Friday, August 14, 2009

Islam and Minorities

Dated: 09 August 2009
By Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri

Words fail to express the feelings of horror and grief one experienced while watching the scenes of mayhem, destruction of homes and the burning of seven people alive on TV channels in the Gojra city of Punjab. What made it all the more poignant was the fact that people, inspired by religious fervour and egged on by the so-called religious clerics having half-baked understanding of Islam, were doing everything our great religion condemned and ordained its followers against. Thus through their actions, these people brought a bad name not only to Pakistan but also Islam. Displaying sheer ignorance of Islamic teachings, they handed down a justification to those elements who are, otherwise, bent on demonizing Islam by invoking such incidents as the representation of what Islam stands for. It is high time we introspected ourselves and went back to the teachings of Islam vis-à-vis minorities.

Islam espouses values of universal brotherhood, tolerance and mutually peaceful coexistence ordaining its followers to be the source of peace for people around them. It aims at the establishment of such an ideal state and society where all citizens, irrespective of their association, religious identity, race, colour and creed, enjoy the similar rights and equality in the eyes of law.
The Qur’anic injunction “There is no compulsion in Din (Religion)” (2:256) negates the element of coercion and oppression in religious matters and forms the basis for protection of rights of minorities. At another place, Allah Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an: “(So) you have your Din (Religion) and I have my Din (Religion)” (109:6).

The importance and sanctity of rights Islam gives to minorities can be further gauged by the saying of the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him): “Beware! If anyone dared oppress a member of minority community or usurped his right or tortured him more than his endurance or took something away forcibly without his consent, I would fight (against such Muslim) on his behalf on the Day of Judgment.” (Sunan Abi Dawud)

This is not merely a warning but has the sanctity of a law, which was promulgated in the Islamic state during the blessed period of the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) but which also continued to be implemented in the later period and is still a part of constitution of Islamic state. The Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) would always forewarn Muslims about the rights of the minorities. While talking of minorities one day, he said: “Whosoever killed a member of a minority community, he would not smell the fragrance of paradise though fragrance of paradise would cover the distance of forty years.” (Bidiyat-ul-Mujtahid)

Whenever the non-Muslim delegations would come to the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), he would extend them hospitality himself. Once a Christian delegation from Abyssinia came over to meet the Prophet of Islam (blessings and peace be upon him) in the blessed city of Madina, he took it upon himself to play host to the guests and made them stay in the Prophet’s Mosque. He said: “These people occupy distinguished and privileged status for our companions, therefore, I chose to extend them respect and hospitality myself.” (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa an-Nihaya)

Likewise, another 14-member Christian delegation from Nijran came to the holy city of Madina. The Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) made the delegation stay in the Prophet’s Mosque and allowed the Christians of the delegation to worship according to their religion in the Prophet’s Mosque. (Ibn Sad, at-Tabqat al-Kubra)

Such was the deep and penetrating impact of the Holy Prophet’s good treatment of the minorities that their interaction with him was also based on respect and reverence. When an ally Jew was about to die during a battle, people asked him about the possible heir to his huge property, he said that the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) would be guardian of his property. This speaks volumes of the reverence the Prophet of Islam (blessings and peace be upon him) had in the eyes of the non-Muslims.

Imam Abu Yusuf writes in his magnum opus Kitab al-Khiraj that both Muslims and non-Muslim minorities were treated equally in respect of civil law and law of punishments during the Prophetic period and that of the rightly guided caliphs. Once a Muslim killed a non-Muslim during the period of the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him). He ordered the killing of that Muslim by way of qisas and said: “The protection of rights of non-Muslims is my most important duty.” (Musnad ash-Shafi‘i)

In the like manner, the status of a Muslim and a non-Muslim is equal in civil law in an Islamic state. The non-Muslim would also deserve the same punishment which would be meted out to a Muslim in case of committal of crimes. Whether a non-Muslim steals things of a Muslim or otherwise, both would deserve the equal amount of punishment. No discrimination can be allowed in their treatment in the eyes of law.

Contrary to the teachings of Islam and the sayings of the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), our actual conduct is shameful to put it mildly, which is responsible for bringing Islam into disrepute. No sane Muslim can approve and condone such reprehensible acts as witnessed in Gojra. It is a matter of immense concern as to how a small minority of bigoted and radical Mullahs can hold sway over ignorant people and make them dance to their tune without any fear of reprisal from state and its law enforcement agencies.

While the administrative failure to nip evil in the bud may be blamed for the outbreak of riots in the short-run, colossal havoc these happenings caused is a reflection of how extremism has penetrated our attitudes and social behaviours. The state cannot allow this situation to worsen by adopting passive and reactive response. It needs to initiate action to undo the damage it did when it promoted and co-opted a particular religious mindset at the cost of social equilibrium, religious tolerance and sectarian harmony. At a time when we need to reach out to other faiths in a bid to engage them in constructive dialogue aimed at finding solutions to the contemporary problems, such acts prove only counterproductive. In the next article, I would discuss the peculiar nature of rights minorities enjoy in an Islamic state.

This article was published in Daily The Nation, 09 Aug, 2009

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