Peaceful Co-Existence of Various Cultures and Religions: An Islamic Perspective with Special Reference to Spain

Peaceful Co-Existence of Various Cultures and Religions: An Islamic Perspective with Special Reference to Spain

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Mankind is yearning for global peace. During the twentieth century a number of international treatises were signed declaring war as illegal in the settlement of disputes like the Covenant of the League of Nations, the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War and the Charter of United Nations. Despite these conventions, there have been wars and we have not seen the peace which was intended and agreed by the nations signatory to these conventions. These conventions failed to achieve the desired goal, because these human laws lack that moral and spiritual force which is essential for achievement of comprehensive peace. Without divine guidance and revealed truth, human laws lack force of conviction. Only divine moral laws can lead to universal peace and mould human conduct for international brotherhood and love. Those moral laws can be recognized by human minds only if those minds are untarnished of all pride and prejudice.

Within this context, we shall describe the Islamic principles for unity of mankind and mutual peaceful co-existence of different cultures and faiths. Among them the most important is common origin of mankind according to which all human beings have been “created of a single soul” (Qur’�n 4:1), and that all descended from the same parents (Quran 49:13), so there should not be any discrimination based on clan, creed or race. The Quran negates distinction on the basis of racial, linguistic and national grounds and it also identifies diversity as a sign of God and hence to be respected. Different identities are for recognition – not for pride – and hence necessary and it should not lead to any conflict. Promoting divisiveness and hatred based on religious and cultural differences is absolutely against Islam.

The Holy Quran makes it clear leaving no room for any doubt that the Muslims have to regard the Torah, Psalms and the Gospel as book of God revealed to Moses, David and Jesus(may God send His blessings on them) respectively and should believe in these and in all books of God without any exception. They should believe in all prophets like Prophet Muhammad. The Holy Quran refers repeatedly to the previous scriptures, Torah andthe Gospels, and claims that its message does not differ from them. Instead, it claims to confirm and clarify the messages delivered through earlier prophets, and to correct misinterpretations of those messages made by the followers of the prophets who delivered them .The same din, the monotheistic religion, therefore, was accurately revealed before , the Quran affirms , but those communities who received messages prior to the time of Muhammad became “doubtful and disconcerted” (Quran 42: 13) about it. Some deliberately ignored or abandoned the din (religion), others distorted it. The confirmation and the clarification of divine message was the mission of the prophet Muhammad. So Muhammad (peace be upon him)did not bring anew din but came to reestablish and confirmthe prototype of Abraham religion, monotheism. Many Quranic verses and sayings of the prophet Muhammad are quoted to authenticate that fact.

“And who turns away from the religion of Abraham but such as debase their souls with folly? Him We chose and rendered pure in this world: and he will be in the Hereafter in the ranks of the righteous”. (2:130)

They say: “Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (to salvation).” Say thou: “Nay! (I would rather) the religion of Abraham, the true and he joined not gods with Allah.” Say ye: “We believe in Allah and the revelation given to us and to Abraham Isma`il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes and that given to Moses and Jesus and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord we make no difference between one and another of them and we bow to Allah (2: 135-136 ),

Say: “Allah speaks the truth: follow the religion of Abraham the sane in faith; he was not of the pagans.(3: 95) ; Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to Allah, does good and follows the way of Abraham the true in faith? For Allah did take Abraham for a friend. (4: 125)

Prophet Abraham is the fountainhead of the present monotheistic tradition, the Patriarch of the prophetic line, and is revered alike by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Say: “Verily my Lord hath guided me to a way that is straight, a religion of right the path (trod) by Abraham the true in faith and he (certainly) joined not gods with Allah.” Say: “Truly my prayer and my service of sacrifice my life and my death are (all) for Allah the Cherisher of the Worlds: No partner hath He: this am I commanded and I am the first of those who bow to His will. (6:162-163)

Values and Beliefs shared by the People of the Book and Muslims

Besides Abrahim as the common ancestor of all believers and among prophets respected by all, there are many beliefs and values which are common in Muslims and the People of the Book (Ahli Kitab). In the Quran , God enjoins Muslims to say to the people of the Book:

“We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is one, and unto Him we surrender”. (29: 46)

All the true followers of these great religions believe that God has created the entire universe out of nothing and that He dominates all that exists with His omnipotence; believe that God is the originator and creator of man and all living things and that man posses a spirit infused by God; believe in the life -after-death, heavens and hell and angels ; and that God has created humans with certain destiny and purpose; believe that besides Jesus, Moses or Muhammad , God sent many prophets and messengers as Noah, Abraham, Joseph, David, Salmon throughout history and they love all these prophets. In many verses of the Quran , Muslims are advised not to make any division or distinction among prophets :

“Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered” (2: 136)

“The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him by his Lord, and so do the believers. Each one believes in God and His angels and His Books and His Messengers. We do not differentiate between any of His Messengers. They say, “We hear and we obey. Forgive us, our Lord! You are our journey’s end.” (2: 285)

Special respect and reverence has been shown in the Quran for righteous people of the Book :

“They are not all alike. Among the People of the Book there is an upright community who recites the revelation of God during the night and fall prostrate before Him. They believe in God and the Last Day, enjoin what is right and forbid what is evil, and vie with one another in good works. They are of the righteous. And whatever good they do, its reward will not be denied them. God knows those who fear [Him]”. (3:113-115)

The Quran also says that:

“the closest and the most affectionate towards the Muslims are those who say: “We are Christians:” because amongst them there are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant. When they listen to that which has been revealed to the messenger (Muhammad), you see their eyes overflow with tears because of their recognition of the Truth. They say: Our Lord, we believe. So count usamong the witnesses.” (5: 82-83)

Muslimslove Jesus, believe in all his miracles and noble morality and believe in his ascension, and have faith that he will come back to the world again to save humanity . The Quran is definite in its assertion that Jesus is alive and that he will come back again to this world. Prophet Mohammed, Peace be upon him,announced in great detail that Jesus would come back to the earth miraculously in the last days and bring peace, justice and happiness by uniting Christians and Muslims in a common religion and morality. This is God’s great and wonderful promise and no doubt it will be fulfilled.

This fact is also stated several times in the New Testament that Jesus will return to earth.

“So Christ …will appear a second time… to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Heb. 9: 28)

In the holy Quran Jesus is not mentioned as Son of God but he is called as he was , that is, the Prophet created miraculously by God without father; he is the “word of God”. Allah says in the Quran:

“O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three”. Cease! (It is) better for you! Allah is only One God” (4: 171)

The Quran instructs Muslims to respect Jewish and Christian places of worship, monasteries, churches and synagogues,

“if God had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where God’s name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed. God will certainly help those who help Him – God is All-Strong, Almighty.” (Qur’an, 22:40 )

As the People of the Book have moral sense and know what is lawful and what is not. For this reason, meals prepared by the people of book are lawful for Muslims to eat. In the same way, permission has been given to Muslims to marry women of People of the Book. On this subject Quransays:

“Today all good things have been made lawful for you. And the food of those given the Book is also lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. So are chaste women from among the believers and chaste women among the People of the Book , once you have given them their dowries in marriage, not in fornication or taking them as lovers (without marriage). But as for anyone who disbelieve, his actions will come to nothing and in the hereafter he will be among the losers.” (5: 5)

What does Islam Mean?

The very word Islam etymologically refers to peace and submission to the will of God. In that sense Islam is the same as salam, which is the same as the Hebrew shalom, meaning peace, with the special connotation of soundness andwholesomeness. Peace is so dear to Islam that every Muslim is ordered to greet other person on meeting “peace be upon you”(Assalam-o- alaikum). In the Quran God refers to Himself as as-Salam or Peace , so as a Muslim , the yearning for peace is nothing but yearning for God. For Muslim , the idea of living at peace while denying God is totally absurd , because only God can put the chaos and strife within human soul in order, and when there is no peace within , there will be no peace without. Islamic teachings guarantee peace in every sphere of life. They contain many injunctions for settling disputes between people and nations with the aim of establishing peace . The highest goal of Islam is to lead the soul to the “Abode of Peace” by guiding to live a virtuous life and to establish inner harmony with the help of Heaven. Islam has been reminding its followers over the ages that there is no possibility of peace on earth without peace with Heaven, and today it is called upon to also assert that peace with Heaven requires , as never before , peace between messages that , through divine Wisdom, have descended from heaven over the ages1. As Rumi has said:

If though fleet with the hope of peace and comfort,

From that side though shalt be afflicted with misfortune.

There is no treasure without beasts and traps,

There is no peace except in the spiritual retreat of God 2.

When speaking of peace , one should never forget the famous Quranic verse , He it is who made the Divine peace ( al- sakinah) to descend in the hearts of believers” (48: 4). Whether one speaks of sakinah, or the Hebrew equivalent shekinah or for that matter pacem or shanty , the reality emphasized by Islam remains that the source of peace is God who is Himself peace and without Whom there can be no peace on earth 3.

