“O humankind, we have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know (respect) one another. Surely the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most God-fearing of you. God is All-knowing, All-Aware.” (Qur’an 49:14)
This verse establishes the principle that God is the God of all creation and one who recognizes and embraces all His children. Another key verse rejects the idea of exclusivism in Islam, offering salvation to the other monotheistic peoples of the Book:
“Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabaeans, who believe in God and the Last Day, and do works righteousness—their wage awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow.” (Qur’an 2:62)
The unique characteristic of Islam is its conviction that belief in the oneness of God unites the Muslim community with all humanity, or at least with all other monotheists, because of the one God who is the creator of all humans, irrespective of their religious traditions.
The Qur’an declares that on the Day of Judgement all human beings will be judged, irrespective of sectarian affiliation, about their moral and monotheistic performance as citizens of the world community.
But the liberalism of these verses frequently caused discomfort for jurists who were trying to support the expansionist political claims of Muslims rulers.
The political desire for exclusivist Islamic Imperial power overcame the Qur’an’s desire for monotheistic religious harmony and religious pluralism; and became the dominant view for all the later Tafsir.
They used one exclusivist Qur’an verse to oppose the many verses in the Qur’an that support pluralism, and this was their exclusivist position. “Whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted of him; in the next world he shall be among the losers.” (Qur’an 3:85).
But this verse, in the light of the two verses above, which have several similar verses on their side; clearly means that a monotheist who abandons monotheism for polytheism will in the next world be among the losers.
But both Qurtubi and Zamakhshari report that this verse was first revealed concerning a man of the Ansar: “Al-Harith and 12 men with him apostatized from Islam, and deserted back to (polytheistic) Makkah as rejecters of faith (in monotheism). When this verse was sent down al-Hrith sent a message to his brother begging that his repentance be accepted.” This tradition was also reported on the authority of ibn Abbas and other Mufassareen. (Qurtubi IV, Page 128)
This shows that this verse was originally intended only to apply against apostates from monotheism to polytheism.
Only in later generations was it glossed for exclusivist polemical purposes to apply to other monotheists; and even then it was never use to justify mass execution of heretics as was common in Christian Europe, because of the four holy books that have come down from ancient days, only in the Qur’an (2:256) is it explicitly stated that for all humanity: “There is no compulsion in religion, the right direction is clearly distinguished from the wrong.”