History of the Muslim-Christian Relations
Throughout history, there have been different stages of wax and wane in the Muslim-Christian relations, which have been influenced by numerous interests and influences. However, generally speaking, they largely kept as good, deep, positive and strategic relations.
The research in hand aims for presenting a simple narration to the historical relationships between the two Divine religions and proving that they are historical, strategic and well-established, upon whose firmness, security and stability in this world is founded. We aim to put forward a better understanding to the historical relationships between religions. We want to prove that religions, generally, are founded upon dialogue, tolerance not on enmity and jaundice as atheists and apostates along with those who follow them, who embrace materialistic philosophies that deny metaphysics, claim. Religions, have never been but in the side of peace and cooperation for the good of humanity.
The relations between Muslims and Christians
Islam emerged a long time after Christianity. The society at the Arab Peninsula, then and beside it, contained numerous sects, among of which the Jews, Christians, Sabians, polytheists and Fire worshipers.
Along the way of our study, we should remember that the Jews, as usual, and as they have done with the Christians before, showed enmity to the new religion. They resorted to all kinds of deceit to harm it. We do not need to go through this in details here, lest we should deviate from the methodology of our research.
The Christians, however, and since the very first moments, used to deal with Muslims kindly and in accordance with the tenets of Christianity, which is founded on love and tolerance. History has proudly recorded such noble stances towards Islam and Muslims, who in turn, always show great respect and appreciation towards those stances. We quickly mention, here, some of those glimpses, whose details have been mentioned abundantly in the books of Sirah (Biography of the Messenger (PBUH)) and books of history. The first scene was long before the beginning of the da’wah (calling for Islam). It was when Bahira, the monk, warned Abu-Taleb, the uncle of the Messenger (PBUH), as they were trading in the Lavent against the Jews. The Messenger (PBUH) was almost a teenager at the time. Bihra told Abu-Taleb to be cautious lest the Jews would know about his young nephew and harm him. Years later, after the revelation, there was the just and benign Negus with his kind attitude towards the Muslims, who immigrated to Abyssinia two times. We can also add the noble reaction of the Christian kings, who had been ruling the lands close by the Arab Peninsula, when they received the envoys of the Messenger (PBUH). Those kings were Negus of Abyssinia, Vicegerent of Egypt, called Muqawqas and Hercules, king of the Byzantines.
On the other hand, Muslims, out of their belief in the Divine Messages, the values that are deeply rooted in their new religion and the loyalty that is a natural disposition of the Arabs, who took upon themselves the responsibility of delivering Islam to the world, they had the same kind stance towards Christians. In Makkah, for example, Muslims were so weak and in their worst case of misery. Yet, they showed sympathy towards the Christians, when they lost one of their battles with the Persians, who were fire worshipers. They were sad because they believed that the victory of the Byzantines is a victory of faith against polytheism. The polytheists in Makkah, however, showed much glee for the victory of polytheism over faith. In this respect, a verse of the Qur’an was revealed to record the event and its echoes. In this verse, the Christians have been given the glad tidings of a near victory over the Persians. A victory, with which the believers would be happy. This verse is at the beginning of a whole chapter called after the Byzantines as ‘Ar-Rum (the Byzantines).
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Alif, Lam, Meem. The Byzantines have been defeated. In the nearest land.But they, after their defeat, will overcome. Within three to nine years. To Allah belongs the command before and after. And that day the believers will rejoice.”(Ar-Rum: 1-4)
The promise of Allah (SWT) came true after a short time. In 628 A.D., the Christians managed to recover the True Cross the Persians had stolen from them. Upon this, the Christians, commemorate this event through the annual Feast of the Cross (Holy Cross Day). We cannot forget, too, when the Messenger (PBUH) told his Companions to immigrate to Abyssinia, which was Christian at the time, in order to keep them away from the harm of Quraysh.He said then, “In that land, there is a just king, with whom nobody is wronged. It is a land of truthfulness.”
The Messenger (PBUH) received the Christian delegate of Najran in his mosque. He even asked them to perform their prayer in the mosque. We can add too, the reception of the Messenger (PBUH) to Hatem at-Taa’y, the Christian, in his own house and mosque as well.
These are but some examples of how Christians have been dealt with at the dawn of the Muslim Message and which kept the same way all along the Muslim history.
