The non-Muslims living in the Islamic state are called Zimmis and understanding or contract governing relationship between the Islamic state and such non-Muslims is called Aqd-ul-Zimmah. The Zimmis mean protected people and they are so called because the Islamic state becomes duty-bound to protect their lives, honour and properties and also their religious freedom the very moment they submit to Islamic rule. Following rights have been granted by Islam to the Zimmis (the non-Muslim citizens) living in the Islamic state:-

Religious Freedom

            Islam guarantees religious freedom to everyone. In an Islamic state, every citizen, may he or she be a Muslim or a non-Muslim, is at liberty to profess and practice his or her own religion. Thus the non-Muslim minorities enjoy complete religious freedom in an Islamic state as the state does not interfere in their religious matters and shows full tolerance to them. The Qur’an the revealed book of Islam says:

·        There is no compulsion in religion ……. (2:256)

·        Say: O disbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship; Nor worship ye that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion and unto me my religion   (109:1-6)

The above mentioned verses show that there is no compulsion in the matters of religion in an Islamic state. Everybody is free to follow and practice his own religion on the basis of the Qur’anic principle: “Unto you your religion and unto me my religion.” The Qur’an teaches tolerance and forbids its followers to ridicule the religion of non-Muslims and their deities. It says: “Don’t abuse those whom they invoke besides Allah, lest they should, in their ignorance, abuse. Allah ….” (6:108) The Prophet of Islam enforced these principles and gave religious freedom to all of his non-Muslim subjects. In Charter of Madinah, Prophet granted full religious freedom and protection to the Jews; while in his letter addressed to the Christians of Najran, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave protection to religion, life and property of the Christians.

Religious freedom not only means to profess one’s religion but it also includes liberty to perform religious rites and practices. It also includes right to maintain one’s places of worship. All these rights have been bestowed by Islam on the non-Muslims living within its lands.

Protection of Life

Islam holds human life as a trust of Allah and hence it attaches a great sanctity to its preservation. Al-Qur’an says “…….. Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind…..” (5:32). Islam grants, therefore, right to protection of life to all of its citizens without any discrimination.

The blood of a Zimmi is considered as much sacrosanct and sacred as that of a Muslim. In the days of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a Muslim killed a Zimmi. When the case was brought before the Prophet (PBUH), he ordered the execution of the murderer and remarked: “I am responsible for obtaining redress for the weak”. During the reign of Caliph Ali, a Muslim was accused of murdering a Zimmi. When the charge was proved, Ali issued order for the execution of the accused. It was only when the brother of the deceased received blood money and pardoned the murderer that the caliph agreed to release him. Ali said at that time: “Whoever is our Zimmi, his blood is as sacred as our blood and his property is as inviolable as our own property”. That is why the Muslim jurists hold that if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim, he will have to pay the same amount of compensation or blood money which is prescribed for the murder of a Muslim.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is reported to have enjoined his followers on his death bed: “observe scrupulously the protection accorded by me to the Zimmis”.

Protection of Property

Islam grants protection not only to the life of the Zimmis but it also grants protection to the property and assets of such people. Prophet of Islam is reported to have declared: “If you fight against a people and overpower them, and they agree to pay a fixed indemnity of annual revenue (Jizyah) to you in order to save their lives and those of their progenies, then do not take a penny more than the fixed amount, because that will not be valid”. He also declared. “Beware! Whosoever is cruel and hard on such people i.e., (“Contractees”) or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can endure, or realizes anything from them against their free-will, I shall myself be a complainant against him on the Day of Judgment”.

According to above mentioned Traditions of the Prophet, followers of Islam have been strictly prohibited to violate the protection granted to the property of non-Muslims. They cannot get more than the agreed sum or tax from the non-Muslims. Even the Islamic state cannot deprive a non-Muslim of his property and if it needs land or property of a non-Muslim in public interest it can acquire it only after providing the owner reasonable compensation.

Protection of Honour

The honour and respect of a Zimmi is also held as sacred as that of a Muslim. The author of Durr al-Mukhtar writes: “It is imperative for Muslims to refrain from causing inconvenience to a Zimmi and to backbite him, for backbiting a Zimmi is as much prohibited as is to backbite a Muslim.”

Regarding protection of honour of non-Muslim citizen in an Islamic state, Dr. Hamidullah writes: “The person, property and honour of every individual; whether indigenous or heterogeneous, are fully protected in the Islamic territory. The Sharh-al-Hidayah, which is a legal manual of current use, employs, for instance, the characteristic expression: “Defamation is prohibited, be it concerning a Muslim or a Protected (non-Muslim)”.

The jurists are unanimous in declaring that, if a Muslim violates a non-Muslim woman, he will receive the same punishment as is prescribed against the violation of Muslim woman.”

