The Prophet was a living model of equity toward those who did not share his faith. His attitude towards Non-Muslims is a lifelong lesson.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had always retained very strong ties with the members of different clans and with his kin who had not accepted Islam. His uncle Abu Talib, whom he loved so much and whom he accompanied until he breathed his last, was one such example.
Another uncle, Al-`Abbas, remained by the Prophet’s side even though he had not yet converted.
Muhammad’s trust in him was tremendous, and he did not hesitate to confide in him or have him take part in private meetings involving the future of the community (later, Al-`Abbas would be present when the second covenant of Al-`Aqabah was concluded; the Prophet would also keep him informed of the highly confidential preparations for his emigration to Yathrib).
His remaining a polytheist never prevented the Prophet from showing him the greatest respect and deepest confidence in situations where his very life was at risk.
It was a similar attitude of trust that had made it possible for Muslims to emigrate to Abyssinia, under protection of a king whom the Prophet trusted even though he was not a Muslim.
This attitude is to be found throughout the Prophet’s life: he established his relationships in the name of trust and the respect of principles, and not exclusively on the basis of similar religious affiliation.
His Companions had understood this as well, and they did not hesitate to develop solid ties with non-Muslims in the name of kinship or friendship, on the basis of mutual respect and trust, even in perilous situations.
Thus, Um Salamah, who had been separated from her husband, found herself alone with her son on her way to Medina. `Uthman ibn Talhah, who was not a Muslim, offered to escort and protect her until she reached the place where her husband was. She did not hesitate to trust him: he accompanied her and her son to their destination, then took leave of them in the most respectful manner.
Urn Salamah was often to tell this story, always p raising `Uthman ibn Talhah’s noble character.
Examples of this nature abound, and neither the Prophet nor the other Muslims ever restricted their social and human relations to their coreligionists.
Non-Muslims in the Qur’an
Later, the Qur’an was to establish the rightfulness and the principle of such relationships formed on the basis of mutual respect:
God does not forbid you, with regard to those who do not fight you for (your) faith, nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly (showing affection) and justly with them: for God loves those who are just. God only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support Others in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection) . It is those who turn to them (in these circumstances) who do wrong. (Al-Mumtahanah 6o:8,9)
The Prophet himself was a model of equity toward non-Muslims; those who did not share his faith. Through all the years of his mission, he had continued to receive important deposits from non-Muslim traders who went on dealing with him and wholly trusted him.
On the eve of his departure for Medina, Muhammad asked `Ali to give back one by one to their respective owners the deposits be still held; he scrupulously applied the principles of honesty and justice that Islam had taught him, whomever he dealt with, be they Muslims or non-Muslims.
During the same period, the Prophet also showed a most understanding attitude toward those who, under persecution or pressure from their families, had left Islam. This was the case with two young Muslims, Hisham and `Ayyash, who abjured Islam after prolonged resistance.
Respect for Freedom
No particular decision or sanction was taken against them. Later on, `Ayyash again came back to Islam, full of remorse and sadness. Revelation was subsequently to ease his exceedingly harsh vision and judgment about himself:
Say: “O Moses who have transgressed against themselves! Do not despair of God’s mercy: for God forgives all sins; for He is the All-Forgiving, the Most Merciful. Turn to Your Lord and submit to Him, before the chastisement comes on you: after that you shall not be helped. (Az-Zumar 39: 53-54)
On hearing those verses, Hisham also came hack to Islam. Yet one who did not return was `Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh, who had gone to Abyssinia with the first group of emigrants and who had then converted to Christianity and abandoned his wife, Um Habibah bint Abi Sufyan. (Um Habibah was later to marry the Prophet.)
Neither the Prophet, from Mecca, nor any of the Muslims who lived in Abyssinia took any measure against him: he remained a Christian until he died without ever being harassed or ill-treated.
This attitude of respect for non-Muslim and for everyone’s freedom remained constant throughout the Prophet’s life, and the authoritative accounts of his life contain no mention whatsoever of a different attitude.
Later on, in Medina, he was to speak out harshly and take firm measures against those who falsely converted to Islam for the sole purpose of gathering information about the Muslims, then denied Islam and went back to their tribes to bring them the information they had managed to obtain.
These were in fact war traitors, who incurred the penalty of death because their actions were liable to bring about the destruction of the Muslim community)”.
The article is an excerpt from the author’s In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).