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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Islamic State 9: Status of Non-Muslims in the Islamic State: Two Fundamental Questions

Two major factors generally hinder an effort to determine with precision the rights of the Non-Muslims in the Islamic State. First, most people do not know that the Islamic sharī‘ah has promulgated different laws governing the affairs of the various categories of the Non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic State. Those who understand that such difference is observed do not reach at the correct basis of the difference. Second, a vast majority thinks that there can only be one kind of Non-Muslims, namely dhimmīs, in the Islamic State. They believe that it is the only category regarding which the laws of Islam have been worked in the ḥadīth and fiqh literature. Mostly they are ignorant to that there could be other kinds of non-Muslims in the Islamic State whose rights and obligations are different than that of the dhimmīs. A failure to come to a correct position on these two matters has contributed towards erroneous stances and practical problems in the Muslim world concerning the rights of the Non-Muslims. We believe this can continue directing the Muslim States in wrong direction. This makes it imperative that, before defining the rights of the non-Muslims in the Islamic State, we explained the true Islamic position in this regard. We hope that clarity obtained regarding this issue would make it easy for us to rightly define the question of the rights of the non-Muslims in the Islamic State.


A thorough analysis of the relevant directives of the Qur’ān and the Ḥadīth leads us to the conclusion that two different categories of non-Muslim population in the Islamic State can be distinguished which the divine law treats differently.
The first category includes those who are the direct addressees of the Messenger of God. He explained to them the religious truths in ultimate form leaving them with no excuse to the denial of the truth. Then there are those who are the addressees of the general body of believers. The latter shows them the right path leaving them with no excuse to claim that they remained ignorant to the religious teachings of Islam.
Both these groups are not treated equally in this worldly life. Those ignorant to this clear point of difference and its basis in the sharī‘ah have greatly been confused in their understanding of the rights of the Non-Muslims. A majority of these, however, acknowledges that many of the Islamic Laws are specific for the polytheists among the Children of Ismā‘īl among whom the Prophet was raised. Yet, unable to understand the basis of this classification of the non-Muslim citizens, they fail to offer correct and cogent explanation of the nature of many of the laws bearing on the categories of the non-Muslims. Their efforts thus bring more confusion than clarification.
Another group of scholars, however, is completely ignorant of any kind of different treatment with the polytheists among the Children of Ismā‘īl as well as other groups including Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians etc. This leads them to do injustice of great consequences. Those among them as of extremist nature, at times, pass judgment upon non-Muslims based on directives specific for the Ismaelite polytheists. Such judgments cannot be attributed to Islam in any way. In contrast, the scholars more disposed to tolerance with soft corner for religious pluralism, while discussing the issue of rights of the minorities in the Islamic State, disregard the clear Qur’ānic injunctions governing this issue which they find against their natural inclinations. If at all they consider these directives they do so only after reinterpreting the source texts extravagantly so as to render the issue incomprehensible and incoherent. I wonder how ‘Allāmah Ibn Qayyim, the scholar with a great wisdom and profound understanding be led to error. What makes his error gravest is that his mistake leads many others into erroneous interpretation of the Islamic laws and the true Islamic stance on the subject remains obscured.
The Qur’ānic stories covering the struggle between different Messengers of God with their polytheistic addressees take us to the fact that the Almighty has always differentiated between these two categories of the non-Muslims. A Messenger sent to a people always makes the truth clear to them in ultimate form. He fulfils all the divinely determined conditions of propagation and teaching of the religious truths. Once this is accomplished, God Almighty does not let the rejecters live more. He annihilates them from the face of the earth. The divine punishment generally assumes one of the following two forms:
i. Sometimes the majority rejects the truth after they have been made convinced of the veracity of the Messenger’s claim. They persist in arrogant rejection of the truth. The Messenger is left with a handful of followers. In this situation the people are offered two options. They an either accept Islam, entering into true service of their Lord, or face death. Those who opt for the divine punishment for Islam are subjected to it through natural calamities. We see that the nation of Noah, Hūd, Lot and Shu‘ayb, as the Qur’ān narrates, were annihilated.
