by Noor Hajani

There is only one God; there are many possible Gods; this is the Prophet I follow and all other Prophets are false; this is the only way you can practice your religion; a religious person should pray these many times a day…and so on. Such notions really bewilder me. Why is there a compulsion and a defined set of behavior that everyone has to follow in order to be a ‘good person’? And then, why do we expect others to behave according to our beliefs of what is right thing to do?

Not desiring others to be the way you are and letting them be ‘them’ is called tolerance. Tolerance implies that each person be entitled to their own set of beliefs without judgment or conformity to some cultural or societal standard.

This means, those who believe that the various religions of the world contradict each other and so that only one of them, at most, can be true, are intolerant, and intolerance is to be condemned in all its forms.

When I talk about tolerance, I certainly don’t mean we should accept and adopt each other’s viewpoints/ practices. Remember, you would only ‘tolerate’ something that is unusual and against the routine-based YOU. You were slapped hard, and you didn’t scream, that’s tolerance. Someone curses my family, and I ignored it, that’s tolerance! Therefore, for us to tolerate a belief, it has to be different than that of ours.

Hence, to tolerate a point of view is not to believe it to be true, nor to agree with it; religious tolerance is not about agreeing with people from other religious traditions to our own. Rather, tolerance is about treating with respect those with whom one disagrees.

This piece of information leads us to a question that what is the extent to which one should tolerate? I believe, there is no universally accepted point of tolerance. The borderline, which marks the difference between whether or whether not to tolerate, lies within us. It is nourished with the help of your culture, environment, beliefs and a broader sense of education.

These glittering words might be eye-catching but when it comes to practice, it’s not a bed of roses! In order to live together, your points of resistance have to be somewhat similar. It is ironic how we can’t tolerate each other’s points of tolerance. It would be practically impossible for me to say it’s OK for someone to attempt suicide bombing, when he is doing it because it is acceptable for him! Your point of tolerance is so overwhelming on you that outside it, everything seems to be erroneous.

This means, the broader your circle of tolerance is, the more you think people around you are correct, or at least similar to you. But what if that circle is wide enough to absorb sinful and immoral acts such as suicide bombing?

If tolerance really is of overriding importance, surely, then the suicide bomber should be tolerated and instead of declaring his action punitive, we should allow such person to hold their ‘intolerant’ beliefs. I think this example makes tolerance redundant.

There is always the grayish part, which makes it quite complicated as to how much to expand your tolerance. All I can conclude is, if you think someone’s action is harmful to any member in society, it shouldn’t be tolerated. The more harmful that action is, the less tolerant our behavior would be. It is this gray part that leads to conflicts between different religions, and beliefs and eventually people.

We are in danger of losing the ability to disagree respectfully. Tolerance, which claims to uphold the virtue of harmony and tranquility, sometimes threatens to erode the society still further. The solution to intolerance is not to pretend that we are all in agreement really, but to learn to disagree respectfully.



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