Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

The present age is a most unique period of human history. Ancient man would have been unable to even comprehend such a phase of mankind. Many revolutions in human civilization have bestowed man with numerous blessings. Religious persecution has been abolished and replaced by religious freedom, traditional and superstitious beliefs have given way to a rational and scientific era, the age of antagonism and hostility has been put an end to and replaced by an age of inter-dependence. In other words, an era of problems has been eradicated and in its place we have only opportunities and more opportunities everywhere.

But it is strange that Muslims are still living in conflict and controversy. In an age of religious freedom, they feel that they are still in the age of religious persecution. In scientific times, they continue to live with superstitions and irrational beliefs in an age of inter-dependence and collaboration they live with a mindset of hostility. It appears to them that they are under siege from their enemies and that their opponents are conspiring and plotting against them. In the age of opportunities they only seem to be beset by problems everywhere.

Let us examine whether there is room for such thinking by studying the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet and by objectively analyzing the present situation of the world.


Islam emerged in the first quarter of the seventh century. At that time, monarchy was the order of the day all over the world. To the political rulers of that epoch, dissent of any kind, particularly religious free thinking, was anathema, because they saw it as a threat to their power. Therefore, to achieve political consolidation, the monarchs of those days adopted the principle of ideological coercion. Religious persecution thus became a weapon in the hands of the despots, so that no new ideology could be allowed to develop. Strong exception was taken to the growth of any other religion save that approved by the state. The independent thinking so essential for intellectual progress, was thus cruelly suppressed, and that was why, during the long periods of monarchical rule, neither could the sciences flourish, nor could individuals opt for the religion of their choice. Anyone who had the audacity to make an issue of this was likely to face summary execution. The Quran refers thus to the religious oppression of ancient times:

Destroyed were the people of the trench, who lighted the consuming fire and who sat around it watching the believers whom they were torturing. And they had nothing against them, save that they believed in God, the Mighty, the Praiseworthy. (85:4-8)

The human condition of those days is similarly depicted in a Makkan tradition narrated by Khabbab ibn al-Arat: We complained to the Prophet at a time when he was resting in the shade of the Kabah wall. We said to him: “Don’t you pray for us to God?” The Prophet replied: “Those who went before you faced such unbearable trials (due to their faith in a religion other than that of the state). One of them would be brought for trial, a pit would be dug for him, then he would be buried in it in a standing posture, with his head above the edge of the pit. Then a saw would be passed through his head until it split into two parts. Yet even such severe trials did not cause him to waver from his faith. People were scraped with iron combs until all their skin came off and the bones of their bodies were exposed. Yet these acts of persecution did not deter them from adhering to their faith. Certainly God’s will shall prevail (that is, the age of religious freedom will certainly come) when a traveller will journey from Sana’a to Hadhramawt, (that is, from one region to another) without fearing anyone save God. And he will fear no wolf for his sheep. Yet you are in a hurry.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

This Hadith shows that one of the revolutionary changes to be brought about in the wake of the Prophet’s mission was the end of this ancient age of religious persecution and the replacing of it with an age of religious freedom in order to smoothen the path for God’s servants to follow His religion. This most significant transformation was to take place as part of a divine plan. That is why the Quran enjoined the Prophet’s Companions to pray in advance to God: “Lord, do not lay on us the burden you laid on those before us. Lord, do not charge us with more than we can bear.” (2:286)

This prayer was revealed by God Himself for the benefit of the believers. It was like a divine ordinance announced in the form of a prayer to be recited by the Companions. This means God, who is the controller of history, had decreed a change in this coercive political system of ancient times. Then the age of religious freedom would be ushered where people would be free to believe in whatever they had conviction in, which till that point had been seriously hindered by the prevalent religious oppression.

Religious coercion through persecution was totally against the creation plan of God. God created this world for the purpose of putting mankind to the test. For this purpose to be fulfilled, everyone in this world had to enjoy full freedom of speech and action. If people were divested of their freedom, the very purpose of the test would be defeated.

Therefore, God granted special help to the believers, so that they might put an end to a system which had suppressed the freedom essential to the divine test in this world.

