Monday, May 09, 2005

religious tolerance

The principles of religious tolerance in Islamic Civilization are as follows: All revealed religions have spring from the same fountain. The Quran says, The same religion He has established for you is as that which He enjoined on Nuh – and what We now reveal to you – and enjoined on Ibrahim, Musa, `Isa, saying, “Establish the religion and do not become divided therein” (Quran, 42:13)

The prophets are a brotherhood and there is no superiority of one over the other from the viewpoint of the risala. Thus it is binding on Muslims to believe in all the Prophets of Allah. The Quran says, Say, “We believe in Allah and in that which He has revealed to us and to Ibrahim, Isma`il, Ishaq, Ya`qub, al-`Asbat and that which was revealed to Musa, `Isa and that which was revealed to the prophets from their Lord, We make no difference between one and another and we bow in submission to Him” (Quran, 2:136).

There is no compulsion in religion. Rather, it has been left to the inclination and pleasure of people, Let there be no compulsion religion (Quran, 2:256). Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe? (Quran, 10:33).

The places of worship of all divine religions are respectable places and protecting them is just as essential as protecting the mosques of Muslims, For had it not been for Alalh’s checking some men by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is often mentioned, would have been destroyed (Quran, 22:40).

The Messenger of Allah had Jewish and Christian neighbors and he would always treat them kindly and benevolently, sending gifts to them and accepting gifts from them… When the Abyssinian Christians came to Madinah, the Messenger of Allah made arrangements for them to stay in the mosque, and took upon himself the responsibilities of hospitality and service. He also said, “These people respected and treated our Companions with honor and thus I wish to host them myself.”

…Once a woman from Egypt lodged a complaint with `Umar that `Amr ibn al-`As had annexed her house for the extension of the mosque against her will. `Umar asked `Amr ibn al-`As for an explanation. He explained that the number of the believers coming to the mosque for prayer far exceeded the capacity of the mosque. The house of the complainant was adjacent to the mosque and she was offered the price of her property and far in excess of its real worth, but she declined the offer. Therefore, in view of public interest, it was demolished to form part of the mosque, and the costs were deposited in the Bayt al-Maal, so that she might take it whenever she pleased. Apparently the explanation offered by `Amr ibn al-`As was reasonable, and our present day law also permits it. However, to `Umar it was not acceptable and he ordered the demolition of the portion of the mosque built on the site of the woman’s house and ordered the re-construction of her house as it had been before…

Under Islamic rule, the Christians had full freedom to perform their religious ceremonies, and their religious leaders had full authority over their co-religionists and the government never interfered in their personal affairs. The Christians themselves realized that there was such perfect freedom under the Islamic State. In this connection the name of Sultan Muhammad, the conqueror of Constantinople, shall ever remain fresh in the history of religious tolerance. When he conquered Constantinople, it was exclusively populated by Christians and was the capital of the patriarch for the Eastern Catholic Christians. The Sultan granted amnesty to the entire Christian population and guaranteed safety of their lives, properties, their creed, their churches and their crosses. They were exempted from military service and their leaders were authorized to judge and decide all those cases that came to them from their co-religionists. The Islamic government never interfered with regards to this legislation. The Christians of Constantinople themselves felt that there was a world of difference between the attitude and behavior of Sultan Muhammad and the Byzantine rulers of the past. The Byzantine rulers interfered in the religious differences of people and meted out preferential treatment to the followers of their own church in comparison to those of the other churches. So the Christians liked the new system of government very much and were pleased with the religious tolerance which had no parallel in their own governments. The Roman patriarch had been allowed so much authority that his position made it a case of a state within the state. For five hundred years they lived in this free atmosphere, and their freedom was so well protected that they needed nor army, nor had they to pay any taxes for such security. However, it was disgraceful how the Christians took undue advantage of the special privileges allowed to them due to religious tolerance. At the close of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, they resorted to perfidious and treacherous moves to put an end to the local authority and dominion of these towns and cities where they had lived for centuries…

