Prophet Muhammad's treatment to non-Muslims: The birth of religious plurality
The general policy in Islam is to guarantee full rights to non- Muslim populations and therefore people subscribing to other religions were granted full civic rights by the virtue of the Quran and through the application of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Non- Muslim populations living within Muslim communities were granted peaceful and prosperous life through guaranteeing security for both their lives and properties and were given the appellation of "ahl al-Dhimma" which denotes those people with whom Muslims have an agreement or the responsibility of their personal safety and security of their property are undertaken by the Muslim state.
The basic guidelines which were laid by the Prophet in the early stage in Madinah where he established a city-state formed a blue print of how Muslims should deal with Christians and Jews among many other adherents to different religions. Granting minority rights to different religious groups through pledges, documents and mutual agreements succeeded in creating a healthy atmosphere for the development of both spiritual and material growth of the different religious groups living under the Islamic rule.
In order to achieve and grant full rights for different religious minorities living in Madinah, the Prophet initiated a historical charter which was later known as "the Charter of the Madinah". By the virtue of this charter, preventive measures were in place to avoid blood feuds and crimes among different Arabian tribes composed of all creeds. The universality of the Islamic creed was meant for the totality of human beings and this necessitated fair treatment and full equality to those who chose not to subscribe to the Islamic view on life. Prophet Muhammad made a historical move of abolishing religious and social inequality. The sixth year of the Hijra was considered a year of emancipation for Christians as the Prophet granted the Charter to the Fathers of the Monastery of St. Catherine; an act which secured Christians with privileges and amenities.
Muslims were prohibited under severe penalties from violating and abusing the provisions of the Charter. Prophet Muhammad was adamant to ensure religious freedom to non-Muslims across the Islamic state and for this reason he sent instructions to distant Muslims governors not to tax them unfairly or enforce them to abandon their faith. Their churches and sanctuaries could not be pulled down and replaced by mosques or houses for Muslims. Moreover, Muslims were asked to cooperate with Christians should they need an assistance for the repair of their churches or monasteries or any other matter related to their religion.
Prophet Muhammad was keen to grant religious minorities sufficient judicial autonomy which was a basic characteristic of the Islamic legal system. Through granting religious freedom to different religious groups, the Prophet meant to set guidelines on how we should treat each other fairly which leads to the prevention of blood shed and wars among nations. The Prophet throughout his life had a tenacity of the purpose of establishing peace among nations through signing different pacts, and treaties to ensure peaceful coexistence and security to all people. This is proven through pacts like the Peace of Hudayibiyah and the Treaty of Taif. Another famous example is the treaty of Najran which was delivered to Christians of Najran and it surrounding area. The document reads, " To the Christians of Najran and its surrounding territories, the security of God and the pledge of His Prophet is extended for their lives, religion and their property- to the present as well as the absent, and others besides, there shall be no interference within the practice of their faith or their observance nor any change in their rights and privileges, no bishop shall be removed from his bishopric, nor any priest from his priesthood, nor any monk from his monastery, and they shall continue to enjoy everything great and small as heretofore no image or cross hall be destroyed, they shall not oppress or be oppressed; they shall not practice the rights of blood-vengeance as in the Days of Ignorance, nor shall they be required to furnish provisions for the troops".
The treaty of Najran is an illuminating proof of how Islam unreservedly conferred upon the Scripturalists not only social and religious freedom but also granted them the power to decide their own civil matters through establishing judicial autonomy which was not only pertinent to personal status but also covers civil, penal and all life affairs. Religious freedom and independent judicial system laid the foundation of a true confederacy which had a constitution through which different religious groups became an integral part of a political arrangement by means of a social contract. The integration of non-Muslims in the political life through becoming real contributing players marked a milestone in the history of human rights. For instance, Jews and Christians had the right to join the services of the state. They had the privilege of being consulted on important matters. They were sometimes deputed to embassies in foreign countries. They exercised the right to vote. Their opinions were thought on the administrative affairs of the state. Above all, non-Muslims continued to live in both Makkah and Madinah and there are reports of Christians being buried by their Muslim children in Madinah.
