By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam
27 April 2017
Islam has consistently and universally promoted human rights and freedoms as fundamental to human development. As a scripture, the Qur’an is meant to be universal, and clearly speaks to all of humanity:
“O mankind! We have created you from a single (pair) of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most pious of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)” [Q49:13].
This single Qur’anic verse is alone a testament to the foundation of diversity and pluralism in Islam
A striking example of central values of Islamic pluralism is found in Islam’s earliest socio-political context. Muhammad came to Yathrib (later renamed Medina) to act as an arbitrator among various warring factions in the city. His leadership and and socio-political vision was subsequently outlined in the Mithaq al-Madinah, the Contract of Medina.
This contract placed all groups within the city into a mutual alliance in which they agreed to protect the city, to come to the aid of allies, and to embrace Muhammad as a political and military leader. This alliance was in no way contingent upon religious affiliation or homogeneity. There was no obligation to adhere to the religious rites practiced by Muhammad, and in fact, religious communities were explicitly granted rights to autonomy and self-determination.
Muhammad’s letter to the Christian monks also includes advice on how Christian judges are not to be removed from their offices, nor are the monks to be forced out of their monasteries. “No one is to destroy a house of their religion,” the Prophet reiterated, “or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.” He added: “Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.”
Among all the scriptures of the theistic religions the Qur’an is unique in that it sets its worldview within the context of divine Oneness and human diversity, including the plurality of religions. First , it regards religious diversity as one of the signs (ayat) of God, second in importance to the “creation of the heavens and earth.”(Q 2:213 and 5:48)
The Qur’an does not directly and categorically deny the validity and truth of any religion. Rather it is concerned with individuals and nations and their faith (Imām), or rejection of faith (Kufr) in God, witnessing (shahādah) to His Oneness (tawhīd) and acceptance of humankind’s accountability before Him on the Day of Judgment.
The Qur’an presents its view of religious pluralism in a somewhat progressive manner. In a preliminary statement it merely enumerates the religions known to the Prophet’s audience and leaves the question of their truth for God to judge on the Day of Resurrection. It states: “Surely those who have accepted faith [that is the Muslims], those who are Jews, the Sabaeans, the Christians, the Magians and those who have associated other gods with God, God will judge among them on the Day of Resurrection. God is witness over all things.”(Q. 22:17)
The verse first lists the legitimate religions and then mentions those who associate other beings with the worship of God as people without a legitimate religion. God says, “We did aforetime send messengers before you. Of them, there are some whose story we have related to you, and some whose story we have not related to you.” (Q40:78.)
The Qur’an mentions only twenty-five prophets. Five of these are called Ulu al-‘Azm (prophets of power or strong resolve). They were sent by God as messengers not only to their own people, but to all of humankind.7There is no great difficulty in identifying such prophets in the monotheistic traditions, namely Judaism, original Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Arabia before Islam.
The Quran asserts that monotheistic religions derive from the Divine: “The same religion He has established for you is as that which He enjoined on Noah — and what We now reveal to you — and enjoined on Abraham, Moses, Jesus, saying, ‘Establish the religion and do not become divided therein'” (Q42:13).
The Qur’an further states, “Say, ‘We believe in God and in that which He has revealed to us and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, the descendants and that which was revealed to Moses, Jesus and that which was revealed to the prophets from their Lord, We make no difference between one and another and we bow in submission to Him'” (Q2:136).
Thus, the Qur’an makes the belief in all the prophets — from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to Jesus — incumbent upon Muslims. All those profits should be respected, as should their followers. The Quran instructs, “Help one another in benevolence and piety, and help not one another in sin and transgression” (Q5:2).
Islamic doctrine provides for religious freedom. The Qur’an is very emphatic, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Q2:256) and “Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe?” (Q10:99) Neither the Qur’an nor the Prophetic tradition demands of Jews and Christians that they give up their religious identity and become Muslims unless they freely choose to do so. This is a categorical command, not just a statement.
Islam prohibits oppression irrespective of the faith, gender, race or economic status of the victim or perpetrator. The Quran instructs, "Help one another in benevolence and piety, and help not one another in sin and transgression" (Q5:2).
Muslims are thus spiritually prohibited from oppressing the adherents of other faith groups. Thus, killings, mutilation, burnings, discrimination and violence against minority religious communities by Muslims are wrong.
Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad’s trusted advisors, is on record stating, “The most important foundation of a truly Muslim country is justice and equality for all. In fact, a country that is bereft of justice and equality, though it may be inhabited by Muslims, is not really a Muslim country at all”.et's start with Dhimmi. Dhimmi is a historical term referring to non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim state. The word literally means "one whose responsibility is taken" or "people with whom a covenant or compact has been made." Dhimmi describes citizens of a Muslim state afforded security over their persons, property, and religious practice in return for a tax (the jizya). Historically, when empires won battles and wars, common people were subjugated, looted, and forced to work as laborers and serve in the military. Islam did away with such practices by affording all non-Muslim subjects the special Dhimmi status.
