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How do human beings live together on a planet with so many different moral systems, ideologies and religions? What does Islam say about dealing with non-Muslims? Doesn’t religion always create artificial barriers between people?​

In order for people to live peacefully together on this planet, they must be willing to deal respectfully with those who belong to other communities. ​A common feature of all fanatical ideologies is xenophobia – the extreme hatred for those who are different and do not belong to one’s group.​ It is essential then, for any system of guidance (religious or otherwise) that purports to be a complete way of life, that it must accommodate outsiders with tolerance and respect.

​ The emergence of fanatical ideologies in war-torn and politically repressive Muslim-majority countries​ has lead many to question how Islam defines its relationship with the outsider. It is of critical importance therefore, that a close examination of the foundational and authoritative sources be undertaken to answer this question.

What does Islam say about relationship with non-Muslims?​

Islam teaches that a believer’s faith in God must manifest itself in compassion towards all creation. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Show mercy towards all on this Earth, the one who is above the Heavens will bestow mercy on you” (Sahih Bukhari).​ Indeed, the Qur’an describes Prophet Muhammad as “a source of mercy to all creation” (21:108), and as the famous Qur’anic exgete Ibn Jareer al-Tabari (d.310H) relates, “This includes both Muslims and Non-Muslims.”

The Prophet Muhammad said, “You are not a believer until you love for your brother what you love for yourself” (Sahih Bukhari). In his voluminous commentary, Shihab al-Deen al-Qastallani (d.851H) writes that the word ‘brother’ is inclusive of non-Muslims as well as Muslims 1al-Qastallani. Irshad al-Sari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, vol 1, p. 96. Indeed, this is substantiated by the fact that another tradition of the Prophet Muhammad states, “A servant does not reach the reality of faith until he loves for all humanity the same goodness he loves for himself” (Musnad Ahmad). A tradition ascribed to Prophet’s cousin and fourth caliph, Ali Ibn Abi Talib, states, “All people are either your brothers in faith or equals in humanity.” 2Although the attribution is not confirmed, the meaning is authentic. Ref: Nahj al-Balaghah, vol. 3, p. 84 The arabic: الناس صنفان: إما أخ لك في الدين أو نظير لك في الخلق

Another important verse of the Qur’an states, “As for those who do not kill you for your faith nor drive you from your homes, God instructs you to deal with them with justice and the utmost respect” (Qur’an 60:8). The Muslims experienced torture and persecution in Makkah and were driven out of their homes by their tribe, the Quraysh. When battles ensued between the Muslims and the Quraysh, the Qur’an reminded them that peace, justice, respect and compassion must be maintained with those who had not fought them. Ibn Jareer al-Tabari states that this applies to people of “all ways of life and religions.” 3Tafsir al-Tabari 60:8. He also states this instruction is permanent, universally applicable, and never abrogated The arabic word used in this verse ‘birr’ (dutiful respect and compassion) is the same word that the Qur’an commands Muslims to use in the treatment of their own parents (Qur’an 17:23-24).

The Qur’an demands that justice be accorded to even those who show animosity and enmity to Muslims. “Do not let the hatred and animosity of other people prevent you from being just. Be just! That is nearer to righteousness” (Qur’an 5:8).

Freedom of Religion and Spreading the Faith

It is categorically forbidden to coerce anyone into the faith according to numerous verses of the Qur’an. For instance, the Qur’an states, “There is no compulsion in religion. Truth is clear from falsehood” (2:256). Furthermore, the Qur’an says, “If God willed, He would have made every person on this Earth a believer – so how can one try to force people to become believers?” (Quran 10:99). The Qur’an also states, “And say, The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills let him believe, and whoever wills let him disbelieve“(Quran 18: 29).

The famous classical jurist, Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi (d.620H) writes, “It is not permissible to compel a non-believer into accepting Islam. Such a person would not even be considered a Muslim until it is established that they accepted the faith by their own free choice.” He states, “The reason for the prohibition of any coercion or duress is the Qur’anic verse, ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’ ” 4Ibn Qudamah. Al-Mughni, (Riyadh 1981) vol. 8, p. 144.

The Qur’an teaches that Islam can only be spread with wisdom, reason and beautiful preaching.

“Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom, and beautiful preaching and reason with them in the best manner. Verily your Lord knows best who has strayed from His path and best knows He as to who are the rightly-guided.”  (Quran 16:125)

Many non-Muslims would be surprised to learn that the Qur’an indicates that Muslims are obligated to protect the places of worship of other religions. “If God did not repel the aggression of the nations with others it would result in the destruction of monasteries, synagogues, churches, temples and mosques” (Quran 22:41).

When a Christian delegation from Najran came to visit Madinah, the Prophet Muhammad hosted them in his mosque and they performed their Christian service and prayers in the Prophet’s Mosque. 5Tabaqat ibn Sa’d, (Beirut) vol 1, p 357 The famous theologian Ibn al-Qayyim (d.756H) commented on this incident by explaining that Non-Muslims have complete freedom of worship alongside Muslims and can even perform their prayers inside the Mosques. 6Ibn al-Qayyim. Zad al-Ma’ad, vol. 3, p.638.

Towards a Global Neighbourhood

​ Islam articulates a concept of faith that includes a sense of social obligation towards the well-being of all members of one’s community, both Muslim and Non-Muslim. The Prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day must treat his neighbour with excellence” (Sahih Bukhari). The renowned Andalusian scholar of Islam, Imam al-Qurtubi (d.671H) explained that this statement applies to both Muslim and Non-Muslim neighbours. 7Al-Qurtubi, vol. 5, p.184.

The Qur’an outlines the following commandments for all Muslims:

Worship God and associate nothing with Him, and treat with excellence your parents, and relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the further neighbor, the companion at your side, the traveler, and the slaves” (4:36).

In this verse, two categories of neighbours have been specified – the near and the far. The scholars of Qur’anic exegesis have explained one of the meanings to be that the near neighbours are those with whom one shares kinship or faith, while other neighbours exist with whom one does not have a common faith or family ties. The Qur’an has explicitly mandated excellent conduct towards both. The Prophet Muhammad said, “The Angel Gabriel continued to inform me of the rights of the neighbours, until I though they would be assigned a portion of one’s inheritance!” (Sahih Bukhari).

The Prophet said, “The one who goes to sleep with a full stomach while his neighbour is hungry is not believer” (Sunan al-Bayhaqi). Whenever the companion Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas would sacrifice a goat, he would send some of its meat to his Jewish neighbour, acting upon the Prophetic instruction to take care of one’s neighbours (Sunan al-Tirmidhi).

The Prophet Muhammad explained that humanitarian service towards Non-Muslims is a tenet of the Islamic faith. Central to Islamic ethics is the concept of sadaqah (charity) – giving to others on a daily basis.8The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Every joint of a person must perform a charity each day that the sun rises: to judge justly between two people is a charity. To help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity. And the good word is a charity. And every step that you take towards the prayer is a charity, and removing a harmful object from the road is a charity.” (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim) The Prophet Muhammad saws used to regularly donate money in charity to Jewish families, and he commanded his followers, “Donate in charity to people of all religions” (Musannaf ibn Abi Shaybah). 9Said ibn al-Musayyib narrates that the Prophet Muhammad saws used to regularly donate money in charity to a household of the Jews, and it continues to be given. Kitab al-Amwal, Abu Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam d224H, pp727-728, Dar alShuruq 1989​. Arabic: ( عن سعيد بن المسيب أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم تصدق على أهل بيت من اليهود بصدقة ، فهي تجري عليهم ​).Sa’id ibn Jubayr narrates the Prophet saws said { تصدقوا على أهل الأديان كلها} “Donate in charity to people of all religions.” (Musannaf ibn Abi Shaybah, also al-Albani in Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Sahihah, vol. 6, p628).

