Tolerance: Drawing inspiration from the Emir in the modern world
September 29, 2019
Written by Animesh Joshi
“If you think God is what the different communities believe – the Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, polytheists, and others – He is that, but also more. If you think and believe what the prophets, saints, and angels profess – He is that, but He is still more. None of His creatures worship Him in His entirety. No one is an infidel in all the ways relating to God. No one knows all God’s facets. Each of His creatures worships and knows Him in a certain way and is ignorant of Him in others. Error does not exist in this world except in a relative manner.”
No communities’ beliefs can ever be wrong, for faith is such an encompassing project that no singular person or idea can be dismissed. Belief in god (or lack thereof) cannot be used to divide because there is an infinite amount of ways to believe in some higher power – God(s), ethics, science, etc. – and not one of them is entirely correct or incorrect. Thus, tolerance is something we should all strive for, i.e. being cognizant of others’ beliefs and respecting them.
Unfortunately, in the increasingly divided modern era, tolerance is hard to come by. Tolerance of race; tolerance of class; tolerance of sexual orientation; tolerance of faith. In the midst of this apathetic world, it is necessary to reflect on our predecessors’ lessons. Among them stands out Emir Abdelkader – a paragon of excellence who is often forgotten by history. As a military leader, Abdelkader is unique because his most well-known accomplishments weren’t just political or militaristic but based on a foundation of empathy. In the 1800s, warfare was a brutal occupation and cost millions of lives. However, Abdelkader defied his contemporaries’ logic and banned the torture of prisoners of war – enshrining their universal, human rights. When in 1860 riots broke out in Damascus between Christians and Muslims, Abdelkader played a prominent role in stopping the riots – leading the effort save the Christian Druze refugees by giving them shelter. This tolerance for all faiths (even those different from his), was something Abdelkader championed in his recognition that although one’s faith may differ, the dignity and human rights they are due does not. However, Abdelkader’s narrative is often obfuscated by those attempting to preach a doctrine of otherness and intolerance through an alienation of the Muslim community.
Post 9/11, a stigma surrounding Islam has percolated and grown with the help of intolerant individuals. They want to make the public believe that Islam is a fundamentally violent religion which is associated only with terrorists. However, these calls for division ignore that religion is simply a casualty of humanity’s own flaws. One religion doesn’t own extremism. Whether it be the Christian Crusades or Spanish Inquisition, the Hindu-Muslim animosities during the partition of India in 1947, or the recent Buddhist persecution of Rohingya refugees – different groups have used religion to justify their untenable practices. That doesn’t make them justified or their religion bad. Terrorists who wage war in the name of Islam are just as misguided as any other religious extremists. So, although terrorists ought to be rejected, their peaceful and diverse faith shouldn’t. Abdelkader’s sacrifices and respect for other faiths illustrate Islam’s dedication towards equality and tolerance. The Qur’an makes numerous references towards human dignity regardless of social status and freedom of religion. In fact, Imam (faith), is defined by the Prophet Muhammad as “patience and tolerance.” Status quo dialogue about Islam misrepresents a compassionate, empathetic, and tolerant religion. Inserting narratives like Abdelkader’s into curriculum and media can help bring up helpful conversations to break down our existing biases.
After listening to this commentary of tolerance, both in Islam and Abdelkader’s life, how will you change the way you act? Can you think of a time or event where people have been intolerant? What were the local, national, and global consequences? How do you think intolerance can be combatted? Are there any other examples of people, places, or ideas that are commonly misunderstood? Comment your thoughts and questions below!
Animesh Joshi is a junior in high school. His passion for world history led to him discovering Emir Abdelkader and later, winning the 2018 high school Abdelkader Global Leadership Prize essay contest. In the future, Animesh is interested in studying Political Science and Philosophy.