The General Rights of Non-Muslims under Islam.

With the Hudud Law being discussed and commented by many, I have observed that most of the non-Muslims are worried on their rights under the Islamic Law. I hope this will help to clear some misconceptions for those who are willing to read through to understand.

The expression “human rights” is relatively new.

If one were to study and compare the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948, to the human rights granted by Islam 1400 years ago, one can clearly see the level of high moral ground achieved by Islam even before the Universal Declaration. This moral standard did not come as a result of human intellectual endeavor.  The source of Islamic morality is God. God bestowed many favours on humanity, some of which are obvious, while others are hidden.  He says:

“It is Allah who created the heavens and earth and sends down rain from the sky, and with it brings out fruits therewith to feed you; it is He Who has made the ships subject to you, that they may sail through the sea by His command; and the rivers (also) He has made subject to you.  And He gives you of all that you ask for, but if you count the favors of Allah, never will you be able to count them.  Surely, man is given up to injustice and ingratitude.” (Quran 14:32-34)

The God-given status of humanity forms the basis of the principle of human rights in Islam, whether the person is Muslim or non-Muslim. Moreover Islam emphasizes the origin of all humanity is one.

Therefore the Shariah, which is the legal and moral code of Islam, does not confine itself to giving rights to Muslims only; the general principle is that non-Muslims have the same rights and obligations as Muslims such as the freedom of belief, self-defense, right to vote, right to organize, right to work, housing, right to marry, right to healthcare, freedom of movement, owning property, doing business, entertainment, transportation, education, the rights as neighbours and many more. However we will limit our discussion to the most important of them.

Islamic Law protects basic human rights like the preservation of life, property, and honor for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Whether the non-Muslims are residents or visitors, they are guaranteed these rights. These rights cannot be taken away except in a justified case permitted by law. For instance, a non-Muslim may not be killed unless he is guilty of killing. 

The utmost important aspect for a human is his or her dignity, honour and faculty (mind/thoughts/faith/belief). With dignity everything else will come into place. Preservation of the human dignity of non-Muslims is the right that their feelings be respected; they are shown good manners in speech and debate.

The Quran instructs Muslims to treat non-Muslims courteously in a spirit of kindness and generosity, given they are not hostile towards Muslims

Islam does not compel people of other faiths to convert.  It has given them complete freedom to retain their own faith and not to be forced to embrace Islam.

Non-Muslims have the right not to have their religious beliefs mocked. Their place of worship must not be confiscated or destroyed and if it need be, a better location to suit their needs should be considered.

Islam does not compel non-Muslims citizens living in Muslim lands to be ruled by Islamic Laws.  They are exempted from paying the zakat. However the state can impose other form of tax, like income tax for development and maintenance of government machineries.

 Islamic Law requires military duty from able Muslims, but non-Muslims are exempted from it, however it is not wrong for them to volunteer.  In return for these two exemptions, non-Muslim citizens pay a nominal tax known as jizya. 

Islamic justice towards non-Muslims is multifaceted.  Islam gives them the right to go before their own courts to settle their disputes or if not use the existing judiciary system. Islam also permitted non-Muslims to observe their civil law in matters such as marriage and divorce.  Thus the present Malaysian Civil Law need not be repealed.

 It also guarantees them equality in seeking justice with Muslims, if they choose to present their case in an Islamic court.  God says:

“So, if they come to you, (O Muhammad), judge between them, or turn away from them.  And if you turn away from them – never will they harm you at all.  And if you judge, judge between them with justice.  Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” (Quran 5:42)

Regarding criminal justice, Muslim jurists would pass sentences on non-Muslims in issues considered sinful in their religion such as theft, but exempted them from issues they held to be permissible such consuming alcohol or eating pork, even though they are forbidden in Islam. 

Non-Muslims have the right not to be oppressed as per the Muslims. Oppression is collectively punishing people for the misdeeds of a few, going so far as to expel them from their homes.

Islam does not allow assaulting a non-Muslim, violating his honor or property, or hurting him. If someone steals from a non-Muslim, he must be punished.  If anyone borrows from a non-Muslim, the property must be returned. 

The right to asylum and protection requires a Muslim to give asylum and grant security to a non-Muslim who seeks it and warns of severe punishment for anyone who violates it.  Asylum guarantees protection from aggression, or attack for anyone who has been given security, a right that is not explicitly granted in any other religion.

Modern welfare states provide social benefits to their poor citizens, but Islam preceded all nations in establishing social security services.  Islamic law set up financial provisions for needy Muslims through zakat (obligatory charity) and sadaqa (voluntary charity).  Zakat was made obligatory on wealthy Muslims to take care of the poor, whereas sadaqa was left on individual discretion to help the needy.  Social security provided by Islam includes non-Muslims as well.  Islamic Law requires the state to provide for its citizens with disabilities both Muslim or non-Muslim, that prevents them from employment.  They are provided for by the public treasury and the government is negligent if it does not do so.

Non-Muslim citizens have a similar right to be protected from external enemies just as a Muslim fellow citizen does.  The payment of jizya ensures protection against outside aggression, defense against enemies, and ransom to be paid on their behalf if they are taken captive by an enemy.

In short Islam does not ask the non-Muslims to surrender their right to the Muslims, but rather Islam mandated the Muslims to give and uphold the rights of non-Muslims.

Finally, there are other rights that we have not mentioned here. Some readers may say that these rights have always been there throughout history and are still in place now. Yes, of course these are inherent rights; a natural gift from God. However, before concluding, I observe that non-Muslims still enjoy many of these same rights today, perhaps even more.



  1. Pingback: THINKING OF HAVING A HAIRCUT IN KELANTAN?- Not likely for many of us. | The Unofficialversion

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