Religious Tolerance and Freedom in Islam
On Saturday 3rd November, 2018, the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Fifth Khalifah, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), inaugurated the Masroor Mosque in South Virginia, USA. A reception was held in the evening in which hundreds of guests attended. Hala Ayala, member of the Virginia House of Delegates who was representing the 51st district of Virginia, which includes Masroor Mosque, presented His Holiness with a certificate of recognition on behalf of the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam. Some of the dignitaries delivered brief remarks to the audience including Gerry Connolly, member of the United States Congress for Virginia’s 11th district and Dr Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and former Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The keynote address was delivered by His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The full transcript of the address by His Holiness is presented here.
After reciting Tashhahud, Ta’awwuz and Bismillah, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) said:
“All distinguished guests, Assalamo Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahe Wa Barakatohu – peace and blessings of Allah be upon you all.
Before proceeding further, I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of our guests, for having accepted our invitation and joining us at the opening of this mosque.
It is actually my religious duty to express my sincere gratitude to you, because the Founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), taught that a person who was not grateful to his fellow human beings could not be grateful to God Almighty. The vast majority of people living in this city are non-Muslims and the number of Ahmadi Muslims in this area is very small.
However, irrespective of our small numbers, the county officials and local people have permitted us to build this mosque and this demonstrates your open-hearts and high levels of tolerance. In addition, the fact that you are joining us at this Islamic religious event, even though most of you are not Muslims, reflects your open-mindedness and it is because of your tolerant nature that you are able to successfully absorb and integrate new communities into the local society.
In this era, we are all aware that Muslims and Islam generally receive a great deal of negative media attention. A major cause of the adverse coverage is that a small minority of so-called Muslims have been radicalised and behaved in a truly reprehensible way, whilst trying to justify their hate-filled acts in the name of Islam. As a result, many non-Muslims have reservations and fears about Islam.
In fact, increasingly, people consider it as a threat to society and a religion that promotes extremism and violence. In light of this, the fact that the local community approved the building of this mosque, and the fact that you are all joining us in our celebration, is extremely praiseworthy and obliges me to once again express my sincere appreciation and heartfelt gratitude to you all. I also wish to reassure you that the negative media portrayal of Islam is completely at odds with the reality of the religion.
The despicable acts of certain groups or individuals who use Islam’s name to justify violence and extremism have nothing to do with the true teachings of Islam. Islam’s teachings are of peace, love, reconciliation and brotherhood. In fact, the literal meaning of the Arabic word ‘Islam’ is ‘peace’. When the very name and foundation of a religion is peace, it is impossible for that religion to promote or permit anything that undermines the peace and well-being of society.
Rather, the teachings of such a religion must foster peace and spread love and compassion amongst humanity. Certainly, this is what we have learned from the Holy Quran, which is our Holy Book and the most authentic source of Islamic law and teaching. From cover to cover, the Holy Quran is a book of peace that enshrines universal human values and human rights. Its teachings seek to unite mankind under the banner of humanity and guarantee the rights of every individual to live with freedom, equality, liberty and justice.
It is written in the Holy Quran that Allah the Almighty sent prophets to the world in order for them to instil basic human values and to teach morality. They were sent to develop a relationship between God Almighty and His creation and to draw the attention of mankind towards fulfilling the rights of one another. As Muslims, we believe that in order to fulfil these great objectives, God Almighty sent His Messengers to all nations and the history of the major religions testifies to the fact that all the Prophets practised and preached the highest standards of morality and virtue.
Hence, Islam’s teachings unite mankind and foster a spirit of mutual love and respect between all people, irrespective of racial, religious or social backgrounds. It is a religion that breaks down barriers and encourages peaceful and tolerant dialogue. Thus, it is inconceivable for a true Muslim to persecute or oppose other religions or their followers. At no place, and at no time, has Islam ever promoted extremism or encouraged violence in any shape or form.
Wherever and whenever a Muslim has conducted a terrorist attack or exhibited any type of radicalism or fanatical behaviour, it is only because he or she has deviated entirely from Islam’s teachings. Such people, and such acts, serve only to defame and besmirch the pure name of Islam. In the very first chapter of the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty has proclaimed that He is the ‘Lord of All the Worlds’, Who provides for and sustains all mankind.
This means that God is the Provider and Sustainer of all people, irrespective of their faith or beliefs. Due to the grace and benevolence of God Almighty, even those who deny His existence or have no religion are reaping the blessings and fruits of this world. Accordingly, where the Quran declares Allah the Almighty to be the ‘Lord of All, the Worlds’, it also proclaims Him to be the Gracious and Merciful. Similarly, in the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty has proclaimed the Founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) as a ‘mercy for all mankind’.
Without a shadow of a doubt, at every moment of his life, the Prophet of Islam (sa) manifest immense love and respect for all people. His pure and noble heart was filled with compassion and, at all times, he sought the betterment of mankind and strived to alleviate the suffering of others. He taught his followers to respect and value all humanity. For example, on one occasion, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) was sitting down, but immediately stood up as a mark of respect when he observed a funeral procession pass by. Upon this, one of his companions mentioned that the deceased was a Jewish person and not a Muslim. Hearing this, the Prophet of Islam (sa) asked, was he not a human?
