When the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) migrated to Madina, there was a large number of Jews in the city. One of the first affairs of state that he dealt with was to establish a treaty with them, according to which their beliefs were to be respected and the state was obliged to ward off harm from them; they were to work as one with the Muslims against anyone who sought to attack Madina. Thus the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) applied the principles of religious tolerance from the earliest beginnings of Islamic civilization.
The Messenger (peace be upon him) had neighbors from among the People of the Book; he used to treat them kindly, giving them gifts and accepting gifts from them, until a Jewish woman put poison in a leg of a lamb which she gave him as a gift because he used to accept her gifts and was a good neighbor to her. When a delegation of Ethiopian Christians came to Madina, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) let them stay in the mosque, and he himself took care of them and served them. One of the things that he said that day was: “They honored our companions, so I want to honor them myself.”
One day a delegation of Christians from Najraan came to him, and he let them stay in the mosque and hold their prayers there. They would be praying on one side of the mosque, and the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and the Muslims would be praying on the other side. When they wanted to discuss with the Messenger (peace be upon him) and defend their religion, he listened to them and debated with them in a gentle, polite, and tolerant manner. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) accepted a gift of a slave girl from AI-Muqawqis (the ruler of Egypt) and took her as a wife. She bore him a son, Ibraheem, who only lived for a few months. One of the things that he enjoined upon the Muslims was: “Treat the Egyptians well, for you are related to them through ties of blood and ties of marriage.”
The khulafaa’ followed the teachings of the Messenger with regard to kind and humane religious tolerance after he died. So we see that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab when he entered Bayt al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) as a conqueror, he responded to the Christians’ request that no Jew be allowed to live among them. The time for ‘Asr (afternoon) prayer came whilst he was inside the main church of Jerusalem, but he refused to pray there lest the Muslims later use that as an excuse to demand possession of it and take it as a mosque.
A Christian woman living in Egypt complained to him that ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas had incorporated her house into the mosque, against her objections. He asked ‘Amr about that, and he told him that the numbers of Muslims had increased and the mosque had become too small for them. This woman’s house was next to the mosque, and ‘Amr had offered her the price of her house and more, but she did not agree to that. This left ‘Amr with no option but to knock down her house and incorporate it into the mosque. He had put the money in the bayt al-maal (treasury of the Islamic state) for her to take whenever she wanted. Even though this was permissible according to our present laws and this was a case in which ‘Amr’s action may have been justified, ‘Umar did not approve of that; he ordered ‘Amr to knock down the
new part of the mosque and restore the Christian woman’s house! This is the tolerant spirit that prevailed in the society built on the principles of our civilization. We see kinds of religious tolerance which were not found anywhere else in history, not even in the modem age!
Another example of religious tolerance is that mosques were often built next to churches in our civilization. The clergy in the churches were given full authority over their flocks with regard to all religious and church matters, and the state did not interfere in that. Rather, the state would interfere in order to solve problems between Christian groups and would judge justly between them. The Byzantine Christians used to persecute the Copts of Egypt during the Byzantine period and take away their churches, but when the Muslims conquered Egypt, they gave the churches back to the Copts and restored their rights. After that, the Copts transgressed against the Byzantines in revenge for what they had done to them before the Arab conquest. The Byzantines complained about that to Haaroon aI-Rasheed, and he ordered that the churches owned by the Copts in Egypt should be returned to the Byzantines after he had consulted with the Patriarch of the Byzantines concerning this matter.
With regard to the freedom of the clergy in their rituals and their authority over their flocks with no interference from the state, the Christian inhabitants of the land felt free in a manner that they had never felt under the rule of Byzantium. None of us can forget the attitude of Muhammad al-Faatil) when he took control of Byzantium, which was the seat of the Orthodox Patriarchy for the entire east. On that day he proclaimed that its inhabitants – all of whom were Christians – were safe; their money, their lives, their beliefs, their churches, their crosses were all safe; they were exempted from military service; their leaders were given the authority to enact legislation and settle disputes that arose between members of their flocks, without any interference from the state! The inhabitants of Constantinople saw a great difference between the way they had been treated during the Byzantine era and the way Muhammad al-Faatil) treated them. The Byzantines had interfered in doctrinal disputes and were biased in favor of the followers of their own church and against the followers of other churches. So the people were happy with the new rule and were delighted with this religious tolerance, the like of which they had never seen with any of their previous rulers, even though those rulers were also Christian. The authority granted to the Patriarch of Byzantium was like a state within a state, and he and his followers enjoyed this privilege for nearly five hundred years, acting independently. These privileges were not granted in return for supplying soldiers or money to the state. But unfortunately, this religious tolerance, which was historically unique, led to the granting of privileges to foreigners, which was exploited by the Europeans at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century in a manner that undermined the country’s sovereignty.
