Diversity and Coexistence in Islam
Ramadan teaches us many lessons each year. Regardless of how affluent or wealthy a person may be, when one fasts, the pangs of hunger will be felt in the same way, as any poor person will experience them. Thus, fasting teaches us not only affinity with the less fortunate, but also to develop the feelings of appreciation and equality, as clearly stated in the Quran, “O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes for you to know one another. Truly, the noblest of you with God is the most pious.Truly, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Quran 49:13)
The above verse illustrates how the Quran treats the matter of diversity as a blessing to humanity. The Quran emphasizes that our differences are an asset that we should capitalize on. The Quran repeatedly tells us to reflect on the diversity that exists within human societies, based on race, nationality, language and religion, allowing us to know one another and consequently learn from one another, cooperate and work together with a shared vision to contribute to humanity and progress.
In order for us to fully embrace diversity, we need to counter vices present in our societies, such as racism, intolerance and prejudice. Islamic societies were typically multi-cultural and multi-religious, as witnessed by the Ottoman world, Spain in the Middle Ages and Jerusalem with over 12 centuries of Muslim rule.
As opposed to the idea of being the chosen people, Islam rejects certain individuals or nations being favored because of their religion or race. God created human beings as equals, who are to be distinguished from one another only on the basis of their faith and piety.
The Prophet Muhammad said: “O people! Your God is one and your forefather (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a red (i.e. white tinged with red) person is not better than a black person and a black person is not better than a red person, except in piety.”
What makes someone better than another is not wealth, race, culture or religion but how one behaves with others, manners, contributions to humanity and kindness towards all. The pursuit of knowledge and scientific achievement are cardinal acts of piety, as these are duties that are prescribed in Quran and hadith and are the cornerstone of progress for all of humanity.
“True piety does not consist of turning your faces towards the east or the west -- but truly pious is the one who believes in God, the Last Day, Angels, revelation and the Prophets, and spends of his/her wealth -- however much s/he may cherish it -- upon his near of kin, orphans, and the needy, the wayfarer, the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; constant in prayer, renders the purifying dues, and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God.” Quran (2:177 [Asad])