Islam and Society


Do non-Muslims have rights over us?

I was shocked when a Muslim acquaintance once claimed that non-Muslims have no rights. Hopefully this ignorant statement is not representative of the views held by the Muslim majority, for if it were, then this raises serious concerns about our basic respect to our brothers in humanity, Muslim or non Muslim.

We are all the creations of Allah, and our status of humanity gives rights to basic dignity. It is unacceptable to treat non-Muslims poorly. Islam was sent down as a mercy to mankind, and part of our mercy is to treat others with compassion, tolerance and kindness, and a Muslim’s job by default is to be an ambassador of Islam.

It is impossible to list down all the rights that the non-Muslims have over us in this short article, but on a personal and achievable level for all of us, it boils down to simple basic human values – good manner, generosity and mercy. We should deal with our non-Muslim friends and acquaintances by displaying the best that Islam has to offer – honesty, respect and compassion. Seek to sow mutual respect, rather than spread rejection and hatred.

The best daily action we can perform at a personal level, is to demonstrate to them the excellence of Islamic behaviour. Most communication lies in one’s actions, rather than words. Simple acts of kindness and consideration can go a long way.

Abdullah ibn ‘Amr RA used to regularly give charity to his neighbours. He would send his servant to take portions of meat on religious occasions to his Jewish neighbour. The surprised servant asked about his concern for the Jewish neighbour. Abdullah RA explained that it was based on the hadith which reminded him to be charitable to his neighbours (it being noted that the hadith does not differentiate between Muslim and non-Muslim neighbours).

We should also be considerate in our behaviour – not being noisy or rowdy in our dealings, keeping our surroundings neat and clean, and avoiding rude or aggressive actions to others. The smallest actions can have the largest implications.

Honesty and Justice do not discriminate

Let us examine our business dealings with each other, for example. When a Muslim cheats another Muslim, their rights against each other are personal. However, when a Muslim cheats a non-Muslim, imagine the impression that the non-Muslim would have on the whole of Islam. What if, because of that one act, he never wants to learn about Islam or have anything to do with it? How would we be able to account to Allah if it was our bad behaviour that turned someone away from Islam?

Some Muslims feel inwardly superior, and treat the non-Muslims as second-class citizens – this attitude not being uncommon in Muslim majority countries. They deal with the non-Muslims poorly, which is wrong. They are just as entitled to be treated fairly, politely and honestly, regardless of their faith. By the same token, it is also wrong for the Muslim minority to abuse their rights and behave badly towards the majority.

Non-Muslims are also equally entitled to just treatment, even if such justice works against the Muslim. Justice in Islam does not discriminate against the non-Muslims. For example, during his rule as the Caliph, Ali ibn Talib RA, lost his coat of armour. He found it in the hands of a Jewish man, who was selling it at the market, and who claimed ownership to it. The dispute was referred to the Muslim judge, who asked Ali RA to call upon his witnesses. Ali RA offered his son Hassan RA as his witness, but this was rejected by the judge. The judge ruled that in Islam, the testimony of a son in favour of his father was not admissible as evidence. Hence, it was held that Ali RA had not established sufficient proof of his ownership of the coat of armour.

Justice prevailed, even against an influential ruler whose authority extended to the entire Islamic kingdom at the time. The Jew was so overwhelmed at the beauty of Islam that he proclaimed the shahadah. Look at how an act of justice turned a disbeliever towards Islam. Incidentally, he also admitted that Ali RA was the legitimate owner of the coat of armour, and returned the item to him.

What happens if a non-Muslim insults Islam?

In the face of aggressive behaviour, the Qur’an offers a simple solution:“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace.” (Qur’an 25:63)

This means, to walk away from dispute, and to exemplify the best of behaviour rather than to be provoked into an argument. For example, take a look at Muslim online forums and websites. Occasionally, an Internet troll plants a nasty comment on Islam. Well meaning Muslim keyboard warriors take the bait and retaliate – some try to give advice, some by rudeness and foul words, mostly escalating the dispute into a full assault of exchanges and insults. This is not the correct reaction.

Similarly if a controversial book on Islam is published, or an incendiary video is posted online by ignorant non-Muslims, the reaction should be the same. Islam has faced resistance and insults from the dawn of time, and all this is nothing new. There is no reason for exchanges of harsh words, flag burning or demonstrations, giving unnecessary publicity to the original book or video clip and bad press to the Islamic world. We need not stoop to this level. Nor should we make incriminating comments that only evidence the ugliness of our own behaviour and speech rather than reflect the beauty of Islam. Restraint is the best form of response. This topic is discussed in more detail here. Cartoons and Videoclips, part 1

No compulsion in Islam

Do we have the right to force others to Islam? This topic deserves much examination, but suffice to say, the Qur’an states that “There is no compulsion in religion …” (Qur’an 2:256), meaning that one cannot be forced to embrace Islam. We can advice, but the ultimate choice must be exercised out of free will, without threat or coercion. The freedom of belief is something that Muslims do not have the right to curtail.

Further, we are not permitted to degrade the belief of the non-Muslims. The Qur’an, at verse 6:108, expressly forbids us to speak ill of the non-Muslims’ gods and their religion, for fear that they might in turn insult Islam out of spite and ignorance.

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