Is Islam a religion of tolerance? 

Islam, derived from the root words silm and salamah, means surrendering, guiding to peace and contentment, and establishing security and accord. Islam is a religion of security, safety, and peace. These principles permeate the lives of Muslims. When Muslims stand to pray, they cut their connection with this world, turning to their Lord in faith and obedience, and standing at attention in His presence. Completing the prayer, as if they were returning back to life, they greet those on their right and left by wishing peace: “Remain safe and in peace.” With a wish for safety and security, peace and contentment, they return to the ordinary world once again.
Greetings and wishing safety and security for others is considered as one of the most beneficial acts in Islam. As reported in Abu Dawud, when asked which act in Islam is the most beneficial, the Prophet (SAW) replied, “Feeding others and greeting those you know and those you do not know”.
Islam and terrorism are not synonyms
It is very unfortunate that Islam, which is based on this understanding and spirit, is shown in some circles to be synonymous with terrorism. This is a great historical mistake; wrapping a system based on safety and trust in a veil of terrorism just shows that the spirit of Islam remains unknown (to them). If one were to seek the face of Islam in its own sources, history, and true representatives, then one would discover that it contains no harshness, cruelty, or fanaticism. It is a religion of forgiveness, pardon, and tolerance. Many scholars and saints like Rumi and Badiuzzaman Said Nursi spent their lives preaching tolerance, and each became a legend in his own time as an embodiment of love and tolerance.
The pride of humanity, the Prophet (SAW), was a man of love and affection. One of his names was Habibullah (the beloved of God). In addition to meaning one who loves, habib means one who is loved, one who loves God, and one who is loved by God. Sufi masters like Shaykh Ahmad al-Sirhindi (Mujaddid-i Alf-i Thani), Mawlana Khalid al-Baghdadi (Naqshbandi sufi master considered the mujaddid of the thirteenth Islamic century), and Shah Waliullah Dehalwi state that love is the ultimate station of the spiritual journey.
God created the universe as a manifestation of His love for His creatures, in particular humanity, and Islam became the fabric woven out of this love. In the words of Said Nursi, love is the essence of creation. Just as a mother’s love and compassion compels her to allow a surgeon to operate on her sick child to save his or her life, jihad allows war, if needed, to preserve such fundamental human rights as the right to life and religious freedom. Jihad does not exclusively mean war.
It is an Islamic principle to love those things or people who must be loved on the way of God and dislike those things or people who must be disliked on the way of God. But this principle is often misunderstood, for in Islam all of creation is to be loved according to the rule of loving on God’s way. “Disliking on the way of God” applies only to feelings, thoughts, and attributes. Thus, we should dislike such things as immorality, unbelief, and polytheism, not the people who engage in such activities. God created humanity as noble beings, and everyone, to a certain degree, has a share in this nobility. His Messenger (SAW) once stood up out of respect for humanity as the funeral procession of a Jew passed by. When reminded that the deceased was a Jew, the Prophet (SAW) replied: “But he is a human,” thereby showing the value Islam gives to human life.
This action demonstrates how highly our Prophet (SAW) respected every person. Given this, the involvement of some self-proclaimed Muslim individuals or institutions in terrorist activities can in no way be approved of by Islam. The reasons for this terrorism should be sought for in the actions themselves, in false interpretations of the faith, and in other factors and motives. Islam does not support terror, so how could a Muslim who truly understands Islam be a terrorist? If we can spread the Islamic understanding of such heroes of love as Rumi and like-minded globally, if we can extend their messages of love, dialogue, and tolerance to those who thirst for this message, then everyone will run towards the embrace of love, peace, and tolerance that we represent.
The definition of tolerance in Islam is such that the Prophet (SAW) even prohibited verbal abuse of unbelievers. For example, Abu Jahl died before embracing Islam, despite all the Prophet’s efforts. His unbelief and enmity towards the Prophet (SAW) was such that he deserved the title Abu Jahl: ‘Father of ignorance and impudence’. His untiring opposition to Islam was a thorn in the side of the Muslims. Despite such hostility, when in an assembly of Companions where Abu Jahl’s son Ikrimah (RA) was present, the Prophet (SAW) one day admonished a Companion who had been heard insulting Abu Jahl: “Do not hurt others by criticising their fathers” (as reported in al-Mustadrak Hakim and Kanz al-’Ummal). Another time (as reported in Sahih Muslim and Tirmidhi), he said: “Cursing your mother and father is a great sin.” The Companions asked: “O Messenger of God, would anyone curse their parents?” The Prophet (SAW) replied: “When someone curses another’s father and the other curses his father in return, or when someone curses another’s mother and the other does the same in return, they will have cursed their parents”.
While the Prophet of Mercy was inordinately sensitive when it came to respecting others, some Muslims today justify “unpleasant behaviour” on the basis of religion. This shows that they do not understand Islam, a religion in which there is no place for malice and hatred.  The Qur’an strongly urges forgiveness and tolerance. In one verse, it says of pious people: They spend [in His way] in time of plenty and in time of hardship, and hold in check their anger, and pardon their fellow-men because God loves the doers of good” (Al-‘Imran, 3:134). In other words, Muslims should not retaliate when verbally abused or attacked. If possible, they must swallow their anger and close their eyes to the faults of others. The words selected in the verse are very meaningful. Another verse, while mentioning the characteristics of believers, says: and [who], whenever they pass by [people engaged in] frivolity, pass on with dignity” (Al-Furqan, 25:72).
When we look at the exalted life of God’s Messenger (SAW), we see that he always practiced the precepts presented in the Qur’an. For example, a Companion once repented of a sin and admitted: “I am guilty of fornication. Whatever my punishment is, give it and cleanse me.” The Prince of Prophets said: “Go back and repent, for God forgives all sins” (reported in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim). This event was repeated three times. Another time (as reported in Abu Dawud, Nasai, and Muwatta), a Companion complained to the Prophet (SAW) that someone had stolen his belongings. But as the punishment was about to be carried out the Companion said: “I have changed my mind and do not want to pursue my case. I forgive this individual.” The Prophet (SAW) asked: “Why did you bring this matter to court? Why didn’t you forgive him from the outset?” Such examples make it clear that the method of those who act with enmity and hatred, who view everyone else with anger, and who blacken others as infidels is un-Islamic—for Islam is a religion of peace, love, and tolerance, and a true Muslim is, and has to be, a loving, affectionate, and tolerant person, who avoids every kind of violent activity and who has no malice or hatred for anyone or anything.
—The author holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from Aligarh Muslim University. Feedback: