In an Islamic state, the rights of minorities
Islamic governance binds its rulers to uphold Islam with utmost emphasis on values such as morality, good conduct, gentleness, justice, and fairness in their treatment of their subjects, irrespective of whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. It teaches them that just as Allah, in His infinite mercy, has opened the doors of His blessings to the people of Islam and the people of other faiths – Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and all others – every individual has an equal right to benefit from the countless blessings of sustenance, air, water, light, and the vast expanse of the heavens and the earth. No one is deprived of their rightful share of any blessing, and likewise, any government that claims to act in accordance with divine law has an obligation to establish a system of governance based on justice, as illuminated by the teachings of the Quran and Hadith, where every citizen, regardless of their religion, is ensured fundamental rights and basic necessities of life without discrimination.
If any prejudiced and narrow-minded individual assumes a position of authority in the government, who undoubtedly upholds the rights of Muslims but neglects the rights of non-Muslim minorities, then he infringes upon their rights, does not treat them equally in terms of basic rights, and acts against the teachings of the Quran and Hadith, as well as the practices of the righteous caliphs. It can be confidently stated in the light of these sources that he has no right to govern. It is incumbent upon Muslim subjects themselves to either exert efforts to secure the rights of minorities from such a ruler or to remove him from power. If Muslim subjects do not take such actions and, instead, silently witness the violation of the rights of minorities, they share in the wrongdoing with the ruler. Therefore, it is entirely incorrect to posit that Islam does not consider the rights of minorities or that it overlooks them in any way.
The Rights of Minorities in an Islamic State
Equal Rights for Muslims
There are also a few matters in which Allah Subhanahoo Wata’ala has bestowed upon non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims. Only a few of these are mentioned:
The honor of humanity that Islam has bestowed upon humans is unmatched in any other religion or belief system in the world. Whether a person is a Muslim or non-Muslim, a subject or a citizen, at peace or at war, alive or deceased, in every circumstance, Islam has prescribed special dignity and respect for them. In this regard, Islam has emphasized the protection of their life, property, honor, and dignity for its followers. Allah Almighty has created all human beings from the same origin, and in this regard, whether one is a Muslim or a non-Muslim, all share equal dignity. Therefore, the guidance of Allah Almighty is:
۞ وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ وَحَمَلْنَـٰهُمْ فِى ٱلْبَرِّ وَٱلْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَـٰهُم مِّنَ ٱلطَّيِّبَـٰتِ وَفَضَّلْنَـٰهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍۢ مِّمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًۭا ٧٠
And We bestowed dignity on the children of ’Ādam and provided them with rides on the land and in the sea, and provided them with a variety of good things and made them much superior to many of those whom We have created. (17:70)
The concept of human dignity, respect, and honor in Islam can be understood from the blessed verse of the Holy Quran in which Allah Almighty has clearly stated that taking an innocent life is tantamount to killing all of humanity. Allah’s guidance is as follows:
مِنْ أَجْلِ ذَٰلِكَ كَتَبْنَا عَلَىٰ بَنِىٓ إِسْرَٰٓءِيلَ أَنَّهُۥ مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًۢا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍۢ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعًۭا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَآ أَحْيَا ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعًۭا ۚ وَلَقَدْ جَآءَتْهُمْ رُسُلُنَا بِٱلْبَيِّنَـٰتِ ثُمَّ إِنَّ كَثِيرًۭا مِّنْهُم بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ لَمُسْرِفُونَ ٣٢
For this reason, We decreed for the children of Isrā’īl that whoever kills a person not in retaliation for a person killed, nor (as a punishment) for spreading disorder on the earth, is as if he has killed the whole of humankind, and whoever saves the life of a person is as if he has saved the life of the whole of humankind. Certainly, Our messengers have come to them with clear signs. Then, after all that, many of them are there to commit excesses on the earth. (5:32)
Therefore, in a Muslim state, the killing of non-Muslim citizens is also included in this category. And the person who saves the life of even one individual is as if they have saved the lives of all. Here, the term ‘nafs’ (soul) is general and applies universally, meaning the unjust killing of any human life, regardless of their religion, language, or place of residence in the world.
