speaking, tolerance is a virtue, if by tolerance we mean practising
acceptance, patience, courtesy and loving-kindness. This virtue would
apply whether we speak of interfaith or interpersonal relationships. We
read, for example, in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), the
Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, "One must guide mankind to the
ocean of true understanding in a spirit of love and tolerance."
(Kitab-i-Aqdas, Most Holy Book, p. 5). Tolerance does have a special,
positive relevance for religion, especially as an antidote to religious
fanaticism. In that case, tolerance is a virtue if one considers that
tolerating religious differences is better than condemning, shunning or
But upon closer examination, we realize that tolerance - and for
different reasons - is one of those virtues that is not touted by all.
Tolerance may amount to nothing more than a passive acceptance of the
other, a sort of peaceful coexistence in which we "tolerate" but
largely ignore one another. By contrast, 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921), the
son of Bahá'u'lláh, his successor and authorized interpreter of his
teachings, observed: "When you enter a meeting of these people
(Bahá'ís), you will find Christians, Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians,
Buddhists gathered together in perfect fellowship and agreement. In
their discussions, the greatest spirit of tolerance and friendship has
supplanted the former hostility and hatred witnessed among them" (The
Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 301).
To the self-righteous who believe that they occupy a privileged place
of salvation, and have earned the special favour of God, avoidance of
other religious is actually considered to be a virtue. Again, this
attitude is precisely the inverse of Bahá'u'lláh's counsel to "Consort
with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and
fellowship" (Gleanings, p. 94).
In challenging interpersonal relationships, the ideal to strive for is
not just to tolerate the individual but to genuinely love her/him.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, like Christ, counselled: "Not that one should consider
another as an enemy and then put up with him ... and be forbearing
toward him. This is hypocrisy and not real love - Your love and
kindness must be real ... not merely forbearance, for forbearance, if
not of the heart, is hypocrisy" (quoted by Esslemont, Bahá'u'lláh and
the New Era, p. 81) -