The Tenth General Conference :Islam and The 21st Century
The protection of religious minorities in Islam
The protection of religious minorities in Islam
Dr. Murad Wilfried Hofmann
1. Fear is the Issue
1: The spreading of Islam in the West, both in the United States and Europe, seems to make headway at ever increasing speed. Already, there are nine million Muslims installed in Western Europe, and the American Islamic community counts no less than six million members. In the Federal Republic of Germany alone 2578 Islamic centers and prayer halls have been counted earlier this year. 1
2. And yet, there are alarmed voices warning of a possible backlash as anti-Turkish, anti-Arabic, and anti-Islamic sentiments are seen to grow almost everywhere. One central reason for this dangerous development is an emotionalized fear of Islam, widespread not only in the Balkans and in European Mediterranean countries but also in Central and Northern Europe. Islam is not viewed there as presented by the Muslim community - as the most tolerant of all religions - but, on the very contrary, as a militant, aggressive, highly in tolerant, and inherently violent religion.
Consequently, far-fetched as it may seem, Europeans are increasingly concerned that their Muslim populations - thanks to their high birth-rates, additional immigration. and their da'wa activities - might become culturally dominant. For many, this idea is particularly frightening because it is widely assumed that the Muslims. once in power, would suppress Christian and any other minorities. In response, an anxious and rabidly militant anti-Islamic evangelical group in Germany, the so-called Christliche Mitte ( Christian Center ) has begun spreading pamphlets asking people to pronounce themselves against an impending "Islamization of Germany".2
3. For the future of Islam in Europe it is therefore essential to inform people correctly about the real attitude of Islam as such, and Muslim jurisprudence in particular, towards religious minorities.
II. Intolerant Islam?
1. Discussions of whether Islam by its very nature is tolerant or not have hinged so far on the interpretation of the popular 19th verse Al-Imran : Inna ad-din aind Allah al-Islam. If this verse is understood to say "Behold, the only (true) religion in the sight of Allah is Islam" meaning by that the religion and civilization of Islam as they developed historically - then this verse can be seen indeed as a triumphalist, exclusivist and therefore potentially dangerous doctrine. Fortunately this view can be based on merely a few contemporary translations of the Qur'an into English. 3
To counteract their impact, non-Muslims should be alerted to the fact that there is near unanimity today among Qur'anic scholars that "al-Islam" in 3:19 is to be understood the way it must have been understood before the establishment of Islam as a specific way of life, i.e. as "submission to God" or as "surrendering to His Will" 4, so that Al-Imran in reality says : "Behold, the only (true) religion in the sight of Allah is submission to Him" The same problem arises when" al-Islam is naively left untranslated in A-Imran: 85 instead of being interpreted to mean : "If anyone desires a religion other than submission to Allah, it will never be accepted" (3: l9). 5
Similarly, we must avoid a triumphalist note when rendering al- Fath (48):28. This verse should be understood by to say: "It is He Who has sent His messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to make it prevail over all religion... "Here din al-haqqi," the religion of truth", must not be identified with the historically grown institutions of Islam but with submission to Allah.6
2. How important this operation is demonstrated by the fact that both the President of the German Protestant Church in the Land of Hessen, Dr. Peter Steinacker, and the President of the German FBI (Bundesamt fur Ver fassungsschutz), Peter Friseh, have recently argued against Islam on the basis of their misunderstanding of these verses.
III. Tolerance in Islam
I. European religious history has been determined by the early Christian doctrine "extra" ecelesiam nullum salus "according to which non-Christians were barred from access to salvation. Consequently, Western history became marked by structural intolerance. In fact, wherever Christians were physically able to do so, they physically eliminated people of any other but their own de nomination. Not only pagan Germanic and Slavic tribes were massacred. After the Reconquista in Spain (16/17th cent.) "ethnic - i.e. religious - cleaning" was practiced as efficiently against Andalusian Muslims and Jews as recently against Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Christian religious intolerance was directed against so-called heretical co-religionaires as well, be they Orthodox (as 1205 during the "sack of Constantinople" by Frankish knights), be they Protestant (as during the "Thirty Years War" in Germany, 1618-1648). Especially vicious were the effects of the mutually agreed doctrine "cuius religio eius religio" which forced whole populations into accepting the denomination of their respective monarchs, as they came and went. 2. It is, and was, a degree of intolerance which deprived Europeans of the experience of religious pluralism as practiced in Muslim lands - Andalusia, Sicily. the Balkans, the Near East. Worse, it still makes Europeans quite naturally assume that Muslims responded in a reciprocal manner. Little thought is therefore given to what should be appreciated as astonishing facts: That the Greeks and the Serbs, after 500 years of Ottoman rule, emerged with their traditional languages and religions intact. Nor are Western people surprised to see more Coptic churches than mosques when they drive from down-town Cairo to the airport. Nor do they marvel when they see neo-lit crosses on church steeples in Damascus, or Catholic. Armenian, Protestant and Orthodox Churches functioning in Istanbul, not to speak of dozens of synagogues.
