Tolerance in Islam, is not a mere fairytale phrase, but Muslims live it in reality. Islam urges us to be tolerant and forgive others. This is indicated in both the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
One of the features of Islam indeed is that it is Deen Al-Rahmah (the religion of mercy). By the same token the Muslim should be easy going, not one who puts others off; he should forgive when he is able to take revenge and be tolerant when people make mistakes.
Tolerance and patience are traits of the soul of every Muslim, a part of his Iman (belief) in the religion of Islam, acknowledging the unparallel sovereignty of our one and only true creator, called in Arabic as “Allah.”
Once when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked, “What is Iman?” he (peace be upon him) replied: “Iman (faith) is patience and tolerance.” (Al-Silsilah Al-Sahihah, No. 554)
Islam may tolerate anything, but it teaches zero tolerance for injustice, oppression, and violation of the rights of Our One and only Creator and that of other human beings.
Tolerance is a basic principle of Islam. It is a religious moral duty. It does not mean “concession, condescension or indulgence.” It does not mean lack of principles, or lack of seriousness about one’s principles. Sometimes it is said, “people are tolerant of things that they do not care about.”
But this is not the case in Islam. Tolerance according to Islam does not mean that we believe that all religions are the same. It does not mean that we do not believe in the supremacy of Islam over other faiths and ideologies.
It does not mean that we do not convey the message of Islam to others and do not wish them to become Muslims. Remember, Tolerance toward falsehood is Intolerance.
Islam teaches tolerance on all levels: Individual, groups and states. It should be a political and legal requirement. Tolerance is the mechanism that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), and the rule of law. There are many levels of tolerance:
a. Among family members — husband and wife, parents and children, siblings etc.
b. Tolerance among members of the community: Tolerance in views and opinions, tolerance among different schools of thought.
c. Tolerance between Muslims and the people of other faiths (interfaith relations, dialogue and cooperation).
When one looks into the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him), one may draw on many examples to portray the high level of tolerance shown to people of other faiths.
Allah bestowed upon him the best attitude and conduct, and the best way of dealing with people and situations, even though he was illiterate and could neither read nor write. He grew up poor in an ignorant desert land, tending sheep, an orphan with neither father nor mother.
But Allah taught him all good characteristics and good ways, and taught him the stories of earlier and later generations, and that which brings success and salvation in the Hereafter and happiness in this world, and showed him the way to focus on one’s duties and keep away from inessentials.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not use to repay evil with evil; rather he would pardon and forgive. He got angry for the sake of his Lord but he did not get angry for his own sake. He would adhere to the truth even if that resulted in harm for himself or his companions.
It was narrated that Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her), the wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was never given the choice between two things but he chose the easier of them, so long as it was not a sin. But if it was a sin he would be the furthest of the people from it.
And the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) never took revenge for himself, unless the sacred limits of Allah were transgressed, then he would take revenge for the sake of Allah.” (narrated by Al-Bukhari, 3367; Muslim, 2327)
The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) tolerance, proves beyond doubt, the place of tolerance in Islam, for surely, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not do things which was not part of Islam.
The stories, examples and proofs of the magnificent tolerant nature of final Prophet (peace be upon him) are too numerous to mention in detail here.
Let us take just one example in this article: The tribe of Quraish were archenemies of Islam and, for a period of 13 years while he was still in Makkah, they would rebuke the Prophet (peace be upon him), taunt and mock him, beat him and abuse him, both physically and mentally.
They placed the afterbirth of a camel on his back while he prayed, and they boycotted him and his tribe until the social sanctions became unbearable.
They plotted and attempted to kill him on more than one occasion, and when the Prophet (peace be upon him) escaped to Madinah, they rallied the majority of the Arab tribes and waged many wars against him.
What was the reaction of Muhammad (peace be upon him) toward his Makkan enemies when he entered Makkah and liberated it from idolatry and paganism?
In the wake of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) and the Muslims’ great victory and in the climax of their joy, rapture and happiness at coming back home to the Sacred City of Makkah – Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gathered together the Makkans, who were afraid that he would harm or kill them in revenge for their past abuse and killing of Muslims.
Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked them, “O, you people of Quraish! What do you think of the treatment that I am about to do with you?”
They answered, “You are a generous brother and the son of an honorable brother of ours.”
Then, the kind, tolerant, generous and merciful Prophet (peace be upon him) forgave them, announcing: “No harm will come to you. You may go. You are free.” (Baihaqi, 18055; and also, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar) pg. 467)
It has been narrated on the authority of Abdullah bin Muti, who heard from his father and said: “I heard the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) say on the day of the Conquest of Makkah: “No Quraishite will be killed hound hand and foot from this day until the Day of Judgment.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 19:4399)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) issued a general pardon to all its inhabitants, who were not only pagans but also those that had fought him for the longest time, and regarding whom many of those verses of fighting like (Qur’an, 9:5) had been revealed.
Rarely in the annals of history can we read such an instance of tolerance and forgiveness? This shows the real tolerant nature of Islam. Even after being tortured for years by those same Makkans and the Quraishite, the Prophet (peace be upon him) forgave them.
In contrast, we have seen throughout history what atrocities various ‘super-power’ nations committed when they have unjustly attacked, invaded, and tortured others, throughout human history; And that too, just for the sake of this temporary world. And this continues, even today!