Islamic Voice
Jamadi-Ul-Awwal 1422H
August 2001
Volume 15-08 No:176

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Religious Tolerance
Islamic Law: The Historic Perspective

Religious Tolerance

While on his deathbed, Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) dictated a long Will consisting of instructions for the next Khalifah (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 . [That is the dhimmis or the non-Muslim minorities within the Islamic state]. 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 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. (The enlightened rulers of today have sent bombers even on suspicion of murder conspiracy). 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 Khalifah 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, Sayyidna Umar was simply following what he learnt from Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) 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 Spain under the Umayyah (Ommeyads) and in Baghdad under the Abbasid Khalifahs, Christians and Jews enjoyed a freedom of religion that they did not allow each other or anyone else.

This exemplary tolerance is built into Islamic teachings. The entire message of Islam is that this life is a test and we have the option of choosing the path to hell or to heaven. Messengers were sent to inform about the choices and to warn about the consequences. They were not sent to forcibly put the people on the right path. The job of the Muslims is the same. They must deliver the message of Islam to the humanity as they have received it. They are neither to change it to make it attractive, nor to coerce others to accept it. In addition, the results in the hereafter will depend upon faith. For all good acts are meaningless in the absence of the proper faith. And faith is an affair of the heart. It simply cannot be imposed. It is not an idea that followers of other religions have shared with Islam. The result is, Muslim experience in the area of tolerance has been exactly opposite of the rest of the world. As Marmaduke Pickthall noted: “It was not until the Western nations broke away from their religious law that they became more tolerant, and it was only when the Muslims fell away from their religious law that they declined in tolerance.”

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.

For Muslims religious tolerance is not about political posturing. It is a serious religious obligation. They must be a force against all intolerance, even that which is promoted in the guise of tolerance.


Islamic Law

The Historic Perspective

In Islam law and religion exist side by side,in the light of Qur’an and Hadith. The Islamic laws deal with all the aspects of a Muslim’s life.The Caliphs who followed the Prophet (Pbuh) solved the issues in the light Of the Quranic injunctions and the examples set by the Prophet.

The Ummayyads delegated these powers to various officials, such as; Qazis and Islamic Judges,who used their own discretions,based on Qur’an,religious norms and the legal concepts of the conquered territories.Their main concern was to consolidate the Islamic way of life through Ijtihad (reasoning by analogy).This included the ibaada’t (rituals), mu’amalaat (legal obligations)and uqub’at (punishments).Madinah, Kufa and Damuscus were their centers of Fiqh (jurisprudence).

The oldest corpus of Islamic law is “al-Muwatta” by Malik ibn Anas (715-95) of Madinad, which comprises 1700 juridical traditions,based on Ijma.His followers were known as Malikites. From these schools of Kufa and Basra grew the Hanafiy or the Hanafi School of Thoughts of Imam Abu Hanifa (699-767),who was a slave from Kabul,brought to Kufa and was set free.Abu Hanifa insisted upon the right of “preference”(istihsaan). This meant departure from analogy on grounds of equity.

Malik’s pupil, Muhammed ibn Idris al-Shafi’i(767-820) carved out a middle-of-the-road system between Maliki and Hanafi schools, while al-Shafi’i pupil Ahmad bin Hanbal(780-855), the founder of fourth school of Fiqh known as Hanabila,insisted on puritanism (orthodoxy). These four schools of jurisprudence form the major corpus of the Sunni schools of law. After Imam Hanbal’s death, an agreement developed among all these schools,known as the ‘closing of the door of ijtehad.The acceptance is known as the Taqleed (imitation).

During the same time of Abu Hanifa and Malik, Imam Muhammad Baqer(677-733) and Imam Jaf’ar al-Sadiq(702-65),the 5th and 6th Shi’a Imams who lived in Madinah, worked out another legal system,which Shi’a muslims follow.It imbodies the principles which,as Hazrat Ali’s direct descendents, they inherited from the Prophet.

Abbasid caliphate gave Hanafiyya school of jurisprudence the official status,which was given the legal status in eastern Iran, Transsoxiana, Turkey and India.The most impressive collection of Hanafiyya Fatwas is the Fatwa al-Alamgiriya, compiled by a board of Indian Ulema,appointed by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.


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