human right. We have to deal with this reality consciously, achieving unity in light of diversity and complementarity with pluralism and cooperation in the common denominations. To trust the following:
- That the state in all its institutions embody the diversity upon which society is based.
- Commitment to citizenship rights for all.
- Ensuring freedom of belief and worship and preaching to all.
- Establishing institutions for collaborative joint activities.
- Adherence to the principles and values of the nation.
- Justice in the distribution of rights.
- Equal treatment.
- Respect for excellence and quality in work.
- The use of dialogue as a means to settle disputes.
- Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Freedom is priceless in the life of man. He should have freedom of religion, freedom of thought and expression and in his dealings. No one has the right to force or impose one’s thoughts on others.
Second caliph of Islam Umar al-Khattab said, “Since when did you start enslaving people, when their mothers gave birth to them free?”
Some practical steps to establish a peaceful society
- Apart from religious programs, conducting workshops or seminars that focus on national issues in which personalities from all the communities take part.
- To invite dignitaries of the community in our occasions like marriage and school functions.
- Making our neighbours of the other religion as a part of our family occasions.
- Paying a visit to their sick.
- To have good relations with the police and the members in the government.
- Inviting them over to our iftar parties.
- Organizing Eid Milan parties on Eid-ul-Fitr.
- To distribute water bottles to the Police officers when they are in duty especially during summer.
- There should be a committee to eradicate the misconceptions of Islam prevalent in the society by meeting the required people in person in order to throw light on the reality of Islam.
- There should be a Peacemaker Committee in each and every area of the cities and the villages in our country, which consist of important personalities from various religions.
- Establish human rights centres.
- Spread the welfare activities, feed the people, as food brings cultures together.
Abdullah bin Salam, a resident of Medina at the time of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) narrated that, “When the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) arrived in Medina – the people came out to meet him. It was said that the Messenger of Allah had arrived, so I went among the people to get a look at him. When I gazed upon the face of the Messenger of Allah, I knew that this face was not the face of a liar. The first thing that he spoke about was that he said: ‘O you people! Spread the Salam, feed (others), and perform Salaat while the people are sleeping; you will enter Paradise with (the greeting of) Salam”.
Dr. R.K.Noor Mohammad is from south-Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He is PhD in Hadith Sciences from Islamic University of Madina, Saudi Arabia. He was awarded Gold Medal by the University for his research in 1991.