It is a common myth and misrepresentation that Islam does not encourage RESPECT and UNDERSTANDING ofthe existence of other religions present in the world.
This article discusses some of the foundations Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself laid in dealing with people of other faiths, with practical examples from his lifetime.
The dealings of the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, with other religions can best be described in this verse of the Quran:

“To you be your religion, to me be mine.”

The Arabian Peninsula during the time of the Prophet was a region in which various faiths were present. There were Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, polytheists, and many whom were not affiliated with any religion. When one looks into the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), one may draw on many examples to portray the high level of respect and understanding shown to people of other faiths.

In order to understand and judge this respect, one must look into the period in which Islam was a formal state, with the specific laws laid down by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in accordance with the tenets of religion. Even though one can observe many examples of respect shown by the Prophet in the thirteen years of his stay in Mecca, one may incorrectly think that it was only due to seeking to raise the profile of the Muslims and the social status of Islam in general. For this reason, the discussion will be limited to the period, which commenced with the migration of the Prophet to Medina, and specifically once the constitution was set.
The Saheefah
The best example of the understanding shown by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to other religions may be the constitution itself, called the ‘Saheefah’ by early historians. When the Prophet migrated to Medina, his role as a mere religious leader ended; he was now the political leader of a state, governed by the precepts of Islam, which demanded that clear laws of governance be laid out to ensure harmony and stability in a society which once had been distraught by decades of war, one which must ensure the peaceful co-existence of Muslims, Jews, Christians and polytheists. Due to this, the Prophet laid down a ‘constitution’ which detailed the responsibilities of all parties which resided in Medina, their obligations towards each other, and certain restrictions which were placed on each. All parties were to obey what was mentioned therein, and any breach of its articles was regarded as an act of treachery.

One Nation
The first article of the constitution was that all the inhabitants of Medina, the Muslims as well as those who had entered the pact from the Jews, Christian, and idolaters, were “one nation to the exclusion of all others.” All were considered members and citizens of Medina society regardless of religion, race, or ancestry.

People of other faiths were protected from harm as much as the Muslims, as is stated in another article, “To the Jews who follow us belong help and equity. He shall not be harmed nor his enemies be aided.” Previously, each tribe had their alliances and enemies within and outside Medina. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gathered these different tribes under one system of governance, which upheld pacts of alliances previously in existence between those individual tribes. All tribes had to act as a whole with disregard to individual alliances. Any attack on other religion or tribe was considered an attack on the state and upon the Muslims as well.

The lives of the practitioners of other religions in the Muslim society was also given protective status. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:

“Whoever kills a person who has a truce with the Muslims will never smell the fragrance of Paradise.” (Saheeh Muslim)

Since the upper hand was with the Muslims, the Prophet strictly warned against any maltreatment of people of other faiths, and this paragraph is extremely relevant. He said:

“Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)

To Each Their Own Religion
In another article, it states, “the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs.” In this, it is clear that anything other than understanding would not be acceptable, and that, although all were members of a society, each had their separate religion, which could not be violated. Each was allowed to practice their beliefs freely without any hindrances, and no acts of provocation would be accepted.

There are many other articles of this constitution which may be discussed, but emphasis will be placed on an article which states, “If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise, it must be referred to God and His Messenger.” This clause maintained that all inhabitants of the state must recognise a higher level of authority, and in those matters, which involved various tribes and religions, individual leaders could not mete out justice; rather the leader of the state must adjudicate it himself or his designated representatives. It was allowed, however, for individual tribes who were not Muslims, to refer to their own religious scriptures and their learned men in regards to their own personal affairs. They could though, if they opted, ask the Prophet to judge between them in their matters. God says in the Quran:

“…If they do come to you, either judge between them or decline to interfere…” (Quran 5:42)

Here we see that the Prophet allowed each religion to judge in their own matters according to their own scriptures, as long as it did not stand in opposition to articles of the constitution, a pact which took into account the greater benefit of the peaceful co-existence of the society.

Freedom of Religious Assembly and Religious Autonomy
Given consent by the constitution, the Jews had the complete freedom to practice their religion. The Jews in Medina at the time of the Prophet had their own school of learning, named Bait-ul-Midras, where they would recite the Torah, worship and educate themselves.

The Prophet emphasised in many letters to his emissaries that religious institutions should not be harmed. Here in a letter addressed to his emissary to the religious leaders of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai who has sought the protection of the Muslims:

“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are declared to be protected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”[1]

As one can see, this Charter consisted of several clauses covering all important aspects of human rights, including such topics as the protection of minorities living under Islamic rule, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.

On another occasion, the Prophet received a delegation of sixty Christians from the region of Najran, then a part of Yemen, at his mosque. When the time for their prayer came, they faced the direction of east and prayed. The Prophet ordered that they be left in their state and not harmed.

Prophet Moses

Muslims believe that Prophet Moses (PBUH) occupies a unique status amongst the Prophets (peace be upon all of them), for he was the only Prophet who, miraculously and directly, spoke with God Almighty. In addition, Moses is the single most-mentioned Prophet by name in the Quran (136 times).
One incident illustrates the respect and honour that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had for Moses. It is related that a Muslim and a Jew quarreled. When the Jew praised Moses over Muhammad (peace be upon them both), the Muslim insulted the Jew. The Jew complained to the Prophet (peace be upon him) who replied:
“Do not confer on me superiority over Moses, for people will be struck unconscious of the day Resurrection and I will be the first to regain consciousness. And behold! There I will see Moses holding one of the pillars of Allah’s Throne. I will wonder whether he has become conscious before me or he has been exempted because of the unconsciousness he experienced on Mount Sinai.” (Al-Bukhari)

The followers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) learned an important lesson from the above hadith i.e. to respect the religious figures and leaders of other communities. They strictly followed this lesson throughout the ages. As such, history does not record any major incident in Islam where Muslims slandered or degraded in any way or from any of the previous Prophets (God’s peace and blessings be of them all). On the contrary, they held them in high regard and venerated them all. Furthermore, belief in each of them is a fundamental part of Islam. Moreover, Muslims connect their respect for the Prophets closely to theChristian and Jewish traditions.

