By Aftab Khan
“ .. Nearest in affection to the believers (Muslims) are those who say: "We are Christians…” (Qur’an; 5:82).
"It was not until the Western nations broke away from their religious law that they became more tolerant, and it was only when the Muslims fell away from their religious law that they declined in tolerance". [Pickthall]
Recently there has been surge in violence against Christian, the biggest minority of Pakistan on accusation of blasphemy, a heinous crime by law. Mob justice is against the civilized conduct and behaviour strongly condemned in Islam and society. Any incidence of blasphemy has to be taken care of by the law, no individual or group can take the law in own hand to dispense wild injustice. The accused has to be given fair chance to defend himself in the court of law. If proven culpable the justice will prevail to punish the guilty according to law.
Islam, while upholding balanced views in general, enjoins the most solicitous care for the weak and oppressed. In communities which base their civil rights on brute strength, the weaker go to the wall, and public opinion expects nothing else. Even in modern democracies of the saner sort, it is often told that it is the fate of minorities to suffer; strength of numbers here becomes the passport to power and privilege. The minorities (non Muslims) in an Islamic state are to be treated with justice in every way-in rights of property, in social rights, and in the right to opportunities of development. The non-Muslim living under the protection of a Muslim state is referred as Dhimmi, [from Zimma, protected (by state)] a free non-Muslim subject. They are exempt from duties of Islam like military service and Zakat, instead they are required to pay jizyah (poll-tax). Historically some Islamic governments paid this poll tax for poor non-Muslim subjects or reduced it to mere symbolic tax. If the State cannot protect those who paid jizyah, then the amount they paid is returned to them.
In Pakistan the minorities enjoy their rights through the social contract engrained in constitution. They pay all taxes and serve in the armed forces. Many Christians like ‘Cecil Chaudhri’, are decorated war heroes and many more laid down their lives for the defence of Pakistan. I remember my class fellow Daniel, who joined Pak Army and laid down his life in East Pakistan during 1971 war. Justice Cornelius, the man of integrity rose to the coveted position of Chief Justice of Pakistan, while Justice Bhagwan Das recently retired as an honourable judge of Supreme Court.
Protection Non Muslims & Their Places of Worship:
It is one of the fundamental principles of Islam that every religion which has belief in God as its focal point must be accorded full respect; however much one may disagree with its particular tenets writes Muhammad Asad in his commentary, The Message of Qur’an. The Muslims are under an obligation to honour and protect any house of worship dedicated to God, whether it be a mosque or a church or a synagogue (also mentioned at Qur’an; 22:40); and any attempt to prevent the followers of another faith from worshipping God according to their own lights is condemned by the Qur'an as a sacrilege. Allah says: “Hence, who could be more wicked than those who bar the mention of God's name from [any of] His houses of worship and strive for their ruin, [although] they have no right to enter them save in fear [of God]? For them, in this world, there is ignominy in store; and for them, in the life to come, awesome suffering.”(Qur’an; 2:114).
A striking illustration of this principle is forthcoming from the Prophet's treatment of the deputation from Christians of Najran in the year 10 Hijrah. They were given free access to the Prophet's mosque, and with his full consent celebrated their religious rites there, although their adoration of Jesus as "the son of God" and of Mary as "the mother of God" was fundamentally at variance with Islamic beliefs (Ibn Sad I/I,'84 f).
