The topic of the rights of non-Muslims in Islam has the potential to capture the interest of Muslims and non Muslims alike. Even more so, in a day and age in which Muslims are mostly clueless on how to treat non Muslim minorities living in Muslim lands or societies. Ignorance is not without its grave consequences. A Muslim is bound to commit injustices if his knowledge and actions are not in harmony with the pristine teachings of the Quran and Sunnah. And the case of treatment to non Muslims is no different.
Islam has enshrined the twin inseparable qualities of mercy and justice into all its affairs. Anything from which these two qualities are removed is not Islam. Allah sent the last and final Messenger (PBUH) as a mercy to mankind, as stated in Surah Al Anbya. It was the Prophet’s (PBUH) dealings with non Muslim that won him their admiration and acceptance.
The real conquest in the early stages of Islam alongside the conquest of Mecca was that of human hearts. Muslim ignorance of non Muslim rights and their ill treatment of minorities has deprived non-Muslims of a real understanding of the beauty and truth of Islam. Hence, what are the rights of non-Muslims in Islam?
For starters, as stated by the Prophet (PBUH), in Sunan Abi Dawud; one who shows cruelty and harshness to a non believing minority, restricts their rights, burdens them beyond their capability, or takes from them without obtaining their permission, will face the Prophet’s (PBUH) complaint on the Last Day.
Non-Muslims have a right to their own beliefs
As stated in Surah Al Baqarah, when it comes to faith, there is no compulsion. The high moral ground on human rights taken by Islam shall remain unparalleled until the end of times. Reason being that its source was God and not imperfect human intellect.
When a constitution was drawn up in the first ever Islamic state founded in Medina, one of its fundamental principles was to protect the places of worship of the Jews and Christians living in its vicinity. Thus, not only were they free to practice their faith but were also guaranteed protection for their places of worship as a mark of mutual respect.
The Quranic revelation took this large heartedness even a step further. Allah the All Wise revealed in Surah Al An’am that believers should not insult entities or things worshipped by the disbelievers, so that they don’t retaliate by abusing Allah. This demonstrates the fair and liberal approach that Islam ratifies. One that can rival all the narrow-minded positions taken by nations across the globe in our times.
Above all, Islam is the only religion that renders it an article of faith to honor and respect all Prophets of God unconditionally. There is no question of any Muslim disparaging the Prophets of Judaism or Christianity, etc. On the contrary, the vivid details given in the Quran about each Prophet’s life help Muslims develop a strong bond with them. In Surah Yunus, we learn that people’s acceptance of the truth is based on Allah’s will, for He can guide whoever He wills.
Non-Muslims have a right to being dealt with justly
In Surah An Nisa, Allah calls on believers to persevere in being just. A notable incident that took place during Umar’s caliphate bears testimony to the principled stand taken by the early Muslims. Amr ibn al As was a Sahabi (Companion) and the governor of Egypt. One of his sons beat up a Coptic Christian while boasting about being a nobleman’s son. The Copt took his complaint to Caliph Umar (R.A) after escaping imprisonment.
The righteous Caliph asked for the guilty party of father and son to be produced before him. When they appeared, he gave the Egyptian Copt a whip and asked him to beat the nobleman’s son with it. The son was beaten until justice had been served. Umar then turned to Amr and reprimanded him for enslaving people whom Allah had created free.
The same equitable Umar Ibn al Khattab upon being appointed Caliph had proclaimed that those who are weak will become strong as he obtains what is their right for them, while those who are powerful will be rendered weak as he will seize from them what doesn’t rightfully belong to them.
Non-Muslims are guaranteed protection of their places of worship
Not only does Islam assure religious freedom to non-Muslim minorities, but it also promises to protect their places of worship. This is one of the most important rights of non-Muslims. It was once again the rightly guided Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar, who went on to set the example. According to Tabari, Abu Bakr (RA) instructed Usama Ibn Zaid, in the first example, to do ten things.
He said to not slay any women, children, or elderly people. He said not to cut down food trees, vandalize home, or hurt sheep or camels unless for eating. Furthermore, he forbade the drowning or burning of palm trees, treason, cowardice, and to leave the people who are committed to monastery life.
Umar’s (RA) treaty with the people of Ilya of Jerusalem, as per Tabari, is the second. He guaranteed them personal safety, and safety of their belongings, places of worship, crucifixes, and the people withing, regardless of their health, along with all the people in their community. Their places of worship would not be taken over or taken down, and nothing will be taken from them.
The vindictive characteristics in the people of our times are in sharp contrast to noble ideals upheld by righteous Caliphs. How often does one hear of a church, temple, synagogue, or a mosque that has been razed to the ground?
Islam came to uplift and inspire mankind
This freedom of worship and judging by their laws served to ensure the peaceful coexistence of society. Islam came to uplift and inspire men and not to undermine or demoralize them. Tyranny and oppression are looked down upon by Islam. Thus, the rights of non-Muslims are enshrined in Islam.
Non Muslims living in Muslim lands are not required to be ruled by Islamic laws. They are also exempted from paying the Zakat or compulsory military service. They may freely observe their civil law in affairs like marriage, divorce, etc. The Prophet (PBUH) allowed people to be judged according to the tenets of their scripture. This is in stark contrast to how non Muslims and minorities are treated in the Muslim world today.
Meanwhile, upholding justice is a virtuous act that helps one draw closer to Allah’s pleasure. As we are told in Surah Al Mumtahanah, Allah wants believers to be kind and fair in how they deal with those who don’t fight them due to religion or drive them out of their homes.