The Founder of a
Model Pluralist Society
M. Riaz Khan, Ph.D.
"O mankind, We have created you from one male and female, and then set you up as nations and tribes so you may recognize (and cooperate with) one another. The noblest among you with Allah is he who is the most pious…" [Qur'an, 49: 13]
The state in Madina established by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a model pluralistic society in practice. The pluralistic environment that he had cultivated along with its concomitant social values, civil rights and responsibilities, individualism and diversity, freedom of speech and religion, community building, elimination of prejudice, outreach initiatives, empowerment of minorities, and governance through consultation and inclusiveness was a glorious demonstration of the global view of Islam and its vision of a just society. The guiding principle of such a society is the universal perspective of humanity under One Creator and a harmonizing character to be judged only by Him.
It is a known fact that the period in which the Prophet was born was the darkest in human history. There was no moral code; ignorance was a symbol of pride; slavery was commonly practiced; women, orphans and the weak had no rights or human dignity; man could have unlimited number of wives; young girls used to be buried alive; warfare and bloodshed was a hobby; and idolatry was prevalent everywhere.
The Prophet began his mission as a Messenger of Allah in Mecca. But all his efforts to reform the society were met with resistance, hostility and increasing violence. After exhausting all his efforts for thirteen years in the community of his birth, he migrate to Madina. The environment in Madina was rather receptive to the message of Islam. Prior to the Prophet's arrival, there was a complete anarchy in Madina. But, in just a few weeks, the Prophet succeeded in rallying all the inhabitants of Madina into order.
He constituted a city-state in which Muslims, Jews, pagan Arabs, and Christians all entered into a state organism by means of a social contract. Islam began to gain momentum in Madina and within eight years the Prophet re-entered Mecca without any bloodshed. Rather than settling old scores, he granted a general amnesty to his enemies in Mecca and advised them to seek Allah's forgiveness and mercy instead. To those Muslims who were overwhelmed by the victory and wanted to seek revenge, his order was: We are returning from a minor jihad (military campaign) to a major jihad (fighting the evil of own-self) of reconciliation. Impressed by his magnanimity, the entire population of Mecca embraced Islam forthwith.
With Mecca firmly under the banner of Islam, the Prophet returned to Madina and concentrated more in the affairs of state. As head of state and the chief executive by virtue of being a Prophet, he made the pursuit of peace, justice and piety the directive principles of his state policy. The fraternal relationship that he fostered between the emigrants from Mecca and the residents of Madina and the covenants of peace he worked out with non-Muslim communities were in line with his statesmanship instincts for a pluralistic society. Making equality of man the foundational principle of the Islamic state, the Prophet endowed it with a written constitution. It was framed in consultation with the representatives of both Muslims and non-Muslims citizens and it recognized the freedom of religion for all.
The political system of Islam is based on its concept of the universe itself. The authority to rule and make decisions belongs to Allah; man must submit to his Creator: "…The authority rests with Allah alone, Who has commanded you that you worship none but Him. This is the right religion, but most people do not know." [12:40] With this role of man in the universe, the Prophet delivered the Final Message of Allah contained in the Qur'an. The life of the Prophet is an epitome of the Qur'an. He was a divinely inspired reformist and disciplinarian. As Prophet of Allah, he showed his kindness and compassion not only to those who belonged to the Islamic fraternity but also to those outside its fold. The morally pure, socially vibrant, racially and religiously coherent, and economically prosperous society that the Prophet built was a fulfillment of mission.
To the Prophet the entire human race was one extended family as Islam views the children of Adam (see Q, 49: 13). He called himself " a slave of Allah" and "a servant of humanity." Thus, he considered discrimination in all its various forms as the most lethal enemy of the human race and vigorously expunged it from the society. This Qur'anic statement highlights three cardinal pieces of truth: our origin is one, our natural distinctions are for cooperation in worldly affairs, and the moral excellence is the only criterion for judging people. It is then obvious that establishing peace, fairness, and human dignity by galvanizing people of all shades and stripes as one body was high on the Prophet's agenda as head of state.
The Prophet, as the writer James Michener points out, always substantiated practically what he preached verbally. He freed his own slave and adopted him as his son. He not only stood against racial discrimination but appointed Bilal - a freed African slave - as the first mu'azzin (caller to prayers) in the Prophet's Mosque in Madina and always honored him as a distinguished companion. The status of Bilal in Islam is an undeniable proof of Islam's universal vision of brotherhood, equality of all races and opposition to slavery.
