Ahl udh-Dhimma and the Right of Guardianship in the Islamic State
Discussion of the Coptic Christians has become prominent from the mouths of secularists lately in Egypt, as the implementation of the Sharee’ah has become the subject all of the people are talking about. The secularists say that implementation of Islam is not possible as long as there are non-Muslims living in the State (of Egypt). They pretend to have forgotten that – In a history spanning close to 1300 years, Islam ruled in a State that stretched from China in the East to the Atlantic Ocean on the West, stopping at the gates of Vienna on its march across Europe. This State embraced different ethnic, linguistic and religious “minorities” in her lands, and no problems surfaced for these minorities until the breakup of the Islamic Khilafah.
It is well-known that the Islamic culture did not employ the term “minority” in regards to the non-Muslim religious groupings, instead using the term “ahl udh-dhimmah” (people of the covenant), which carries a moral significance not reflected in the term “minority”. The word dhimmah means protection – as in the hadeeth in Sunan Abi Dawud – “the lowest (of the Muslims) carries their protection”. In the classical dictionary Lisan ul Arab, dhimmah is defined as “the covenant, protection, guarantee, sanctity and duty”.
There is no doubt that the presence of “minorities” in states can lead to a number of problems. The most serious of these are the breakup of the society, clashes emerging and minorities attempting to secede or cooperate with enemy powers. It is well-known that America uses “minorities” as a fig leaf for exerting control over the world, using the protection of “the rights of minorities” as a cover.
Islam gave the most beautiful model of dealing with ahl udh-dhimmah (the so-called “religious minorities”) – let alone the fact that Islam was able to melt the linguistic and religious minorities in its melting pot. There are many rules that the Sharee’ah put in place for interaction with the ahl udh-dhimmah, such as:
It is not possible for the Muslim to achieve piety if he is far from just behaviour, as Allah says,
ۖ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا ۚ اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ
“and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness.” [Sourat ul-Ma’idah, v.8]
- Fulfilling agreements:
Allah ta’ala says, “
“fulfil your contracts”, and He also says,
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْخَائِنِينَ
“Indeed, Allah does not like the treacherous”. [Sourat ul-Anfal, v58]
The dhimmah is a contract which is obligatory to fulfil.
- Prohibition of oppression and injustice:
Rasoul Allah [sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam] narrated a hadeeth qudsi in which Allah says, “O my slaves, indeed I have forbidden oppression for myself, and I have made it forbidden among you, so do not oppress one another”.
- No compulsion in religion:
This principle is indicated by the continuous presence of minorities until today in the Muslims’ lands. The Europeans in return broke their words and quickly revoked the agreements that they gave to the Muslim minorities, when their provinces fell into the hands of the Spanish during the fall of Andalus. They also wiped out the Muslims and forced them to either change their religion or choose death in the courts of the Inquisition in Granada and elsewhere.
In the later years of the Khilafah, non-Muslim Armenians, Greeks and Jews were living in Istanbul in the Uthmani era. They made contact with some enemies of the State, which led to some disturbances and angered Sultan Saleem I. He then issued a decree ordering that the minorities in Istanbul be compelled to accept Islam as their religion. Did these Muslims, and did their ulema accept this? History records that the Ulema rejected this in the strongest terms, among them Shaykh ul Islam Zenbilli Ali Jamal who was very upset by the decree. He confronted the Sultan and said, “O Sultan, this contradicts the Sharee’ah, for indeed there is no compulsion in deen. When your grandfather Muhammad al-Fatih conquered Istanbul, he followed the Sharee’ah, and he did not force a single person to accept Islam, rather he gave everyone security to follow their own beliefs. You must follow the command of the Sharee’ah and the example of your grandfather Muhammad al-Fatih. He then warned the Sultan that he would remove him from office if he persisted with the decree. However Sultan Saleem respected the Ulema, so he responded to the request and left the non-Muslims on their religious beliefs and practices.
A story more amazing than that is of Sultan Sulayman al-Qanooni and the Jewish man, who refused to sell his hut. This building stood in an area in which the Sultan intended to build a masjid. The Jewish persisted on not selling his house, to the extent that the Sultan himself visited the house in order to persuade and entice the man to sell his hut, offering many times more than its value. The Jewish man became amazed at the sight of the Sultan trying to persuade him to part with the house, while he had the power to force him out of the State altogether! He then agreed to the sale, and the masjid was then built on that land once the acceptance and agreement of the Jewish man was reached.
These events took place in the later years of the Islamic State, when it was starting to weaken, and such examples, by Allah, are numerous, so I will not go into all of them in detail. They are sufficient to indicate that the issue of minorities in a Muslim State and the screaming of the enemies of Islam is a tune being played by people with evil designs. In fact they intend that they should secure authority for the non-Muslim minorities in lands which are majority Muslim.
You can see that the Jews and Christians were able to enjoy safety and security for their selves and their properties, their religious rites, places of worship and descendants in the shade of the Islamic State. They were not obliged to defend the State, nor were their forcefully conscripted into the army. On the contrary the State bore the responsibility to protect them. They were obliged to pay a small jizyah tax only once a year, and many of the Khaleefahs and governors would lift this requirement from those who were elderly or weak such that they were unable to pay. If the State was unable to guarantee their protection, it would return their jizyah payments to them. Rasoul Allah (alaihi salam) ordered with regards to them, “Whosoever harms a dhimmi has harmed me, and I will dispute with him on the day of Judgment”. He (alaihi salam) also said, “Whosoever killed a mu’ahid (one under covenant) will not smell the fragrance of Jannah, even though its scent can be reached at a distance of 40 years’ travel”.
Is it not the case that Omar’s anger and his statement became a well-known saying, “When did you enslave the people, even though their mothers gave birth to them as free men!” He said this in support of a Coptic Christian from Egypt who had been beaten by the son of the governor of Egypt. We also see this in his advice to the Khaleefah who would follow him, “I entrust him with the dhimmah of Allah, and the dhimmah of his Messenger, he should fulfil the covenant with them, fight on their behalf and ensure that they are not burdened beyond their means”.
In conclusion, the Copts and other non-Muslims are a responsibility of the Islamic State, like all other citizens. They have the rights of guardianship, protection, guarantee of living standards, just and kind treatment. They can participate in the Muslim army and fight with them, even though they are not obliged to fight. They have the right to receive justice as the Muslims do, and likewise they also have the obligation to act justly. They are regarded in front of the judge, in management of affairs, on transactions and punishments in the same way that the Muslims are, without any discrimination. Justice is an obligation for them as it is for the Muslims.
20 Safar 1433
This is the translation of the original Arabic article.