Another proof of the religious tolerance of the Islamic Sate is that they selected the most capable people and entrusted important posts to them irrespective of their beliefs. Thus during the period of the Umayyids and `Abbasids, Christian physicians were appointed to highly responsible posts, and they were held in high esteem by the Caliph themselves. In Baghdad and Damascus the Christian physicians were in charge of many of the medical schools for a long time. Ibn Athal, a Christian doctor, was the personal physician of Mu`awiyah, and another Christian by the name of Sergeon was his scribe. Marwan had appointed Athanaseus with another Christian, Isaac, to hold important posts in Egypt, and later they were promoted to the high post of the Treasury office. Athanaseus was a man of high status who was also extremely rich. He had four thousand slaves and he owned several villages and gardens. He had a church built in al-Raha, out of the rent of the four hundred shops that he owned. His reputation as a learned person attained such a position that `Abd al-Malik, the Umayyid Caliph entrust to his care the education and training of his younger brother, `Abd al-`Aziz, who later became the governor of Egypt. His son was the renowned Caliph `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz…

In short, the standard of religious tolerance in Islamic Civilization attained a height that has no parallel in history. Even the truth-loving historians of the West are in accord with this view and bear witness to it. The well-known American writer, Draper, says, “During the period of the Caliphs, the learned men of the Christians and the Jews were not only held in great esteem but were appointed to posts of great responsibility and were promoted to the high ranking jobs in the government. Harun al-Rashid appointed John, son of Masuyah as the Director of Public Instruction and all the schools and colleges were placed under his charge. Harun never took into account the country of origin or the faith that one belonged to. In fact, he did not take anything into consideration except one’s excellence in the field of learning.”

The well-known contemporary historian, Wells writes, “The Islamic teachings have left great traditions for equitable and gentle dealings and behavior and inspire people with nobility and tolerance. These are human teachings of the highest order and at the same time these teachings are practical. These teachings brought into existence a society in which hard-heartedness and collective oppression and injustice were at the lowest level and when compared with other societies preceding it.” He continues, “Islam is replete with gentles, tolerance and fraternity.”

Liefy Brutistal writes in his book, Muslim Spain of the Tenth Century: “So often the scribe writing out the terms of a treaty was a Jew or a Christian, just as many Jews and Christians were occupying important posts of the State. They were vested with authority in the administrative departments, even in matters of war and peace. Furthermore, there were Jews who acted as the ambassadors of the Caliph in the European countries.”

Reno writes in his book, The History of Saracen Wars in France, Switzerland, Italy and Mediterranean Island: “In Andalusian cities the Muslim meted out the best treatment to the Christians. Likewise, the Jews and the Christians had full regard for the feelings of Muslims. For example, they circumcised their offspring and abstained from eating pork.”

Arnold, discussing the religious thought of the Christian religious sects writes, “The principles of Islamic religious tolerance do not allow such things which culminate in oppression and tyranny. Therefore, the behavior of Muslims remains quite different from that of the followers of other religions. Rather, Muslims did not approve of the injustices of the various sects of other religions which they had meted out to one another due to religious prejudices. This we can vouch for since we have before us the evidence of history which shows that where the various Christian sects living as subjects of the Islamic State were concerned, Muslims never faltered in the maintenance of the balance of justice between them. A manifest example of it is that after the conquest of Egypt, the Jacobite sect of the Christians took possession of their properties and churches by force to avenge themselves of the tyranny of the Byzantine Christians of the past. However, the Islamic State meted out full justice to them, and all the properties and churches of the conservative Christians to which they could prove their just claims were duly restored to them.”

…Gustav Le Bon writes, “History is not acquainted with any nation of conquerors, more kind-hearted and tolerant than the Arabs. Nor can history present any faith, so clear, simple, and harmless as that of the Arabs.” This statement has done full justice to the truth.

Dr Mustafa Siba`i
(Chapter 5: Religious Tolerance)


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