It is normal in present Islam phobia dominated media houses where Muslim terrorists and extremists have dominated the headlines, and where coverage of Muslims' demonstrations usually portray a group of highly emotional people burning flags of other countries or chanting "death to..." slogans-- it is difficult to know what are the Islamic teachings pertinent to each issue.
Quran Quotes: Islam forbids insulting other religions
I would like to draw attention to the distinction between Muslims' actions and Islamic teachings. Islamic teachings are to be found in the Quran, or the statements and actions of Prophet Muhammad, where there is no ambiguity between permissible and not permissible. Yet we often see cases where these unambiguous teachings are ignored by Muslims. The reason for this is that those Muslims either are ignorant of the relevant Islamic teachings or their political ambitions blind them to the clarity of those teachings.
A clear instruction in terms of how to relate to others who follow a different religion or who worship different gods is presented in Chapter 109 of the Quran.
"Say: O you that reject faith! I do not worship that which you worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which you have been wont to worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. To you be your Way (or religion) and to me mine." (Quran 109:1-6)
The message contained in these verses that were revealed during the earliest days of Islam constitutes the fundamental approach of Islam to diversity of religious beliefs. It should be noted that the immediate audience for this verse were the idol-worshipped of Mecca.
The respectful treatment of other religions and their scriptures has its roots in the Islamic belief system. Among the six principles that form the belief system in Islam, two of them are belief in (and respect for) the 124,000 prophets sent by God, as well as belief in (and respect for) the scriptures of Jews and Christians. This is why despite the attacks launched by some Muslim fanatics in Pakistan against Christian churches, nobody has dared to show disrespect to the Bible, and despite many years of bloody confrontations between Muslims and Jews no Muslim has ever burnt a copy of the Torah or exhibited a sign of disrespect for it.
Respect for the followers of other religions is not limited to the Jews and Christians but is extended to the followers of all religions, and the Quran forbids Muslims from insulting the belief's of other people.
Islam teaches its followers to not lose sight of these teachings even during times of war, when emotions run high and take control of logic and consciousness. So the rules of war in Islam forbid Muslims from destroying the places of worship of their foes. This goes hand in hand with the principle of treating everyone with justice even during the war.
"O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witness to fair dealings and do not let the hatred of a people lead you to treat them unjustly. Deal with them justly; it is closer to piety." (Quran 5:8)
Respect for the dignity of human beings leads Islam to put an end to fighting as soon as the enemy declare peace:
"...therefore if they withdraw from you but do not fight you, and (instead) send you (guarantees) of peace, then God has opened no way for you (to wage war against them)." (Quran 4:90)
When we study the life of Muhammad we realize that he did not torture prisoners, did not take hostages, did not order suicide attacks, did not attack civilians, and did not insult the religious symbols of other religions, with only one exception. The only exception was in the case of the conquest of Mecca. When Muhammad conquered Mecca in 630 CE without a drop of blood being shed, he went to the Kaba and destroyed all the idols that were placed there by idol-worshippers. This incident that was used by the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan to justify the destruction of three ancient Buddha statues had particular circumstances that can not be generalized.
The Kaba was not originally built by the idol-worshippers but by Adam (p. b.u.h.) as the place dedicated to the worship of God. Rebuilt be Abraham (p. b.u.h.), the Kaba be associated with the worship of One God. It was at a much later time that idols were placed there and gradually the Kaba was transformed to be a centre for worshipping idols. So what Muhammad did was to return the Kaba to its original condition by removing the idols from it. Furthermore, the idols placed in Kaba were not relevant any more since the overwhelming majority of Meccans had already rejected them by embracing Islam.