Society is formed by groups of individuals who possess different elements that make them human.
We all have our unique characteristics and personalities that make us different from each other. Those characteristics, qualities and attributes – which are the bases for the betterment of society – are in fact most important and of great significance, whether it be loyalty, sincerity, love or gratitude.
Tolerance is one of those qualities that forms the bedrock of society. The world is a much smaller place today. Globalisation has blurred borders throughout the world. More people from different nations, cultures, religions and lifestyles are working together and living in the same neighbourhoods than ever before. We’re in a global village.
In this globalisation, where people of different backgrounds, cultures and faith live together, and where the world has become more multicultural and diverse than ever before, establishing tolerance and harmony has become more crucial and important; fostering mutual love and affection has become vital.
Let’s take religion for instance. Tolerance is very important in the case of religion. How people worship is a very personal thing and someone bashing a person’s religion can start a heated battle very quickly. Everyone has the right to believe what they want. If there was more tolerance among people, there would be fewer battles over whose religion is right.
An illustration of the Islamic teaching with regards to religious freedom and tolerance will not be out of context.
The Holy Quran has especially emphasised that the matter of religion relates to the conscience of every individual. Hence, there should be absolutely no force and compulsion in religion. (Surah Al-Baqarah: Ch.2: V.256)
This teaching is not exclusively for the embellishment of paper or the beautification of pulpits, rather it is practiced with immense integrity.
The very first treaty of Islam was the one settled by the Holy Prophetsa after his migration with the Jewish population of Medina. The very foundation of this treaty was based on the principle of religious freedom and tolerance.
When the Banu Nadhir tribe was given the punishment of exile from Medina due to their treachery and seditious behavior, they desired to take along those people who were from the children of the Ansar [early Muslim natives of Medina] but had been converted to Judaism due to the vows of the Ansar. The Ansar attempted to restrain them in Medina. However, when this dispute was presented before the Holy Prophetsa, he issued a verdict against the Ansar saying, “There can be no compulsion in the matter of religion,” and granted Banu Nadhir permission to take those people along with them.
In the very lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa we also find instances when the Jews of Khaybar and Christians of Najran entered the Islamic state, the Holy Prophetsa granted them complete freedom in both belief and practice.
As a matter of fact, there is a narration that when the Christians of Najran came to Medina, the Holy Prophetsa even granted them permission to perform their worship in Masjid Al-Nabawi in their own manner. When some companions attempted to restrain them, the Holy Prophetsa forbade them. Thus, the Christians faced westward in the very Masjid Al-Nabawi and observed their own rites of worship.
There is a narration regarding Hazrat Abu Bakrra that whenever he would dispatch a Muslim army, he would especially instruct its commander to ensure that non-Muslim places of worship and religious elders were given full reverence, something he acquired from the blessed example of his Mastersa. When Syria was conquered in the era of Hazrat Umarra, the single most prominent aspect of the treaty that was settled between the Muslims and Christian population who lived there was religious freedom and tolerance. The Holy Prophetsa not only emphasised the desirability of tolerance in religious matters but set a very high standard in this respect.
Youth for Tolerance, a group in Lebanon (one of the most diverse yet disturbed countries in the world) had this to say about tolerance:
“Tolerance, as we define it, refers to the skills we need to live together peacefully. In times of peace, people have a chance to prosper socially, economically and emotionally. Tolerance creates a society in which people can feel valued and respected, and in which there is room for every person, each with their own ideas, thoughts and dreams. This is why we believe tolerance is important: because it is an essential aspect of a healthy, livable society. In fact, it is the only way in which a country as diverse as Lebanon (politically, religiously, economically) can function and use each and every difference to make its people thrive rather than suffer.” (http://youth4tolerance.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=6)
It is imperative that people show cultural tolerance where there is a diverse array of people of different cultural backgrounds. One must respect the culture of another irrespective of class, colour, or creed.
In this era, where there is enough maturity and sense of values of others, we still observe lack of tolerance regarding culture. A fresh example is that of France where Muslim women are not allowed to wear the veil in specific areas. If we think for a moment how Europe emphasises freedom of expression and then observe steps they have taken regarding Islamic culture, it shows us a clear lack of tolerance.
We need to accept every individual of our society as our own. We have to be tolerant to any kind of culture whether it is – as the Promised Messiahas said – a Hindu culture in a Muslim society or a Muslim culture in a Hindu society. (Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, A Message of Peace.)
Only then can a society be called perfect and tolerant.
A factor playing a major role in destroying the peace of the world are those self-perceived intelligent and liberal circles, who feel free to ridicule and mock founders of religions. To maintain peace in society, it is necessary for one to eliminate all sentiments of hostility from one’s heart and to increase one’s levels of tolerance.
Even in the West, enforcing restrictions against Muslims will not lead to peace, because they alone cannot change people’s minds and views. This is not specific to Muslims, but whenever any person is forcibly suppressed due to their religion or belief, it will lead to a negative reaction through which peace will be severely harmed.
The war in Syria is a fresh example of intolerance. Governments are hungry for power and to serve their interests they will use any means necessary. Tolerance and peace can help solve many problems, and wars are one thing that can be stopped by inducing these qualities.
The problem is not that people are intolerant by nature. God has, by nature, induced love and humility in the hearts of His creation; the problem comes when they remain ignorant and deprived of education – which is imperative in understanding values of society – thereby creating chaos and intolerance.
To establish tolerance, one way is the removal of religious prejudice. The world could have been a better place if religious leaders had promoted more tolerance than hatred. Religion can be a weapon if used negatively but on the other hand, when used wisely, can be the best way to promote love and harmony in the society. Thus, slogans like “Love for all, hatred for none” are needed for the promotion of peace and tolerance in today’s society.
Freedom of speech cannot be questioned at all, as it is one of the basic human rights. Everyone has the right to speak whatever they will but one must not go beyond the sentiments and values of others. One must consult wisdom before speaking, because words can leave a lasting impression and break one’s heart in a matter of seconds.
Many a time, we see people develop mutual enmity just because they are hurt from words said by others about their religious and holy personalities or those things which they hold sacred.
Governments have the power to change views of individuals, by taking steps that can help promote peace and harmony. No government can deny the importance of tolerance in society, as tolerance is what breaks barriers of discrimination and brings every class of the society on the same page. Governments can make laws against those who are hardened against tolerance and are creating disorder by promoting hatred through their actions or words.
Tolerance does not mean that only one person or party shows patience and acceptance for others, whereas the others do not. When people disagree on a certain issue, they must advocate and express their opinion in a respectful manner, and hateful and provocative words should be avoided. Tolerance must be shown from both sides on issues, in order for it to be effective.
Here, let it be clear that showing respect and tolerance to the opinions of others does not necessarily mean you must compromise your principles or unwillingly embrace or accept others’ ideas. It is simply a matter of fundamental human rights.
The basic right of every human being is that their sensibilities and sentiments shall not be violated and offended and must be recognised. And every person has the right to have an opinion and to express it.