Tolerance with people in Islam

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Tolerance (samah) is an important trait of a Muslim’s good character. Muslims should be kind and gentle, patient with people, forgiving of bad character, and lenient whenever possible.

Ibn Manthur defines tolerance in his classical Arabic dictionary, saying:

وَالْمُسَامَحَةُ الْمُسَاهَلَةُ وَتَسَامَحُوا تَسَاهَلُوا وَفِي الْحَدِيثِ الْمَشْهُورِ السَّمَاحُ رَبَاحٌ أَيِ الْمُسَاهَلَةُ فِي الْأَشْيَاءِ تُرْبِحُ صَاحِبَهَا وَسَمَحَ وَتَسَمَّحَ فَعَلَ شَيْئًا فَسَهَّلَ فِيهِ

Tolerance is leniency and to be tolerant is to be easy going. There is the famous saying that tolerance is profitable, meaning easiness in matters will profit its people. Being tolerant means to do something with leniency.

Source: Lisan Al-Arab 7/250

The Prophet commanded the Muslims to avoid causing unnecessary difficulty and hardship in people’s lives and to inspire people with graceful speech.

Abu Burda reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

يَسِّرَا وَلَا تُعَسِّرَا وَبَشِّرَا وَلَا تُنَفِّرَا وَتَطَاوَعَا وَلَا تَخْتَلِفَا

Make things easy and do not make things difficult. Give glad tidings and do not repel people. Cooperate with each other and do not become divided.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 2873, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

This command is closely related to the need of a Muslim to control his or her anger. Unrestrained anger leads to numerous sins and bad deeds, so Muslims must temper their anger with patience, tolerance, and the ability to hold back harmful words.

Ibn Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

عَلِّمُوا وَيَسِّرُوا وَلَا تُعَسِّرُوا وَإِذَا غَضِبَ أَحَدُكُمْ فَلْيَسْكُتْ

Teach others, make things easy, and do not make things difficult. When one of you is angry, he should remain silent.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 2137, Grade: Sahih

In fact, such tolerance and patience is a characteristic of true faith in Allah, good manners, and upright character.

Ubaida ibn As-Samit reported: A man came to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and he said, “O Prophet of Allah, which deed is best?” The Prophet said:

الْإِيمَانُ بِاللَّهِ وَتَصْدِيقٌ بِهِ وَجِهَادٌ فِي سَبِيلِهِ

Faith and belief in Allah and striving in his cause.

The man said, “O Messenger of Allah, I want something easier than that.” The Prophet said:

السَّمَاحَةُ وَالصَّبْرُ

Behave with tolerance and patience.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 22210, Grade: Sahih

Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, which deed is best?” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

الصَّبْرُ وَالسَّمَاحَةُ

Patience and tolerance.

It was said, “Who among the believers has the best faith?” The Prophet said:

أَحْسَنُهُمْ خُلُقًا

Those with the best character.

Source: Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba 29806, Grade: Hasan li ghayri

In particular, the Prophet told us about the virtues of tolerance in business transactions and ordinary interactions with people. Business can often be a stressful activity, especially when dealing with rude and immoral people, but the Prophet told us that those who are tolerant will go to Paradise.

Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

رَحِمَ اللَّهُ رَجُلًا سَمْحًا إِذَا بَاعَ وَإِذَا اشْتَرَى وَإِذَا اقْتَضَى

May Allah have mercy on a man who is tolerant when selling, buying, and seeking repayment.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 1970, Grade: Sahih

The scholars of prophetic narrations understood tolerance to be a very important concept in Islam and specifically in business.

Ibn Majah includes in his Sunan a chapter entitled, “On tolerance in trade,” in which he records the following narration:

Uthman ibn Affan reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

أَدْخَلَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ رَجُلًا كَانَ سَهْلًا مُشْتَرِيًا وَبَائِعًا وَقَاضِيًا وَمُقْتَضِيًا الْجَنَّةَ

Allah the Exalted will admit a man into Paradise who was easy in his buying and selling, in his paying debts and seeking repayments.

Source: Sunan An-Nasa’I 4696, Grade: Sahih

Similarly, Ad-Darimi includes in his Sunan a chapter entitled, “On tolerance,” in which he records the following narration:

Hudhaifa reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

تَلَقَّتْ الْمَلَائِكَةُ رُوحَ رَجُلٍ مِمَّنْ كَانَ قَبْلَكُمْ فَقَالُوا أَعَمِلْتَ مِنْ الْخَيْرِ شَيْئًا قَالَ لَا قَالُوا تَذَكَّرْ قَالَ كُنْتُ أُدَايِنُ النَّاسَ فَآمُرُ فِتْيَانِي أَنْ يُنْظِرُوا الْمُعْسِرَ وَيَتَجَوَّزُوا عَنْ الْمُوسِرِ قَالَ قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ تَجَوَّزُوا عَنْهُ

The angels received the soul of a man who lived before you. They said: Have you done anything good? The man said no. They said: Try to remember. The man said: I used to give loans and I would order my servants to be lenient with those in difficulty and to give relief even to those who could repay. Allah the Exalted said: Thus, you will be relieved.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 1971, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

Therefore, Muslims should always treat others with respect, kindness, and patience. Islam was revealed to make life easier and to encourage good relationships between people.

In modern usage, the word “tolerance” has come to signify mutual respect and peaceful coexistence between conflicting religions and ideologies. No doubt, Islam supports tolerance on a societal level. Muslims ought to peacefully coexist with any group that desires peaceful coexistence.

Allah said:

لَّا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَارِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ إِنَّمَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ قَاتَلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَأَخْرَجُوكُم مِّن دِيَارِكُمْ وَظَاهَرُوا عَلَىٰ إِخْرَاجِكُمْ أَن تَوَلَّوْهُمْ وَمَن يَتَوَلَّهُمْ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ

Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – He does not forbid you from being benevolent toward them and acting justly toward them. Verily, Allah loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion – He forbids that you make allies of them. Whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.

Surah Al-Mumtahina 60:8-9

At-Tabari comments on this verse, saying:

لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمَّ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ جَمِيعِ أَصْنَافِ الْمِلَلِ وَالْأَدْيَانِ أَنْ تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتَصِلُوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ

Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion – including all the sects, creeds, and religions – that you behave righteously with them, maintain good relations with them, and act fairly with them.

Source: Tafseer At-Tabari 60:8

As we can see, tolerance with humankind is a great virtue in Islam and the general rule, but every rule has a limit and exception. We cannot and should not tolerate verbal and physical abuse against others. Tolerance when the rights of others are being violated is not true tolerance, rather it is moral weakness.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of our interactions with people should be replete with acts of tolerance, patience, kindness, and leniency in accordance with the overall good character and beautiful manners of Islam.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

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