Islam is non racial faith, it does not accept the superiority of any race over others. It grants equality to the humanity. Faith, righteousness and good deeds form the basic criteria for preference of one individual over other, while colour, race and gender does not matter; God says:
“O mankind! we created you from a a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (Not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you In the sight of God is (He who is) the most righteous of you. and God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”(Qur’an;49:43).
“Verily we have revealed the Book to Thee In truth, for (instructing) mankind. He, then, that receives guidance benefits His own soul: but He that strays injures His own soul. nor art Thou set over them to dispose of their affairs”. (Qur’an;39:41).
Humanitarian obligations (Haqooq-ul-Ibad) are highly emphasized in Islam. Painfully in practice generally [Haqooq Allah], the duties towards God (belief, rituals, prayers) are over emphasized while duties toward fellow human beings are given a low priority in the society, both at the individual and community level. Since a good balance is the main characteristic of Islam and its code of living so, the responsibilities toward other human beings are indeed given a very strong emphasis in Islam. It should always be remembered that except major sin like denial of God and associating partners with Him; God may forgive other sins that relate to human obligations toward Him, but He will not forgive anything that is due to fellow human being until that person is ready to forgive it. Hence, the Muslims have to perform their obligations like worship and simultaneously be kind to the other human in the society, which is also a form of worship being part of Islamic duties. The Sunnah of Prophet (peace be upon him) is the role model for the Muslims. The virtues like justice, truthfulness, charity, kind and courteous behavior with fellow humans, fairness in trade, dealings, respect of human life and property of others, helping underprivileged, oppressed and weak, weather Muslims or non Muslims alike; are hall mark of Islam. The life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is full of practical examples. The rights of parents and non Muslims have been elaborated separately due to their special significance. Prophet (peace be upon him) was also the best of neighbors and he emphasized that neighbors have a claim on our kindness. All human are equal, the preference is only in piety (known to Allah alone).
When the message of Islam was preached, slavery was a very common practice in all-human societies, it was an international system. The Greeks, Romans, the ancient Germans whose legal and social institutions have mostly influenced the modern world, recognized and practiced all kinds of slavery, like praedial servitude as well as household slavery. Slavery as it existed under the Mosaic law has no modern parallel. That law did not originate but only regulated the already existing custom of slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus;21:20-21,26-27; Joshua;9:6-27). Christianity as a religion did not oppose slavery. The teachings of Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) did not express disapproval of slavery. Christianity did nothing to eliminate slavery except general advice to the masters to give due to the servants, even the Church held slaves and considered it to be a lawful system. The cruel treatment to slaves in America are well known.
Islam does not support slavery. Like the nuisance of Usury (Riba), in the present time, the evil of slavery was so much ingrained in the world that its elimination had to come gradually as the society developed. There was an important reason for that, which was to help slaves cope with their new status. Had Islam issued an order to free all the slaves straightaway, that would have created social and economic chaos, as many would not have been able to cope. This happened in the US when slavery was abolished by law. Many former slaves went back to their masters to serve them, because they could not earn their living without them. The Islamic approach to the eradication of slavery is balanced. Islamic legislation includes a variety of ways to ensure the reduction and eventual eradication of slavery. As the atonement for many offenses, granting freedom to a slave in addition to repentance was made obligatory. A portion of Zakah funds (Charitable donations) was also used to help anyone who could buy his own freedom in return for a sum of money, which he would pay to his master.(Qur’an;9:60). The institution of slavery was discouraged and the owners and other people were enjoined to give financial help to the slaves to earn their freedom under the law of Mukatabat and marriage with virtuous slaves.(Qur’an;24:33, 24:32). The slaves were to be treated with equity and fairness (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith, 3.721). However, the slavery continued in Muslim societies for much longer than what could have been expected because of historical and continuation of international slavery. The renowned Orientalist Annemarie Schimmel in the book titled “Islam: An Introduction” has comprehensively summarized the Slavery in Islam; “Slavery was not abolished by the Koran, but believers are constantly admonished to treat their slaves well. In case of illness a slave has to be looked after and well cared for. To free (manumit) a slave is highly meritorious; the slave can ransom himself by paying some of the money he has earned while conducting his own business. Only children of slaves or non-Muslim prisoners of war can become slaves, never a freeborn Muslim; therefore slavery is theoretically doomed to disappear with the expansion of Islam. The entire history of Islam proves that slaves could occupy any office, and many former military slaves, usually recruited from among the Central Asian Turks, became military leaders and often even rulers as in Eastern Iran, India (the Slave Dynasty of Delhi), and medieval Egypt (the Mamluks).”
