Christian and Muslim Religious Tolerance
It is ironic that while they are based on similar scriptures, and therefore similar ideologies, Christianity and Islam have had divergent attitudes towards the acceptance of religious minorities. By its nature, the Christian faith antagonizes other religions, including Judaism and Islam, because, according to Christian scripture, a lack of belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ results in damnation. The Muslim faith, however, has a much more tolerant view on “People of the Book,” including Christians and Jews, since such tolerance is stipulated by Islamic scripture. Subsequent treatment (as opposed to acceptance) of religious minorities, however, was similar between followers of the two religions, ranging from relative social indifference, for example religious freedom in exchange for a tax, to extreme violence, despite differences in attitudes towards acceptance. It appears that, for the Christians and Muslims, the relationship between religious acceptance and religious treatment/violence is extremely weak, as the latter can usually be linked to political or economic motives.
Whether or not they advocated violence against religious minorities, Christians were most often unwilling to accept other religions. Even Saint Augustine, who advocated a peaceful attitude towards the Jews, called them “blind” and called upon Jewish (and therefore Christian) scripture to support his negative attitude towards them (page 2, The City of God). It is then not surprising that Christians who are belligerent towards religious minorities would also share these antagonistic views. Bishop Severus of Minorca from the fifth century, who was responsible for the supposed conversion of five hundred Jews under the threat of death, compares the Jews “with wolves and foxes for fierceness and villainy (page 14, Letter of Severus).” With these two examples, we have seen both advocates of coexistence and advocates of violence express attitudes of intense disapproval of the Jewish faith1.
Unlike Christianity, Islam endorsed religious acceptance of minorities. Such an attitude can be traced back to the Quran and the words and actions of Prophet Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam. Muslims, unlike Christians, do not antagonize the People of the Book, or at least not to the same extent. Muslims believe in a Judgment Day where man is weighed against his sin and wrongdoings and not just his faith. Therefore, not all non-Muslims necessarily face damnation. While it is clear that Muslims believe they “are under the best and most correct guidance” (which was also made clear by Muhammad’s constant use of the phrase, “Faithfulness is the best protection against sin “) they also believe that belief in Islam or the lack thereof does not make one a righteous person, but that it is one’s actions that defines him or her (page 3,4, Ordinance). In the Ordinance of Medina, the Prophet Muhammad makes it clear that Allah will still punish a wrongdoing Muslim on Judgment Day, despite his or her faith (“Should anyone aid… Day of Resurrection”), very different from the Christian view of salvation through Christ (Page 3). Muhammad condemns “[Jews and their clients] who act wrongfully and sin” for their wrongdoings and not for their lack of faith (page 4).
Because faith is less central in Islamic attitudes toward religious minorities (with a heavier focus on abstinence from sin), as described above, many Muslims, including the Prophet Muhammad, encouraged peace and coexistence just as it is encouraged in the Quran.) Referring to the Jews and the Muslims, Prophet Muhammad says in the ordinance, “Sincerity and good counsel should obtain between them ” and also “The Jews of the Banu Awf are a community with the Believers” (page 4, Ordinance). In the case of the Kitab al Kharaj, People of the Book are left to coexist with Muslims in Islamic states as long as they pay a tax. Abu Yusuf points to 9:29 (At Tauba) in the Quran...
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