Islam: Preaches tolerance

Q300 :In my village, back home, I own a plot of land in the middle of which there is a Hindu temple. Three years ago, when I went home on vacation, a number of Hindu notables visited me to solicit my approval for a road and other services to pass through my land to the temple. Since then, I have been troubled by their request. I have uneasy feelings about helping in the worship practices of an idolatrous religion. I wrote to the management committee of our local mosque suggesting that they take over the land as an endowment, but they seem reluctant to accept. If I refuse the request, I fear that this may lead to hardened attitudes and eventually to religious strife. Perhaps I should add that the majority of the people in our village are Muslim, but there are neighboring Hindu majority villages and the Hindu community receive much support from the political party in power in this area.

A300 : Your problem is certainly a tricky one. You own the land surrounding the temple, but you do not own the temple itself. Therefore, you do not have any control over how the building is used, but you have the legal power to stop the people from coming to the temple. If you exercise that power, you will create ill feelings and there will be efforts by the local Hindu population to gain access to the temple by force. This issue may lead to much strife. In a country like yours, which has witnessed frequent sectarian riots, the situation could lead to large-scale trouble and may cause loss of life. You will certainly have exercised your legal right, but what does Islam gain out of that? There is certainly no tangible gain and there may be much loss, which may not be possible to measure in financial or material terms. What we have to understand is that Islam preaches tolerance. Over the centuries, Muslims all over the world have shown a degree of religious tolerance which can hardly be equaled by any other religion. When the Islamic state was at the height of its power, religious communities were able to practice their religions without fear of any persecution or disturbance. They could claim their rights even against the opposition of the Muslim ruler. If a dispute is likely to generate strife and troubles, then Islam would do everything possible to prevent it, even if that leads to giving the other party some privileges to which they are not entitled. Islam is not a faith which seeks the suppression of other religions, nor does it stamp out religious freedom. Indeed, it preaches freedom of belief and tries to protect that freedom wherever possible. Before I suggest to you a course of action, I would like to relate an incident which took place 13 centuries ago, in the year 86 or 87 of the Islamic calendar i.e. over 1300 years ago. When the city of Damascus in Syria surrendered to the Muslim army in the year 14 of the Islamic calendar, it so happened that half of the city surrendered after a fight in which the Muslim army was able to overcome its besieged defenders, while the other half surrendered voluntarily. In the center of the city, there was a very large temple built 4000 years earlier. It had become a church when Syria became Christian about 300 years before the Muslim army took over the city. A peace treaty was drawn out which made a list of the churches to remain in the hands of the Christian population. As to that big church, it was agreed that one half of it would be a mosque and the other half would remain as a church. This was felt to be fair to both parties, since the Muslims could claim half of it as a result of occupying half of the city by force. Several churches were not included in the terms of the peace treaty. These were handed over to the Muslims. Damascus was soon to become the capital of the Muslim state. More and more of its population was keen to adopt Islam. In the year 86, Al-Waleed ibn Abdulmalik became the Caliph and he wanted to attend to a need which became very pressing. The mosque at the center of the city was no longer adequate to accommodate people in Friday prayers. He wished to get the other half and integrate the two portions into a magnificent mosque. He called in the Christian leaders and requested them to give up that church in return for a large number of properties, including four major churches which were in Muslim hands. His suggestion was met with determined refusal. The Caliph was disappointed, but he could not force the Christians to give up their church. He later requested them to bring the treaty and read the relevant provisions. As they read out the terms of the treaty to him, he discovered that Saint Thomas's church, which was an even larger church, was not included in the treaty. As such, it was the property of the state, which was now an Islamic one. Al-Waleed told them that since this was the case, he was satisfied to build the mosque in its place. The Christian leaders said: "If the Caliph would leave Saint Thomas's church to us and the other four, we are willing to give up the other half of the church he wishes to have." Thus the matter was settled and Al-Waleed integrated that half of the church into a new mosque which remains until today in the center of Damascus known as the Omayyad Mosque. As you see, the Islamic state in its early period was willing to negotiate an agreement which assigned to non-Muslims a number of buildings to be used as places of worship. No scholar had objected to that at any time. Therefore, if you respond to the request of the Hindu community in your area, knowing that such a favorable response would eliminate causes of trouble and would promote the interests of the Muslim community, you do no wrong.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )