Islam West

The Corridor to Religious Tolerance in Islam

 

By Anahita Hamzei*

   

    Embracing a new religion is indeed a beautiful event. Soon after, however, as we become more socially involved, mixing and mingling with certain folk is not always a "bowl full of cherries". Sometimes, we witness religious discussions which are not the least bit productive, but instead a less than graceful 'war of words' among people with opposing views. And, if we’re not careful, it is easy to get caught up in these tirades—it is at that point we must stop and ask ourselves what would our prophet Mohammad (saaws) do? What does Islam suggest? The answer usually comes from within ourselves, without having to ask--if we do a little soul searching. For instance, it wasn't until I began reading more Islamic literature that I realized much of this fighting, due to intolerance of another’s belief, is simply not what the Man upstairs calls for—Allah. Therefore, I'm offering readers a firsthand affidavit of my experience, in which I had to come to terms with my own deep-seated intolerance, with examples of Quranic ayahs that led me down a tranquil corridor towards religious tolerance in Islam.

  I confess, I was not the best Muslim when I converted. I got tossed around between many religious sects and groups trying to reel me in with their group think “voodoo”. The sharks were after me, and I rarely had time to think for myself. It was not hard to get wrapped up in all that group think, much of what people said enticed my alter ego: I could relate to them. I felt comforted knowing that someone was on my side--when it came down to the resentment I harbored, for so long, towards the faith I left behind. What I held back, overtly, was that after my reversion things became a habit of compare and contrast: comparing every bad aspect of my Catholic past against every better aspect of my newly embraced religion; comparing the bad treatment I received from my Christian peers and mentors to the better treatment I was receiving from my new Muslim peers and mentors. It continued like this for some time; however, mostly when I found myself shunned or egged on for embracing Islam. And oh boy, did I stoop? I got into absurd rants, probably more or less embarrassing to myself than anyone else. I stretched my neck out, to justify my stance, as a new and bold Muslima to an audience of skeptics. Granted, it did not dawn on me, how I was going down the wrong path in a 'war of words', up until I saw a reflection of myself in those who blamed Islam for their own misery--pretty much in the way I blamed Christianity for my own "sorry life" at one time. I foolishly and regretfully morphed into a "meany"; meanwhile, I had forgotten that all along my mission as a Muslim was defined by the very ideal of offering Salam, spreading peace, to others. The aspects that attracted me like a magnet to Islam I would soon forget—peace, tolerance, brotherly/sisterly love--as I ventured upon this quest to prove my new found “uprightness” via useless counterblasts; consequently, these harangues made me come off as intolerant, haughty, and arrogant, rather than the "winner" I thought myself to be. Above all, what got to me about myself, when I realized how very wrong I had been, was that the one word that attracted me to even consider reverting to Islam was Salam—Peace. I felt an actual tug at my heart with this realization, was that some centripetal pull of force initiated by Allah? Regardless, I did not like what I had become: the Muslim, anger, rather than actual Islam was molding me into. Something was urging me to let go of the sullenness and find new ways to cope, because of who I am innately and, overall, because of what Islam represents. It did not take me too long to realize that after converting, when channeling the correct way of being in Islam, that my own qualms did not, in any way, represent that of other Christians nor would my experience in Islam represent that of all Muslims. I needed—more than anything—to truly comprehend my religion, other than try with such factitious enthusiasm to prove myself for the sake of winning some trivial debate. Proving myself amounted to nothing but a selfish quest in a selfless religion like Islam. I had to swallow my pride in order to practice the faith I loved, wholeheartedly, rather than intolerably. Isn't it, after all, every Muslim’s aim to practice Islam with their heart in it as a whole? I had to get back to the person I was, the peace seeker that I had set out to be—once upon a very blue moon—and improve on her. Embracing that person, once again, combined with the ideologies of Islam, led me on my path towards a greater love and tolerance for all people of faith. That moment dawned on me when I came to a crossroads: I could either preach to the chorus, while dissecting other faiths apart, by going on a useless path of emotional revenge towards one religion (just as some do towards Islam); or I had to grapple with letting go of bitterness in a bottle towards my Christian past, while seeking forgiveness as a Muslim and the corridor to tolerance in Islam. I chose the latter—and to grow up while I was on the road to tolerance. What's more, is perhaps I chose something greater than simply tolerance like a new level of understanding towards the Christian faith (I was born into) and those people (most of which were Christian) closest to me.