Non Muslim Minorities
In communities which base their civil rights on brute strength, the weaker go to the wall, and public opinion expects nothing else. Even in modern democracies of the saner sort, it is often told that it is the fate of minorities to suffer; strength of numbers here becomes the passport to power and privilege. Islam, while upholding balanced views in general, enjoins the most solicitous care for the weak and oppressed. The minorities are treated with justice in every way-in rights of property, in social rights, and in the right to opportunities of development. The non-Muslim living under the protection of a Muslim state is referred as Dhimmi, a free non-Muslim subject. They are exempt from duties of Islam like military service and alms (zakat) instead they are required to pay jizyah (poll-tax).
Historically some Islamic governments paid this poll tax for poor non-Muslim subjects or reduced it to mere symbolic tax. If the State cannot protect those who paid jizyah, then the amount they paid is returned to them. Islam guarantees full protection and security of the State including freedom of religion to all. Thus the notion that the minorities are treated as second class citizens in an Islamic state is based on malicious propaganda. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the main enforcer of human rights safeguarding the legitimate interests of minorities. The monks of Mount Sinai were provided protection. On establishing the first Islamic state at Medina, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) entered into many alliances, treaties with the Muslims and the non-Muslims, securing peace and tranquility for the Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Safety, security and protection of non Muslims is to be ensured (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith:9.49 & 4.287).
Muslims are encouraged to act towards all the non-Muslims living in Islamic state with kindness and equity. As per Qur’an; “As for such (of the unbelievers) as do not fight against you on account of your faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, Allah does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity. Indeed, Allah loves those who act equitably“(Qur’an;60:8). There are numerous Hadiths, which encourage Muslims to be kind to other religious communities, especially those who constitute minorities in the Muslim State. As a result many deserving non Muslims were able to get very high positions in the Muslim hierarchy.
Islam does not forbid engagement in respectful and peaceful dialogue with others, especially the Jews and Christians, provided that neither side exploit the ignorance or dire financial need of others so as to psychologically manipulate them in the name of outreach. Islamic law also permits non-Muslim minorities to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves. The rights of minorities are well protected in Islam. Another interesting fact in Islamic history is that although Muslims are prohibited from preparing, selling and consuming alcohol, whereas the ruling is not the same with non-Muslim. If non-Muslim minority in an Islamic state wish to do so, and do not involve Muslims, they would actually be given this right, they even consume pork, strictly prohibited for the Muslims. This points out that the concept of human rights in Islam has often been given a much negative view. While throughout Europe and America, Muslims are not permitted to make the call to prayer (adhan) on loud speakers though, the church bells ring freely in the Muslim world. Muslims are asked to call upon the People of the Book for common terms, that is to worship One Allah, and to work together for the solutions of the many problems in the society.
It is reemphasized that there is no forced conversions in Islam; the non Muslim subjects have the right to freely choose to revert to Islam or keep practicing their faith. [“Revert”; because every human is born true to nature, in submission to Allah, in Islam (Qur’an;30:30 and Sahih Bukhari Hadith;6.298)] But once a person reverts to Islam, it is obligatory to practice his faith to be a good Muslim.
Apostasy has always been considered as a capital offence in all the religions and political systems of the world, because it is considered as a high treason against the established norms of society.
The Bible prescribes death by stoning for apostasy: “You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God..”(Deutronomy;13:10). Death penalty for apostasy remained in force in England for long time. It was abolished due to social and cultural developments.
