Paradigms of coexistence: a blueprint for Muslims living in non-Muslim countries
Islam in essence is based on the principle of universality as the message of Islam is the last divine link between heaven and earth and was sent to all mankind in totality regardless of their cultural affiliation or racial background. Muslims are required to clarify the message of Islam and present Islam in the best way both in words and actions. Muslims are not required to convert people en mass or to engage in the process of proselytism as God granted human beings the freedom of belief and therefore there should be no compulsion in religion.
Islam, being universal in nature, is an open system which transcends over the boundaries of time and the confinement of place. Islam has established major maxims and has set essential rules of conduct which are seen as guidelines for coexistence with others. These guidelines are feasible to be applied in all places, time periods and varying circumstances in order for the Muslim to be an actual contributor and an integral part of the world in which he/she lives.
The role model that Muslims follow in pursuit of coexistence is Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as God said about him in the Quran “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah much”. 33:21
The Prophet indeed has left us with four models of coexistence with others whether they live in or out of the borders of the Islamic civilization. The first model is the model of Makkah and in this model patience and coexistence were highlighted as the major rules of conduct. The second model is the model of Abyssinia with loyalty and participation being the dominant values in this period. The third model is the model of Medina in its first stage which was characterized with openness and cooperation. The last model is the model of Medina in its second stage where justice and intellectual discernment were the highlighting features of this model.
These four models feature the different environments and the varying circumstances in which the Muslim may live with no limitation to a specific geographical location or confinement to a certain time period. More importantly, these models ended up forming and molding the Muslim’s identity which is characterized with patience, coexistence, openness, cooperation, loyalty, participation, justice along with awareness of both the factors of time and place. Moreover, gaining knowledge about different matters and possessing the intellectual discernment to make an educated decision is an integral part of the Muslim’s character.
The Meccan model recognizes that Muslims may well find themselves in a hostile society which seeks to oppress and marginalize them. Mecca during the early part of the Prophet’s mission was characterized by indecency and low morality. The weak were taken advantage of by the strong, and discrimination based on class and race was rampant. The Muslims were in this context very few, and so they were called upon to exercise the virtue of patience, and to endure this difficult state of affairs.
In response to this situation, many Muslims emigrated to Abyssinia which represents the second model. Though also a non-Muslim nation, Muslims enjoyed the protection of the Abyssinian Negus, a Christian king, and were given the opportunity to practice their religion freely. This persisted despite the efforts of the Meccan enemies of Islam to dissuade the Negus from his tolerant ways. This presents a great example of religious communities living together in religious freedom, a true model of citizenship in which the relevant virtues are allegiance and participation in public life.
The migrant Muslims to Abyssinia set a great example for coexistence with Non-Muslims. This model was a full realization the notion of citizenship and delineated the social responsibility of each citizen. Muslims upheld their responsibility as Abyssinian citizens as it should be and in return, they enjoyed the protection of their full rights.
This is in sheer contrast to the methodology adopted by the zealots of extremist thinking in our modern time, who take refuge in Non-Muslim states and gain the kind of protection they seek after, yet they persistently insist on speaking ill of the original citizens of those foreign lands they resorted to, thereby triggering negative feelings of hatred and bigotry against Islam and Muslims. Those zealots use much negative and extremist speech that rejects people’s faiths and speaks ill of them, continuously calling them awful names, and endlessly expressing their hate and bigotry toward them for not being Muslims.
After the Prophet’s migration, the early Medinan community consisted of Muslims, Jews, Hypocrites, and Pagans. Given this variety, the Prophet wrote what is sometimes known as the Constitution of Medina. This document was characterized by four major principles: a commitment to a peaceful and secure environment for all; a protection of religious freedom for all communities; open opportunity for public participation in the realms of the economy, politics and military; and an affirmation of individual responsibility. This example lays the groundwork for a “social contract,” comprising a commitment to citizenship blind to religious and tribal differences, the codification of laws, and the writing of a constitution applicable to all.
Finally, the late Medinan model is one in which the Muslims dominated. However, it is incorrect to say that Medina had no diversity in this period. To the contrary, many texts point to the existence of Jews and Hypocrites who continued to live as normal citizens in the city-state of Medina. These individuals were treated with great justice in all matters, and found in Medina a fair and equitable government. Similarly, under the leadership of the Prophet, Medina initiated relations with other governments on the principle of fairness, justice and magnanimity.
Learning and understanding the four schemes for coexistence as outlined by the Prophet, peace be upon him, and attempting to benefit from it can be instrumental in facilitating and enhancing the life of Muslims in this time and age we live in, to be a model and system for renewing the religious thinking and applying the Islamic Legal rulings on the lives of Muslims. It also breathes life into our rich heritage of jurisprudence we acquired from our predecessors and effectively renews it, which makes it more fitting and suitable for a Muslims life, aiding every Muslim in his mission, as Allah’s vicegerent on earth, to develop human life and build new civilizations. Over and above, it helps every Muslim have better relation with Allah, to better worship him, better know him, and thus know the road to happiness and salvation, in this life and the next.