All praise is due to Allah alone. Blessings and salutations are upon Prophet Muhammad and all prophets, who are his brothers, including Adam the father of mankind, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus son of Mary (peace be upon them).
When the Almighty Allah created the human being, He granted him free will and autonomy in the light of His incredible wisdom. Freedom is a feature on which Allah brought mankind into being and made it as their acquired right, regardless of their infirmity or belief. Allah says in the Quran: [and shown him the two highways i.e. of good and evil] (the Quran, 90: 10). It means that Allah has displayed the people path of good and path of evil, granting them full freedom to choose between them. If Allah had so willed, He would have certainly made humankind one single nation by bringing them altogether under the umbrella of one religion. However, as this world is a world of examination, people must be granted the free will so they will be accountable for their decisions. Allah says: [If your Lord had so willed, He would have certainly made mankind one single nation] (the Quran, 11: 118).
Likewise, He guaranteed the livelihood for every member of humanity regardless of his or her religious affiliation. In terms of blessings of livelihood, He did not distinguish between that who believed in the existence of Allah and obeyed him and the atheist, but He offered for all from His munificence. Allah says [We bestowed on all - these as well those - out of the bounties of your Lord; the bounties of your Lord are not confined.] (the Quran: 17: 20). Thus, Allah’s gifts are scattered on the earth and provided for all creatures. Which is why when Prophet Abraham peace be upon him (pbuh) prayed Allah to shower His blessings upon the believers, Allah replied him that He will provide even for those who disobey His commands. The Quran points to this incident, [Ibrahim said: "My Lord make this (Makkah) a secure town and provide its people with plenty of food from fruits, those of them who believe in Allah and the Last Day." He answered, "As for those who do not, I shall also provide for them in this life." (2: 126)]. It means that Allah has guaranteed for every human being the free will and autonomy to choose between paths of good and evil, though the takers of wrong-path will be subject to punishment in the hereafter.
Moreover, Allah facilitated humanity the means of support by filling the earth with abundant blessings and granted the characteristic of freewill between good and evil, so that failure and distress will be the sheer consequence of one’s own choice and decision. In the day of resurrection, Allah’s judgment will be based on people’s volunteer free choice. Allah says: [When the Day will come, no one shall dare to speak except with His permission. Of them, some will be damned and some will be blessed.] (The Quran, 11: 105).
The freedom comprises freedom of thought, reflection, belief and expression. This freedom is actually the first step for refinement of thought. That’s why Allah has made it a common right for all human beings, such as their right to food, drink and dress, and there is no difference in that between a Muslim and others.
The Quran has explicated the human rights through various verses. Allah says, [And say: "The truth [has now come] from your Sustainer: let, then, him who wills, believe in it, and let him who wills, reject it.] (the Quran, 18: 29). This verse is an obvious example that forbids forcing someone to believe in something against his will. Therefore, compulsion in religion is prohibited, as the Quran declares, [There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error.] (2: 256). Hence, faith in Islam is valid and accepted if and only if the believer is aware and insightful, and with free will and choice, i.e. in a condition that is free of coercion.
Islam is constructed upon the freedom of giving advice and guidance, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) says, “The Religion is sincere advice.” Here, advice means showing of right and truth, but leaving the choice for the addressee. Advice is a great virtue and it is against the ideas of oppression and tyranny and aggression, disrespect and mockery. The oppression is all about narrowing the autonomies; it includes mockery with verbal statements or ridiculing the cultures or onslaughts on others’ beliefs. These acts are considered as attack on ones’ freedom. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) warned, “Verily, your blood, wealth and honour are inviolable for you”. Therefore, onslaughts on human body, wealth and dignity are viewed as contracting the notion of freedom.
As a result, we can see that Muslims sustained justice and kindness with non-Muslims wherever they ruled, for example in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and so on. Allah says [Allah does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who had neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes. In fact, Allah loves the equitable.] (60: 8). Thus, Muslims never led oppression against non-Muslims and they did not attack on the customs of Christians and Jews. They never prevented them from performing their social, religious and cultural practices. Non-Muslims were treated like Muslims except in religious matters. Christians and other non-Muslims used to mix with Muslims in the streets, farms and markets with transactions, business, gathering and visits. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the leader of the Muslim community and the head of state, accepted the invitation of a Jewish woman, participated in her party, and ate from the food she prepared. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) died while his shield was mortgaged with a Jew; it was not because Muslims were weak that time, rather Muslims were majority and Jews were minority. The Prophet was not in need of an invitation; rather he presented an excellent model of coexistence before the succeeding generations. The Shari’ah has imposed on every Muslim to uphold the notion of tolerance. Islam strives to strengthen the ideas of justice and tolerance across the globe.
