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Non-Muslims under Islam

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Non-Muslims under Islam

Article Index

Non-Muslims under Islam

Muhammad and non-Muslims

Shari‘a and non-Muslims

Jihad and non-Muslims

Status of apostates from Islam...

Forced conversions

Footnotes

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It is often said nowadays that Islam has always been a peaceful and tolerant religion in which non-Muslim minorities flourished undisturbed, with Jews and Christians respectfully treated as equals by the Muslim majority. The well-known scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, criticises this myth as a recent invention which has no base in history:
It is only very recently that some defenders of Islam have begun to assert that their society in the past accorded equal status to non-Muslims. No such claim is made by spokesmen for resurgent Islam, and historically there is no doubt that they are right. Traditional Islamic societies neither accorded such equality nor pretended that they were so doing. Indeed, in the old order, this would have been regarded not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. How could one accord the same treatment to those who follow the true faith and those who wilfully reject it? This would be a theological as well as a logical absurdity.1

This article looks at how Islam treats non-Muslims of various kinds, both in history and in theology. Muhammad set the tone shortly before his death by stating his intention of cleansing the Arabian peninsula of all non-Muslims.

It has been narrated by ‘Umar b. al-Khattab that he heard the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say: I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim. (Sahih Muslim, Book 019, Number 4366).

The traditional Islamic view is that God has made Muslims superior to all other people. According to the Qur’an, Muslims are “the best of peoples” (Q 3:110).2 All relationships with non-Muslims have to serve the principle of honouring and strengthening Islam and Muslims. Muslims must be dominant and non-Muslims subordinate. In an Islamic state, only Muslims have full citizenship rights.

Even today, many Muslims accept it as natural and normal for non-Muslims to be despised and discriminated against. They feel that it is quite proper for non-Muslims to be restricted in the public expression of their faiths and quite improper for a Muslim to submit to a non-Muslim in marriage, at work or in the political sphere.

Muslim attitudes to non-Muslims are based on the Qur’an, on Muhammad’s example, on the example of the early Islamic state under the four “rightly-guided caliphs”, and on Islamic law (shari‘a) as it developed in the classical age.

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