Mutual Coexistence: A Salient Feature of Islam

Islamic history shows that Muslims and non-Muslims existed in peace in Madinah (first Islamic State) and in the successive states. Many treaties and pacts were signed between Muslims and non-Muslims. Two treaties are very important in the earlier history of Islam that show tolerance and respect to other religions.

In Madinah, the Constitution of Madinah was prepared under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad in 622 AD, to meet the needs of people of different beliefs, and was put into practice as a written legal contract. Different communities belonged to different religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and races that had enmity towards one another for more than 100 years became parties to this pact and ultimately could actually live side by side.

According to the Constitution of Madinah, everyone was free to adhere to any belief or religion or to make any political or philosophical choice. People sharing the same views could come together and form a community. Everyone was free to exercise his own justice system. However, anyone who committed a crime would be protected by no-one. The parties to the contract would engage in co-operation with one another, provide support for each other, and would remain under the protection of the Prophet Muhammad. Conflicts between the parties would be brought before the Messenger of God. This contract was in force from 622 to 632 AD. Through this document, the tribal structures which had formerly been based on blood and kinship were abolished, and people of different cultural, ethnical and geographical backgrounds came together and formed a social unity. The Constitution of Madinah is an excellent example of peaceful coexistence among peoples of different religions 4.

Similarly the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave full freedom to the Christians of Najran to offer prayers in their own way in the Mosque – Masjid-i- Nabawi in Madinah ( ah sallo salata hum) 5 .

The noblest monument of enlightened tolerance is the charter which the prophet Muhammad granted to the monks of the monastery of St.Catherine , near mount Sinai and to all Christians .This remarkable document , which has been faithfully preserved by the annalists of Islam , displays a marvelous breadth of view and liberality of conception. By it, the Prophet secured to the Christians privileges and immunities which they did possess even under sovereigns of their own creed; and declared that any Muslim violating and abusing what was therein ordered, should be regarded as a violators of God’s testament, a transgressor of His Commandments, and a slighter of His faith. He undertook himself, and enjoined on his followers, to protect the Christians, to defend their churches, the residences of their priests, and to guard them from all injuries. They were not to be unfairly taxed, , no bishop was to be driven out of his bishopric, no Christians was to be forced to reject his religion; no monk was to be expelled from his monastery ; no pilgrim was to be deta ned from his pilgrimage . Nor were the Christians churches to be pulled down for the sake of building mosque or houses for the Muslims. Christians women married to Muslims were to enjoy their own religion , and not to subjected to compulsion or annoyance of any kind on that account .If Christians should stand in need of assistance for the repair of their churches or monasteries ,or any matter pertaining to their religion , the Muslims were to assist them. If the Muslims be engaged in hostilities with outside Christians, no Christians resident among Muslims be treated with contempt on account of his creed. Any Muslim so treating a Christian be accounted recalcitrant to the prophet6.

After quoting such examples from the life of prophet Muhammad (PBUH), We can say , in the words of Munazir Ahsan Gilani :

We cannot even imagine that how one of the greatest benefactors of humanity dedicated his whole-being and energies for unifying fragmented and suffering humanity 7.

Muslim Spain furnishes one of the most excellent examples of peaceful co-existence of various cultures and religions. It sets example for contemporary Muslims how to live peacefully with non- Muslims. For seven centuries the Muslims held Spain, and the beneficence of their rule, in spite, of intestine quarrels and dynastic disputes, is testified to and acknowledged even by their opponents. On their arrival on the soil of Spain, the Saracens published an edict assuring to the subject races , without any difference of race, or creed , the most ample liberty . Suevi, Goth, Vandal, Romans , and Jews were placed on an equal footing with the Muslims .They guaranteed to both Christians and Jews , the full exercise of their religions, the free uses of their places of worship , and perfect security of person and property. The high culture attained by Spanish Arabs has been sometimes considered as due principally to frequent marriages between Muslims and Christians. This circumstance, undoubtedly, exercised a great influence on the development of the Spanish Muslims and the growth of that wonderful civilization to which modern Europe owes so much of its advance in the arts of peace. 8

The best testimony to the toleration of the early Muslim government is furnished by the Christian themselves . In the reign of Osman ( the third caliph of Islam ) , the Christians patriarch of Merv addressed the bishop of Fars , named Simeon, in the following terms: the Arabs who been given by god the kingdom do not attack the Christians faith; on the contrary they help us in our religion; they respect our god and our saints , and bestow gifts on our churches and monasteries 9 .

