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Islam & the Non-Muslims

May 05, 2023
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Islam & the Non-Muslims 
An Arab Viewpoint 
By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

Quite early in its history, Islam’s belief system was given direction by Islamic jurists; they divided the world into two realms; Daru’l Islam and Daru’l Harb, (The Household of Islam and the Household of War.) This was an apt description of the era when Islam was triumphing and expanding its territories in Asia, Africa, and Europe. It was an application of the teachings of the authoritative texts of Islam that called for fighting the Infidels wherever they are found.

This ideological principle, reinforced by the Islamic warriors’ success on the battlefield, resulted in the addition of several new words to Islam’s vocabulary to describe non-Muslims. They were to be called “Infidels” (Kuffar) or “Polytheists” (Mushrikoon), and for Christians and Jews, the term “Ahlu’l-Kitab” was to be used, signifying that they possessed divinely revealed books, even though by the time Muhammad came on the scene, the jurists claimed these revealed books had been corrupted.

It was not until the fall of the Ottoman Turkish Empire in 1918 that this description of non-Muslims began to change. Several of the Ottoman territories in the Middle East came under the rule of the British and French governments so that at least officially, Christians, Jews, and Muslims were called by their proper, i.e., religiously-based names. But the use of the old vocabulary persisted among the Muslim populace.

When the colonial powers left the Middle East after the end of WWII, the nationalistic fervor did not abate, especially during the regime of the popular Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdul Nasser. 
However, after the disastrous June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Arab nationalism gave way to Islamic Fundamentalism which is known in Arabic as Usooliyya. The old vocabulary designating the non-Muslim populations began to resurface in the Middle East. This phenomenon shocked some reform-minded Arab intellectuals who began calling for a more civil and tolerant view of non-Muslims living within Daru’l Islam. One way these liberal intellectuals differentiated themselves from those who used the traditional nomenclature was to refer to all non-Muslims as “Al-Akhar” (The Other) a less strident, neutral Arabic word.

Early in January, 2009, the Kuwaiti website kwtanweer posted an article on this subject with this title, “The ‘Other’ According to the Islamic View” (Al-Akhar fi’l Tasawwor al-Islami)

Here are translated excerpts from this timely article, followed by my comments.

“According to the Islamic view, the ‘Other’ is any non-Muslim. He may be a follower of Judaism or Christianity, a Zoroastrian, or an atheist. Sunnis would add to this list all those who don’t follow their brand of Islam such as Shi’ites, Ismailis, Ahmadiyya, and Abadiyya. The vast majority of Shi’ites have the same attitude as the Sunnis vis-à-vis those Muslims who do not follow their own understanding of Islam, not recognizing, for example, Non-Twelvers Shi’ites. 1

“The Muslim view of the ‘Other’ is not a theoretical subject; it translates itself into the practical areas of life on earth, as well as the afterlife. So we find real discriminatory practices in the areas of human rights, duties, and the treatment of those classified as ‘Others.’ For example, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, only a Shi’ite may become President; which implies the non-Shi’ite is not a Muslim, and is therefore not eligible to occupy the office of president! And even though the vast majority of Sunni countries with written constitutions have no specific article that bars a Shi’ite from assuming the office of president, nevertheless the very idea of such a thing happening is unthinkable.

“The discriminatory practices against non-Muslims are actually very grave. Usually, all non-Muslims are regarded as Kuffar. They may be either followers of revealed religions such as Christianity and Judaism, (with Zoroastrianism added by some Fuqaha 2), or simply heathens. The difference between them is that the former are allowed to pay the Jizya tax, thus gaining the freedom to remain in their own religion, while the heathens have only one choice: either convert to Islam, or have your neck cut off! One must add here, for the sake of objectivity, that such an awful rule was seldom put into practice, even though the sacred text was very clear that this was the proper punishment! There were quite a few differences within the Four Sunni Schools for the interpretation of the Shari’ah Law whether followers of non-revealed religions (heathens,) may pay the Jizya tax, and thus avoid Islamizing.

“All non-Muslims living within Islamic societies are thoroughly marginalized. After all, the sacred text requires the killing of the Mushrikeen 3, wherever they may be found. See, Qur’an, Surat al-Tawbah #9 (Repentance) ayat 5 and 29.

When the sacred months are over, slay the pagans wherever you find them. Capture, besiege, and ambush them. If they repent, perform prayers and pay the religious tax, set them free. God is All-forgiving and All-merciful (9:5)

Fight against those People of the Book who have no faith in God or the Day of Judgment, who do not consider unlawful what God and His Messenger have made unlawful, and who do not believe in the true religion, until they humbly pay tax with their own hands. (9:29)

“It is clear that these verses do require fighting those who do not believe in Allah, or the Last Day, and forbid what Allah and His Prophet have forbidden, and do not practice the true religion, even though they are the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), and they must pay the Jizya with an attitude of abject humility!

