Part 2: Non-Muslims and co-existence

By Sultan Shahin

TIRUPATI, South India - Like any other living faith,

controversies abound in Islam. One of the most

controversial issues is the relationship of a Muslim

with people belonging to other religions. Since in

India Muslims have always lived next to a very large

non-Muslim community, this issue has created even

deeper controversies. While there are Muslims who

would insist on treating Hindus as kafir (infidel),

there are others who would insist that they should

actually be treated as Ahl-e-Kitab, people bearing

revealed books, a people who have a special place in

Islamic theology and practice. It is one of the most

serious and often-expressed grievances of Hindus that

Muslims consider them kafir and that it therefore

becomes their religious duty to either convert them or

kill them. 

Disregarding the advice of some ulema (scholars) of

his time, the first Arab to conquer parts of India,

Sind and Multan made a good beginning, giving Hindus

the same status as Ahl-e-Kitab, people with whom

Muslims are supposed to have good social relations,

including marital ones. But the question of the place

of Hindus in Islamic theology has persisted since

then. There are Muslims who have no reservations

whatsoever in considering Hindus as Ahl-e-Kitab. In

fact, anyone with any sense and understanding of

spiritualism would see at a mere glance that Hindu

scriptures are divine in origin. The question whether

Sri Krishna, for instance, is an avatar (incarnation

of a Hindu deity) of God or a messenger of God is

merely an issue of semantics, though, of course, there

are complex ideological debates over the issue. The

important thing is that the message is certainly


Hindu scriptures are indeed our Adigranth (original

scriptures). It is only reasonable to think that they

must have undergone any number of changes, accretions,

deductions, fabrications, etc during the millennia

that they have guided the spiritual growth of Indians,

particularly as in pre-historic times the literature

was transmitted to succeeding generations orally, and

even when later written in a variety of ways they

couldn't be preserved very well. 

A Muslim, therefore, cannot view every word of these

holy books with the same amount of authenticity he

attaches to the Koran. The Koran is unique among all

the scriptures in the sense that it is the only holy

book that has survived exactly as it came. Muslims do

not attach the same amount of authenticity even to the

Hadees (also written as Hadith, meaning sayings of the

Prophet), however, as most of these were compiled a

couple of generations after the demise of the Prophet.

Indeed, there is no doubt that the nefarious elements

who captured Islam after killing the Prophet's

grandsons and other family members, and turned it into

an empire under the guise of Khilafat, interpolated

into the Hadees ideas that suited their un-Islamic

feudal, monarchical, exploitative and expansionist


The Hindus, therefore, must be treated by the Muslims

as Ahl-e-Kitab. This thought has been best expressed

by Maulana Mohammed Ali in his monumental work, The

Religion of Islam. While discussing the issue of

marital relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, he

says: "As the Holy Koran states that revelation was

granted to all nations of the world [35: 24], and that

it was only with the Arab idolaters that marriage

relations were prohibited, it is lawful for a Muslim

to marry a woman belonging to any other nation of the

world that follows a revealed religion. 

"The Christians, the Jews, the Parsis, the Buddhists

and the Hindus all fall within this category; and it

would be seen that, though the Christian doctrine of

calling Jesus Christ a god or son of God is denounced

as shirk [partnership with God], still the Christians

are treated as followers of a revealed religion and

not as Mushrekeen (religious deviants), and

matrimonial relations with them are allowed. The case

of all those people who were originally given a

revealed religion, though at present they may be

guilty of shirk, would be treated in like manner, and

Parsi and Hindu women may be taken in marriage, as

also may those who follow the religion of Confucius or

of Buddha or of Tao." 

Important guidance on this issue comes from verses in

the Holy Koran): "Mankind was one single nation, and

God sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings;

and with them He sent the Book in truth, to judge

between people in matters wherein they differed; but

the People of the Book, after the clear Signs came to

them, did not differ among themselves, except through

selfish conduct and hatred of one another." (Sura

al-Baqara - 2.21) 

The doctrine of kafir and rejection of co-existence

with the so-called kafir being spread by some

obscurantist elements is thus patently un-Islamic.