Respect for the Deceased
Islam’s reverence, dignity, and honor for human life are not limited to the duration of a person’s life but extend beyond death. Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) equated the respect for a deceased human being to the respect for a living one. He prohibited actions such as mutilating the corpse, breaking its bones, cutting off its hands, feet, or nose, tearing it apart, burning it, or desecrating its grave. These actions were declared forbidden (haram). As recorded by Abdullah bin Zaid Ansari, it is stated in Sahih al-Bukhari (Hadith 2474):
حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ بَشَّارٍ، حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنُ مَهْدِيٍّ، حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنْ عَلْقَمَةَ بْنِ مَرْثَدٍ، عَنْ سُلَيْمَانَ بْنِ بُرَيْدَةَ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، قَالَ كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِذَا بَعَثَ أَمِيرًا عَلَى جَيْشٍ أَوْصَاهُ فِي خَاصَّةِ نَفْسِهِ بِتَقْوَى اللَّهِ وَمَنْ مَعَهُ مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ خَيْرًا فَقَالَ “ اغْزُوا بِسْمِ اللَّهِ وَفِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ قَاتِلُوا مَنْ كَفَرَ بِاللَّهِ اغْزُوا وَلاَ تَغُلُّوا وَلاَ تَغْدِرُوا وَلاَ تُمَثِّلُوا وَلاَ تَقْتُلُوا وَلِيدًا ” . وَفِي الْحَدِيثِ قِصَّةٌ . قَالَ وَفِي الْبَابِ عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ مَسْعُودٍ وَشَدَّادِ بْنِ أَوْسٍ وَعِمْرَانَ بْنِ حُصَيْنٍ وَأَنَسٍ وَسَمُرَةَ وَالْمُغِيرَةِ وَيَعْلَى بْنِ مُرَّةَ وَأَبِي أَيُّوبَ . قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى حَدِيثُ بُرَيْدَةَ حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ . وَكَرِهَ أَهْلُ الْعِلْمِ الْمُثْلَةَ .
Narrated Buraidah: from his father who said: “Whenever the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) dispatched a commander of an army he would exhort him personally; that he should have Taqwa of Allah, and regarding those of the Muslims who are with him; that he should be good to them. He would say: ‘Fight in the Name of Allah and in Allah’s curse. Fight those who disbelieve in Allah and fight, do not be treacherous, nor mutilate, nor kill a child.” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1408)
Respect for Funerals
Islam, while teaching the preservation of human dignity and honor, has instructed its followers to stand in respect when the funeral processions of non-Muslims pass by. It emphasizes the importance of showing reverence for the deceased of other faiths.
A narration in Sahih al-Bukhari states:
حَدَّثَنَا آدَمُ، حَدَّثَنَا شُعْبَةُ، حَدَّثَنَا عَمْرُو بْنُ مُرَّةَ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ عَبْدَ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنَ أَبِي لَيْلَى، قَالَ كَانَ سَهْلُ بْنُ حُنَيْفٍ وَقَيْسُ بْنُ سَعْدٍ قَاعِدَيْنِ بِالْقَادِسِيَّةِ، فَمَرُّوا عَلَيْهِمَا بِجَنَازَةٍ فَقَامَا. فَقِيلَ لَهُمَا إِنَّهَا مِنْ أَهْلِ الأَرْضِ، أَىْ مِنْ أَهْلِ الذِّمَّةِ فَقَالاَ إِنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم مَرَّتْ بِهِ جَنَازَةٌ فَقَامَ فَقِيلَ لَهُ إِنَّهَا جَنَازَةُ يَهُودِيٍّ. فَقَالَ “ أَلَيْسَتْ نَفْسًا ”. وَقَالَ أَبُو حَمْزَةَ عَنِ الأَعْمَشِ، عَنْ عَمْرٍو، عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي لَيْلَى، قَالَ كُنْتُ مَعَ قَيْسٍ وَسَهْلٍ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ فَقَالاَ كُنَّا مَعَ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم. وَقَالَ زَكَرِيَّاءُ عَنِ الشَّعْبِيِّ عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي لَيْلَى كَانَ أَبُو مَسْعُودٍ وَقَيْسٌ يَقُومَانِ لِلْجِنَازَةِ.
