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Over the centuries of Islamic history, Muslim rulers, Islamic scholars, and ordinary Muslims have held many different attitudes towards other religions. Attitudes have varied according to time, place and circumstance.
Non-Muslims and IslamEdit
"The main advantage of the dhimmis over Muslims was the guarantee of their protection without the responsibility to actively engage in that protection themselves."
The Qur'an distinguishes between the monotheistic People of the Book (ahl al-kitab) (Jews, Christians, Sabians and others) on the one hand and polytheists or idolaters on the other hand. There are certain kinds of restrictions, when involved with People of the Book, which do not apply to polytheists. One example is that Muslim males are allowed to marry a Christian or Jew, but not a polytheist. Muslim women, however, may not marry non-Muslim men.
The idea of Islamic supremacy is encapsulated in the formula, "Islam is exalted and nothing is exalted above it."
Abraham, Moses, Hebrew prophets, and Jesus were all prophets of Islam, but according to Muslim tradition their message and the texts of the Torah and the Gospels were corrupted by Jews and Christians. Similarly, children of non-Muslim families are born Muslims, but are converted to another faith by their parents.
Apostasy in Islam can be punishable by death or imprisonment according to some interpretations. W. Heffening states that Shafi'is interpret verse [Quran 2:217] as adducing the main evidence for the death penalty in Qur'an. Wael Hallaq states the death penalty was a new element added later and "reflects a later reality and does not stand in accord with the deeds of the Prophet." He further states that "nothing in the law governing apostate and apostasy derives from the letter of the holy text."  There are also interpretations according to which apostates aren't executed nor punished, and there is freedom of religion.
Practice of the early MuslimsEdit
During the thirteen years that Muhammad led his followers against the Meccans and then against the other Arab tribes, Christian and Jewish communities who had submitted to Muslim rule were allowed to worship in their own way and follow their own family law, and were given a degree of self-government.
The Jews generally rejected Muhammad's status as a prophet. According to Watt, "Jews would normally be unwilling to admit that a non-Jew could be a prophet." In the Constitution of Medina, Muhammad demanded the Jews' political loyalty in return for religious and cultural autonomy. In every major battle with the Medinans, two local Jewish tribes were found to be treachous (see [Quran 2:100]). After Badr and Uhud, the Banu Qainuqa and Banu Nadir (the latter being an ethnic Arab tribe who converted to Judaism, according to the Muslim historian al-Yaqubi), respectively, took up arms against the ummah and were subsequently expelled "with their families and possessions" from Medina.
However, this incident does not imply that Jews in general rejected Muhammad's constitution. One Yemenite Jewish document, found in the Cairo Genizah, claims that many Jews had not only accepted Muhammad as a prophet, but even desecrated Sabbath in order to join Muhammad in his struggle against the infidels; historians suggest that this document, called Dhimmat an-nabi Muhammad (Muhammad’s Writ of Protection), may have been fabricated by Yemenite Jews for the purpose of self-defence. Still, some Yemeni Jews considered Muhammad a true prophet, including Natan'el al-Fayyumi, a major 12th century rabbi who incorporated various Shia doctrines into his view of Judaism.
The Syriac Patriarch Ishôyahb III wrote in his correspondence to Simeon of Rewardashir, "As for the Arabs, to whom God has at this time given rule (shultãnâ) over the world, you know well how they act toward us. Not only do they not oppose Christianity, but they praise our faith, honour the priests and saints of our Lord, and give aid to the churches and monasteries."
After Muhammad's death in 632, the Islamic empire grew rapidly, encompassing what is now the Middle East, Egypt, North Africa, and Iran. Most of the new subjects were Christian or Jewish, and considered People of the Book. (After some argument, the Zoroastrians were considered People of the Book as well.) Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians were called dhimmi, protected peoples. As noted above, they could worship, follow their own family law, and own property. People of the Book were not subject to certain Islamic rules, such as the prohibitions on alcohol and pork, but were subject to other restrictions. Under the Islamic state, they were exempt from military service, but were required to pay a poll tax known as jizya. (They were, however, exempt from the zakat required of Muslims.) They could be bureaucrats and advisors, but they could never be rulers.