Ignorant Muslims are being indoctrinated into the

theory that it is a Muslim's religious duty to fight

and kill a kafir wherever he finds one. This leads to

a general misunderstanding that in Islam a kafir is

"unworthy of Allah's mercy and compassion". In point

of fact, even if someone can be described as kafir in

Islamic terminology, he or she would be as worthy of

God's compassion as any one else. Islam has not

authorized anyone to judge who is a kafir or a munafiq

(hypocrite), deserving God's wrath or punishment. In

fact, a wrong accusation of kafir reverts to the

accuser himself, thus making him kafir. 

The only people whom the Koran does describe as kafir,

ie, the pre-Islamic Meccans, were beneficiaries of the

highest act of God's compassion and mercy. He sent to

them His last messenger who perfected the message that

He had been sending to people living in all parts of

the world at various times through a galaxy of 124,000

prophets since the advent of the first Prophet, Hazrat


The reason pre-Islamic Meccans were described as kafir

seems to be that they were the only people on earth

who had not been sent a Prophet before. But now that

all peoples of the world have received prophets, and

all the prophets brought revelations (according to the

Koran), all the people following those prophets - no

matter how imperfectly - are to be treated by Muslims

as Ahl-e-Kitab. Some polytheistic practices of Hindus

cannot be used as an excuse for calling them kafir as

similar practices of Christians do not make them

kafir. This, in a nutshell, is the correct Islamic


The only people who can be called kafir today with a

clear Islamic conscience are the ones who have the

temerity to call others kafir. For, according to the

Prophet, a wrong accusation of kafir makes the accuser

himself a kafir. In fact, this places nearly all ulema

belonging to different Islamic sects who routinely

keep calling each other kafir on the list of kafirs

themselves. Also, these are the people who are

concealing the truth about Islam, that is, committing

Kufr (denial of truth). If Islam is at all in danger

today, the danger comes from these very people. This,

too, makes them kafir in one of the original senses of

the word. 

The meaning of Kufr

Kufr is defined by most commentators of the Holy Koran

as "denial of the truth". Basically, the word means to

cover, to conceal. In Arabic language the word Kufr is

used in a variety of ways. One meaning, for instance,

is concealment or withholding of the means of

subsistence, which God has created for the good of all

mankind and which He wants to be freely available to

all. According to this definition, hoarders of goods

for the sake of business or hoarders of wealth would

be considered kafir. 

In Egypt, the word kafir is used to describe the

farmers as they conceal seeds in the ground and cover

it up. In Urdu poetry the word kafir is used to

describe the beloved, usually a beloved who spurns the

poet's advances. The beloved can be haqiqi or mjazi,

meaning spiritual or earthly, the object of love being

either God or an earthling. Urdu's greatest mystic

poet Mirza Ghalib says: 

"Mohabbat mein nahin hai farq jeene aur marne ka; 

Usi ko dekh kar Jeete hain jis kafir pe dam nikle. 

Khuda ke waste parda na Kaabe se utha Zaalim; 

Kahin aisa na ho yan bhi wohi kafir sanam nikle. 

(In love, there is no difference between life and


We live gazing at the same kafir [beloved] on whom we


For God's sake, do not lift the veil from the face of


Who knows, maybe the idol of the same kafir is

installed there.) 

The Prophet, too, used the word kafir in a variety of

ways. Ingratitude, for instance, was equated with

Kufr. Similarly, excessive eating was considered by

the Prophet one of the attributes of a kafir. This

would place nearly all fundamentalist ulema, maulvis

(clergy) and maulanas (scholars) on the list of the

kafiroon. According to the Prophet, a Muslim killing

another Muslim is a kafir. All the mujahideen in

Afghanistan or Kashmir are thus also placed on the

list of kafiroon. 

Most Muslims would dare not accuse others of Kufr. But

some theologians take a different view and do not mind

calling even something as routine as neglect of prayer

as Kufr. Someone who confirms the obligations of

prayer yet neglects it out of laziness or pretence of

being too busy (without a valid legal excuse) would in

their view attract the provisions of Kufr. 

Many ulema arrogate to themselves the right to judge

others in a purely subjective fashion. And this is

despite the clearly and repeatedly expressed view of

the Prophet that Muslims should not call any one

either a kafir or a munafiq. In fact, the Prophet's

motto was: "Whoever calls believers in One God kafir

is himself nearer to Kufr." Indeed, he continued to

treat well-known munafeqeen in Madina as Muslims.