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the main enforcer of human rights safeguarding the legitimate interests of minorities. The monks of Mount Sinai were provided protection, hence it is ‘Sunnah’ (Tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to protect the minorities. On establishing the first Islamic state at Medina, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) entered into many alliances, treaties with the Muslims and the non-Muslims, securing peace and tranquillity for the Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The Charter of Medina, in fact was the first ever written constitution in the history of mankind for a multi religious society. This was based on the contract agreed upon by Muslims, Jews and others, stipulating that they all would be treated as equal citizens of Medina, giving the non-Muslims right of choosing a legal system they wished their affairs be governed by, be it Islamic or Jewish law or pre-Islamic Arab tribal traditions. This confirms the principle “no compulsion in religion”, freedom of expression and religious practice was open to everyone. It gave the right of protection, security, peace and justice; not only to Muslims, but also to the Jews who lived in the City of Medina, as well as the allies of Jews who were non-Muslims. The Jews were recognized as a separate political and ethnic minority, and allowed to practice their religion quite freely. In fact, Jews were considered on an equal bases as Muslims under the Islamic State.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was very sensitive to the protection of minorities, as evident from the Hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Amr: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Whoever killed a Mu'ahid (a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims) shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of travelling)."(Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith: 9.49). Narrated Amr bin Maimun: The second Caliph Omar (after he was stabbed by a man from minority), instructed (his would-be-successor) saying, "I urge him (i.e. the new Caliph) to take care of those non-Muslims who are under the protection of Allah and His Apostle (peace be upon him) in that he should observe the convention agreed upon with them, and fight on their behalf (to secure their safety) and he should not over-tax them beyond their capability." (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith: 4.287).
It is one function of Islamic law to protect the privileged status of minorities, and this is why non-Muslim places of worship have flourished all over the Islamic world. Muslims during their rule granted freedom of worship to all religious communities in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Throughout the Muslim world, churches, synagogues and missionary schools were built within the Muslim neighbourhoods. These places were protected by Muslims even during the contemporary crises in the Middle East. As per Qur’an; “…Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another there would surely have been pulled down monasteries churches synagogues and mosques in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid His (cause); for verily Allah is Full of Strength Exalted in Might (Able to enforce His Will).”(Qur’an; 22:40)
Freedom of Faith & Apostasy:
There are no forced conversions in Islam, the non Muslim subjects have the right to freely choose to convert to Islam or keep practicing their faith. But once a person converts to Islam, it is obligatory to practice his faith to be a good Muslim. However apostasy has always been considered as a capital offence in all the religions and political systems of the world, because it is considered as a high treason against the established norms of society. The Bible prescribes death by stoning for apostasy (Deuteronomy; 13:6-10). The pagan Romans brutally killed the early Christians on same ground. Subsequently this practice was repeated by the Christian Church against opposing Christians, who were killed and burnt alive. Death penalty for apostasy remained in force in England for long time. It was abolished due to social and cultural developments.
In early Islam, the pagans of Makka, and Jews of Medina used to indulge in this practice to gain intelligence and to demoralize the fragile expanding Muslim community of Median. Hence apostasy is considered as a major sin in Islam. Whether it is punishable by Islamic law is a debatable matter among Muslim scholars. Some believe that the apostate should be punished after trial because they consider this crime as a betrayal, high treason against the community, while others opine that if someone changes his faith and does not challenge the Islamic society, it is a matter between him and Allah, Who will punish him in hereafter. However, both opinions agree that it is a major worst form of sin punishable by Allah. As per Qur’an; “Those who turn back as apostates after Guidance was clearly shown to them the Evil One has instigated them and buoyed them up with false hopes.”(Qur’an; 47:25). Allah's Apostle (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits adultery and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims." (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith: 9.17). Non-Muslims are free to teach their faith to their followers, but they are not allowed to go against the mainstream of the Muslim society.
Kindness and Equity:
Muslims are encouraged to act towards all the non-Muslims living in Islamic state with kindness and equity. As per Qur’an; "As for such (of the unbelievers) as do not fight against you on account of your faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, Allah does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity. Indeed, Allah loves those who act equitably"(Qur’an; 60:8). There are numerous Hadiths, which encourage Muslims to be kind to other religious communities, especially those who constitute minorities in the Muslim State. As a result many deserving non Muslims were able to get very high positions in the Muslim hierarchy. Islam does not forbid engagement in respectful and peaceful dialogue with others, especially the People of the Book, provided that neither side exploit the illiteracy or dire financial need of others so as to psychologically manipulate them in the name of outreach.
Legal and Dietary Freedom:
Islamic law also permits non-Muslim minorities to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves. The rights of minorities are well protected in Islam. Another interesting fact in Islamic history is that although Muslims are prohibited from preparing, selling and consuming alcohol, whereas the ruling is not the same with non-Muslim. If non-Muslim minority in an Islamic state wish to do so, and do not involve Muslims, they would actually be given this right, they even consume pork, strictly prohibited for the Muslims. This points out that the concept of human rights in Islam has often been given a much negative view. While throughout Europe and America, Muslims are not permitted to make the call to prayer (adhan) on loud speakers, church bells ring freely in the Muslim world.
