There shall be no Compulsion in Religion

by Maulana Sadr-ud-Din

The Light (Pakistan), 15th January 1922 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 3, p. 3–4)

The Quranic declaration that

“there shall be no compulsion in religion,”

made over thirteen hundred years back, was lived up to by the Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] as a mighty monarch, and by those who succeeded him to the Khilafat. The Jews and the Christians enjoyed full liberty of conscience under Islam. Their Synagogues and Churches were shown every consideration; and their lives and property were protected. This was indeed unique toleration. But the question remains whether there was any distinction made in their treatment. This is an important aspect of the question. A distinctive treatment of a humiliating nature would decide whether there was any worth in the declaration granting liberty. The Prophet of Islam being alive to the spirit of his declaration, acted too carefully to make any distinction in treatment between a believer and a non-believer. It was pointed out to the Muslims that it would be unlawful to misappropriate another man’s property because of his professing a different religion (Holy Quran, 3:69). A Jew made a complaint to the Prophet that he was robbed of his coat-of-mail [armour] and that he suspected a Muslim soldier of the offence. The Prophet summoned the other party, and on hearing both sides, it was decided that the Muslim soldier should be brought to book, and the coat-of-mail restored to the Jew. On another occasion, a funeral procession carrying the bier of a Jew passed by him. The Prophet rose to his feet as a mark of consideration. On being told by one of his Companions that it was a Jew to whom respect had been shown, the Prophet remarked

“Does he not possess a soul?”

— a question which was at once a mild reproach and a manifestation of his attitude towards non-believers. In the Court of the Great Khalifa Omar [Umar (rta)], no less a personality than Ali [rta], the illustrious and revered cousin of the Prophet himself, was made to stand side by side with a Jew, who had brought a case against him. Prestige stood as little in the way of justice itself as in that of outward treatment. The case was decided in favour of the Jew and not that of Ali. Such was the Islamic treatment extended to non-believers, and such was the measure of justice meted out to them. While on his death-bed, the Over-Lord of Arabia was visited by one of his subjects, a Jew, who appeared there to demand a small sum that the Prophet owed him; the Prophet was content to live on a very small pittance [small amount of money] and would not draw on public treasury in cases of emergency. Free access was given by the mighty monarch to the Jew, who was well-aware of the equality of rights that was being enjoyed by his race. Freedom of speech emboldened him to speak his mind. In so doing he overstepped the limits of propriety and couched his demand in insolent words. Such a behaviour on the part of the Jew extremely offended those who were around the Prophet, but they were told to exercise forbearance. The small sum was paid to him, and his deepening anxiety that the Prophet might die and the debt remain unpaid was removed.

Such examples can advantageously be held up in these days of so-called civilization and culture, when declarations prove absolutely sham; when solemn pledges remain unredeemed; when exploitation keeps coloured races under an iron heel; when subject-races are humiliated and disgraced; and when justice is sacrificed at the altar of Prestige.

Religions that preceeded Islam made unbearable distinction in treatment between a believer and a non-believer. The distinctions between the Arya and the Maleecha [non-Aryan], the Brahman and the Sudra, the Jew and the Gentile [non-Jewish] are painful and outrageous illustrations in point.

Jesus did little to put an end to this evil. On the contrary, he promoted the distinction between Jew and Gentile. His attitude towards the Gentiles is preserved in Mathew’s Gospel, 15:22ff [ff, is a symbol meaning, ‘and the following verses’]:

“And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But lie answered him not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”

Jesus maintained that only the Jews, who were the children of God and His elect, were entitled to his ministration; and the woman, being a gentile and consequently no better than a dog, had no claim upon his generosity.

In the light of this Gospel narrative, lacking as it does in chivalry and toleration, it will be a vain boast for a Christian to say that Christianity teaches either respect for women, or equal treatment for a believer and a non-believer.