Calling Ahmadiyas in Pakistan kafir thus makes many

Pakistanis susceptible to the charge of being kafir


Similarly, those Muslims who call Hindus, Christians,

Jews, Buddhists or Parsis, etc kafir may themselves be

committing Kufr. In Islam, to believe in some prophets

and reject others is condemned as Kufr: "Those who

say, we believe in some [prophets] and disbelieve in

others ... these are truly non-believers [kafiroon]

... Those who believe in Allah and his messengers and

make no distinction between any of the messengers will

be duly rewarded ... " (4;150-152) 

Maulana Mohammed Ali thus rightly concludes: "A belief

in all the prophets of the world is thus an essential

principle of the religion of Islam, and though the

faith of Islam is summed in two brief sentences,

'there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His

apostle', yet the man who confesses belief in the

prophethood of Mohammed, in so doing accepts all the

prophets of the world, whether their names are

mentioned in the Holy Koran or not. Islam claims

universality and lays the foundation of a brotherhood

as vast as humanity itself." 

Co-existence with other religions 

In common parlance, the word kafir is supposed to mean

a non-believer in God. For many ignorant Muslims in

the sub-continent, it is virtually synonymous with the

word Hindu, even though several eminent theologians

insist that Hindus be given the status of Ahl-e-Kitab

(people who follow Divine Books brought by messengers

of God before the Prophet Mohammed), with whom Muslims

are asked to have the best of social - including

marital - relationships. 

This debate could have remained innocuous, and like

most theological disputes interminable. Islam is well

known to believe in coexistence with non-believers.

Its quintessence being the Koranic verse that

specifically addresses the kafiroon (plural of kafir)

and asks Muslims to say: Lakum Deenakum Waleya Deen

(For you your religion and for me mine, the Holy Koran

109:5). "Say, 'O ye disbelievers! I worship not that

which you worship; nor worship you what I worship. And

I am not going to worship that which you worship; nor

will you worship what I worship. For you be your

religion and for me mine." (Sura Alkafiroon, 109:2-7) 

The Holy Koran is absolutely clear that differences in

color and creed constitute a deliberate design of

Allah with a divine purpose but confer no superiority

to any one group over another: "Among His signs is the

creation of the Heavens and the Earth, and the

diversity of your tongues and colors. In that surely

are signs for those who possess knowledge." (30:23) 

This message is repeated in the Koran in a variety of

ways: "O mankind, we have created you from a male and

a female; and we have made you into tribes and

sub-tribes so that you may recognize one another.

Verily, the most honorable among you, in the sight of

Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you.

Surely, Allah is all-knowing, all-aware." (49:14). And

righteousness is defined in the following words: "It

is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the

East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth

in Allah and the last day and the angels and the

scripture and the prophets; and giveth his wealth, for

love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy

and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set

slaves free; and observeth proper worship, and payeth

the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when

they make one, and the patient in tribulation and

adversity and in times of stress. Such are they who

are sincere. Such are the God-fearing." (2:177) 

Obviously, Islam does not attach as much importance to

the worship of God as to the righteous conduct.

Huqooq-ul-Ibad (rights of other creations of God over

us or conversely our duties towards other creations of

God) is thus given primacy in Islam over Huqooq-ul-lah

(rights of Allah over us or our duties towards God). 

In the matter of religion, Islam allows man to follow

his own dictate, so that many religions can exist at

the same time. Indeed the Holy Koran could not be more

explicit: "And if thy Lord had enforced His will,

surely, all who are on earth would have believed

together [in the same religion]. Wilt thou, then,

force them to become believers [in Islam]?" (10:100).

Then there is the overriding instruction in the famous

verse La Ikraha fid Deen (Let there be no compulsion

in religion: 2:25). 

Islam confirms validity of other religions 

Some mullahs have taken to issuing fatwas (religious

edicts) against the people of other religions, giving

expression to their Medieval mindset of intolerance.