Apostasy is considered as a major sin in Islam. Whether it is punishable by Islamic law is a debatable matter among Muslim scholars; taking inference from Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith:9.17, some believe that the apostate should be punished after trial because they consider this crime as a betrayal, high treason against the community, while others opine that if someone changes his faith and does not challenge the Islamic society, it is a matter between him and Allah, Who will punish him in hereafter. However, both opinions agree that it is a major worst form of sin punishable by Allah. As per Qur’an; “Those who turn back as apostates after Guidance was clearly shown to them the Evil One has instigated them and buoyed them up with false hopes.”(Qur’an;47:25). It is totally baseless malicious propaganda that the minorities are no well treated in Islam. The Charter of Medina, in fact was the first ever written constitution in the history of mankind which gave the non-Muslims right of choosing a legal system they wished their affairs be governed by, be it Islamic or Jewish law or pre-Islamic Arab tribal traditions. The Christians and Jews have special place in Islam, they are addressed as ‘The People of the Book’ in Qur’an. The history of Islam proves this, when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together in dominant Islamic societies in Spain, Baghdad and Ottomans empire. There are other social courtesies which Muslims are urged to extend to non Muslims. Human life has very high value according to Qur’an. Islam, being the religion of moderation is in total harmony with the human nature, it allows the fine arts, the adornments, which God has created for the enjoyment and development of human faculties with in the bounds of decency and faith. Apart from human, a believer has to be kind with the animals(Sunnah Abu Dawood, Hadith.1065).
Status of Women
Before the advent of Islam the status of women in earlier civilizations was very low to the extent that they were denied basic human dignity. Under the Babylonian law, if a man murdered a woman, instead of him being punished, his wife was put to death. In the Greek Civilization, women were deprived of all rights and were looked down upon. In Greek mythology, an ‘imaginary woman’ called ‘Pandora’ is the root cause of misfortune of human beings. The Greeks considered women to be subhuman to the extent that they were considered impure, and they were bought and sold in marketplaces. A woman could not refuse a husband chosen by her guardian and she could not disobey her husband in anyway. When Roman Civilization was at the zenith of its ‘glory’, a man even had the right to take the life of his wife. Prostitution and nudity were common amongst the Romans, the women did not have the right to own anything. If a woman had any property of her own, it was automatically transferred to the ownership of the head of the family. Later, in the reign of Justinian (483-565 C.E), women were given the right to retain what they earned through their own work, but money from other sources (gift etc) remained with the head of family.
In Bible, Eve is considered responsible for the fall of Adam from grace (Genesis;3:1-7,12); hence as punishment she has to bear labor pain and serve men: “Unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shall bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”(Genesis;3:16). The word “Evil” is derived accordingly. Islam repudiates that and makes Adam and Eve equally responsible for their actions. (Qur’an;2:36). As recently as 1805, the English law allowed the man to sell his wife. In the year 586 C.E that is when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was still a young man, the French elegies organized a convention in which they discussed whether women were human or not. They concluded that a woman was a human being created only to serve men. Even after the French Revolution, in the late 18th century, the French law continued to consider that an unmarried woman was totally unqualified to enter into any contract without the consent of her guardian. The French law of the time stipulated that those who did not have legal status were “young boys, idiots and women.” The Egyptian considered women evil and as a sign of a devil. Before the advent of Islam, the Arabs looked down upon women and very often when a female child was born, she was buried alive by some.
Islam has offered dignity, justice, and protection to women which had been denied to them since long. Although man and woman have been created equal, but they are not identical. Both have been fashioned differently from each other, so their roles and responsibilities are also different. The variation in their functions does not imply that one is inferior to the other. In Islam, both men and women can rise in spiritual eminence and knowledge. Umme Warqa, a pious women, well versed in Qur’an had been acting as prayer leader (Imam) in the local area, with the permission of Prophet (peace be upon him). Mostly the women used to be in the congregation. An old man is known to deliver Adhan (prayer call). The Qur’anic address always applies to men and women equally, at times the women and men are also addressed together ( Qur’an;33:35). The Muslim women are dressed up modestly which not only enhances their status to a respectable position but also help in controlling indecencies, forbidden in Islam. It may be kept in view that modest dress for women has always been a part of biblical traditions: “also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire.”(1Timothy;2:9). Veil, as a covering for the head was usually worn by Jewish women (Genesis;38:14). It was worn, as a token of modesty (Genesis;24:65), as a token of subjection (Corinthians;11:3,6-7,10) and for concealment (Genesis;38:14). The removing of veil was considered rude and insolent (Song of Solomon;5:7) and threatened as a punishment to ungodly women (Isaiah;3:23). It is also mentioned: “but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head — it is the same as if her head were shaven”.(1 Corinthians;11:5). The nuns are still dressed modestly, like Mary, but the Christians are themselves defying Bible (Deuteronomy;22:5) by degrading the women through nudity and vulgarity.