As for the foundations of the creed that is obligatory for every Muslim to abide by and not to cross its lines in any time or place, being kind and gentle with the Christians is a crucial part of that creed. Many are those verses in the Noble Qur’an and the Noble hadith (the sayings of the Messenger (PBUH)) that strongly emphasize this value in a way that is as clear as the sun. Suffices us to mention one example that would reflect this meaning in the best way.It is what Allah (SWT) says in His Noble Book, “You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah ; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, ‘We are Christians.’ That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant.” (Al-Ma’ida: 82)
Muslims and Lady Maryam (Mary)
There is not as much mentioning of Lady Maryam in the Christian sources as it is in the Islamic sources, which have dealt with it in abundance, whether in the Qur’an or the Sunnah (the tradition of the Messenger (PBUH)). The story of Lady Mary, her pregnancy and giving birth is mentioned in the Noble Qur’an in details, which show such a great event chronologically. The Muslims’ narration to this story always evokes happiness and joy in them. Christians experience almost the same feelings when they learn about the Muslims’narration too. I have the quotations of some of the great men of the church, from allover the world in this respect. In their own words, they pay tribute to the stance of Islam and Muslims toward Lady Mary and Isa (Jesus) (AS) .
Lady Mary’s story in the Qur’an started before even her birth. This is mentioned in the story of her mother Hinnah, the wife of Imran. Hinnah was a pious worshipper of Allah. She was old and craving to have a child. She pledged to Allah (SWT)that if she became pregnant, she would dedicate her child for the service of the Sacred House in Jerusalem. The narration of this pledge is mentioned in the Qur’an in what Allah (SWT) says, “[Mention, O Muhammad], when the wife of 'Imran said, "My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.”(Ala-Imran: 35)
Many verses are those, which mentioned this incident step by step in the Noble Qur’an. The mother of Mary gave birth, but the baby was not as she had pledged. The baby was not a boy as she had wished; it was a girl. The good lady, yet, was contented with what Allah (SWT) had given her. She called her Mary and protected her by seeking the refuge of Allah (SWT)for her from the cursed Satan. “But when she delivered her, she said, ‘My Lord, I have delivered a female.’ And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered, ‘And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of Allah ].’”(Ala-Imran: 36)
The Noble Lord accepted her with good acceptance and provided for her the good education. He put her in the care of Zechariah(AS). He honored her by some miracle-like events that were not familiar to people. “So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, ‘O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?’ She said, ‘It is from Allah . Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account.’”(Ala-Imran: 37)
Allah (SWT) honored her even more and showered her with all traits of chastity and devotion. He chose her above the women of the worlds and told her about that through the angles to prepare her for the anticipated great event that was about to take place, “And [mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds. O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer].”(Ala-Imran: 42-43)
Lady Mary obeyed the command of her Lord. She kept away from people and stayed alone in seclusion to worship Allah. “And mention, [O Muhammad], in the Book [the story of] Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place toward the east. And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. ” (Maryam: 16-17)
The seclusion she was in, however, all of a sudden shook when she suddenly found someone plunging intoit. It was the Trustworthy Spirit, Jibril (Gabriel) (AS), who represented himself before her as a human being. “…Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man.”(Maryam: 17)
Can we imagine the panic Lady Mary(AS) felt, when she was completely alone and in a secluded place, yet she saw a human being erected before here? However, she regained her composure and showed courage and then they started the following exquisite conversation mentioned in the Qur’an, “She said, ‘Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of Allah.’ He said, ‘I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.’She said, ‘How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?’ He said, ‘Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, 'It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’”(Maryam: 18-21) The angles then came to her after Jibril(AS) to tell her in details about that boy, his characteristics and that he will be of a noble rank in this world. “[And mention] when the angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ]. He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous.’”(Ala-Imran: 45-46)Maryam called upon her Lord imploringly, emphasizing her virginity and astonished of the news that she would be having a child! “She said, ‘My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?’(Ala-Imran: 47) A decisive answer, then, came to her, “[The angel] said, ‘Such is Allah; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is.’”(Ala-Imran: 47)
