Reflections of an American Muslim

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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I want to take up the question being asked today in 4 sections.
a. Is there a theoretical basis for such co-existence?
b. Has there been examples of peaceful co-existence in the past?
c. Why is there so much hostility that makes us ask this question now?
d. What should be done?

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are referred in Islam as the Abrahamic faiths. Prophet Abraham is considered the father of these three religions. We Muslims believe in all prophets to include Moses, Jesus and Muhammad as messengers of God and essentially carrying the same message i.e. to believe in one God, do good and avoid wrong. We have a special place for Jews and Christians and the Quran refers to them as the"People of the Book" i.e. those who received Holy Scriptures-the Pentateuch and the New Testament-before the Quran was revealed. There is a common call for them. "Say; 0 People of the Book! Come to an agreement between us and you, that we shall worship no God except one God, and that we ascribe no partners unto Him, and none of us shall take others for Lords beside one God, and if they tum away, than say: I bear witness that we are they who have surrendered unto Him)" (3:64- 65).

Muslims are asked to follow the good examples of earlier prophets. "In the matters of faith, He has ordained for you that which He had ordained upon Noah, and unto which we gave you (O Muhammad) insight through revelation as well as that which had enjoined upon Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Steadfastly uphold thefaith and do not break up your unity" (42:13)."Among the people of the book there are upright people, who recite God's messages, throughout the night and prostrate themselves (before Him). They believe in God, and the last day, and enjoin the doing of what is right, forbid what is wrong and vie with another in doing good work, these are among the righteous and whatever good they do, they shall never be denied the reward thereof, or God has full knowledge of those who are conscious of Him" (3:113 - 115).

It is for this reason that we are advised in the Quran to deal with people of the Book with special status. Their food has been made lawful to us, and marrying their women has been allowed (the Quran 5:5), and we are told "Do not argue with the people of the Book otherwise than in most kind manner..." (29:46).


There are numerous examples. Even in the days of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) he used to ask his wife to remember her Jewish neighbor in their meal. Once he stood up for the funeral of a Jew. He allowed Christian delegation from Najran to stay in the mosque and pray there. He forbade Muslim an-nies to destroy churches and synagogues as prohibited in the Quran (22:40). He advised Muslims to emigrate to Christian Abyssinia to enjoy the justice of Christian monarch there. He freed the daughter of Hatim, the ruler of Christian tribe Tayyi.

With Jews we have a long history of peaceful co-existence. When Jews were being persecuted in Europe in the Middle Ages, where did they find peace and harmony? It was Muslim Spain, It is that era of Jewish history that they call the "Golden Age". As Rabbi Minken put it, "it was Mohammedan Spain, the only land the Jew knew in centuries after their dispersion which made the genius of physician possible." After the fall of Spain, they followed Muslims to Morocco and to Egypt where Maimonides became the personal physician of Saladin, who sent him to King Richard to treat the king. In the Ottoman Empire, Jews and Muslims lived and flourished together. Muslim scholars always respected the rights of non-Muslim minority. When the Mongol Tartar became Muslim after capturing Baghdad, he wanted to free fellow Muslims, but Ibn Taimiyyah insisted that the king, if he was a true Muslim should free non- Muslim prisoners, too. It was the generosity of the Muslim Mogul Emperor of India which allowed the operation of the East India Company which later on colonized India.

Islam spread like a wildfire because of its message of peace, submission, brotherhood and equality. As a Muslim soldier, Rabi Ibn Amir, put it, "God sent us to get people out of enslaving one another, into worshipping equally the one God, out of hard and narrow living into an easier and wider one, out of injustice of the absolute power of the ruler into the justice of restricted authority in Islam." It is for this reason, not swords, that Islam is still spreading fast in the West again. Both Islam and Christianity are missionary religions, although in Islam there is no organized clergy.

Those who portray Islam as a religion promoting hate, violence and bloodshed have neither read the Quran or the Traditions in depth. They pick up one or two verses of the Quran and use it to express their own hatred of Islam and Muslims. We Muslims are to respond only to hostility in self defense. To pacify them I quote directly from the Quran. "God only forbids you to tum in friendship towards such as those who fight against You because of (your faith) and drive you forth from your homeland, or aid (others) in driving your forth" (60:9). "O you who believe! Take not as intimate friends such of those who received the scripture before you, and of disbelievers, as those who make fun of Your ? But keep your duty to God if you are true believers" (5:57). And, "Whoever kills a human being, not in lieu of another human being, or because of mischief on earth, it is as if he has killed all mankind, and if he saves a human life, he has saved life of all mankind' (5:32).


There are many reasons. To begin with, are is the differences in belief. Both Judaism and Islam do not consider Jesus as God, son of God or mediator between man and God. For this Jews had to pay a heavy price in Europe at the hand of Christians. Muslims paid during the Crusades. While we Muslims believe in Moses and Jesus, they i.e. Jews and Christians never accepted Muhammad (PBUH) as the last Prophet and the Quran as the last word of God. Some of them even called Muhammad a epileptic and covertly supported those who attacked Islam and Muhammad under freedom of speech. But same freedom was never extended to those who lied otherwise i.e. denied the occurrence of Holocaust.

I agree there has been lot of bloodshed between the three religions, but the same has occurred among themselves too. In the WW II alone nearly 20 million Jews and Christians killed themselves.

Why are the Christians fighting among themselves in Ireland and in Lebanon? The real conflict in the world today is not between religion but between oppressor or oppressed, between those who have and those who have not. Why there is so much unrest and bloodshed in places where Islam is not a factor i.e. Korea, South Africa, Central and South America?

Islam is not passive, but a living and dynamic religion. It is opposed to injustice and oppression. We don't believe in peace and tranquillity as it reigns over the graveyard of Normandy and Hiroshima. We are for peace with honor and peace with justice. Muslims are to help those who are oppressed. It is for this reason that Christians of Lebanon opposing the army of General Aoun, seek shelter in Muslim west Beirut now.

Muslim countries after 200 years of colonial rule are waking up and realizing what they were robbed of during those years, everything from minerals, diamonds to their lead in education and sciences, to their self esteem. Thus they are struggling to regain their past glory. They have been made refugee in their own homeland, exiled from their birth places, and no one wants to listen to their genuine demands. The only thing which gets attention of the media is violent acts.

They call themselves freedom fighter we call them tefforist, but what is the difference between state sponsored terrorism carried by F- 16's and school boys throwing stones, just degree of magnitude? The Quran demands we fight oppression, "...and why should you not fight in the cause of God andfor those who being weak are ill treated and oppressed, men, women and children, whose cry is 'Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors and raise us from you someone who will help us, raise for us from you someone who will help us"' (the Quran, 4:75).


We should learn to know each other. It has been said "The human being is the enemy of what he does not know and whom he does not know." "O humanity! Lo we have created you male and female and have made you natives and tribes that the noblest of you, is the best in conduct. Lo! God is Knower, Aware" (49:13).

It through such mutual dialogues or trialogue that we can come together. In Islam, "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256). Differences do not mean hostilities. We should accept each other as fellow human beings and creations of the same one God. We should recognize the rights of the minority. It is the minority which needs the protection of the state. The majority can protect itself. Finally we should neither approve or support oppression, but do our best to undo the injustice done in the past. Only then, after we win over the heart of the others, then we can live in peace. All over the world these three religions are realizing the need for peaceful co-existence so that we can divert over resources in helping our people. We need to support such dialogues and caring together for the pleasure of our creator.