By Qari Muhammad Asim
Senior Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds
Violence against Followers of other Faith
There has been an increase in violence against followers of other faiths by terrorists, who profess to be Muslims. Fifteen people were killed and over 80 people injured on Sunday 15 March in violent attacks in Lahore, Pakistan. Twin blasts rocked the Roman Catholic Church and Christ Church in Lahore’s while people were attending the Sundays mass. An offshoot of the Pakistan Taliban, calling itself Jamatul Ahrar, has said it carried out the attack. This is the same group that had claimed responsibility for the Peshawar attack on school children.
ISIS in the Middle East and Boko Haram in parts of Africa have been committing violence against Christians and faith minorities under the banner of “Jihad”. ISIS has painted the homes of Christians red, destroyed their churches, and in some cases, looted their homes and property. They have caused many others to flee their homes with nothing but their lives and the clothes on their backs. ISIS have also fought the Yazidis, when they had not waged any kind of war against Muslims. Hundreds of them are reported to have been killed and buried them in mass graves. Jews have also been attacked in Europe because of their faith.
When a Muslim is killed by a person of another faith and the murder is motivated by religion, the murderer is, quite rightly, not labelled as, for instance, a Christian murderer or a Hindu murderer, similarly, terrorism and violence against Christians and other faith minorities should not be considered as “Islamic” terrorism. Islam and Muslims have nothing to do with these terrorists; their actions are rather an insult to the peaceful message of Islam. Accordingly, Imams have unreservedly distanced themselves from those terrorists and have said those fanatics are not following any form of Islam. The Muslim community, inspired by their faith, are forming rings of peace around places of worships of other faiths to protect them with their own lives.
Islam protects rights of faith minorities
The Christians, who are being targeted, are not combatants against Islam or transgressors against it. The Qur’an requires Muslims to treat their fellow non-combatant citizens – of other faiths or no faith- with kindness and justice. – killing and injuring them is the opposite of what Islam demands. The Qur’an says: ‘God does not forbid you in regard to those who did not wage war against you on account of religion and did not expel you from your homes, that you should treat them kindly and deal with them justly. Assuredly God loves the just.’ (Qur’an, 60: 8).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) has 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)
The terrorists are killing people indiscriminately – their only aim is to cause chaos, devastation and bloodshed. Such violent actions are far removed from the teachings of Islam and the practice of the Prophet of Islam (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him). Faith minorities living in Muslim countries must enjoy safety and security unconditionally. Islam has issued severe warnings to those who infringe rights of minorities. The sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) urging Muslims to protect the rights of faith minorities should be enough for people and government in Pakistan to defend the rights of minorities against the terrorists, who do not represent any faith.
The Prophet of Islam declared that the life of non-Muslims residents or visitor has sanctity when he said: “Whoever kills a person with whom we have a treaty, will not come close enough to Paradise to smell its scent, and its scent can be found as far as forty years of travel [away].” (Bukhari)
Islam has protected the freedom of worship for all faith minorities. On one occasion, the Prophet received a delegation of sixty Christians from the region of Najran, then a part of Yemen, at his mosque. The Prophet hosted them at his own mosque and when the time for their prayer came, the Prophet allowed them to pray in his mosque. The Prophet ordered that they be left in their state and unharmed.
Islamic Charter of Rights
The Prophet emphasized in many letters to his ambassadors that religious practices and institutions of people of other faiths should not be harmed. A letter addressed to his emissary to the religious leaders of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai is as follows:
“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are declared to be protected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).” [“Muslim and Non-Muslims, Face-to-Face”, Ahmad Sakr. Foundation for Islamic Knowledge, Lombard IL].
It is clear from the above letter that in this “Charter of Rights”, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) covered all important aspects of human rights, including the protection of minorities, freedom of worship and movement, freedom of ownership, freedom to practice their traditions, and the right to protection in war. Accordingly, for the past 1400 years, faith communities have been protecting each other on the basis of human dignity and in accordance with the teachings of their faiths.
In Islam, the God-given status of humanity forms the basis of the principle of human dignity, whether the person is Muslim or non-Muslim. Islam emphasizes the origin of all humanity is one; therefore all human beings have certain rights over one another. God says: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (and not hate one another). Surely, the most honoured 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).” (Quran 49:13)
These terrorists are an affront to human dignity and they must be brought to justice. But that is not enough, we must all work harder to ensure that breeding grounds of such terrorists, ideological and monetary sponsors of such extremists are exposed and dealt with according to Islamic law and laws of the land. It is high time faith that leaders ensure that people within their own tradition respect people from other faith traditions.
People of all faiths and no faith to remain united and defend each other’s rights and liberties. Violence begets violence. The cycle of hate and counter-hate, violence and counter-violence needs breaking. We must not let the terrorists defeat the objective of achieving peace and harmony in the world.