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Islam and other religions


Views of monotheist religions

Main articles: People of the Book

Islam views itself as the culmination of the Judeo-Christian monotheist tradition. In this sense, Muslims do not consider these to be other religions. However, their primary difference with Jews and Christians has always been the refusal of either to acknowledge the prophetic mission of Muhammad and/or the divine origin of the Qur'an. A further theological difference separates Islam from Christianity, in that Muslims deny the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus.

A separate article exists on Islam and anti-Semitism.

Views of non-Judaeo Christian religions, i.e., Hinduism

When Islam began to spread to regions like India, the Hindu worship of multiple gods and the prominent display of their images in temples may have reminded Muslims of pre-Islamic Arab practices. Qur'anic verses revealed in the context of Muhammad's war with the pagan Meccans may thus have provided justification for the imperial ambitions of some leaders; however, even in India mass conversions were not encouraged, and Hindus were ultimately given the tolerated religious minority status of dhimmi, even though they were monotheist in belief but not in practice. The Bhagavad Gita condemns worship of demigods as it does not lead to moksha which Vishnu alone can grant.

The nature of conversions (whether forcible or voluntary) is a contentious political issue, but the fact that it happened in one way or another is obvious in the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), where 45% of the formerly Hindu and Buddhist population is now Muslim. Bengal provides a case-study for the complexity of conversion; it was generally overlooked as a frontier province far from the center of Mughal power. However, the activity of Sufi mystics led to a syncretic mixing of Islam and Hinduism in the region, which apparently persisted for centuries. During this period it would have been very difficult to classify local religious beliefs and practices as exclusively Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist, as elements of all these were combined. It seems to have been the rise of Muslim revivalist movements in the 19th century, which focused 'purifying' the Islamic practices of the region, that led to it becoming the definitively Muslim population that exists today in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, syncretic traditions such as Baul devotional music, which borrows both Muslim and Hindu religious images freely, persist even today.

The Islamic view of non-monotheist religions differs among scholars and varies according to time and place. Consequently, the relationship of Islam with Hinduism and non-monotheist religions varied greatly according to the religious outlook of individual rulers. For example, in India the Mughal emperor Akbar, for example, was very tolerant towards Hindus, while his successor Aurangzeb was less so. This variability persists today; while fundamentalists are often less tolerant, liberal movements within Islam often try to be more open-minded.

Conversion and warfare

The rapid spread of the early Islamic empire was due to a mixture of a zeal to spread the new religion and a desire to gain wealth and power from conquest. According to most scholars, forced conversions were almost unheard of at this time, in accordance with the Qur'anic injunction that there shall be 'no compulsion in religion'; in fact, the imposition of the extra jizya tax on non-Muslim subjects gave the Muslim rulers a material incentive to preserve the religions of conquered people, as the Umayyads attempted, even as it gave the conquered groups a material incentive to convert. This is one reason that Christian communities continue to remain in the Middle East, and small Zoroastrian ones in Iran. However, some people argue that forced conversions were more widespread, claiming that the near-complete conversion of countries such as Iran and modern day Afganistan and Pakistan to Islam could not have happened otherwise.

Forced conversions are sometimes attested in later periods, as for instance under certain Almohad rulers. Some compare such excesses to ones attested in other proselytizing faiths such as Christianity, seeing zeal to spread what they saw as the word of God as the common element.

Tolerance vs. fundamentalism

Some claim that Eastern traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism, which supposedly believe all religions to be different paths to reach the same supreme truth or God, are inherently tolerant. They use this line of reasoning to assert that monotheist religions like Islam and Christianity believe that theirs is the only true word from the God, and are thus inherently intolerant. While such a one-sided generalization may be justified when talking of Islamic fundamentalism, it is not universally true. Some Muslims in multi-religious communities such as Bangladesh have experienced long periods without any significant religious conflicts.

Last updated: 02-19-2005 02:28:32
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01