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Religious tolerance re-visited: Pakistanis must identify the “Misguided Muslims”

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By Rohail A. Khan

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up amid 600 Christian worshippers outside the historic ‘All-Saints Church’ in Pakistan’s north western city of Peshawar this Sunday.

Consequently, 85 innocent Pakistani citizens succumbed to death. A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombings, saying they would continue to target non-Muslims until the U.S stops drone attacks in Pakistan.

Bingo ! If you are an emotional person, then naturally, you would come out to the streets and protest against this terrorism. On the other hand, if you are matured and balanced, you would practise restraint and utilise your wisdom to identify the people and motives behind this untoward incident.

The scenario, ladies and gentlemen, is very simple. The nefarious act was conducted by the “Pakistani Talibans” who are being supported and funded by those anti-Pakistan elements who have been tirelessly conspiring to destabilise the Islamic Republic since 1947.

The “Afghani Talibans”, other side of the border, are struggling to establish an Islamic state in Afghanistan much before the Russians invaded them.

“Pakistani Talibans” are a different species altogether. They are the miscreants inducted from within Pakistan by multinational intelligence agencies. These Pakistani Talibans have cropped up mostly during last ten years and have been engaged in selected terrorist acts in metro cities mostly to harass common citizens, breed hatred against the establishment, and cause inter-faith and inter-community clashes. The Pakistani Talibans , many of them foreign nationals, are the young recruits who have little education and no money to sustain. Hence, it is easy to convert them into “misguided Muslims”.

The average Pakistani citizen was provoked by what happened this week in Peshawar. This is exactly what the anti-Pakistani elements have planted through the “Misguided Muslims - Pakistani Taleban”. The intelligent and more patriotic ones would conclude this incident as yet another move to spread insecurity and dissatisfaction among locals and the international community.

For those extremists who are easily provoked, I request them to “re-visit” the religious tolerance as taught in Islam.

The Quran speaks clearly about the basic dignity of all human beings. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) spoke about the equality of all human beings, regardless of race, colour, language or ethnic background. Islamic Shariah recognizes the rights of all people to life, property, family, honour and conscience.

Islam emphasizes establishment of equality and justice in the society. Both of these values cannot be achieved without “inter-faith tolerance”. Islam recognized from the very beginning the right of freedom of religion. Islam has instructed very clearly that it is not allowed to have any coercion in the matters of faith and belief.

In this article, I propose to remind both Muslims and Christians about a promise that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) made to the Christians. Recognition of this promise can have enormous impact on Muslims’ conduct towards Christians in particular and other non-Muslims in general.

 In 628 AD, a delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery came to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and requested his protection. He responded by granting them a “charter of rights”, which is reproduced below in its entirety. St. Catherine’s Monastery is situated at the foot of Mt. Sinai and is the world’s oldest monastery. It carries a huge collection of Christian manuscripts, second only to the Vatican, and is a world heritage site. It is a treasure house of Christian history that has remained safe for 1400 years under Muslim protection.

“The Promise to St. Catherine Treaty” is re-produced as follows:

This is a message from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah (SAW), as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

a) Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah I hold out against anything that displeases them.

b) No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses.

c) Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil Allah's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
d) No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.

e) No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the last day (end of the world).

The first and the final clause of the charter are critical. They make the promise eternal and universal. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) asserts that Muslims are with Christians near and far, eloquently rejecting any future attempts to limit the promise to St. Catherine alone.

By ordering the Muslims to obey it until the Day of Judgment the charter categorically undermines any future attempts to revoke the privileges enjoyed by Christians in a Muslim state. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) declared Christians, all of them, as his allies and he equated ill treatment of Christians with violating Allah’s covenant.

A remarkable aspect of the charter is that it imposes no conditions on Christians for enjoying their rights and privileges. It is simply adequate they are Christians. They are not required to alter their beliefs, they do not have to make any payments and do not have any obligations.

This is a charter of rights without any duties.

Clearly this “charter” consists of clauses covering all important aspects of human rights, including the protection of minorities living under Islamic rule, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.

On another occasion, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) received a delegation of sixty Christians from the region of Najran, then a part of Yemen, at his mosque. When the time for their prayer came, they faced the direction of east and prayed. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) ordered they be left in their state unharmed.

There are examples set by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in which he cooperated with people of other faiths in the political arena as well. He selected a non-Muslim, Amr Bin Umaiyyah Al-Damri, as an ambassador to be sent to Negus, the King of Ethiopia.

Thus the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s tolerance of other faiths is eternal. Islam recognizes plurality of religions, and gives the right to individuals to choose the path which they believe to be true. Religion is not to be, and was never, forced upon an individual against their own will, and these examples from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) are an epitome of the verse of the Quran which promotes religious tolerance and sets the guideline for the Muslims’ interaction with people of other faiths.

The Holy Quran says, "There is no compulsion in religion." (Al-Baqarah: 256).

The teachings of Quran and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) should be applied by the Pakistani nation to all Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and Sikhs alike.

We must recognise and identify the “Misguided Muslims” who are out to provoke and instigate the average Pakistani.

[Rohail A. Khan, a Canadian-Pakistani with strong parental roots in India as well, is a Senior Banker and CFO based at Jeddah. He is also Chairman, Urdu Academy International (UAI), Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at rohailkhan00@gmail.com]
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