The Rights of Non-Muslims in Islam (parts 6,7,8)
THE RIGHTS OF NON-MUSLIMS IN ISLAM (PART 6 OF 13): THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF BELIEF II
Description: Islam gives members of other faiths the right to practice their faiths. A historical analysis of Islamic principle of ‘No compulsion in religion.’ Part 2.
Muslims protected Christian churches in the lands they occupied from being harmed. In a letter to Simeon, the Archbishop of Rifardashir and leader of all the bishops of Persia, the Nestorian Patriarch Geoff III wrote:
‘The Arabs, to whom God has given power over the whole world, know how wealthy you are, for they live among you. In spite of this, they do not assail the Christian creed. To the contrary, they have sympathy with our religion, and venerate our priests and saints of our Lord, and they graciously donate to our churches and monasteries.’
One of the Muslims caliphs, Abdul-Malik, took the Church of John from the Christians and made it part of a mosque. When Umar bin Abdulaziz succeeded him as the new Caliph, the Christians complained to him about what his predecessor had done to their church. Umar wrote to the governor that the portion of the mosque that was rightfully theirs be returned to them if they were unable to agree with the governor on a monetary settlement that would satisfy them.
The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is known to historians to be the one of the holiest places of worship in Judaism. Some time ago, it was completely buried under rubble and heaps of debris. When the Ottoman caliph Sultan Sulayman came to know of this, he ordered his governor in Jerusalem to remove all the rubble and debris, clean the area, restore the Wailing Wall, and make it accessible for Jews to visit.
Unbiased Western historians acknowledge these facts. LeBon writes:
‘The tolerance of Muhammad towards the Jews and Christians was truly grand; the founders of other religions that appeared before him, Judaism and Christianity in particular, did not prescribe such goodwill. His caliphs followed the same policy, and his tolerance has been acknowledged by skeptics and believers alike when they study the history of the Arabs in depth.’
‘The Muslims alone were able to integrate their zeal for their own religion with tolerance for followers of other religions. Even when they bore swords into battle for freedom for their religion to spread, they left those who did not desire it free to adhere to their own religious teachings.’
Sir Thomas Arnold, an English Orientalist, wrote:
‘We never heard of a report of any planned attempt to compel non-Muslim minorities to accept Islam, or any organized persecution aimed at uprooting the Christian religion. If any of the caliphs had chosen any of these policies, they would have overwhelmed Christianity with the same ease with which Ferdinand and Isabella exiled Islam from Spain, or with which Louis XIV made following Protestantism a punishable crime in France, or with which the Jews were exiled from England for 350 years. A that time Eastern churches were completely isolated from the rest of the Christian world. They had no supporters in the world as they were considered heretical sects of Christianity. Their very existence to this day is the strongest evidence of the policy of Islamic government’s tolerance towards them.’
The American author, Lothrop Stoddard wrote, ‘The caliph Umar took the utmost care to tend to the sanctity of the Christian holy places, and those who became caliph after him followed his footsteps. They did not harass the many denominations of pilgrims who came annually from every corner of the Christian world to visit Jerusalem.’
The reality is that non-Muslims were treated with more tolerance among the Muslims than anything they experienced with other sects of their own religion. Richard Stebbins spoke of the Christian experience under the rule of the Turks:
‘They (the Turks) allowed all of them, Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox, to preserve their religion and follow their consciences as they chose: they allowed them their churches to perform their sacred rituals in Constantinople and many other places. This is in contrast to what I can testify to from living in Spain for twelve years; not only were we forced to attend their Papist celebrations, but our lives and the lives of our grandchildren were in danger also.’
Thomas Arnold mentions in his ‘Invitation to Islam’ that there were many people in Italy at that time who longed for Ottoman rule. They wished they could be granted the same freedom and tolerance that the Ottomans gave to their Christian subjects, for they had despaired of achieving it under any Christian government. He also mentions that a great many Jews fled persecution in Spain at the end of the 15th century and took refuge in Ottoman Turkey.
It is worthwhile to reemphasize the following point. The existence of non-Muslims for centuries across the Muslim world, from Moorish Spain and Sub-Saharan Africa to Egypt, Syria, India, and Indonesia are clear evidence of the religious tolerance extended by Islam to people of other faiths. This tolerance even led to the elimination of Muslims, such as in Spain, where the remaining Christians took advantage of Muslim weakness, attacked them, and wiped them out from Spain by either killing them, forcing them to convert, or expulsion. Etienne Denier wrote, ‘The Muslims are the opposite of what many people believe. They never used force outside of the Hejaz. The presence of Christians was evidence of this fact. They retained their religion in complete security during the eight centuries that the Muslims ruled their lands. Some of them held high posts in the palace in Cordoba, but when the same Christians obtained power over the country, suddenly their first concern was to exterminate Muslims.’