Later Islamic practiceEdit
Under the Ummayads and Abbasids, the Islamic community was increasingly fragmented into various sects and kingdoms, each of which had its own evolving policy towards dhimmi and towards conquered polytheists.
Later Islamic conquestsEdit
With the Ghaznavids and later the Mughals, Islam also expanded further into northern India. Will Durant, in The Story of Civilization, described this as "probably the bloodiest story in history." This approach was not uniform, and different rulers adopted different strategies. The Mughal emperor Akbar, for example, was relatively tolerant towards Hindus, while his great-grandson Aurangzeb was heavily intolerant. Hindus were ultimately given the tolerated religious minority status of dhimmi in their own homeland. However, the underlying complexity of Hindu philosophy was useful in this regard, as it had always posited an underlying unity of all things, including the fusion of various deities into a single reality (Brahman).
The Buddhists of India were not as fortunate; although Buddhism had been in decline prior to the Muslim invasions, the destruction of monastic universities in the invasions such as Nalanda and Vikramashila were a calamity from which it never recovered. According to one Buddhist scholar, the monasteries were destroyed because they were large, fortified edifices considered threats by Muslim Turk invaders.
The Almohad rulers of Muslim Spain were initially intolerant, and engaged in forced conversions; Maimonides, for example, was forced to masquerade as a Muslim and eventually flee Spain after the initial Almohad conquest.
However, it is worth mentioning that most Muslims rulers in Spain could be considered tolerant with some exceptions. Christians were free to practice their own beliefs, and had kept their own churches. The tolerant atmosphere in Muslim Spain made it a refuge for Jews persecuted in other European lands.
Comparative religion and anthropology of religionEdit
In the early 11th century, the Islamic scholar Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī wrote detailed comparative studies on the anthropology of religions across the Middle East, Mediterranean and especially the Indian subcontinent. Biruni's anthropology of religion was only possible for a scholar deeply immersed in the lore of other nations. He carried out extensive, personal investigations of the peoples, customs, and religions of the Indian subcontinent, and was a pioneer in comparative religion and the anthropology of religion.
According to Arthur Jeffery, "It is rare until modern times to find so fair and unprejudiced a statement of the views of other religions, so earnest an attempt to study them in the best sources, and such care to find a method which for this branch of study would be both rigorous and just." Biruni compared Islam with pre-Islamic religions, and was willing to accept certain elements of pre-Islamic wisdom which would conform with his understanding of the Islamic spirit.
In the introduction to his Indica, Biruni himself writes that his intent behind the work was to engage dialogue between Islam and the Indian religions, particularly Hinduism as well as Buddhism. Biruni was aware that statements about a religion would be open to criticism by its adherents, and insisted that a scholar should follow the requirements of a strictly scientific method. According to William Montgomery Watt, Biruni "is admirably objective and unprejudiced in his presentation of facts" but "selects facts in such a way that he makes a strong case for holding that there is a certain unity in the religious experience of the peoples he considers, even though he does not appear to formulate this view explicitly." Biruni argued that Hinduism was a monotheistic faith like Islam, and in order to justify this assertion, he quotes Hindu texts and argues that the worship of idols is "exclusively a characteristic of the common people, with which the educated have nothing to do."
Biruni argued that the worship of idols "is due to a kind of confusion or corruption." According to Watt, Biruni "goes on to maintain that in the course of generations the origin of the veneration of the images is forgotten, and further that the ancient legislators, seeing that the Veneration of images is advantageous, made it obligatory for the ordinary. He mentions the view of some people that, before God sent prophets, all mankind were idol-worshippers, but he apparently does not presumably held that, apart from the messages transmitted by prophets, men could know the existence and unity of God by rational methods of philosophy." Biruni argued that "the Hindus, no less than the Greeks, have philosophers who are believers in monotheism." Al-Biruni also compared Islam and Christianity, citing passages from the Qur'an and Bible which state that their followers should always speak the truth.