It is therefore of the essence to acquaint Occidental people with the fact that the Qur'an is a veritable manifesto of religious pluralism. so much so that Islam is characterized - in theory and in practice - by what could be termed "structural tolerance". 3. Religious pluralism in Islam is based on several impressive verses of the Qur'an, among which the following:
(a) "To everyone of you We have appointed a (different) law [shari'ah] and way of life [minhaj] And if Allah had so willed. He could surely have made you all one single community. But (He willed otherwise) in order to test you by means of what he has given you. Compete, then with each other in doing good works. To Allah you must all return. And then He will make you truly understand all that on which you used to differ." (5: 48).
(b) "And among His signs is... the diversity of your languages and colours" (30: 22).
(c) "There is no compulsion in religion" (2: 256).
(d) "To you be your religion and to me my religion!" (109: 6).
(e) "For every community We have appointed (different) ways of worship which they ought to follow. So do not let them draw you into dispute on the matter but call them to your Lord... (22: 67). And if they try to argue with you. say : >Allah knows best what you are doing.<" (22: 68).
(f) "And say: the truth is from your Lord. So let believe whoever wills, and let disbelieve whoever wills" (18: 29).
(g) "O mankind We have created you all from a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one an other. Indeed, the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah is He who is most conscious of Him" (49: 13). I could go on of course, but these wonderful Qur'anic passages do suffice to prove that Muslims consider religious pluralism not only as normal but beneficial, religious belief as a most personal affair not to be interfered with, and religious speculation and dogmatic disputes as vain This attitude would already be remarkable if only provided for a peaceful coexistence of Islam with other religions, a respectful living next to each other. We shall see that the Qur'an aims beyond that, insisting not only on unity but also on diversity.
IV. Unity (in Diversity)
I. Christians and Jews tend to feel uncomfortable when one points out to them that Islam is not only the youngest religion in historical terms - but the oldest as well - conceptually. They resent what they perceive as inclusivist trap. We should have sympathy with this gut reaction since we Muslims, too, do not cherish to be treated as "anonymous Christians" by some Catholics like Karl Rahner.
What these people have to understand is (i) the ontological link between all human beings - indeed between all creation, and (ii) the lbrahimic link between all monotheistic religions.
2. The Qur'an is quite clear about the fact that all creation has been brought into existence in order to recognize the Creator and to praise Him The Qur'an makes it quite clear: "Are you not aware that it is Allah whose limitless glory all extol that are in the heavens and earth, even the birds? Each knows indeed how to pray to Him! "Allah also asks" Have they not observed things that Allah has created, how their shadows incline to the right and to the left, prostrating themselves to Allah?" 8 According to An-Nahl (16):49 "to Allah prostrates all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth of the moving creatures or the angels.." (No difference there between Catholics or Protestants or Sunni or Shii....)
In short, man is subservient to God, in as much as he partakes in a creation which is entirely subservient to God - things, plants, animals, angels. To recognize and to praise God is part of the natural disposition of man (al-fitra) 9 But owing to his ability to choose between good and bad (al-furqan) there is a difference after all, as expressed in al-Hajj (22): 18:" Do you not see that to Allah prostrate all things which are in the heavens and on earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the mountains, and the trees, and moving creature, and a great number from mankind."
In view of this ontological link, is it at all surprising that Allah considers all human beings as one existential unit?: "And Verily, this Ummah of yours is a single Ummah, and I am the Lord of you all; therefore serve Me." (21:92, similarly 23: 52).
