Islam is an exponent of tolerance and freedom of opinion. Islam is a religion that believes in reason and intellect and invites people to act in accordance to them. The Quran has an appeal for the intuition, conscience, intellect, and understanding to every individual. The Quran has a logical expression in every matter like Oneness of God, Prophet hood and the hereafter. It draws the attention of its addressee towards the facts both within the human being and spread through the whole of the universe. It addresses the human-kind because they are the masters of their own free will. They admit logic and act accordingly. In the Quran the repeated appearance of the words like intellect, thought, farsightedness and wisdom for more than two hundred times prove that it is a book based purely on intellect, farsightedness and logic.
“In the creation of the heavens and the earth; And in the alternation of night and day, there are signs for people of sense”. (Al-Imran-3:190)
“This is a clear message to mankind. Let them heed thereby, and know that Allah is one God. Let the wise bear this in mind”. (Ibrahim-14:52)
“We gave Moses the guidance and the book in inheritance to the children of Israel: guidance and an admonition to men of understanding”. (Al-Mu’min-40:54)
“Thus Allah makes known to you His revelations that you may understand”. (Al-Baqarah-2:242)
“(O Prophet,) Give good news to my servants, who listen to My word and follow the best version of it. These are they whom Allah he guided. These are they who are endued with understanding”. (Al-Zumar-39:18)
The above quoted verses are given here because the sense conveyed through them is repeated for over two hundred times.
A book based on logic has a lot of room to accommodate the difference of opinion. This is why the Quran advised the Holy Prophet and his followers to have an objective discourse with their opponents and avoid conflict however stubborn they be.
“Repel evil with good. We are fully aware of all (the slanders) they utter”. (Al-Mu’minoon-23:96)
“Good and evil deeds are not alike, requite evil with good, and he, between whom and you is enmity, will become your dearest friend. (Ha-Mim al-Sijdah-41:34)
“Tell my servants to be courteous in their speech”. (Al-Isra-17:53)
“Believers, fear Allah and speak the truth”. (Al-Ahzab-33:70)
“The true servants of the Merciful are those who walk humbly on the earth, and when the ignorant address them they say: ‘peace’!” (Al-Furqan-25:63)
“Call people to the path of your Lord with wisdom and mild exhortation. Reason with them in the most courteous manner”. (Al-Nahl-6:125)
There are many such verses in the Quran that convey the similar sense. Owing to this stand, the Holy Quran made it clear to the Prophet of God that his main task was to communicate truth to the people. He had no more responsibility. And the admittance on the part of the people is not a certification of success.
“(O Prophet) therefore give warning. Your duty is only to warn them: You are not their keeper”. (Al-Ghashiyah-88:21, 22)
“You shall not use force with them.” (Qaf-50:45)
There are eighteen verses in the Quran that convey the same sense. The Quran, besides this, makes it clear that every man is free to decide whether he becomes a Muslim or adopts the counter path. It is so because this world is the place where man is put to trial by granting free will to him. The Doomsday is yet to come.
“This is the truth from your Lord. Let him who will, believe in it and him who will, deny it”. (Al-Kahf-18:29)
“There is no compulsion in religion. True guidance in now distinct from the error.” (Al-Baqarah-2:250)
“We have shown the Human being the right path, whether he is grateful or ungrateful”. (Al-Dahr-76:3)
The verses giving the sense as above have appeared at more than fifteen places in the Quran. These verses make it clear that man is free to choose the religion of his liking; he cannot be forced in this matter.
Punishment for apostasy?
Here the proclamation of the Holy Quran regarding the grant of freedom of opinion to the individual brings about confusion in general minds; how did this concept go round that a person once embracing Islam will be inflicted death penalty in case he reverts to his previous religion. And if it be true, is there a duality in the Holy Quran in specific and Islam in general. It gives rise to a contradictory situation when a person finds that Islam invites the people belonging to other religions to embrace it; whereas it declares death punishment for those who want to revert to any other religion. Is it true? Let’s find an answer to this question.
In fact this is not true. The above-mentioned confusion is due to the misunderstanding of a specific established practice of God. This practice is, in fact a law that is pertained with Rasools only and has nothing to do with even Prophets who are “Nabi”. This law has already been dealt with briefly. It says that a Rasool is in fact equity of justice, a scale to weigh right and wrong, and a court of God within this world. He communicates the message of God to people through his words and actions in such a vivid manner that only the stubborn ones and those who remain adamant in their vested interests refuse to yield.
When a specific time span is passed after the message has been communicated in the most accomplished manner, it is decided by God that the court to be established on Doomsday should be set in this world as well. Thus those who still show inflexibility in their sinful life are penalized directly or indirectly, by God. Many such measures in past have been related through the Quran and the Bible that approve the above-mentioned fact, for example the disaster faced by the nation of Noah. In the likewise manner when a faction of Israelites fell victims to paganism, they were inflicted death punishment by Moses (Musa). It was so because they had no justification for their misdeeds. This incident has been described in Chapter 32 of the book of “Exodus” of the Bible.