Arnold, Thomas, ‘Invitation To Islam,’ p. 102
Qaradawi, Yusuf, ‘Ghayr al-Muslimeen fil-Mujtama’ al-Islami,’ p. 32
Hussayn, Abdul-Latif, ‘Tasamuh al-Gharb Ma’l-Muslimeen,’ p. 67
LeBon, Gustav, ‘Arab Civilization,’ p. 128
Quoted in Aayed, Saleh Hussain, ‘Huquq Ghayr al-Muslimeen fi Bilad il-Islam,’ p. 26
Arnold, Thomas, ‘Invitation To Islam,’ p. 98-99
Stoddard, L.W., ‘The Islamic World At Present,’ vol 1, p. 13-14
Quoted in Qaradawi, Yusuf, ‘al-Aqaliyyat ad-Diniyya wa-Hal al-Islami,’ p. 56-57
Arnold, Thomas, ‘Invitation To Islam,’ p. 183
Hejaz: the Western part of Arabia that includes the cities of Mecca and Medina.
Denier, Etienne, ‘Muhammad The Messenger Of God,’ p. 332
THE RIGHTS OF NON-MUSLIMS IN ISLAM (PART 7 OF 13): THE RIGHT TO FOLLOW THEIR RELIGIOUS LAWS
Description: The right of non-Muslims to follow their own laws and are not under compulsion to follow Islamic Law.
Islam does not compel non-Muslims citizens living in Muslim lands to be ruled by Islamic Laws. They are exempt from paying the zakah. Under Islamic Law, a Muslim who does not pay the zakah and refuses its obligation becomes an unbeliever. Also, Islamic Law requires military duty from able Muslims, but non-Muslims are exempt from it, even though it is of benefit to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In return for these two exemptions, non-Muslim citizens pay a nominal tax known as jizya. Sir Thomas Arnold wrote, ‘The jizya was so light that it did not constitute a burden on them, especially when we observe that it exempted them from compulsory military service that was an obligation for their fellow citizens, the Muslims.’
Islam also permitted non-Muslims to observe their civil law in matters such as marriage and divorce. Regarding criminal justice, Muslim jurists would pass sentences on non-Muslims in issues considered sinful in their religion such as theft, but exempted them from issues they held to be permissible such as drinking wine and eating pork. This is based clearly of the practice of the Prophet himself when he first came to Medina and established a ‘constitution’. He allowed for individual tribes who were not Muslims to refer to their own religious scriptures and their learned men in regards to their own personal affairs. They could though, if they opted, ask the Prophet to judge between them in their matters. God says in the Quran:
“…IF THEY DO COME TO YOU, EITHER JUDGE BETWEEN THEM OR DECLINE TO INTERFERE…” (QURAN 5:42)
Here we see that Prophet allowed each religion to judge in their own matters according to their own scriptures, as long as it did not stand in opposition to articles of the constitution, a pact which took into account the greater benefit of the peaceful co-existence of the society.
Umar ibn Abdulaziz, a Muslim ruler, found it hard to accept how non-Muslims continued to follow their social regulations that went against the Islamic injunctions. He wrote a letter to Hasan al-Basri seeking his legal advice, saying, ‘How is it that the Rightly-Guided Caliphs before us left the People of the Covenant as they did, marrying close relatives, and keeping pigs and wine?’ Hasan’s responded, ‘They paid the jizya so that they could be left to practice what they believed, and you may only follow the Islamic Law, not invent something new.’
The People of the Covenant had their own courts to settle their disputes, but if they wished, they could resort to Islamic courts. God commanded His Prophet:
“SO IF THEY COME TO YOU, (O MUHAMMAD), JUDGE BETWEEN THEM OR TURN AWAY FROM THEM. AND IF YOU TURN AWAY FROM THEM NEVER WILL THEY HARM YOU AT ALL. AND IF YOU JUDGE, JUDGE BETWEEN THEM WITH JUSTICE. INDEED, GOD LOVES THOSE WHO ACT JUSTLY.” (QURAN 5:42)
Adam Metz, a Western historian, writes in the Islamic Civilization in the Fourth Century of the Hegira:
“Since the Islamic Law was specifically for Muslims, the Islamic state allowed the people of other religious affiliations to their own courts. What we know about these courts is that they were church courts and prominent spiritual leaders were the chief justices. They wrote a great number of books on canon law, and their rulings were not confined to matters of personal status. They included such problems as inheritance and much of the litigations between Christians that did not involve the state.”