Muslim attitude of tolerance and religious freedom is well attested by the statement of Eliyya, the Metropolitan of Nasiban ( 1008- 1049) quoted by a Christian Missionary hardly sympathetic to Islam. It runs as follows:

What we believe concerning the Muslims is that their obedience and love impresses us more than the obedience of all other religions and kingdoms that are opposed to us … Muslim regard it as a matter of religion and duty to protect us , to honor us , and to treat us well. And whosoever of them oppresses us, their Master, i.e. their prophet, will be his adversary on the day of resurrection 10.

W. Montgomery Watt acknowledges:

“On the whole there was more genuine toleration of non-Muslims under Islam than there was of non-Christians in Medieval Christians states” 11.

No Compulsion in Conversion

The Quran does not allow its followers to use force as an instrument for the spread of Islam and Islam is not a ‘religion of sword’ as it is often singled out by some Western scholars . The rapid expansion of Islam in its early period can not be associated with forceful conversion of Jews, Christians or others. No authentic events could be quoted to support forceful conversion. On the strength of categorical prohibition of coercion (ikrah) in any thing that pertains to faith or religion , all Muslim jurists (fuqaha) hold that forcible conversion in , under all circumstances , null and void, and that any attempt to at coercing a non-believer to accept the faith of Islam is a grievous sin ; a verdict which disposes of the widespread misconception that Islam has nothing else to place before the unbelievers except the alternative of conversion or the sword 12.

In Persia three hundred years after Muslim rule much of the country was still Zoroastrian, and the province of Minazandaran by the Caspian Sea did not embrace Islam until the tenth century. In most areas the Islamization was a gradual process. The history of Islam, like that of Judaism and Hinduism , according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, is intertwined with a sacred epic , but that does not mean that Islam is any more or less the ‘religion of sword’ or the religion of peace than any other religion…. Furthermore , Islam has sought to limit war by legislating conditions pertaining to it, (as will be discussed in the next section of this paper), and succeeded during the fourteen centuries of its history in reaching the goal of creating inner peace to a remarkable degree , while in the creation of outward peace it was certainly not less successful than any of the major traditional civilizations such as the Japanese , Chinese , Hindu , or Christian 13 .

Islam gives free choice in case of religion by declaring: “There is no compulsion in matters of faith. Surely the right now became distinct from wrong” (2: 256).

The holy Quran recognizes diversity in matters offaith by saying:

“To every nation have we appointed rites and ceremonies which they follow , so let them not then dispute with thee on the matter but do thou invite (them) to thy Lord: for thou art assuredly on the Right Way”( 22: 67)

But in calling to the way of God , it was said to the prophet and to his followers :

“Admonish, for you are one to admonish, you are not one to compel them to believe” (88: 22-23).

This point is further elaborated in another verse:

“But if they turn away, We have not sent thee as a guard over them. Thy duty is but to convey (the Message)” (42: 48)

“You are not one to over awe them by force. So admonish with the Qur’an all such as may fear My Warning”(50: 45) .

Islam gives free choice in case of religion because :

Sword can win territories but not hearts

Force can bend heads but not minds.

Muslims were so careful in dealing with non-Muslims that Omar, the great second Caliph of Islam when conquered the city of Jerusalem, and entered in it , there was a time of prayer .At that time he was inside the church (of the Resurrection ).The patriarch, who was accompanying him, requested Caliph Omar to offer his prayer there ( inside the church), but he refused saying :

“if I doso, the Muslim may infringe upon your rights in a future age pretending to follow my example”.

And, instead of praying inside the church, he offered prayers on the steps outside. 14

The True Meaning of Jihad and Q ital

This last section of the paper would focus on the true concept of Jihad in Islam.

Jihad is the most misunderstood and wrongly construed doctrine of Islam in the West. It is usually supposed to be the main hurdle in world peace.That misconception is due to the lack of understanding of the true concept of jihad.

In Islamic perspective Jihad is persistent struggle against forces of darkness both within and without. It is to tame the animal in man – individually and collectively. Qital (war) is only wrongly construed fragment of the immense picture of eternal struggle for reform against atrocities by eradicating corruption, persecution and lawlessness.