LadyMary panicked as every chaste virgin would panic when she is accused of being pregnant or that she would give birth. She was patient, however, and obedient to the command of Allah (SWT). She started to feel what a pregnant woman would feel. She was embarrassed, which made her withdraw even more from people. “So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.” (Maryam: 22)
Her pregnancy came to an end and she had to give birth, so she resorted to a trunk of a palm tree to be supported by it. There, she started talking to herself, wishing if she would die instead of the anticipated scandal. “And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, ‘Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.’” (Maryam: 23)
Allah’s mercy did not forsake her nor left her in such worry. A voice came out to reassure her. It was Jibril’s voice or the child’s- for this is controversial between interpreters- telling her to put her sadness aside. He told her that her living is guaranteed by a small stream nearby and fresh dates that would fall down from the palm tree, to which she had resorted. “But he called her from below her, ‘Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream. And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. So eat and drink and be contented.’” (Maryam: 24-26)
The Divine command then came to her to be prepared for the fierce attack she would face from her people when they see her child, and this would be through keeping silent and not talking to them. “And if you see from among humanity anyone, say, 'Indeed, I have vowed to the Most Merciful abstention, so I will not speak today to [any] man.'” (Maryam: 26)
The confrontation, however, took place and the attack started by being accused with the worst accusation, ever, “Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, "O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented. O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.” (Maryam: 27-28)
The accusation here is quite clear and should require a punishment. They did not punish her nevertheless. There is no doubt that what kept them from doing so was anirrefutableevidence. But what was it? The Jews neither punished her nor stated her innocence. They did not even mention the evidence, which kept them from punishing her. The Christian sources, too, kept silent about this point. The Qur’an, on the other hand, which is the first source for Muslims, unveiled that evidence. It was a Divine evidence that came from Allah (SWT) in the form of a miracle, when the baby spoke. “So she pointed to him. They said, ‘How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?’” (Maryam: 29)
The baby, however, beforehand gave them the answer instead of his mother, by introducing himself and saying, “[Jesus] said, ‘Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive. And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant. And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.’”(Maryam:30-33)
It is Jesus or Issa. “That is Issa, the son of Mary - the word of truth about which they are in dispute.” (Maryam: 34)
Allah (SWT) shut their mouths with this miracle, that is the speaking baby. Therefore, they did not punish her, as we mentioned before. Yet, as this is their natural disposition, they did not stop their attack.
Suffices Lady Mary, according to the Muslim and Christian tradition as well, that she is the mother of a great prophet. Allah (SWT) has granted this honor to her. We can notice that wherever she is mentioned in the Qur’an, she is described with purity and chastity. “And [the example of] Mary, the daughter of 'Imran, who guarded her chastity,” (At-Tahrim: 12)
She is a supporter of truth. “And his mother was a supporter of truth.” (Al-Ma’ida: 75)
Allah (SWT) proved the lies of the Jews, who spoke evil of her chastity, “And [We cursed them] for their disbelief and their saying against Mary a great slander,” (An-Nisa’: 156)
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) showed us how high is her rank, when he called her ‘amongst the best women of this world.’ He said, “…none amongst the women reached this level [of perfection] except Asia, Pharaoh’s wife, and Mary the daughter of Imran.”(Sahih al-Bukhary)
He also said about her, “There is none born among the off-spring of Adam, but Satan touches it. A child therefore, cries loudly at the time of birth because of the touch of Satan, except Mary and her child.” (Sahih al-Bukhary).Abu-Hurayrah(RA ), the narrator of this hadith, then recites the noble verse said by the mother of Mary, “…and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of Allah ].”(Ala-Imran: 36)
Amongst the funny traditions of the Muslims in Aleppo in particular, is that they offer women, who have given birth, a gift on the first day after the labor. This gift is a full meal, stuffed especially with desserts. They call it ‘Mary’s Meal’. They believe that when Lady Mary gave birth to her child, she was all alone and sad. Nobody was present to show happiness with the baby. Therefore, they do so as a kind of compensation, even after thousands of years, for what she missed of kindness. As if they are sharing her happiness with her great baby.
