Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is among the most prominent Islamic figures who expressed early interest in the issue of the rights of non-Muslims in Muslim societies. Al-Qaradawi’s views on this topic are particularly important because of his academic and scholarly background, which indicates that his thoughts are directly an extension of jurisprudential proofs.

What are the rights of Non-Muslims?

Following are the most important rights deduced by Al-Qaradawi from his studies of religious texts and scholarly commentaries, from his important book on the subject Ghayr al-Muslmein fi el-Mujtama` al-Islami; Wahbah Pub., Cairo, 1997. This review is based on this work.

Non-Muslims Right to Protection

In Islam, the primary right of the People of the Book is to be protected and safeguarded against any foreign aggression, and Muslims are compelled to protect them in the event such a transgression falls against them. Al-Qaradawi bases his standpoint about this on jurisprudential texts and the position of Imam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) while speaking to Qultoo Shah—a Tartar—regarding the freeing of prisoners of war (POWs). Qultoo Shah agreed to set Muslim POWs free upon Ibn Taymiah’s request; however, the latter insisted that Christian POWs be released with the Muslims, which was what happened in the end. This stand by Ibn Taymiyah reflects the perspective of jurisprudence on the subject of the right to external protection.

The Muslim state must also defend minorities against internal injustice or oppression, such that they cannot be subject to any form of wrongdoing by the state or its sponsors; and overlapping evidence from the Qur’an and the Sunnah clearly prohibits any sort of injustice against noncombatant non-Muslims living peacefully within a Muslim state.

To this effect, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was reported to have said, “He who unfairly treats a non-Muslim who keeps a peace treaty with Muslims, or undermines his rights, or burdens him beyond his capacity, or takes something from him without his consent; then I am his opponent on the Day of Judgment” (Abu Dawud and Al-Bayhaqi).

He (peace and blessings be upon him) is also reported to have said, “He who harms a non-Muslim who keeps a peace treaty with Muslims has harmed me, and he who harms me has harmed Allah” (At-Tabarani in Al-Awsat with a good chain of transmission).

Not only was this the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) on the issue, but the Rightly Guided Caliphs also practiced this, with several authentic incidents to this effect reported by `Umar ibn Al-Khattab and `Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Types of Protection

Protection of body and blood

Al-Qaradawi asserts the consensus among scholars to protect the blood of non-Muslim minorities living within a Muslim state, and he explains that violating their blood is considered one of the gravest of sins. This is due to the hadith by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “He who kills a non-Muslim who keeps a peace treaty with the Muslims will not smell the scent of Heaven, though its scent can be traced to as far as a march of 40 years” (Imam Ahmad and Al-Bukhari in Al-Jizyah, among others).

Although scholars have differed over the issue of exchanging the life of a Muslim for that of a Dhimmi (a noncombatant non-Muslim who keeps a peace treaty with the Muslims and lives within a Muslim society), yet Al-Qaradawi sides with the opinion that says a Muslim can be killed if he wrongfully murders a Dhimmi with no right. He founds his view on this matter on texts from the Qur’an and the Sunnah that underline the principle of retribution and reprisal (qisaas).

This was also the view endorsed and exercised by the Ottoman caliphate in all the regions and provinces falling under its jurisdiction for centuries, until the Muslim empire fell prey to its enemies and was knocked down.

How did Islam treat non-Muslims?

Protection of Money and Property

This principle has been unanimously agreed upon among all Muslims of all sects throughout history.

Moreover, Islam regards whatever property or money considered by non-Muslims as valuables—according to their faiths—and pledges to protect them, even if they pose no real value to Muslims.

Liquor and swine are an example of this, where they cannot be considered as money to Muslims; and if a Muslim squanders or spoils such property of another Muslim, he could not be called upon for compensation; yet if a Muslim spoils such assets belonging to a non-Muslim, he would be responsible for compensation, according to Imam Abu Hanifah.

Protection of Honor

The honor of Dhimmis is sacred in Islam, similar to that of Muslims. Imam Al-Qarafi Al-Maliki once said on this note, “He who transgresses against them (Dhimmis)—even with a mere word of injustice or backtalk— has jeopardized the covenant with Allah and His Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the covenant of the religion of Islam” (Al-Furuq Part 3, p. 14). Moreover, there exist abundant additional texts to the same effect.

Social Welfare Against Disability, Old Age, and Poverty

Islam guarantees non-Muslims living under its societal umbrella their necessary welfare benefits, which enables them to live decently and support those they sponsor, since they are considered among the Muslim state’s subjects or citizens. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was reported to have said, “You are all sponsors and (thus) responsible for those you sponsor” (Ibn `Umar).