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During the 19th and early 20th centuries, most Islamic states fell under the sway of European colonialists. The colonialists enforced tolerance, especially of European Christian missionaries. After World War II, there was a general retreat from colonialism, and predominantly Muslim countries were again able to set their own policies regarding non-Muslims. This period also saw the beginning of increased migration from Muslim countries into the First World countries of Europe, the UK, Canada, the US, etc. This has completely reshaped relations between Islam and other religions.
Predominantly Muslim countriesEdit
Some predominantly Muslim countries allow the practice of all religions. Of these, some limit this freedom with bans on proselytizing or conversion, or restrictions on the building of places of worship; others (such as Mali) have no such restrictions. In practice, the situation of non-Muslim minorities depends not only on the law, but on local practices, which may vary.
Some countries are predominantly Muslim and allow freedom of religion adhering to democratic principles. Of particular note are the following countries:
- Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia have a significant population from the Hindu, Christian and Buddhist religions. They are allowed to practice their religions, build places of worship and even have missionary schools and organizations but with limitation of such practice. Some Muslim countries nationally observe Hindu, Christian and Buddhist holidays, e.g. Durga Puja, Maghi Purnima, Buddha Purnima, Ashari Purnima, Christmas etc.
- In Syria, there are about 2.2 million Christians (10-12% of the population) from about 15 different religious and ethnic sects (Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Church of the East, Protestants, Armenians Apostolic and various Catholics, Greek, Syrian, Aremenian, Chaldean, Maronite, Latin), as well as a few dozen Jews, and they have many hundreds of independent privately owned churches and some 15 synagogues. The freedom of religion is well observed by the state law as well as the historical long record of tolerance since the Ummayde caliph days. Christmas and Easter days are official holidays for both the Catholic or Orthodox calendar.
Some predominantly Muslim countries are less tolerant of non-Muslims:
- Pakistan has different electorates for Muslims and non-Muslims, and also two chief justices of Supreme Court of Pakistan were Hindu and Christian.
- Saudi Arabia limits religious freedom to a high degree, prohibiting public worship by other religions.
- The now-overthrown Taliban regime in Afghanistan was considered intolerant by many observers. Some ancient Buddhist monuments, like the Buddhas of Bamyan, were destroyed as idolatrous.
- The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran recognizes Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism as People of the Book and official religions, and they are granted the right to exercise religious freedom in Iran. Five of the 270 seats in parliament are reserved for these three religions. However, the situation of Bahá'ís, the largest religious minority in the country, is far worse. Bahá'ís are often attacked and dehumanized on political, religious, and social grounds to separate Bahá'ís from the rest of society. According to Eliz Sanasarian "Of all non-Muslim religious minorities the persecution of the Bahais has been the most widespread, systematic, and uninterrupted." See Religion in Iran and Persecution of Bahá'ís. Also, senior government posts are reserved for Muslims. All minority religious groups, including Sunni Muslims, are barred from being elected president. Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian schools must be run by Muslim principals. Compensation for death paid to the family of a non-Muslim was (by law) less than if the victim was a Muslim. Conversion to Islam is encouraged by entitling converts to inherit the entire share of their parents (or even uncle's) estate if their siblings (or cousins) remain non-Muslim. Iran's non-Muslim population has fallen dramatically. For example, the Jewish population in Iran dropped from 80,000 to 30,000 in the first two decades of the revolution.
- In Sudan, there was extensive use of the rhetoric of religious war by both parties in the decades-long battle between the Muslim North and the largely non-Muslim South (see Second Sudanese Civil War.)
- In Egypt, a 16 December 2006 judgement of the Supreme Administrative Council created a clear demarcation between "recognized religions"—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—and all other religious beliefs; the ruling effectively delegitimatizes and forbids the practice of all but these aforementioned religions. The ruling leaves members of other religious communities, including Bahá'ís, without the ability to obtain the necessary government documents to have rights in their country, essentially denying them of all rights of citizenship. They cannot obtain ID cards, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage or divorce certificates, and passports; they also cannot be employed, educated, treated in public hospitals or vote among other things. See Egyptian identification card controversy.