Judicial Autonomy

Non-Muslim minorities in the Islamic State enjoy judicial autonomy in respect of disputes among themselves on the authority of al-Qur’an. While permitting the Jews to settle their disputes in accordance with Torah (their revealed book), the Qur’an addresses the Prophet of Islam in these words: “How come they unto thee for judgment when they have the Torah, wherein Allah hath delivered judgement (for them)?..... (5:43). In another verse, the revealed book of Islam grants the Christians freedom of resolving their disputes in accordance with their own law as contained in Gospel. It states: ‘Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judge not by that which Allah bath revealed; such are evil livers” (5:47).

Thus, Islamic law is not applicable in case of purely personal matters of the non-Muslims. Such matters of the non-Muslims would be decided according to their personal law. It means that if anything is unlawful under Shariah for the Muslims but the same is not forbidden to the non-Muslims by their religion, the non-Muslims will be allowed to use it and the courts will decide their cases according to their personal law. For instance, marriage without witnesses or between the prohibited degrees, if allowed by their religion, will be allowed to stand.

Social Autonomy

In addition to the judicial autonomy, the non-Muslims also enjoy social autonomy in an Islamic state. The state protects their language, culture, religious practices, their places of worship, their mode of dress, etc. and permits them to follow their customs and social traditions. However, they were not allowed to imitate military uniform and dress of the Muslims in the Ummayyid and Abbasid periods, as this imitation was discouraged not on any religious grounds but in order to protect their modes of dress, their social manners and their distinctive individualities. About social autonomy given by the Islamic state, Dr. Hamidullah writes, “In the time of the Prophet, the Jews of Madinah had their Bait al-Midras (both a synagogue and educational institute). In the treaty with the Christians of Najran (Yemen), the Prophet gave a guarantee not only for the security of the person and property of the inhabitants, but had also expressly left the nomination of bishops and priests to the Christian community itself”.

Freedom of business and eligibility to government Jobs

The non-Muslims can adopt any business or profession or employment to earn their livelihood provided such business, profession or employment is not unlawful or immoral or against the explicit injunctions of Islam such as sale of wine or pork to Muslims, business involving usury with a Muslim or prostitution, etc. They are entitled to government jobs except for few posts like head of state, head of government, head of judiciary, head of the armed forces, head of parliament and some other key offices. The Prophet of Islam himself appointed Amr bin Umaiyah-ad-Damri a non-Muslim as an ambassador to Abyssinia for interceding with the Negus in favour of the Muslim refugees. Umar, the second caliph, appointed a Greek Christian as the head of his accounts department to put in order the accounts of state revenues.

The Christians, the Jews and other non-Muslims had been enjoying prosperous positions and fabulous incomes in business and trade in the Islamic State. Most of the bankers and money changers in Syria during the reign of the Abbasid Caliphs were Jews. Most of the personal physicians of the Caliphs were the Nestorian Christians. The Jews are also reported to have maintained a colony of considerable size in Baghdad in the Abbasid period. In Muslim Spain, the Non-Muslims, particularly the Jews, held positions of eminence in the government jobs, in the business and trade, etc.

Political Rights

The non-Muslims living in an Islamic state generally enjoy all the socio-economic and political rights which are available to the Muslims. They enjoy right to vote and to elect their representatives and they can also contest elections for the offices of public representatives. They can form political parties and they can get the membership or offices in political parties. And so on. Similarly, they have right to participate in social activities, national festivals, social gatherings, etc. their right of vote in the choice of the head of Islamic state has been recognized by Dr. Hamidullah, a great Muslim scholar.  

Entitlement for Financial Assistance

Disabled or poor Zimmis who have been forced to begging or the Zimmis who have been overtaken by a calamity are eligible for support from the Bait-ul-Mal of the Islamic state as are the poor and disabled among the Muslims. This rule was established as early as the times of Abu Bakr, the first caliph of Islam. During his reign, when the famous Muslim general Khalid bin Walid conquered Hira, he specially wrote in the treaty of peace the following terms:-

“I have stipulated that if any one of them becomes unfit to work on account of old age or some other cause, or if anyone who was formerly rich becomes so poor that his coreligionists have to support him by giving him alms, such persons will be exempt from paying the Jizyah and they, together with their dependents, will be helped from the Islamic Treasury (Bait-ul-Mal)”.

Kind Treatment

Islam enjoins the Muslims to treat the non-Muslims kindly and justly. The Qur’an says: “God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: For God loveth those who are just” (60:8). The Qur’an also permits the Muslims to marry chaste women from the people of the scripture (Christians and Jews). It says: “….. The food of those who have received the scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers and the virtuous women of those who received the scripture before you (lawful for you)…….” (5:5). Thus, Islam promotes social bonds between Muslims and non Muslims by allowing them to eat each other’s food. Islam also strengthens relationship between the Muslims and the People of the Scripture by allowing the former to marry virtuous women of the latter.


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