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Muslims Good Citizens?


Islam has always stood for communities living in harmony and for Muslims to exemplify the highest standards of care and concern toward others. One of the most emphasized of all the Prophet’s teachings was being good to people.

“A person is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbor is hungry.”

“The best of neighbors in the sight of God is the best towards his (or her)   neighbor.”

According to Islamic scholars a “neighbor” is not merely someone living next door; in fact, a neighbor can be anyone who lives in the same vicinity. The rights of neighbors must be honored regardless of their faith, ethnicity or economic status.

“And help one another to do what is right and good; do not help one another toward sin and aggression.” (Quran 5:2)

Muslims are duty bound to work for the common good not only with fellow Muslims but all those in society with whom they share a common goal. In addition, Muslims are not permitted to harm to their communities. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, warned his followers against harming their neighbors in any way.

“A person whose neighbors are not safe from his evil will not enter paradise.”

Even before he received revelation from God, the Prophet was known throughout his hometown of Makkah for his generosity and helping people in need. In premodern times there were no law enforcement agencies and the weakest members of society often had no place to turn. The Prophet made a pledge along with leading people of his tribe to protect the rights of the poor and vulnerable as well as victims of fraud and deceit. He said that, even after Islam, he readily would have joined such a pact again. Throughout his life, the Prophet encouraged Muslims to do good.

“The best of you are the best in character.”

Historians tell us that the concept of national citizenship didn’t take root until the French Revolution in 1789. When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) founded the city state of Madinah almost 14 centuries ago, he created a charter that described the Muslim and non-Muslim residents of the area as being “one nation.” The noted expert on international law, Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, referred to this charter as “the first written constitution of the world.”

Further Reading

A recently published book[1] written by an Indian professor makes an important contribution to the biographical literature on the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Professor Yasin Mazhar Siddiqi focuses on a single aspect of the Prophet’s life: his role as a minority in a non-Muslim society.

Citing numerous classical texts and reference works, Professor Siddiqi draws the following conclusions for current day Muslim minorities based on the Prophet’s own life example:

  • The faith of Muslims must be reflected in doing good works and serving other members of society in need
  • It is a religious duty for Muslims to excel in all areas of endeavor – faith, finance, education and so forth
  • Muslim minorities must engage in political and civic participation
  • Muslims need to work with non-Muslims for the preservation of civil liberties and fundamental rights
  • Muslims must share their faith proactively and celebrate their identities

As a religious minority the Prophet did not have a carefree life. He and his followers and their families faced physical, psychological and economic persecution for over a decade. Even though they were victims of torture and murder they continued to return evil with good; to treat others with compassion and respect; and to help the poor and downtrodden. When he was forced to leave his hometown to save his life, the Prophet appointed his cousin Ali to stay behind so that the possessions people had left with the Prophet for safekeeping could be returned to their rightful owners. When the Prophet established his own community with its own volunteer army, he still preferred to live in peace with his neighbors. In an era when blood feuds lasted generations he would say, “Hate your enemy mildly; he may become your friend one day.”

Giving back to your society, helping others, working for the good of all are not exclusive to Muslims. That it is even necessary to point these values out as being part of Islam speaks to how far purveyors of Islamophobia have succeeded in spreading their bigotry. It also speaks to the need for Muslim minorities to live by Islamic norms. The Prophet taught that Muslims are not true to their faith until they wish for others what they wish for themselves. To achieve this standard is the highest level of citizenship.

[1] The Prophet Muhammad A Role Model for Muslim Minorities, Islamic Foundation UK, 2006