“Regardless of what the constitutions of Arab and Islamic countries may clearly state regarding nondiscrimination and equality between all their citizens, it is a well-known fact that non-Muslims are regarded with suspicion, and treated as second-class or third-class citizens. The testimony of a non-Muslim against a Muslim is not admissible in a court of law. When a Kafir kills a Muslim, he will surely be punished with the death penalty; whereas if a Muslim murders a Kafir, the Muslim is not liable to the death penalty, according to the Hadith of Bukhari. It is well-known that a non-Muslim may not marry a Muslim woman. Some authoritative texts command that Muslims may not greet Jews or Christians. And should a non-Muslim greet a Muslim, the latter may ‘take back’ (reject) that greeting. And when a Muslim meets a Jew or a Christian on the road, he should make it hard for them to proceed easily on their way.

“When it comes to the Jizya tax that Muslims are to impose on non-Muslims, it constitutes a very complicated matter in the relations between the two groups. At present, it is not applied in any Muslim society, even though the consensus of the Fuqaha is that it must be paid to spare the lives of the Kuffar, or merely to allow them to live within Daru’l Islam. Some even claim that the Jizya is a punishment laid on the Kuffar for their refusal to accept Islam. As Ibn al-Qayyim put it: ‘The Jizya is placed on the heads of the Kuffar to humiliate and debase them, making them feel inferior.’ 4.

“While Islam was tolerant with the People of the Book in allowing them to practice their faith, nevertheless it placed upon them some severe restrictions such as forbidding showing the Cross over their churches, or praying and reading their Scriptures in a loud voice.

“Some may say that most of these restrictions are no longer being applied. This is true. However, the very fact that they exist (in the sacred texts of Islam) constitutes a sword placed over the necks of non-Muslims that may go into action any time. This is why it is necessary to strengthen those constitutions and man-made laws (i.e. not based on Shari’a) for the protection of individual freedoms and personal rights against the encroachments of the religious leaders, by forbidding them to interfere in the peoples’ daily lives, in a tyrannical manner.”

Thus far my quotations from the article.

This article appeared on an Arabic website known by the name of “Tanweer,” which is an Arabic word meaning “enlightenment”! The writer shows that he has broken out of the chains that bind so many other Muslims by daring to enlighten his readers with some of the serious flaws in Islamic theology. He was not afraid to show just how intolerant Islam is.

The strength of his words is verified in the history of Islam itself and in its sacred texts. For example, at the very time when Islam was spreading its hegemony, at first in the Arabian Peninsula, and later on in the world at large, the two verses he quoted from the “Repentance” Surah explicitly mandated the killing of non-Muslims. Verse 5 is very clear in the Arabic original, “Faqtulu al-Mushrikeen haythu wajadtumuhom” translated as “kill the Infidels wherever you find them.” Verse 29 of that same chapter, mandates fighting against those who give no credence to the basic teachings of the Qur’an, and refers specifically to “allathena ootu’l Kitab” i.e. those who have been given the Book (which they consider to be Allah’s previous revelations, the Torah, the Zaboor or Psalms, and the Injeel.)

While it is true that these Medinan texts are not being put into practice in many parts of the Islamic world where non-Muslim minorities live, yet they have not been abrogated, and may be used any time a radical Islamic group takes it upon itself to initiate a plan of persecution and murder of non-Muslims.

The writer ended his article by pleading for the strengthening of “those constitutions and man-made laws (i.e. not based on Shari’a) for the protection of individual freedoms and personal rights against the encroachments of religious leaders, by forbidding them to interfere in the peoples’ daily lives, in a tyrannical manner.” However, one has to ask: where in the Arab world can be found those who are willing to declare that man-made constitutions and laws should be considered as more authoritative or normative than the so-called “divinely-inspired” rules and regulations of the Qur’an? Thus, while I appreciate the author for bringing this subject to the attention of the readership of kwtanweer, I have to conclude that his closing sentiments are nothing more than wishful thinking!

1. Several sects and sub-sects arose in Islam after the assassination of Ali. Some Shi’ites believe that it was the Twelfth Imam (descendant of Ali) who went into occultation, and would return to earth to bring justice; others believe that it was the Seventh Imam. Ahmadiyya Muslims follow an Indian Muslim who claimed that he was a Prophet. Ismailis are radical Shi’ites, and so are the Nusayris, and the Druze. Abadiyya are the spiritual descendents of the Khawarej who assassinated Ali in 661 A.D. 
2. Fuqaha, plural of Faqih, a legal authority in Islam, similar to a theologian. 
3. Mushrikeen, all non-Muslims who do not adhere to the strict monotheism of Islam. 
4. Ibn al-Qayyim (1292-1350) was a Syrian Sunni jurist and a commentator on the Qur’an.

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