Islam is the solution to rising tensions between Muslims and the Coptic Christians of Egypt

Following the two blasts targeting Coptic Christians in Egypt that have killed at least 45 people, there is no doubt that Islam’s position on minorities will be once again juxtaposed with militancy, especially given that the so-called Islamic State (IS) has claimed the attacks. IS is not representative of Islam’s belief towards minorities and in light of these attacks, we present Islam’s rules related to Non-Muslim citizens living in a legitimate Islamic Khilafah Islamic rules related to non-Muslim citizens living in an Islamic State Non-Muslims citizens living in a Caliphate have an honourable status and are referred to as dhimmi (people of contract). Their places of worship, lives and property are protected and they are not persecuted for their beliefs.
The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “He who hurts a dhimmi hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys Allah.”[1]
The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) wrote to the people of Yemen: “Whoever is adamant upon Judaism or Christianity will not be tormented for it.”[2]
The classical scholars of Islam also detailed the rights of the Muslims towards the dhimmi. The famous Maliki jurist, Shaha al-Deen al-Qarafi said:
“The covenant of protection imposes upon us certain obligations toward the ahl al-dhimmah. They are our neighbours, under our shelter and protection upon the guarantee of Allah, His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), and the religion of Islam. Whoever violates these obligations against any one of them by so much as an abusive word, by slandering his reputation, or by doing him some injury or assisting in it, has breached the guarantee of Allah, His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), and the religion of Islam.” [3]
Dhimmi are not forced to become Muslim or leave their beliefs, values and worships.
Allah (Most High) says in the Holy Qur’an:
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ
“There is no compulsion in religion” [4]
Christianity and other religions do not have detailed rules and systems governing societal affairs such as government, foreign affairs and economy. Christianity for example adopts the principle:
“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”[5]

Therefore dhimmi in their societal transactions will obey the law of the land which in the Caliphate happens to be sharia (Islamic law). This will not be a source of conflict since these laws do not contradict any religious rulings. A good example of this is the spread of Islamic finance based on sharia throughout the western world. Even a country such as France which is staunchly secular and anti-Islamic, passed laws last year aimed at making France a hub for Islamic finance.[6] This is not because France has any love for sharia but because of the economic benefit derived from the transactions.

The general atmosphere in an Islamic society towards its non-Muslim minority is shaped by the above Islamic evidences and does not lead to a hostile atmosphere of persecution. However, the Caliphate is not a utopia and crime will exist and a dhimmi might be attacked and murdered by a criminal as happens in all societies.

An accusation brought by Copts in Egypt is that Muslims are not punished for crimes against their communities or given lesser punishment. In a Caliphate Muslims and dhimmi have equal status when it comes to crimes such as assault, rape and murder. An Islamic judiciary judging by sharia will not apply disparate punishments as found in secular Egypt.

Allah (Most High) says in the Holy Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا ۚ اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

“You who believe, be steadfast in your devotion to Allah and bear witness impartially: do not let hatred of others lead you away from justice, but adhere to justice, for that is closer to awareness of Allah. Be mindful of Allah: Allah is well aware of all that you do.” [7]

The dhimmi is allowed to be a witness in an Islamic court against a Muslim and their evidence is acceptable. The conditions of being a witness apply equally to Muslims and dhimmi. The conditions of a witness are: sane, mature and ‘adl (trustworthy).
Punishments for crimes are applied equally to both Muslims and dhimmi with no distinction. The only distinction is that dhimmi will not be punished for those actions which are permitted for them such as drinking alcohol, whereas a Muslim would be.

The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “The diyyah (blood money) of the Jews and Christians is like the Muslim’s diyyah.”[8]

Examples from History

If we look to the history of Copts in Egypt when they lived under the Caliphate we can see these sharia rules detailed above being implemented in practice. Whilst there were times during the Caliphate when dhimmi did suffer some persecution at the hands of tyrant rulers we cannot generalise and paint the entire 1300 year history as one of persecuting non-Muslims. The fact that Coptic Christians and their places of worship exist today is proof enough that the Caliphate did not adopt a policy of religious cleansing like Europe did.

Thomas Arnold mentions this point: “But of any organised attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing. Had the Caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years.” [9]

Nabil Luqa Bebawy, a Coptic, religious author compares the conditions of Copts before and after Islamic rule. He said that Orthodox Christians were brutally tortured at the hands of Byzantines. The number of Copts who were killed during the rule of the Byzantine emperor Diocletianus [284-305 AD] is estimated up to one million Coptic Egyptians. This is why the Orthodox Coptic Church called that age the age of martyrs and the Coptic calendar starts at this age.

When Islam came to Egypt, all conditions changed dramatically and Copts witnessed an age of freedom that they had not known before. About the Jizya imposed on non-Muslims, Dr. Bebawy says that they were part of the “security pact” made between Muslims and Copts. Jizya was a tax paid in exchange for exempting Copts from joining the Islamic army.

Finally, Dr. Nabil Luqa Bebawy stresses that the ill practices of some Muslims rulers in dealing with Copts are individual behaviors that have nothing to do with Islamic teachings.[10]

Even during the Crusades when western Christians invaded and occupied parts of the Islamic State, the Copts of Egypt defended the Caliphate under the rule of Salahudin Ayyubi who was the governor of Egypt during the Abbasid Caliphate.
Carole Hillenbrand, in ‘The Crusades: Islamic perspectives’ says:
“…Saladin had a private secretary, ibn Sharafi, who was a Copt and Saladins brother al-Adil put a Copt named ibn al-Muqat in charge of the army ministry (diwan al-Jaysh). The appointment of a Christian to a position of such power in war-time and in an area that was military so sensitive tells its own story. Indeed, the loyalties of the Copts in the Ayyubid period seem often to have lain more with the Muslims and with their own local interests than with the Crusaders. This was demonstrated in the Crusade of Damietta in 1218 when the Copts helped to defend the city, and as a consequence suffered greatly at the hands of the Crusaders.” [11]

These are some of the reasons why Egypt’s Copts need the Caliphate, and in fact all the non-Muslims of the Muslim world need the Caliphate.


Notes
1. Reported by al-Tabarani in Al-awsat on good authority

2. Abu ‘Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam, ‘The Book of Revenue,’ Translation of Kitab al-Amwal, Garnet Publishing Ltd, p. 25

3. Shaha al-Deen al-Qarafi, Al-furuq

4. Holy Qur’an, Chapter 2, al-Baqarah, Verse 256

5. Matthew 22:21

6. http://arabnews.com/economy/islamicfinance/article127437.ece

7. Holy Qur’an, Chapter 5, Al-Maidah, Verse 8

8. Narrated from Amru bin Shuaib from his father from his grandfather

9. Thomas W.Arnold, ‘The Preaching of Islam,’ Second Edition, Kitab Bhavan Publishers, p. 72

10. http://www.arabwestreport.info/node/6709

11. Carole Hillenbrand, ‘The Crusades: Islamic perspectives,’ p. 414
http://www.hizb.org.uk/current-affairs/islamic-rules-for-non-muslims

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