By: DR. Alizi Alias (
History provides indisputable facts that minority non-Muslim citizens staying under Muslim caliphates were treated in a fair and just manner. Even today, minority non-Muslims citizens staying under Muslim governments (who still do not implement Islam totally) were still treated in a ‘relatively’ fair and just manner compared to minority Muslim citizens staying in predominantly Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and communist governments.
However, some bad attitudes and behaviours shown by Muslims do not help in maintaining this positive image of Islam. This is sad because Islam had shown kindness and consideration to non-Muslims since the beginning of its inception. This posting is inspired by the writing of Yusuf al-Qaradawi in his book “Non-Muslims in Muslim Society”. Then, you may want to reflect on the current non-Muslim governments AND current Muslim governments whether they are fair and just compared to what Islam had taught us. Note: When I write ‘non-Muslims’, what I meant is ahl al-dhimmah, non-Muslims who are citizens under Islamic government.
First, Islam teaches us that, in general, non-Muslims and Muslims have equal right (except for a very few aspects):
1. Right to be protected from external attack: e.g. The Tartar (Mongol) had eventually freed the non-Muslim detainees after hearing the firm speech by our `ulama’ Ibn Taimiyyah that Muslims will not stop fighting until every single detaine (Muslim or non-Muslims) are freed by the Tartars. Will we protect our non-Muslim friends if they are singled out by an external force to be attacked?
2. Right to be protected from internal attack: e.g. Prophet Muhammad SAW said: “Whosoever hurt a non-Muslim (ahl al-dhimmah), then I will be his enemy. And whosoever be my enemy, I will be his enemy in the hereafter!” (narrated by al-Khatib with hasan/good sanad). Will we protect our non-Muslim friends if they are attacked by our fellow Muslims without right?
3. Right for life protection: e.g. Prophet Muhammad SAW said: “Whosoever killed a non-Muslims (ahl al-dhimmah) he will not smell the fragrance of the paradise. The fragrance of the paradise can be smelled from the distance of 40 years of travelling.” (narrated by Ahmad and Bukhari). Will we feel feel sympathy to the victim and punish the murderer (with qisas?) if he/she is killed by a Muslim without right?
4. Right for property protection: e.g. All Muslim scholars agreed that the Muslims and non-Muslim properties are of the same level. In addition, scholars in Madhab Hanafi are of the opinions that Muslims who destroyed non-Muslims’ personal properties (including pigs and liquors which are prohibited in Islam) should pay compensation to them. Will we help our non-Muslim friends if their property were stolen? And will we feel compelled to punish the thief (with hudud) even if he/she is a Muslim?
5. Right for dignity protection: e.g. A number of Islamic scholars are of the opinion that it is prohibited to backbite non-Muslims. In fact, some Islamic scholars believe that the punishment should be MORE severe if Muslims do injustice to non-Muslims compared to Muslims. Will we backbite our non-Muslim friends just because they are from certain religion, or worse from certain race?
6. Rights of the weak, old, and poor non-Muslims: e.g. During Caliphs Abu Bakr RA and after that, Caliph `Umar RA, some of these non-Muslims were exempted from paying tax and were even given money from Bait al-Mal (House of Finance) for their maintenance. Will we feel compelled to help the needys among non-Muslims?
7. Right to practice religion: e.g. Muslim governments cannot force any non-Muslims to convert to Islam, has to protect/respect their religious practices and religious buildings (synagogues, churches, and temples) even in places with Muslim majorities. Will we tolerate if non-Muslims have to conduct some religious activities in our vicinity?
8. Right to work and accumulate wealth: e.g. their rights are similar to Muslims’ except practising riba/usury and selling khamr/liquor and khinzir/pig in majority Muslim areas. Will we become jealous if our non-Muslim friends become rich because of their own efforts?
9. Right to hold government post: except religious-related post e.g. top government post, top military post, judge on muslim-related cases, officers of zakat/sadaqah, etc. They have the right to hold executive/ministrial positions. Will we feel jealous if our very capable and trusted non-Muslim friends were given some position instead of our corrupt and incapable Muslim friends. Of course, non-Muslims too have an obligations under shari`ah. But that would be another story… The focus of this posting is to invite fellow Muslims to manifest the beauty of Islam through our Islamic attitude and behaviours towards non-Muslims.
Now, let’s move from talking about the ‘legal’ aspects of tolerance to ‘humane’ aspects of Muslims’ tolerance to non-Muslim minorities. The beauty of shariah concept (legal aspects) will not be totally manifested operationally if Muslims’ attitude ourselves are not Islamic. So, let’s talk about some historial/operational examples…
Prophet Muhammad SAW, during dry season, had sent financial assistance to non-Muslims at Makkah. And this is before Hijrah when all of us know that the Musyrikin Makkah tortured and oppressed the Muslims.
Prophet Muhammad SAW always visited his Jewish and Chrisitan neighbours (esp. when they are sick).
Prophet Muhammad SAW had allowed Christians from Najran to perform their prayers at the mosque after the Muslims had performed their `Asr prayer.Prophet Muhammad SAW stood up (out of respect) when there is dead Jew being carried nearby to the grave.
Caliph `Umar al-Khattab RA had provided regular financial assistance to a Jew and his family. Caliph `Umar al-Khattab RA, after being stabbed by a Majusi/Zoroaster (Abu Lu’lu’ah), knowing that some emotional may get a little bit emotional and radical, advised the next caliph to be nice to the non-Muslims.
Some tabi`in (followers of the Sahabahs/Companions) even distributed zakat money to the Christian priests.
And lots of other examples during Caliphate Ummayad, Abbasid, and Ottoman. They have truly used psychological approaches when dealing with non-Muslim minorities.
These are just general descriptions of course. The details and exceptions can be discussed in another posting or setting.
A number of Muslims may argue, that if Muslims are being nice to non-Muslims, they will step on Musims’ heads. To them, I will answer, this is not a choice. Being nice to non-Muslims is an order from Allah and from Prophet Muhammad SAW and has been the practice of the Sahabahs/Companions, Caliphate Bani Umayyad, Caliphate Bani Abbassid, and Caliphate Bani Ottoman. And because of that, many non-Muslims converted to Islam, or at least accepted Islam as the country’s ideology or social system.
Some Muslims may say that all the above descriptions are Muslims’ attitude toward non-Muslims under khilafah/caliphate. We now do not have the khilafah. To this I answer: The Muslims have always been nice to the non-Muslims even during the Makkan period, when Muslims do not have any sovereign state and when the Musyrikun Makkah tortured and oppressed the Muslims.
Some Muslims may say that we HAVE been giving non-Muslims a lot of rights and we have shown them tolerance, but the non-Muslims seems to ask for more. To this I answer: Perhaps, we are not sincere in giving them their rights and we’re not sincere when showing our tolerance to them. Deep in our heart, we still have the prejudice which is psychologically bad and even haram in Islam.
I believe Islamic ideology and system will look perfectly beautiful if we Muslims show the beauty in our attitude and behaviours at the same time, sincerely. Plus, are we sure that we have given our non-Muslim citizen the rights according to shari`ah? Because shari`ah really, really, really emphasise on being nice to all human being - Muslims AND non-Muslims.
I hope that Muslims and non-Muslims will live peacefully in this world - and it should start from us Muslims changing our attitude and behaviours. If any of them break this trust, then it is their wrong, not us. And we can claim in front of Allah in the hereafter that we have been behaving nicely according what shari`ah wants us to do.