The exalted, the wisest!
How Prophet (SAW) preached co-existence, harmony
There is a common confusion amongst many that Islam does not tolerate the existence of other religions and instead commands faith by hook or crook. This article discusses some of the foundations that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) laid down in dealing with people of other faiths, with practical examples from his lifetime.
The dealings of the Prophet (SAW) with other religions can be best described in the verse of the Holy Quran which states- ‘to you be your religion, to me be mine’. (Quran 109)
Arabia during the time of the Prophet (SAW) was a region in which various tribes and faiths were living. There were Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Polytheists and other tribes that were not affiliated with any religion. When one looks into the life of the Prophet (SAW) one may draw on many examples to portray the high level of accommodation and tolerance displayed to the people of other faiths.
In order to understand and judge this, one must look into the period in which Islam established a formal state with the specific laws laid down by the Prophet (SAW) in accordance with the tenants of religion.
The best example of the tolerance shown by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to other religions is the constitution itself, called the saheefah by early historians, when the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) migrated to Medina. His (SAW) role as a mere religious leader ended; He (SAW) was now the political leader of a state as well and governed by the precepts of Islam which demanded that clear laws of governance be laid out to ensure harmony and stability in a society which once had been distraught by decades of war, one which had to ensure the peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Jews, Christians and Polytheists.
This led to drafting of a constitution which detailed the responsibilities of all tribes and communities residing in Madinah, their obligations towards each other and certain restrictions that were placed on each. All parties were to obey what was mentioned therein, and any breach of its articles was regarded as an act of treachery.
The first article of the constitution was that all the inhabitants of Madinah, the Muslims as well as those who entered the pact from the Jews, Christians, and Idolaters, were “One Nation to the exclusion of all others”. All were considered members and citizens of Medinian society regardless of religion, race, or ancestry.
People of other faiths were protected from harm as much as the Muslims. “To the Jewish people who follow us shall not be harmed nor their enemies be aided”. Previously, each tribe had their alliances and enemies within and outside of the city of madinah. The Prophet (SAW) gathered these different tribes under one system of governance which upheld pacts of alliances previously in existence between those individual tribes. All tribes had to act as a whole with no regard to individual alliances. Any attack on other religions or tribe was considered as an attack on the state as a whole.
The lives of the practitioners of other religions in the Muslim society were also given equal status in all respects as that of the Muslims. The Prophet (SAW) said: “whosoever kills a person who has a truce with the Muslims will never smell the fragrance of Paradise”. (Saheeh Muslim)
Since the upper hand was with the Muslims, the Prophet (SAW) strictly warned against any maltreatment meted to the people of other faiths. He (SAW) said: “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with 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”. (Abu Dawud)
TO EACH THEIR OWN RELIGION
In another article, it states, “the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs”. In this, it is clear that anything other than acceptance and accommodation would not be tolerated and that, although all were members of a society, each had their separate religion which could not be violated. Each was allowed to practice whatever beliefs they hold without any hindrances and no acts of provocation would be tolerated.
There are many other articles of this constitution but the emphasis will be placed on an article which states, “if any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise, it must be referred to Allah and His Messenger”. This clause maintained that all inhabitants of the state must recognize a higher level of authority and in those matters which involved various tribes and religions, justice could not be meted out by individual leaders, rather it must be adjudicated by the leader of the state or his designated representatives. It was allowed however, for individual tribes who were not Muslims, to refer to their own religious scriptures and their learned men in regards to their own personal affairs. They could though, if they opted, ask the Prophet (SAW) to judge between them in their matters. Allah the Almighty, “if they do come to you, either judge between them or decline to interfere…” (Quran 5:42). Here we see that Prophet (SAW) allowed each religion to judge in their own matters according to their own scriptures, as long as it did not stand in opposition to articles of the constitution, a pact which took into account the greater benefit of the peaceful coexistence of the society.
FREEDOM OF RELIGIOUS ASSEMBLY AND RELIGIOUS AUTONOMY
Given consent by the constitution, the Jews had the complete freedom to practice their religion. The Jews in Madinah at the time of Prophet (SAW) had their own school of learning, named Bait-Ul-Midras, where they would recite the Torah, worship and educate their wards. The Prophet (SAW) emphasized in many letters to his emissaries that religious institutions should not be harmed. In a letter addressed to his emissary to the religious leaders of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai who had sought the protection of the Muslims.
“This is a message from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopted Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! 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 Gods covenant and disobeys His Prophet (SAW). Verily they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them”.
As one can see, this charter consisted of several clauses covering all important aspects of human rights, including such topics as the protection of minorities living under Islamic rule, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.
On another occasion, the Prophet (SAW) received a delegation of sixty Christians from the region of Najran, at his mosque. When the time for their prayer came, they faced the direction of east and prayed. The Prophet (SAW) ordered that they be left in their state and not harmed.
These are some of the examples of the Prophets exalted stature and benevolence towards people in general without any difference on the basis on caste, creed, color or religion. Islam recognizes the plurality of religions on this earth and gives the right to individuals to choose the path which they believe to be true. Religion is not to be, and was never, forced upon an individual against their own will, and these examples from the life of the Holy Prophet (SAW) are an epitome of the verse of the Quran which promote religious tolerance and sets the guideline for the Muslims interaction with people of other faiths. Allah the Almighty says:
“There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the Right path has become distant from the wrong path. Whoever disbelievers in taghut and believes in Allah, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allah the Almighty is All-Hearer, All-Knower”. (Quran 2:256)
The writer is a PhD Research Scholar