Rights of minorities in Islam


Abdul Rasood Syed

ISLAM is the religion of peace, moderation and tolerance. It guarantees equal rights to the people whether Muslims or non-Muslims living under Islamic dispensation. According to injunctions of Islam, minorities in Islam are supposed to be treated fairly and equally. They are called “Zimmies” the protected people because they live in peace and tranquillity under the protection of Islamic State. The messenger of Allah practiced religious tolerance towards non-Muslims and did not use force to compel people of other religions to embrace Islam as it would have been against the commands of the Holy Quran: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”(2:256) in addition to this, there is a complete Surah in the Holy Book namely “Kafirun” which deals with the religious freedom of the non-Muslims. Holy Prophet (SAW) was the staunch advocate of the rights of non-Muslim minorities. In one of his sayings he said: “if anyone wrongs a man to whom a treaty has been granted, or burdens him above his strength, I will advocate against him on the day of judgment.” (Abu Daud). In another Hadis, the Holy Prophet (SAW) remarked, “whoever hurts a” Zimmie”, hurts me and whoever hurts me, hurts Allah” (Al-Tabrani).
One glaring example of Prophet’s tolerance towards minorities is that he provided a charter to Christens of Najran which contained the clauses ensuring their religious freedom and equal and fair treatment under Islamic State. Moreover, the Holy Prophet (SAW) also signed a famous covenant with the monks and priests of Saint Catherin which is near Mount Sini in Egypt. Some of the prominent clauses of the said charter include: First, the priests and monks were not to be unfairly taxed, second, no bishop is to be driven out of his bishopric, third, no Christen is to be forced to renounce his faith or to become Muslim, fourth, no monk is to be expelled from his monastery, fifth, the pilgrims are not to be detained from their pilgrimage, sixth, no church can be demolished for the sack of building Muslim mosques or Muslim homes, seventh, christen women married to Muslim men are free to fully practise their faith without pressure or intimidation and eighth, should the priests and monks need help to repair their churches, it should be provided.
Inter alia, Islamic law holds both Muslims and non-Muslims equal and no superiority or privilege is given to Muslims on any ground. The history of Islam is replete with such examples. Once, a Muslim, who was accused of killing a non-Muslim, was presented in the court of Hazrat Ali (RA). The evidence supported the accusation. When Hazrat Ali ordered the Muslim to be killed by way of Qisas, the relatives of the murderer made the brother of the killed forgive by paying him the compensation money. When the Caliph came to know of it, he asked, “Perhaps these people may have coerced you into saying so.” To this, he replied in the negative, saying that the killing would not bring his brother back. Since they were paying him blood money, it would help the family financially to some extent. The Caliph agreed to the deal but added that the principle underlying the functioning of his government was “the blood of those of our non-Muslim subjects is equal to our blood and his blood money is like our blood money.” (Abu Yusuf, Kitab-ul-Khiraj, p. 187)
Further, as mentioned earlier, Islam does not believe in forceful conversion. Invitation to truth and the use of coercion are mutually exclusive realities. The Holy Quran has expounded on this issue in the following words :”(O Glorious Messenger!) Invite towards the path of your Lord with strategic wisdom and refined exhortation and (also) argue with them in a most decent manner. Surely your Lord knows him well who strayed away from His path and He also knows well the rightly guided.” (16:125). Moreover, the non-Muslim minorities living under Islamic political system are given leeway to undertake any business enterprise or profession like that of their Muslim counterparts. However, those businesses, which are collectively injurious for the Muslim society, would be completely prohibited for both the Muslims and non-Muslims. The minorities are also free to adopt any profession of their choice. They would also be subject to same trade-related taxation as Muslims.
Additionally, it is also the responsibility of Islamic State to provide for the non-Muslim handicapped, the destitute and the old, in the same way as it does for Muslim citizens. Minorities enjoy equal rights in terms of collective maintenance in an Islamic State. According to a tradition, reported by Abu Ubaid in Kitab-ul Amwal, “The Holy Prophet (SAW) gave a donation to a Jewish family and it continued to be delivered even after the holy prophet’s departure from this world. Finally, one misunderstanding regarding the payment of Jiziah by the minorities needs to be cleared. It has nothing to do with punishment or pressure to embrace Islam, as propagated by anti-Muslim forces. It is, in fact, a payment regarding their exemption from military service. As they enjoy the protection of the Islamic State, they are supposed to contribute to defence expenditure in this way. On the other hand, if any non-Muslim wants to serve in army voluntarily, he is, then, not required to pay Jiziah.
— The writer is a Legal practitioner-cum-columnist based in Quetta Balochistan.

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