Being part of a global neighbourhood entails a shared sense of concern for the wellbeing of others and for alleviating the suffering of the oppressed, whether Muslim or Non-Muslim. The Prophet Muhammad once told his companions that part of the scrolls revealed to Prophet Ibrahim was the Divine statement, “O Vain Ruler! I did not send you to amass the fortunes of this world. But I sent you to avert from Me the supplications of the oppressed. For I do not reject the supplications of the oppressed, even if it comes from a disbeliever” (Sahih Ibn Hibban). 10The Arabic reads: قُلْتُ: يا رسولَ اللهِ ما كانت صحيفةُ إبراهيمَ ؟ قال: ( كانت أمثالًا كلُّها: أيُّها الملِكُ المسلَّطُ المبتلى المغرورُ إنِّي لم أبعَثْكَ لتجمَعَ الدُّنيا بعضَها على بعضٍ ولكنِّي بعَثْتُك لترُدَّ عنِّي دعوةَ المظلومِ فإنِّي لا أرُدُّها ولو كانت مِن كافرٍ  (Sahih Ibn Hibban 361, Hilya Abu Naim 1/221, Arab’in al-Aaajurri 47). Cited by Imam Siddiq Hasan Khan (d.1307H)  in his Siraj al-Wahaj min Kashfi Matalib Sahih Muslim Bin Hajjaj, vol. 10, p.220, under “The Obligation of Helping the Oppressed.” Muslim scholars have included this narration under the obligation of helping the oppressed, regardless of their faith. The Prophet Muhammad also said, “Whoever wrongs a non-Muslim at peace with us, or infringes on his rights, or burdens him with more than he can bear, or takes anything from him against his will, then I will be his prosecutor on the Day of Judgement” (Sunan Abi Dawud).

Dealing with blasphemy, insults, and abuse

A central component of the Islamic faith is to return evil with good, and to respond to hostility with peace. The Qur’an states, “The good deed and the bad deed are not the same. Return evil with good, so that the one who was formerly your enemy will become a most dear friend” (Qur’an 41:34).

And the Qur’an states, “The true servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk the earth with humility, and when the uncivilized address them, they respond with words of peace” (Qur’an 25:43). When a group passing by in Madinah cursed the Prophet Muhammad and said, “May the plague be upon you!”, the Prophet urged responding only with gentleness and kindness (Sahih Bukhari).

The Qur’an has a very simple instruction for how Muslims should deal with those who are insulting their faith and blaspheming about their religion: don’t sit with them until they talk about something else. “And when you see those who engage in offensive discourse concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another conversion” (Qur’an 6:68). This commandment is so important, it is repeated a second time in the Qur’an. “And it has already been revealed in this scripture that when you hear the verses of Allah being rejected and ridiculed, then do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation” (Qur’an 4:140).

The Qur’an even forbids Muslims from insulting the idols of other religions or other people’s way of life, for it only provokes others to insult Islam. “And do not insult those whom they worship besides God, lest they insult God wrongfully without knowledge” (Qur’an 6:108). It follows logically from this that any behaviour that is undertaken which would lead others to revile Islam is categorically prohibited.

The Prophet Muhammad demonstrated this in his example. The Qur’an discusses how he and his companions were subject to perpetual abuse and harassment. Yet, the Prophet Muhammad showed forgiveness throughout his life. In fact, there are over 200 verses in the Qur’an which refer to the insults and attacks upon the Prophet, but the Qur’an always call on the Muslims to take the higher moral ground, “Be patient with what they say and glorify your Lord” (20:130) and “turn away from them and reply ‘Peace!’” (43:89) and “forgive them and overlook their misdeeds, verily Gold loves those who are kind” (5:13).  The Prophet Muhammad’s companions were deeply upset when the Quraysh would publicly revile the Prophet Muhammad, even referring to him as ‘mudhammam’ (the disgraced) instead of his name Muhammad (which means the oft-praised). The Prophet Muhammad surprised them when he replied to their concerns by saying, “Aren’t you amazed that God has even averted the curses and insults of the Quraysh? They curse and revile a man named Mudhammam, while I am Muhammad!” (Sahih Bukhari). This tradition is especially important for Muslims to consider when encountering hateful cartoons and depictions, since these images bear no resemblance to the Prophet Muhammad, such images are only a reflection of the ugliness of a person’s heart whose own hatred compels him to insult others. 11Someone might argue that the Prophet Muhammad is entitled to forgive others, but Muslims are not entitled to forgive on his behalf. However, this argument is patently false according to Islamic theology. Insulting the God’s Messenger is a religious matter and not a personal matter that the Prophet can take into his own hands, and choose whether to forgive or not (see Quran 3:128). Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad’s act of forgiveness towards others committing religious offence is something which all Muslims are bound to follow, because it is based on the Qur’anic instruction to “patiently endure all that they say” (Qur’an 20:130,38:17,53:39,73:10).

