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No coercion in faith

Iqbal Ebrahim

In virtually every field of human endeavour in this world of today there is growing intolerance. As humans we wittingly or unwittingly sow the seeds of discord and intolerance via our thoughts and actions. These can be based on nationality, colour, cultural, tribal, linguistic or religious reasons. Currently the focus seems to be on Islam and Muslims, with so much being said, most of it negative.

Many of these issues border on religious intolerance and freedom. Why is it so and we need to ask: Is Islam intolerant towards other faiths? What is the Islamic view on freedom of religion? These questions have arisen because of some reprehensible and dastardly events and actions of some misguided people who claim to do so under the banner of Islam that have taken place in some parts of the world wherein Islam has now become the focus.

The truth is that there is an immense difference between what the Quran and the Sunnah (sayings and teachings of Prophet Muhammed pbuh) declare and what some misguided Muslim groups and governments actually do. They have declared a sort of ‘war’ against Christians generally and any unbeliever.


But the Quran tells Muslims to respect people of other faiths, specifically the Christians and the Jews, who are referred to in the Quran as “People of the Book.” The Quran says: “Those who believe [Muslims], the Jews, the Christians…. whosoever believe in God and the Last day and do good deeds, they shall have their reward from their Lord, shall have nothing to fear, nor shall they come to grief.” (Quran 22:17)

Further it says: ….we Muslims believe in Allah and the Revelation given to us and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to all the Prophets from their Lord. We make no difference between one and the other, and we submit to Allah’ (Quran 2:136)

Even a cursory reading of the Quran and the Sunnah clearly shows that tolerance is an essential and a moral obligation that Muslims are required to abide by. To begin with, there are many people who are suspicious about the ‘spread’ of Islam and the fear that they will be ‘forced’ to become Muslim. Like every religion Islam encourages spreading its message by inviting through the way of preaching and having discussions with non-Muslims.


But Muslims have been instructed to do it in the most respectful and kind manner, ‘Invite all to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious’ (Quran 16:25)
If non-Muslims disagree with the message of Islam, Muslims are not allowed to employ any method of intimidation or compulsion, “Let there be no compulsion in religion; truth stands out clear from error.” (2: 256) “Thus, (O’ Prophet) if they dispute with thee, say, ‘I have surrendered my whole being unto Allah and (so have) all who follow me.’ Thus, Muslims are not only prohibited from imposing their faith on non-Muslims, Islam instructs them to treat non-Muslims with kindness:

“As for such (of the unbelievers) as do not fight against you on account of (your) faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, Allah does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, Allah loves those who act equitably.


Allah only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of (your) faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid (others) in driving you forth: and as for those (from among you) who turn towards them in friendship, it is they, they who are truly wrongdoers.” (60: 8-9)

Nobody can force anyone to convert to Islam, embracing the faith is a matter of personal choice. The Quran states in this regard: “Say: O you that reject faith. I do not worship what you worship, nor will I worship that which you worship………….unto you your religion, unto me my religion” (109:6)

In fact, the Quran goes to the extent of forbidding Muslims from using any insulting remarks about any deity worshiped by any non-Muslim. It says, “You do not revile those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest out of spite they revile Allah in their ignorance”. (Quran 6: 108)

One may ask if non-Muslims enjoy the same rights and status as Muslims do in an Islamic country. This question is frequently raised in the western world. The bottom line is that any person regardless of race or religion living somewhere has to abide by that country’s laws, rules, regulation, culture, tradition and general behavioural standards. This means that one has to obey the laws of that particular country.


For example alcohol is prohibited in Islam and in an Islamic country the visitor or resident will have to comply with this prohibition. Just like in some countries in the west, private individuals are allowed to own guns / weapons, yet in some countries it is deemed illegal to own firearms.

But generally non-Muslims should be afforded the same rights as Muslims in a Muslim country. Non-Muslim citizens have the same rights to life, religion, respect, education, expression, property, and enterprise as given to Muslim citizens. No government can curtail or restrict these rights and liberties granted to non-Muslims.

This is borne out by the following charter granted by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the Christians of Mount Sinai is an excellent example of how non-Muslims are supposed to be treated in an Islamic state: “This is a message from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily, I, the servants and helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and, by Allah, I hold out against anything that displeases them.


“No compulsion is to be on them; neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil Allah’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. Muslims are to fight for them… Their churches are to be respected… No one of the nation (of Islam) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day.



The principles given in the Quran and the Sunnah regarding tolerance and pluralism were observed by the Caliphs as well as later rulers. Explaining the responsibility of the Islamic state to the non-Muslim citizens it said: “It is the responsibility of the Muslims to the non-Muslims to care for their weak, fulfil the needs of the poor, feed the hungry, provide clothes, address them politely, and even tolerate their harm even if it was from a neighbour, even though the Muslim would have an upper hand. The Muslims must also advise them sincerely on their affairs and protect them against anyone who tries to hurt them or their family, steal their wealth, or violates their rights.”

Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) prohibit and ban the targeting of non-combatants (women and children, Rabbis, Priests etc.) and other non-combatants. Even during any conflict, one cannot burn down property (including places of worship like Churches, Temples and Synagogues), nor livestock or even destroy trees or vegetation. All this news about killing of civilians in the name of Islam is wrong: The Quran emphatically states: ‘whoever kills one life, it is as if they have killed all of humanity, and whoever saves even one life, it is as if they have saved all of humanity” (Quran 5: 32).

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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