Religious Tolerance

     First off, to practice a certain level of tolerance I stepped away from the debates all together. I was known as the Great Debater throughout social media and circles. Friends would drag me into their circles of diatribes, which really led me towards walking into a web of sin, because I got heated—too heated! Lousy, cruel, spiteful words were exchanged, which I found myself repenting for later. I had to say “no” to everyone who needed me to 'get their back' if I wanted to purify myself as a Muslim. Why? It was, for most part, the right thing to do according to Islam, and I could not afford to let others—who chose their own battles—drown me with them in a cesspool of sin and hatred. When I really began to probe Qur’an, writing down those ayahs, which again pulled at my heart—a feeling I can only relate to as some phenomenal occurrence, or a sign from Allah—I came to understand how wrong I really was. Reoccurring ayah stuck in my head like a sweet unshakable memory, topped with a lasting moral lesson, widening my brown eyes with delight: I never got them off my mind, and they kept appearing out of the blue. No matter what he said, or what she said, or what I said, all that ever really needed to be said was that Allah will be the ultimate judge: “And do not be like she who untwisted her spun thread after it was strong [by] taking your oaths as [means of] deceit between you because one community is more plentiful [in number or wealth] than another community. Allah only tries you thereby. And He will surely make clear to you on the Day of Resurrection that over which you used to differ.” {Quran, 16: 92} Surah An Nahl was the first surah that really spoke to me, we all have those moments of lucidity as Muslims--I think. I began to gain a clear understanding of tolerance in Islam by way of this Surah. Today, it happens to be one of my favorite Surahs, with little to no obscurity, depicting the importance of tolerance and unity with profound poetic clarity. I certainly did not want to be like she “who untwisted her spun thread after it was strong”. From that moment on, I was determined to preserve my faith without the disturbance of being dragged down a trail of intolerance.

    Moving along, with that notion in mind, how could I express intolerance towards a fellow Muslim? Furthermore, how could I argue with a Christian about their practices and convictions according to standards of my own religion, which they may be oblivious to, but Allah is still oft forgiving of? The answer is simple, I could not. The Qur’an sang loudly and clearly of religious tolerance through many of verse! Quran clearly revealed it was not my job to judge others, simply on account of their religion; Muslims don’t get to do that. Here are several more ayah that widened my narrowness towards other believers, opening up like one new enlightening corridor after the other:

 

  1.  "And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender." {Quran, 29:46}
  2. "Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." {Quran, 2:62
  3.  "(And remember) when Allah said: O Jesus! Lo! I am gathering thee and causing thee to ascend unto Me, and am cleansing thee of those who disbelieve and am setting those who follow thee above those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then unto Me ye will (all) return, and I shall judge between you as to that wherein ye used to differ." {Quran. 3:55}
  4. "O ye who believe! Be ye helpers of Allah: As said Jesus the son of Mary to the Disciples, 'Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah?' Said the disciples, 'We are Allah's helpers!' then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved: But We gave power to those who believed, against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed." {Quran, 61:14}

Beyond the substantial proof, here and now—2017—believers of the Abrahamic lineage of faiths all worship the same Allah/God, despite our nominal differences. According to Quran: Muslims have no authority over other believers—Christians, Jews, Muslims—it is not our duty to exhort moral authority over them. “Indeed, there is for him no authority over those who have believed and rely upon their Lord.” {Quran 16-98} It is not my place with them, nor is it a fair for either of us, while our hearts are guided by Allah to be just as we are.  Plus, if a Muslim was to insist upon selectively arguing with and offending people, because of their beliefs, they may only lose a friend or family member. And this goes back to the question of what would our prophet do? Prophet Mohammad (saaws) left his Ummah many hadith and ayahs that expounded on the importance of preserving the bonds between families; henceforth, tolerance for my mostly Christian family was a vital skill for me as a Muslim convert, in order to be a true and just servant of Allah. While many exist, here are just a few ayah and hadith relating to the importance of maintaining the ties of kinship:

  1. The Holy Prophet (S) states: “There is destruction in enmity, especially with the relatives. I do not mean the destruction of the law but rather the destruction of the religion.” {al-Kāfi, Chapter of Qat’a ar-Rahm}
  2. Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says: “Protect yourself from ‘Haliqa’ for it destroys the people.” The narrator asked “What is ‘Haliqa’”, Imam replied, “To sever relations.”
  3. “Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.” {Quran: 16-90}
  4. “… and fear Allaah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of ) the wombs (kinship)…” {Quran 4:1}
  5. “And give to the kindred his due and to the miskeen (poor)…” {Quran, 17:26}

Additionally, as I was still surrounded by a world of Christians who did not understand Islam, how could I expect others to embrace a manner of tolerance and understanding towards my convictions, if I had no understanding and respect towards theirs? One way to teach Islam is through our own behavior, intolerance offers Islam no favor. Islam, as I came to understand it, allowed me to let go of my qualms, research my past, and develop a new and improved skill of religious tolerance--in the process I probably learned more about Christianity as a Muslim than I ever did as a Christian. I knew that tolerance was written all over the Quran and you could not overlook it. Like a beautiful melody, one ayah after another struck a different chord in me, they played in my head every time I crossed a person on a different religious path.

