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How Did the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) Treat non-Muslims in his State? An Analysis to Clear the Prevailing Misconceptions (Part 1)



By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

09 December, 2014

A Historical Account

Al-Ukhdood, previously known as Raqmat, is a city with ancient roots. It is situated in the Najran province in south-western Saudi Arabia, and is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the country. It has been mentioned in the Qur’anic Surah “al-Buruj”, where persecutions against the Christians are explicitly condemned and the steadfast believers are praised: “slain were the men of the pit (Al-Ukhdood)” (Quran 85:4–8).

While reading the tafseer (explanation) of Surah al-Buruj, it is thrilling to note that in the tenth year of the Hijrah, a delegation of 14 Christian chieftains and bishops from Najran came to Medina to enter into a treaty with the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) not only welcomed them with open arms but also permitted them to pray in his mosque, the Masjid-e Nabawi. The Christian delegation prayed in the Prophet’s mosque, turning towards the east, their qibla or direction of prayer.

This glorious instance of the Prophet’s religious tolerance cannot be discarded by any Muslim sect, as it has been authenticated by numerous erudite Islamic scholars of great repute, including Imam al-Qurtubi (in his Tafseer Jame' Li Ahkamil Quran), Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jauziya (in his book Zadul Ma'ad), and Imam Ibn Kathir (in his Tafseer Ibn-e Kathir).

Although this single instance suffices for us to accept the truth of the Prophet’s mercy, compassion, kindness and religious tolerance towards non-Muslims, one can cite several other such instances to highlight this fact.  Yet, neither hardened Islamophobes nor fanatic Jihadists and adherents of other such extremist cults are willing to accept the prophetic precedents as a basis for religious tolerance in Islam. They falsely claim that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) welcomed Christians and allowed them to pray in his mosque because he hoped that they would accept him as prophet and would give up their faiths. Thus, they wrongly claim that the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to lure them into his own faith by exhibiting a semblance of tolerance. They further claim that this supposed wish of the Prophet  was not realized, and so the  Quran as well as the Prophet’s stand regarding them took an opposite turn. In their bid to back this fabricated theory of theirs, both the anti-Islam tribes (Islamophobes and Jihadists) refer to some hadith reports that speak of Jews being deported from Madina. These Jews were actually relocated from Khyber and Fadak to Tayma and Ariha. Like the first two mentioned places, Tayma and Ariha  were also considered part of the Arabian Peninsula, and yet, it is instructive to note, the Jewish tribes were allowed to settle there.

Cases in Point

The fact, however, is that the Prophet (pbuh) allowed Christians to pray in his mosque hoping that the culture of religious tolerance might prevail among Muslims and non-Muslims, notably Christians and Jews. His noble conduct and kindness towards the People of the Book, both the Christaians and Jews, is well documented. Had the Prophet (pbuh) displayed tolerance towards non-Muslims in order to charm them to accept Islam and give up their previous beliefs, as some argue, the question arises as to why he exhibited exemplary character towards the pagans, idolaters and People of the Book before proclaiming his prophethood in Makkah?  What did he want from the many Jews and Christians whom he treated so kindly that they became his huge fans and great lovers despite continuing to follow their previous religions? Is it not common knowledge that the Prophet visited an ailing Jewish neighbour who used to throw garbage in his way? And, one must ask, for what reason did the Prophet (pbuh) respect the funeral of a Jew?  Did he expect from a dead Jew to accept him as a prophet and give up his Jewish beliefs?

Let us not forget many other wonderful instances of the Prophet’s kindness, mercy, compassion and tolerance towards the People of the Book, Jews and Christians, as well as other non-Muslims. For instance, when the Prophet (pbuh) received the first revelation of the Quran, on Mount Hira, he rushed back home to his wife, Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid. She suggested the Prophet (pbuh) to consult her cousin, Waraqah ibn Naufal, who was a wise and elderly Christian priest. According to numerous authentic sources, Waraqah asked, "O my nephew! What have you seen?", and the Prophet described whatever he had seen. Waraqah said, "This is the same one who keeps the secrets [the angel Gabriel] whom Allah had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would turn you out." The Prophet of Allah asked, "Will they drive me out?" Waraqah replied in the affirmative and said, "Anyone (prophet) who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility; and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would support you strongly."

(Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 1, Number 3, Narrated by Aisha. See also Volume 6, Book 60, Number 478; and Volume 9, Book 87, Number 111; and Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 301)

And so, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) consulted with an elderly and well-versed Christian priest about the divine inspiration that he had received. This is how Prophet (pbuh) treated Christian elders—with respect—while considering the younger ones with kindness and compassion, believing that the lineage of both Islamic and Christian faiths was in full synergy through their scriptures. Similarly, he treated the Jews amicably. He had great regard for learned and pious Jewish rabbis. It was due to his magnanimity towards the practitioners of Judaism that Abdullah ibn Salam, a learned rabbi, and his companions accepted his prophethood and embraced Islam.

Consider another wonderful illustration of the Prophet’s kindness towards people of other faiths. A  Jewish boy loved the Prophet (pbuh) so dearly that he used to serve him regularly. He would bring him water for his ablutions, get him his sandals and run errands for him. And when the boy fell sick, the Prophet (pbuh) went to his home to visit him.

According to the Musnad Ahmad: When the Prophet (pbuh) entered the house along with his companions Abu Bakr and Umar (r.a), he found the Jewish boy's father reading the Torah alongside his bed to comfort his son's soul. Due to the presence of the Prophet (pbuh), the man closed the Torah. The Prophet (pbuh) asked the man: "By the One (God) who revealed the Torah, do you read in it news about me and about my advent or not?" The father of the Jewish boy shook his head in negation. Upon seeing this, his dying son spoke up and said, "I swear by the One who revealed the Torah that we find in our book the news of your characteristics and your advent, and bear witness that you are the Messenger of God."

(To be continued)

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary in India, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired a Diploma in Qur'anic Arabic from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia (Faizabad, U.P.), and a Certificate in Uloom ul-Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies (Badaun, U.P.). He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons.), and is pursuing his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.