Therefore, it can be seen that Islam did not punish non-Muslims for doing what they viewed as permissible according to their religious law, such as consuming alcohol or eating pork, even though they are forbidden in Islam. The tolerance extended by Islam towards non-Muslims is unmatched by any other religious law, secular government, or political system in existence even today. Gustav LeBon writes:
“The Arabs could have easily been blinded by their first conquests, and committed the injustices that are usually committed by conquerors. They could have mistreated their defeated opponents or forced them to embrace their religion, which they wished to spread all over the world. But the Arabs avoided that. The early caliphs, who had a political genius that was rare in proponents of new religion, realized that religions and systems are not imposed by force. So they treated the people of Syria, Egypt, Spain, and every country they took over with great kindness, as we have seen. They left their laws, regulations, and beliefs intact and only imposed on them the jizya, which was paltry when compared to what they had been paying in taxes previously, in exchange for maintaining their security. The truth is that nations had never known conquerors more tolerant than the Muslims, or a religion more tolerant than Islam.”
Zakah: one of the pillars of Islam. It is a obligatory charity paid on certain forms of wealth.
Arnold, Thomas, ‘Invitation to Islam,’ p. 77
Maududi, Abul ‘Ala, ‘The Rights of The People of Covenant In The Islamic State,’ p. 20-21
Hasan al-Basri: one of the most eminent scholars from the second generation of Muslims known for his asceticism and knowledge. He was born in Medina in 642 CE, the son of a slave captured in Maysan, who was freed by the Prophet’s secretary, Zaid bin Thabit. He was brought up in Basra, Iraq. Hasan met many Companions and transmitted many reports of Prophet Muhammad. His mother served Umm Salama, the wife of the Prophet. He died in Basra in 728 CE at the age of 88.
The Zoroastrians to this day deem it permissible to marry their own siblings.
Maududi, Abul ‘Ala, ‘The Rights Of The People of Covenant In The Islamic State,’ p. 22
Metz, Adam, ‘Islamic Civilization in the Fourth Century of the Hegira,’ vol 1, p. 85
Lebon, G, ‘The Civilization Of The Arabs,’ p. 605
THE RIGHTS OF NON-MUSLIMS IN ISLAM (PART 8 OF 13): THE RIGHT TO JUSTICE I
Description: Examples of Islamic justice towards non-Muslims and justice as a right.
God requires Muslims to be just in all their affairs and to act equitably towards everyone. God says:
“AND THE SKY HE HAS RAISED; AND HE HAS SET THE BALANCE (OF JUSTICE), THAT YOU MAY NOT EXCEED THE (DUE) BALANCE. BUT OBSERVE THE MEASURE STRICTLY, NOR FALL SHORT THEREOF.” (QURAN 55:7-10)
Muslims are divinely ordained to act with justice, even if it means acting against themselves or those close to them, as the Quran states:
“O YOU WHO HAVE BELIEVED, PERSISTENTLY STAND FIRM IN JUSTICE, WITNESSES FOR ALLAH, EVEN IF IT BE AGAINST YOURSELVES OR PARENTS AND RELATIVES. WHETHER ONE IS RICH OR POOR, ALLAH IS MORE WORTHY OF BOTH. SO FOLLOW NOT [PERSONAL] INCLINATION, LEST YOU NOT BE JUST. AND IF YOU DISTORT [YOUR TESTIMONY] OR REFUSE [TO GIVE IT], THEN INDEED ALLAH IS EVER-ACQUAINTED WITH WHAT YOU DO.” (QURAN 4:135)
God requires that we apply justice at all times:
“INDEED, ALLAH COMMANDS YOU TO RENDER TRUSTS TO WHOM THEY ARE DUE, AND WHEN YOU JUDGE BETWEEN PEOPLE, TO JUDGE WITH JUSTICE. EXCELLENT IS THAT WHICH ALLAH INSTRUCTS YOU. INDEED, ALLAH IS EVER HEARING AND SEEING.” (QURAN 4:58)
Islamic justice towards non-Muslims is multifaceted. Islam gives them the right to go before their own courts; it also guarantees them equality in seeking justice with Muslims, if they choose to present their case in an Islamic court. God says:
“SO, IF THEY COME TO YOU, (O MUHAMMAD), JUDGE BETWEEN THEM, OR TURN AWAY FROM THEM. AND IF YOU TURN AWAY FROM THEM – NEVER WILL THEY HARM YOU AT ALL. AND IF YOU JUDGE, JUDGE BETWEEN THEM WITH JUSTICE. INDEED, ALLAH LOVES THOSE WHO ACT JUSTLY.” (QURAN 5:42)
If a Muslim were to steal from a non-Muslim dhimmi, he would be liable to the same punishment as the dhimmi would have been had he stolen from the Muslim. If a Muslim were to rape a dhimmi woman, he would be liable to the same punishment as that for raping a Muslim woman. Similarly, a Muslim is liable to receive a sentence for defamation if he slanders a man or woman protected under the covenant.
