First of all, we’d like to state that non-Muslims under Islamic sharia do possess special rights irrespective of whether they constitute a minority or a majority. Islam makes it clear that Muslims are not allowed under any circumstances to burn holy places or books of non-Muslims or to abuse them.
When Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, established the first Islamic state in Madinah, he extended to religious minorities rights that are guaranteed to them in the Qur’an. The first Islamic State was established in light the Charter of Madinah, a real and actual social contract agreed upon by Muslims, Jews and others, stipulating that they all would be treated as equal citizens of Madinah, giving the non-Muslims right of choosing a legal system they wished their affairs be governed by, be it Islamic or Jewish law or pre-Islamic Arab tribal traditions. This confirms the principle “no compulsion in religion” (Baqarah 2:256), freedom of expression and religious practice was open to everyone.
Elaborating on the religious rights granted to non-Muslim minorities, we’d like to cite for you the following:
It was in 622 AC, that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, introduced the Charter of Madinah, which in fact was the first ever written constitution in the history of mankind. It gave the people the right of protection, security, peace and justice; not only to Muslims, but also to the Jews who lived in the City of Madinah, as well as the allies of Jews who were non-Muslims. It recognized Jews as a separate political and ethnic minority, and allowed them to practice their religion quite freely. In fact, Jews were considered on an equal bases as Muslims under the Islamic State.
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was the main enforcer of human rights. Over a period of 10 years, from where the Islamic calendar begins, he, peace and blessings be upon him, entered into many alliances, many treaties with the Muslims and the non-Muslims, securing peace and tranquility for the Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Freedom of Religion
One right in particular is the freedom of religion. There is sometimes a misunderstood view, that if any non-Muslim lives under the rule of Islam, he/she would be curtailed in their religious freedom. There is no compulsion in Islam to accept Islam as your faith. It is a misconception to say that Islam is spread by the sword, with forced conversions. That never took place.
Secondly, if you again look at the practice of Prophet Muhammad, he provided excellent facilities for non-Muslims. For instance in his time, the monks of Mount Sinai were given protection. The monasteries were protected, the monks themselves were protected from any attack or persecution. Churches could not be pulled down to be replaced by mosques or to build houses. They were seen as a place of sanctuary and protected by the Islamic state.
The Jews were given a free hand to practice their faith. The interesting right that the Jews and the Christians were given because they were the main minority living under the Islamic state, was their right to have a holiday, the Jews on a Saturday, and the Christians on a Sunday. Interestingly enough, in many Western countries, up till now, Muslims are still struggling to have Friday as their public holiday. Only what they are given now in some Western countries is just an extra hour for lunch so that they can partake in their obligatory Friday Prayer. But under an Islamic state, the sharia stipulates that if a Jewish person or a Christian person wishes to have a holiday, to have time off on their particular religious day, they should be given that.
There also exist the rights of non-Muslim minorities. They would be protected from any external threat from any other nation. But perhaps more importantly for them, they would be protected from more internal threat, persecution and prejudice.
Confirming this is the following statement of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, in which he sheds light on the philosophy of human rights in Islam. An Arabic word for non-Muslim is Dhimmi. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them in more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Sunan Abu Dawud). Here we have the highest, the most revered and most esteemed Prophet of Islam, himself being the champion for non-Muslim minorities.
Right to follow one’s own religious laws
In most Western countries, whatever the law of the land is must be followed without any recognition to one’s personal beliefs. However, an Islamic state is much more flexible in this. Non-Muslim minorities, in certain matters of personal law, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance would be able to implement their own religious laws and would not be subject to sharia law.
Right to consumption of alcohol and pork
Another interesting fact in Islamic history is that although Muslims are prohibited from entering into manufacturing, selling and consuming alcohol, whereas the ruling is not the same with non-Muslim. If there was a non-Muslim minority in an Islamic state who wish to do so, and do not involve Muslims, they would actually be given this right.
This points out that the concept of human rights in Islam has often been given a much negative view. I would urge all readers, Muslims or non-Muslims, to study the concept of human rights in Islam. To research that Islam is in fact not the violator of human rights but rather the champion of it.”
Shedding more light on the treatment of non-Muslim minorities through Islamic history, we’d like also to cite the following:
“While on his deathbed, the Second Caliph `Umar ibn al-Khattab dictated a long will consisting of instructions for the next caliph. Here, is the last sentence of that historic document:
“I instruct you on behalf of the people who have been given protection in the name of Allah and His Prophet [i.e. the non-Muslim minorities within the Islamic state known as dhimmis]. Our covenant to them must be fulfilled, we must fight to protect them, and they must not be burdened beyond their capabilities”.
At that time Caliph `Umar was lying in pain because of the wounds inflicted on him by a non-Muslim who had stabbed him with a dagger soaked in poison while he was leading the Fajr (Morning) Prayer. It should also be remembered that he was the head of a vast empire ranging from Egypt to Persia. From normal rulers of his time or ours, we could have expected vengeance and swift reaction. From a very forgiving head of state we could have expected an attempt to forget and forgive – and that would be considered noble. But a command to protect the minorities and take care of them?
What is even more remarkable is that for Muslim historians the entire affair was just natural. After all it was the caliph himself who had established the standards by writing the guarantees for the protection of life, property and religion in decree after decree as Muslims opened land after land during his rule. The pattern established here was followed for centuries throughout the Muslim world.
Of course, Caliph `Umar was simply following what he learnt from the Prophet Muhammad himself. That the protection of life, property and religious freedom of minorities is the religious duty of the Islamic state. That he personally would be demanding justice in the Hereafter on behalf of a dhimmi who had been wronged by a Muslim. That there is no compulsion in religion and that Muslims must be just to friends and foe alike.
The result of these teachings was a Muslim rule that set the golden standard for religious tolerance in a world that was not used to the idea. Not only that the Muslim history is so remarkably free of the inquisitions, persecutions, witch hunts, and holocausts that tarnish history of other civilizations, it protected its minorities from persecution by others as well. It protected Jews from Christians and Eastern Christians from Roman Catholics. In Muslim Spain under the Umayyads and in Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphs, Christians and Jews enjoyed a freedom of religion that they did not allow each other or anyone else.
The path that the Western world took to provide harmony in society was to banish religion from the public square. For this achievement, it thinks that it has earned lecturing rights over the issue. So it may be good to remember that while it has indeed made huge progress in the area of tolerance during the last century (which should be appreciated), it has a long way to go before it can reach the standards established by Islam.
First, while Muslim Personal Law is not recognized in the West, the Personal Law of non-Muslim minorities has always been recognized in the Muslim world. Second, while throughout Europe and America, Muslims are not permitted to make the call to prayer (adhan) on loud speakers, church bells ring freely in the Muslim world. Third, the wide spread of anti-Islamic prejudice in the Western media is both a cause and a consequence of the underlying intolerance. Fourth, hate crimes are a fact of life in the West. As just one small indication, nearly two-dozen incidents of vandalism have taken place against Mosques in the peaceful USA during the last seven years, not to mention hundreds of attacks against individuals.