ii. If a large number of the addressees of the Messenger accepts his call and follows him then the forces of good and evil confront each other. Once all the phases of propagation and preaching by the Messenger leading to the itmām-e-ḥujjah(elimintation of all escuses) have passed, the rejecters are again offered two options. They can either accept the faith or face the wrath of God unleashed in the form of the force of the followers of the Messenger. Then if they opt for the second choice, they are wiped out from the face of the earth through the swords of the companions of the Messenger. The sword of the believers under the headship of the Messenger is one of the lashes of God to strike the rejecters of the truth. For all the actions the Messenger of God takes are determined by the Almighty Allah. Example of the Messenger Muhammad in Arabia is a case in point.
The Prophet Muhammad spent twenty year of hard work in making the people understand the truth. He kept on elucidating it for them tirelessly. The Prophet did not find a large following. Not only did his addressees persist in rejecting him they also forced others to follow the example and reject the truth. Then God Almighty commanded the Prophet to hunt the rejecters all over the Arabian Peninsula. He was to cut all kinds of relations with them. Any treaties enacted with them were not to be renewed after the expiry. There remained no question of tolerance for them. They were, however, granted a few months of security. After this time elapsed they were given a chance to opt either for sword or Islam. If they chose the sword they were to be hunted down and killed. They were not to be sheltered until they accepted the faith and persisted in offering the ṣalāh and paying the zakāh. Consequently, just after the revelation of these commands forming part of Sūrah al-Barā’ah (Q 9) in 9 AH, the law was enforced in the entire Peninsula. It was announced to all. After the completion of the stipulated period of respite, war was declared against those rejecters who had no pact with the Muslims.
These directives were, as hinted above, specifically applicable to the polytheists of Arabia to the exclusion of all other groups of non-Muslims. The basis of this special treatment with them was that the Almighty had raised a Messenger from among them.[1] The truth was made manifest to them.
There are other groups of non-Muslims who have not been directly addressed by the Messenger. They have not been exposed to the truth directly by the Prophet himself. They have been invited to the truth by the believers. Such are not subjected to the directives specifically meant for the Ismaelites. They are to be dealt with under the directives applicable to the People of the Book. They are given a different status which awards them specific rights in the Islamic State. We will discuss their rights in the Islamic System shortly. It is very important to appreciate the difference between the directives governing these two groups. It is also important that we have full understanding of the basis of this differentiation. A failure to understand these two points have put many in error regarding the true status of the non-Muslims in the Islamic State. The scholars who tried to discuss this issue without properly understanding these facts have neither been able to remove their confusions nor could they explain the Islamic stance before the non-Muslims. They have, on the contrary, left such gaps in the course of discussion which confuse even the Muslims far from removing the questions in the mind of non-Muslims. The non-Muslims often consider the stance of such Muslims scholars as mere sugar quoted words.