They are clearly turning Islam that came as a blessing

for the world into a tool for oppression. As Shivaji

had pointed out to Aurangzeb in his famous letter:

"The Holy Koran describes Allah as

Rahmatul-lil-Aalemeen [Blessing for the Worlds] and

not just Rahmatul-lil-Muslemeen [Blessing for the


The main feature of the exclusivist view of Islam that

is being extensively propagated today by some

obscurantist mullahs can thus be summarized in one

word: intolerance. They are preaching and practicing

Islam as an intolerant religion. This is a total

negation of all that Islam stands for. Indeed, the

exclusivist view of Islam is the same as that of the

Christian Crusaders. This view was best refuted in the

early 20th century by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, an

Englishman, and an Orientalist, who had converted to

Islam and is best known by his translation of the Holy

Koran. (The meaning of Koran by Pickthall, first

published in 1930) 

Pickthall makes an interesting point that the

obscurantist mullahs would do well to ponder, if they

really have any regard for Islam. He says: "It was not

until the Western nations broke away from their

religious law that they became more tolerant; and it

was only when the Muslims fell away from their

religious law that they declined in tolerance and

other evidences of the highest culture ... Of old,

tolerance had existed here and there in the world,

among enlightened individuals; but those individuals

had always been against the prevalent religion.

Tolerance was regarded as un-religious, if not

irreligious. Before the coming of Islam it had never

been preached as an essential part of religion."

("Tolerance in Islam", a lecture delivered by

Pickthall in 1927.) 

Speaking from a Christian perspective and comparing

Islam with Judaism and Christianity, Pickthall

declares: "In Islam only is manifest the real nature

of the Kingdom of God. The two verses of the Koran

(2:255-256) are supplementary. Where there is that

realization of the majesty and dominion of Allah,

there is no compulsion in religion. Men choose their

path - allegiance or opposition - and it is sufficient

punishment for those who oppose that they draw further

and further away from the light of truth." 

Further on in his famous lecture, Pickthall explains

the relationship between Islam and other religions in

these words: "The Koran repeatedly claims to be the

confirmation of the truth of all religions. The former

scriptures had become obscure, the former prophets

appeared mythical, so extravagant were the legends

which were told concerning them, so that people

doubted whether there was any truth in the old

scriptures, whether such people as the prophets had

ever really existed. Here - says the Koran - is a

scripture whereof there is no doubt: here is a prophet

actually living among you and preaching to you. If it

were not for this book and this prophet, men might be

excused for saying that Allah's guidance to mankind

was all a fable. This book and this prophet,

therefore, confirm the truth of all that was revealed

before them, and those who disbelieve in them to the

point of opposing the existence of a prophet and a

revelation are really opposed to the idea of Allah's

guidance - which is the truth of all revealed

religions. The kafirs, in the terms of the Koran, are

the conscious evildoers of any race or creed or


"Instead of harping upon differences, Islam looks for

a common ground for cooperation. The first meeting

point is in humanity. The Prophet said: 'Creation is

the family of Allah, and the most beloved of all

creation to Allah is he who does good to His family'.

In his Farewell Pilgrimage sermon, he said, 'All men,

whatever nation or tribe they may belong to, and

whatever station in life they may hold, are equal'.

Once a funeral procession passed by and the holy

Prophet (peace be upon him) stood up as a mark of

respect to the dead. Someone pointed out that it was

the funeral of a Jew. His reply was, 'Was he not a

human being?' In order to discourage prejudice that

can arise from a variety of reasons, the tribal pride

being very predominant at that time, the Prophet said,

'Certainly Allah has removed from you haughtiness and

family pride of the days of ignorance. Now there are

two types of people; believers and pious as opposed to

rebellious and sinners. You are the progeny of Adam

and Adam was made of clay. People should give up

national pride, because that is one of the coals of

Hell. If not, Allah will treat them no better than a

black beetle found on a dunghill which pushes dirt and

filth with its nose'." 

The Prophet himself presented the most outstanding,

perhaps unique example of religious tolerance when he

allowed the delegation of Christians of Najran to pray

in their own way in his mosque, which was the venue of

the meeting, and in his very presence. Thus the jihadi

view of Islam does not correspond with the teachings

of Islam as understood by the overwhelming majority of

Muslims. It appears to be closer to the view of Islam

propagated by its enemies down the ages. Islamic

exclusivism that has now resulted in jihadism,

therefore, may be considered a completely different

religion, not recognizable to the followers of Islam.

Mankind has been divided into myriad communities with

different races, cultures, habits, faiths, etc, so

that in spite of these barriers, we can ourselves

reach the following conclusion: "Mankind is but one

single community" (The Holy Koran, 2:213 and 10:19). 

NEXT WEEK: Part 3: The concept of jihad 

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