Special Status of Christians as ‘People of the Book’ in Islam:
In order to be a Muslim, one has to affirm his belief in Allah (One God), His angels, His books (Qur’an and all scriptures previously revealed to His Messengers which also include the original Torah, Psalms and Gospel), His messengers (include all Biblical prophets, from Adam to Jesus, 25 mentioned by name in Qur’an), and Muhammad (peace be upon him) to be His Last Messenger, Resurrection after death on the Day of Judgement, accounting and the scales, hell and paradise and that the good and evil of Destiny are from Allah Most High. Muslims, Jews and Christians share their common ancestor Abraham (pbuh).The Christians and Jews are called People of the Book in Qur’an. Muslims are asked to call upon the People of the Book for common terms that is to worship One Allah, and to work together for the solutions of the many problems in the society. In Islam there is no preference for any special race or chosen people. Allah says: “Those who believe (in the Qur'an) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians (a monotheistic group) and who believe in God and the last day and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.”(Qur’an; 2:62). This is with reference to those Jews and Christians and monotheists who could not receive the message of Islam,
Islam is the only faith other than Christianity which regards Jesus Christ (pbuh) and Mary in very high esteem. One is astounded to find the some people portraying Islam and Muslims as the enemies of Christ, infidels and pagans, not realizing the respect and love Muslims have for Jesus and Mary (peace be upon them). The Qur’an mentions "Jesus" by name twenty five times, as the "Messiah" eleven times. He is also addresses as Jesus the son of Mary: “And We made the son of Mary and his mother a sign for mankind,...”(Qur’an; 23:50). Chapter number nineteen in Qur’an has been named after ‘Mary’ and mentions her by name at least thirty three times. She is seen modestly dressed with her head covered; the Muslim women are also dressed modestly like Mary.
Doctrinal differences apart Qur’an grants special status by considering Christians nearest in affection to the Muslims: “You will find the most violent in enmity to the believers are the Jews and the idolaters (pagan Arabs); and nearest in affection to the believers are those who say: "We are Christians." That is because among them there are men that are priests and monks, who do not behave arrogantly.”(Qur’an; 5:82). This is because the Christians do not believe, as do the Jews, that revelation is God's exclusive gift to the children of Israel; and their "priests and monks" teach them that humility is the essence of all true faith. It is noteworthy, points out Muhammad Asad, that the Qur’an does not in this context include the Christians among "those who are bent on ascribing divinity to aught beside God" (Alladhina ashraku-the element of intent being expressed in the use of the past tense, similar to Alladhina kafaru, Alladhina Zalamu, etc.): for although, by their deification of Jesus, they are guilty of the sin of shirk ("the ascribing of divinity to anyone or anything beside God"), the Christians do not consciously worship a plurality of deities inasmuch as, theoretically, their theology postulates belief in the One God, who is conceived as manifesting Himself in a trinity of aspects, or "persons", of whom Jesus is supposed to be one. However repugnant this doctrine may be to the teachings of the Qur'an, their shirk is not based on conscious intent, but rather flows from their "overstepping the bounds of truth" (mentioned at Qur’an; 4: 171, 5:77) in their veneration of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ and Islam:
Jesus Christ is highly respected by Muslims as prophet of God. Muslim is a person who submits his will to God. Jesus Christ (pbuh) said; “I can of myself do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is righteous; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me.”(John; 5:30), “Thy will be done”. (Mathew; 6:10, 26:42). Hence Jesus submitted his will to the ‘Will of God’ (Muslim). Muslims worship the same one God, worshiped by Jesus, they are required to offer obligatory prayers (Salah), keep fast (saum) and spend on charity (zakah) practice humility which was also practiced and preached by Jesus(Mathew; 17:21, 23:23-24, 26:36, 1 Peter; 4:8). Muslims are circumcised as was the Jesus (Luke; 2:21-24), they greet in the same manner as Jesus (peace be upon him) greeted in Hebrew ‘Sholam alay kum’(Luke; 24:36), the Islamic greeting in Arabic: “Assalaamu alai kum” both meaning ‘Peace be on you’. Muslims also do not eat pork nor indulge in intoxicants. Attire and appearance of Jesus with a beard is same as of faithful Muslim. Jesus was the last Hebrew prophet, who was sent by God to preached the implantation of the Law of Moses to the Jews (Mathew; 5:17-20) and make lawful some of that which was forbidden to them(Qur’an; 3:49,50). Muslims believe in Jesus as messenger of God (Bible; Acts; 2:22), his miraculous birth without father (Qur’an; 19:16-40, Matthew; 1:18-25 & Luke; 1:28-35), the miracles performed by the will of God (Qur’an; 3:49, Mathew; 4:23,9:35, Luke; 4:22, 9:11, 3:8 and Acts:4:16). They further believe in the revelations (scripture) he received form God, who saved him and raised him up to Himself, to be sent back to this world before end of time. Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) prophesized the advent of Muhammad, peace be upon him.(John; 14:16,15:26,16:7,12-14, Qur’an; 6:20).