Polygyny has been practiced since ages; the Bible did not condemn polygyny, to the contrary, the Old Testament and Rabbinic writings frequently attest to the legality of polygyny (1 Kings;11:3, 2 Samuel;5:13, Deutronomy;22:7). The Talmud advises a maximum of four wives. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy. The Church in Rome banned polygamy in order to conform to the Greco-Roman culture (which prescribed only one legal wife while tolerating concubinage and prostitution). The Qur’an is the only religious book, that contains the phrase ‘marry only one’, (the legal permission for maximum of four) with instructions of ‘justice’ with all wives, which is difficult, hence a moral prohibition (Qur’an;4:2-3, 4:129). The Sunnah of Prophet and Companions indicate the existence of more than one wives, but may be that they could be fair at least in the matters of equitable provisions, however one can not control the heart, which may be more inclined to one wife over the others. Some Muslim countries have banned polygyny basing on the analogy of ‘impossibility of equity and justice beyond human control (Qur’an;4:129).
The concept of temporary marriage (Mutt’a) though permissible among Shi’a school is not permissible among four Sunni schools of jurisprudence. Qur’an has “tolerated” or “allowed” polygyny, and no more, it is not obligatory. There are places and times in which there are compelling reasons for polygyny. In most societies, females outnumber males. Islam as a universal religion suitable for all places and all times couldn’t ignore these compelling reasons. The polygyny in Islam is a matter of mutual consent, no one can force a woman to marry a married man. If a woman lays down the condition of monogyny, initially in the marriage contract (Nikah), it becomes binding upon man. Abul Abbas As-Saffah, the first Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty had promised his wife Umm-e-Salma that he will remain monogamous, she ensured that he adheres to the term even after becoming Caliph. The abuse of polygyny and repudiation of wife by the husband, even when her conduct is faultless, has recently led to the enactment of reformed family laws in most Muslim countries. The Qur’an repeatedly emphasizes the kind treatment of women.
Islam granted the right of divorce to women 1400 years ago, once no woman could dream of this freedom. Women were not allowed to bear witness in early Jewish society. In the Christian West, both ecclesiastical and civil law debarred women from giving testimony until late last century. In Islam the testimony of a woman is accepted as equal to that of a man except in financial cases. In fact the woman’s testimony can even invalidate the man’s in certain cases. Among the pagan Arabs before Islam, inheritance rights were confined exclusively to the male relatives. Islam abolished all these unjust customs and gave all the female relatives inheritance shares. The payment of Mehar to the bride by groom without any upper limit, provide additional financial security to the women. Moreover as compared to men, Muslim woman is financially secure and provided for as a wife, mother, daughter or sister by her husband, son, father and brother respectively. Women are free to earn at their own free will; if they so desire: the expenses of house hold is the responsibility of man. Regrettably in some Muslim societies, the rights granted to the women by Islam are denied due to the local culture and traditions, Islam has nothing to do with this. The rights granted to women by Islam are unrivalled in the history of religion, evident from the fact that among the new coverts to Islam in the West are women because in Islam the women are not subjugated but emancipated.
No Violence Against Non Muslims
It is wrongly propagated that Qur’an encourages violence against non believers, rather contrary is true, it is mentioned:
“It may be that God will ordain love between you and those of them with whom you are at enmity. God is Mighty, and God is Forgiving, Merciful. God does not forbid you tobe kind and equitable to those who had neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes. In fact God loves the equitable. God only forbids you to make friendship with those who fought you on account of your faith and drove you out of your homes and backed up others in your expulsion. Those who will take them for friends are indeed the wrongdoers.”(Qur’an;60:7-9).
Islam only forbids Muslims to take unbelievers as ‘protecting friends’ (those making mockery of faith, Qur’an;5:51,87). Only God, his messenger and true believers are their ‘protecting friends’ (Qur’an;5:55, 56). Killing of opponents is permissible in the legitimate warfare only as established norm among the civilized people. No individual can take law in own hands to dispense mob justice; it is after trial in the court of law that the criminals are punished in a society governed by Islamic law [Shari’a].
For further study, read this e Book and watch videos in playlists.
Islam & Society:
Ethics & Humanity- Video Playlist: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD00F43AF587A11FF
Human Rights & Islam: http://wp.me/pCgrB-1t