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Ethics

The Non-Muslims' Legal Status

The People of the Book living within the Muslim realm were considered dhimmis, rather than prisoners of war, and therefore were guaranteed certain legal rights. For example, in exchange for paying the jizya tax, their lives and property were guaranteed, and they enjoyed freedom of religious belief and thought, were exempted from military service, and had the right to their own law courts to resolve their disputes. On some occasions, their taxes were refunded.

This tax on non-Muslims has sometimes been misinterpreted in order to portray it as an injustice. But as we have seen above, the protections that they secured after paying it were hardly insignificant. In addition, the collected money was used to protect the non-Muslims' rights and future, and to take care of their needy coreligionists. Studying the dhimmis' status and the Muslim administrators' practices in this regard reveal the truth of the matter.

Our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) said: "I am the adversary of those who wrong the dhimmis or burden them with a load they cannot carry." According to this principle, Muslims considered it their duty to protect those non-Muslims living under their rule. The Muslims' sense of justice dictates that dhimmis come under the state's protection. During the reign of Umar ibn al-Khattab, the Muslims signed an agreement with the Christians of Hira. One of the provisions stated: "If any of their men become weak and old,

or inflicted with a disease, or was rich and had become poor, the jizya shall be lifted from him, and he and his family shall be supported by the public treasury [bayt al-mal] so long as he resides in the dar al-Islam." 14 This clearly reveals the attitude of the Muslim authorities toward the dhimmis. When non-Muslims could not pay their taxes, they were supported by public funds, which were an important aspect of state support. Before signing the agreement he had made with the people of Damascus, Umar revealed the sensitivity of Muslims toward the jizya and non-Muslims:

My own opinion and on the Book of Allah [citing Q. LIX, 6-8] is that you should keep what has been given by Allah to you [of the land] in the hands of its people …If the jizya is paid by them [the dhimmis], you should require no more of them … For if we divide the land [among us], nothing will be left for our descendants …[If the land is left with its people,] the Muslims will be able to live on its produce.

You may therefore impose on them [the dhimmis] the jizya, never to take them as prisoners, nor to do any injustice or harm to them, or to take any of their property unless you have a [valid legal] claim to it. You must fulfill the obligations you accepted in accordance with your agreement with them. 15

As we have seen, genuine Muslims who abide by the Qur'an's morality considered it their responsibility to protect the lives, property, and peace of non-Muslims. Once, during a battle with the Byzantine army, the situation became so untenable that Muslims could no longer provide the necessary protection to Christians. Thus, Mohammed, our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace), ordered the jizya to be returned to them. 16 The amicable history between Muslims and Jews and Christians is an example for the present.

The Islamic code of ethics requires that non-Muslims be accepted, that their values and beliefs be respected, and that an environment in which peaceful coexistence is possible be created. Therefore, the spread of this code, as well as efforts to correct some misguided practices claiming to be Islamic, will play an important role. In addition, the Muslims' acceptance and understanding must find an appropriate response in the Jewish and Christian communities, because God also commands them to love all other people and to be the leaders in all matters of good and peace.

Notes:

14. Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1955), 184; Abu Yusuf, Ya'qub ibn Ibrahim al-Ansari, Kitap al-Kharaj, (Cairo: 1352 ah), 143-44.

15. Ibid., 186; Abu Yusuf, Kitap al-Kharaj, 140-41.

16. Abu Yusuf, Kitap al-Kharaj, 139; al-Baladhuri, Futuh al-Buidan, 187.

Adapted from: "A Call for Unity" by: "Harun Yahya"