The Tolerance of the Prophet in Dealing with Non-Muslims

Allah the Almighty sent His Prophet (pbuh) as a mercy to all of humanity, and his entire life is an example of human perfection. His relationship with his Lord was perfect and his relationship with people of all walks of life, regardless of their age, ethnicity, or religion was perfect. Jābir Ibn Abdullah said, “Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was an easygoing man.” An-Nawawi commented saying this meant he was “easygoing in his disposition, noble in all of characteristics, and gentle with all of Allah’s creation.”

‘Ā’ishah said, “Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was never given a choice between two matters except that he would choose the easier of the two, as long as the easier one was not sinful. He would distance himself from sin more than anyone else. Never did Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) seek revenge for himself, but when Allah’s laws were violated, he would seek revenge for Allah.” These were the values that governed the call of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) to Islam; he was easygoing in all affairs yet defended the sanctities of Allah, not material things or personal interests. There are numerous examples of the Prophet’s (pbuh) tolerance in dealing with non-Muslims. Here are just a few:

1. He (pbuh) was merciful toward all created beings and thus Allah the Mighty and Magnificent said, “And We have sent you not except as a mercy toward all of creation.” (1) He encouraged mercy toward all people saying, “Allah shows no mercy to those who show no mercy to others.” The word “others” here refers to all people, regardless of their color or creed. The Islamic scripture encourages mercy toward absolutely all created beings. Al-Bukhāri entitled a chapter of his book Aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥ “Mercy Towards Humans and Animals Alike” and mentioned therein the saying of the Prophet (pbuh), “If any Muslim plants a tree then a person or animal eats from it, it will be counted as charity on his behalf.” Thus, Islam is a religion of tolerance, mercy, and kindness toward all.

2. He (pbuh) forgave those who showed him animosity and waged war against him. During the Conquest of Makkah, he said to those who had previously fought against his message and refused to lay down their swords: “You are free to leave.”

3. He (pbuh) said prayers for his non-Muslim dissidents. Aṭ-Ṭufail Ibn ‘Amr ad-Dawsi and his companions came to the Prophet (pbuh) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, verily [the tribe of] Daws has disbelieved and refused [the Message of Islam] so supplicate against them.” Then it was said that Daws had perished so some thought that the Prophet (pbuh) had raised his hands to supplicate against the tribe but, in fact, he merely supplicated for them saying, “O Allah, guide Daws.”

He also supplicated for Abu Hurairah’s mother before she accepted Islam. In Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim it is reported that Abu Hurairah said, “My mother was a pagan and I used to call her to Islam. One day I did so and she spoke badly about Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) so I went to him crying and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I keep calling my mother to Islam but she rejects it. Today I did so and she spoke badly of you so supplicate that Allah guides her.’ Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, ‘O Allah, guide Abu Hurairah’s mother.’ So I went away happy about the supplication of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and, as soon as I reached home, I found the door closed. My mother heard my footsteps and said, “Stay where you are, Abu Hurairah.” I heard water splashing and realized she was bathing. She hastily got dressed, not even bothering to put on her head scarf, then opened the door and said, ‘O Abu Hurairah, I testify that there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger.’ I then returned to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) with tears of joy…”

The Anṣār once came to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, supplicate against [the tribe of] Thaqīf.” So he said, “O Allah, guide [the tribe of] Thaqīf.” They repeated their request of supplicating against the tribe and he repeated his supplication for the tribe. Then Thaqīf accepted Islam and became some of the best Muslims; there were even Imams and leaders from amongst them.

Another portrait of the Prophet’s (pbuh) supplication for others lies in his reaction to the Jews when they would purposefully sneeze in his presence, hoping he would supplicate for them. (2) He would not abstain from supplicating for them but, rather, invoke Allah to guide them and rectify their affairs.

4. He (pbuh) would also accept gifts from his non-Muslim dissidents. Once, while in Khaybar, a Jewish woman named Zaynab Bint Al-Ḥārith, the wife of a man named Salām Ibn Mishkam, presented him with a roasted sheep as a gift. He accepted, only later to find that she had poisoned the meat.

Islamic jurists have ruled concerning the permissibility of accepting any kind of gift, even from a non-Muslim who is fighting against the Muslims. It is stated in the classical book of Islamic jurisprudence al-Mughni, “It is permissible to accept gifts from disbelievers with whom the Muslims are at war because the Prophet (pbuh) accepted a gift from the Egyptian known as ‘Al-Muqawqas.’”

5. Another case in point of the Prophet’s (pbuh) tolerance is that he would address his dissidents with the kindest of speech, just as his letters to them would employ the most gentle and most eloquent terms in calling them to Islam.

6. The Prophet (pbuh) would also visit his dissidents’ homes. Abu Hurairah related, “Once we were in the Masjid and Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) came to us saying, ‘Let’s go to the Jews.’ So we went with him to them and he called them saying, ‘O Jews, accept Islam and you will be saved.’ They said, ‘You have conveyed the Message [O Muhammad]…”

Al-Bukhāri reported on the authority of Anas Ibn Mālik that a young Jewish neighbor of the Prophet (pbuh) fell ill so he went to visit him and invited him to embrace Islam. The boy did so, just before passing away.

7. He (pbuh) also used to engage in commerce with non-Muslims who rejected his Message. ‘Ā’ishah reported that, at the time that the Prophet passed away, his armor was in the possession of a Jewish man, whom he had lent it to as collateral in exchange for some barley.

8. He (pbuh) would also encourage the Muslims to keep ties of kinship with non-Muslim relatives, just as in the well-known story of him ordering Asmā’ Bint Abi Bakr to visit her non-Muslim mother.

In Madinah, where the first Islamic society was established, Jews lived alongside the Muslims and the Prophet (pbuh) was very forbearing and tolerant with them up until they betrayed him, breaking the treaty they had agreed to. Those who lived amongst the Muslims, respecting their values and their society, however, were guaranteed safety by the Prophet (pbuh). He promised to defend any non-Muslim living amongst the Muslims and upholding their treaty should they be wronged, saying, “On the Day of Judgment, I shall prosecute anyone who oppresses, belittles, overburdens, or takes anything from a non-Muslim legally residing amongst the Muslims.”

He (pbuh) also issued a harsh warning to anyone who might shed their blood, saying, “Whoever kills a non-Muslim residing in the Muslim lands will not even smell the scent of Paradise, and its scent can be smelled from a distance of forty years away.” These are some portraits of the tolerance of the Prophet (pbuh) with non-Muslims, and it is his noble example that his Companions and the following generations of believers followed.

1 The Qur’an, Surah al-Anbiyā’ [21]:107.

2 In the Islamic tradition, a Muslim should praise Allah upon sneezing and the other believers present should, in turn, invoke Allah’s Mercy upon him.