Muslims and Jesus Christ (AS)
As for Jesus(AS), he is the Prophet of Allah (SWT)and His Messenger as well. He is much honored in Islam. Many are those verses, which have mentioned him. Among of those verses is what Allah (SWT) says, “Then We sent following their footsteps Our messengers and followed [them] with Jesus, the son of Mary, and gave him the Gospel. And We placed in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy…”(Al-Hadid: 27)
“The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him.”(An-Nisa’: 171)
He also says, “And We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and supported him with the Pure Spirit.” (Al-Baqarh: 87 and 253)
“That is Jesus, the son of Mary - the word of truth about which they are in dispute.”(Maryam: 34)
“And Zechariah and John and Jesus and Elias - and all were of the righteous.”(Al-An’am: 85)
As for the Messenger, Muhammad (PBUH), ennobling Jesus (AS) said, “Whoever says, ‘I bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah alone [with no partner] and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger, and that Jesus is the slave of Allah, the son of His maidservant, a Word which He bestowed upon Mary and a Spirit from (created by) Him, and that Paradise is true and that Hell is true,’ Allah will admit him to Paradise whatever be his deeds.”(Sahih Muslim)
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to give a special rank to Jesus (AS) from amongst all prophets. One day he said, “Both in this world and in the Hereafter,I am the nearest of all the people to the son of Mary. All the prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.” (Sahih al-Bukhary)
In another place, he also said, “I am the nearest of all the people to the son of Mary, and all the prophets are paternal brothers, and there has been no prophet between me and him (i.e. Jesus).”(Sahih al-Bukhary)
He, even, gave the good tidings that Jesus (AS) will come back to this world at the End of Time to guide and judge between people with justice.
For the sake of truth and history, we should emphasize that when Muslims show the utmost levels of respect and appreciation to Jesus and his mother (AS), they do not do it out of compliment. Rather, they do it out of their deep belief, their obedience to the command of Allah (SWT) and to manifest their certainty about Him.
The harm the Jews caused did not come to end even after what they did to Christ (AS). They went on their persecution to him and the Church for a long time. They did not like that the continuity of the call for Christianity neither that people joining it are increasing day after day. Therefore, they held much enmity against them. There are many events that are written down in history show what they did. Among these events we refer here to two of them, which were near to Christ’s time. One of them was the grudge the Jews bore against St. Peter and St. John, around whom people had been gathering. They threw both of them into prison. However, the will of Allah (SWT) was that they would go out of prison. The second event was the unjust trial of the Jewish authorities set for St. Stephen that he was stoned to death. Their persecution grew even fiercer against the church.
Let us hear from the contemporary thinker, Michele Hayek, when he says,
“How far we are here from the unfair narrations that the Jews have been spreading since 2000 years in their book ‘TawlidatYashou’, in which they insult the son and speak evil about his mother by saying she is a prostitute. Muhammad was the first to remonstrate against that and followed by Muslims. They showed great remonstration against such a great slander.”
Since the very beginning of the revelation for Muslims and Christians, they believed in the chastity of Lady Mary and the truthfulness of Jesus (AS). They are and will keep holding to this belief until the very last day of this worldly life.
Did the Jews, on the other hand, hold to their belief in what they had ascribed to Jesus and his mother Lady Mary (AS)? Or maybe they adapted another belief? All the data known to the world about the Jews in this respect assures that they did not alter their belief. Hence, their opinion about the slander they had ascribed to both of them did not change. What kind of a relation on the religious or the theological level may be established between the Christians and the Jews then?
The reason I have raised this question is what we witness today, especially in the United States, where there is a group of people propagating something called ‘Christian Zionism’. They call themselves: Christian Zionists. They are part of the Christians there, who dedicated themselves to serve Zionism, which works on laying the foundations of Jews’ interests in our land and in Palestine in particular. Let us ask here, what happened to turn the historic enemy of the Christians into an intimate friend? Did anybody hear a single statement from the Jews saying something different about their opinion about Christ and Lady Mary (AS)? Did their belief, explicitly at least, change to believe in their chastity so that people would, even if against their will, accept such friendship between Zionism and Christianity right now?
If things were normal with regards to people understanding each other and that each one would be treated fairly, Muslims would have been the real friends for Christians. The Christian-Muslim friendship would have been much more solid. Islam is the only religion in this world that supports Christians and affirms, with them, and tells them: ‘You are right. Christ (AS) had no father.’
The Qur’an description of Jesus (AS) as the ‘word of Allah’ is an affirmation that he was created by the command of Allah: ‘Be’ and he was created. Although this is against the normal way, in which a human being is created as the result of an intimate relation between two spouses. If this is weird in the normal world, it is, undoubtedly, not when it comes to the Might of Allah (SWT). Is not the creation of Adam (AS) much more wondrous, when he was created by only one word, ‘Be’ but with neither a father nor a mother?