Prophet Jesus (PBUH)

Another example is Prophet Jesus (PBUH), who was a sign and one of the most significant of all signs.
The Quran reveals that Jesus was a sign of God’s existence and His All-Pervasive creative power, which creates whatever is in accordance with divine will. His birth was a unique miracle. Likewise, God Almighty created Adam (peace be upon him) out of clay with no father or mother; many millennia later, He, created a male infant within the mother’s womb without a father. For God, both are created miraculously:
{It is not [befitting] for Allah to take a son; exalted is He! When He decrees an affair, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is.} (Maryam 19: 35)
Prophet Jesus (PBUH) was a sign of God and a mercy from the Most Merciful:
All the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ life – his miraculous birth, the status of his mother the Virgin Mary, his miraculous disappearance from the world, and his reappearance in the future – distinguishes him from all other Prophets. The Quran confers on Jesus and Mary a unique status and an elevated rank among all Muslims. Indeed, chapter 19 in the Quran is called “Mary”, which contains the story of her son’s miraculous birth.

In this chapter, God’s name Ar-Rahman (the Most Merciful) is repeated more than in any other chapter (16 times), and Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) is described as “an act of mercy from us” (19:21)

Prophet Muhammad, of course, is identified with mercy in the Quran and this repetition of mercy in Mary indicates how Divine Mercy encompasses all the prophets and especially Jesus.

ExtemporaryExample of Respect for Christianity

One of the spectacular examples of the Prophetic respect and honour of other religions, especially Christianity, is when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) allowed Christians to pray in his own mosque according to the Christian way of praying. This took place when a delegation of the Christians from Najran visited Madinah.

The delegation was composed of 60 individuals headed by a bishop, Abu Haritha ibn Alqamah, who was an authority on Christianity and well respected by the Byzantine Emperor. Their discussion with the Prophet continued and their prayer time came. Some Muslims, out of ignorance, objected to them praying in the mosque. But Prophet Muhammad permitted them to pray and he even hosted them in his mosque.

The Prophet strengthened his relations with Jews by marrying a noble Jewish woman, Safiyyah who became the mother of the believers. The Jews of Madinah were involved in all the battles against Muslims, directly or indirectly, and secretly or openly. After this marriage, the Jews desisted from fighting against Muslims. As such, the Prophet continually sought ways to maintain peace and good relations with the Jews. The Prophet also permitted Muslims to marry Christian and Jewish women. The teachings of the Prophet instilled in Muslims the notion that they should treat Christians and Jews well and to maintain good relations with them.

The Islamic view is that neither the Prophet nor his followers have the right to reject any previous Prophet. Thus, Moses could not have rejected Abraham, and Jesus could not have rejected Abraham or Moses, and Muhammad could not have rejected any of them.

{Verily, those who deny God and His apostles by endeavoring to make a distinction between [belief in] God and [belief in] His apostles, and who say: ‘We believe in the one but we deny the other,’ and want to purse a path in between – it is they who are truly denying the truth: and for those who deny the truth We have readied a shameful suffering.} (An-Nisa’ 4: 150-1)

One would be hardly pressed to find a similar declaration in another religious text.

{Say: “We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and in that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus, and that which has been vouchsafed to all the [other] prophets by their Sustainer; we make no distinction between any of them, and it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves”.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 136)

There are also examples in the life of the Prophet in which he cooperated with people of other faiths in the political arena as well. He selected a non-Muslim, Amr-ibn Umaiyah-ad-Damri, as an ambassador to be sent to Negus, the King of Ethiopia.

These are only some of the examples of the Prophet’s respect and understanding of other faiths. Islam recognizes that there are a plurality of religions on this earth, and gives the right to individuals to choose the path which they believe to be true. Religion is not to be, and was never, forced upon an individual against their own will, and these examples from the life of the Prophet are an epitome of the verse of the Quran which promotes religious understanding and sets the guideline for the Muslims’ interaction with people of other faiths. God says:

“…There is no compulsion in religion…” (Quran 2:256)

Do you know what is more precious than prayer and fasting? Making peace between two people Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Beware of the supplication of the oppressed for there is no barrier between it and ALLAHProphet Muhammad (PBUH)

You will never enter paradise until you have faith and you will not complete your faith until you love one another.Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Beware, whoever is cruel or harsh to a non-Muslim minority, curtailing their rights, over burdening them, or stealing from them. I will complain to (Allah) about that person on the day on judgment.Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

A funeral passed in front of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and he stood up. When he was told that it was a Jew, he said, was he not a human being

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) respected people of all faith. He said, “Donate in charity to people of all faiths” (Musannaf) he sponsored a Jewish family

“Saying of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – Helping others; I order you to assist any oppressed person, whether he is a Muslim or not.”

The below verse emphasises the point that in Islam there is no place for intolerance, prejudice, or bigotry based on colour, race, nationality or any such considerations. This all-encompassing understanding of Islam applies to all elements of life and all affairs of Muslims.

{O humankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know and deal with each other in kindness (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God (is he who is) the most righteous of you, and God is Knower, Aware.} (49:13)