© Muhammad Haniff Hassan, January 2003
We should expect that a person of any faith would be confident of the truth and principles of his or her religion compared to those of others. After all, it is only through conviction in Christianity that a person becomes a Christian and not a Buddhist , a Muslim or a Hindu.
Each person would be convinced that what he or she believes in, is not only true but also closer to the truth than what is found in other religions. Hence Muslims should not be apologetic in proclaiming the supremacy of their faith.
Nonetheless, while we acknowledge the perfection of Islam, we should never insult, condemn or look down upon other religions or their believers. Our conviction should never bring about undesirable behaviour or lack of respect for others.
As Muslims, we should respect differences, be receptive and respectful of others’ opinions.
Hence Muslims should not mock the images of the Hindu deities, or the statues of Buddha, or use the cry of “wel!wel!” as a joke or use the term “Cina mampus” to describe the funerals of their Chinese neighbours. Just as we would like others to respect the commandment for hijab and the permissibility of polygamy in our religion, we should also be respectful of the practices of others such as the Hungry Ghost festival.
The following are some of the dalil that endorse being respectful to believers of other faiths.
Allah taala prohibits the act of mocking others in the following verses.
“O believers ! Let no men laugh at other men who may perhaps be better than themselves; and let no woman laugh at another woman, who may perhaps be better than herself. Do not defame through sarcastic remarks about one another, nor call one another by offensive nick-names. It is an evil thing to be called by a bad name after being a believer, and those who do not repent are the ones who are the wrong doers.” (Al-Hujurat : 12)
“Say: O unbelievers! I worship not that whom you worship, nor will you worship that whom I worship. I shall never worship those deities whom you worship. Nor will you ever worship Allah, whom I worship. To you be your religion and to me mine.” (Al-Kaafiruun : 1-6)
While these verses remind Muslims to abstain from imitating the practices of believers of others faiths, it also enforce the need to respect others and ensure their freedom in practicing their own faiths – “To you be your religion and to me mine”
Allah taala tells us in the Quran, “ O believers, do not insult those, whom these mushrikeen call upon besides Allah, lest in retaliation they call bad names to Allah out of their ignorance. Thus We have made the deeds of every group of people very fair to them. In the end they will all return to their Rabb and then, He will inform them of the reality of what they had done.” (Al-An`aam : 108)
Underlying the prohibition on mocking other religions in the above verse, is the message on respect for people of other faiths. How can a person abstains from making a mockery of other religions without the conscious sense of respect for the inherent differences.
As show of respect to others, Allah taala prohibits compulsion of others to Islam. Allah taala says; “There is no compulsion in religion” (Al-Baqarah :256) and “Would you then compel mankind against their will to believe?” (Yunus : 99)
If Muslims fail to respect the opinions of those of other religions, they may inadvertently be turning others from Islam. This would be inconsistent with the hadith that says, “Make easy and do not make complicated, give good tidings and do not cause others to turn away.” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari)
The history of Islam has proven that Muslims were able to live together in peace with non-Muslims when the basis were mutual principles of justice and respect, regardless of whether Muslims were in authority or otherwise.
When Muslims were not in authority, some of the companions sought refuge in Habsyah where the citizens were mainly Christians. The Muslims even supported the King of Habsyah when a revolt occurred in the country against him. When they were in a position of authority, Muslims forged an alliance with non-Muslims for peaceful co-existence. Such mutual respect ensured freedom of faith, religious practices, the sanctity of houses of worship and peace in the conquered territory.
Saidina Ali r.a. also practiced this philosophy even with the Khawarij who were his strongest critics. He permitted them to move freely as long as they did not threaten the security of the country.
The prohibition from the Almighty also tells Muslims that they should respect the rights of others to not believe in what they choose to believe and to choose their own faiths. This prohibition is not based on laws as its application is more effective when it is based on mutual respect rather then when it is enforced through legal means.
Nevertheless, while we uphold respect, Muslims should not simply be passive and not make any effort to share the message of Islam with non-Muslims. Failure to carry out the responsibility on da’wah is also condemned in Islam.
But Allah reminds us, “ Do not argue with the People of the Book except in good taste” (Al-`Ankabut :46)
The verse clearly encourages Muslims to have dialogues with the People of the Book. Maintaining “good taste” would mean refraining from mocking other religions.
No one would want their religion to be insulted, made fun of or mocked. Just as we would not accept non-Muslims mocking Islam, we should not allow ourselves to do anything that would offend others when it comes to discussing religious matters.
Often the sight of Muslims being attacked by others will arouse extreme anger that could tempt us to retaliate likewise. When such instances occur, we have to remind ourselves that da’wah cannot function based on vengeance and deep seated anger. And we should not use the actions of non-Muslims as examples for us to emulate.
Allah tells us in the Quran, “Good deeds are not equal to evil ones. Repel other’s evil deeds with your good deeds. You will see that he with whom you had enmity, will become your close friend.” (Fussilat : 34) and “Repel evil with good. We are fully aware of what they utter” (Al-Mukminun : 96)