New Age Islam
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Islam and Human Rights ( 16 Feb 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islam and the rights of the minorities

By Maulana Aslam Qadri,

During the life of Hadhrat Muhammad (PBUH), a delegation of Christian monks from St Catherine Monastery in Mt Sinai visited the Prophet (PBUH) and asked for some privileges for the Christian community living under the Islamic rule in written form. The Prophet(PBUH) readily granted them some privileges which are known as Prophet Muhammad’s Charter of Privileges to Christians and is preserved by them till today. An English translation of the Charter is being presented below:

This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

No compulsion is to be on them.

Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.

No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses.

Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.

The Muslims are to fight for them.

If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.

Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.

No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).

This charter is said to be the basis of human rights first envisioned by the Prophet (PBUH) and later adopted by the Western world. According to the Charter, the Christians  were allowed to have their own personal law, religious freedom, the freedom to build and maintain their churches, the freedom to appoint their own clergy etc. The Islamic state would protect them and fight for them against their enemies and no Muslim was allowed to damage their churches and force any Christian woman to marry him without her consent. And the Prophet (PBUH) said that the Charter would remain into effect till the Day of the Judgment.

The rightly guided caliphs followed this charter during their caliphate and torturing or harassing the minorities who were called dhimmies was strictly forbidden. When during the Crusades, Hadhrat Umar captured Jerusalem, he did not persecute the Christians and Jews of the town but made this announcement to allay the fears of the people in the town:

"This is the protection which the servant of God, 'Umar, the Ruler of the Believers has granted to the people of Eiliya [Jerusalem]. The protection is for their lives and properties, their churches and crosses, their sick and healthy and for all their coreligionists. Their churches shall not be used for habitation, nor shall they be demolished, nor shall any injury be done to them or to their compounds, or to their crosses, nor shall their properties be injured in any way. There shall be no compulsion for these people in the matter of religion, nor shall any of them suffer any injury on account of religion... Whatever is written herein is under the covenant of God and the responsibility of His Messenger, of the Caliphs and of the believers, and shall hold good as long as they pay Jizya [the tax for their defense] imposed on them."

In the Islamic state, the non-Muslims were exempted from taking part in military service and in lieu of that they paid the jizya tax. But it is also to be noted at the same time that this tax was imposed only on those who could afford to pay it. People who were poor or were rich and had gone bankrupt due to certain financial crisis were exempted from paying the jizya. Moreover, the old, the poor and the disabled among both Muslims and non-Muslims were paid allowances from the baitul maal (the state treasury). Those who criticise the practice of jizya should also remember that Muslims too had to pay the tax in form of Zakat.

There is a hadith that says, ““Whoever harms a non-Muslim (Dhimmi ) will not enter Paradise.” (Reported by Muslim). Thus Islam gurantees the rights of the minorities in an Islamic state and persecuting, torturing or harassing non-Muslims has been declared unIslamic.

There is a famous incident involving the governor of the province of Syria Hadhrat Umer (R.A.). The second caliph Hadhrat Umar(R.A.) had appointed Hadhrat Umer the governor of the province of Syria as he was a very pious and God fearing man. After his appointment, Hadhrat Umar did not get any information about him for as long as three years. He apprehended that Hadhrat Umer had become corrupt and plundered public money. So Hadhrat Umar (R.A.) asked him to come back. He came back on foot not using any conveyance in the capacity of a governor. Hadhrat Umar enquired about him and found that he had been doing his duties as a governor perfectly well under the sharia. Upon asked about his experience in Syria, he said, “ I performed my duties according to the injunctions of the Holy Quran and the Prophet (PBUH). But I have only one regret. Due to my arrogance as a governor, I once cursed a Jew.”

This shows how the sahaba and the people in power during the life of the Prophet (PBUH) and the caliphate, cared for the minorities because they knew that if they knowingly or unknowingly mistreated any member of the minority community, they would violate the covenant of God and the Charter of Privileges granted by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) incurring the displeasure of the holy Prophet (PBUH) and the wrath of God.

It is but very unfortunate that in most Islamic countries, this Charter of Privileges is being violated in the name of Islam. In Pakistan, the girls of the minority community are often abducted by the members of the majority community and forced to convert to Islam and marry without their consent. Their places of worship are demolished and all kinds of torture, insults and persecutions are meted out to them by Muslims. Hindus, Christians, Jews and followers of other religions are killed regularly creating fear and panic in their mind.

One important point in the Charter is that it starts with the phrase ‘This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah.’ It should be noted that he(PBUH) does not say ‘Muhammad Rasulullah’. It should be recalled that during the Sulah Hudaibia (The Hudaibia Accord) when the Prophet (PBUH) had agreed to all the conditions of the Quraish, they had objected to the use of the Phrase, “Muhammad Rasulullah” in the draft as they did not recognise him as a prophet. So he (PBUH) used the phrase ‘Muhammad bin Abdullah’ (Mohammad the son of Abdullah). But in the Charter of Privileges that the Prophet (PBUH) granted to the Christian monks too has the phrase ‘Muhammad ibn Abdullah’ and not ‘Muhammad Rasulullah’ (Muhammad the Prophet of God)’ though he was not under pressure. This shows his humility. He knew that the Christians did not accept him as the Prophet of God. So he respected their sentiments and did not write what they would not have liked.

It is time we Muslims should honour the Charter of Privileges granted to the minorities if we claim to be the beleivers in Islam and the follower of the Prophet (PBUH).