Living in non-Muslim lands

Here are some notes taken from a talk given by our teacher Shaykh Ahmad Saad al-Azhari.  A link to the talk can be found by clicking here.

They Shaykh said that when talking about living with non-Muslims we use the word tolerance.  If we look at the word “to tolerate them” we find it has the meaning to find it difficult to live with them.  This is far from the understand Islam has ever had about people who don’t subscribe to the Islamic faith.  It would be better to use the words to live with them or co-exist or co-operate.  Allah says in the Quran, talking to humanity, co-operate with each other in good things and righteous things i.e. making your state better both personally and in the community.

In the life of the Prophet (SAW) there are 4 contexts from receiving the message when the Prophet (SAW) dealt with non-Muslims:

  1. Makkah – from declaring the message. Key traits are patience and accepting harm whilst responding positively.
  2. Makkah – from the hijrah of some Sahaba to Abyssinia. Key traits are loyalty and participation.
  3. Medina at the beginning. Key traits are 0penness and co-operation.
  4. Medina towards the end of the Prophet’s life. Key traits are fairness and awareness.


We therefore see 8 virtues which define how we should be with non-Muslims we come into contact with.  We can also see 4 distinct phases for Muslims in a society:

Firstly, a society where Muslims are aggressed against – like Makkah

Secondly, a society where Muslims are accepted as a minority – like Abyssinia

Thirdly, a society where we have equal footing at the level of government and lower levels – like Medina at the beginning

Fourthly, a society where we are the majority and in power – like Medina at the end

Looking at the 4 contexts we see various lessons and amongst them are:

Context 1

Khabbab a sahabi who is a Blacksmith (and one of the best sword makers in Makkah) is mercilessly tortured by the woman who owns him.  He asked for help from the Prophet in the form of duah (note he didn’t ask to take up arms or use the swords he made) and the Prophet (SAW) became cross with him.  He (SAW) reminded him about previous people who were cut in half and raked with irons for their faith – i.e. be patient.

There was the boycott for 3 years by the tribes of Quraysh against the Bani Hashim, this was a forced starvation such that they ate leaves and the milk from breastfeeding mothers dried up.  The Prophet (SAW) didn’t fight back, didn’t allow looting etc.  Quraysh was trying to force the Muslims to fight back, they were small and weak and would easily have been defeated, but the Prophet (SAW) kept to the traits of patience and responding positively to the harm.

Muslims, except for the Prophet could not pray at the Ka’aba due to safety fears until the 6th year before Hijrah when Hamza and Umar became Muslim.  Prior to this they didn’t try to exert their right to pray there.

Initial migration to Abyssinia

The Prophet (SAW) chose Abyssinia because the King had established fairness and justice i.e. preserved human rights.  Even then Quraysh sent people i.e. Amr ibn al’Aas, an international top diplomat who was very clever, knew the King and brought expensive gifts.  The Muslims were seeking religious asylum made up of 80 men and 5 women.  On speaking to the King to put their case forward they spoke about universals rather than particulars i.e. not about prayer and tawheed but about preserving rights and being good people.  The King’s response was that they can stay here because they were good citizens i.e. they were beneficial for the society.  The Muslims even fought in the army of Najashi against a coup – hence loyalty and participation.  Prophet (SAW) was making duah for Najashi to be victorious even though he was not yet a Muslim.  Even after the migration to Medinah the Sahabah in Abyssinia didn’t go straight away but some years later, showing how much a part of society they were i.e. Muslims living under a non-Muslim ruler.

Medinah at the beginning

The Prophet (SAW) wrote the constitution of Medinah.  It was a pluralistic community, Muslims, Jews, Pagans – Arabs, non-Arabs.  The Prophet (SAW) made a conscious shift in emphasis from a tribalistic loyalty to loyalty of the society i.e. Medinan.  Your tribes’ laws are not greater than the society’s.  You can’t aid your tribe or other tribes against the “state” hence Banu Quraydhah (Jewish tribe) who aided the Quraysh against the Medinan state led to their expulsion – this was not a religious matter but high treason and breach of the constitution.

The Quran even blamed the Jews from seeking rulings from the Prophet (SAW) when they had the Torah because Medinah was a pluralistic society and religions were governed as per their religious laws.  The Prophet SAW even protected Abdullah ibn Ubayy al-Salul even though he was the leader of the hypocrites, a fact confirmed by the Quran.  Despite people wanting to kill him, he (SAW) intimated that he is from the same society and it can’t be seen that the Prophet saw is killing his companions.

Medinah at the end

Year 9AH onwards and the Prophet (SAW) held political sovereignty from the Roman borders through to Yemen.  Did the Prophet launch a global war against non-Muslims?  He sent messengers with letters to the kings.  He never threatened a monarch with war if they don’t accept Islam.

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