While the fires of religious intolerance howled savagely in most part of the world, as Qutubuddin Aziz describes in his book, the Prophet devised an enlightened and liberal code to govern the relations between the Islamic state and its non-Muslim citizens. He made them equal partners with their Muslim counter-part in contributing to the progress of the State and in the enjoyment of the fruits of their collective efforts. He fostered various institutions, Islamic laws and code of conduct for governing an Islamic society in which the rights of religious minorities were fully protected. The constitutional law of the first Islamic State - which was a confederacy as sequence of the multiplicity of the population groups - contains clauses such as: "To Muslim their religion, and to Jews their religion," and "that there would be benevolence and justice," or "The Jews… are a community (in alliance) with the believers (Muslims)." According to this document, autonomous Jewish villages were allowed to accede at will to the confederal State, as most did. Further, the military defense was a duty of all elements of the population, including the Jews.
In practice of statesmanship, the Prophet fashioned for the Islamic state a dynamic foreign policy based on the ethical postulates of Islam. All wars fought by Muslims under the command of the Prophet were defensive in character. This was because of the Prophet's aversion to unnecessary bloodshed. He laid stress on the virtue of maintaining peace and respecting the sanctity of human life. Describing a decent conduct in war, for example, the Prophet instructed his soldiers: In avenging the injuries inflicted upon us, faithfully carry out all covenants and agreements, avoid treachery, disturb not the inmates of the shrines and monasteries, spare women and children, touch not the suckling infant and the patients in bed. Do not destroy the dwellings of the unresisting inhabitants and their means of subsistence and spare the fruit trees. He said those oppressed by the society inherit the earth, peace is better than war, and justice prevails.
Impressed by the deep rooted commitment of the Prophet to humanity, the French historian, Alphonse de Lamartine, writes: "…Judged by all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask: Is there any man greater than he (Muhammad)?" It was this vision of the Prophet and his demonstrated commitment to establishing and sustaining a pluralistic society - a commitment also pursued by his followers - that touched people from Morocco to Indonesia as a sign of hope and dignity. Commenting on this phenomenon, John William Draper, a British historian, describes the Prophet: "…of all men he (Muhammad) exercised the greatest influence upon the human race…In a few years, the Muslims conquered half of the world."
The Islamic concept of One Sovereign Allah, in particular, provides an atmosphere suitable for better understanding among the followers of monotheistic religions. The Prophet gave a practical meaning to this universal concept to assimilate all members of humanity into one natural unit. The Islamic concept of social justice and security and its efforts to fight aggression in all its forms makes Islam a pioneer system to adopt for tackling common problems and to bring about universal peace through mutual understanding. The Prophet was the first to allow the virtues of democracy to enrich the society and advance the human civilization. Perhaps the most characteristic feature of the pluralistic state founded by the Prophet is that he granted social and judicial autonomy to every non-Muslim community to run their own affairs. Notable Christians and Jews, thus, have been among the highest dignitaries of the State.
In essence, there is much proof that the Prophet had hoped for the day when all who shared a common belief in Allah would exist together in peace with respect for one another. The world peace can be founded only on tolerance and promoted through forbearance. Once a deputation of Christians visited the Prophet in the mosque. When the time for Christian prayers arrived and they started to leave, he insisted: "conduct your prayers right here in the mosque. It is a place consecrated to God."
On his deathbed, the Prophet issued a directive: "Observe scrupulously the protection accorded by me to non-Muslim subjects."(cf. al'Mawardi) The Prophet has expressed his utmost disapproval of any mistreatment accorded to non-Muslims population in an Islamic state. He says: "Whoever oppresses the non-Muslim subjects, shall find me to be their advocate on the Day of Judgment (against the oppressing Muslims)." (Abu Dawud) His inspiring last sermon, before passing away, reflects the nobility and grace of the Prophet's thoughts and the beauty of the language he spoke. He advised for the faith in Allah, non-aggression and rising above the considerations of race, color and origin. He made an impassioned plea for the observance of human rights enjoined by Islam, a fair deal to women and the freeing of slaves.