There are some extreme opinions by self claimed scholars which accuse those who obtain citizenship of non Muslim countries of kufr or disbelief and shirk or polytheism. This erroneous understanding forms an eminent threat as it is considered a sheer aberration of the true teachings of Islam both in letter and spirit. The sheer fact of a Muslim travelling to non Muslim country and residing there as a full citizen who observes his duties in exchange of obtaining his rights is a long standing tradition in Islamic history as Muslims were always known for travelling the world for advocacy, trade, tourism and immigration.
The Scheme of Abyssinia
The Prophet, pbuh, has presented a full-fledged paradigm for coexistence and living in harmony with the other, and the Abyssinia scheme is one good example of such. The early Muslims were forced to migrate to Abyssinia. In so doing, they applied one method that has been used by so many Prophets of Allah who preceded Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The Holy Quran mentions in many verses how many prophets who were sent to other communities before him resorted to migration along with their followers, to escape the abuse and torture they faced at the hands of the disbelievers.
But here we have to stop and contemplate the events surrounding the Muslims’ first migration to Abyssinia, and attempt to heed the lesson behind them. When the Muslims’ conditions became critical and they could no more tolerate the abuse of the Polytheists, the Prophet ordered them to migrate along with their families to save themselves the oppression and aggression of Quraysh. However, he did not migrate, as he later did, migrating from Mecca to Medina. And this was no coincidence.
The Prophet did not think of migrating from Mecca, except after:
1-Exhausting all the means to invite people of Quraysh to Islam so that they could earn the honor of being among the early Muslims who entered Islam upon its advent, for Mecca housed his people and members of his family.
2-Making sure that his companions were safe and that they have all migrated and safely settled in Medina. Also that Islam has entered each house in Medina, and that it has become a safe homeland for the Muslim community and Islam.
Like Mecca, Abyssinia was not a Muslim society; however, it preserved the rights of the Muslim minority, granting it protection and freedom of faith. Abyssinia was an umbrella of justice and protection for whoever resorts to it; those who were oppressed in their nations and those who carry noble messages that would benefit people, who have a legacy that would help serve humanity and not destroy it. This is what encouraged the Prophet to encourage Muslims to migrate to Abyssinia.
The Scheme of Abyssinia served a situation where Muslims lived in a society as a minority; yet enjoy a safe environment that preserves their rights and freedoms within a non-Islamic state.
Why did Muslims migrate to Abyssinia?
When the Polytheists of Mecca escalated their aggression and abuse of Muslims, the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, could feel the extent of pain and calamity befalling the early Muslim community, he said: “If you were to go to Abyssinia (it would be better for you), for the king (there) is a great person. He does not oppress anybody and it is a friendly country, You remain there until the time comes when Allah shall relieve you from your distress.” So some joined the migrating group and the rest kept their Islam secret.
The migration to Abyssinia took place in the fifth year after the commencement of the Prophetic mission. Upon hearing the news, Quraysh sent spies after Muslims and they went into fierce fighting against them.
How was the life of the Prophet’s Companions in Abyssinia?
The migrant Muslims to Abyssinia set a great example for coexistence with Non-Muslims. This model was a full realization the notion of citizenship and delineated the social responsibility of each citizen. Muslims upheld their responsibility as Abyssinian citizens as it should be and in return, they enjoyed the protection of their full rights.
From the historic conversation of Abdullah ibn Jaafar, may Allah be pleased with him, with Negus, refuting claims and heresy spread by Quraysh tribesmen, we are informed of how Muslims ought to do. Muslims, wherever they are, whenever they are, need to be educated on how to deal with and communicate with Non-Muslims in an inviting way that would encourage them to learn more about Islam and respect Muslims.
