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Tolerance in Islam and Among Muslims



Reply Date

Dec 30, 2016


I am married to a Muslim, although I have been brought up and educated a Christian. In order to understand my husband's religion, I have been reading a lot of literature about Islam. Please, can you tell me what exactly tolerance means to a Muslim and what it says in the Quran about tolerance? So much of what I have read has an extremely critical view of Western philosophy and many comments seem to focus on what is different and promotes the idea of separation i.e. them (Western Christians) and us (Muslims).



Salam (Peace) Vanessa,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

I am glad to hear that you are reading about Islam in order to better understand your husband’s religion. I hope that your husband is likewise reading about Christianity in order to better understand your religion.

Islam does, in fact, teach Muslims to be tolerant at all levels — individuals, groups, and states. But your question seems to arise from what you have been reading, so perhaps the source of your discomfort is a misunderstanding of the word tolerance, for you dislike the criticism of Western philosophy that you are seeing.

Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines tolerate, among other things, as “to permit the existence or practice of; allow without prohibition or hindrance; make no effort to prevent.”

So, one can criticize or dislike something and still tolerate it. One thing that Muslims should not tolerate, however, is injustice of any kind.

The Quran teaches that the mission of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him-PBUH) and his followers was and is to deliver the message of Islam. In no way is it anyone’s mission to force people to accept Islam.

This is clear from a number of verses, whose translations follow:

{There is no compulsion in religion.} (Quran 2:256)

{If then they turn away, We have not sent you as a guard over them. Your duty is but to convey (the Message)} (Quran 42:48)

{(Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. Your Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.} (Quran 16:125)

{And say, “The truth is from your Lord; so whosoever wants, let him believe and whosoever wants, let him deny.”} (Quran 16:29)

We have many examples of tolerance in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his Companions. For example, when Muhammad and his followers immigrated to Madinah, the Muslims signed an agreement with the non-Muslims of Madinah.

In this agreement — essentially a constitution — all parties were given the freedom of religion and protection of their lives and property, and all promised to work together to defend the city from its enemies.

A few years later, the Muslims signed a peace treaty of Al-Hudaibiyah with the pagans of Makkah, allowing the Muslims and pagans to interact peacefully with each other, with neither side forcing the other to change its religion. It was the pagans who broke the treaty.

When Muslims moved into other territories — Iraq, Persia, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, etc. — they guaranteed the protection of life, religion, and property for the residents. None were compelled to convert to Islam, and in many cases, non-Muslims kept their administrative positions within the new Islamic governments.

Al-Andalus — Andalusia, Spain — under Muslim rule was a particularly bright example of a civilization flourishing with Muslims, Jews, and Christians living and working together.

On the individual level, the Prophet (PBUH) again showed us how to live by his example. He never hit his wives, children, or servants. He was never angry over personal insults, but was angry only for the sake of the religion. He was kind to his non-Muslims relatives and neighbors, and merciful with his enemies.

This is what Islam teaches. However, what Islam teaches and what Muslims do are often very different.

Muslims must strive to maintain good relations with their non-Muslim family, friends, neighbors, colleagues; as long as in doing so, Muslims do not do anything against the rules of Islam, for example, drinking alcohol or inappropriately socializing with the opposite sex.

At the same time, Muslims must strive to improve the societies in which they live and to fight against injustice.

However, there are some schools within Islam that maintain that Muslims should separate themselves from non-Muslims, seek to live completely by Islamic Law, and not involve themselves with the wider society.

When I converted to Islam 25 years ago, this seemed to be the prevalent school among American converts — or at least it was among those I met. In part, this was because there were fewer books about Islam available in English and, of course, we did not have the Internet.

What was available usually focused on the tenets of belief and was a translation of something written for an Arab audience. I believe that this attitude of separation is also comforting to some immigrant groups, who usually stick together for mutual support and identity in a strange land.

So, you may find some Muslims — and some materials written by their ilk — that are very intolerant of others, despite the tolerance Islam teaches. You may find some who think that Muslims living as a minority should not mix with non-Muslims; should not get involved with their children’s schools; should not do volunteer work outside the mosque; should not lobby, vote, or run for office.

But I (any many others) also believe that if Muslims isolate themselves they become easy targets of prejudice and even violence against them. They have to become an integral part of society and strive to improve the society.

Western society is far from perfect, and there is much to criticize in it. Perhaps you are sensitive to this criticism, Vanessa, or perhaps the materials you have read are too negative to deliver the positive message of Islam effectively. Try searching for a more positive look at things.

I do believe that Islam is the solution to humanity’s troubles, but I also do not believe that the majority of Muslims are living up to the teachings of Islam. Thus, there is also much to criticize in Muslim societies, but not in Islamic teachings.

I hope that you will continue to visit us here at Please read the links below for more information. If you have more questions, please write to us. We are here to help!


Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Is There Religious Tolerance in Islam?

What Are The True Teachings of Islam?

How To Embrace Islam in Daily Life?

The Past, Present, and Future of Islam in America

How Can Old Islam Protect Recent Human Rights?

Prophet Muhammad: Master of Tolerance

Does Islam Command Attacking Churches?

Religious Tolerance in Muslim History

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