Equitable Muslim Rule:
The history of Islam proves that Muslims, Christians, and Jews and other non Muslims [like Hindus in Moghal empire] lived together in dominant Islamic societies. The Spain was under the tyrannical, suppressive and corrupt rule of King Roderick, who in 710 through intrigue managed to become king. Roderick was a brute ruthless, tyrant and corrupt ruler, he faced a revolt of the Basques and was never recognized in the Northeast. The oppressed people contacted the Muslims for assistance against oppressor rule of Roderick, Count Julian also requested Musa bin Nasir, the Muslim governor of North Africa for help. He after getting approval of Caliph sent Tariq bin Zyad to Spain in 711 C.E, by 713 C.E Spain was under Muslim control. This rapid success can be explained by the fact that Hispano-Visigoth society welcomed the end of tyrannical rule of Roderick. The Jews, harassed by the legal ordinances of Toledo, were particularly hostile toward the Christian government. Moreover, the Muslim conquest brought advantages to many elements of society: Serfs who converted to Islam (mawali; singular: maula) advanced into the category of freedmen and enrolled among the dependents of some conquering noble. This group formed the majority of the population because during the first three centuries religious, social and economic motives induced a considerable number of natives to convert to Islam, there were no force conversions. Jews were no longer persecuted and were placed on an equal footing with the Hispano-Romans and Goths who still remained within the Christian fold. Thus, in the first half of the 8th century, there was born a new multi religious society in Muslim Spain.
In Spain under the Umayyads and in Baghdad under the Abbasid Khalifahs, Christians and Jews enjoyed a freedom of religion that they themselves never allowed for each other or anyone else. In contrast forced conversions to Catholicism have been documented at various points throughout history. The most prominently cited allegations are the conversions of the pagans during Emperor Constantine (306-337 C.E); of Muslims, Jews and Eastern Orthodox during the Crusades (1095-1291 C.E) ; of Jews and Muslims during the Spanish Inquisition; and of the Aztecs by Hernando Cortes in South America.
The Jews which fled from Spain during the Inquisition, were welcomed by the Muslims and they settled in the heart of the Islamic Ottomans Caliphate. They enjoyed positions of power and authority. In contrast the Muslims who lived in Christian Spain were persecuted and prejudiced against on account of their faith. When the 2nd Caliph Omar took Jerusalem from the Byzantines in 634 C.E, he insisted on entering the city with only a small number of his companions. Proclaiming to the inhabitants that their lives and property were safe, and that their places of worship would never be taken from them, he asked the Christian patriarch Sophronius to accompany him on a visit to all the holy places. The Patriarch invited him to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but he preferred to pray outside its gates, saying that if he accepted the invitation to pray in church, later generations of Muslims might use his action as an excuse to turn it into a mosque. A mosque was built on the spot where Omar prayed. The Christians entrusted the Muslims, and as such the key of the Church in Jerusalem kept in the hands of the Muslims.
