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The War Within Islam ( 18 Dec 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Minorities in Islamic States

By Rashid Samnakay,

18 Dec 2011

In the wake of recent drum beating getting louder by the day whether Islam should or should not enter politics, some pertinent questions about the worldview of Islam must be answered, if the answer to the question is to be--yes. One such question arises is that of the rights of minorities in an “Islamic” country. The quotation mark is deliberate to draw the attention of the reader to differentiate Quranic “Islam” from that called Islam/Islamic because a particular country is populated by majority of people who call themselves Muslims.

In this regard a stigma, perhaps quite rightly, is attached to “Islamic” State in terms of a Jizya- tax that is imposed on non-believers minority within that country according to Quran.

Poll tax—a special tax on individuals is ancient in its application. Roman Empire had it in the form of Tributum.  Also there is reference in Exodus to it as:

  Exodus, 30-13,16—“This is what all those will give who pass over to those numbered : a half shekel by the shekel of the holly place…..from 20 years old and upwards will give  Jehovah’s contribution…… rich and poor alike… to make atonement for your souls….”

In Europe in the Middle Ages it was applied many times and not to forget the poll tax which started the downfall of Mrs. Thatcher’s long running government in the UK.

And even more recently the apology offered by Hellen Clerk, New Zealand Prime Minister in 2002, to the Chinese people for the past discriminatory imposition of poll tax on them in that country. Thus poll tax is nothing new in the world history and not specific to Islamic States to be applied to it as a pejorative term.

It is argued here from the outset that Quranic “Islam” is not a Religion, with a Church and its hierarchy- the Clergy, but never the less is called a religion, generally as there is no other term to define ad-Deen-ul-Islam, that is, the code given in Quran covering all aspects of life including politics; as it affects a person’s every facet of life. It is therefore neither Secular nor Theocratic in the strictest meaning of the terms as understood today. A difficult concept to come to grips with, given the clear definitions in modern terms of ‘Secular’ and ‘Theocratic’ politics of governance.

“Islamic” State is based on a codified system in the scripture—Quran, for the community of people called Muslims to govern themselves with. It is a system based on God-consciousness (Taqwa) governing both an individual and also collectively for the functioning of society as a whole through the government, since the government is made up of individuals who are trusted to govern them. All aspects of individual and communal character and behaviour are integrated and impinge upon every aspect of life.

Hence only goodly actions (amillus salehat) are expected from all. Thus each and every unit of the society is a player in it; making no exception to the rule of shared responsibility and mutual obligations for the betterment and development (Salah and Falah) of the community. A sort of --one for all and all for one within the capacity of each to do good for goodness sake.

This Book is the Constitution of the “Islamic” State (5-51) on which day to day laws and regulations are enacted, in consultation (3-159), for all people, without exception to adhere to whether Muslims or not and rich or poor. Hence there is supposed to be no Elite class, religious or otherwise. All, including the politicians (ulil amri minkum) are part of the civil society, and their personal good character is what should determine their suitability for their positions,

These are the main differences between other political Isms and Islamic State, of which there is NO example today to name! The handful that have officially named themselves as Islamic and even those majority Muslim countries which have not, are a disgrace for the Muslim world at large! Their dismal record on Human Rights, Justice and protection of minorities, and unbelievable disparity of poverty one hand contrasted with obscene individual wealth on the other is long way off the mark to put it mildly in terms of Quranic Islam.

Let us look at the known few official Islamic States of today in the light of the above. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Mali, Mauritania, and may be one or two more, are cited as examples. Those majority Muslim countries which are not named officially as Islamic, for example the Saudis etc fare no better! The world view of these Muslim States is that they are backward, ignorant, and oppressive of the poor, women and minorities living within its borders. The glory of the monarchy or the circus of Democracy. If Deen is excised from politics, what is left is Genghis- ism! - Iqbal

Ideologically therefore, one stigma is that of Jizyah—the imposition on non-Muslims as given in Quran in Chapter Immunity at 9-29. Ironically this is the only place where Jizyah is referred. This Surah is based entirely on the conflict situation as it existed in the very early stages of the establishment of Muslim State in Madinah and different communities there were still very much at loggerheads with each other with non-compromising and acrimonious ideologies, which were addressed in the chapter.

It can therefore be argued that it would only be in such conflict situation where jizyah is applicable. Its imposition in later years was purely greed and economic necessity of the local provincial governors, often in opposition to the central authority to abolish it.

Most importantly it is not mentioned by the detractors of Jizyah that it gave immunity to minorities essentially from the requirement of fighting in the armies of the Muslim State against its enemies. In addition, the tax was levied only on free-born young men of military age, the poor were exempt, as well as those who were not independent or wealthy, who were slaves, women, children, the old, the sick, monks, or hermits!