Eradicating injustice and ill treatment to different social and religious groups was not meant as a bait to lure new converts into Islam but actually was meant to rectify the crooked way of looking and thinking of other human beings who do not happen to share the same social status or religious affiliation. Once some Chrisitan Fathers came to visit the Prophet in his mosque at Madinah to discuss the merits of a true religion, but during their stay they couldn't find a church to offer their prayers so the Prophet offered them his mosque to pray in it. On another occasion there was a delegation from the tribe of Thaqif visiting the Prophet so a tent was fixed up for them within the premises of the Prophet's mosque. When it was pointed that the visitors were polytheists, the Prophet said in reply that no one was such but he made himself one.
The pinnacle of religious tolerance and clemency was provided by the Prophet upon his victorious entry to Makkah after long years of suffering and persecution by the non- Muslim Makkans. The Prophet and his companions endured redicule and scorn poured on them by the Makkans who had implacable hatred and enmity against Muslims. The long years of bitter, cruel and sustained persecution, all the fighting, the hardship and suffering and the loss of a lot of dear and devoted companions; all these were laid aside at the moment of triumph, banished from mind and forgiven in the name of the Lord. The clemency of the Prophet was unparalleled in the history of mankind for the accused were told that they were free. Giving a pledge to this effect, the Prophet informed the Makkans they were free and there was no reproof against them". The glorious act of unconditional forgiving has no similar act available on record. There occurred no retaliation, no dispossession, no enslavement, no execution, no looting and no kidnapping and dishonoring of women by the conquerors.
Inamullah Khan, a Pakistani Muslim activist commented on the remarkable event of the victory of Makkah by saying, "If Muhammad came as a threat to the monopolies of the few, he came as a blessing to the teaming millions- the disposed, the disinherited and the neglected, toiling and exploited masses of mankind. He came to confer privileges on the underprivileged. He came to grant rights to those whose rights were denied. He came to provide the cover of protection to the weak, the destitute, the distressed, and the downtrodden, yes to all those suppressed and oppressed by those in power."
What Prophet Muhammad achieved was not less than opening a new chapter of tolerance and justice in world history. Establishing an independent judiciary system free from external influences guaranteed the protection of the interests of the citizens and securing justice for all regardless of their color or creed. The scrupulous observation and literal adherence of the Muslims to the terms of the pacts, treaties, alliances and agreements with non-Muslims was a foundational step into establishing an effective system of international law.
By setting clear rules for war engagements and prohibiting Muslims soldiers from excesses in war fares, Prophet Muhammad left indelible imprint on the annals of humanity. In his endeavor to establish rules of justice and freedom for different religious groups, Prophet Muhammad emphasized in different occasions that "whoever oppresses a dhimmi, shall find me to be their advocate on the Day of Judgment (against the oppressing Muslim)". The Prophet also warned the Muslims against abusing Dhimmis as he stated "Remember, one who is unjust to a dhimmi, breaks his word with him, overburdens him or dispossesses him, I shall plead against him on the Day of Judgment".
Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to the world to establish the true meaning of brotherhood among humans as they should all stand united regardless of their skin color or theological belief. He succeeded in liberating man from the bondage of man. He gave the dynamic conception of an undivided humanity, the family of Man, the children of Adam. He managed to raise the ambitions of people from the limited confinements of national identity to the liberal wide-open meaning of humanity.
The world is passing through a dark phase of moral bankruptcy, social disintegration and parochial loyalties which helped in inciting wars and increasing the weight of the roaring voices calling for enmity and hatred. Prophet Muhammad's message sanctified the life of all human beings irrespective of their racial origin or religious affiliation. He taught us the true meaning of mercy to all and came to confirm the essence of the three Abrahamic faiths; an essence based on dispassionate love for humanity regardless of color, culture or creed.