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Minorities in Muslim Societies

"And of His signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge” (Chapter al-Rum, verse 22)

Citizenship is the framework for coexistence between diverse individuals and groups for our day and age, and is the most suited to the requirements of our current global system.

 

1.    Diversity as a Universal Fact
Diversity is a universal fact of human life, as manifested in the multiplicity of languages and colors. This is described in the Qur’an as one of the signs given to humans by God, "And of His signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge” (Chapter al-Rum, verse 22).
2.    What Do We Mean by “Minority”?
A minority is a national group that differs from the majority either in terms of sex, religion, language or culture.
3.    Minorities in Muslim societies
While centuries ago, Muslim societies did not use the term “minorities”, they certainly contained such minorities in the modern sense of the word.
These minorities were referred to in one of the following two terms:
•    The first term is Ahl al-Dhimmah, the most widely used term in Arabic and Islamic texts. It means those who are permanent residents of Muslim societies and are not Muslim. They were given this title because they enjoyed the protection of God and His pledge that they would live under the protection of Muslim society, enjoying the same rights as Muslims and carrying the same responsibilities. They had the status of what we would today call “citizens”. Thus, according to the historical divisions used in Islamic texts, they were considered part of dar al-Islam or the Islamic world.
•    The second term is al-mu’ahidoon or al-musta’manoon (those who have come to Muslim societies under a treaty or who are protected) who temporarily resided in a Muslim society for the purposes of trade, tourism or the like and enjoyed the rights stipulated in the contract made with them.

4.    Citizenship as a Framework for Coexistence between diverse groups
The term Ahl al-dhimma has largely fallen out of use today because of the negative connotations around it caused by improper applications of the concept and changes in the global system. 
Al-dhimma was a historical system that was suited to the old world order in which it was applied. The ahl al-dhimma system can be considered a historical model that embodied one form of citizenship. It is similar to the nationality system today in which the state grants people nationality, thus giving them rights and duties associated with citizenship.
Therefore, citizenship is the framework for coexistence between diverse individuals and groups for our day and age, and is the most suited to the requirements of our current global system.
The best framework in line with the ahl al-dhimma system and can best replace it is the citizenship framework, which has become a distinctive concept for the organization of social and political relations in developed countries.
5.    Religion and Citizenship
Citizenship has always been in harmony with religiosity since its inception. Indeed, this is still the case in some of the oldest democratic systems.
The basis for enjoying rights from an Islamic perspective is not religion but humanity, and the existence of the basic conditions associated with humanity.
If we want to develop a modern conception of citizenship from an Islamic perspective, we should return to the overall maqasid (purposeful objectives) that are agreed upon by all nations, such as the preservation of religion, life, mind, property and dignity. Using these, we can develop human rights principles that can be shared by all peoples, whatever their differences.
If we see a deviation from peaceful coexistence with others, it is not caused by Islam but by some Muslims who misunderstand Islam.
6.    Participation of minorities in parliamentary assemblies
Mohammed al-Chedli Belkadhi, a Tunisian Zaytouna scholar, said, "There is nothing in Islamic law against involving minorities in councils to fight for their rights, speak out for their interests and express their views, alongside Muslims… They also have the right to defend the rights of Muslims and speak out regarding their interests." 
7.    Majorities, Minorities and Public Order
The principle of equality in civil and political rights does not negate the principle applied in all states; namely, the right for the majority to govern while safeguarding the rights of minorities.
Multiple identities are not incompatible with citizenship because citizenship brings people together based on the principle of a majority and a respected minority whose rights are protected within the framework of just laws and effective institutions.
A state can allow some exceptions to the principle of equality. This should not be carried out on the basis of sectarian distinctions but is rather a principle recognized by all human beings; namely that the ruler in a particular society is more likely to be from the majority group.
 

[1] Mohammed al-Chedli Belkadhi, Fatwa relating to a question from Khayreddine al-Tounsi when he became Chief Advisor to the Caliph in Istanbul, Zaytouna Magazine, 1374 AH, 1955 AD, Volume 5(9), p. 282.

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