Some scholars have argued that this tax was minimal in quantum to the compulsory Tax-Zakat, levied on Muslims, where others have argued equally that it was a heavier burden than that.

Since the issue of Jizyah is intricately linked to the politics of minorities and governance of a country, the definition of an “Islamic” State must be looked at a bit closely.

It hinges upon the answer to the question of rights of all people within it. For answer we must look at the underlying injunction in Qura’n, that is, for Muslim State/society.

That humanity as a whole is worthy of Dignity. And that Freedom, Justice, Equality and equity (including gender) and Security are essential rights to maintain that dignity. Hence, all the citizens of a Muslim country, including those ‘not of us’ but ‘amongst us’, must be guaranteed these rights by the State for the society as a whole. That is the creed of Quran.

But if Jews, Christians, Shia and Sunni etc and the others maintained acrimoniously their ‘religious values’ separate from those that Quran endorses, then it must stand to reason that they are ‘amongst us’ but ‘not of us’ and Qura’n therefore warns of the danger that lurks there-in of such ‘partisanship’ 30-32. Such partisanship could be against the interest of any State and therefore endangering its security and stability. Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter- 2-217, hence those amongst-us can not share the governing Power IF values held in religious frame work are different from that of the State. It causes tumult.

Professor Jared Diamond agrees in his book ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Penguin)’, says “Religious values are especially deeply held and are often the cause of disastrous behaviour”. Hence those ‘not of us’ can work for us but not share in the State Power. One assumes that this is what Queen Victoria meant when she proclaimed (1858) in the context of British Raj of India-“ … our subjects, of whatever race or creed, be freely and impartially admitted to office in our service, the duties of which they may be qualified by their education, ability, and integrity duly to discharge”. The implication being that no Indian will ever become viceroy of India, let alone the queen or king of Imperial India or even marry in the Royal family if not Anglican-Christian-English and white.

A recent example would be appropriate. M A Jinnah, the founding Father of Pakistan I believe, well understood the difference and had summarised the “Islamic” State (August 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan). It is said that he never used the word Secularism for Pakistan. But he is on record of having declared that he was “against setting up a theocratic state under mullah rule”, echoing exactly what Diamond expressed above. Obviously Jinnah meant to laicise the government’s administrative process to the lay public.

Unlike Kamal Ata Turk, who came from ‘religious’ early schooling in Turkey and wanted to set up an European style Secular State; Jinnah was not a product of religious upbringing in any sense; but had acquired much better and deeper understanding of the Quranic Deen in his latter life, and wished for an “Islamic” State. To him Pakistan was not created as a ‘Religious’ theocratic or Western Secular State.

In Jinnah’s defence one might venture to state that had it not been for Gandhi’s desire to establish himself as the religious Super Soul (Mahatma) and hence to be the Papacy (Bapuji) to fill in the niche’ that existed in South Asia—like the Pope in the West and Dalai Lama in the Far East; Jinnah would have agreed to form a political Federation with India. That is, both nations maintaining political unity with their respective national identity kept intact.

Following the arguments above, it is perhaps appropriate to designate the present day designated Islamic States simply as Muslim Majority States, for just that their population is largely Muslim. Similarly all the other governments are majority States, for they all have some form of ethno-religious bent and are therefore Theocratic States under the carpet. None fit the description of ‘Secular’ in its purity. They are all based on Elitism or ‘religious values’ or both. The Bible is the Book to take oaths on in most of the world. Communist Russia tried Secularism and failed, for bureaucratic elitism was equally rife there since ‘some were more equal than others’ and Orthodox Church deeply rooted in the Russian psyche!

The “Islamic” State is therefore neither Secularist nor Theocratic, nor is it ‘something in the middle’ as alleged by the apologist for the Islamic States. Equally to interpret an ‘Islamic State’ in the time-frame of its ‘past’ or historic ‘traditions’ as is done by the political Islamist movements now, is also to limit its scope. The ability of the Governments to adopt policies and adapt to the new age by adhering to the universal values, which are the same as today’s Universal Human Rights values, is an “Islamic” State. In the phraseology of verse13-17 while that which is for the good of mankind remains on the Earth is Islamic State. In the total context of the Book, unfortunately, all Muslim majority States of today fall very short of its teachings.

And that must be taken into consideration now when the newly hard fought freedoms in Muslim world endeavour to set up so called Islamic States- that is, their Sharia other than that of Quran, otherwise the revolution is lost to various vested interests and hate groups both internal and external!

The protection and security of minorities in Muslim majority countries must be fully guaranteed to qualify to be called an “Islamic” State and thus gain grass root support and universal respect. But then one may logically ask that, if any country is run on Quranic constitution, DOES IT HAVE TO BE OFFICIALLY DESIGNATED “ISLAMIC”?

Rashid Samnakay is an Indian-origin Engineer (Retd.) based in Australia for over forty years.