Imperatives of interfaith tolerance
Syed Rezaul Karim
A few days ago, national dailies reported that an Ahmadiya woman was denied a burial place in the Nakhalpara graveyard in Dhaka because she belonged to the Ahmadiya community. The woman used to live in the Nakhalpara area and it was her Sunni Muslim neighbours who barred her burial in the locality. Her body had to be carried to a graveyard at Tejgaon, where she found an eternal resting place.
This social and religious intolerance and hostility is symptomatic of a society unaware of the true spirit of Islam. Tolerance, in essence, means to give consideration to others. In social life friction between people does occur in every society, and differences arising from religion, culture, tradition and personal tastes persist.
But the truly pious persons look upon people with love and compassion. There is a well- known Hadith narrated by Jabir Bin Abdullah. The Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said: “He who is not merciful to others, will not be treated mercifully ( Bukhari).“
The elements that make peace in a society in the spirit of Islamic tradition are compassion, forgiveness and respect for all. There is a very significant and interesting story recorded by Al- Bukhari in this regard. The Prophet of Islam once saw a funeral passing by in a street in Medina. The Prophet was seated at that time. On seeing the funeral, the Prophet stood up in respect. At this one of the companions said: “O Prophet, it was the funeral of a Jew.” The Prophet replied: “Was he not a human being?“ What is meant here is that every human being is worthy of respect.
There may be differences of opinion among people regarding religion and culture but everyone has to respect the sanctity of the other. Allah has stressed the importance of following the Prophet (peace be upon him), revealing that His love of a person and His forgiveness of his /her sins depend on him/her following the Prophet.
The patent hostility towards the Ahmadiyas on the part of some Sunni Muslims stems from their (Ahmadiya’s) belief that Mirza Golam Ahmad (1835-1909) of Qadiyan was a divine reformer, a messiah and prophet within the fold of Islam. This belief is rejected as blasphemy by Sunnis and Shias alike.
They point out that the holy Koran is categorical in stating that “prophethood” has been sealed with the advent of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), who is the last in the chain of prophets. However, the Ahmadiyas also believe in the oneness of God, in the Koran and Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him).
The Koranic revelation to the Prophet with regard to religious divisions can be gleaned from the following passage of Sura Anam: “Those who have made divisions in their religion and became sects, thou art not of them in anything; their affair is unto God, then He will tell them what they have been doing. Whoso brings a good deed shall have ten the like of it; and whoso brings an evil deed shall only be recompensed the like of it; they shall not be wronged (verse 159/160).“
To deny a place of burial to a human being is an insult to humanity. The Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said: “All God’s creatures are his family, and he is the most beloved of God who trieth to do most good to God’s creatures.”
The famous poet-philosopher Hazrat Sheikh Sadi composed a beautiful couplet on the humanity of man: “The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created from one essence.”
Sometimes, in blind religious zeal and emotion, some zealots call the Ahmadiyas Kafirs. But one should be reminded of what our Prophet said about such reckless sayings. Hazrat Abu Jaar (peace be upon him) said that he heard the Prophet saying: “No man shall call another man Fasik or Kafir, because if he or she is not really so, the allegation will fall on the person who said so.”
“Everyone is divinely furthered in accordance with his character,” said the Prophet.
From the above sayings of the Prophet and the Koranic admonitions, it should be understood that intolerance to human beings in the name of religion, caste or sect is not in the traditions of Islam. God has laid the earth open for every class or creed of people, whether they believe in Him or not.
We would like to see Bangladesh as a tolerant and humane society where different religious and ethnic groups can coexist with their distinctive faiths and cultures. Freedom to practice one’s own religion unfettered by the majority’s commanding faith is a civilised norm, and an essential ingredient for democratic dispensation. Let God’s mercy be on all living creatures.
We would like to conclude with seven pieces of advice from Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, a Sufi saint and the greatest mystic poet of the world. He admonishes:
“In generosity and helping others, be like a river.
In compassion and grace be like the sun.
In concealing other’s faults, be like the night.
In anger and fury, be like the dead.
In modesty and humility, be like the earth.
In tolerance, be like the sea,
Either appear as you are or be as you look.”
Syed Rezaul Karim is an ex-MD of Hoechst Bangladesh.