Another manifestation of religious tolerance in our civilization is that in many churches, the Muslims and Christians used to pray simultaneously, at the time of the Islamic conquest! We have seen how the Prophet (Blessings and Peace be upon him) allowed the Christians of Najraan to pray in his mosque alongside the Muslims who were doing their own prayers. In the Cathedral of Saint John in Damascus, which later became the Umayyad Mosque, the Christians agreed to let the Muslims take half of it, and the Muslims were happy to pray there, so that at the same time you could see the followers of the two religions praying next to one another, with the Muslims facing the qiblah and the Christians facing the east. This was a unique example in history with deep significance, indicative of the religious
tolerance of our civilization.
One of the most famous doctors who were well-liked by the Caliphs was Jarjees ibn Bakhtiyashoo’, who was close to and well-liked by the Caliph Al-Mansoor. The Caliph was eager that he should be happy; Jarjees had a wife who was old and sick, so Al-Mansoor sent to him three beautiful slave-women. But Jarjees refused to accept them saying, “My religion does not allow me to marry another wife so long as my wife is still alive.” So AlMansoor was pleased with him and respected him even more. When he fell sick, Al-Mansoor ordered that he should be brought to the public hostel, and he went there walking, to ask how he was. The doctor asked him for permission to go back to his homeland so that he might be buried with his forefathers. Al-Mansoor invited him to enter Islam so that he might go to Paradise, but he refused and said, “I want to be with my forefathers, in heaven or hell.” Al-Mansoor smiled and issued orders that preparations are made for his journey and he gave him ten thousand dinars.
The Christian Salmawayh ibn Banaan was the doctor of Al-Mu’tasim; when he died, Al-Mu’tasim grieved deeply and ordered that he should be buried with incense and candles, according to the way of his religion. Bakhtiyashoo’ ibn Jibra’eel was the doctor of AI-Mutawakkil, and was well-liked by him; he was the equal of the caliph with regard to dress, luxury, great wealth, and respect.
After that, Ash-Shareef continued to miss him and recite poetry eulogizing him on every occasion. For example, he passed by his grave and burst into tears and said: “I said to a caravan passing by, Come and I will show you a fading glory. I eulogized you, hoping that it would calm me down, But it only increased my grief. I know that weeping will not help, But still, I have my hopes and wishes.” In the study circles that were held in the presence of the Caliphs, scholars would come together despite the differences in their religions and schools of thought. AI-Ma’moon (a Caliph) had a study circle in which scholars of all religions and schools of thought would come together. He used to say to them: “Discuss whatever you want of knowledge, without each of you quoting his religious book as evidence, lest that should provoke sectarian problems.”
The same was true of the people’s study circles. Khalaf ibn al-Muthanna said: “We saw in Basrah ten people who come together in a gathering, and they have no peers in knowledge and intelligence in this world. They are: AI-Khaleel ibn Asmad, the grammarian (who was Sunni); AI-Humayri the poet; Saalim ibn ‘Abdul-Quddoos (who was a heretic and a dualist); Sufyaan ibn Majaashi’ (who was a Safari Khaariji); Bashshaar ibn Burd; Hammaad ‘Ajrad (who was a Shu’oobi heretic); Ibn Ra’s al-Jaaloot the poet (who was a Jew); Ibn Naseer the theologian (who was a Christian); ‘Vmar ibn al-Mu’ayyid (who was a Magian); Ibn Sinaan; the poet (who was a Sabian). They used to meet and discuss poetry and current affairs. They would talk in a friendly atmosphere, such that one would hardly realize that there were the great differences of religion and belief among them.”