There is a well-known incident involving Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salool, who lived amongst the Muslims in Madinah and had a track record of inciting sedition (even causing 300 Muslims to abandon the very small army in the Battle of Uhud in which many leading Muslims were killed). Ibn Ubayy on one occasion was furiously ranting against the Prophet Muhammad in a gathering and said that he would drive Muhammad and the Makkan migrants out of Madinah. Ibn Ubayy said, “If you feed your dog, eventually it will devour you”, referring to the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. When the Prophet Muhammad was informed about this and asked what he would do, he replied simply, “We shall be gentle with him and maintain excellent company with him as long as he is amongst us.” 12al-Tabari. Arabic: بَلْ نَرْفُقُ بِهِ وَنُحْسِنُ صُحْبَتَهُ مَا بَقِيَ مَعَنَا. Indeed, so immense was the Prophet Muhammad’s clemency that he even personally conducted Ibn Ubayy ibn Salool’s funeral, burial, and prayed for him. 13Ignoring all the explicit aforementioned evidences, sometimes the incident of Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf is misquoted to justify retaliation for insults against the Prophet. However, the hadith scholar Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d.852H) points out that the reasons behind his death include the fact that he broke his covenant with the Muslims, travelled to the Quraysh in Makkah and made a pact with the Quraysh that they would join forces in waging war upon the Muslims ( وأخرج ابن عائذ من طريق الكلبي أن كعب بن الأشرف قدم على مشركي قريش فحالفهم عند أستار الكعبة على قتال المسلمين ). Ibn Hajar then mentions that another reason is found in the narration which states that Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf was part of a plot that attempted to poison the Prophet Muhammad (Fath al-Bari, Kitab al-Maghazi, p.391).

Conclusion

From the aforementioned evidences, it becomes clear that Islam mandates that Muslim interactions with Non-Muslims must conform to the following 7 cardinal tr​aits:
​1.​ Rahmah (compassion)
2. Rafq (gentleness)
3. Ihsaan (excellence)
4. Qist (justice)
5. Birr (respect)
6. Salam (peace)
7. Sadaqah (charity)

These values are essential for any civilization to prosper in the world today, as we find ourselves living in a global village, where all must collaborate and cooperate for the common good of humanity. The Prophet Muhammad said, “All creatures are one family dependent upon God. Whoever treats the creation of God the best, is loved by God the most” (al-Bayhaqi). 14This hadith is recorded by al-Bayhaqi in Shu’ab al-Iman, Abu Nu’aym in al-Hilya, al-Tabarani in Mu’jam al-Kabir and al-Awsat, al-Haythami in Majma’ al-Zawa’id, al-Bazzar and Abi Ya’la in their Musnads. The Arabic reads: (الخلق كلهم عيال الله، فأحب الخلق إلى الله من أحسن إلى عياله). The meaning is authentic and Ibn al-Qayyim uses the same phrase in his Kitab al-Ruh (والخلق عيال الله فاحبهم إليه أنفعه لعياله وإذاكان سبحان يحب من ينفع عياله بشربة ماء ومذة لبن وكسرة خبز فكيف بمن ينفعهم في حال ضعفهم وفقرهم وانقطاع أعمالهم؟). The arabic word ‘iyal means ‘dependants’ but is also used to refer to one’s children and hence has a connotation of closeness and love. While God has no children, His creation has an even closer bond of love and dependence upon Him and connection amongst one another like one single family.

 

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References   [ + ]

