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Human Rights and Democracy
Muslims And Non-Muslims

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Islam teaches justice, understanding, cooperation and kindness in dealing with non-Muslims and all "others" at the country and universal levels [49:13, 60:7-8]. Muslims should be honestly keen to maintain peace with others in their country and in the entire world, and cooperation in furthering virtue and righteousness, not in fostering evil and aggression [5:2], to promote reconciliation and to defend the wronged party against transgression, and to race with others in doing good [5'-48]. Diversity is a natural law for humankind, and no conformity with or domination of one single way of thinking or way of life can be expected. People are created different in their various abilities so as to be tested through how they deal with their differences and how they constructively interact and cooperate, benefiting from God's gracious guidance in their efforts [5:48, 11:118-9, 49:13]. It is the real challenge to the human "ego" to deal with the other, and even with the enemy. Muslims are taught to deal justly and kindly with all others, not only with their own people and friends to whom every human being is inclined to deal nicely.

Again, what is required in universal human rights is "equality", not merely nicety. The Muslims and non-Muslims should be equal in rights and obligations in the Muslim country, which should mean that a non-Muslim can vote, be a member of the parliament, a minister, a judge, an officer in the army, and may reach the top in any position. They should enjoy their essential rights of belief, expression, association and assembly. The general principle in Islam is that there should never be any coercion in matters of faith [2:256].  They can have their organizations and their institutions which should be protected. Their religious processions with their raised religious symbols were secured in treaties under the early caliphs. They should obtain equal access to the state public services, especially in the fields of security, health, education, economic development and social welfare which may be provided to them from the "zakat" funds or from other state revenues. Significantly, the Quran refers to the legitimate and required defense of churches and synagogues side by side with mosques [22:40]. Non-Muslim citizens in a Muslim country should be equal to Muslims in all obligations, including taxation and military service.

I do not think Muslims have any legal problem with regard to full equality with non-Muslims in rights and obligations. What emerged as" the status of "dhimmis" (non-Muslims within the Muslim state) was historically developed rather than built in the permanent laws of the Quran and Sunna. Many scholars, including Westerners, admit that the status of non-Muslims in the Muslim world during the Middle Ages, was better than what the Jews or other religious minorities received in the Christian countries in those ages. The important question is: Are Muslims now ready to go further to secure and sanction full equality for the non-Muslim with them in a contemporary Islamic state? When reservations and "ifs" and "buts" are raised, how can Muslims expect that non-Muslims would be convinced of, or be loyal to, the concept of an Islamic state, while they are offered full equality without reservations in a secular democracy? A majority cannot deny a minority its human rights, on the grounds that a minority has to respect the rights of the majority to have a certain state system. Unless the state system secures human rights for all citizens without any discrimination, it would encourage disputes and conflicts within the country and could not gain the world support. Furthermore, any discrimination against a Muslim minority in a non-Muslim country cannot be strongly opposed universally if a similar injustice is committed by the Muslims against non-Muslim minorities. Whatever the "nicety" in human relations may be in daily life, "equality" has to be secured and sanctioned by law.

In a modern state, as has been mentioned repeatedly, no single person rules, but bodies are in charge and laws are codified. Non-Muslims, whatever their number in a certain body may be, would be part of a system. If the Shafi'i jurist al-Mawardi (d.450 H./1058) allows a dhimmi to be an executive minister beside the Muslim caliph, every public official now may be considered to be merely "executive" in a sense, since no-one, including the head of the state, has absolute power or can rule as a single person. Even as a judge, the non-Muslim applies Shari'a as the codified state laws, whatever his/her beliefs regarding Islam may be. Matters which are considered very close to the faith, such as family matters, and matters of a purely religious character such as those related to welfare dues "zakat", endowments "waqfs”, or mosques, can be assigned to Muslim judges, while similar issues related to other faiths can be assigned to judges who share the litigants' faith. The military service may have some religious character for Muslims, but it meanwhile signifies national defense for non-Muslims. Non-Muslims were allowed to share with Muslims the responsibility of defending Medina in the Prophet's constitutional document which he drew up just after his migration there. Although, this did not historically work, it cannot affect the validity and permanence of the legal principle. Non-Muslims became involved in defending certain strategic areas in the conquest of Syria, Persia and Iraq.

