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FEATURED ARTICLE: The Tolerance of the Prophet towards Other Religions (part 1 of 2): To Each Their Own Religion


The dealings of the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings
of God be upon him, with other religions can best be described in the verse of
the Quran:

“To you be your religion, to me be mine.”

The Arabian Peninsula during the time of the Prophet was
a region in which various faiths were present.  There were Christians, Jews,
Zoroastrians, polytheists, and others not affiliated with any religion.  When
one looks into the life of the Prophet, one may draw on many examples to
portray the high level of tolerance shown to people of other faiths.

In order to understand and judge this tolerance, one must
look into the period in which Islam was a formal state, with the specific laws
laid down by the Prophet in accordance with the tenets of religion.  Even
though one can observe many examples of tolerance shown by the Prophet in the
thirteen years of his stay in Mecca, one may incorrectly think that it was only
due to seeking to raise the profile of  the Muslims and the social status of
Islam and in general.  For this reason, the discussion will be limited to the period
which commenced with the migration of the Prophet to Medina, and specifically
once the constitution was set.

The Saheefah

The best example of the tolerance shown by the Prophet
to other religions may be the constitution itself, called the ‘Saheefah’ by
early historians.[1]  When
the Prophet migrated to Medina, his role as a mere religious leader ended; he
was now the political leader of a state, governed by the precepts of Islam, which
demanded that clear laws of governance be laid out to ensure harmony and
stability in a society which once had been distraught by decades of war, one
which must ensure the peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Jews, Christians and
polytheists.  Due to this, the Prophet laid down a ‘constitution’ which
detailed the responsibilities of all parties which resided in Medina, their
obligations towards each other, and certain restrictions which were placed on
each.  All parties were to obey what was mentioned therein, and any breach of
its articles was regarded as an act of treachery.

One Nation

The first article of the constitution was that all the
inhabitants of Medina, the Muslims as well as those who had entered the pact
from the Jews, Christian, and idolaters, were “one nation to the exclusion
of all others.”
  All were considered members and citizens of Medina society
regardless of religion, race, or ancestry.  People of other faiths were
protected from harm as much as the Muslims, as is stated in another article, “To
the Jews who follow us belong help and equity.  He shall not be harmed nor his
enemies be aided.”
 Previously, each tribe had their alliances and enemies
within and without Medina.  The Prophet gathered these different tribes under
one system of governance which upheld pacts of alliances previously in
existence between those individual tribes.  All tribes had to act as a whole
with disregard to individual alliances.  Any attack on other religion or tribe was
considered an attack on the state and upon the Muslims as well.

The lives of the practitioners of other religions in the
Muslim society was also given protective status.  The Prophet said:

“Whoever kills a person who has a truce with the
Muslims will never smell the fragrance of Paradise.” (Saheeh Muslim)

Since the upper hand was with the Muslims, the Prophet
strictly warned against any maltreatment of people of other faiths.  He said:

“Beware!  Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim
minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can
bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the
person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)

To Each Their Own Religion

In another article, it states, “the Jews have their
religion and the Muslims have theirs.”
 In this, it is clear that anything
other than tolerance would not be tolerated, and that, although all were
members of a society, each had their separate religion which could not be
violated.  Each was allowed to practice their beliefs freely without any
hindrances, and no acts of provocation would be tolerated.

There are many other articles of this constitution which
may be discussed, but emphasis will be placed on an article which states, “If
any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise, it must be
referred to God and His Messenger.”
 This clause maintained that all
inhabitants of the state must recognize a higher level of authority, and in
those matters which involved various tribes and religions, justice could not be
meted out by individual leaders; rather it must be adjudicated by the leader of
the state himself or his designated representatives.  It was allowed, however, for
individual tribes who were not Muslims, to refer to their own religious
scriptures and their learned men in regards to their own personal affairs.  They
could though, if they opted, ask the Prophet to judge between them in their
matters.  God says in the Quran:

“…If they do come to you, either judge between them or decline
to interfere…” (Quran 5:42)

Here we see that the Prophet allowed each religion to
judge in their own matters according to their own scriptures, as long as it did
not stand in opposition to articles of the constitution, a pact which took into
account the greater benefit of the peaceful co-existence of the society.


[1] Madinan
Society at the Time of the Prophet
, Akram Diya al-Umari, International
Islamic Publishing House, 1995.


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