According to Islamic law, jizya (poll tax) is to be paid by all non-Muslims, excluding the weak and the poor, living in a Muslim state, to the general welfare of the state. Also, in his book "Al-Kharaj," Abu Yusuf says, "No Jizya is due on females or young infants." In exchange for the tax, the non-Muslims are required to be given security, provided compensation from the Muslim Exchequer when they are in need, treated on equality with Muslims, and enjoy rights as nationals of the state. Al-Balathiri comments on this saying, "Khaled Ibn Al-Walid, on entering Damascus as a conqueror, offered a guarantee of security to its people and their properties and churches, and promised that the wall of the city would not be pulled down, and none of their houses be demolished. It was a guarantee of God, he said, and of the Caliph and all believers to keep them safe and secure on condition they paid the dues of the Jizya." This poll tax is different from the alms tax (Zakah) paid by the Muslim subjects of a Muslim state. Whereas jizya is compulsory and paid by the tolerated community per head count, zakat was paid only if one can afford it. Muslims and non-Muslims who hold property, especially land, were required however to pay Kharaj.
One of the open issues in the relation between Islamic states and non-Islamic states is the claim from hardline Muslims that once a certain land, state or territory has been under "Muslim" rule, it can never be relinquished anymore, and that such rule, somewhere in history would give the Muslims a kind of an eternal right on the claimed territory. This claim is particularly controversial with regard to Israel and to a lesser degree Spain and parts of the Balkan and it applies to parts of Kashmir as well.
Islamic views on religious pluralismEdit
Reference to Islamic views on religious pluralism is found in the Quran. The following verses are generally interpreted as an evidence of religious pluralism:
Surah Al-Ma'idah verse 48 states:
If Allah so willed, He would have made you a single People, but His plan is to test each of you separately, in what He has given to each of you: so strive in all virtues as in you are in a race. The goal of all of you is to Allah. It is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute. (Quran 5:48)
Surah Al-Ankabut verse 46 states:
And dispute not with the People of the Book, except with means better than mere disputation, unless I be with those of them who inflict wrong and injury, but say to them: "We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is one; and it is to Him that we bow." (Quran 29:46)
The Quran criticizes Christians and Jews who believed that their own religions are the only source of Truth.
They say, if you want to be guided to salvation, you should either become a Jew or Christian. Say: What about the religion of Abraham, he also worshiped no one but Allah. We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, to Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes of Israel, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to all prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah. So, if they believe, they are indeed on the right path, but if they turn back, Allah will suffice them, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. This is the Baptism of Allah. And who can baptize better than Allah. And it is He Whom we worship. Say: Will you dispute with us about Allah, He is our Lord and your Lord; that we are responsible for our doings and you for yours; and that We are sincere in Him? Or do ye say that Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Do ye know better than Allah? Ah! who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah. But Allah is not unmindful of what ye do! That was a people that hath passed away. They shall reap the fruit of what they did, and ye of what ye do! Of their merits there is no question in your case. (Quran 2:135-141)
Surah Al-Baqara verse 113 states:
The Jews say: "The Christians have nothing to stand upon"; and the Christians say: "The Jews have nothing to stand upon." Yet they both have something to stand upon, they both recite the Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not; but Allah will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment. (Quran 2:113)
Many Muslims agree that cooperation with the Christian and Jewish community is important but some Muslims believe that theological debate is often unnecessary:
Say: "O People of the Book! Come to what is common between us and you: That we worship none but God, that we associate no partners with Him, that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords other than Allah. If then they turn back, say: 'Bear witness that we are bowing to Allah’s will.'" (Quran 3:64)
"This is a message written by Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, far and near, we are behind them. Verily, I defend them by myself, the servants, the helpers, and my followers, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be changed 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 (Christians) 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, this is not to take place without her own wish. She is not to be prevented from going to her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation is to disobey this covenant till the Day of Judgment and the end of the world."
Islam's fundamental theological concept is the belief in one God. Muslims are not expected to visualize God but to worship and adore him as a protector. Any kind of idolatry is condemned in Islam. (Quran 112:2) As a result, Muslims hold that for someone to worship any other gods or deities other than Allah (Shirk (polytheism)) is a sin that will lead to separation from Allah.