The Roots of the Historic Muslim-Christian Relations
The historic relation between Islam and Christianity is such a very old one. It dates back to the time of Christ (AS), who paved the way for the revelation of Muhammad (PBUH). We will discuss this subject in more details in the following:
The glad tidings given by Christ (AS) with the advent of Muhammad (PBUH):
The relation between Islam and Christianity started at the time of Christ (AS), when he gave the glad tidings of the advent of a prophet that will succeed him and whose name is Ahmad. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, ‘O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.’But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, ‘This is obvious magic.’”(As-Saf: 6)
Christian monks knew the good tidings of Jesus (AS) about the revelation of Ahmad (PBUH). Therefore, they were waiting with anticipation for the arrival of Muhammad (PBUH). When Abu-Taleb went for trading to the Levant in the caravan of summer, accompanying his nephew, Muhammad, who was young at the time, they passed by a monk called Bahira. Abu-Taleb went to meet Bahira in response to the invitation of the latter. Bahira then asked Muhammad about many things, to which he replied him. The monk also, saw the Sign of Prophethood to perceive that this young man is the Prophet of the End of Time. “Take your nephew and go back to your homeland,” said Bahira, “and be cautious of the Jews, for I swear by Allah, if they saw him and knew of him what I had known, they would harm him. Your nephew will be of a great rank, so take him back quickly to his land.”
The Islamic-Christian relation continued until the revelation of the Messenger (PBUH), who came believing in all the prophets and messengers who came before him, as Allah (SWT) commanded him to believe in all prophets and messengers (AS), making no distinction between them. About this, Allah (SWT) says, “Say, ‘We have believed in Allah and in what was revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Descendants, and in what was given to Moses and Jesus and to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims [submitting] to Him.’”(Ala-Imran: 84)
The Noble Qur’an has certified the truthfulness of Jesus (AS) and his Prophethood and cleared his reputation from all the scandalous lies spread by the Jews about his mother, Lady Mary. A whole chapter of the Qur’an called after her was revealed, which is the chapter of ‘Maryam’. In this chapter, Allah (SWT) manifested the virtues of Lady Mary and the story of her pregnancy and giving birth to Jesus (AS). This chapter, too, showed that Jesus (AS)was raised to the heaven. The Messenger (PBUH) mentioned to his Companions that Jesus (AS) will descend at the End of Time to kill Anti-Christ, and will be buried beside the grave of the Messenger (PBUH). In the hadith of the Messenger (PBUH), he said, “Jesus, the son of Mary, will descend to the Earth. He will get married and have children. He will stay for 45 years only then he will die and be buried in my grave, so I and Jesus, the son of Mary, would be buried in one grave between Abu-Bakr and Omar.”
Abdullah Ibn-Salam, who was a rabbi before embracing Islam, said, “It is written in the Torah the description of Muhammad and that Jesus will be buried with him.” Abu-Dawoud (one of the narrators of the hadith) said, “There was a spot left in the house of Lady A’isha, which is the place of his grave.”
Is there a stronger bond between Muhammad (PBUH) and Jesus (AS)? Muhammad, whose none of his wives, children nor relatives had been buried with him, yet his brother Jesus will be buried with him in his blessed Rawda [the place in which Muhammad (PBUH) was buried)]. Muhammad (PBUH) is the one who said, “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to the son of Mary. All the prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one and there has been no prophet between me and him (i.e. Jesus).”
In another place, he also said, “I am the nearest of all the people to the son of Mary, and all the prophets are paternal brothers,”(Sahih al-Bukhary)
The Qur’an, too, pays tribute to the disciplesof Jesus (AS) in what Allah (SWT) says, “O you who have believed, be supporters of Allah, as when Jesus, the son of Mary, said to the disciples, ‘Who are my supporters for Allah ?’ The disciples said, ‘We are supporters of Allah.’ And a faction of the Children of Israel believed and a faction disbelieved. So We supported those who believed against their enemy, and they became dominant.”(As-Saf: 14)
The Qur’an expressed utter disapproval of the physical extermination the followers of Christ (AS) have been through in the story of the Companions of the Trench. The chapter of Al-Buruj, narrated this story, in which the Christians refused to alter their religion and embrace Judaism. They, rather, chose to be burned to death over altering their religion. Thus, trenches were dug for them in the ground and fire was set so the believers, suppressed as they were and with shackles in their hands were led to the fire to be thrown into it. This story is narrated by Ibn-Ishaq .