The Rightly Guided Caliphs and those who succeeded them continued to implement these policies towards non-Muslims living within the Muslim community. During the caliphate of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), Khalid ibn Al-Waleed sent a letter to the non-Muslim population of Al-Hira in Iraq at the time, assuring them that none of their rights were to be undermined by the Muslim army’s procession in their direction.

`Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) was also reported to have seen a senile Jewish man asking for alms, and hence took him to the treasury and authorized a monthly pension for him and the likes of him. By this, Abu Bakr and `Umar had jointly formulated a social welfare legislation for Muslims as well as non-Muslims, which was then unanimously picked up by all Islamic sects.

Do Muslims have freedom of religion?

Additionally, Islam does not force Dhimmis to embrace Islam and recognizes their freedom to choose their own faith. This freedom is stressed in the following Qur’anic verses: [Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error] (Al-Baqarah 2:256) and [Wilt thou (Muhammad) then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!] (Yunus 10:99). History does not deny this fact about Islam, nor do Westerners.

Islam, throughout history, has safeguarded and protected houses of worship for non-Muslims and sanctified their religious rituals. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) wrote the peace treaty to the people of Najran, he asserted to them that they should receive the protection of Allah and His Prophet on their property, faith, and choices. Similarly, `Umar’s letter to the people of Iliya in Palestine, upon the Muslim conquest, promised them the liberty to choose the faith they deemed appropriate; in addition there are analogous accounts attributed to Khalid ibn Al-Waleed.

Permitting non-Muslims to build their own houses of worship in towns mainly populated by Muslims also falls under this scope, where early in Muslim history several churches were built in Egypt during the first Hijri century. An example of this is the construction of the Mar Marcus Church in Alexandria (between AH 39 and 56), and the construction of the first church in Fustat in the Roman Alley during the reign of Maslamah ibn Mikhled (between the years AH 47 and 68). Ruler Abdul `Aziz ibn Marwan also authorized constructing a church in Helwan while founding the city, besides allowing a number of bishops to erect hermitage cells.

Historian Al-Maqrizi once said, “All modern day Cairo churches were undoubtedly restored in Islam.”

As for the villages and areas which are not considered among the Muslim provinces, non-Muslims were not repressed against practicing and illustrating their religious rituals, including the renovation of old churches and cathedrals, and were free to expand building such houses of worship as their population grew.

This form of religious tolerance is strictly a bread of Islam, as the infamous French scholar Gustave Le Bon once said (as al-Qaradawi quotes him in his book),

From the verses of the Qur’an we previously mentioned, we find that Muhammad’s forgiveness towards the Jews and the Christians was ultimately phenomenal; and such tolerance was unprecedented by the founders of other religions, such as Judaism and Christianity in particular. We shall also see how his successors followed in his footsteps on this path.

Other Europeans also paralleled such discourse, such as Robertson and others.

The Right of Non-Muslims to Work and Earn Profits

Islam has guaranteed to non-Muslims living under its umbrella the right to engage in any form of commercial activities, including buying, selling, leasing, and otherwise, with the exception of exercising riba (taking interest on loans, etc.). This rule was derived from a letter from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to the Magians of Hajar, where he said, “You may choose between neglecting riba or facing war with Allah and His Prophet.” The selling of liquor and swine in Muslim provinces are also to be added to the list of the impermissible; otherwise, non-Muslims may practice any form of commercial activities.

Adam Mitz, as al-Qaradawi sites, once said

Islamic jurisprudence does not forbid Dhimmis from entering any field of labor they choose, and they were well-established in trades which yield large profits; excelling as bankers, landlords, and doctors. Moreover, they managed to organize themselves, such that the most prominent bankers in the Levant (Syrian and Palestine) were Jews, whilst the best physicians and writers were Christians, and the chief of the Christian population in Baghdad was the caliph’s personal doctor, as the caliph also gathered in his court the chiefs and heads of the Jewish population.

The Right of non-Muslims to Occupy State Ranks

Islam did not prohibit Dhimmis and non-muslims from occupying state positions, since it perceived them as an integral part of the state fabric. Islam also did not encourage their isolation, and the People of the Book were allowed to join all offices apart from those marked with a religious trait; for example, the imamate, leadership of the state and the army, judge of disputes between Muslims, administrator of the dispensing of charity and alms.

The imamate, or caliphate, is a senior leading position in both the mundane world and the religious, a succession of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him); and, obviously, such ranks could not be open to non-Muslims.

Similarly, the leadership of the army cannot be considered a purely civil duty, since it is strongly related with jihad, which tops the ladder of Islamic duties.

Moreover, the judiciary is operated through Islamic jurisprudence, and non-Muslims cannot be asked to carry out the rules of a doctrine they do not believe in.

The guardianship over alms and charity also falls under the scope of Islamic duties and logically could not be entrusted to the disposal of the non-Muslim minority within the Muslim state.

