By Wael Salem
June 21, 2013
It is needed to reveal to those who do not share the same belief that the verses of the Holy Qur’an as well as the prophet’s traditions and sayings stress the fact that Islam (which literally means “peace”) stands for universal peace and prosperity. It aims at the advancement of humanity in general. The message of peace advocated by the Qur’an is addressed to the entire human family, not to Muslims alone.
Islam orders Muslims to deal kindly and justly with all non-Muslims as long as they do not oppose or oppress Muslims or place obstacles in the way of spreading Islam. Religious differences are matters for God’s decision-making; we are not allowed to judge each other. We are responsible for neither punishing nor rewarding anyone because of his faith. Islam does not compel people of other faiths to convert. It has given them complete freedom to retain their own faith and not to be forced to embrace Islam. This freedom is proved in both the Qur’an and the prophetic teachings known as Sunnah. God addresses the Prophet Muhammad in the Qur’an:
“And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed, all of them together. So, will you (O Muhammad) then compel mankind, until they become believers?” (Yunus: 99)
Not only does Islam make provisions for religious freedom to non-Muslims, but also it makes legal provisions to preserve their places of worship. Allah (Glory be to Him) says in the Qur’an:
“(They are) those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, ‘Our Lord is God.’ And was it not that God checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of God is much mentioned (praised). And God will surely support those who support Him (meaning His cause). Indeed, God is Powerful and Exalted in Might.” (Qur’an 22:40)
It is worthwhile to emphasise the following point. The existence of non-Muslims for centuries across the Muslim world, from Moorish Spain and Sub-Saharan Africa to Egypt, Syria, India, and Indonesia are clear evidence of the religious tolerance extended by Islam to people of other faiths. This tolerance even led to the elimination of Muslims, such as in Spain, where the remaining Christians took advantage of Muslim weakness, attacked them, and wiped them out from Spain by either killing them, forcing them to convert, or expulsion.
Etienne Denier wrote, “The Muslims are the opposite of what many people believe. They never used force outside of the Hejaz (the Western part of Arabia that includes the cities of Mecca and Medina). The presence of Christians was evidence of this fact. They retained their religion in complete security during the eight centuries that the Muslims ruled their lands. Some of them held high posts in the palace in Córdoba (capital of the historic Caliphate of Córdoba), but when the same Christians obtained power over the country, suddenly their first concern was to exterminate Muslims.”
Non-Muslims in Islamic states have the right to be protected from all sorts of aggression, whether external or internal.
If enemies from other countries attack non-Muslims of any denomination in an Islamic state, Muslims were asked to fight in order to protect the freedom of religious worship of the non-Muslims.
The famous Islamic scholar Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in his book Ula An-Nuha states: “The ruler of the Muslim community is bound to protect the non-Muslims and to save them from aggression.”
The Islamic state has to protect the non-Muslims’ property. There is no difference between Muslim and non-Muslim citizen in respect of the civil or criminal law although an Islamic state will not interfere with the personal rights of non-Muslims. If any Muslim tries to curtail the rights of non-Muslims, the prophet says that he would be a complainant against such a Muslim on the Day of Judgment. Non-Muslims in Islamic states enjoy all their rights of ownership, sale, transfer, grant and mortgage of their property like any Muslim.
Ali Ibn Abi Taleb (May Allah’s blessings be upon him), the fourth caliph, once said about the rights of non-Muslims to their property: “They have accepted the position of Dhimmis (those who embrace Christianity) on the explicit understanding that their properties and their lives will remain sacred like those of ours (i.e. the Muslims)”
Islamic history is full of instances where the general Muslim population was aware of the rights of non-Muslim minorities and would demand justice for them from their rulers. Waleed Ibn Yazeed, an Omayyad caliph, exiled the inhabitants of Cyprus and forced them to settle in Syria. The scholars of Islam did not approve his move at the time and declared it to be oppression. They brought the issue up with his son when he became caliph so that the people could be resettled in their native land once again. He agreed to the proposal, and is thus known to be one of the fairest rulers of the Umayyad dynasty.
Secular writers and historians have been compelled to acknowledge the justice of Islam towards non-Muslims. The British historian, H.G. Wells, wrote the following:
“They (the Muslims) established great traditions of just tolerance. They inspire people with a spirit of generosity and tolerance, and are humanitarian and practical. They created a humane community in which it was rare to see cruelty and social injustice, unlike any community that came before it.”