Narrated `Abdur Rahman bin Abi Laila: Sahl bin Hunaif and Qais bin Sa`d were sitting in the city of Al-Qadisiya. A funeral procession passed in front of them and they stood up. They were told that funeral procession was of one of the inhabitants of the land i.e. of a non-believer, under the protection of Muslims. They said, “A funeral procession passed in front of the Prophet (ﷺ) and he stood up. When he was told that it was the coffin of a Jew, he said, “Is it not a living being (soul)?” (Sahih al-Bukhari 1312, 1313)
The Right to Religious Freedom
Islam invites people to worship Allah, but it does not compel or pressure individuals from other religions to change their beliefs or accept Islam. There is no force or coercion in matters of faith. The call to the truth and coercion are entirely separate realities. The Quran eloquently states the concept of conveying the message of truth without compulsion:
ٱدْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِٱلْحِكْمَةِ وَٱلْمَوْعِظَةِ ٱلْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَـٰدِلْهُم بِٱلَّتِى هِىَ أَحْسَنُ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِۦ ۖ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِٱلْمُهْتَدِينَ ١٢٥
Invite (people) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good counsel. And argue with them in the best of manners. Surely, your Lord knows best the one who deviates from His way, and He knows best the ones who are on the right path. (16:125)
لَآ إِكْرَاهَ فِى ٱلدِّينِ ۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ ٱلرُّشْدُ مِنَ ٱلْغَىِّ ۚ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِٱلطَّـٰغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِنۢ بِٱللَّهِ فَقَدِ ٱسْتَمْسَكَ بِٱلْعُرْوَةِ ٱلْوُثْقَىٰ لَا ٱنفِصَامَ لَهَا ۗ وَٱللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ ٢٥٦
There is no compulsion in Faith. The correct way has become distinct from the erroneous. Now, whoever rejects the Tāghūt (the Rebel, the Satan) and believes in Allah has a firm grasp on the strongest ring that never breaks. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (2:256)
(100) Your religion is for you, and my religion is for me. This is the practical wisdom of the Sharia, that non-Muslims are free to practice their religion and way of life. An Islamic state will not interfere with their beliefs and worship. In the letter written by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to the people of Najran, the following sentence was also included:
ولنجران وحاشيتهم جوار الله و ذمة محمد النبي رسول الله علي انفسهم وملتهم و ارضهم و اموالهم و غائبهم و شاهدهم و بيعهم و صلواتهم لا يغيروا اسقفا عن اسقفيته ولا راهبا عن رهبانية ولا واقفا عن وقفانيته وكل ما تحت ايديهم من قليل اوكثير.
Najran and its allies are under the protection of Allah and His Messenger, Muhammad (peace be upon him). Their lives, religion, lands, properties, present, and absent individuals, their places of worship, and their homes will be safeguarded. No priest will be removed from his religious status, no monk from his monasticism, and no person of authority from his position. Everything under their ownership will be protected.” (Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra 1: 358,228)
The right to cultural and social freedom
In an Islamic state, minorities have the right to live according to their national and cultural traditions to the extent that even their personal matters, such as marriage, divorce, and other aspects, will not be interfered with, as long as these practices do not contradict their cultural norms. In an Islamic state, apart from the sacred precincts (Haram), minorities can choose their places of residence as they wish and can also choose to leave if they desire. The term “Haram” refers to the sacred city of Mecca, and it is established by a clear text that non-Muslims are prohibited from residing there. In Islamic society, the importance of the rights of minorities can be understood from the blessed command of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):
حَدَّثَنَا سُلَيْمَانُ بْنُ دَاوُدَ الْمَهْرِيُّ، أَخْبَرَنَا ابْنُ وَهْبٍ، حَدَّثَنِي أَبُو صَخْرٍ الْمَدِينِيُّ، أَنَّ صَفْوَانَ بْنَ سُلَيْمٍ، أَخْبَرَهُ عَنْ عِدَّةٍ، مِنْ أَبْنَاءِ أَصْحَابِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَنْ آبَائِهِمْ دِنْيَةً عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ “ أَلاَ مَنْ ظَلَمَ مُعَاهِدًا أَوِ انْتَقَصَهُ أَوْ كَلَّفَهُ فَوْقَ طَاقَتِهِ أَوْ أَخَذَ مِنْهُ شَيْئًا بِغَيْرِ طِيبِ نَفْسٍ فَأَنَا حَجِيجُهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ” .
