If you do a Google search on “religious tolerance Islam”, of the many thousands of entries that result, the great majority will concern the necessity for Western countries and Christians to be tolerant of Islam, to respect the customs of Muslims, to make sure the needs and concerns of Muslims are taken into consideration, and so on.
A fair number of the entries, however, will be about the Islam’s tolerance for other religions. For example, from a lecture given in 1927 by Dr. Z. Haq, we have:
|In Spain under the Umayyads and in Baghdad under the Abbasid Khalifas, Christians and Jews, equally with Muslims, were admitted to the Schools and universities – not only that, but were boarded and lodged in hostels at the cost of the state. When the Moors were driven out of Spain, the Christian conquerors held a terrific persecution of the Jews. Those who were fortunate enough to escape fled, some of them to Morocco and many hundreds to the Turkish empire, where their descendants still live in separate communities, and still speak among themselves an antiquated form of Spanish. The Muslim empire was a refuge for all those who fled from persecution by the Inquisition.|
Note that Dr. Haq referred to historical events from centuries ago. The most recent example in his lecture of violent intolerance for Muslims by Christians comes from the early nineteenth century.
Later in his lecture he says this:
|Many Muslims seem to forget that our Prophet had allies among the idolaters even after Islam had triumphed in Arabia, and that he “fulfilled his treaty with them perfectly until the term thereof.” The righteous conduct of the Muslims, not the sword, must be held responsible for the conversion of those idolaters, since they embraced Islam before the expiration of their treaty.|
The “treaty” referred to, of course, is the hudna, the temporary cessation of hostilities between believer and infidel, with battle to resume later at a more advantageous time. As for the conversion of the idolaters, one suspects that they had a good idea of what they were likely to face after the expiration of the treaty.
Other results of the search are public-relations boilerplate items put out by different Islamic groups in the West, such as “Religious Tolerance in Islam” by Dr. Abdullah M. Khouj, put out by the Islamic Center of Washington D.C.:
|If we keep the principles of Islam always in mind, then we will be able to control our behavior and actions even in an environment of tension and intolerance. For example, if someone swears at us and wants confrontation, we must discipline our feelings and show the swearer our own good manners – “Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words can never harm me,” as the saying goes. By demonstrating that swearing and confrontation are not solutions, we perhaps can convince the swearer that self-control and reason is the better way to deal with difficult situations. Perhaps, he will even become aware of his foolishness, and correct his behavior.|
|The principles of Islam are the key to understanding ourselves. And, self-understanding is the most important way to promote better interpersonal relationships. With this we can recognize the beauty within ourselves, and the beauty in others and in our relationships with them. To teach self-control and tolerance, one must set an example, and, more often than not, one must take the lead.|
These are thoughts that we can all agree with, and hope are typical of Islam. But how representative are they?
A second Google search, this time on “Muslim duty convert infidel force”, produces some 50,000 entries, many of which are translations from the Arabic. MEMRI gives us this gem:
|Sheik Dr. Ahmad Abd Al-Latif, a professor at Um Al-Qura University, was asked the following question on Saudi channel TV1 on May 24: “Some imams and preachers call for Allah to annihilate the Jews and those who help them, and the Christians and those who support them… Is it permitted according to Islamic law?” Professor Al-Latif responded: “What made them curse the Jews is that the Jews are oppressors… The same goes for the Christians, because of their cruel aggression against Islamic countries … while the truth is that this is a crusading war whose goal is to harm Muslims. This is why a Muslim is allowed to curse the oppressors from among the Jews and Christians… Cursing the oppressing Jews and the oppressing and plundering Christians and the prayer that Allah will annihilate them is permitted.”|
Then there is this account of Saudi-funded literature found in American mosques:
| Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom has completed a year-long study of documents collected from more than a dozen Saudi-funded mosques in the United States-and the study confirms what many of us had long suspected: Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques
|The report states: “While the government of Saudi Arabia claims to be ‘updating’ or reforming its textbooks and study materials within the Kingdom, its publications propagating an ideology of hatred remain plentiful in some prominent American mosques and Islamic centers, and continue to be a principal resource available to students of Islam within the United States.”|
To be fair, some courageous Muslims do speak out against Islamic violence and extremism, especially since the elections in Iraq have shown that the Islamists may not be the wave of the future. But then there are the Beltway Sniper, the murder of Theo Van Gogh, bombings in Bali, Spain and many other places, and above all, the bin Laden and Zawahiri tapes together with the enthusiastic response they receive in certain quarters of the Muslim world.
All of this leaves the impression that for Islam, tolerance is a one-way street.