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No coercion in faith

Friday  July 04, 2008 
Jamadi-us-Sani 29, 1429

By Sidrah Unis

WHAT is the Islamic view on freedom of religion? Is Islam intolerant towards other faiths? Do Muslims and non-Muslims enjoy equal rights in an Islamic state? These questions are frequently raised in the western world.

To begin with, there is an immense difference between what the Quran and the Sunnah declare and what some misguided Muslim groups and governments actually do. Even a cursory reading of the Quran and the Sunnah clearly shows that tolerance is an essential obligation that Muslims are required to abide by. Though Islam encourages the spread of faith by way of preaching and discussions with non-Muslims, Muslims have been instructed to do it in the most respectful and kind manner, “Call thou (all mankind) unto thy Sustainer’s path with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the most kindly manner.” (16: 125)

If non-Muslims disagree with the message of Islam, Muslims are not allowed to employ any method of intimidation or compulsion, “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith.” (2: 256) “Thus, (O’ Prophet) if they dispute with thee, say, ‘I have surrendered my whole being unto Allah, and (so have) all who follow me.’

And ask all those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime, as well as all unlettered people, ‘Have you (too) surrendered yourselves unto Him?’ And if they surrender themselves unto Him, they are on the right path; but if they turn away, thy duty is no more than to deliver the message.” (3: 20) “And had thy Sustainer willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them. Wilt thou then force men till they are believers?” (10: 99) “And say: ‘The truth (has now come) from your Sustainer. Let, then, him who wills, believe in it, and let him who wills, reject it.”’ (18: 29)

Thus, Muslims are not only prohibited from imposing their faith on non-Muslims, Islam instructs them to treat non-Muslims with kindness: “As for such (of the unbelievers) as do not fight against you on account of (your) faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, Allah does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, Allah loves those who act equitably. “Allah only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of (your) faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid (others) in driving you forth: and as for those (from among you) who turn towards them in friendship, it is they, they who are truly wrongdoers.” (60: 8-9)

In fact, the Quran goes to the extent of forbidding Muslims from using any insulting remarks about any deity worshiped by any non-Muslim. It says, “But do not revile those (beings) whom they invoke instead of Allah.” (6: 108)

The following charter granted by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the Christians of Mount Sinai is an excellent example of how non-Muslims are supposed to be treated in an Islamic state: “This is a message from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily, 1, the servants and helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and, by Allah, I hold out against anything that displeases them.

“No compulsion is to be on them; neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil Allah’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. Muslims are to fight for them... Their churches are to be respected... No one of the nation (of Islam) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day.”

The principles given in the Quran and the Sunnah regarding tolerance and pluralism were observed by the Pious Caliphs as well as later rulers. Al-Qarafi, explaining the responsibility of the Islamic state to the Dhimmis (non-Muslim citizens), said: “It is the responsibility of the Muslims to the People of the Dhimma to care for their weak, fulfil the needs of the poor, feed the hungry, provide clothes, address them politely, and even tolerate their harm even if it was from a neighbour, even though the Muslim would have an upper hand. The Muslims must also advise them sincerely on their affairs and protect them against anyone who tries to hurt them or their family, steal their wealth, or violates their rights.”

Non-Muslim citizens have the same rights to life, religion, respect, education, expression, property, and enterprise as given to Muslim citizens. No government can curtail or restrict these rights and liberties granted to Dhimmis.

One must not forget that an Islamic state is fundamentally an ideological state. Due to this ideological nature of the state, the responsibility of managing its affairs rests with the Muslims.

Citizens not adhering to Islam are simply not capable of governing the Islamic state. However, they can be requested for assistance. In other words, in an Islamic state there is no political equality between Muslims and non-Muslims. There are several similar examples of political inequality in different systems and Muslims must not be apologetic about it.

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