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Religious discrimination in and outside the boundary of religion

The belief in ones religion should not lead one to treat others indiscriminately (Nahrizul Adib Kadri - Unsplash)

By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

Discriminatory dealings of people of different religions have always been rampant in human society. The coexistence of people from two or more religions has never been easy throughout history. The conflict often goes beyond discrimination and evolves into violent riots and wars.

Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

To name a few, the riots or wars in Bosnia Herzegovina (1992-1995), Gujarat (2002), Uyghur, and the ongoing genocide in Palestine are a testimony to this notion.

Seemingly, all religions share a similar worldview on the ‘faith’ in the existence of god, life hereafter, and angels. But, neither the belief of god in different religions are the same in form, function, and ability; nor the way life hereafter is perceived.

Differences in the notion of prophethood also exist in different religions. In Islam, prophets and messengers were human beings who were guided by divine commandments. If compared with other Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Islam shares the view that Jesus Christ (Prophet Isa) is a Messenger and is no more or less than a human being. Most religions that are based on idol worship, however, do not have any human forms of prophets or messengers.

Does it make sense then to compare different religions to recognize which religion is better or superior than the others?

To answer that question, let us compare milk and milk-tea. Even though both of them fall into the same category of beverages and both of them have a common ingredient which is milk, those two drinks are not the same and comparable in the same scale. Because the purpose, composition, and effect of those two different drinks are completely different. Hence, there is no reason to scan for a comparative superiority.

Yet, what is more appalling, is the unprecedented intolerance based on the differences in religious creeds. People around the world are divided as they are enraptured by their orthodox perception of their creeds in favor of their own religion or against other religion(s).

Perhaps humanity can take a lesson from the Noble Quran (Chapter 109, Verse 6), where Prophet Mohammad was asked to tell the people of other religions, “for you is your religion and for me is mine”.

A logical deduction to this notion is that people of one religion should not interfere with the practice of the people of another religion. And no one should impose their religion onto others. At the same time, people who do not practice any religion also should be careful about commenting on the practice of others.

The discriminatory views and practices of the fanatic followers of a religion and non-religious fanatics are the worst of all. They would want to impose their version of their faith or creed – to or not to believe in a religion – on others. Needless to say, both religious fanatics and non-religious fanatics do the same damage to society.

Besides, there are others (mostly politicians) who tend to exploit religious issues to satisfy their own needs and greed. They would make pacts with the people of different religions to achieve their common cause. Then they’d split up if they think that the pacts do not serve their purpose. They would not then hesitate to make a different pact with the people of other religions. It is baffling to observe such “pacting” and “depacting” using religion as bait that does more harm than benefit to mankind.

Anyone has the right to share their thoughts to promote peace and harmony from their perspective – as long as it is meant for peace and harmony. With my faith in Islam, I am sharing mine.

Allah created mankind with diversity so that they can understand each other. In His sight, the most noble ones are those who are the righteous ones (Chapter 49, Verse 13). In fact, the diversity is meant to test the commitment to the law and path He gave mankind to lead their life (Chapter 5, Verse 48).

Clearly, those differences in diversity are not meant to judge anyone’s superiority over others. Differences in race, color, ethnicity, or socio-economic status do not add anything to the righteousness He would judge.

Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) reiterated in his last sermon by saying that an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also a White has no superiority over a Black nor does a Black have any superiority over a White except by piety and good deed.

Even as tiny as ridicule or insult on an individual scale is forbidden in Islam. Perhaps a reminder from the Noble Quran might be helpful: “O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers (Chapter 49, Verse 11).”

Nevertheless, Muslims can be deceitful in observing the teachings of Islam. Their humiliating discriminatory dealings with those who are perceived as inferior in race, color, ethnic origin, or socio-economic status is not invisible. Legal and social priorities depend on the racial, color, ethnic, or socio-economic status of an individual is common in many Muslim majority countries.

It is more ironic when Muslims from different madhabs (schools of thought) discriminate against each other based on their perception that a certain madhab is superior to the other. Some consider their madhab to be the closest, among the four, in terms of the practice of Prophet Mohammad such as how they perform daily prayers.

Such appalling discriminatory malaise seems to be an epidemic in the Muslim world! Despite being reprimanded repeatedly in the Noble Quran to remain united, rifts among the Muslim ummah (meant to be a single nation in Islam) are obvious among many Muslim nations. Discriminatory gimmick is at the root of such rifts. Not unsurprisingly, that rift weakens the strength of the ummah which otherwise could be to speak for their rights to practice their religion.

Sadly, some Muslims play giddy goat to discriminate against non-Muslims too. For instance, the rights of obligatory or optional charity for needy non-muslim neighbors are often ignored or even seen as prohibited.

It is interesting to see how fanatic atheists often fail, intentionally or unintentionally, to see the good side of a religion or the good people of a religion. Those fanatic atheists use their discriminatory views to condemn a religion mostly because they believe that there is no god and there should not be any religion. Without having any proper knowledge about the actual teaching of any religion, most fanatic atheists seem to spit out loathsome accusations against a religion.

For one or another reason, people with fundamental differences in their faiths as well as religious fanaticism or fanatic atheism will continue to exist. But does it mean that people of one faith must deal with people of another religion discriminately?

A human being, irrespective of his or her faith, can be treated justly as long as their human needs are concerned. Whether or not one faith is better than the other; or who will end up in paradise or who will enter hell; let it be decided by Him, who created paradise and hell.


The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He may be reached at tarique@um.edu.my

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