This reflected the love in his heart for all humanity. It also manifests how he guided his followers towards treating the people of all religions and beliefs with compassion and being sensitive and respectful to their feelings and needs. Furthermore, many people question whether Islam advocates freedom of religion. To answer this, let me present another incident from the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa).
Once, a delegation of Christians from the Arab city of Najran came to meet the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) in Madinah. After some time, the Christians became restless and so the Holy Prophet (sa) enquired if something was wrong. In response, the Christians informed him that it was time for their worship, but they did not have an appropriate place to perform their prayers or rituals. Upon this, the Prophet of Islam (sa) invited the Christians to worship in his own mosque in Madinah, according to their traditions and ways.
Through this munificent and magnanimous gesture, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) set an everlasting example of tolerance, freedom of religion and freedom of worship for all mankind. Nevertheless, some people question why wars or battles were fought by the early Muslims. Thus, let me make it clear that wherever Islam permitted the use of force, it was never to conquer lands or to compel people to accept Islam, rather, where the Holy Quran authorised the early Muslims to utilise a degree of force, it clearly stipulated that permission was granted in order to establish peace and security and to ensure that true freedom of religion and freedom of belief prevailed.
It explained that the use of force was not given to save Islam, but was given in order to protect the rights of all people and religions and to guarantee the rights of all communities to believe as they pleased. Consequently, in chapter 22, verse 41 of the Holy Quran, where permission was first granted to the Muslims to engage in a defensive war, it clarified that the opponents of Islam were not waging war against the Muslims for any personal, national or political reasons; rather, they were motivated by their hatred of religion itself.
The verse warned that if the Muslims did not take firm steps to stop the cruelties and injustice, it would lead to the end of all religions and freedom of belief would cease to exist. The verse categorically says that churches, synagogues, temples, mosques or any other places of worship would not be safe if they were permitted to wage war of if their attacks were not retaliated.
Thus, rather than imposing restrictions or curtailing freedoms, the truth is that the world’s first and foremost universal charter of religious freedom was the Holy Quran itself. Moreover, as Islam has enshrined freedom of belief as a basic human right, it naturally follows that true mosques are symbols of religious freedom and shining beacons of love, mutual respect and compassion.
Certainly, I hope and expect that in your interactions with Ahmadi Muslims in the past you will only have felt a spirit of love and respect from them towards you. Now this mosque has been officially opened, this spirit will only increase and our message of peace and humanity will reverberate ever louder and echo in all directions. The local Ahmadi Muslims will intensify their efforts to fulfil the rights of the neighbours of this mosque.
Indeed, the Holy Quran has repeatedly instructed Muslims to fulfil the rights of their neighbours and to treat them with the utmost love and affection. I should clarify that our neighbours are not only those who live close to the mosque or close to the homes of Ahmadi Muslims; rather, the circle of neighbours, according to the Holy Quran, spreads much further afield and includes a person’s colleagues, subordinates, travel companions and many other people besides. In essence, all the people of this city are our neighbours and it is our religious obligation to treat them with love, kindness and generosity.
I pray the local Ahmadi Muslims live up to what I have said and personally reflect Islam’s core message of love and humanity through their words and conduct, each and every day. May they convey Islam’s message of peace and goodwill, not only in the local area, but across the nation as well.
May the local Ahmadi Muslims treat their neighbours and all other members of society with love and empathy, so that whatever fears or reservations exist about Islam in the minds of some non-Muslims, soon disappear. I pray the noble teachings of our most sacred book, the Holy Quran, are exhibited by our Ahmadi Muslims so that the local people can see what Islam truly is.
May the benevolent and peaceful character of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), who was the perfect manifestation of the Quran’s teachings, be revealed to the people here in the United States and beyond. It is also my heartfelt prayer that all people of all beliefs, whether at a local, regional, national or international level, unite in a common purpose of spreading peace in the world.
From the depths of my heart, I pray that after we have departed this world, our children and future generations remember us with love and affection. May they affirm that their elders spared no effort to foster a spirit of love, peace and brotherhood amongst mankind and to leave behind a peaceful and enlightened world. Surely, the alternative does not bear thinking about – that our children remember us with nothing but contempt and consider us to have been belligerent warmongers, who destroyed their futures and left behind only a trail of war and destruction.
Thus, in order to protect our future generations, it is essential we set aside our differences and focus on fulfilling each other’s rights and serving humanity. It is our responsibility, and indeed our obligation, to ensure we leave behind a peaceful and prosperous world for those that follow us. To achieve this great objective we must be ready to expend all our energies on striving for peace. A fundamental principle of Islam is to hold all religions and their founders in great esteem. As I said at the beginning, we believe in all of the prophets, and so it is not possible for a true Muslim to ever speak against them or their teachings.
Hence, it is of paramount importance that, irrespective of a person’s race or social status, we respect one another’s beliefs and religions. With these words, I hope and pray that may Allah the Almighty enable us all to play our respective roles in bringing an end to the conflicts that have plagued the world and to eradicate all forms of injustice and intolerance. Rather than a world of hate and hostility, I pray we leave behind a world of love and compassion.
Instead of selfishly pursuing self-interests, may all people recognise the true value of serving the common good. At the end, I pray that this mosque proves to be a shining light in this community and a means of unity and hope – Ameen.
Thank you all once again for joining us today.
May God bless you all.