Minority rights in Islam

The Spirit Of Islam

Zeeshan Rasool Khan

CONTEMPORARY sociologists generally define minority as a group of people differentiated from others in the same society by race, nationality, religion or language— who most often experience disadvantage over other dominant groups. Also, they lack power and hence remain susceptible to certain embargoes, discriminations and other prejudicial treatment in most of the cases. Minorities especially racial and religious are facing discrimination and prejudice all across the world, India and Pakistan is no exception where particularly religious discrimination is on the rise. India is a religiously diverse and democratic society with a constitution that provides legal equalities for its citizens irrespective of their religion and prohibits religion-based discrimination; however, the reality is far different; in fact, India’s pluralistic tradition is facing serious challenges in a number of its states. In India, not only Muslims but also other minorities are feeling unsafe. Dalit suffering sees no end. Christian minorities are expressing concern over growing intolerance. Similarly, Muslims are soft-targets of Hindu radicalism. Independent Bipartisan Commission claimed that since 2014 there has been a dramatic escalation in persecution and discrimination of religious minorities in India.
At present, Islamophobic intellectuals are hell-bent to pass blame on Islam for minority discrimination. They keep on spewing venom to distract the people from real teachings and principles of Islam. However, it raises thorny question, if Islam promotes discrimination, then why India with 14.4% Muslims is ranking top in the religious discrimination. It is thus incumbent upon all of us to update ourselves about what the approach of Islam towards religious minorities is. Do the claims of Islamophobic intellectuals make any sense? Let us analyze the Islamic perspective in this regard: Islam seeks to establish a society where all citizens are alike before its law and enjoy equal rights. The history of Islam presents plentiful examples, which explicitly indicate that the minorities enjoy similar rights in an Islamic State as the Muslims do?
Islam urges people to worship Allah Almighty but it does not underpin forcible conversions. Invitation to truth and pressurization are mutually exclusive realities. The Holy Quran ordains: “(O Glorious Messenger!) Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good exhortations and debate with them in the best manner. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has divagated from his way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided (16:125). Islam has strictly disallowed the adoption of such a method of invitation, which affects the religious independence of the other party. Quran says, “There is no coercion in religion. Verily, guidance has evidently been distinguished from error.” (2:256). Jabir Bin Abdullah narrates ‘Once a funeral procession passed in front of us. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) stood up and we too emulated him. We asked, O! Allah’s apostle. This is the funeral of a Jew. The Holy Prophet said; whenever you see a funeral procession, you should stand up (Bukhari). This explains the attitude of the Holy Prophet towards non-Muslims. History bears witness that the Holy Prophet drafted ‘Charter of Medina’ shortly after emigration to Medina. In which the Holy Prophet integrated separate clause for rights of non-Muslims that says; (a) The security of God is equal for all groups (b) Non-Muslim members will have the same political and cultural rights as Muslims. They will have autonomy and freedom of religion (c) Non-Muslims will take up arms against the enemy of the nation and share the cost of war. There is to be no treachery between the two. (d) Non-Muslims will not be obliged to take part in religious wars of the Muslims.
Moreover, Islam uses the term Dhimma, referring to non-Muslim citizens residing within the state’s border as opposed to crude term minority. Dhimma literally means “Protected Person”. The term itself reflects the respectful status attributed to non-Muslim communities under the Islamic system. The Dhimmis had their right fully protected in their communities and were subject to their own special laws and exempt from laws applicable to the Muslim community. Rules of Islamic state related to Dhimmis are summed up in the Quran, which says; “For you is your religion, and for me is my religion (109:6)”. Islam thus refutes the idea of a monotonous system that expects different ideological communities to follow same directives with respect to public, religious, social, and political lives. In an Islamic state, the minorities cannot be coerced to render defence. It is, however, the responsibility of the Islamic state to guard them. Since the Islamic State is responsible for the protection of life, honour, and property of the minorities and they do not have any other obligation with regard to defence, they are liable to contribute financially to the Islamic state in the form of Jizya. Even with regard to the imposition of Jizya on the minorities, Islam has taught about justice. Due to space constraint, it is not possible for me to delve deeper into the Islamic history to prove how minorities were treated in an Islamic State but to some extent; it became clear that Islam protects the rights of minorities proving Islamophobic intellectuals wrong. However, Muslim Clergy leaders need to present a true picture of Islam to combat the distortions circulated about Islam and Muslim-dominated countries must impose regulations in accordance with Islamic Shariah to put an end to all sorts of discrimination that will also eliminate myths about our religion.
—The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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