Social Courtesies & Justice:
There are other social courtesies which Muslims are urged to extend to non Muslims: like the respect is to be extended to the non Muslim deceased; (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith: 2.399). Condolences are desirable, even if the deceased was a non-Muslim. It is permissible for a Muslim to visit a sick non-Muslim person. (Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Fiqh 4.5). The strong emphasis placed on the need to behave with equity towards minorities has been heeded by Muslims throughout the ages. Minorities in the Muslim State have always enjoyed a fair and kind treatment by the Muslim majority. On the personal level, there is nothing to stop any Muslim from forging a friendship with non-Muslims who harbour no ill intentions against Islam or its followers.
Any man or woman, of any race or faith, may, on accepting Islam, freely marry any Muslim woman or man, provided it be from motives of purity and chastity and not of lewdness. As always, food, cleanliness, social intercourse, marriage and other interests in life, are linked with the duty to Allah and faith in Him. Duty and faith are for individual’s own benefit, here and in the Hereafter.
Social intercourse, including eating (halal) food and marriage with women from the People of the Book is permitted by Islam. According to Qur’an: “This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers but chaste women among the People of the Book revealed before your time when ye give them their due dowers and desire chastity not lewdness nor secret intrigues.”(Qur’an; 5:5).
Islam looks after the interest of non believers with justice, the good deeds of non-believer will not be wasted. Narrated Anas ibn Malik: Allah's Apostle (peace be upon him) said about reward for a non-believer, that he would be made to taste the reward (of virtue in this world). (Sahih Muslim Hadith: 1305). The children of minorities (non-Muslims), are similar to the children of Muslims with respect to their entry into Paradise. (Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Fiqh 4.89a).
Islam guarantees full protection and security of the State including freedom to practice religion to all non Muslims. Human life of Muslims and non Muslims alike, has a very high place in Islam. The killing of innocent people is strictly prohibited, according to Qur’an: “if anyone slew a human being unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land it would be as if he slew the life of all mankind: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.”(Qur’an; 5:32). This commandment is not conditional to the killing of innocent Muslim but about killing of innocent human being (Al-nas). Killing is only permitted in state of war or through judiciary if some one commits some crime warranting such punishment. Violence through mob justice is totally against the teachings of Islam.
Muslims love Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) than their own self, which should be abundantly clear to the world if they know little about Muslims and history. The reaction in the Muslim world against publication of blasphemous caricatures a Dutch newspaper is enough indicator. The sectarianism has weakened the very foundations of Pakistan; even now the war with extremist elements is being fought by the soldiers of Pak Army, who are being martyred for the sake of peace and safety of citizens of Pakistan. The ruthless religious fanatics has no mercy even for their Muslim brothers, they kill innocent people through suicide bombers on the name of Islam. Hence under present circumstances the incidence of violence against minority non Muslims, should be considered as part of the larger scheme of terrorists and enemies of Pakistan to create anarchy to achieve their goals. The rough statistics show that there has been more blasphemy related incidences against Muslims than the minorities. Though any sane Muslim can not even think of such acts.
It appears that some people have the tendency to exploit the religious sensitivities of common Muslims to settle their scores or to achieve nefarious designs. The Christians and non Muslims living in Pakistan or elsewhere must understand the Muslim sensitivities and be extra conscious not to provide any opportunity to the fastidious elements to exploit. However any act of violence, against peaceful citizens cannot be condoned on any pretext. The culprits should be apprehended and those found negligent in protecting the citizens should be punished through the process of law, to avoid reoccurrence of such crimes. The media should play its part in educating the society to be tolerant, non violent and law abiding.
Tolerance and moderation which Muslims appears to lack now, has been the hallmark of Islam. Allah says: “We have made you (Muslims) a community of the middle way (keeping balance in extremes) so that you may testify against mankind and that your own Messenger may testify against you.”(Qur’an; 2:143). The English educationist and historian, Thomas Arnold observed: ‘During the Muslim rule, on the whole, the level of tolerance exhibited towards non Muslims was missing in Europe till modern times’. The Muslims as true followers of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and adherent of Qur’an, should be tolerant towards minorities and adhere to Shari’a (Islamic Law). The great scholar Marmaduke Pickthall was very right, when he wrote: "It was not until the Western nations broke away from their religious law that they became more tolerant, and it was only when the Muslims fell away from their religious law that they declined in tolerance".