This is in sheer contrast to the methodology adopted by the zealots of extremist thinking in our modern time, who take refuge in Non-Muslim states and gain the kind of protection they seek after, yet they persistently insist on speaking ill of the original citizens of those foreign lands they resorted to, thereby triggering negative feelings of hatred and bigotry against Islam and Muslims. Those zealots use much negative and extremist speech that rejects people’s faiths and speaks ill of them, continuously calling them awful names, and endlessly expressing their hate and bigotry toward them for not being Muslims.
Such people are simply violating the very profound teachings of Islam, among which is gratefulness; especially towards those who live in peace with Muslims. By so doing those people regrettably tarnish the image of Islam and Muslims worldwide and give the world a faulty and ugly picture about Islam that is far from true, giving to worlwide extremists and enemies of Islam every reason and pretext to be antagonistic to Islam and Muslims.
Muslims offered Negus to join his army in fighting his cousin who was seeking to usurp his throne, but he refused. After he won his fight, Muslims cheered his victory and felt great happiness. But soon the armies were back to fight Negus and his people, and then Muslims insisted on joining his army and aid his fight. And so they did, willingly. Even though they were fighting along a Non-Muslim army and for a Non-Muslim leader, it was the common responsibility towards the homeland they were living in that compelled them join the army and fight along with Negus.
Muslims’ stay in Abyssinia, under the leadership of Negus was peaceful, harmonious and respectful. The companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, were truthful and compassionate, and Muslims in general paid great respect to the indigenous of Abyssinia. They were grateful to the Abyssinians and never interfered in the internal affairs of their nation, except to offer help, aid, and support. They never denied them gratitude for allowing them share their homeland.
The companions of the Prophet who migrated to Abyssinia lived under the guardianship of Negus and under his authority, and he was watchful of their lifestyle and religious practices, and how they dealt with others, which proved to him the truthfulness of the religion they followed and their loyalty to it. And this underlines one important fact that a Muslim’s acts should echo his talk and beliefs.
Muslims can be best representatives of the religion of Islam, if they best practice it and hold fast to its profound teachings conveyed through the holy Quran and the noble teachings of the Prophet. Dealing gently with peaceful Non-Muslims can be one effective channel of Da’wah (religious preaching). Whereas negativity and bigotry would scare people away from Islam and spread wrong and faulty image of this noble religion.
The Model of Abyssinia is best suitable and more convenient to be applied in our modern age, especially with nations we have no war or armed struggle with. Muslims living in majority non-Muslim populations can follow the scheme of Abyssinia, as it would allow for much needed harmonious co-existence, let alone creates the environment for much contribution of the Muslim minorities living in Western societies and helps them effectively integrate into them.
Moral lessons derived from the Scheme of Abyssinia to be applied to our time.
The Model of Abyssinia is greatly significant and replete with values that can be applied in our present time. For example:
1-The diverse soci-econimic and political conditions during the production of scholarly books on many Islamic disciplines were quite instrumental in preferring one scheme of co-existence over another, or laying emphasis on one model of the Prophet's above over another. This has given rise to a biased and even reductionist reading of the Sirah.
2-The Islamic Civilization was at the peak of its glory and strength at its early stages. At this phase, Muslim Jurists and Mujtahids focused on the issues prevalent at their times as there was a crucial need for such responses from their part at the time. They are not to be blamed for that, for every era and period of time requires Islamic Scholars to make Ijtihad on the newly rising matters and changes of the time they live in, on condition they do not violate the general frame of the Islamic law or Sharia as outlined in the Quran and applied by the Noble Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.
3-Looking into the scheme of Abyssinia, where Muslims were a small community forced to migrate as a result of oppression and abuse to settle in a Non-Muslim state where they enjoyed a great share of freedom, peacefulness and well-needed protection, one finds that it may have seemed a farfetched model in the 2nd or the 3rd century AH. This may explain why Muslim scholars of that age refrained from applying or promoting the model of Abyssinia and denying it their care and attention, as they did not see it a possible reality. They were also skeptical that time would come where Muslims would feel the need to resort to such scheme for effective coexistence with the other- for; again, the Islamic civilization was at its peak of power and development back then. For them, speaking of living under a foreign power, while Muslims were of extreme power and authority, was not the least suitable alternative or a matter to be considered or bear in mind in the process of extracting legal rulings form the Sharia.
But this reality has changed, so has the status quo of the Muslim community, and there rose a need for the Ummah to consider this model and study its application from the noble life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the life of his companions, may Allah be please with them all. Muslims now need to peacefully coexist with the other same way Muslims did upon their settlement in Abyssinia. Muslims now need to look into the example laid by Prophet Muhammad with regards to such model and such circumstances, to follow his footsteps in fostering good relations and creating harmony with Non-Muslims, without compromising the basic principles of Islam or its primary aims and fundamentals.
4-Hence, Muslim Jurists were generally inclined towards the Scheme of Medina, that last state upon which the Prophet, peace be upon him, has left his companions and the Rightly Guided Caliphs, before he died. And there they began asserting this model and preferring it over others as the Madinan scheme represented a model of a powerful state and powerful nation.
5-What this treatise seeks to prove is that all FOUR models or schemes of coexistence laid down by the noble Prophet are valid and universal. None should replace or overwrite the other, yet each fits within a set of circumstances to serve certain needs and deal with a certain reality. The reality of the age Muslims live through is what compels resorting to one model instead of the other, or preferring one scheme instead of the other, in order to achieve harmonious and effective coexistence with Non-Muslims, in a way that would help bring much-needed peace to the world and avoid much unwanted bloodshed and violence.
6-Contemporary Muslim Mujtahids ought to consider these FOUR models and try and delve deep into their implications to discover and extract as much moral lessons and benefits as possible. They have got to exert the needed effort in trying to derive Islamic rulings that would serve the welfare of Muslim individuals and communities alike, grant them their due rights, freedoms as well as needed safety and protection. Expounding new legal rulings based on such FOUR meritorious models would help Muslims establish the required balance between meeting their life needs and fulfilling their religious obligations; such as establishing prayers among other religious rites. It would allow them peacefully coexist with Non-Muslims and avoid much unwanted collision and rifts.
7-Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, never wasted a chance or a situation without seizing it as an opportunity to advice Muslims and give them a glimpse of his noble teachings, even at times of war and calamities. He, pbuh, used to advice them to avoid war instead of pursuing it, and to ask Allah to protect them instead of going to conflicts with Non-Muslims. The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, is narrated to have once said: “Do not wish to meet the enemy, but when you meet (face) the enemy, be patient (i.e. stand firm when facing the enemy).” It is not befitting for Muslim scholars to be reluctant in exerting the effort required of them to expound new Islamic rulings, and depending instead on previous edicts or rulings that are the outcome of efforts by scholars that preceded them, those who efficiently fulfilled their mission and did their best in trying to extract accurate Islamic rulings needed for the age they lived in.
The gap Muslims face nowadays between the Islamic legal rulings, the living reality and their welfare keeps widening and unless scholars intervene, Muslims are at the risk of falling into a series of unbearable difficulties.
8-Lastly, the model of Abyssinia, through which the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the early Muslims laid a fine and strong example for effective coexistence with Non-Muslims, invites us to cling to the teachings of our noble Prophet, our role model, and our teacher, pbuh- for those teachings are indeed valid for all ages and all places.
We should try and follow the footsteps of the Prophet, apply his refined teachings, especially those that would help alleviate the rising difficulties of our modern age and guide human individuals and communities to live in much needed harmony and peaceful coexistence.
This is the best, and perhaps the most trusted way for Muslim to effectively integrate into and contribute to their communities. Muslims need to consider the model of Abyssinia to participate and contribute richly to their nations and communities, become one entity, one body with them, instead of being an alienated, undesired organ of that body.
Achieving such end would certainly help Muslims best achieve their religious obligations and establish their Islamic rites, in contrast to what others may mistakenly believe, thinking it would make Muslims dissolve into the shadows of Non-Muslims and cause them to compromise their religious principles and fundamentals. Islam is the religion of truth, it encompasses any other facts and is not to be replaced. It is perfect; free of any imperfection that needs correction.
