Respect for the faith of others

We share this world with a great number of people who do not always hold the same point of view as ourselves.

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We share this world with a great number of people who do not always hold the same point of view as ourselves. It was my contention last week that it is this very "difference" that makes life interesting and brings about renewal and creativity. We recognise what we share in common is what brings us together. Sentient human beings possessing a soul, sharing family ties, neighbourhoods, joy and suffering, a common concern for an ethical society, these are areas of convergence. It is how we negotiate the areas of divergence, however, that makes a society flourish.

Although I realise that secularism, even atheism, can be clung to just as zealously as any religion, it is religious diversity and difference that I'd like to focus on. There is no reason why differences among us should ever devolve to the level of conflict or suspicion. The doctrinal teachings of Islam provide a number of solutions to facilitate healthy diversity. The first would of course be the non-coercion clause that is native to the system. Verse 2:256 provides for freedom of conscience. Faith has no meaning if it does not emanate from conviction. Luring the unsuspecting with trinkets or capitalising on their humanitarian needs is out. This combined with the first of the five legal objectives, protection of religion, requires securing for people the right to freedom of conscience.

The next would be the non-denigration rule of Verse 6:108; "And do not revile what they worship other than Allah". Its import is to require that respect be shown for the unique (even divergent) concepts of another's faith. This provides for healthy and sensitive accommodation of the deeply cherished beliefs of others; without relinquishing the core principles of one's own tradition as was discussed last week.

In Verse 9:6 we are told of the obligation to admit a non-Muslim combatant into the Muslim held sphere of influence if he claims a desire to access the meanings of the Quran and the teachings of Islam. The same verse then requires that he be given safe passage back to his own territory without any preconditions of conversion or otherwise. Access to the faith and culture of Islam would be precluded if we were to deal with others on a constant footing of suspicion and conflict. If this is the case of the combatant, what then of the "musta'min" seeking safe passage or residence in good faith and intention.

Finally there is the prioritisation of commonalities in Verse 3:64. Here, Muslims are to invite other members of the community to make the foundations of their social contract incorporating all of those principles that they share in common. This enables a shared agenda for social renewal and the advancement of a human society that benefits from its internal diversity while allowing for unique and healthy voices to contribute.

In the United Kingdom, a diverse society, there is a growing demand that imams and religious leaders learn English, take civics courses, and learn the values and culture of Europe. This is smart and correct; the Quran says, "We've never sent a messenger except with the tongue of his people." There's more to the tongue of a people than just linguistics. We must respect their culture too, and the values that they hold dear. Is it too much to expect the same from those who come to visit and live among us here in our own lands?

Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.