Literally “Jihad” means “to strive ” or “to exert efforts” . Thus, in Islam, “to carry out jihad” is “to show effort, to struggle” in the path of God. Jihad consists of two dimensions: the inner jihad that seeks to curb negative and self-destructive forces within; and the external jihad which is a struggle against violence and tyranny by means of words and actions. The Prophet Muhammad explained that “the greatest jihad is the one a person carries out against his lower soul”. “lower soul” here means selfish desires and ambitions. On another occasion, the Messenger of God addressed his companions, saying: “We are now returning from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad 15. When asked what the greater jihad was , he said , “ It is the jihad against your passionate souls. This greater jihad is therefore the inner battle to purify the souls of its imperfections , to empty the vessel of the soul of the pungent water of forgetfulness, negligence and the tendency of evil and to prepare it for reception of the Divine elixir of remembrance , light and knowledge. In light of the meaning of the greater Jihad (al-jihad al- akbar), it can be said that that the greatest “spiritual combatants” in Islam are the saints, whose instrument of battle is, however, not the sword, but prayer and rosary. Sufism in general is concerned with greater jihad, which is similar to the “spiritual warfare” known so widely in Orthodox Christianity and also mentioned by certain Western Christian Mystics16.

Apart from spiritual meanings, struggle in the physical sense is also considered as “jihad” for which the exact word is Qital. However, the holy Quran lays down strictprinciples of Qital (war) in its various verses. The war can be waged only for lawful purpose:

  1. In defensewhen oneis attacked, or
  2. To eradicate corruption from the earth,or
  3. For elimination of persecution, or
  4. For getting moral, religious and physical freedom for oppressed people.

If for these purposes Jihad is waged , it will be in the way of Allah, which is a just war for sacred cause. For achieving such noble cause, the Muslims are ordained to observe certain rules during the war. When Islam forbids the old cruel and barbaric practices in war, it makes its own rules for the conduct of hostilities which are:


  1. Non-combatants are not to be made to suffer on account of war.
  2. Even against the combatants, one can use only that much force which is necessary to achieve the purpose of just war but not going beyond the limits. God does not love those who go beyond the limits. (Quran, 2:190).
  3. If the enemy offers peace, one has no choice but to accept, and stop all hostilities.
  4. One can not commit excesses or cruelties during the actual conduct of hostilities and war.
  5. Arson and pillage are prohibited.
  6. Destruction of properties, plants and crops is forbidden
  7. Killing of prisoners of war is prohibited. On the other hand generous treatment with the prisoners is ordained.
  8. Women, children , aged ones, and handicapped should not be killed.
  9. All the terms of treaties and other agreements have to be strictly adhered to17.
  10. Places of worship are to be spared and protected.

All these points are described in various Quranic verses and saying of prophet Muhammad (PBUH):


“Permission to fight is given to those who are fought against because they have been wronged – truly God has the power to come to their support – those who were expelled from their homes without any right, merely for saying, “Our Lord is God”… (Qur’an, 22:39-40)

Again the Quran commands:

“And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression” (2: 193)

“But if the enemy inclines towards peace you also incline towards peace and trust in Allah: for He is the one that hears and knowsall things” (8: 61)

“God does not forbid you from being good to those who have not fought you over religion or driven you from your homes or from being just towards them. God loves those who are just” (60: 8).

Some people may say that many battles were fought by the prophet Muhammad , but the comparison of casualties of all those battles during the life span of the Prophet and other wars of the world may give a clear idea and authenticate the point that the Prophet Muhammad was really Mercy for the whole world (Rahmatul-lil-Aalamin) and Islam is a religion of peace. According to one report, the number of Muslims martyred during all the battles (Gazawat) was less than 200 whereas less than 300 non-Muslim were killed 18. Now compare the number of the people killed during world war I and World war II; 10 million during the World war I and 20 million during the World War II 19 . Similarly during the current war in Iraq more than one million people have been killed and two million became homeless 20.

this comparison is made to point out the fact that although Islam permits Jihad but under strict conditions, not for personal aggrandizement or for any worldly gain but for defense purpose and to eradicate corruption and persecution from the society for the welfare of humanity. So Jihad should be understood in its true perspective and should not be confused with other wars of the world. Islam considers the killing of an innocent person tantamount to the killing of whole humanity. The Holy Quran says:

If someone kills another person – unless it is in retaliation for someone else or for causing corruption in the earth – it is as if he had murdered all mankind. And if anyone gives life to another person, it is as if he has given life to all mankind. Our Messengers came to them with clear signs, but even after that many of them commit outrages in the earth (5:32).


References & Notes:


1Seyyed Hossein Nasr : The Heart of Islam :Enduring Values for Humanity( Lahore : Suhail Academy, 2004),p.221.

2Rumi : Mathnawi 2, V.593 , quoted in The Heart of Islam , p.221.

3 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, op.cit; p.222.

4Har n Yahya: Islam De