Narrated A number of Companions of the Prophet:
Safwan reported from a number of Companions of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) on the authority of their fathers who were relatives of each other. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: Beware, if anyone wrongs a contracting man, or diminishes his right, or forces him to work beyond his capacity, or takes from him anything without his consent, I shall plead for him on the Day of Judgment. (Sunan Abi Dawud 3052)
Protection of the Property and Lives of Minorities:
Sa’sa’a bin Mu’awiya asked Ibn Abbas and said, “We pass by the non-Muslims (dhimmis), and they slaughter chickens or goats for us and offer us hospitality. What is your opinion about this?” Ibn Abbas asked, “What is your view on this matter?” Sa’sa’a replied, “We do not see any problem with it.” Upon this, Abdullah bin Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said:
هذا كما قال أهل كتاب اليْسَ عَلَيْنَا فِي الأُميين سبيل) إنهم إذا أتوا الجزية لم تحل لكم أموالهم إلا بطيب أنفسهم
You have expressed the same view as the People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab) do regarding the treatment of dhimmis (non-Muslim minorities). They say that there is no objection to dealing with dhimmis. However, it is important to note that once they pay the jizyah (a tax imposed on non-Muslims in an Islamic state), their property is considered lawful for you without their consent. This is mentioned by the author Abdul Razzaq in his work, reference 916.
Right to Private Life and Personal Confidentiality
In the Islamic Republic, every individual has the right to lead a private life, and no person can enter their home without their permission and consent because every person’s dwelling is the center of private and confidential matters, and violating this right is strictly prohibited. The infringement upon this right is a violation of an individual’s dignity and is not permissible in any way. Entry into homes without permission is expressly prohibited. Allah Almighty has stated:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ لَا تَدْخُلُوا۟ بُيُوتًا غَيْرَ بُيُوتِكُمْ حَتَّىٰ تَسْتَأْنِسُوا۟ وَتُسَلِّمُوا۟ عَلَىٰٓ أَهْلِهَا ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌۭ لَّكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ ٢٧
O you who believe, do not enter any houses, other than your own houses unless you seek permission and greet their inmates with Salām . That is good for you, so that you may be heedful. (24:27)
فَإِن لَّمْ تَجِدُوا۟ فِيهَآ أَحَدًۭا فَلَا تَدْخُلُوهَا حَتَّىٰ يُؤْذَنَ لَكُمْ ۖ وَإِن قِيلَ لَكُمُ ٱرْجِعُوا۟ فَٱرْجِعُوا۟ ۖ هُوَ أَزْكَىٰ لَكُمْ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ عَلِيمٌۭ ٢٨
Even if you do not find anyone in them, do not enter therein until permission is given to you. And if it is said to you, ‘Go back’, just go back; it is more decent for you. Allah is All-Aware of what you do. (24:28)
Right to Economic and Financial Freedom
In an Islamic government, non-Muslims are not bound by any restrictions in terms of engaging in economic activities; they can undertake any profession or trade that Muslims engage in, except when it causes social harm to the state as a whole. Whatever is prohibited for Muslims will be prohibited for them as well, such as usurious transactions, which ultimately lead to the destruction of the entire society or other similar activities.
In accordance with their professions, non-Muslims can choose any profession, and there is no prohibition on Muslims hiring them for work in exchange for wages. In Islam, there is no slight indication whatsoever of imposing any form of discrimination against non-Muslims based on their professions. In commercial transactions, the taxes that Muslims pay should also be paid by them.
Treating Minorities with Respect
In the religion of Islam, there is a clear directive to treat non-Muslims who neither oppose Islam nor engage in any subversive activities against it with kindness, compassion, good manners, and courtesy.
