By Wael Salem
June 18, 2013
Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: “And We have not sent you but as a mercy to all the worlds.” (21:107)
When a person comprehends the legislations of Islam with an open mind, the mercy mentioned in this verse will definitely become apparent. One of the aspects constituting an epitome of this mercy is the way the legislations of Islam deal with people of other faiths. The tolerant attitude of Islam towards non-Muslims, those residing in their own countries or within the Muslim lands, can be clearly seen through an accurate study of Islamic history. This fact is not only purported by Muslims, but also by many non-Muslim historians.
Patriarch Ghaytho, a Christian historian analysing the attitudes of Islamic religion towards non-Muslims, wrote:
“The Arabs, to whom the Lord has given control over the world, treat us as you know; they are not the enemies of Christians. Indeed, they praise our community, and treat our priests and saints with dignity, and offer aid to churches and monasteries.”
Will Durant, a prolific American writer, historian and philosopher, wrote:
“At the time of the Umayyad caliphate, Christians and Jews enjoyed a degree of tolerance that we do not find even today in Christian countries. They were free to practise the rituals of their religions and their churches and temples were preserved. They enjoyed autonomy in which they were subject to the religious laws of the scholars and judges.”
According to Dr. Saleh Al-Aayed, General Secretary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs of Saudi Arabia, these just and comprehensive relations between Muslims and people of other faiths were not due to mere politics played by Muslim rulers, but rather they were a direct result of the teachings of the religion of Islam, which preaches that people of other religions be free to practice their own faith, only accepting the guidance offered by Islam by their own choice.
God says in the Holy Qur’an:
There is no compulsion in religion...” (2:256)
Not only does Islam demand their freedom to practice religion, but also they are treated justly as any other fellow humans. Above all, Islam warns against any abuse of non-Muslims. The Messenger of Allah, who is the last prophet on the earth, stated:
“Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, curtails their rights, burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment”.
The Islamic Sharia, which is the legal and moral code of Islam, does not confine itself to giving rights to Muslims only. One of its distinguishing features is that non-Muslims enjoy many of these rights and obligations. This aspect of religion is unique to Islam, and perhaps has not been attained by any other world religions. If we look at Christianity, for example, Professor Joseph Heath of the University of Toronto, says, ‘It should go without saying that you can scour the Bible and not find one single mention of “rights.” You can also pick through the following 1,500 years of Christian thought without finding any rights. That’s because the idea is entirely absent’.
Islam emphasises that the origin of all humanity is one; therefore, all human beings have certain rights over one another.
God says: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (and not hate one another). Surely, the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who) is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (49:13)
Above all, Prophet Mohamed (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) declared in his farewell sermon, addressing the largest gathering in Arab history:
“People, hear that your Lord is One, and that your father is One. You must know that no Arab has superiority over a non-Arab, no non-Arab has superiority over an Arab, or a red man over a black man, or a black man over a red man, except in terms of what each person has of piety. Have I delivered the message?”
An example of the preservation of the human dignity of non-Muslims is the right that their feelings be respected. They are shown good manners in speech and debate in obedience to the divine command:
‘And dispute you not with the People of the Scripture, except in the best way, unless it be with those who do wrong, but say, ‘We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; our God and your God is One; and it is to Him we submit (in Islam).’ (21:46)
Non-Muslims have the right not to have their religious beliefs mocked. It may not be an exaggeration to state that no other religion or sect in the world is as fair as Islam to people of other faiths.
God has also prevented Muslims from speaking ill of the gods and deities worshipped by non-Muslims so that they do not speak ill of the One, True God. It will be difficult to find a similar example in any scripture of the major world religions. If the polytheists were to hear Muslims speak ill of their gods, it might lead them to speak ill of Allah (the personal and proper Name of God). Also, if Muslims were to speak ill of pagan gods, it might instigate the polytheists to soothe their wounded feelings by hurting the feelings of Muslims. Such a scenario is against human dignity of both sides and would lead to mutual rejection and hatred. God says in the Qur’an:
“Do not revile those whom they call upon besides God, lest they revile God out of spite in their ignorance. Thus, We have made alluring to each people its own doings. In the end will they return to their Lord and He shall then tell them the truth of what they did.” (6:108).