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The Way of Tolerance

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Islam is a religion of great balance and tolerance - yet it would seem to be the very opposite if one were to judge by reports in the media.  One of the oft-quoted issues is that of vengeance.  The argument is that Christianity taught forgiveness, turning the other cheek, of not taking revenge for injustices committed against oneself - and that this was a great advance on the hard-line justice of Judaism, if only people were to stick to Christian principles.  But then Islam, coming some 600 years after Christianity, reverted back to the relative barbarism of exacting harsh justice from wrongdoers.  In order to understand things correctly we need to look at two things; the historical conditions of revelation and the actual content of the Qur’an.

All the great religions have been revealed to humanity at times of dire moral need.  Judaism was a response and a guide to people in a time of Pharaonic decadence of great proportions, Christianity at a time when the Jews themselves had degenerated to very low levels in greed and hypocrisy, and so we might expect that Christianity also had not transformed society to a better state of humanity otherwise there would have been no need for Islam.   Many references in the Qur’an as well as historical evidence make it clear that Judaism and pre-Judaic customs were prevalent in the Arabian peninsula at the time that The Prophet Mohammed s.a.w.s. lived there.  If Christian charity and forgiveness were the norm there would have been no Islam.  But the behaviour of the people was such that a restatement of man’s relationship to God was urgently needed, and even that it had to accommodate a recognition that Christian ethics were beyond the capacity of the bulk of mankind.  Thus, in the Qur’an we have a perfect mix of rules and regulations for the lower elements in mankind and guidance to elevate higher souls to Divine Presence.

To illustrate this kind of multiplicity of meaning, Sheikh Nazim, in a talk reported in “Mercy Oceans’ Rising Sun” gave the example of someone being given money by one person and then being beaten and robbed by another person, saying that both actions are inspired by Allah but that the common reaction is to be grateful for the first, the giving of money, but to be angry and aggrieved and seek revenge for the beating and theft... “Because it is not possible for all people to aspire to this high level of faith in which God’s Hand is seen behind every event, Allah Almighty in one verse of the Holy Qur’an, condones ‘A life for a life’ in the case of murder, and goes on to call those who are capable of it to ‘turning the other cheek’.  These are the levels, respectively, of Shariah - the Law, and Tariqah - the Path. Based on this verse, therefore, the Islamic Law concerning murder is balanced, making concession for the normal human feelings for vengeance in the face of such an abominable crime.  Islam allows for the execution of the duly-convicted murderer, and in this way assuages the feeling of the close relatives, thus preventing extended blood-feuds.  The Law also allows for the payment of blood money in lieu of execution, to be paid to the victim’s close relatives.  Lastly, the verse calls those who are seeking the highest level of faith and unity of vision to forgiveness, saying: ‘And whosoever forgives and promotes understanding, his reward is incumbent on his Lord’.

What Allah is saying to seekers of absolute truth is “Now forgive him, because I sent him to do that action”.  Then you realise that, in reality, there is no question of guilt nor need for revenge.  But that is not the common level.  That is the level to be striven for, and it is beyond us to forgive in such a manner because our egos are like volcanoes.

Now people may be very polite in their everyday dealings, as long as everyone behaves in accordance with their expectations and everything falls into place according to plan;  but should, God forbid, the smallest thing go wrong - for example a small error in driving, even one that causes no accident, - for such a small reason one may hear the ugliest obscenities pour from their mouths like a lava eruption.  That ego makes people dangerously ill, and now that people are totally under their ego’s command, where can you find the tolerance described in that Holy Verse of the Qur’an.”

Islam is realistic and idealistic.  It encompasses the full range of human types and levels of spirituality.  You read it according to your level of spiritual evolution - it is the revelation of Haqq, pure truth, for everyone.

The one who is very much under the control of ego must strive to follow Shariah and that will be a very big effort for him, and his sincere efforts will be well rewarded.  But it is a trap for insincerity.  For it is possible to observe outer forms whilst having a heart that is full of evil. This often occurs as a means of oppression.  A deeply unhappy and frustrated person may wish to take revenge on everyone around him but be powerless to do so and so the frustration becomes internalised and transformed into oppression through religion.  This is easily done through Islam because the Shariah is so explicit on so many issues.  As we saw above, Shariah is the lowest level of guidance.  It should be applied with mercy at all points of interpretation.  It should be applied by persons of high quality in such a way as to encourage the recipients of the dictates to be aware of the mercy of Allah.  Unfortunately, what has happened in many places is that people of low quality use the words of the Shariah to frighten people and harm them.  Why?  Religiously we could say because this is an expression of Shaitan’s activity, made possible by the egocentricity of the times we live in.  In Western terms we might say so-called “supporters of Shariah” have taken upon themselves the right to oppress others because it is a form of power and revenge on society, emanating from psychologically sick persons.  But that approach to Shariah is not Islam.  The Qur’an has many verses where a rule is followed by a statement that some other course of action is better, of which the above illustration about revenge is an example, i.e. revenge is permissible in reciprocal terms, even in the case of murder, but that a monetary settlement is better than a second killing, and that forgiveness is best of all.

Seen in its fullness, Islam is the most tolerant religion imaginable and more - a fountain of grace and mercy to all of humanity.  It is indeed a very sad situation when Muslims can no longer differentiate between a true holy man whose adherence to Shariah and his advice on its interpretation is fully inspired by Allah’s Mercy, and false men of religion who interpret with harsh distortions born of their lower emotions, and have no mercy in their hearts or in their interpretations.  In the past there was at least respect for the ‘higher ones’ even from people who chose not to try to live up to their highest possibilities.  Now that people generally have lost their discrimination faculties, the remaining few who recognise and follow the higher path outlined in the Qur’an are ostracised or worse by the mainstream so they have mostly made themselves invisible to society.  Which leaves a difficult situation for those who are trying to follow a Tariqa but have not yet attained the full inner knowledge of Haqq.  We are blessed beyond comprehension to have Sheikh Nazim amongst us.

This article was submitted by a member of the ‘Zam Zam’ Ladies’ Group.


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