The Messenger (PBUH) valued those who believed in him of the People of Scripture and said that they will be rewarded twice; once for believing in their prophet and the second for believing in Muhammad (PBUH) . The Messenger (PBUH) believed in the peaceful coexistence with the People of the Scripture, who did not believe in his revelation. ‘The Pact of Madinah’, which the Messenger (PBUH) wrote after arriving at Madinah, is a clear proof of that. In that pact, he made peace with the Jews. Both his words and actions are the best proof of that too. Gustav Lobon has paid tribute to the tolerance of the Prophet (PBUH) and how he managed to live in coexistence with the others. He said, “The tolerance that Muhammad showed towards the Jews and Christians was too great. Even the founders of the religions that came before him such as Judaism and Christianity in particular, did not bring something of the sort. We can also see how his successors followed his footsteps. Such tolerance has been acknowledged by some European agnostic scholars or the few believers who looked deeply in the history of the Arabs.”
The meaning of ‘the People of the Scripture’
It means the people of the old knowledge. This term holds a fine meaning as it refers to a group of people who specialize in studying Divine knowledge. ‘The Scripture’ refers to the Torah, which was revealed to Moses (AS), that is the Old Testament and the Bible, which was revealed to Jesus (AS), that is the New Testament. The People of the Scripture are two kinds: the Jews and the Christians, about whom Allah (SWT) says, “You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah ; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, "We are Christians.”(Al-Ma’idah: 82)
This verse lays the foundations of our relationship with the People of the Scripture. Some writers claimed that this verse refers only to the People of the Scripture, who believed in the time of the Prophet (PBUH) and it is not general, especially after the wars that took place between Christians and Muslims throughout history. This will prove to be wrong, as we shall see later. Wars can take place between people of the same religion, as was the case during World War I and II, when Europeans fought each other. War takes place between people from different religions as well. Religion is not the only reason for wars to be waged between people. Rather, it could be due to political interests.
Drawing closer to the People of the Scriptures
In such a pagan community, in which Islam grew, it was normal for a kind of closeness to exist between Muslims and Christians. Paganism showed enmity to the Messenger (PBUH) since the very firts day. He had to reach out to the followers of the Divine Messages because they are more reasnoable than the pagans and more responsive to wisdome. The Messnger’s (PBUH) sitting with a Christian from Makkah is a proof of that. However, Quraysh took advantage of this situation to spread their false claim that the Christian is teaching Muhammad (PBUH), not taking into account that the Book that has been revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) is in a clear Arabic language. It is the miracle of the Messenger (PBUH), with which he challenged them. Meanwhile, that Christian was not fluent in Arabic, which refutes their claim.
Ibn-Ishaq said, “The Messenger (PBUH), as far as I knew, used to sit at al-Marwa with a Christian young man called Jabr, who was a slave to the sons of al-Hadhramy. So, they said, “Nobody is teaching Muhammad what he is telling us but Jabr, the Christian slave of the sons of al-Hadhramy. About this, Allah (SWT) revealed, “And We certainly know that they say, ‘It is only a human being who teaches the Prophet.’The tongue of the one they refer to is foreign, and this Qur'an is [in] a clear Arabic language.” (An-Nahl: 103)”
If there was an approach from the Muslims’ side towards the Christians, on the other side we can see some Christians like Muhammad (PBUH) and hasten to him. Addas, for example, the Christian young man, who was a servant for Utbah and ShaybahIbn-Rabi’a, took a plate of grapes to the Prophet (PBUH), when the ignorant of Thaqeef in al-Ta’if chased him out of the city. They even incited their children and some of their mad to hurl stones at the Messenger (PBUH). He, then, resorted to an orchard to rest there, when Addas came to him with that plate, the Prophet (PBUH) asked him, “Where are you from Addas? What’s your religion?”
“I am a Christian,” said Addas, “I am from Ninawa.”
“This is the village of the good man Yunus (Jonah) Ibn-Matta. Is it not?” Asked the Messenger.
“How do you know YunusIbn-Matta?”
“He is my brother,” said the Messenger (PBUH). “He was a Prophet and so am I.”Addas, with great reverence, hastened to kiss the Messenger’s head, hands and feet.
