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The Rights of Non-Muslims in Islam (Part III)



By Wael Salem

June 28, 2013

“O you who believe!  Persistently stand firm in justice, witnesses of Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives.  Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy than both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you be unjust. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], indeed Allah is ever acquainted with what you do.” (Quran 4:135)

Under Islamic law, non-Muslim pursuit of justice is multifaceted. Islam offers the right of minority communities to stand before self-administered courts, but it also guarantees them equal justice if they choose to present their case to an Islamic court.  God says:

“So, if they come to you, (O Muhammad), judge between them, or turn away from them.  And if you turn away from them - never will they harm you at all. And if you judge, judge between them with justice. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” (Quran 5:42)

For instance, if a Muslim were to steal from a non-Muslim, he would be liable to the same punishment as the non-Muslim would have been had he stolen from the Muslim. Similarly, a Muslim is liable to receive a sentence for defamation if he slanders a man or woman protected under this covenant.

The Holy Quran states: “Indeed, We have revealed to you, (O Muhammad), the book in truth so you may judge between the people by that which God has shown you. And do not advocate for the deceitful. And seek forgiveness of God. Indeed, God is ever forgiving and merciful.    And do not argue on behalf of those who deceive themselves. Indeed, God loves not one who is a habitually sinful deceiver. They conceal [their evil intentions and deeds] from the people, but they cannot conceal [them] from God, and He is with them (in His knowledge) when they spend the night in such as He does not accept of speech. And God ever is encompassing in what they do. Here you are - those who argue on their behalf in [this] worldly life - but who will argue with God for them on the Day of Resurrection, or who will [then] be their representative?” (Quran 4:105-109)

The Quran instructs Muslims to treat non-Muslims courteously and with the spirit of kindness and generosity:

“God does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion and did not drive you out of your homes. Verily God loves those who deal with equity.” (Quran 60:8)

These Divine commandments regarding proper treatment of non-Muslims must be taken seriously by Muslims. Obviously, these verses were not revealed merely for recitation, but rather reflect a Divine will that should be acted upon. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is an exemplary figure in this regard as the first person to actuate these divine commands in Islamic society. He set the precedent for subsequent caliphs – rulers of the Islamic empire – and set an example for the general population of believers.

Historical accounts of Prophet Muhammad’s life give us insight into the attitudes of kindness and coexistence between early Muslim society and non-Muslims. For example we are told of how the Prophet treated his non-Muslim neighbours. A number of accounts tell of his generosity towards them, how he exchanged gifts with them to maintain an amicable relationship. The Prophet would visit them when they fell ill and would trade with them. One account tells of a poor Jewish family to whom he regularly gave charity. After his death, the Muslim community continued charitable work towards them.

When a Christian delegation from Ethiopian churches came to Medina, the Prophet opened up his mosque for them to stay in, hosted them generously, and personally served them meals.  He was quoted as saying, “They were generous to our companions, so I wish to be generous to them in person.” Early in Islamic history, Ethiopian Christians provided asylum to a number of the Prophet’s companions and earliest followers who fled persecution in Arabia and took asylum in Abyssinia. 

Historically, we see examples of Muslim rulers following through with this vital Islamic value. Regarding the governance of Jews, the Sultan of Morocco, Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, issued the following edict on February 5th, 1864 CE:

“To our civil servants and agents who perform their duties as authorised representatives in our territories, we issue the following edict: ‘They must deal with the Jewish residents of our territories according to the absolute standard of justice established by God.  The Jews must be dealt with by the law on an equal basis with others so that none suffers the least injustice, oppression, or abuse.”

Western historians such as Renault acknowledge the fair treatment of Muslims towards non-Muslim minorities. He notes that ‘the Muslims in the cities of Islamic Spain treated the non-Muslims in the best possible way.  In return, the non-Muslims showed respect to the sensibilities of the Muslims and would circumcise their own children and refrain from eating pork.’

 These are a mere few instances of proper implementation of Islamic tradition. Muslims today must continue to follow through with the example of the Prophet and carry out the Divine ordinances of love, respect, kindness, and coexistence among human society that He commanded in the Quran.


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