1. al-Qastallani. Irshad al-Sari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, vol 1, p. 96
2. Although the attribution is not confirmed, the meaning is authentic. Ref: Nahj al-Balaghah, vol. 3, p. 84 The arabic: الناس صنفان: إما أخ لك في الدين أو نظير لك في الخلق
3. Tafsir al-Tabari 60:8. He also states this instruction is permanent, universally applicable, and never abrogated
4. Ibn Qudamah. Al-Mughni, (Riyadh 1981) vol. 8, p. 144.
5. Tabaqat ibn Sa’d, (Beirut) vol 1, p 357
6. Ibn al-Qayyim. Zad al-Ma’ad, vol. 3, p.638.
7. Al-Qurtubi, vol. 5, p.184.
8. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Every joint of a person must perform a charity each day that the sun rises: to judge justly between two people is a charity. To help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity. And the good word is a charity. And every step that you take towards the prayer is a charity, and removing a harmful object from the road is a charity.” (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)
9. Said ibn al-Musayyib narrates that the Prophet Muhammad saws used to regularly donate money in charity to a household of the Jews, and it continues to be given. Kitab al-Amwal, Abu Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam d224H, pp727-728, Dar alShuruq 1989​. Arabic: ( عن سعيد بن المسيب أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم تصدق على أهل بيت من اليهود بصدقة ، فهي تجري عليهم ​).Sa’id ibn Jubayr narrates the Prophet saws said { تصدقوا على أهل الأديان كلها} “Donate in charity to people of all religions.” (Musannaf ibn Abi Shaybah, also al-Albani in Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Sahihah, vol. 6, p628).
10. The Arabic reads: قُلْتُ: يا رسولَ اللهِ ما كانت صحيفةُ إبراهيمَ ؟ قال: ( كانت أمثالًا كلُّها: أيُّها الملِكُ المسلَّطُ المبتلى المغرورُ إنِّي لم أبعَثْكَ لتجمَعَ الدُّنيا بعضَها على بعضٍ ولكنِّي بعَثْتُك لترُدَّ عنِّي دعوةَ المظلومِ فإنِّي لا أرُدُّها ولو كانت مِن كافرٍ  (Sahih Ibn Hibban 361, Hilya Abu Naim 1/221, Arab’in al-Aaajurri 47). Cited by Imam Siddiq Hasan Khan (d.1307H)  in his Siraj al-Wahaj min Kashfi Matalib Sahih Muslim Bin Hajjaj, vol. 10, p.220, under “The Obligation of Helping the Oppressed.”
11. Someone might argue that the Prophet Muhammad is entitled to forgive others, but Muslims are not entitled to forgive on his behalf. However, this argument is patently false according to Islamic theology. Insulting the God’s Messenger is a religious matter and not a personal matter that the Prophet can take into his own hands, and choose whether to forgive or not (see Quran 3:128). Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad’s act of forgiveness towards others committing religious offence is something which all Muslims are bound to follow, because it is based on the Qur’anic instruction to “patiently endure all that they say” (Qur’an 20:130,38:17,53:39,73:10).
12. al-Tabari. Arabic: بَلْ نَرْفُقُ بِهِ وَنُحْسِنُ صُحْبَتَهُ مَا بَقِيَ مَعَنَا.
13. Ignoring all the explicit aforementioned evidences, sometimes the incident of Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf is misquoted to justify retaliation for insults against the Prophet. However, the hadith scholar Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d.852H) points out that the reasons behind his death include the fact that he broke his covenant with the Muslims, travelled to the Quraysh in Makkah and made a pact with the Quraysh that they would join forces in waging war upon the Muslims ( وأخرج ابن عائذ من طريق الكلبي أن كعب بن الأشرف قدم على مشركي قريش فحالفهم عند أستار الكعبة على قتال المسلمين ). Ibn Hajar then mentions that another reason is found in the narration which states that Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf was part of a plot that attempted to poison the Prophet Muhammad (Fath al-Bari, Kitab al-Maghazi, p.391).
14. This hadith is recorded by al-Bayhaqi in Shu’ab al-Iman, Abu Nu’aym in al-Hilya, al-Tabarani in Mu’jam al-Kabir and al-Awsat, al-Haythami in Majma’ al-Zawa’id, al-Bazzar and Abi Ya’la in their Musnads. The Arabic reads: (الخلق كلهم عيال الله، فأحب الخلق إلى الله من أحسن إلى عياله). The meaning is authentic and Ibn al-Qayyim uses the same phrase in his Kitab al-Ruh (والخلق عيال الله فاحبهم إليه أنفعه لعياله وإذاكان سبحان يحب من ينفع عياله بشربة ماء ومذة لبن وكسرة خبز فكيف بمن ينفعهم في حال ضعفهم وفقرهم وانقطاع أعمالهم؟). The arabic word ‘iyal means ‘dependants’ but is also used to refer to one’s children and hence has a connotation of closeness and love. While God has no children, His creation has an even closer bond of love and dependence upon Him and connection amongst one another like one single family.
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