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It should be noted from the beginning that the very term Islam implies that peace is the basis and the norm of Muslim/Non-Muslim relations. Islam is derived from the Arabic root [S-L-M] whose generic meaning includes the concepts “peace” and “submission”. From a spiritual perspective, Islam may be defined as attaining peace through submission to Allah or the state of peace in submission to Allah.

The basic rule governing the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims is that of peaceful co-existence, justice and compassion. The following two verses are key verses that embody that general rule: “As for such [non-Muslims] who do not fight you on account of [your] faith, or drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness [also love and respect] and to deal with them with equity, for God loves those who act equitably. God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive you forth from your homelands or aid [others] in driving you forth. As for those, from among you, who turn towards them for alliance, it is they who are wrongdoers” 60:8-9.

This verse makes it a Muslim’s duty to treat peacefully co-existing persons with equity [Qist] and [Birr]. The term Birr and its derivatives are the same expressions used in the Qur’an and Hadeeth to refer to one’s relationship with his/her parents. Such relationship is more than kindness, since it includes also love and respect. Many English translations of the Qur’an have translated this Qur’anic term as kindness, a translation that falls short of the richer meaning of the original Arabic term. To ameliorate this problem, the bracketed statement [also love and respect] was added above. The term “Qist” has been translated as “justice”. Justice, however, is closest to another Arabic “`Adl”. `Adl, however refers to giving the other his/her rights, no less and no more. Other scholars argue that the Qur’anic term “Qist” means going beyond justice by giving more than what is due to others.

Peaceful dialogue, especially with the “People of the Book”: All of the above principles apply to all non-Muslims. The Qur’an accords the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] a special position. The very term to designate them distinguishes them from others such as idolatrous Arabs [98:1]. It is a complimentary title as it acknowledges that, like Muslims, their faiths are based on revealed books or scriptures. In its family and dietary laws, the Qur’an gives a special consideration to the “People of the Book”. For example, a Muslim male may marry a believing Jewish or Christian woman [5:5].

The Qur’an exhorts Muslims to engage in peaceful dialogue with Jews and Christians: “ Say [O Muslims], O People of the Book! Come to a common term which we and you hold in common: that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to none beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lord beside Allah, and if they turn away, then say: bear witness that we submit ourselves unto Him” 3:64.

It may be noted that “turning away” from this invitation is not presented as a punishable offence in this life and that the consequence of rejection is to simply testify Muslims’ submission to Allah. Another verse in the Qur’an encourages peaceful dialogue and invites all to build upon the common ground between Muslims and the People of the Book. The Qur’an instructs Muslims: “And do not argue with the People of Book except in a most kindly manner, except for those of them who are bent on evildoing, and say: ‘We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which has come down to you; our Lord and yours is One and it is to Him that we [all] submit ourselves’”. [29:46]

Not only do Muslims, Christians, and Jews share belief in One God and divine revelation, they also share belief in human responsibility, consequences of good and evil deeds, moral teachings and other values such as love, peace and justice.

It may be concluded that the values and principles above represent a solid foundation for a peaceful relationship and co-existence with all, irrespective of their religious choices. It may be noted, however, that genuine and lasting peace is to be protected and safeguarded against those who try to destroy it. Genuine peace does not necessarily mean the total absence of use of force or even war as a lesser evil and as a last resort.

 

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