This tolerance extended to houses and families, so that in one house there may be four brothers, one of whom was Sunni, the second Shi’i, the third Khaariji, and the fourth Mu’tazili, but they would live in perfect harmony. Or in one house there would be a pious brother and a profligate one; the pious one would devote himself to worship whilst the profligate one indulged in promiscuous behavior. One of the stories mentioned in the books of literature describes two brothers living in one house. One of them was pious and lived on the lower floor, and the other was profligate and lived on the upper floor. One night the profligate brother was staying up with some friends, singing and making noise, which disturbed the pious brother and kept him from sleeping. The pious brother called out to his profligate brother, Do then those who devise evil plots feel secure that Allah will not sink them into the earth.} (Qur ‘an 16: 45), and the profligate brother immediately replied: ~And Allah would not punish them while you are amongst them~ (Qur ‘an 8: 33).
Another example of religious tolerance in our civilization is sharing in the excitement and decoration of religious festivals. From the time of the Umawi period, the Christians had their public celebrations in the streets, in which they would carry their crosses and their clergy would appear in their priestly garments. The Patriarch Mikha’eel entered the city of Alexandria in a splendid celebration, with candles, crosses and the Gospels carried before him, and the priests were crying out, “The Lord has sent to us a trustworthy shepherd who is the new Mark.” That happened at the time of Hishaam ibn ‘Abdul-Malik (a Caliph). At the time of Ar-Rasheed (a Caliph), it was the custom of the Christians to go out in a great parade, with the cross at the front; that was on the occasion of Easter. AI-Maqdisi tells us in Ahsan at- Taqaaseem that the marketplaces in Shiraaz would be adorned for the Christian festivals, and that the Egyptians used to celebrate the onset of the Nile floods at the time of the Easter celebration.
AI-Maqreezi tells us in Al-Khutat that the people – at the time of the AI-Ikhsheedis – used to hold great celebrations on the occaSIOn of the Epiphany (commemoration of the Baptism of Christ). In 330 AH the celebrations of the Epiphany were held on a splendid scale. Muhammad ibn Taghaj al-Ikhsheedi stayed in his palace on the island of AI-Maneel (AI-Manyal) with one thousand lamps lit around him. The people followed his example and lit torches, lamps, and candles. The boats were filled with thousands of Christians and Muslims, and the rooftops and riverbanks were crowded with people, all wearing their finest clothes. Many of them brought out food and drink and put them in vessels of gold and silver. On that night the roads were not closed and most of the people immersed themselves in the water, believing that bathing on the night of the Epiphany would protect them against sickness and disease.
It is strange to note that these expressions of friendship continued even during the Crusades when the west launched historical attacks against the Muslim world in the name of the cross. The traveler Ibn Jubayr tells us of his travels: “One of the strange things that are happening when the flames of conflict are burning between the Muslims and the Christians and two groups of them may face one another in a stand-off, is that Muslim and Christian friends may visit one another without any objections; caravans are still carrying goods from Egypt to Damascus through the Frankish lands with no obstacles – the Muslims pay a tax to the Christians in their lands, and Christian merchants in the Muslim lands pay a tax on their goods, and the agreement between them is fair. The warriors are busy with their war, and the people are fine, and the world will go to the victor.”
Religious tolerance in our civilization is something that has no equal in the history of the past ages. Western historians who respect the truth are agreed that this tolerance existed, and they commend it. The famous American Mr. Draper says: “The first Muslims, at the time of the Caliphs, did not just respect the Christian, Nestorian, and Jewish scholars, they also delegated many important tasks to them and promoted them to the highest offices of state. Haroon aI-Rasheed put all the schools under the supervision of Hana ibn Maasawayh, and he did not pay any attention to the country in which the scholar lived, or the religion into which he had been born; he only looked at the status of his knowledge.” [questionable principle – how can a Christian be entrusted with Muslim schools?]
