Sunday, July 15, 2012

Interacting with Non-Muslims

'People of the Book, let us arrive at a statement that is common to us all: we worship God alone, we ascribe no partner to Him, and none of us takes others beside God as lords.' If they turn away, say, ‘Witness our devotion to Him.' Quran 3:64
Growing up in the US, I have had to reconcile my faith with the reality that I live in a non-Muslim society. Fortunately, Allah's guidance to the Prophet was extremely straightforward about interacting with non-Muslims. For fellow monotheists (ie 'People of the Book') we are repeatedly told to try to find common ground. For those with whom we can't find common ground:
Say, ‘Disbelievers: I do not worship what you worship, you do not worship what I worship, I will never worship what you worship, you will never worship what I worship: you have your religion and I have mine.' Quran 109

In other words, we are told to continue believing in Islam, while allowing others to practice their beliefs. As Muslims, we know that only Allah determines who will choose to follow our beliefs. We are not responsible for the spiritual status of our society:
This is a message for all people; for those who wish to take the straight path. But you will only wish to do so by the will of God, the Lord of all people. Quran 81:27-29
We also know that our religion is not the only path to Allah's favor. Allah makes this clear when he says:
There are some among the People of the Book who are upright, who recite God’s revelations during the night, who bow down in worship, who believe in God and the Last Day, who order what is right and forbid what is wrong, who are quick to do good deeds. These people are among the righteous and they will not be denied [the reward] for whatever good deeds they do: God knows exactly who is conscious of Him. Quran 3:113-115
Allah not only clearly indicates that non-Muslims can go to heaven, but that a world with multiple faiths was always part of his divine plan:
We sent to you [Muhammad] the Scripture with the truth, confirming the Scriptures that came before it, and with final authority over them: so judge between them according to what God has sent down. Do not follow their (other faiths) whims, which deviate from the truth that has come to you. We have assigned a law and a path to each of you. If God had so willed, He would have made you one community, but He wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good: you will all return to God and He will make clear to you the matters you differed about. Quran 5:48 
To hammer the point home, Allah makes it clear that the judgment of other faiths is his job alone, neither the Prophet's nor the Muslim community's, because only Allah understands the Scripture they are following:
We sent messengers before you and gave them wives and offspring; no messenger was given the power to produce a miracle except with God’s permission. There was a Scripture for every age:God erases or confirms whatever He will, and the source of Scripture is with Him. Whether We let you [Prophet] see part of what We threaten them with, or cause you to die [before that], your duty is only to deliver the message: the Reckoning is Ours. Quran 13:38-40
So as a Muslim, I not only understand that it is OK to live in a world full of non-Muslims that can also go to heaven, but that it is my role to try to do more divine good than them ('so race to do good').This, of course brings me back to the Islamic definition of goodness from my last post. It is never my job to judge them or impose my faith on them. God reinforces those ideas when he outlines what he wants Muslims to project to non-Muslims:
Be a community that calls for what is good, urges what is right, and forbids what is wrong: those who do this are the successful ones. Quran 3:104
In practice this means that I am unusually vocal about my calls for a more equitable society. I don't evangelize Islam through preaching. I give to the poor from my property, even if it makes me uncomfortable. If other faiths are helping the poor and needy, I should find a way to join their efforts. I also try to call out injustice. These are the ways a Muslim community distinguishes itself in a world full of non-Muslims.