Contemporary sociologists generally define minority as a group of people differentiated from others in the same society by race, nationality, religion or language—who both think of themselves as a differentiated group and are thought of by the others as a differentiated group with negative connotations. Further, they are relatively lacking power and hence are subjected to certain exclusions, discriminations and other differential treatment. Minorities especially racial and religious are subjected to discrimination and prejudice all across the world, subcontinent India and Pakistan being no exception where particularly religious discrimination is on rise. India is a religiously diverse and democratic society with a constitution that provides legal equalities for its citizens irrespective of their religion and prohibits religion based discrimination; however reality is far different; in fact India’s pluralistic tradition is facing serious challenges in number of its states. In India not only Muslims but Christians are facing violence also, vandalizing of churches in Mangalore, Udupi and in other districts of Karnataka in 2008 and Pentecostal church in Chhattisgarh are few that caught media attention. Recently Independent Bipartisan Commission claimed that since 2014 there has been dramatic escalation in persecution and discrimination of religious minorities in India .Likewise in Pakistan, cases of hate crimes ,forced conversions ,assaults have been witnessed in recent past .As per reports the population of religious minorities declined from 23% in 1947 to around 3-4% of the population today ,primarily due to emigration despite Article 36 of constitution of Pakistan is in place to safeguard rights and interests of minorities .
At present, Islamophobic intellectuals leave no stone unturned to pass blame on Islam for minority discrimination. They keep on spewing venom to distract the people from real teachings and principles of Islam for self-interest .Otherwise if it would have been so, then why India is ranking top in the religious discrimination? Thus it becomes incumbent upon all of us to know what the approach of Islam towards religious minorities is. Do the claims of Islamophobic Intellectuals make any sense? Let’s analyze Islamic perspective in this regard:
Islam seeks to establish such a society where all citizens of the state enjoy equal rights and religion does not become the basis for any discrimination. Islamic law holds both Muslims and non-Muslims equal and no superiority or privilege is given to the Muslims on any ground. The history of Islam is replete with such examples. Every member of an Islamic society is entitled to privacy and personal life. No one can be allowed to enter his house or interfere in his matters without his consent. The minorities enjoy similar rights in an Islamic state as the Muslims do. It is the fundamental principle of Islamic law that it enjoins the similar rights and duties on both Muslim and non-Muslim citizens without any discrimination.
Islam ordains people to worship Allah Almighty but it does not coerce followers of other religions to accept Islam and change their creed. Invitation to truth and use of coercion are mutually exclusive realities. The Holy Quran has communicated the Islamic message of truth in these words: “(O Glorious Messenger!) Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided (16:125).
Islam has strictly disallowed the adoption of such method of invitation, which affects the religious independence of the other party. Allah Almighty says at another place: “There is no coercion in religion. Verily, guidance has manifestly been distinguished from error.” (2:256).
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) while teaching Ummah, how to treat a non Muslim said: “Whenever you see a funeral procession, stand up till the procession goes ahead of you”. This is authentic tradition: One day a funeral procession passed in front of him 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)?”
History bears witness that, shortly after arrival at Medina, Prophet (PBUH) drafted “Charter of Medina” also called “Constitution of Medina” on the basis of multi-religious Islamic state. In which Prophet (PBUH) introduced a separate clause for rights of non-Muslims which says; a) The security of God is equal for all groups b) Non-Muslim members will have the same political and cultural rights as Muslims. They will have autonomy and freedom of religion c) Non-Muslims will take up arms against the enemy of the nation and share the cost of war. There is to be no treachery between the two. d) Non-Muslims will not be obliged to take part in religious wars of the Muslims.
Moreover, Islam uses the term Dhimma, referring to non Muslim citizens residing within the states border as opposed to crude term minority .Dhimma literally means “Protected Person” .The term itself reflects the respectful status attributed to non Muslim communities under the Islamic system .The Dhimmis had their right fully protected in their communities and were subject to their own special laws and exempt from laws applicable to the Muslim community. Rules of Islamic state related to Dhimmis are summed up in Quran, Which says; “For you is your religion, and for me is my religion (109:6)”. Islam thus refutes the idea of monotonous system that expects different ideological communities to follow same directives with respect public, religious, social and political lives. For instance, the Jewish community in Medina was allowed to have its own Halakhic Courts and allowed various Dhimmi communities to rule themselves under separate legal courts. However, some argue about Jizya, being discrimination to non-muslim but it is worth to note that their Muslim counterpart is not exactly free of any kind of taxation in Islamic state. He has to pay more in what is known as Zakah.In Islamic state the minorities cannot be compelled to render defense. Rather, it is the responsibility of the Islamic state to defend them. Since the Islamic state is responsible for the protection of lives, honor and property of the minorities and they do not have any other obligation with regard to defense, they are liable to contribute financially to the Islamic state in the form of Jizya. Even then, Islam has taught about justice and good manners when it comes to the imposition of Jizya on the minorities.
Due to space constraint, I cannot delve deeper into the Islamic history to prove empirically how minorities were treated in an Islamic state but to some extent it became clear that Islam protects the rights of minorities proving Islamophobic intellectuals wrong. However Muslim Clergy leaders need to present true picture of Islam to combat the distortions circulated about Islam and Muslim dominated countries must impose regulations in accordance with Islamic Shariah to put an end to all sorts of discriminations that will also eliminate myths about our religion.
Writer is Postgraduate student of Zoology