Flawed perception about Islam regarding minorities

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Dr Abdus Sattar Abbasi

WIDESPREAD anarchy and instability during almost last two centuries in Muslim societies led to several misperceptions about teachings of Islam. Lack of strong governments and central authorities during these times stimulated majority of Muslim societies to secure their local or personal interests. Colonisations further deteriorated intellectual and communal acumen of Muslim societies. Golden Era of Islamic civilization was epitome of inclusive, progressive and tolerant societies. In the words of Carly Fiorina, a CEO of top-20 Fortune Company Hewlett-Packard (HP), “Islamic civilization created continental super-state, within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins. Islam created an enlightened leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage that led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.
The reach of their commerce extended from Latin America to China, and everywhere in between. Islamic civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration. Its writers created thousands of stories of courage, romance and magic. Its poets wrote of love, when others before them were too steeped in fear to think of such things. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Muslim mathematicians. Sufi poet-philosophers like Rumi challenged our notions of self and truth. Muslim rulers contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership. It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population–that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions.”
Collapse of Islamic civilization widened the gap between adherents and teachings of Islam. Absence of scholarship further deteriorated understanding of common men about the spirit and heritage of Islamic thoughts and societies. It is historically proven that no other faith throughout human history extended kind of rights and protection to adherents of other religions that Muslim states did. We need to refer to al-Qurân and Sunnah to understand the spirit of Islamic teachings about non-Muslims: Excepted are those with whom you made a treaty among the polytheists and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you; so complete for them their treaty until their term [has ended]. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him]. (al-Qurân 9:4) The Messenger of Allah (?) said: Beware, if anyone wrongs a contracting man, or diminishes his right, or forces him to work beyond his capacity, or takes from him anything without his consent, I shall plead for him on the Day of Judgment.
Here we need to comprehend two important aspects, types of treaties with followers of other faiths and type of state we lived in. There are three kinds of agreements, dhimmi: a non-Muslim subject living permanently in Muslim state. Dhimmi literally means ‘protected person’, referring to the state’s obligation under shariah to extend complete protection to the individual including life, property, and freedom of religion, in exchange for loyalty to the state and payment of a nominal tax called jizya. Muáhid: is a person with specific agreement who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslim state, who is permitted by a Muslim government to enter into Muslim territories to engage in legitimate activities. Mustámin: is a non-Muslim foreigner from non-Muslim countries who temporarily resides in Muslim country through short-term safe-conduct (a pass or document) which entitles the person from opponent lands the protected status of dhimmi without paying jizya.
There are different possibilities of establishing a state of Muslims. One is to conquer a country through head-on battle; in this case Muslims are at the liberty to implement shariah instantly or adopt any course of action to ultimately establish a government on the principles of Islam. The second possibility is to acquire a land through a treaty; in this case when Muslims takeover the new territory to establish their government they have to abide with terms agreed in the treaty. There are numerous examples in the history where Muslims conquered region through treaty of peace and extended complete protection to non-Muslim subjects of newly occupied territories according to the terms given in the agreement as long as there is any breach by non-Muslim citizens such as rebellion or some gross violation of terms.
It is important to understand that Pakistan came into being through an agreement finalised by the Partition Council on July 22, 1947, which states, “Now that the decision to setup two independent Dominions from August15 has been finally taken, the members of the Partition Council, on behalf of the future Governments, declare that they are determined to establish peaceful conditions in which the processes of partition may be completed. Both the Congress and the Muslim League have given assurances of fair and equitable treatment to the minorities after the transfer of power. The two future Governments re-affirm these assurances. It is their intention to safeguard the legitimate interests of all citizens irrespective of religion, caste or sex. In the exercise of their normal civic rights all citizens will be regarded as equal and both the Governments will assure to all people within their territories the exercise of liberties such as freedom of speech, the right to form associations, the right to worship in their own way and the protection of their language and culture.”
Therefore it is obligatory for the Government of Pakistan to abide with terms and conditions of subject instrument of partition. There is consensus among shariah scholars that Government and people of Pakistan are obligated to extend complete protection to the life and property of non-Muslim minorities living in Pakistan due to the agreement stated above without receiving jizya. We can safely conclude that flawed perception about Islam regarding minorities is a result of lack of understanding of teachings about the status of non-Muslims in the Muslim country. Non-Muslims enjoy same status of welfare and protection in Muslim State as Muslim population, as long as they maintain sanctity of sacred limits of Shariah. It is the responsibility of Muslim State to protect life, property and integrity of non-Muslim subjects in its jurisdiction with the freedom to practice their religion.
—The writer is associate Prof & Head of CIF, COMSATS University Islamabad and Lahore Campus.

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