ISLAM happens to be the most misunderstood religion in the developed world. One of the various misconceptions that prevail about Islam is that it is intolerant towards other faiths. It is widely believed that Muslims have been instructed to offer Islam or the sword as alternatives to the non-Muslims.
These days one even comes across Muslims who tend to express the same views. The ignorance of the teachings of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah, and the irresponsible, outrageous, and deplorable attitude of certain Muslim groups and regimes have equally contributed to the development of such utterly false notions about Islam.
In fact, tolerance is an essential religious and legal obligation imposed upon the Muslims. Muslims have been instructed to promote the message of Islam by way of engaging in religious dialogues with non-Muslims and in this process Muslims have been told to employ the most respectful and polite methods: "Call to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the best manner...". (Quran 16:125) And if the non-Muslims incline to disagree with the message of Islam, despite all the arguments and logic produced by the Muslims, the latter are still not to resort to any form of religious compulsion or violent reaction.
God declares: "There is no compulsion in religion...". (Quran 2:256) "But if they dispute with thee, say: I submit myself entirely to God and (so does) he who follows me. And say to those who have been given the Book and the Unlearned (people): Do you submit yourselves? If they submit, then indeed they follow the right way; and if they turn back, thy duty is only to deliver the message..." (Quran 3:19)
"And if thy lord had pleased, all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them. Wilt thou then force men till they are believers?" (Quran 10:99) "And say: The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who please believe, and let him who please disbelieve..." (Quran 18:29) These verses clearly establish:
(1) Islam denounces forced-conversion; and
(2) Islam does not enjoin Muslims to wage war for the spread of faith.
Not only Muslims are prohibited from forcing Islam on non-Muslims, they have also been ordered to deal with them in a just and kind manner: "God forbids you not respecting those who fight you not for religion, nor drive you from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly. Surely God loves the doers of justice. God forbids you only respecting those who fight you for religion, and drive you forth from your homes and help (others) in your expulsion, that you make friends of them; and whoever makes friends of them, these are the wrongdoers." (Quran 60:8,9)
Islam not only acknowledges all the previous prophets and messengers, like Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, etc., and all the previous revelations, like the Torah, the Psalms, etc., but it goes a step further: Muslims have been strictly forbidden in the Quran from using any insulting remarks about any deity worshipped by any non-Muslim: "And abuse not those whom they call upon besides God..." (Quran 6:109) Can there be a more decisive proof of the marvelously tolerant nature of Islam?
The Sunnah too is abundant in injunctions that instruct Muslims to be considerate and courteous towards non-Muslims. The charter granted by the Prophet to the Christians of Mount Sinai is one of the glorious examples of tolerance and pluralism: "This is a message from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily, I, the servants and helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and, by God, I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them; neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries.
"No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. Muslims are to fight for them... Their churches are to be respected... No one of the nation (of Islam) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day."
When a deputation of the Christians of Najran came to see the Prophet, he not only allowed them to stay in his mosque, but they were also allowed to pray in the mosque according to their beliefs. The Prophet also granted them a charter similar to the one mentioned above: "...To the Christians of Najran and the neighboring territories, the security of God and the pledge of His Prophet are extended for their lives, their religion, and their property... There shall be no interference with their faith or their observances, nor any change in their rights and privileges... They shall continue to enjoy everything great or small as heretofore..."
The Prophet was not only the head of the first Islamic state, but was also the supreme judicial authority. Non-Muslims would also come to him for the settlement of their disputes and he would adjudicate in accordance with their laws. While deciding between a Muslim and a non-Muslim, he would strictly observe the Quranic instructions regarding equality before law, and never made any distinction between litigants on the basis of religion.
There are numerous sayings of the Prophet emphasizing that non-Muslims living in an Islamic state - legally called "dhimmi" - must be treated well and their rights must be protected by the state as well as Muslim members of the community: "Whoever hurts a dhimmi, hurts me. And whoever hurts me, he annoys God." (Bukhari) "Beware! On the Day of Judgment, I shall myself be the complainant against him who wrongs a dhimmi, or lays on him a responsibility greater than he can bear, or deprives him of anything that belongs to him." (Al-Mawardi)
The teachings of the Quran and the examples set by the Prophet were not only followed by the Pious Caliphs, but also by later caliphs, rulers, and administrators. In 638, when Jerusalem was first conquered by Muslims, Caliph Omar Bin Khattab, who is considered to be the strictest of the Pious Caliphs, made this declaration regarding its Christian inhabitants: "I grant them security of lives, their possessions, their children, their churches, their crosses, and all that belongs to them... Their churches shall not be impoverished, nor destroyed; neither endowments, nor their dignity... Neither shall the inhabitants of Jerusalem be exposed to violence in following their religion; nor shall one of them be injured."
Once, Caliph Omar came across an old man begging for alms. On inquiry, Omar came to know that the man was a Jew. He ordered that the Jew be paid regular amount from the state treasury, saying, "Is it right to take jizya from him as a young man, and neglect him as an old man? This is not possible in Islam!" Jizya is the tax collected from non-Muslim citizens. However, the amount of jizya is much less than zakat. Also, it is only collected from able-bodied non-Muslim males who can afford to pay it. Non-Muslims, if they ae in need, have the right to be supported by the state treasury.
In short - based on the Quran and the Sunnah, the practices of the Pious Caliphs, and the writings of Muslim jurists - non-Muslims, living in an Islamic state, are entitled to:
- right to life, personal safety, and respect;
- freedom of religion;
- right to justice and equality before law;
- freedom of expression;
- right to political representation;
- freedom of movement, assembly, and association;
- right to education;
- right to social security;
- right to property;
- right to government service;
- right to exemption from compulsory military service; etc.
Here it must be mentioned that it is incumbent upon an Islamic state to grant to its non-Muslim citizens all these rights and freedoms regardless of rights and freedoms accorded to or denied to Muslims living in non-Muslim states.
Islamic history shows that all the rights accorded to non-Muslims were actually implemented by Muslim governments. Non-Muslims were always allowed opportunities of growth similar to Muslims; talented non-Muslims were greatly honored and given high offices. Muslims can also take just pride in the fact that, unlike other civilizations, Islamic one cannot be accused of conducting forced conversions, witch hunts, inquisitions and holocausts. In fact, Muslim territories often served as refuge for non-Muslims facing oppression and persecution in other places.
Spain, under Muslim rule, was the only place in Europe where Jews could live with absolute safety and dignity. After the fall of Muslim Spain, Jews were expelled from there, and they found a sanctuary in another Muslim realm, i.e., the Ottoman Empire. Muslim India is another example. Despite centuries of Muslim rule, majority of its population remained non-Muslim. It is a well known fact that Muslim rulers even made generous donations to temples and other religious places of Hindus, etc. It is also interesting to note that, according to Al-Maqrizi, all the famous churches of Cairo were built during the Muslim rule.
Syed Imad-ud-Din Asad is a lecturer at Punjab Law College, Lahore, Pakistan.
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