Non-Muslims in Muslim Countries

Within a Muslim state, all people are to enjoy freedom, honor, and protection from aggression. History has shown that these ideals can be fulfilled and enhanced in an Islamic state. Unfortunately, many countries today have lost the Islamic spirit and violate even these basic human rights, which should be guaranteed under any Islamic system.

Freedom of Worship

Non-Muslims have the right to perform their religious rites without interference or prejudice. Their places of worship are to be protected and respected. As a minority religious community, they are permitted to regulate their personal matters (such as marriage, divorce, dietary laws, and so on) according to the teaching of their own faith. In turn, they must honor the same societal and civic responsibilities as those that are expected of the Muslim population (for example, being fair in business practices).

During the lifetime of Muhammad, leaders of the Muslim state signed treaties with neighboring Jewish and Christian tribes. These treaties and others that came after them ensured freedom of worship and forbade the destruction of houses of worship. Notably, one treaty that was signed between the Muslim community and the Jewish people who lived in Madinah proclaimed, “Whoever stays with the Muslims from all Jewish tribes shall have help and aid, and shall not be the victims of injustice nor vengeance. They are all safe; they have their religion and Muslims have theirs.”

During the time of the second caliph, Omar, a treaty was drawn up between Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem. The opening paragraph read, “This is the security that is given to the people of Elia [Jerusalem]. It grants them security to all, sick or sound, security for their lives, their wealth, their churches, their crosses, and for all that relates to their religion. Their churches shall not be changed to dwelling places, nor destroyed, and nothing shall be taken from them, neither from their churches nor their surroundings. Nothing shall be taken from their wealth, and no constraint shall be placed upon anyone in matters of their religion, nor shall anyone be harmed.” Jerusalem remained under Muslim rule for several hundred years, during which time the rites of all faiths were respected.

In the twelfth century C.E., responsibility for security at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was entrusted to two Muslim families by the names of Joudeh and Nusseibeh. To this day, members of these Muslim families work together and are entrusted with doorkeeper duties and guardianship of the church key.

The Jizyah Tax

In an Islamic state, all Muslims have the duty to protect the community from outside aggression, including the duty to bear arms if necessary. In addition, wealthy Muslims are required in the faith to pay alms (zakat). Minority religious communities enjoy the protection of the Islamic state but are exempt from these requirements. To balance these rights and duties, the Islamic state imposes a small tax (called jizyah) on non-Muslims within its borders to fund the army and ensure their continued protection.

The word jizyah itself means “to compensate” or “repay.” The non-Muslims who enjoy the freedoms of living in the Islamic state need to compensate for their exemption from military duty and the payment of alms. Those who are old, sick, or unable to pay are exempt from the jizyah. The amount has always been minimal, based on a person's ability to pay. Once a person pays this amount, it becomes the obligation of the Muslim state to protect that individual from any aggressor, either from within the community or outside of it.

Since 1994, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, DC, has advocated for Muslims in issues of workplace or educational discrimination within the United States. The organization helps to resolve complaints through negotiation, letters of protest, and other peaceful means.

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