Islamic history has some beautiful examples of justice meted out by Muslims towards non-Muslims. A man named Ta’ima stole a suit of armor from Qataada, his neighbor. Qataada had hidden the armor inside a sack of flour so, when Ta’ima took it, the flour leaked out of the sack through a hole, leaving a trail up to his house. Ta’ima then left the armor in the care of a Jewish man named Zayed, who kept it in his house, in order to conceal his crime. Thus, when the people searched for the stolen armor, they followed the trail of flour to Ta’ima’s house but did not find it there. When confronted, he swore to them he had not taken it and knew nothing about it. The people helping the owner also swore that they had seen him breaking into Qataada’s house at night, and had subsequently followed the tell-tale trail of flour, which had led them to his house. Nevertheless, after hearing Ta’ima swearing he was innocent, they left him alone and looked for further clues, finally finding a thinner trail of flour leading to the house of Zayed, and so arrested him.
The Jewish man told them that Ta’ima had left the armor with him, and some Jewish people confirmed his statement. The tribe to which Ta’ima belonged sent some of their men to the Messenger of God to present his side of the story, and asked them to defend him. The delegation was told, ‘If you do not defend our clansman, Ta’ima, he will lose his reputation and be punished severely, and the Jew will go free.’ The Prophet was subsequently inclined to believe them, and was about to punish the Jewish man when God revealed the following verses of the Quran to vindicate the Jew. The verse continues to be recited by Muslims today as a reminder that justice must be served for all:
“INDEED, WE HAVE REVEALED TO YOU, (O MUHAMMAD), THE BOOK IN TRUTH SO YOU MAY JUDGE BETWEEN THE PEOPLE BY THAT WHICH GOD HAS SHOWN YOU. AND DO NOT BE AN ADVOCATE FOR THE DECEITFUL. AND SEEK FORGIVENESS OF GOD. INDEED, GOD IS EVER FORGIVING AND MERCIFUL. AND DO NOT ARGUE ON BEHALF OF THOSE WHO DECEIVE THEMSELVES. INDEED, GOD LOVES NOT ONE WHO IS A HABITUALLY SINFUL DECEIVER. THEY CONCEAL [THEIR EVIL INTENTIONS AND DEEDS] FROM THE PEOPLE, BUT THEY CANNOT CONCEAL [THEM] FROM GOD, AND HE IS WITH THEM (IN HIS KNOWLEDGE) WHEN THEY SPEND THE NIGHT IN SUCH AS HE DOES NOT ACCEPT OF SPEECH. AND GOD EVER IS ENCOMPASSING OF WHAT THEY DO. HERE YOU ARE – THOSE WHO ARGUE ON THEIR BEHALF IN [THIS] WORLDLY LIFE – BUT WHO WILL ARGUE WITH GOD FOR THEM ON THE DAY OF RESURRECTION, OR WHO WILL [THEN] BE THEIR REPRESENTATIVE?” (QURAN 4:105-109)
Masud, Fahd Muhammad Ali, ‘Huquq Ghayr is-Muslimeen fid-Dawla al-Islamiyya,’ p. 138-139, 144-149.
Aayed, Saleh Hussain, ‘Huquq Ghayr al-Muslimeen fi Bilad il-Islam,’ p. 32-33.
Zaydan, Dr. Abd al-Karim, ‘Ahkam al-Dhimmiyin wal-Mustami’nin,’ p. 254.
Wahidi, ‘Al-Asbab an-Nuzool,’ p. 210-211