Notes and Comments: The Tolerance of Islam

The Review of Religions (English), March/April 1908 Issue (Vol. 7, Nos. 3 and 4, pp. 138–140)

The article published under the heading “The attitude of Islam towards other religions” in the January [1908] number of this magazine has been, as it were, news to people who have long been accustomed to look upon Islam as a religion that cannot bear the expression of an opinion contrary to its doctrines. The Arya Patrika of Lahore declares its inability to pronounce any judgment as to the correctness or incorrectness of the views expressed in that article, its excuse being that it is unable to understand the Arabic verses of the Holy Quran quoted therein. We think a reference to any English translation of the Holy Quran could have satisfied it. Moreover, if the early history of Islam shows that the sword was resorted to, it also shows that whenever the opponents of Islam desired peace, the Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] made peace with them, which would never have been the case if he had been fighting to enforce his religion upon his opponents. The truce made at Hudaibiyya, for instance, shows how the Holy Prophet even consented to forbear from performing certain religious ceremonies for which purpose he had travelled for about a fortnight with 1,400 companions when the Meccans were seen to be willing to allow the Muslims to live peacefully for some time.

On the same article, the Review of Reviews has, however, some very valuable remarks in its March [1908] number. It says:

“The Review of Religions for January [1908], which is published in the Punjab, contains a remarkable article on the tolerance of Islam, which is a translation of a paper written by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, and read at a religious conference held at Lahore under the auspices of the Arya Samaj. The writer quotes several verses from the Quran, which he maintains make it obligatory upon all Muhammadans ‘to accept all the prophets who are accepted by large numbers of the human race. According to the Quran it is a sufficient argument of the truth of those prophets that they are accepted as true by a great part of the world, and that the assistance and support of God was granted them at every step. High is the dignity of God, and He is above such things as that He should make millions of human beings the devoted followers of a person whom He knows to be an impostor and a deceiver and a liar.’

“‘This,’ says Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, ‘is a very sound and stable principle.’ It certainly carries us very far, for it amounts to an assertion that no lie or imposture can possibly deceive millions of creatures. This exceeding wide basis of tolerance may be commended to our Broad Church friends. It is, indeed, news to hear that what has hitherto been regarded as the most intolerant of all creeds should recognise the divine mission of all its rivals.”

At the end it is added:

“This is all very good hearing, but I rather suspect that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad would have had a short shrift if he had preached this doctrine to, let us say, the late Mahdi [The Sudanese Mahdi], or to any other distinguished apostles of the faith.”

It is true that a great misconception has prevailed up to this time as to the real attitude of Islam towards other religions, and ignorant Muhammadans [Muslims] are themselves to blame for it, but a great change has been brought about by the peaceful teachings of the Ahmadiyya Movement, and even the dangerous doctrine of the advent of a Ghazi [Warrior] Mahdi has now been abandoned by some of the most orthodox members of such sects as the Wahabis, who have for a long time been supposed to be strong advocates of the doctrine. We are sure that better and more correct views of the true nature of Islam would soon become prevalent among the Muhammadans as well as the non-Muhammadans.