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Call To Them In A Most Kindly Manner: The Quranic Case For Interfaith Engagement

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It is truly unfortunate that those who seek to demonize Islam by equating it with what they view on the media that some Muslims are callous and intolerant have overlooked the passages in the Quran on God's forgiveness and compassion toward His creation and the verses that require the believers to spend their wealth and effort to help those who are living in poverty (107:7).

SAY: "[Thus speaks God:] 'O you servants of Mine who have transgressed against your own selves! Despair not of God's mercy: behold, God forgives all sins -- for, verily, He alone is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace!'" (Quran 39:53).

But perhaps the topic that is frequently misrepresented and taken out of context is whether the verse below in the Quran prescribed Muslims to befriend Jews and Christians.

"O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for your allies (awliya): they are but allies of one another and whoever of you allies (awliya) himself with them becomes, verily, one of them; behold, God does not guide such evildoers" (Quran 5:51).

The Arabic word awliya, which actually means "ally" or "protector" is erroneously interpreted as "friend" by some English translators. The word cannot in any way signify "friend" (friend in Arabic is "sidiq") since the Quran honorably addresses the Jews and Christians as "The People of the Book," (3:64) and recognizes that there are righteous followers among them.

"Yet all of them are not alike. Among the people of the Book is a section upright, who recite the scriptures in the hours of the night and bow in adoration and pray" (Quran 3:113-115).

"All those who believe, and the Jews and the Sabians and the Christians, in fact any one who believes in God and the Last Day, and performs good deeds, will have nothing to fear or regret" (5:69).

Also, the Quran acknowledges many of the prophets (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus) in the Torah and Bible. Moreover, it made it acceptable for Muslims to dine with Jews and Christians, demonstrating that the Quran unequivocally establishes a special bond between the three monotheistic religions.

Opening the door for forgiveness to an adversary is a consistent theme in the Quran and believers are instructed to show mercy to their enemy even during a conflict

"It maybe that God will create love between you and your enemies. God is all-powerful, and God is forgiving, ever merciful. (7) God does not forbid you from being kind and acting justly towards those who did not fight over faith with you, nor expelled you from your homes. God indeed loves those who are just" (Quran 60:8).

The Quran instructed Muslims to be kind and tolerant to others and expected them to peacefully dialogue with others:

"And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in a most kindly manner -- unless it be such of them as are bent on evildoing" (29:46).

"CALL THOU (all mankind] unto thy Sustainer's path with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the most kindly manner -- for, behold, thy Sustainer knows best as to who strays from His path, and best knows He as to who are the right-guided" (16:125).

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself recognized that the Quran establishes a special bond between the three faiths and this is reflected in his invitation of the Christians of Najran to pray in his mosque.

He also created The Constitution of Medina, which many believe is the first constitution in history that was written by the Prophet (PBUH), when he migrated from Mecca to Medina. This historic document established the law that gives Jews and other ethnic groups political rights and freedom of religion.

(For further details on this charter, go here.)

When a Christian delegation visited the prophet (PBUH) in Medina, he granted to them a special charter, where they would receive special protection and other privileges at Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai. This special covenant could be justly designated as one of the monuments of enlightened tolerance in the history of the world.

Here is an English translation of the charter:

"This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them.

If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world)."