The famous modem historian, Wells, says, In his discussion of Islamic teaching: “It established great traditions of just interaction and it inspired in people a spirit of generosity and tolerance, as it is humane in character and its principles may be readily applied in real life. It created a group of people in whom there was little of the cruelty and oppression that overwhelm the world when compared with the other groups that came before it…” And he says of Islam, “It is filled with the spirit of kindness, tolerance, and brotherhood. ” Sir Mark Sayis said, describing the Islamic Empire at the time of Ar-Rasheed: “The Christians, idolaters, Jews, and Muslims were equal, working in the service of the government.”
Tarnoon says: “The religion had nothing to do with the work of poets and singers.
” Levi Protestall says in his book Islamic Spain in the tenth century: “The scribe who wrote down contracts would often be a Christian or a Jew, and many Christians and Jews worked as civil servants. They ran the affairs of the state and even played a role in matters of war. Among the Jews were some who would represent the Caliph as ambassadors to the states of western Europe.”
Renaud says of the Arab campaigns In France, Switzerland, Italy, and the islands of the Mediterranean: “The Muslims in the cities of Andalusia used to treat the Christians well, and the Christians used to respect the feelings of the Muslims, circumcise their children and refrain from eating pork.”
Arnold says, speaking of religious schools of thought among the Christians: “But the principles of Islamic tolerance forbade such actions which imply oppression. It seems to us that the Muslims, unlike others, did not spare any effort to treat all the Christians under their rule with fairness and justice. For example, after the conquest of Egypt, the Jacobites took the opportunity of the end of Byzantine rule to take over the churches of the Orthodox, but the Muslims ultimately restored them to their rightful owners, after the Orthodox proved that they were the owners … “
When we look at the tolerance that the Muslims extended to the Christians under their authority at the beginning of Islamic rule, we will see that the idea that the sword was the factor that made people become Muslim cannot be believed.
We have gone into detail about the religious tolerance in our civilization, because we want to refute the lies that the racist westerners tell about our history, saying that we were cruel and forced people to enter our religion and that we mistreated and persecuted non-Muslims. It would have been better for them not to open this door on themselves because their shameful acts of religious hatred against the Muslims during the Crusades and in Spain and in the modem, age should make them hang their heads in shame. Indeed, their shameful acts of persecution against one another are something that cannot be denied by any student of history, such as the slaughters of Catholics and Protestants, the Saint Bartholomew massacre, the religious wars that the papacy launched against its opponents among the peoples of Europe and the atrocities of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages – all of that constitutes irrefutable proof that the westerners are the most partisan and hate-filled of people against those who hold different beliefs and opinions to their own, even if they are of the same race! And it proves that they knew nothing of religious tolerance throughout history, from ancient times, and they are still controlled by this hateful religious discrimination against Muslims, operating under the transparent covers of politics and colonialism.
We think that the best way to conclude this discussion of our tolerance and their intolerance is to quote the words of one of the greatest Christian priests who cannot be biased. The Patriarch of Antioch, Mikhail the Great, who lived in the latter part of the twelfth century, after the eastern churches had been under Islamic rule for five hundred years, spoke of the tolerance of the Muslims and how the Byzantines had persecuted the eastern churches. He said:
“This is the reason why the God of vengeance, Who alone has power and might, and Who transfers power from one human nation to another as He wills, when He saw the evils of the Byzantines who had resorted to force and robbed our churches and confiscated our homes in all the areas they ruled, and they persecuted us mercilessly, He sent the sons of Ishmael (the Arabs) from the south (the Arabian Peninsula) to rid us of Byzantine oppression at their hands. We may have incurred some losses because of the Catholic churches being taken away from us and given to the Cha1cedonians, and those churches have remained in their possession because when the cities surrendered to the Arabs, they decided that each Christian group should keep the churches that were in their possession, and at that time, the great church of Horns and the church of Hawraan had been taken from us. But nevertheless, it was no insignificant matter to rid ourselves of the cruelty of Byzantium and its persecution and zeal against us, and to find ourselves living in peace and security.”
Do you not see what Gustave Le Bon said: “The world had never seen conquerors who were merciful and compassionate like the Arabs, nor any religion that was tolerant like their religion.” He is speaking the truth before he is fair to the Muslims.