V. Diversity (in Unity) : The Ibrahimic Link
1. But even the Ibrahimic link is not well understood on the Christian side, while somewhat better on the Jewish side, It is nevertheless the basis for all ecumenical efforts from Muslims, be it in form of a dialogue or a trialogue. The Qur'an in Ash-Shura (42): 14 says it quite plainly: "In matter of religion He has established for you what he ordained for Noah. and what We revealed to you (oh Muhammad), and what We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, namely that you remain steadfast in religion and do not break your unity... therein" The next verse continues: "Because of this, then, summon (all mankind) and... say: 1 believe in whatever revelation Allah has sent down, Allah is our Lord as well as your Lord. To us shall be counted our deeds and to you your deeds. Let there be no dispute between us and you. Allah will assemble us all - for to Him is the final return."
If all concerned would approach their "World Ecumenical Councils" in that spirit and with that conviction, Hans Kng and John Hick could at long last rest their case. But this presupposes a veritable information campaign and an uphill battle against an enormous amount of disinformation about Islam.
2. Knowledgeable Christians, while taking the Ibrahimic link into account, remains nevertheless somewhat uneasy because of the Muslims' unbroken conviction to have the right religion. The Qur'an, in Al-Hajj (22): 67, puts it in simple terms: "Behold, you are indeed on the right way!" Well, indeed, Islamic tolerance, religious pluralism and ecumenicalism do not imply that Muslims become denominationally agnostics or loose sight of the uniqueness of the Muhammadian experience.
That the adherents of earlier faiths may obtain Allah's grace while, and through following their particular way, docs not preclude that Muslims enjoy and defend the uniqueness and finality of the Qur'anic message.10
VI. Minorities and the Law
I. On this ultra-solid theological basis, reinforced by the Prophet's Sunnah. Islamic jurists developed within the juridical field of siyar11 a detailed code for the legal protection of religious minorities. Indeed, preceding modern covenants by more 1400 years. Islamic law provided minorities with a liberal status which is still unequalled and unchallenged today.
2. Under the old Arabic tribal code of hospitality any member - even women - could, at least temporarily, give political asylum, i.e. protection valid against all, to individuals seeking refuge (al-aman ma'ruf).12 Following the relevant Qur'anic instruction in Islam developed into a permanent treaty relationship (al-aman mu'abbad) between the Islamic State and its non-Muslim residents from among the AL al-kitab, the so-called AL al-dhimma.13 Under this status, religious minorities in the Muslim world enjoyed virtual autonomy and self-administration in religious affairs, including personal status, family affairs, inheritance law, and criminal law (whenever offenses were committed within the minority). In these respects the AL al-dhimma were exempt from the legal monopoly jurisdiction that national states normally claim for their entire territory, Thus, without fearing sections Christians could produce. trade with, and consume pork and wine, and Jews could give interest- bearing loans. At the same time-as promised by Muhammad (s.) to the Christians of Nran in 631 - these minorities enjoyed the protection of their "lives, property, lands, faith, churches, and all they possess" like the majority Muslims.14 Killing a Christian was considered an enormous crime.15 Muhammad according to al-Bukhari is said to have succinctly stated "One who hurts a dhimmi hurts me, and one who hurts me hurts Allah".
3. In fact, the dhimmi, without being discriminated thereby were treated differently in three respects only:
(a) They were exempt from military service in the Muslim armed forces: 16
(b) In consideration thereof they paid a special poll-tax (jizya) the amount of which did not necessarily exceed the Muslims' zakat-tax.17 This was not a punishment but a service charge for being protected.
(c) While they could votel8 and reach any other level in the hierarchies of the state, a dhimmi was precluded from becoming head of his Islamic State - as it is still the case today.
