During the historical time period of Islam expanding into non-Muslim territories, the Muslims shared religious territories because they had not yet established their mosques. Based on sharing religious facilities, it is assumed that the classic Muslim administration was tolerant of religious and ethnic minorities that were under their rule. Tolerance is a very broad definition, but allowing religious and ethnic minorities to continue practicing does not mean that they were tolerant. Muslims were and are driven by their religious beliefs, and those who practice outside those beliefs are not necessarily tolerated.

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Some scholars, “Some scholars have seen the Ottoman millet system as a good model for the respect and protection of minority rights. Others have regarded it as the most developed model of non-liberal religious tolerance, leaving little or no scope for individual dissent within each religious community and little or no freedom for individuals to change faith” (Katsikas, p.187). Whereas, during individual studies, it is not believed that the classic Muslim administration set out to be intolerant of other religions, their actions did state another position in some cases.

The Ottoman religious tolerance was not perfect, and some can interpret it to be non-existent depending on how you interpret the information. They inflicted levies of labor and money on the non-Muslim population and inflicted restrictions on their personal freedoms. Muslims testimonies held far more credibility in courts than non-Muslims. Muslims and non-Muslims were not allowed to marry; however, a Muslim man could marry a Christian woman because the man would enforce the Muslim religion with the home. One of the most nontolerant actions was the administration forcing religious and ethnic minorities into war. Christian male children between the ages of 8 and 18 were forced to join the cause. The children were sent to capital for special education, converted to Islam, and most were never seen by their families again.

In today’s society, it is believed that there is little to no tolerance and acceptance for religious and ethnic minorities in Muslim countries. The Qur’an states that intolerance is a cause of envy of the truth (of Islam) that has been made clear to them. “Muslims are thus enjoined not only to exercise restraint, ‘but to forgive and overlook, till Allah accomplishes His purpose: for Allah hath power over all things’” (Muhibbu-Din, p.165). The lack of understanding for different religious views and the dedication to the Muslim religion leaves very little room for tolerance. Muslims believe in their religions, and other religious and ethnic minorities are directly disobeying the commands of their religion. Perhaps the extremists act out the hate more so than the traditional Muslims, executing religious minorities based solely on their beliefs. Even though traditional Muslims do not act is such an open manner, is clear to see the lack of tolerance for those who believe different than them.

The lack of tolerance in Muslim countries can be attributed to the fact that religion is the primary motivation of the government. When there is no separation of church and state, there is no lead way for ethnic and religious minorities to have rights with a society that is governed by a specific religion. It will establish an environment that supports those who follow the traditions of the Muslim and set a stage for punishing those who defy it. Regardless if it is a religiously motivated rebellion, it is a violation of not only the Muslim beliefs but also to the structure and expectations dictated by the government. Even in the classic times when Muslim governments were trying to be tolerant of other religions, the government still acted in the best interest the Muslims, and that is true even more so in today’s society.

  • Katsikas, Stefanos. “Millets in Nation-States: The Case of Greek and Bulgarian Muslims, 1912– 1923.” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 37, No. 2, March 2009, Print.
  • Muhibbu-Din, M.A. “Principles of Islamic Polity towards Ahl al-Kitab and Religious Minorities.” Journal of Muslim Affairs, Vol. 24, No. 1, April 2004, Print.