Muhammad (SWS) was also a Rasool of God. After the proclamation of Prophet-Hood he preached the people in a peaceful manner. Not even a single person was converted to Islam forcibly. After the lapse of twenty-two years a great number of the pagans of Arabia embraced Islam through the exercise of their free will. At this juncture the peculiar law of God was enacted. God declared through Surah Al-Tawba that His message had been absolutely communicated to all pagans of Arabia. They were granted a time limit of four months to embrace Islam. They were given an opportunity as well to clarify their ambiguities about Islam if any in the meantime. During that time their safety was the responsibility of the Muslims. Yet it was up to them whether they embrace Islam or not. If they chose not to become Muslims even after four months, they were asked either to get ready for war with the Muslims or to quit the land of Arabia. (Al-Tawbah-9:5)
While explaining an aspect of this law, the Holy Prophet said that the same punishment would also be inflicted upon those who would revert to their previous religion once having accepted Islam as their Deen. Thus this punishment was meant for the direct addressees of the Prophet of Islam. Since this law was applicable to the direct addressees of the Rasool, it had lost its chances of enforcement after that period had perished.
It must be borne in mind that the above-mentioned law was applied on the pagans only. The Christians and the Jews of Arabia were exempted from it. They were just bound to remain under the control of Muslim rule. They were not allowed to form the government of their own inside Arabian Peninsula. (Al-Tawbah-9:29)
It is historically proved that after the above-mentioned declaration, all the pagans turned Muslims. None of them left the Arabian soil nor there was any war against them. Since with the completion of this stage the task of the Prophet was over, he died just a few months after that.
The above discussion makes it clear that the law of death penalty for those who leave Islam after having once accepted it could only be exercised by the “Rasools” of God in a specific period and up to a time limit. After and before that everyone is free to choose his religion, whatsoever he likes. There would be no accountability in this world; it would be decided on the Doomsday.
Morality of preaching
The whole mankind has a consensus that a civilized, sophisticated and graceful style is desirable during conversation; no abuses, no allegations. The Quran advises the Muslims to adopt a tender, wise and nice way of preaching:
“Call people to the path of your Lord with wisdom and mild exhortation. Reason with them in the most courteous manner”. (Al-Nahl-16:125)
“Good and evil deeds are not alike. Requite evil with good, and he, between whom and you is enmity, will become your dearest friend.” (Fussilat-41:34)
It is advisable that a preacher should wind up his preaching for the time being and avoid any conflict when the opponents are bent upon making a mockery of his preaching, raising allegations and launching undue criticism.
“When you see those that scoff at Our revelations, withdraw from them till they engage in some other talk”. (Al-An’am-6:68)
When the Holy Prophet (SWS) started conveying the message of God to Makkans, his opponents raised a lot of allegations against him. These allegations have been related in the Quran in detail. It is obvious that the companions of the Holy Prophet (SWS) got enraged over such allegations but any step taken by them in rage would have been tantamount to nullifying the objectives of the preaching. So the Quran relates it as a distinctive quality of good Muslims that they avoid such people, show tolerance and perseverance in the event of adversity, and pray peace and prosperity for even their deadly enemies.
“Allah loves the righteous people who spend alike in prosperity and in adversity, who curb their anger and those who forgive their fellow-men”. (Al-Imran-3:134)
“The true servants of the Merciful are those who walk humbly on the earth, and when the ignorant address them they say: Peace!” (Al-Furqan-25:63)
An ignorant is the one who abuses, raises allegations and misbehaves while showing his ignorance. The servants of the Merciful stand aside by saying good-bye to them.
“They pay no heed to vain talk, but say: We have our actions and you have yours, peace be upon you. We do not seek (The company of) ignorant people”. (Al-Qasas-28:55)
At one place in the Quran, while replying the charges of the pagans, which they levied against the Prophet, Muhammad (SWS) was advised as:
“Bear with them and wish them peace, they shall (before long) know”. (Al-Zukhruf-43:89)
At another place the Prophet was advised as below:
“Bear patiently with what they say and leave their company with dignity”. (Al-Muzzammil-73:10)
He was further told:
“Show forgiveness, enjoin justice, and avoid the ignorant”. (Al-A’raf-7:199)
After the establishment of the Muslim rule in Madina, the Jews and hypocrites of Madina started hatching up conspiracies and raising allegations on the character of the Holy Prophet. The Prophet was advised by God to show patience and tolerance to these conspirators
“Pardon them (the Jews) and bear with them, Allah loves those who do good”. (Al-Maidah-5:13)
The hypocrites also lived in Madina. These were the people who pretended to be the Muslims but inwardly remained busy in conspiracies against the Muslims and the Holy Prophet. At times they turned insolent. They labeled the promises of the Holy Prophet as fraud and imposture. Their leader, Ibn-i-Obayy called the Holy Prophet a worthless man and claimed himself to be worthy of respect.
The Quran has discussed it in detail. The Prophet was advised about them as under:
“Therefore let them be, and put your trust in Allah.” (Al-Nisa- 4:81)
At another place it was advised:
“Do not obey the unbelievers and the hypocrites: disregard their insolence. Put your trust in Allah; Allah is your all-sufficient Guardian”. (Al-Ahzab-33:48)
This attitude bore positive results and opponents of Islam could not succeed in their evil designs.
Freedom of opinion does not allow an individual to play havoc with the lives of others. Though the Muslims are advised to be tolerant yet a Muslim government has the natural right to penalize such criminals if they play with the sentiments of the Muslims, blame their dearest leaders, turn cruel to them, create a pathetic situation for the whole Muslim community, and conspire with the enemies of Islam to create chaos.