4. This minority status is so generous that it frequently worked against the interests of the Islamic community. For instance in the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire prepared its own undoing by adhering to the Islamic minority rules even though, in the 19th century, this unavoidably fostered Greek, Serbian, and Bulgarian religiously toned and tuned nationalism. When these countries became independent their dhimmi - institutions initially served as State institutions. It is therefore doubtful whether the dhimmi - status should be called demi-citizenship"19 On the contrary, in the view of numerous contemporary Muslim authors in a nation-state world the status of modern dhimmi corresponds to the modern concept of citizenship.20 This would imply that non-Muslims in a modern Muslim State are subject to the draft and, consequently, also to equal taxation, like Muslims. 4. In this context the question poses itself who, in today's view, that AL al-kitab are who qualify for the protection of their cultural and religious autonomy. Originally only Jews and Christians were considered eligible - until the Prophet of Islam also accepted Bahraini Zoroastrians into the fold. Later, Sabians and those who adhere to one of the other prophets" were considered eligible, provided they have a book or something that could have been a book and are not polytheists.21
This definition has loose borders. So has the one suggested by Ahmed El-Borai according to which - in addition to the AL al-kitab - Muslims owe tolerance to unbelievers !as long as they had not received the message".22
This remarkable view - which, if widely accepted, would ease the relations between Muslims and agnostics, atheists, and materialists in the Occident's based on at-Tauba (9): 6, which says: And if any of the polytheists (min al mushrikin) ask you for protection, grant it to him, so that he might hear the word of God. And then escort him to a place where he can feel secure. That is because they are people [who sin only because they are23 without knowledge." In fact, how could one deprive this group of people from minority protection without violating the most basic rule La Ikraha fi-d-din?
VI. Theory and Practice
I. According to its jurisprudence, Islam knows of no minority problems.
This was especially well demonstrated by Abu 'Ubaida, great companion of the Prophet (s.), when he returned the poll tax paid by Christians in Syria when doubting that he could protect them against an invading Byzantine army.24
Umar, the 2nd Khalifa, employed a Greek finance minister, and already Mu'awiya, the 1st Umayade khalifa, had a Christian wife. 2. And yet, it will surprise nobody that Muslim history did not always live up to the precepts of religion, especially in the Middle-ages when the confrontation between the Christian and the Muslim world was at its peak - with Crusades, Reconquista, and Ottoman campaigns into Central Europe. During that period most Fuqaha arrived atinrer- prethtions which in our view to-day cannot be reconciled with either Qur'an or Sunnah.
Thus An-Nawawi wrote that "an infidel who has to pay his poll- tax should be treated by the tax collector with disdain." and that infidels are forbidden to build churches in new Muslim towns, may not ride a horse. and must not "sound the bells of their churches". 25 Others wanted to forbid them the display of crosses to build higher than their Muslim neighbours, or to consume pork and alcohol.26 3. These deplorable deviations were justified at the time by an interpretation of the concluding sub-clause of Surat at-Tauba: 29. which was understood to mean : "Fight the disbelievers... until they pay the jizya with will me submission and are humbled27 (or: "brought low" 25: (W: "feel subdued" 29).
It is, however, possible to give a more benign interpretation to that sentence. which accords better with the spirit of the Islamic attitude towards the AL al-kitab: Instead of "with willing submission" the crucial words 'an yadin can be understood to mean: to pay with a willing hand,30 or: to pay if this is within their means.31 And "humbling" may simply refer to defeat in war, i.e. the event which preceded and caused the minorities obligation to pay jizya, possibly as far as 14(x) years ago. In short: There is no Qur'anic justification for treating non-Muslims impolitely.
I. The Occidental world for hundreds of years managed to eliminate religious pluralism. This changed decisively thanks to two major events
(i) The United States conceived of itself as a heaven for refugees from political and religious persecution and, as a result, after shaking off its own period of witch-hunting and narrow confessionalism. turned into a truly multicultural community. Currently, the Pentagon's Chaplain's Office counts no less than 261 different religious affiliations within the U.S. Armed Forces...
(ii) After World War II, in order to speed up its reconstruction, European countries - prominently Great Britain, France and Germany - started a large scale importation of foreign labor. By the time this was stopped in the mid 70ies, the religious landscape of Europe had decisively changed. Even for merely mono-religious countries like Sweden now had to practice religious pluralism. This trend continues due to the steady influx into Europe of political and economic refugees from the Muslim world (Kurds, Palestinians, Algerians, and Tunisians). 2. Against this background, the United Nations and the Council of Europe developed treaties designed to combat the violation of humans rights in general and of minority rights in particular. This is the case with the Universal Declaration of Humans Rights of 10 December 1949, 32 the European Human Rights Convention of 4 November 1950, 33 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 19 December l966.!! Of specific relevance is Art. 27 of this Covenant which reads : "In States with minorities in terms of ethnicity, religion or language members of such minorities must not be deprived of the right, together with other members of their group to foster their own cultural life, to confess and practice their religion, and to avail themselves of their own language" [my translation]. 3. The Occident is rightly proud on having achieved this progress, at least on paper. But Western people continue to ignore the fact that this latest standard of minority protection had already been achieved - and practiced - in the Islamic world some 1400 years ago. Not only achieved : surpassed Because all Western minority regimes continue to leave untouched the principle of territoriality as far as their legal order is concerned, they cannot conceive of conceding the degree of autonomy provided for by Islamic law. And yet it seems obvious that also today certain seemingly intractable religio-ethnic conflicts - as in Northern Ireland, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina - could be settled after all, provide that one followed the path traced by the shari'ah.