The Muslims’ closeness with the People of the Scripture explains the secret behind the former’s sympathy with the Byzantines. This is because the Christians are nearer to the Muslims more than anybody else is. It also explains the reason of the revelation of the chapter of Ar-Rum. It was reported from Ibn-Mas’oud that he said, “The Persians overcame the Byzantines. That was the very wish of the polytheists. The Muslims, on the other hand, wished the Byzantines would overcome the Persians because they are considered as the People of the Scripture and they are nearer to their religion.”
The Byzantines will keep, until the very last day of this worldly life, nearer to us than the followers of any other religion on this earth.
Muslims enjoying the hospitality of a fair Christian King
Some of the Companions, at the beginning of the revelation and because of the continuous torturing by Quraysh, had to find some safe place, in which they can live away from the harm they had been suffering day and night. That was the reason of the immigration to Abyssinia. Muslims immigrated to Abyssinia because there was a fair king there. He was a Christian. The first time, there were only ten Muslims, headed by Othman Ibn-Math’oun. The second time, they were 83 men, headed by Ja’farIbn-Abu-Taleb, excluding children and women. The immigration was the suggestion of the Prophet (PBUH), when he said to the Companions, “You may go to Abyssinia for the king there is fair and will not cause injustice to anyone and it is a friendly country, (so you may stay there) until Allah will relieve you from your affliction.”
The Qur’an appreciates the Christians’ stance toward the new religion
Allah (SWT) praised the Christians for their stance toward the new religion and showed how near they are to Islam, when He said, “You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, ‘We are Christians.’That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant.”(Al-Ma’idah: 82)Some interpreters said that this verse speaks about Negus and his people.
Christians started to embrace the new religion. The signs of the Christians embracing Islam started to show when the Messenger (PBUH) was at Makkah. A Christian delegate arrived at Makkah and met with the Prophet (PBUH) and became Muslims. Pagans, headed by Abu-Jahl tried to turn them away from Islam. He failed however, for he said to them, “Woe to you, O you such a delegate! Your people sent you to bring them the news of this man [Muhammad]. Yet, all you have done is to abandon your own religion and believe what he says! We know not of a more idiot delegate than you are!
They were about 20 persons, about which some of the verses of the Qur’an was revealed.
The numbers of the Christians accepting Islam kept rising even at the times of confrontations between the two parties. At al-Yarmook Battle, Jirja, one of the high commanders of the other side came out of the lines and called for KhaledIbnul-Walid, who went to meet him on his horse. They approached each other until the horses’ necks were almost touching. An exceptional conversation went on between them about Islam and the Prophet (PBUH). The conversation ended up with the commander Jirja embracing Islam. Afterwards, he purified himself and prayed two rak’as (rak’a is a single unite of the Muslim’s prayer). He fought in the Muslims’ lines until he died as a martyr.
There are other Christians in the Arab Peninsula, who were yet to accept Islam. Nevertheless, there was a hidden feeling inside them telling them that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah (SWT). Among of those was the delegate of Najran, who came to meet with the Prophet (PBUH). Some of them hesitated in embracing Islam. The Messenger, thus, suggested that they domubahalah . They accepted at the beginning, but they withdrew after they listened to the advice of one of their leaders, whose name was al-A’qib Abdul-Messiah. He said,
“O you, Christian people. You knew that Muhammad is a Messenger sent from Allah. He told you the truth about your man [Jesus]. You know that no prophet has ever cursed a people and any of their old stayed nor their young grew. This is indeed will be your end if you would do it. If you insist on keeping your faith and your belief in your man [Jesus] as you are, then make peace with the man [Muhammad] and go back to your country.” They, then, went to the Prophet (PBUH) and said, “O Abul-Qasim! We decided not to exchange curses with you, leave you to your own religion and we go back to our religion. However, send with us a man from your companions, who you accept him as a judge between us in our disputes about money, for we accept your judgment.” The Messenger (PBUH) said, “Come to me this evening and I will send with you the mighty and trustworthy man.” So, he sent with them Abu-UbaydaIbnul-Jarrah(RA).
Christian kings’ stance toward Islam
The Prophet (PBUH) sent messages for four Christian kings, calling them for Islam. They are: Hercules, al-Muqawqas (king of Egypt), Negus (King of Abyssinia) and the king of Arab at the Levant. In the following, we will see the stance of each one of them toward the new religion:
Hercules: The Messenger (PBUH) sent him a message calling him for Islam. The messenger was Dihya al-Kalby, who gave the message to the ruler of Busra, who in turn delivered it to Hercules.
