The common misperceptions about the Qur'an's message (among Islamophobes and Muslim bigots) are just as extreme as the misperceptions of some Christians about the message of Jesus. Would Jesus have sanctioned burning heretics at the stake or using his message to justify a laissez-faire indifference to the poor and vulnerable? Nor does the Qur'an sanction aggression, religious coercion, or a perpetual state of conflict among the religions of humanity.
The Divine voice that speaks in the Qur'an, for instance, not only approves the truth of the Torah, but even claims to be the very same source of revelation. While to the mind of the cynical this might appear as a clever case of one religion co-opting another, the implication for Muslim believers is that they must view the Torah with respect since it also comes from Allah! The following "We" when it appears in the Qur'an does not refer to any human agency but to the Divine Oneness:
It was We who revealed the Torah; therein was guidance and light. By its standard the Jewish people have been judged by the Prophets who surrendered to God's will, as well as by the Rabbis and the doctors of Law, for to them the protection of God's book was entrusted: If any do fail to judge by what God has revealed (including the Torah), they are (no better than) unbelievers. [Qur'an 5:44]
We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew all of humanity: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of all of humanity. [Qur'an 5:32]
We ordained therein for them: "A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth and equivalence in harm done." But if anyone by way of charity foregoes that retaliation, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by what God has revealed, they are wrongdoers. [Qur'an 5:45]
Likewise, Jesus, too, is honored as a Prophet, and is even referred to as "a Word from God":
God gives you good tidings of a Word from Him who shall be called the Messiah. [Qur'an 3:45] And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: and therein was guidance and light and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who are conscious of God. [Qur'an 5:45-46] To Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear signs and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. [Qur'an 2:253]
Finally, respect for all sincere religious communities is enjoined upon Muslims: O you who keep the faith! When you go abroad in the way of God, be clear and circumspect and say not to anyone who offers you a greeting of peace: "You are not a believer!" [Qur'an 4:94]
To each community among you We have prescribed a Law and a way of life. If God had so willed He would have made you a single people, but His plan is to test you in what He has given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you differ. [Qur'an 5:48]
The followers of earlier revelation are not all alike: among them there are upright people, who recite God's verses throughout the night, and prostrate themselves before Him. They believe in God and the Last Day, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and vie with one another in doing good works--and they are among the righteous. And whatever good they do, they shall never be denied the reward thereof: for, God has full knowledge of those who are conscious of Him. [Qur'an 3:113-115]
The Qur'an instructs Muslims to clearly declare that: We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in what was given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them, and to God do we bow our will." [Qur'an 3:84]
Relationships with the followers of other traditions should be characterized by more than mere tolerance, but rather by respect, compassion, peace and the fostering of coexistence and cooperation. The Qur'an instructs Muslims to show respect to the religious people of previous traditions and says: "Among these are people devoted to learning and people who have renounced the world and are not arrogant." [Qur'an 5:82]
The Qur'an calls for impartiality and fairness in relations with people of other faiths. It undermines any sense of religious superiority by declaring that heaven is not the exclusive domain of Muslims. It clearly states, "Verily, those who have attained to faith, as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians--all who believe in God and the last day and do righteous deeds, shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve." [Qur'an 2:62, 5:69]
In many verses, the Qur'an even asks Muslims to join in fellowship with the followers of other traditions by refraining from discussing subjects that cause division and instead put the emphasis on common themes. And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelations except in the most beautiful (or gentle) manner. [Qur'an 29:46] But do not revile those whom they invoke instead of God, lest they revile God out of spite, and in ignorance: for We have made the deeds of every people seem fair to them. In time, they must return to their Lord, and then He will make them understand what they have done. [Qur'an 6:108]
The Qur'an declares in no uncertain terms: There shall be no compulsion in religion [Qur'an 2:256]. This assures that people should have the freedom to choose their faith and spiritual destiny. The Prophet set an example for his community to handle the fact of diversity of faiths, requiring Muslims to recognize and respect God's decision in the matter of allowing various faith communities to exist with each other and even with those who choose not to believe in God at all.
Does Islam claim a monopoly on truth or virtue?
It is quite clear from many verses of the Qur'an that righteousness, morality, and one's relationship with the Divine are not the exclusive possession of Muslims. Thus there seems to be a necessity to the diversity of religions and this diversity may help us to understand our humanity and our relationship to God:
If your Lord had so willed, He would have made mankind one community, but they continue to remain divided. [Qur'an 1: 118]
For each one of you [several communities] We have appointed a Law and a Way of Conduct [while the essence of religion is identical]. If God had so willed, He would have made all of you one community, but He has not done so that He may test you in what He has given you; so compete in goodness. To God shall you all return and God will tell you [the Truth] about what you have been disputing. [Qur'an 5: 48]
For other blogs in this series, "Islam and Human Values", click here.