Research Fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
The Quran calls Muslims to view the existence of non-Muslims as part of a pluralistic nature created by Allah.
“O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.”
This verse states that God created the different sexes and ethnic groups among mankind for positive reasons, not negative, to foster rather than to diminish their mutual desire to understand and appreciate the essential human oneness underlying their outward differentiations; and correspondingly, all racial, national or tribal prejudice is condemned – implicitly in the Quran.
More pertinently, the Quran explains that religious diversity is intentional:
“And unto thee [O Prophet] have We vouchsafed this divine writ, setting forth the truth, confirming the truth of whatever there still remains of earlier revelations and determining what is true therein. Judge, then, between the followers of earlier revelation in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high, and not follow their errant views, forsaking the truth that has come unto thee. Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: But [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ.”
The verse explains that God could have made mankind as a single community or nation.
Instead, He created diversity, wherein every peoples has its own law and way of life, to test who among mankind is truly committed to peace and the common good.
The Quran proclaims that differences among human beings will remain:
“And had thy Sustainer so willed, He would surely have made all mankind one single community: But [He willed it otherwise, and so] they continue to hold divergent views – [all of them,] save those upon whom thy Sustainer has bestowed His grace. And to this end has He created them [all]….”
The Quran once again stresses that the unceasing differentiation in men’s views, ideas and preference of moral choices is not incidental but represents a god-willed, basic factor of human existence. Hence, it is neither possible for Muslims, nor are they commanded to make everyone believe in one faith. The Quran says:
“And [thus it is:] had thy Sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: Dost thou, then think that thou couldst compel people to believe, nothwithstanding that no human being can ever attain to faith otherwise than by God’s leave…”
In conclusion, embracing diversity is a deep-founded teaching of the Quran and diversity exists in all aspects of God’s creation. Diversity adds richness and variety to life and Islam requires Muslims to live with these differences and vie with one another in good deeds.
The views held by proponents of “conspiracy theory” towards all non-Muslims that they are inherently hostile and always conspire against Islam and the Muslims clearly are misfits within various testimonies of the Quran.
Similar to the principle in understanding verses of the Quran on jihad, the two verses
(The Quran, 2:120 & 217) quoted by these Muslims in support of their opinion must not be interpreted, detached from other verses of the Quran and the practices of the Prophet in his history. The failure on their part to follow this accepted methodology had often led them to conclude in a manner that do little justice to Islam’s balanced and comprehensive view towards non-Muslims.
It is also important to understand both verses by looking at the context of its revelation.
Al-Qurtubi and At-Tabari cited a view from Mujahid that the verse “[Your enemies] will not cease to fight against you…” was revealed with regards to the Quraisy of Mecca extreme hostilities towards the Muslims. In other word, the verse is more appropriately attributed to the attitude of the Quraisy at that time towards the Muslims.
Some would argue that verse 120 of chapter 2 could be applied to all non-Muslims (other than the People of the Book) and verse 217 of the same chapter could be applied to all Jews and Christian because the words used in the verses are used in the general form (lafz `aam). In this respect, the principle “Al-Ibrah bi umum al-lafz la bi khusus alsabab” (What must be considered is the generality of text wording, not the particularity of the cause of revelation) must be applied. This means when a text is expressed in a general form, it should be understood as so, although the context of the revelation is specific to a particular point in time.
Since the Quran has not indicated in the verses that they refer to specific contexts only, both verses should be applied to all non-Muslims (other than the People of the Book) and all Jews and Christians.
Here again, it is important to note that Muslim scholars usually do not accept lafaz `am (words with general meaning) as it is before making an exhaustive search for other verses that could qualify its interpretation.
In applying the methodology of takhsis to the two verses cited by Imam Samudra using the various verses of the Quran, which mention the different categories of non-Muslims and peace as the principle basis of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, the scope of those verses now have been limited to the specific groups and contexts only. As a result both verses that were quoted (The Quran, 2:120, 217) could never be used as a general worldview of Muslims towards all non-Muslims.
The original article entitled “They Are Not All Alike” (The Quran 3:113)
can be downloaded here