Friday, February 13, 2009

Tolerance and Religious conviction: some thoughts on mutual respect

This has been a subject that has been on my mind for a while, but have until now found it difficult to put in words. In the United States, as well as in other nations of the world where followers of varying faiths live with each other,key words such as 'tolerance' and mutual respect would seem to be common sense, a practical reality that must be observed, leaving differences to be addressed at their proper venues.

Yet, among our most active religious leaders, we find that sometimes their statements, especially in the presence of 'the other' is vary lacking, and outright worthy of condemnation. This problem can be named with a very common title, the Foot-in mouth disease. Statements can be made which cause great hurt, and the speaker can be heedless. This is a clear symptom of the disease.

Recently I attended a funeral, the deceased being an elderly woman, the mother of several children, one of whom being a Muslim. She was not a Muslim, and from what I have been told, was not a participant in 'organized religion', but nonetheless was given a traditional, largely Christian funeral. The [Muslim] son was one of many family members to speak, and he made a passing remark about his mother's character being such, that her guidance and encouragement actually pushed him [the son] to 'the path I am on'. Any honest observer listening to his brief comments would easily testify that there was no proselytizing of Islam involved. His comments were about his mother and the relationship they enjoyed.

Later in the funeral program, the pastor officiating the funeral stood at the podium and said
This young man says he's a Mooz-lim [sic], but Jesus is for them as well.Jesus is the only path to the Father.

The family was very upset, the Muslims were obviously offended, not to mention the Muslim family members [the grandchildren of the deceased].

Certainly this caused many people to confront the Reverend, who was unapologetic.I am not faulting him for believing what he believes, as that is his right as a human being, but there is a time and a place for everything, and to choose a funeral for expressing such views was inappropriate, to say the least.

What Venues are appropriate?

Conversations with friends, visiting houses of worship or study group gatherings, wherein exchanges, learning and debating may be appropriate, are all good places to start. With the advent of the INTERNET, this is much easier, as a person can join several religious forums, where every conceivable issue can be discussed in a safe, inexpensive and private manner.

To a conscious Muslim, this advice is nothing new. This certainly falls under the category expressed by the Qur'an in the following words;

Call to your Lord's path with wisdom and articulate reminders. [Q 16:105]

Insulting people or debating them at funerals, weddings and the like do not correspond with wisdom!~

Advice to Muslims

To those of us who have an Islamic appearance [Kufi, Beard, Hijaab], know that you stand out in your workplace, when you catch the train, conducting your normal routine. You have to always be conscious of this, and attempt to always act in a friendly manner. Even if you feel mistrust on the part of others, recall the Prophet Muhammad. One disbeliever used to throw trash on a path he knew the Prophet [upon whom be peace] would walk down, on regular basis, but when this person became ill, the Prophet visited and checked up on him. This changed the man's attitude completely.

You will sometimes encounter people who wish to 'save your souls for Christ' or for some other motives or movements. They may even make you their target market, especially if you are from a Middle Eastern or South Asian background. They may visit your home, hoping to share their beliefs, and may even leave you literature in Arabic or Urdu. Others will be very ignorant, hurling insults, while others will approach you with genuine questions about your religion. In all these scenarios, the following is given as advice:

[1] Be calm, yet strong and assertive.

[2] Know your Deen before answering any questions. It is also always important to memorize and quote from Islamic texts, the most important being from the Qur'an, in dispelling any misinformation or just for the sake of sharing information.

[3] When possible, always have some literature handy, in your car, planner or purse. This will be helpful for those you are speaking with, for their future reference. The following pamphlets are available free. These brief works are straight to the point, with understandable language and Qur'anic references.

The timeless religion
Women in Islam
[The author's blog is]

An introduction to the Qur'an
[4] Refer your listener to the local Mosque, and be sure that Mosque has relevant programs available. If not, take the initiative and start such a program, having qualified speakers and teachers.

And Allah knows best.