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Minorities and Sayyidna Umar

The message of Islam is that this life is a test and we have the option to choose between hell or heaven.

india Updated: Aug 24, 2006 13:33 IST

On his deathbed, Sayyidna Umar ibn al-Khattab, Radi-Allahu unhu (the second Caliph of Islam), dictated a long will consisting of instructions for the next Khalifah.

Here is the last sentence of that historic document: "I instruct you on behalf of the people who have been given protection in the name of Allah and His Prophet . (That is the dhimmis or the non-Muslim minorities within the Islamic state). Our covenant to them must be fulfilled, we must fight to protect them, and they must not be burdened beyond their capabilities."

At that time Sayyidna Umar was lying in pain because of the wounds inflicted on him by a non-Muslim who had stabbed him with a poisoned dagger while he was leading the fajr prayer. It should also be remembered that he was the head of a vast empire ranging from Egypt to Persia. From normal rulers of his time or ours, we could have expected vengeance and swift reaction. From a very forgiving head of state we could have expected an attempt to forget and forgive. But a command to protect the minorities and take care of them?

Of course, Sayyidna Umar was simply following what he learnt from the Prophet Muhammad himself. That the protection of life, property and religious freedom of minorities is the religious duty of the Islamic state.

That he personally would be demanding justice in the hereafter on behalf of a dhimmi who had been wronged by a Muslim. That there is no compulsion in religion and that Muslims must be just to friends and foe alike.

The entire message of Islam is that this life is a test and we have the option of choosing the path to hell or to heaven. The job of the Muslims is to deliver the message of Islam to humanity as they have received it. They are not to coerce others to accept it. For all good acts are meaningless in the absence of the proper faith. And faith is an affair of the heart. It simply cannot be imposed.

First Published: Aug 24, 2006 13:33 IST