Minorities in Islam By Murtaza Razvi -Friday, March 04, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/04/minorities-in-islam.html

THE gruesome murder of the minorities’ minister Shahbaz Bhatti must sit as a blot on the conscience of all Muslims of this country.

While it shows that in this Islamic republic of ours Muslims like Benazir Bhutto and Salman Taseer can be killed for speaking up for the marginalised, non-Muslims live in double jeopardy. If a set of medieval laws doesn’t tie the noose around their necks, the extremists will.

Scholars say that there is nothing in the Quran or the Sunnah, two primary sources of Islamic law, that can be said to incite Muslims to killing non-Muslims on whatever charges, but violence against non-Muslims has become a fact of life here. The question begs an answer: why is it only in this country where so many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, are allegedly given to blaspheme against Islam? Surely there is something rotten in the way our religious establishment has interpreted faith and the state has enacted laws based on such controversial interpretations that has led to this kind of mayhem.

The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) was sent down as a ‘Mercy to all creation’ (21:107), and the opening verse of every chapter of the Quran calls Allah, ‘the Most Merciful’. An act of mercy presupposes that an offence has been committed or seen to have been committed, hence Islam’s emphasis on mercy as forming an integral part of Allah’s Divine Nature and the personality with which He endowed the last of His prophets.

The early Muslims imbibed this spirit of the great faith and Muslim lands became the obvious refuge for minorities, especially Jews, who faced persecution at the hands of medieval Christians in Europe and Byzantium. Muslim empires, mighty as they were and carrying the banner of Islam to every land they conquered, never launched ‘crusades’ to purge their territories of non-Muslims, be it in Byzantium, Palestine, North Africa, Spain or closer home, India.

It must be noted that Islam preached tolerance of diversity of faith in the most unequivocal terms back in the 7th century CE. This was a time when no man-made charter of human rights or freedom to practise one’s religion existed. A tyranny of the majority faith prevailed across the board, with non-conformists being burnt at the stake for heresy.

A verse revealed to the Prophet came in the early days of hardship of Muslims at Makkah, at a time when the Prophet had started grieving for not being able to win converts to Allah’s Faith: “If it had been your Lord’s Will, they would all have believed — all who are on Earth; will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe?” (10:99). The line of argument, rather injunction, is clear.

Yet, more significantly, another verse was revealed to reinforce Allah’s Will as He wanted it enforced among the believers and non-believers alike in the Madina society when Islam had triumphed, and certain Jewish tribes were given protection. It unconditionally grants the adherents of minority faiths the freedom to choose the faith they please: “Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error” (2:256).

It was such injunctions of Islam that led the Prophet to also declare: “Whoever harms a non-Muslim will not enter Paradise.” The popular tradition formed the basis of the laws that protected minorities living under various Muslim empires throughout history.

Consider also the following verse which categorically spells out Divine reckoning for those who go against His Will and
terrorise His people. In Surah al Hajj, revealed in Madina, Allah cites His Action: “Had not Allah checked one set of people by means of another, they would have surely pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure” (22:40).

This verse should in particular serve as a wake-up call for all those who, by their sheer silence, end up condoning attacks by the extremists against the adherents of other faiths; churches and the places of worship of the Ahmadi community, for instance.

It is ironical that cases of blasphemy should have started surfacing in Pakistan as soon as the law to prevent it was put on the statutes in the 1980s, and fortified in the early 1990s to include the death penalty. The Quran and the Sunnah make any Muslim majority, anywhere and for all times, the custo-dians of the minorities’ right to a life of dignity and equal opportunity. What we see in Pakistan is their wholesale
persecution and discrimination on the basis of controversial laws enacted by Gen Ziaul Haq, which subsequent democratic governments have failed to repeal because they are tinted with so-called religious sanctions, half-truths at best.

Consequently, it’s not only the minorities but Islam itself that is not in safe hands in Pakistan. If Mullah Omar’s so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is the model the extremists are hankering after, the state on its part has done little to curb such tendencies. Granted that there is a lunatic fringe in every society, but it is the state that keeps it from harming the interests of the peaceful majority, which must keep its belief systems and practise its faith without fear.

The practitioners of violence in the name of religion have brought Islam into disrepute. Yet the people, their representative government and the judiciary lack the will to rise up to the challenge and bring those to justice who go around dispensing justice based on their own myopic reading of Islam. The Quran aptly says of such people and their apathy: “Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change their own condition” (13:11).

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