This was indeed a sad state of affairs for a religion that subscribed to peace, compassion and tolerance. After all, Islam is neither, as some mistakenly imagine, a religion of the sword and nor did it spread primarily by means of war.
It was only within Arabia, where a crude form of idolatry was rampant, that Islam was propagated by warring against those tribes which did not accept the message of God whereas Christians and Jews were not forced to convert. Outside of Arabia, the vast lands conquered by the Arab armies became Muslim not by force of the sword but by the appeal of the new religion. It was the faith in One God and emphasis upon His Mercy that brought vast numbers of people into the fold of Islam. Many continued to remain Jews and Christians and to this day, followers of these faiths are found in Muslim lands.
In state formation, the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. illustrated as early as the 6th century that tolerance is an essential element for a state for people of different faiths to live in harmony. The Treaty of Medina in 622 AD was the first International Magna Carta to ensure equal rights to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike so that they could live in peace, unity and harmony.
The story of Islam itself began with a single stroke – the plain yet strong sweep of ‘Alif’ in the word ‘Iqraq’ (read) representing the elegant simplicity of the message imparted to humanity by the Creator, revealed patiently over 23 years to the Prophet.
In the face of our differences and the obstacles besetting our societies, we must remember this humble start and recognise that like faith, it takes time and patience for understanding and acceptance to emerge. It is humanity’s challenge, therefore, to dispel ignorance and overcome fear, to embrace compromise and appreciate the beauty of diversity.