As it is known in Surah Al-Hujurat verse 13, Allah SWT created humans into nations and tribes. Therefore we as humans should live in respect and appreciate each other –both with fellow Muslims and non-Muslims– in order to create religious harmony. That’s the beauty of religious tolerance in Islam.
Islam is a religion of mercy (rahmatan lil ‘alamin) as explained in the Surah Al-Anbiya verse 107. By being tolerant, Allah’s merciness will be felt by everyone.
In His verse, Surah Al-Baqarah 256, Allah SWT has also explained that there is no compulsion to embrace Islam.
One of His verses about tolerance explained in Surah Al-Mumtahanah verses 8-9 as below
لَّا يَنۡهَىٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ لَمۡ يُقَٰتِلُوكُمۡ فِي ٱلدِّينِ وَلَمۡ يُخۡرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَٰرِكُمۡ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمۡ وَتُقۡسِطُوٓاْ إِلَيۡهِمۡۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلۡمُقۡسِطِينَ ٨ إِنَّمَا يَنۡهَىٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ قَٰتَلُوكُمۡ فِي ٱلدِّينِ وَأَخۡرَجُوكُم مِّن دِيَٰرِكُمۡ وَظَٰهَرُواْ عَلَىٰٓ إِخۡرَاجِكُمۡ أَن تَوَلَّوۡهُمۡۚ وَمَن يَتَوَلَّهُمۡ فَأُوْلَٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلظَّٰلِمُونَ ٩
8. Allah does not forbid you from dealing kindly and fairly with those who have neither fought nor driven you out of your homes. Surely Allah loves those who are fair.
9. Allah only forbids you from befriending those who have fought you for (˹your˺) faith, driven you out of your homes, or supported (others) in doing so. And whoever takes them as friends, then it is they who are the (true) wrongdoers.
Imam al-Syaukani explained that the verse implies Allah does not forbid Muslims to do good to kafir dhimmi (non-Muslims who accept the supremacy of and protection from Muslim rulers), or non-Muslims who enter into agreements with Muslims to avoid war and not to help other non-Muslims in fighting Muslims.
Moreover, the verse above also shows that Allah does not forbid us to be fair in our dealing matters with them. Imam Ibn Katsir also said the same thing in his commentary, that Allah does not forbid His servants to do good to disbelievers who do not fight them in matters of religion, such as doing good in matters of the women and the weak.
In a hadith narrated by Bukhari, Rasulullah ﷺ said:
مَنْ قَتَلَ مُعَاهَدًا لَمْ يَرِحْ رَائِحَةَ الْجَنَّةِ وَإِنَّ رِيْحَهَا تُوْجَدُ مِنْ مَسِيْرَةِ أَرْبَعِيْنَ عَامًا
“If anyone kills a man who has made a covenant* he will not experience the fragrance of paradise, yet its odour can be experienced at a distance of forty years’ journey.” (Narrated by Imam Bukhari)
So the saying of an authentic (sahih) hadith is true that:
أَحَبُّ الدِّينِ إلى الله الْحَنِيفِيَّةُ السَّمْحَةُ
“The religion that is most loved by Allah is al-hanifiyyah as-samhah (which is straight and tolerant).” (Narrated by Imam Bukhari)
There are many sahih hadiths which explain the tolerance that the Prophet ﷺ adhered to when interacting with non-Muslims around him. For example, the story of the Prophet ﷺ who pawned his armor to a Jew named Abu Syahm.
A hadith narrated by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim also narrated that the Prophet ﷺ once stood up (salute) when a funeral procession passed in front of him. One of his friends reminded him that the bodies were those of Jews, who did not deserve respect. He replied immediately, “Is it not a living being (soul)?”
The Prophet ﷺ politeness when he was interacted with the Jews and hypocrites during his days in Medina after the Hijra also recorded in history. Rasulullah ﷺ still accepted their outward attitude and allowed ahl al-kitab (the Jews and Christian) to embrace their religion freely.
There is also the story of Abdullah bin Umar who was cooking a roasted sheep, then he told his maid to distribute the meat to their neighbours who were Jewish.
Something similar is also found in the story of Prophet Ibrahim AS. One day, Prophet Ibrahim had a Majusi visitor, but he did not want to feed people who were not Muslim. This 50 year old Majusi guy left immediately.
Shortly, Prophet Ibrahim received a reprimand from Allah SWT. Allah said that He who fed the Majusi for 50 years did not require anything, but the Prophet Ibrahim, who had only asked for one day, had asked for conditions. After being reprimanded, Prophet Ibrahim immediately chased the Majusi guy and fed him.
So where is the tolerance limit? As a limitation, we should not be pleased with the religious beliefs of non-Muslims and their rituals of worship, and we should not take actions that give rise to the perception of the truth of their religion and rituals.
Surah Al-Kafirun verse 6 stated that
لَكُمۡ دِينُكُمۡ وَلِيَ دِينِ ٦
6. You have your way, and I have my Way.
This verse emphasizes that Islam does not acknowledge the truth of other religions’ doctrine than the teachings of Islam itself, even though Islam recognizes the existence of these religions. As explained in the Surah Ali Imran verse 19:
إِنَّ ٱلدِّينَ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلۡإِسۡلَٰمُۗ
19. Certainly, Allah’s only Way is Islam.
We can conclude that Islam upholds tolerance highly in the realm of muamalah/interacting, but not to the realm of faith (akidah).
Islam acknowledges the existence of religious pluralism, but it also believed that the only true religion in the sight of Allah SWT is Islam.
Hopefully we can always create religious harmony with tolerance.
Eka Budhi Setiani
Ustazah Eka Budhi Setiani, Lc is an Indonesia shariah advisor at Muslim Pro. A servant of Allah who has studied at Ushuluddin Alazhar University – Cairo, Egypt. Currently she is devoting her knowledge by teaching at an islamic school under the provincial government. Together with her husband, she also managed her own boarding school in a small town in the province of Banten called Ponpes Balonk Faidhul Barokaat.