  1. “And if Allah had willed, He could have made you [of] one religion, but He causes to stray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. And you will surely be questioned about what you used to do.” {Quran: 16-93}
  2. “Whatever you have will end, but what Allah has is lasting. And We will surely give those who were patient their reward according to the best of what they used to do.” {Quran 16-96}
  3. “Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer - We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.” {Quran 16-97}
  4. "Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, "We are Christians": because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant. And when they listen to the revelation received by the Apostle, thou wilt see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognise the truth: they pray: "Our Lord! we believe; write us down among the witnesses. What cause can we have not to believe in God and the truth which has come to us, seeing that we long for our Lord to admit us to the company of the righteous?" And for this their prayer hath God rewarded them with gardens, with rivers flowing underneath,- their eternal home. Such is the recompense of those who do good. But those who reject Faith and belie our Signs,- they shall be companions of Hell-fire."  {Quran, 5:82-86}

These selections of beautiful ayah ring of tolerance, and led me to explore what I rejected growing up. It was because of the Quran, that I could speak, teach, and understand non-Muslims in a language they knew; likewise, while being true to my own faith and offering those—following their own destiny—not an attitude of superiority and arrogance, but an attitude of tolerance, empathy, and love.

     I learned, in my early days as a Muslim, do not become crass or bitter; these two behaviors attribute to the very thing our Prophet (saaws) led and warned his people against. As a Muslim, I am here to represent the Prophet (saaws) I so love, full of grace, not full of dishonor. With all the beautiful Ayah presented in the Quran on religious tolerance, how than can anyone say that a corridor towards religious understanding and tolerance does not exists within Islam? The corridor is there, and all you need is Allah to find it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Anahita Hamzei is a two time graduate from the Texas A&M University System. She has received B.A.s in the human sciences and earned a Master of Science degree in Sociology. Mrs. Hamzei is an award winning speaker and researcher with published works in various fields of human and life sciences. She has traveled and lived in the Islamic Republic of Iran since 2013. She now journals and writes about her experiences, via news sites and social media, in an effort to debunk stereotypes and misconceptions spread by western propaganda.

 

 

 


The views, opinions and positions expressed on Op-Ed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of Khamenei.ir .

Comments

  • 2017-01-21 18:11
    Thanks for sharing this note , I always like to know abut new convert And what they thinking abut Islam , god bless her
  • 2017-01-21 19:01
    If only all people thought like this the world could be better. Nice to see peaceful talks from muslims.
  • 2017-01-21 20:18
    Mashallah! May Allah keep us all on the straight path.
  • 2017-01-21 22:21
    Magnifico! Iran have a good influence on Muslims converts, not like other nations who teach people kafir
  • 2017-01-22 06:13
    I can feel what she went through about people trying to pull you into group think. She did the right thig there is a lot of that going on for reverts.
  • 2017-01-26 20:59
    Beautiful! Many thanks for sharing your experience with us!
  • 2017-01-28 18:54
    Dear Sister, I can relate to many of your experiences and emotions. I reverted to Islam in 2010...and I am a former British soldier. I loved going to the mosques, listening to the Imam and the tightly knit community I felt apart of. But I too experienced this constant argument between so called 'sects'...which really troubled me. Now I don't get involved. I read the Quran each day and only seek guidance if I do not understand something. Your experience is admirable and thank you for sharing it with us. Thank you to sister Nor Ahmed who guided me to your page. May Allah (swt) protect you and continue to guide you on the right path Ameen
  • 2017-01-28 20:06
    I wish there be more muslim convert with same positive attitude. Pray for me sister.
  • 2017-02-04 15:21
    Brother Anthony Brown welcome to Islam, we are happy to know people like you in Iran. Maybe you will visit one day. To sister who wrote this thank you now I share your story with my family and you make them so happy.
  • 2017-02-12 20:56
    Had no idea my teacher was so talent!
  • 2017-03-21 10:53
    Now i see the world of a convert is not so easy to. i hope God keep her in Islam and safe. This is another excellent one by this writter.
  • 2017-05-19 00:48
    I can relate! I almost cried. This really was an eye opener for me and a hint that i need to change the way i look at islam.

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