Regarding Dhimmis Prophet Muhammad said, "If anyone wrongs a man with whom a covenant has been made [i.e., a Dhimmi], or curtails any right of his, or imposes on him more than he can bear, or takes anything from him without his ready agreement, I shall be his adversary on the Day of Resurrection."
Prophet Muhammad also made it clear that protecting the lives and honor of Dhimmis was the responsibility of the Muslims, and failing in this regard would incur God's wrath: "Whoever killed a Mu'ahid (a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims, i.e. a Dhimmi) shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of traveling)." (5) At the conquest of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad had the upper hand against those who had persecuted him for more than two decades. He could have silenced his enemies forever. Instead, he turned to the Meccans and declared, "I say to you what the Prophet Joseph said to his brothers: 'No blame against you! You are free.'"
When Umar, conquered Jerusalem, he entered into a pact with all inhabitants of the city, declaring:
“In the name of Allah ), the most Gracious, most Beneficent. This is a covenant of peace granted by the slave of Allah ), the commander of the faithful 'Umar to the people of Jerusalem. They are granted protection for their lives, their property, their churches, and their Crosses, in whatever condition they are. All of them are granted the same protection. No one will dwell in their churches, nor will they be destroyed and nothing will be reduced of their belongings. Nothing shall be taken from their Crosses or their property. There will be no compulsion on them regarding their religion, nor will any one of them be troubled.”
A Dhimmi assassinated Umar in 644 CE. Rather than lashing out against Dhimmis, at his deathbed, Umar specifically ordered:
“I urge him (i.e. the new Caliph) to take care of those non-Muslims who are under the protection of Allah and His Messenger 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.”
The past sometimes provides examples of glory and success that serve as models .Islamic Spain lasted longer than the Roman Empire. It marked a period and a place where for hundreds of years a relative religious tolerance prevailed in medieval Europe. Muslim Spain is model of authentic Islamic pluralism.
At its peak, this Spain lit the Dark Ages with science and philosophy, poetry, art, and architecture. It was the period remembered as a golden age for European Jews. Breakthroughs in medicine, the introduction of the number zero, the lost philosophy of Aristotle, even the prototype for the guitar all came to Europe through Islamic Spain.
Not until the Renaissance was so much culture produced in the West. And not until relatively recent times has there been the level of pluralism and religious tolerance that existed in Islamic Spain at its peak. Just as the vibrancy and creativity of America is rooted in the acceptance of diversity, so was it then.
Because Islam's prophet Muhammad founded his mission as a continuation of the Abrahamic tradition, Islamic theology gave special consideration to Jews and Christians. To be sure, there were limits to these accommodations, such as special taxes levied on religious minorities. But in the early Middle Ages, official tolerance of one religion by another was an amazingly liberal point of view. This acceptance became the basis for Islamic Spain's genius. Indeed, it was an important reason Islam took hold there in the first place.
When the first Muslims crossed the straits of Gibraltar into Spain, the large Jewish population there was enduring a period of oppression by the Roman Catholic Visigoths. The Jewish minorities rallied to aid the Arab Muslims as liberators, and the divided Visigoths fell.
The conquering Arab Muslims remained a minority for many years, but they were able to govern their Catholic and Jewish citizens by a policy of inclusiveness. Even as Islam slowly grew over the centuries to be the majority religion in Spain, this spirit was largely, if not always perfectly, maintained.
Pluralistic though it was, Islamic Spain was no democracy. After years of enlightened leadership, a succession of bad leaders caused the unified Muslim kingdom to fragment among many smaller petty kingdoms and fiefdoms.
Though they competed and fought, the spirit of pluralism continued. Indeed, it thrived as rival kings sought the best minds in the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish worlds for their courts. This was just as true in the Christian petty kingdoms, as the Muslim ones. Christian and Muslim armies even fought alongside each other against mutual rivals of both faiths.
The history of Islamic Spain is a model for interfaith cooperation that inspires those who seek an easier relationship among the three Abrahamic faiths.
What then is the challenge that the Qur’an presents to us today? The challenge is this, that we all have faith in God and compete with one another in righteous works. It follows from this challenge that people of diverse faiths respect one another and that they believe in all of God’s revelations. The Qur’an presents the followers of all three monotheistic religions not only with a great challenge, but with a great promise as well. The promise is this:
“Were the people of the Book to abide by the Torah, the Gospel and that which was sent down to them from their lord [i.e. the Qur’an], they would be nourished with provisions from above them and from beneath their feet” [Q. 5:65-6.]
Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decade.
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