This means fitna, or the ancient political coercive system, had been dealt a severe blow during the period of the 'Pious Caliphate' itself but, like many other major historical revolutions, this new phase only very gradually reached its culmination. In the wake of the revolution in the first phase of Islam, religious freedom took a decisive course in history, spurred on in the initial stages by Muslim action, and in the later stages by the active participation of non-Muslim nations. In the first half of the twentieth century, firstly through the League of Nations and later through the United Nations, all the nations of the world unanimously declared that religious freedom was a fundamental right for all, and could not under any circumstances be abrogated.


The first stage of the cessation of fitna, which brought with it the dawn of religious freedom, was accomplished in Arabia. This development took place during the lifetime of the Prophet. During his last days, on the occasion of his final Haj, the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, preached a sermon, generally known as the Sermon of the Last Pilgrimage, in the presence of all of his Companions. One of the points in his address on which the Prophet laid emphasis was that God had sent him “as a mercy to all mankind,” and that this being so, they should communicate this message of peace to all people everywhere. In obedience to this injunction given by the Prophet towards the end of his life, his Companions travelled far and wide beyond the boundaries of Arabia. Indeed, they spent the rest of their lives carrying out their Prophet’s command.

Thereafter, their successors, as well as the disciples of these successors, continued to make it their mission to disseminate the teachings of Islam, to the point where finally, the message of Islam had reached the greater part of the known, inhabited world of that age. This method of conveying the message from beginning to end was carried out in an entirely peaceful manner.

Wherever there is political power, the element of coercion cannot be far away: political confrontations must, therefore, be avoided at all costs if the process of dawah, that is the task of conveying of Islam, is to be set in motion and continued in an atmosphere of freedom. That is to say that they had to abandon the path of political confrontation in favour of continuing their activities in non-political fields, such as education, dawah, the service of the Quran and Hadith, etc. The Quran has clearly stated that, for believers, political power is a gift from God, and not a goal to be striven for.


A major aim of the revolution brought about by the Prophet and his Companions was to remove all obstacles in the path of calling people to God so that such conducive conditions would prevail as would encourage people to practise God’s religion and invite others to the same path. This process had to be continued from generation to generation.

The first stage of this revolution was marked by the coercive system being brought to an end, ushering in the dawn of religious freedom in the world. The second stage was embarked upon, when, by availing of the advantages of this freedom, Muslims disseminated Islam at the universal level. Now, Muslims are in the third and final stage of their history, when the progress of religious freedom has reached its zenith. Muslims have to continue this task of conveying the message to people and it is imperative that they do so by adherence to peaceful methods.


Islam is the religion of nature, and in treading its path, it is nondiscriminatory, finding room within its scheme of things for every segment of society.

In this world any natural process begins with the involvement of different elements—as happened in the case of Islam. Humanity as a whole is an interdependent body and Islam is not an exception. Islam is an ideology aimed at human development, and no process of human development can endure without involving humanity at large. Islamic history contains many examples of the role played by non-Muslims in the development of Islam. This principle of nonMuslim involvement in Islamic development can also be extended from an individual level to the level of an entire group.

In the present day context, Western civilization is an appropriate example. Although Western civilization developed in non-Muslim societies without any direct contribution from Muslim minds, it is helpful for Islam in many aspects. For example, it is this Western civilization that finally ended religious persecution and opened the door for religious freedom. Similarly, it is this Western civilization, which has developed the modern means of communication that has made it possible for Muslims to convey the message on a global scale. Also, modern scientific discoveries made in the West have paved the way to proving the beliefs of Islam on a scientific basis.

In previous times, it was assumed that the message of Islam, or religion for that matter, could be supported only by arguments that were inferential in nature and not by arguments that were direct. But modern science, in bringing human thought from a macrocosmic level to a microcosmic level, has made it possible to accept that inferential reasoning is as valid as direct reasoning. This development has allowed Islam to put forth its points on the same level as scientific theories are proven.

From these examples, it is clear that Muslims as well as others have contributed towards the Islamic development.

This aspect of a role for those other than Muslims, in the development of Islam serves a moral end as well. It makes Muslims sympathetic towards the rest of the world so that the hearts of Muslims are filled with love for others instead of hate, enmity and distrust. The contribution of nonMuslims to Islam has not been of a temporary nature. It has continued throughout Islamic history. In present times these contributions made by non-Muslims, especially in the field of scientific discoveries, have been far greater than ever before.

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