It has been well established that the payment of the "head-tax, jizya" was a substitute for military service, and those who were charged with military responsibilities were exempt from its payment. Some modern juristic approaches have well argued for equal Muslim and non-Muslim citizenship in a contemporary Muslim state, which ought to be a substitute and development off", the "dhimmi status" indicated in our juristic heritage.  
Ideological and political pluralism has to be maintained within the country, and the right to form political parties and different kinds of organizations and associations, including labor and professional unions and philanthropic associations should be secured for all the citizens of the Islamic state. Muslims can have several Islamic parties if they have differences regarding the concepts, or the strategy, or even the structure and the leadership with which they may feel more comfortable. Several political groups appeared in the earliest Muslim political assembly in Medina following the death of the Prophet: the "muhajirin, immigrants from Mecca", the "ansar, supporters of Medina", and those who had their inclinations towards the family of the Prophet; These mentioned last, who were later called "Shi'a” believed that the caliph should be from the Prophet's descendants, beginning with his cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib and followed, by his descendants.

Later, theological views were in many cases connected with political ideas, as represented in the views of al-Shi'a who called for a caliph from the Prophet's descendants, al-Khawarij who emerged as they opposed Caliph Ali after his acceptance of arbitration in the dispute between him and Mu'awiya, al-Murji'a who supported the `status quo' under the Umayyads, and later al-Mu'tazila who appeared under the Abbasids. Islam has never forbidden differences which are simply natural as a result of variance in the human thinking and views and because of the human free will. Islam only guides the Muslims how to settle their differences methodically and ethically [e.g. 4:59, 83, 16:125, 49:613].

Non-Muslims also can have their political parties, since the People of the Book have to enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong [3:114]. Secularists should be allowed to express their opinions and organize their parties as long as they - the same as all parties-practice their activities peacefully, without provoking hostilities nor violent confrontations. The freedom of expression in a modern state cannot be separated from the right of association and assembly, temporarily for a casual expression of an opinion, or permanently through forming an organization. In a modern society the individual expression of opinion is effectless vis-a-vis a government that enjoys huge superiority on the organizational, material, and technological sides, and enjoys a monopoly of massive oppressive measures.

Muslim/non Muslim Relation in the World  

In universal relations, Muslims and non-Muslims have to deal with each other through mutual understanding, fairness and cooperation. Muslim universal solidarity is not meant to be a new bloc that threatens or disturbs world peace, since Muslims have to cooperate only to further virtue and righteousness, not evil and aggression [5:2]. Muslims have to support universal peace based on justice [2:208, 8:611, be a positive factor in developing understanding, cooperation and reconciliation, and in preventing and terminating aggression and securing universal justice [49:9, 13]. They can join regional and universal organizations for cooperation in the various legitimate areas, as well as they can make an agreement with one or a few non-Muslim countries. They have always to keep their promises and fulfill their obligations towards other parties [6:152, 13.:20, 16:91-96, 17:34]. It may be better for them to be always present and constructive in universal organizations and forums, where they can express their grievances and views from within. We have to be realistic about the universal justice, and realize that each member state in a multi-state organization cares only, or more at least at this stage, about its interests, rather than about the common benefit or the universal justice. We have always to maintain our development and cooperation, so that others would realize our weight and values; and so observing mutual interests would be more secure and beneficial for all parties than exploitation and subordination.

Pluralism within the Muslim country and in its regional or global relations does not mean a bargain or compromise with regard to the Muslim faith in any way, nor does it signify skepticism or indifference among the believers. As it was well-put by Nicholas Rescher: "The fact that others may think differently from ourselves does nothing as such to preclude us from warranted confidence in the appropriateness and correctness of our own views. The idea that pluralism's recognition of the existence of other alternatives entails a skeptical suspension of opinion on the grounds of our being obliged to see the existence of other opinions as annihilating the tenability of our own is, to put it mildly, farfetched. Pluralism holds that it is rationally intelligible and acceptable that others can hold positions at variance with one's own. But it does not maintain that a given individual need endorse a plurality of positions - that the fact that others hold a certain position somehow constitutes a reason for doing so oneself. Any viable proceeding in this range of discussion must distinguish between the standpoint of the individual and the standpoint of the group. Pluralism is a feature of the collective group; it turns on the fact that different experiences engender different views. But from the standpoint of the individual this cuts no ice. We have no alternative to proceeding as best as we can on the basis of what is available to us."

This reminds me of the splendid wise saying attributed to Imam al-Shafi'i: (d. 204H./819) "Our view - as we believe it to be - is right, but it can. probably be later proved wrong, and the view of others - as we believe it to be - is wrong, but it can probably be later proved right."

 
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