A good Muslim should not fear changes creeping into the modern age, nor be feared for. But rather he should get exposed to global communities to impact and contribute richly to them, without fearing for the purity of his faith in any way. Islam is a stable and firm religion that cannot be changed or messed up with. Islam is capable of best presenting itself, to spread and reach far and wide, to impact and not get impacted, to influence and not get influence. Muslims should make sure they do not stand as an obstacle hampering the spread of Islam to reach farther nations and communities. But regrettably, the attitudes of some Muslims nowadays tend to give a wrong impression about Islam and might discourage others to learn about this noble and fine religion.
Thus, Muslims need to reconsider their behavior and try to hold fast to the refined and tolerant teachings of Islam, lest they be a reason for spreading a faulty picture of it and thus cause people to refrain. Returning to the path of Allah and pure Islam is what can best serve the image of this religion.
As for the issue of “bay’ah” which some fanatics insist on using when Muslims go to non Muslim countries and obtain their citizenship, it is purely a false appellation. The term bay’ah or pledge of allegiance was used in Islamic history as a powerful political tool to choose the Muslim caliphate or ruler and an effective social contract between the ruler and his people. This pledge of allegiance guarantees the obedience of people to the ruler as long as he maintains justice and observes Islamic law. In other words, the pledge of allegiance gives a legal flavor that is originally a human contract with a deeper theological meaning.
Therefore the term bay’ah occurs between two Muslim parties one of them is the ruler and the other group is the ruled and the Shari’ah or Islamic law is the basis of this bilateral contract. When it comes to having protocols or contracts or alliances with non Muslims, this is not called bay’ah by any means and same goes for obtaining a citizenship in a non Muslim country.
As for those who cite the verse which says “O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.” 4:59
Imam al Shawkani (d. 1250 H.) explained in his exegesis (Fath al Qadir) that (ulu al Amr) are the people of knowledge and the scholars of the Quran. This opinion was stated by Jaber ibn ‘Abdullah, Malik and al Dahhak. Mujahid agreed with the former interpretation and added that this term specifically meant for the companions of Prophet Muhammad. Ibn Kaysan said that the term refers to people who have intellectual discernment and fine judgment. Other scholars defined (ulu al Amr) to refer to the Imams, judges and Sultans along with all who has a legal rulership.
Then the verse continues to indicate that if any disputes occur between the different parties, they should refer the matter back to God and his Prophet and this means that the disputed matter was of a religious and not a secular nature. Ibn Jarir , ‘abd ibn Hamid and Ibn Abi Hatem reported that the term (ulu al amr) refer to the people of knowledge and scholarship and Abu Huraira interpreted the term to mean army leaders.
Al Qurtubi (d. 671 H.) stated in his Quranic exegesis (al Jame’ le Ahkam al Quran) that the above mentioned verse discusses three main issues. The first of them is that this verse depends on the one which precedes it in which God commanded leaders and rulers to give back the entrusted items and belongings to their rightful owners and to maintain justice in their rulership. Then in the verse we are discussing God started His command to the believers to maintain obedience to Him and His prophet and finally to rulers as was interpreted by the majority of scholars. Sahl ibn ‘Abdullah al Tustari stated that obedience to rulers should be done in the following cases:
Coinage of Dinars and Dirhams.
Measures and weights
Pilgrimage, Friday prayers, Feasts and Jihad
From the above mentioned exegesis, we can clearly see that the issue of “ulu al mar” if we applied it to mean Muslim rulers and the act of giving them “bay’ah”, does not apply at all in the issue of a Muslim obtaining a citizenship in a non Muslim country.
Therefore Muslims have to be very careful not to accuse other Muslims of falling into disbelief and polytheism for the sheer fact of obtaining citizenship in non Muslim countries.