Answers from Islamic History
A system much admired in European history for its achievements in Andalusia was the Islamic Caliphate. From its outset in the Middle East the Caliphate achieved a largely cohesive citizenship between people of different races and religions.
Arriving as head of State in Medina al Munawwarah, the Prophet SAW set about building a cohesive society. He paired immigrants from Makkah with the Ansar – the Helpers – the settled community in Yathrib – to share wealth and build bonds of brotherhood. He set about drafting a constitutional agreement, declaring the Believers as one distinct community in the society, but widening respectful and just relations between them and the other communities – for example the settled Jewish tribes in the area.
Minorities were protected. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “He who harms a person under covenant, or charged him more than he can, I will argue against him on the Day of Judgement.” [Narrated by Yahya b. Adam in the book of Al-Kharaaj]
The Messenger of Allah (saw) also said: “He who hurts a dhimmi hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys Allah.” [Reported by al-Tabarani in Al-Awsat on good authority]
The classical scholars of Islam also detailed the rights of the Muslims towards the dhimmi. The famous Maliki jurist, al-Qarafi states: The covenant of protection imposes upon us certain obligations toward the ahl al-dhimmah. They are our neighbours, under our shelter and protection upon the guarantee of Allah, His Messenger (saw), and the religion of Islam. Whoever violates these obligations against any one of them by so much as an abusive word, by slandering his reputation, or by doing him some injury or assisting in it, has breached the guarantee of Allah, His Messenger (saw), and the religion of Islam. [Shihab ul Din Al Qarafi, Al-Furuq].
In the context of that diverse cohesive society nurtured by Islam, Sir Thomas Arnold once wrote:
“We have never heard about any attempt to compel Non-Muslim parties to adopt Islam or about any organized persecution aiming at exterminating Christianity. If the Caliphs had chosen one of these plans, they would have wiped out Christianity as easily as what happened to Islam during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain; by the same method which Louis XIV followed to make Protestantism a creed whose followers were to be sentenced to death; or with the same ease of keeping the Jews away from Britain for a period of three hundred fifty years. The Eastern Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of Christendom, throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of Mohammedan [sic] governments towards them”. [Arnold, Sir Thomas W. THE PREACHING OF ISLAM, A HISTORY OF THE PROPAGATION OF THE MUSLIM FAITH, Westminster A. Constable & Co., London, 1896, p. 80. ]
There are two essential points to consider based upon the model that Arnold describes.
Firstly, the level of commitment to the state that any citizen needed to show was obedience to the law. That was all. They were not forced to believe in that the source of that law was divine truth. Had non-Muslims been asked to proclaim that the source of law was divine it would have violated the Islamic principle: ‘there is no compulsion in the deen (religion).’ People who did not share the fundamental beliefs and values of lslam were not expected to change their religion to Islam, nor to omit verses from the Torah and Bible to conform to Islam. To ask for that would have been tantamount to a forced conversion, and could only have been described as totalitarian.
Yet today, in Europe and Britain, what is effectively being asked of Muslims is to secularise their faith to conform to the dominant value system found in western societies. As Islam does not recognise a separation between religion and state, asking Muslims to adopt divergent values and concepts is tantamount to asking them to leave important parts of their holistic faith. Often Muslims are vilified for failing to testify that ‘there is no truth but secular truth; and the democratic way is the ideal’. It is tantamount to try to enforce ‘conversion’ of Muslims – or else be ‘dead’ in terms of citizenship and rights.
The second point to reflect upon is that people in the society Arnold described trusted the system, felt secure and as a consequence felt like stakeholders. People feel secure, and consequently feel ‘at home’ when they have equal access to justice, have opportunities for redress and have space to hold on to their beliefs. The Caliphate gave citizens of different faith the space to practice their faith and even exempted them from the obligations of citizenship that were specifically linked to the Islamic belief.
This view that the predominant expectation of any citizen should be no more than to abide by the law and display civility in interaction with others is not unique to the Caliphate. It is one that some brave voices do air, and it is a demonstration of confidence in one’s values and state.
Today’s push, in Britain and Europe, for a nationalistic, values based citizenship is by contrast a divisive and coercive approach, which sadly dominates much of the identity debate today. It betrays a lack of confidence, and perhaps substance in the dominant values and symbols of national pride that are being forced on society today. Sadly, this will not create the harmony that many may intend, only harm.
In the final Part 4 we will look the identity questions Muslims living in Britain need to ask today…
Dr. Abdul Wahid
Chairman of the Executive Committee
Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain