Religious minorities are often depicted as oppressed and vulnerable victims of their Muslim rulers. This portrayal, however, is far from accurate. This brief paper seeks to reorient our understanding of the rights and responsibilities that religious minorities possessed under Muslim rule.


In January of 2016, scholars from around the world gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco to discuss a very pressing concern: the status of religious minorities in Muslim-majority lands.[1] This issue has emerged to the forefront of international concerns thanks to the mortifying actions of ISIS, who have sought to kill, enslave, and exile others based on religious differences.[2] Over two hundred and fifty scholars, as a result, committed to attending the conference in order to re-establish environments of religious tolerance and peace. To do so, they returned to the basis of legal and historical texts – primarily the Charter of Medina that was contracted by the Prophet ﷺ between Muslims and other religious groups after he migrated to the city of Medina. These leaders from over one hundred and twenty countries and a wide variety of backgrounds concluded their conference with an official statement known as the Marrakesh Declaration, which denounced all forms of bigotry and intolerance and called for a commitment to the principles of justice, freedom, and equality for all.
Historical and legal texts spanning centuries have debated issues related to non-Muslim minorities. Modern scholarship has swung in both directions, with some academics such as Bat Yeʾor denouncing Islam as an oppressive religion that incites intolerance, and others such as Milka Levy-Rubin arguing that the agreements contracted by the early Muslims with minorities were far more progressive than the precedents set by their neighbors.[3] Despite their contrasting viewpoints, these conversations are important in shaping the type of paradigm that can accommodate relations with religious minorities today.
This paper is not intended to highlight all of the legalities related to religious minorities, nor does it seek to defend the actions of Muslims or non-Muslims in regard to religious minorities; rather, it seeks to provide an overview of the topic at hand through contextualization. As this paper will demonstrate, there are varying scholarly opinions in addition to political, social, and economic circumstances that affect the discourse on religious minorities, making it nearly impossible to examine all of the factors in one book, let alone a single paper. Providing context to this discussion, however, will lead to a greater understanding of the topic as a whole and hopefully will provide resources that will clarify particular questionable instances that one may come across.

The Protected People

Historical Foundations

Historical Precedence

From Theory to Practice

Classical Scholarship