The Encarta Dictionaries define tolerance as the acceptance of different views. In Engineering, tolerance is defined as an allowance made for something to deviate in size from a standard, or the limit within which it is allowed to deviate. It is usually designated by plus or minus sign of an integer number. In the thesaurus of words, tolerance simply means broad-mindedness and its antonym is intolerance.
Islam is the religious sent by Allah to mankind starting from Prophet Adam [as] to Prophet Muhammad [sa] for the guidance and proper direction of man. Mankind has a choice; either to follow this divine guidance or to follow its antithesis which is the path of Satan-the cursed. Allah sent Prophet Muhammad [SA] with the last code of guidance-the Qur’an-in it is truth and light and whoever follows this coherent code is guided. The followers of this path are called Muslims and they are presently spread in every nook and corner of the world.
The Muslims in the world today are broadly divided into two groups and then sub-divided into splinter groups from those two broad divisions. The broad divisions are Shia and Sunni and these groups are further subdivided into smaller groups. With the exceptions of the Ahmadiyas and Baha’is, all the subgroups have the same Qur’an,believed in the last Messagership of Muhammad al-Mustapha[sa],prayed towards the same Qibla, have almost the same fiqh[jurisprudence] and have the same world view about universal Muslim brotherhood with no recourse to geography or artificial boundary. In summary, these subgroups are in agreement with the fundamental tenets of Islam but they differ on secondary issues.
The first point of departure occurred in Islamic history when the prophet of Islam died. The companions were divided as to the next course of action; while some thought that the prophet should be buried first before the issue of succession is addressed, others believed that the issue of succession should not be delayed and they rushed to a place called Thaqifa even before the prophet was buried to addressed the issue of succession and that was how Abubakar emerged as the first caliph.
The second point of departure occurred when the second caliph was fatally wounded. He selected an electoral college made of six companions and he charged them to elect a caliph amongst themselves after his death by three days. The companions were Abdullrahman bn. Auf,Zubayr bn. Awan, Usman bn. Affan,Talha bn. Ubaidullah, Sa’ad bn. Abi waqqas and Ali bn. Abi Talib.Three people were short listed and they were Ali bn. Abi Talib,Usman bn. Affan and Abdullrahman bn. Auf and when the vote was cast there was a tie with each of the candidates getting one vote each.Abdullrahman bn. Auf then gave a proposal to break the deadlock that he will withdraw from the contest and he will have the veto power to appoint the caliph or the other two contenders can withdraw and have the veto power. They all accepted and gave him the veto power. He looked at Ali bn. Abi Talib and asked him that if he is given the caliphate will he follow the Qur’an,the sunnah of the prophet and the path of the two preceding caliphs[Abubakar and Umar]. Ali answered that if given the caliphate he will follow the Qur’an, the sunnah of the prophet and what he dims right. Ibn. made similar proposal to Usman bn. Affan and he accepted that proposal and he was made the caliph.
The third point of departure was the karbala tragedy that occurred in 61 AH when Husain bn. Ali was killed in the first ever Islamic Revolution. Corruption and Fasad had dominated the leadership then and it became a duty for Muslims to changed that. Though the Revolution was violently and brutally suppressed but the consequences was far reaching and to this day it is a source of inspirations to Revolutionary Movements. The karbala tragedy sealed the division of Islam and that division has existed to this day.
The greatest challenge to contemporary Islam is not its history but intolerance by extremist groups in its house. The custom and culture of excommunication by these extremist groups is the greatest drawback to contemporary Islam. The Wahabis and Salafis groups are the most prominent of these groups and they can declare a person an infidel by the most insignificant issue. They had constituted themselves as registrars and only they are the true Muslims. They consider the celebrating of the Prophet’s birthday as a sin while Saudi Arabia-the home of Wahabism- celebrates its national day anniversary yearly and colourfully. They consider the wirds[spiritual discipline] of the sufi orders as an intolerable deviation that are worthless. They consider the unconditional and total love for the Prophet [sa], his household [as] and great scholars of Islam [rd] by the majority of Muslims as a worthless exercise. They are shallow and superficial in thoughts,knowledge,spirictual discipline,Islamic ethics and aesthetics. Their major trade mark is the killing of Muslims in the name of reformation and struggle.
Tolerance is absolutely necessary for there to be unity in the house of Islam. In the Qur’an, Allah advised the Prophet [sa] that if he is hard and intolerable to his followers they will disperse from him. Allah commanded Muslims to hold on tightly to the rope of Allah altogether and they should not be divided. Nothings bring division more than intolerance. A person that have never attracted a single person to Islam will condemn millions to kufr because he has some secondary differences with them.
A friend of mine served his national youth service in one of the South-Western States of Nigeria in the early 90s.He was posted to a town that has a Muslim majority amongst its population. As a conscious Muslim his first point of call was the Mosque of the town. When he arrived at the Mosque he met men, women and children dancing inside the Mosque though they were singing Islamic songs. Drummers were beating their drums and women were wrangling their waist inside the Mosque. After the program my baffled friend approached the Imam who had studied Islam at the famous al-azhar university,Cairo. He told the Imam that what these people are doing is unislamic and that he is suppose to stop them. The Imam answered him that if he stops them they will go to the church the next day but he is educating their children and one day their children will stop these practices. My friend disagreed with the Imam but he tolerated them for the duration of his National Youth Service. After ten years my friend decided to visit that same town so as to visit the Muslim community and as in the past his first point of call was the Mosque. He discovered the old Mosque was demolished and an imposing one erected in its place and when he looked inside the Mosque he saw young Muslims memorising the Qur’an. He remembered the words of the Imam and tears started streaming to his eyes and he asked about the Imam and he was told that he has passed away. He visited his resting place and prayed for him.
It was tolerance that made Islam spread all over the world and it was tolerance that made Muslims the undisputed world powers for centuries.
Broad-mindedness in thinking, vastness in knowledge, acceptance of different views and tolerance to other inclinations are the hallmarks of tolerance in Islam. Intolerance and sectarian extremism have no advantage in Islam and they only bred strife, harted,rancour and dissension in the house of Islam. Muslims should tolerate themselves as that is the only way unity can be achieved.
Peace be upon Muhammad [sa] and his immaculate progeny.