The word ‘Assamad’ means absolute existence, which can be attributed only to Allah (swt), all other existence being temporal or conditional. It also means that Allah (swt) is not dependent on any person or thing, but all persons and things are dependent on Him. These four line definition of Almighty God serves as the touchstone of the study of God
“And We have not sent you but as a mercy to all the worlds.” (Quran – 21:107)
‘At the time of the Umayyad caliphate, the people of the covenant, Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Sabians, all enjoyed degree of tolerance that we do not find even today in Christian countries. They were free to practice the rituals of their religion and their churches and temples were preserved. They enjoyed autonomy in that they were subject to the religious laws of the scholars and judges.’(Durant, Will: ‘The Story Of Civilization.’ vol. 13. p. 131-132.)
These relationships were a direct result of the teachings of the religion of Islam, one which preaches that people of other religions be free to practice their own faith, only accepting the guidance offered by Islam by their own choice. God says in the Quran:
‘The Arabs, to whom the Lord has given control over the world, treat us as you know; they are not the enemies of Christians. Indeed, they praise our community, and treat our priests and saints with dignity, and offer aid to churches and monasteries.
Not only does Islam demand their freedom to practice religion, but also that they be treated justly as any other fellow human. Warning against any abuse to non-Muslims in an Islamic society, the Prophet stated:
“Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, curtails their rights, 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)
There is much talk these days about Islamic tolerance towards other religions of the world. Some critics opine that Islam orders Muslims to fight the world until everyone becomes Muslim, creating ill feelings without actually knowing what Islam says in this regard.
In Islam, non Muslims are classified into three types:
Muslim jurists use the term ‘ People of the Covenant ’ (Arabic ‘dhimmi’ or ‘Ahl ul-Dhimma’ ) to refer to non-Muslim residents. It is not a derogatory term, as some have made it seem. In Arabic language the word ‘dhimma’ means a treaty of protection for non-Muslims living in Muslim territory. Non-Muslims are guaranteed protection in the Muslim society as long as they pay a head tax and abide by the specific legislation mentioned in Islamic Law. This covenant of protection is not limited to a specific duration; rather, stays in effect as long as those with whom the covenant is made abide by its conditions. (Zaydan, Dr. Abd al-Karim, ‘Ahkam al-Dhimmiyin wal-Musta’minin,’ p. 35)
The good intent behind the term ‘dhimmi’ can be seen in the letter written by the Caliph Abu Bakr as-Siddiq to the non-Muslims of Najran:
This category includes two types:
1) The residents of non-Muslim countries who are at peace with Muslims through specific peace agreements, international treaties, or other mechanisms, who temporarily come to Muslim countries for work, education, business, diplomatic missions, and so forth. Muslim jurists refer to them in Arabic as mu’aahadoon, which means, “those with whom there is a pact”.
2) The residents of non-Muslims countries with whom Muslims do not have a pact of peace, or who may be at war with Muslims, who temporarily come to Muslim countries for work, education, business, diplomatic missions, and so forth. Muslim jurists refer to them in Arabic as musta’minoon, which means, “seekers of protection”
The expression “human rights” is relatively new, having come into everyday usage only since World War II, the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.(“Human Rights.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2006.) Although its emergence in international law is a relatively recent development, the idea of human rights itself is not new. If one were to study and compare the Universal Declaration of Human Rights granted by Islamic Shariah 1400 years ago, one can clearly see the level of high moral ground achieved by Islam before the Universal Declaration. This moral standard did not come as a result of human intellectual endeavor. The source of Islamic morality is the divine standard provided true comprehensiveness and depth in human needs. As a matter of fact, the general principle is that non-Muslims have the same rights and obligations as Muslims.(Zaydan, Dr. Abd al-Karim, ‘Ahkam al-Dhimmiyin wal- Musta’minin,’ p. 62) This aspect of religion is unique to Islam, and perhaps has not been attained by any other world religion. If we look at Christianity, for example, Professor Joseph Heath of the University of Toronto, says, ‘It should go without saying that you can scour the Bible and not find one single mention of “rights.” You can also pick through the following 1500 years of Christian thought without finding any rights. That’s because the idea is entirely absent.’(Heath, Joseph, ‘Human rights have nothing to do with Christianity,’ Montreal Gazette, March 18, 2003)
Islam gives complete freedom to non Muslims to retain their own faith and not to be forced to embrace Islam. This freedom is documented in both the Quran and the prophetic teachings known as Sunnah. God addresses Prophet Muhammad in the Quran:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion; truth stands clear from error: whoever rejects false gods and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And God hears and knows all things.” (Quran 2:256)
“This is the security given by the slave of God, Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, to the people of Iliya: they are guaranteed the security if their persons, possessions, churches, crucifixes, and everyone within, whether sick or in good health, as well as everyone in their community. Their churches will not be occupied or demolished, nor will anything be taken from them: neither furnishings nor crucifixes or money. They will not be forced away from their religion, or harmed because of it. They will not be occupied by the Jewish settlers in Iliya.” (Tabari, Tarirk al-Tabari, vol 3, p. 159)
‘If we are attacked by an enemy nation who is targeting the People of the Covenant living among us, it is our duty to come fully armed and ready to die in battle for them, to protect those people who are protected by the covenant of God and His Messenger. Doing any less and surrendering them will be blameworthy neglect of a sacred promise.’