The People of the Book (Jews and Christians) are a group distinct from the polytheists of Arabia. They were no doubt direct addressees of the Messenger. They were clear on the veracity of the prophetic claim because of the itmām-i ḥujjah. Therefore, they too deserved this treatment. However, the Qur’ān has clearly awarded them a status distinguishable from the polytheists. The legal status of such people was determined in a well defined manner by the Messenger himself as directed by the Qur’ānic directives. However, when the Zoroastrians, who were not scriptural, came under the Islamic rule and the question of Islamic stance regarding them surfaced, the issue was resolved in the light of a prophetic tradition. They were treated like the People of the Book. Sometimes later the issue of barbars surfaced. With the consensus of the companions and the scholars among the new generations, it was decided that they too were to be treated like the People of the Book. Thus at that point it was determined as a rule with the consensus of the entire ummah that in the Islamic State all kinds of non-Arab non-Muslims were to be granted the status awarded to the People of the Book regardless of the nature of their faith and beliefs. The People of the Book are awarded a distinct political status because the Qur’ān, the word of God, has clearly explained their position. Those besides the People of the Book are, however, awarded such a political status because they are similar to the People of the Book. The only difference observed by the Islamic law regarding treatment of the People of the Book and those similar to them is limited to the directives concerning the flesh of animals slaughtered by them and taking their women into marriage. Their political and social rights are the same. Thus a Christian, a Hindu and a Pārsī are equal in the eyes of the Islamic State.[2]




The above discussion covers how the polytheists of Arabia were treated. It also traces the basis of their status in the source texts. We have seen that this group of non-Muslims has to be subjected to directives specific to them. These directives may not be extended to general non-Muslim population. Now we turn to the second question. Is there only one form of non-Muslims in the Islamic State commonly referred to as ahl al-dhimmah (protected minority) or there can be other groups governed by different directives and deserving a political status different from the ahl al-dhimmah? A thorough understanding of the prophetic traditions and the works of Islamic fiqh reveals that there are two kinds of non-Muslims in the Islamic State, a, ahl al-dhimmah(those with whom the Islamic State enacts a treaty) and b, ahl al ‘anwah(those subjected to the Islamic rule after being won over in a battle). Since the works of fiqh use a general term ahl al-dhimmah for both, the difference between the two groups has blurred. People no longer distinguish the one from the other. We believe that these groups of non-Muslims enjoy different rights and are awarded different status by the Islamic law. We must, therefore, differentiate between the two and explain the nature of the difference.
By ahl al-ṣulḥ or mu‘ā’id is meant the non-Muslims who are not defeated into the Muslim rule. They enter the Islamic rule through a treaty for they are influenced by moral or political power of Muslims and they consider it politically expedient to accept the Muslim rule. No doubt being subject of the Islamic State, both the mu‘ā’id and the common group of ahl al-dhimmah are the same. Yet their status is different. For the political status and rights and obligations of the former group is not determined merely by the directives of Islam but also by the terms of the treaty enacted with them.
In contrast by ahl al-‘anwah are meant the non-Muslims who face the Muslim armies and are defeated and forced to surrender. These are the conquered. The Muslim government necessarily subjects them to pay jizyah. They are also forced to pay a certain percentage of the income from their lands termed kharāj. Their rights are determined in the Islamic law. The Islamic State is obliged to treat them according to the stipulations of the Islamic sharī‘ah and their rights are to be fulfilled religiously. In the present discussion we have used the terms ahl al-dhimmah (protected people) or maftūḥ ahl al-dhimmah (conquered protected people) for this kind of non-Muslim population in the Islamic State in order to avoid confusion. The mention of both kinds of the non-Muslim population can be found in the works of Ḥadīth and the fiqhalong with their different status and distinct characteristics. Yet at many occasions, in these very works, the true picture is blurred owing to confusion in the minds of the authors. This has rendered it difficult, if not impossible, for a commoner to differentiate between these two kinds of non-Muslims. This calls for a detailed dealing of both. The rights and status of both needs to be explained so that the confusion is removed and both groups are identified distinctly.


[1] A thorough discussion on the question why direct addressees of a Messenger are treated this way has been carried out in my book Ḥaqīqat-i Shirk-o-Tawḥīd, (Lahore: Fārān Foundation, 1998). The chapter “kia shirk taqāḍā’ey fiṭrat hay” deals with this issue. It is neither necessary nor affordable to take up the issue in detail here.
[2] There is a difference of opinion among the scholars on the issue. Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥambal and Imām Shāfi‘ī believe that only three groups enjoy this compensation, Jews, Christians and the Zoroastrians. According to these scholars, other non-Muslims are to be treated like polytheists of Arabia. This difference, however, exists only in theory and not in practice. The ummah has always treated them according to the view I have held in this discussion.