God Almighty sent more than one hundred thousand prophets or messengers to every group of people. All the messengers of God enjoy the same equal status. There is a verse in the Qur’an to this effect. In the chapter Al-Baqarah (The Heifer), the Qur’an, referring to these messengers, says: The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and [so do] believers. They all believe in God and His angels, His scriptures, and His messengers. They say, ‘We do not differentiate between any of His messengers. We hear and obey. Grant us Your forgiveness, Lord, to You we shall all return!’ (2:285)
This Qur’anic verse relates directly to the messengers or the prophets of God, but it also has a broader application, according to which everyone is worthy of respect, regardless of his creed or culture. Such belief promotes a culture of equal respect among mankind. The difference in belief is necessarily subject to discussion, but it is not a reason for discrimination. If your belief system is different from that of others, you have every right to engage in discussion and dialogue on the subject, but in the process, you have no right to show disrespect to others. This holds true, even if you feel that your personal ideology enshrines the supreme truth. The culture of discrimination is, after all, quite alien to the divine religion.
A healthy society is not necessarily a uni-religious society; a healthy society is one that is based on religious freedom and religious tolerance. Islam has two aims regarding society—dissemination of the truth as set forth in the Qur’an, and maintaining a healthy society that honors the principles of respect and peaceful co-existence. To this end, the Qur’an lays great emphasis on restraint and discipline—conflict and extremism being completely alien to the Islamic system of thought. In everyday life, everyone should be disciplined and bow to the principle of tolerance, for others have a right to live according to their convictions, just as I want to live according to my own convictions. This is the best way to build a healthy society. A healthy society is not necessarily a uni-religious society; a healthy society is one that is based on religious freedom and religious tolerance.
Mutual respect is not simply of moral value; it is also a great source of intellectual advancement. When you tolerate the ideology of others, you give others free rein to express their views, thus creating an atmosphere conducive to positive discussion and peaceful dialogue. And, positive discussion and peaceful dialogue invariably lead to intellectual challenges and ideological questioning. Respect for all cultures is, therefore, a factor that is greatly supportive of all kinds of intellectual development. The most important aspect of having respect for all cultures is that it eliminates all kinds of negative thinking. It helps you to discover the beauty of others’ thinking and way of life, which is vital if a healthy society is to be established.