One of the obvious manifestations of tolerance embedded in this religion is the fact that thousands of Christians and Jews are existent in many countries that are ruled by Muslims since fourteen centuries until today. Their scattered presence in various cities and villages is telling evidence that they are living in peace and security. We find them in many villages of Syria, Iraq and Egypt; they did not have to resort to remote areas of country, let alone fleeing to neighboring countries. In the era of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the delegations of non-Muslims used to visit Medina and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) used to receive them with due respect. At times, he let them enter the Mosque of Medina as when he received the delegation of Thaqeef tribe who were polytheists in the mosque.
Due to the remarkable broadmindedness, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) forbade his followers to prefer him to other prophets in a way that bears offense to others, though the Muslims believe that Muhammad (pbuh) is the best of humanity. Therefore, the statements like “Muhammad is better than Jesus” are prohibited because they may be misleading to detract from Jesus (peace be upon him). The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Do not differentiate between the Prophets”.
We have been ordained to explain the truth and falseness based on our understanding as part giving advice and guidance, not with the intention of mockery and provocation. That’s why polytheists were notified in the Quran that the idols they worship are powerless to create any benefit or harm. Allah says, [Those whom they invoke besides Allah have created nothing, but are themselves created.] (the Quran, 16: 20). The Almighty instructs: [and reason with them, if you have to, in the most courteous manner] (the Quran, 16: 125). When Allah decided to send Moses and Aaron (pbut) to Pharaoh, He guided that [Speak to him in gentle words] (the Quran, 20: 44).
In this way, the Islam guaranteed the freedom of faith, expression and dealings as long as they neither pose harm to others nor lead to corruption on the earth. In the original standing, people are free and the restriction is only imposed when this freedom is misused to cause harm or affect the freedom of others. Therefore, the system sets procedures to prevent the troublemaker from malicious acts. Allah says, [Say: My Lord has forbidden all indecencies whether open or secret, sin and rebellion against justice] (the Quran, 7: 33). Thus, the system enforces public order, to which all citizens are supposed to be conformed, and those who come out of the system, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, are treated as equals before the system.
In the Islamic history, we can see how Muslims sustained the justice among citizens. The son of Amr ibn al-Aas, governor of Egypt, attacked a young man from the Coptic, and the Christian Copt complained about it to Omar ibn al-Khattab, the Caliph that time, because he knows the principles of justice implemented by Omar. Then Omar regarded this infringement as kind of slavery and said to Amr ibn al-Aas, “O Amr! Since when have you enslaved people while their mothers have begotten them as free men?”
As a result of this remarkable conduct, there is nothing surprising to see the Christians who felt proud about Islam. Those who lived in the tolerance of this religion and its justice. Them being thankful and proud of Islam is a title of fulfilment that we appreciate. We Muslims are also thankful to them for their ideal pacts and reliability with their decent manners. The examples of this fidelity are many, but let me share with you the most recent among them. It is related to the poems of my friend who passed away two months ago. He is Jacques Sabri Shammas one of Syrian Christian poets. He sent to me a poem, addressing the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and refuting the characteristics of extremism from Islam:
Islam never wore the dress of extremism
The Shariah is made of tolerance and brotherhood
In his poem entitled “wailing rivers”, he said showing fidelity and loyalty to Baghdad:
O Baghdad, if the loyalty is articulated to date palm
Then you remember this Christian Poet.
I would like to conclude by thanking the brothers who organized this esteemed Conference, looking forward to the arbitration of international laws and pacts which guarantee justice and equitability for one and all. Among the main objectives of United Nations, the Article 1 (3) underlines that “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.
The Declaration on Principles of International Law, resolution 2625, issued by The United Nations General Assembly (1970), emphasizes, “The states shall co-operate with other States in the maintenance of international peace and security. They must co-operate in the promotion of universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, and in the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination and all forms of religious intolerance.” Likewise, in declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief, Resolution 36/55, the United Nations General Assembly explains (article 3), “Discrimination between human beings on grounds of religion or belief constitutes an affront to human dignity and a disavowal of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and shall be condemned as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enunciated in detail in the International Covenants on Human Rights, and as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations between nations.” In article 18 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it focuses, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Likewise, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights expounds in article 18 (3), “Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”