Muslims believe that Allah sent the Qur'an to bring peace and harmony to humanity through Islam (submission to Allah). Muhammad's worldwide mission was to establish universal peace under the Khilafat. The Khilafat ensured security of the lives and property of non-Muslims under the dhimmi system. This status was originally only made available to non-Muslims who were "People of the Book" (Christians, Jews, and Sabians), but was later extended to include Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Hindus, Mandeans (Sabians), and Buddhists. Dhimmi had more rights than other non-Muslim religious subjects, but often fewer legal and social rights than Muslims. Some Muslims, however, disagree, and hold that adherents of these faiths cannot be dhimmi. Dhimmi enjoyed some freedoms under the state founded by Muhammad and could practice their religious rituals according to their faith and beliefs. It should be noted that non-Muslims who were not classified as "people of the book," for example practitioners of the pre-Muslim indigenous Arabian religions, had few or no rights in Muslim society.
Muslims and Muslim theologians attend at many interfaith dialogues, for example at the Parliament of the World's Religions with whom in 1993 also Muslim theologians signed the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic.
Muslim rule spread through conquest and this indirectly coerced many to convert to Islam. In other words, war was waged to put lands under Muslim rule, but the subjects were theoretically free to continue practice whatever religion they chose. However, the non-Muslim dhimmis were subject to taxation jizyah at a different rate of the Muslim zakat. Dhimmis also faced economic impediments, restrictions on political participation and/or social advancement based on their non-Muslim status.
Religious persecution is also prohibited,[Quran 10:99–100 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)] although religious persecution in Muslim majority states have occurred, especially during periods of cruel rulers and general economic hardships. Pre-Islamic religious minorities continue to exist in some of their native countries, although only as marginal percentages of the overall population.
Over the centuries, several known religious debates, and polemical works did exist in various Muslim countries between various Muslim sects, as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims. Many of these works survive today, and make for some very interesting reading in the apologetics genre. Only when such debates spilled over to the unlearned masses, and thus causing scandals and civil strife, did rulers intervene to restore order and pacify the public outcry on the perceived attack on their beliefs.
As for sects within Islam, history shows a variable pattern. Various sects became intolerant when gaining favour with the rulers, and often work to oppress or eliminate rival sects, for example, the contemporary persecution of Muslim minorities in Saudi Arabia. Sectarian strife between Shia and Sunni inhabitants of Baghdad is well known through history.
Many Muslim scholars believe that Quranic verses such as "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error" (Quran 2:256) and (Quran 18:29) show that Islam prohibits forced conversion towards people of any religion.
The meaning of verse 9:5 has however been a subject of discussion amongst other scholars of Islam as well (see At-Tawba 5). This Surah was revealed in the historical context of a broken treaty between Muslims and a group of idolaters during the time of Prophet Muhammed. Regarding this verse, Quranic translator M. A. S. Abdel Haleem writes: "In this context, this definitely refers to the ones who broke the treaty," rather than polytheists generally.
According to historian Bernard Lewis, forced conversions played a role especially in the 12th century under the Almohad dynasty of North Africa and Andalusia as well as in Persia where the Shi'a sect of Islam is dominant. He is however also of the opinion that other incidents of forced conversions have been rare in Islamic history. He adds that "In the early centuries of Islamic rule there was little or no attempt at forcible conversion, the spread of the faith being effected rather by persuasion and inducement." A few well-known examples of forced conversion are:
- Anusim of Meshhad, Jewish community forced on pain of death to convert in 1839 under Safawid rule. Most continued Jewish practices in secret and many of their descendents returned to Judaism in the early 20th century.
- Francis Bok—Sudanese-American activist, from Christianity; later returned to his Christian faith.
- Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig—forced to convert at gunpoint by terrorists of the Holy Jihad Brigades.
- Many Hindus and Buddhists are forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
- Sabbatai Zevi—convert from Judaism, 17th century mystic, pseudo-Messiah and the self-proclaimed "King of Jews." Converted ostensibly of his own free will, while in prison. Although, some speculate that he may have been executed for treason had he not converted. Muslim authorities were opposed to his death.
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