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Ethics

Freedom of Belief and Worship

Beginning at the time of Prophet Mohammed (may God bless him and grant him peace), there has always been freedom of religion in Muslim-ruled lands. Muslims protected the Christians' and Jews' belief systems, rituals, churches and synagogues, and schools of religious education. Articles guaranteeing the protection of monasteries and churches have been important parts of all agreements signed between Muslims and the People of the Book. Early agreements also allowed Muslim travelers to rest in the monasteries located along the travel routes. This suggests that Muslims were attempting to base their relationship and dialogue with the People of the Book on mutual respect. Historical documents reveal that many Muslims visited monasteries to rest for the night, to enjoy a meal, or even to have a civilized conversation during their travels or campaigns.

The People of the Book often responded warmly toward Muslims. The following expressions were recorded in an agreement signed by Caliph Umar, which was presented to Abu Ubayda by the Syrian Christians:

[We imposed these terms on ourselves:]… not to withhold our churches from Muslims stopping there by night or day; to open their doors to the traveller and wayfarer; ... to entertain every Muslim traveller in our customary style and feed him… We will not abuse a Muslim, and he who strikes a Muslim has forfeited his rights. 4

As "if God had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where God's name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed," (Qur'an, 22:40) points out, Jewish and Christian places of worship are regarded by Muslims as holy places in which God's name is remembered. Thus, as it is their responsibility to protect such places, throughout Islamic history all Jewish and Christian houses of worship have been protected so that the Jews and Christians can pray and worship in them as they please. For instance, historic documents signed during Abu Bakr's reign state that the Christians of the peacefully taken city of Tabarriya were given guarantees that their churches would not be harmed. Likewise, the agreement signed after the conquest of Damascus stated that churches would not be destroyed or occupied.

Umar's covenant to the people of Jerusalem guaranteed the protection of all places of worship. During the conquest of the Armenian city of Dabil (Dvin) in Uthman's time, the assurances given to Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians guaranteed the protection of all places of worship. 5 Permission to restore damaged churches and build new monasteries was never withheld. For instance, the St. Sergius monastery outside of Medain was destroyed by Patriarch Mar Amme and rebuilt during Uthman's reign.

Uqba, the governor of Egypt, contributed to a Nestorian monastery, the Church of Edessa was restored during the reign of Mu'awiyya, and the Saint Marcos Church was built in Alexandria. These are just a few examples of this tradition. The continued existence of churches and synagogues in Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq proves the Muslims' respect for the other divinely revealed religions. The Sinai Monastery with a mosque right next door is an important pilgrimage center on Mount Sinai and a symbol of Muslim acceptance.

Under Islamic rule, the People of the Book have always celebrated their religious festivities as they pleased. From time to time, the Muslim leadership even attended them. A letter by the Nestorian Patriarch Isho'yab III (650-60) reveals the Muslim leaders' compassion and acceptance toward the People of the Book: They [Abbasids] have not attacked the Christian religion, but rather they have commended our faith, honored our priests... and conferred benefits on churches and monasteries. 6

Benjamin of Tudela, a famous twelfth-century Jewish explorer who could not conceal his astonishment when he discovered such attitudes in the Islamic world, expressed the impossibility of such religious acceptance and pluralism in Christian Europe. He also stated that Jews and Muslims prayed together in holy places and at the tombs of holy people, that mosques were built next to synagogues, and that different congregations celebrated each other's religious festivities. 7 These historical facts reveal that, contrary to much of what we read today, Islam is a religion of peace and acceptance. Christians and Jews lived freely under Muslim rule and enjoyed the freedoms of religious belief and thought.

Notes:

4. Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1955), 193-94.

5. Levent Ozturk, Asr-i Saadetten Hacli Seferlerine Kadar Islam Toplumunda Hiristiyanlar (Christians in Islamic Society from the Blessed Period of the Prophet to the Crusades) (Istanbul: Iz Publishing Co., 1998), 114-15.

6. Fred Aprim, "The A to Z of the ancient Chaldeans and their relation to modern Chaldeans;" www.atour.com/education/20001021a.html

7. Mark Cohen, Hac ve Hilal Altinda Ortacaglarda Yahudiler (Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages) (Istanbul: Sarmal Publishing, 1997), 185.

Adapted from: "A Call for Unity" by: "Harun Yahya"