Islam’s spirit of generosity and dignity

Uploaded on August 11, 2020


Islam’s spirit of generosity and dignity

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam

During the years immediately preceding the conferment of prophethood on Muhammad (PBUH) by Allah the religions of people visiting and praying at the Kaaba were diverse, ranging from idol worship to Christianity (sometimes Judaism) and Sabeanism. There was another distinct group known as the Hanifis. Most of the important Hashimites (the Prophet’s paternal family) are said to have been Hanifis. Even the Prophet’s (PBUH) belief and worship were close to this model.

Who were these Hanifis, or followers of Deen-e-Hanif? They were believers in One Allah and the faith derived its name from Hanif, another name of Abraham, the most assertive monotheist, whom Allah called his khalil (friend). After millennia of his passage through life his children continued to be prophets of Allah, including Moses (Judaism), Jesus Christ (Christianity) and Prophet Muhammad (Islam), whose early ancestor, Ismail (Ishmael) was Abraham’s son.

By following Deen-e-Hanif, the Hanifis were trying to hold on to the Way of Allah as shown by the “Father of Faiths”, Abraham. However, millennia had already passed since Allah’s khalil walked the earth, his footsteps had begun to fade with time as the moment of the Final Prophet’s advent was drawing close and the Final Message of Islam was soon to be delivered. This Final Message, besides its own authority, also recognised the truth of the entire Abrahamic tradition of faiths as valid expressions of Islam in their own time.

In a personally touching way our Prophet (PBUH) used to refer to Abraham as “my grandpa” and held his tradition in greatest esteem. From the globally celebrated Eid-al-Azha to Hajj and from the veneration of the Kaaba to the brisk walk between Safa and Marwa (as done by Abraham’s wife Hajirah [Hagar] in Makkah) are taken from Abraham and his family’s life. Whether we send salaam on our Prophet (PBUH) and his family within salaat or outside it, a mention of Allah’s favours upon Abraham and his family comes in.

Abraham’s life and mission on earth are regarded as the most unambiguous declaration of the Unicity and unmixed Authority of Allah. That makes him an early role model for Islam. The Quran vouchsafes for him.

The model of public life of a monotheist he created had great accommodation for the priests and houses of worship of faiths other than monotheism. When such priests visited him for help he made financial contributions to them also. It was this spirit of generosity and regard for the dignity of others that when our Prophet (PBUH) brought the Final Message millennia later, this too demanded that Muslims must show respect to the leaders of other faiths, that jiziya must not be levied on priests of other faiths, their old and infirm.

To explain jiziya briefly, it is a defence tax in an Islamic state on people who do not participate in the state’s defence against outsiders. Muslims being obliged by Islam to wage jihad against enemies, non-Muslims of the state are given an option: either join the army, or pay jiziya. Muslims have no option but to be part of the army, which protects both believers and non-believers in the state.

Abraham, being a Friend of Allah and role model for monotheists over the millennia, is one of the best examples of how to treat people from other faith backgrounds. The following episode from his life is quite illustrative. 

Abraham, according to pre-Islamic faith traditions, used to live in a tent that was open on all sides. He had probably other tents also which afforded greater privacy. One of his idiosyncrasies was that he never ate alone. He always made it a point to bring in some passerby or guest to share his meal with him. He was always happy to bring home such persons.

On one occasion, when he was going to put his first morsel in his mouth, he said Allah’s Name on the food to bless it before eating. The visitor said nothing and started eating the food right away. When Abraham asked the visitor why did not he say Allah’s Name on the food the visitor said something which showed it was not his way, or something to the effect. Within the next few moments an angel of Allah came to Abraham with the message that Allah was displeased with Abraham’s insistence on the visitor saying Allah’s Name. The food belonged to Allah and it was for everyone, believer or not. This was a lesson learnt not just by Abraham, but millennia later, by our Prophet (PBUH), and his companions and followers also.

The Prophet (PBUH), his family and companions shared their food with all kinds of passersby and visitors, no questions asked about their faith, no preconditions attached. This is the Islamic spirit of generosity and regard for human dignity.

(To be contd.)


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