Other than the above, all state offices were always open to Dhimmis on condition that they fulfilled the necessary requirements and prerequisites for the positions applied for; that is, integrity, honesty, and loyalty to the state. This is to assure that these sensitive posts be entrusted to faithful individuals, other than those Muslims are warned against in the following verse: [O ye who believe! Take not into your intimacy those outside your ranks: they will not fail to corrupt you. They only desire your ruin: rank hatred has already appeared from their mouths: what their hearts conceal is far worse. We have made plain to you the Signs, if ye have wisdom] (Aal `Imran 3:118).

Imam Al-Mawardi even authorized Dhimmis to undertake executive ministries rather than delegate ministries. Executive ministers are those who implement and execute the imam’s orders.

Conversely, delegate ministries are those which the imam entrusts to the minister to devise certain political, administrative, and economic matters according to his own personal judgment.

During the Abbasid era, Christians undertook the ministry more than once; for example, Nasr ibn Haroun in AH 369 and Eissa ibn Nastorus in AH 380. Mu`awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan had also appointed a Christian clerk named Sarjoun.

Perhaps Muslim tolerance in this regard was sometimes taken too far, where at some instances, the rights of Muslims themselves were undermined and some skeptics complained about the undeserved prestigious authority of Jews and Christians above them.

Western historian Adam Mitz says in his book Islamic Civilization in the Fourth Hijri Century, “We find it very surprising the abundance of non-Muslim laborers and senior staff within the Muslim state; where Christians governed Muslims in Muslim provinces, and complaints against non-Muslims’ seniority in these provinces dates far back” (part 1, p. 105).

Prophetic Recommendations Particularly for Egyptian Copts

Al-Qaradawi finds that Egyptian Copts in particular have a distinguished position among other non-Muslim minorities, given the prophetic narrations to that effect. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was reported to have said on his deathbed, “By Allah, respect the Copts of Egypt, for you shall conquer them, and they shall be your supporters in the cause of Allah” (At-Tabarani).

In another hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Treat them well, for they are an asset to you and a warning against your enemies by the Will of Allah.” Reference here is made to Egyptian Copts (Ibn Hibban).

Historical reality has lived up to the Prophet’s prophecies, where Egyptian Copts welcomed the Muslim conquerors, who saved them from the persecution they suffered under the Romans, who had taken up another sect of Christianity. The Copts started entering Islam in large numbers, to the extent that some rulers of the Umayyad dynasty mistakenly enforced the jizyah among some Copts who had already embraced Islam.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) attributed certain rights to Egyptian Copts that he did not grant to other minorities, where Ka`b ibn Malik narrates from the Prophet, “If Egypt is conquered, treat the Copts with dignity, for they have a blood relation with us.” Connotation is made here to the mother of the Prophet Isma`il, Hajar, who was an Egyptian (Reported by At-Tabarani and Al-Hakim).

Loyalty Guarantees

Moreover, Islam adds to the rights of minorities by laying down a number of guarantees to live up to these rights. Among the most important of these is the right to believe. Such rights are clearly defined in the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah, and their practice falls under the correct practice of Islam.

These rights are also protected by the Muslim society, which is founded on accurate implementation of Islamic jurisprudence, including the rights of the People of the Book according to Islamic principles. Any Dhimmi who feels that he has been treated unjustly has the right to appeal to the ruler to reverse the injustice against him, either by a Muslim or a non-Muslim.

Scholars and the “general Islamic conscience” are another defense line for non-Muslims to seek protection behind.

Islamic history is full of incidents that indicate the Muslim community’s commitment to protect Dhimmis against any depreciation of their rights.

Islamic history reports the case of the priest who complained against an army leader who wrongfully took his money to Ahmad ibn Tulun, who then had it returned to the priest. There is also the case of the Copt who complained against `Amr ibn Al-`Aas to `Umar, who summoned the latter into account.

The role of scholars in this regard can clearly be detected in the stance of Imam Al-Awza`i towards the Abbasid ruler during his time, when the ruler kicked out a non-Muslim tribe from Mount Lebanon after a group of them had refused to pay their yearly agricultural tax. Al-Awza`i wrote on this matter to the caliph, denouncing the act and reminding him that Dhimmis were free people and not slaves.

Furthermore, when Al-Waleed ibn `Abdul Malik confiscated Church John from the Christians and enjoined it to a mosque, they sought Caliph `Umar ibn `Abdul Aziz’s assistance to revoke the wrongdoing against them, which he did.

The history of the Islamic judiciary bears witness to this, as was the case with `Ali ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) and others; which evidently proves that Islam renders the People of the Book as an integral part of society, not to be discriminated against by the Muslim population in any way.

By Mass`oud Sabri