1. Der SPIEGEL special, Hamburg, No. 1/1998, p. 110.
2. Christliche Mitte, P.O. Box. 2168. D-59531 Lippstadt.
3. Typical is the one by Muh. Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali and Muh. Muhsin Khan.
4. This is how 3:19 is rendered by Yusuf Ali, Marmaduke Pickthall, Muh. Asad, T.B. Irving, Rashid Said Kassab, and the official Saudi translation from the King Fahd Printing House in al-Madinah.
5. There are of course cases where "al-Islam" means just that, e.g. in Al-Ma'idah (5): 3
6. See Muh. Asad, The Message of the Qur'an, Gibraltar 1980, footnote 42 to 48 : 28.
7. For Frisch see Der SPIEGEL (Hamburg) no. 36/1997.
8. 24:41; similarly in 38:18 f.
9. 30: 30.
10. share this view with Muh. Asad, Op. cit., footnote 66 to 5 48.
11. as-siyar is the plural of as-sirah, meaning here "conduct" or "behavior" in terms of the law of or of private international law.
12. See Abdul Rahman Doi, Shari'ah, London 1984, pp.426-437. Hans Kruse, lslamisches Volkerrecht, 2nd ed., Bochum 1979, pp.74-154.
13. See Said Ramadan, Das islamisehe Recht. Wiesbaden 1980, pp.106-155.
14. Isam Kamel Salem, Islam und Volkerreeht, Berlin 1984. p. 153, quoting from Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-Kharaj, Cairo 1933, p.72 f.
15. Ahmad ibn Naqibal-Misri, The Reliance of the Traveller, Abu Dhabi 1991. w 52.1(382)
16. This did not exclude their obligation to contribute to possible defense efforts of their own community.
17. In the middle-ages, the poll tax in the Shati'iregion was one dinar per person per year. see: An-Nawawi, Minhaj et-Talibin, Lahore (1914) 1977. p.467. in the Hanefi region it ranged from 12-48 dirham.
18. The Jewish tribes of al-Madinah had participated in the confirmation of Muhammad as head of their Muslim-Jewish confederation.
19. As Kruse does, op. cit., p.82.
20. They include Rashid al-Ghannoushi, Towards Inclusive Strategies for Human Rights Enforcement in the Arab World, Encounters, vol.2, no 2, Markfield, Leicestershire, UK, 1996, p.193, Fathi Osman, The Children of Adam - An Islamic Perspective on Pluralism, Washington, D.C., 1996, pp.20, 24 - 26; Fathi Osman, Human Rights on the Eve of the 21 St Century. London 1996 (manuscript); Ramadan. op. cit., pp.107.114, 138.
21. Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, op. cit.. chapter 011.1, p. 607.
22. El-Borai Ahmed. Les minorits dans les pays islamiques, Rapports entre majorite's et minorits dans les pays mditerranens, La condition des minorits en Islam. Study submitted to the 7th General Conference of the Supreme Islamic Council in Cairo. July 1995, p.19.
23. Interpolation as made by Muhammad Asad. op. cit., 9 : 6.
24. Quoted from Abu Yusuf, Al-Kharaj, op. cit., p.138 f.
25. An-Nawawi. op. cit!, pp.467 - 469;
26. Salem. Op. Cit., 155.
27. This is the view of An-Nawawi.
29. Official Saudi translation; Yusuf Ali, Hilali and Muhsin Khan;
30. Muh . Asad, op. cit.. 9 : 29.
31. Ramadan. op. cit., p.177.
32. In particular its art. 2 (non-discrimination), 14 (right to obtain asylum), and 18 (freedom of religion).
33. In particular its art. 9 (Freedom of religion, thought and conscience) and 14 (non- discrimination)
34. In particular its art. 18 (freedom of religion)