لَّا يَنْهَىٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَـٰتِلُوكُمْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَـٰرِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوٓا۟ إِلَيْهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُقْسِطِينَ ٨
Allah does not forbid you as regards those who did not fight you on account of faith, and did not expel you from your homes, that you do good to them, and deal justly with them. Surely Allah loves those who maintain justice. (60:8)
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ أَن يَقْتُلَ مُؤْمِنًا إِلَّا خَطَـًۭٔا ۚ وَمَن قَتَلَ مُؤْمِنًا خَطَـًۭٔا فَتَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍۢ مُّؤْمِنَةٍۢ وَدِيَةٌۭ مُّسَلَّمَةٌ إِلَىٰٓ أَهْلِهِۦٓ إِلَّآ أَن يَصَّدَّقُوا۟ ۚ فَإِن كَانَ مِن قَوْمٍ عَدُوٍّۢ لَّكُمْ وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌۭ فَتَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍۢ مُّؤْمِنَةٍۢ ۖ وَإِن كَانَ مِن قَوْمٍۭ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُم مِّيثَـٰقٌۭ فَدِيَةٌۭ مُّسَلَّمَةٌ إِلَىٰٓ أَهْلِهِۦ وَتَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍۢ مُّؤْمِنَةٍۢ ۖ فَمَن لَّمْ يَجِدْ فَصِيَامُ شَهْرَيْنِ مُتَتَابِعَيْنِ تَوْبَةًۭ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ ۗ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًۭا ٩٢
It is not for a believer (Muslim) to kill any believer, except by mistake. Whoever kills a believer by mistake, then, a believing slave has to be freed, and the blood money must be paid to his family, unless they forgo it.If he (the victim) belongs to a people hostile to you and is a believer, then, a believing slave has to be freed. If he (the victim) belongs to a people between whom and you there is treaty, then, blood money is to be paid to his family, and a believing slave to be freed. Whoever does not find one has to fast for two consecutive months. This is repentance prescribed from Allah’s side. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (4:92)
Respect for Religious Symbols
In the religion of Islam, it is strictly forbidden for Muslims to insult the deities of polytheists by using offensive language, lest the polytheists also reciprocate by insulting the God of Muslims. The underlying purpose of this prohibition is indeed the preservation of human dignity, as human beings hold certain things sacred, and respecting their emotions is, in fact, a form of honoring them. Even though polytheists may not believe in the oneness of God, they still acknowledge the existence of Allah and regard it as legitimate. When Muslims insult the deities of polytheists, the polytheists react by hurting the sentiments of Muslims, just as Muslims have hurt theirs. This leads to mutual envy, hatred, and animosity, which are contrary to the principles of respect and honor for both sides. As a result, animosity and discord prevail. Allah Almighty has commanded:
وَلَا تَسُبُّوا۟ ٱلَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا۟ ٱللَّهَ عَدْوًۢا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍۢ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ ١٠٨
Do not revile those whom they invoke other than Allah, lest they should revile Allah in transgression without having knowledge. This is how We have made the deeds of every community attractive in their sight. Then, to their Lord is their return, after which He shall tell them what they have been doing. (6:108)
Preservation of Places of Worship
After the noble Prophet, peace be upon him, the best of the leaders in Islam, the Rightly Guided Caliphs, would provide commanders of armies sent for the sake of Allah with guidelines regarding the etiquettes of warfare. For instance, when Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq, may Allah be pleased with him, appointed Usama bin Zaid as the commander of an army, he gave him the following instructions:
إني موصيك بعشر : لا تقتلن امرأة ولا صبيا ولا كبيرًا هرما ولا تقطعن شجرا مثمرًا ولا تخربن عامرًا ولا تعقرن شاة ولا بعيرا إلا لماكلة ولا تغرقن نخلا ولا تحرقنه، ولا تغلوا ولا تجبنوا وسوف تمرون بأقوام قد فرغوا أنفسهم في الصوامع فدعوهم وما فرغوا أنفسهم له
I advise you to adhere to ten principles: Do not kill women, children, and the elderly. Do not cut down fruitful trees, nor engage in any wanton destruction, except for food purposes such as slaughtering camels or cattle. Do not burn date palms or orchards. Do not betray or be treacherous. Do not display cowardice. Do not molest those who have secluded themselves in monastic hermitages. Do not engage in any act of violence against them or their property. Pass by people who are devoted to worship without harming them.” (References: Al-Sunan al-Kubra by Al-Bayhaqi: 899, and Tareekh al-Tabari: 2153)