Hercules was a reasonable and smart man. He accepted the message and read it then gave his orders to search the Levant for anybody from Makkah to know more information about the new Prophet and his mission. They found Abu-Sufyan, who was a polytheist at the time, and brought him to the king. A brilliant conversation went between Abu-Sufyan and Hercules, from which he deduced, with a soundmind, that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. “I have already known that he must arise,” said Hercules. “I did not think he would be from among you, however. If I was sure I would be faithful to him, I might hope to meet him, and if I were with him, I would wash his feet.”
He called his people to believe in Muhammad, saying, “O you Byzantines! Do you want to gain all success until the end of this life? Do you want your rule to be established?” Suddenly, they hurried towards the doors to find it closed. So he said, “Come back! I wanted only to test who powerful your faith is. I liked what I saw from you now.” Upon his words, they prostrated before him and were glad with what he said.
It was narrated that Hercules said to Dihya al-Kalby, “I swear by Allah that I know that your friend [Muhammad] is Messenger from Allah. He is indeed the one we were waiting for because we find his description in our Book. But I fear the Byzantines for myself. Had it not for them, I would have followed him. Therefore, go to Safater, the bishop and tell him about your friend [Muhammad (PBUH)] and see what he will tell you.”Dihya went to the bishop and told him about the message of the Messenger (PBUH) to Hercules and what he calls him for.
“I swear by Allah, your friend is indeed a Messenger sent from Allah,” said Safater, “we know him by his description, and we find him in our Book with his very name.” He went in then and took off the black clothes he was wearing and wore white clothes. He took his stick and went to the church, where he said, “O you Byzantines! We have received a message from Ahmad, in which he calls us for Allah. I, here, bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and Ahmad is His slave and Messenger.” The people there then hastened toward him, beating him to death. When Dihya went back to Hercules and told him about what had happened, Dihya said, “I told you that we fear them for ourselves. I swear by Allah that Safater was greater and more acceptable for them than I am!”
Although Hercules did not embrace Islam out of his fear for his reign, but he had that truthful feeling that Muhammad is a Messenger from Allah. Ibn-Hajar said, “It is probable that he was hiding his belief, while externally he was committing sins just to keep his reign.” This probability is the explanation of him not only keeping the message of the Prophet (PBUH) but also bequeathing it to his offspring.
Al-Muqawqas: The Prophet (PBUH) sent to al-Muqawqas, the ruler of Alexandria a message with HatibIbn-Abu-Balt’a, calling him for Islam. He went into a conversation about the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad with the messenger, in the presence of the heads of the Christians. He liked his logic and said, “You are a wise man, who is sent by a wise man as well. These are my gifts that I send to Muhammad.” Al-Muqawqas apologized kindly to the Prophet (PBUH) and sent him four maids, among of which Lady Mary, the Coptic lady and the mother of Ibrahim, the youngest son of the Messenger (PBUH).
Negus: The Messenger (PBUH) sent AmrIbn-Umayyahadh-Damary with a message to Negus calling him for Islam. However, that was a different Negus than the one, on whom the Messenger had prayed. The former is Negus al-As’ham, the ruler of Abyssinia, to whom the first Muslims had immigrated and he refused to return them to the delegate of Quraysh, which was headed by AmrIbnul-As. The old Negus is the one who senta message to the Prophet (PBUH), saying, “If you wish me to come to you, I would do it O Messenger of Allah, for I bear witness that what you say is the truth. Peace be upon you O Messenger of Allah.” Although the people of Abyssinia disobeyed him because he left their religion, but he was smart enough to regain their obedience. He died in the ninth year of immigration [to Madinah] and the Messenger (PBUH) prayed on him.
II- The relations with the Christians inside the Islamic state
Here, we would be discussing the different aspects of the Muslim-Christian relations inside the Islamic state. They are such positive, humane relations, which are founded on respect of the rights of citizenship for everyone related to the Islamic state. We will start with the Muslim-Christian dialogue.
The Muslim-Christian dialogue
The Muslim-Christian dialogue has never stopped during the course of history. The aim of this dialogue is to reach the truth, that is to acknowledge the Prophethood of Muhammad and Jesus, may the peace of Allah be upon them both. The Qur’an has called for this dialogue in what Allah (SWT) says, “Say, ‘O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you - that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah.’But if they turn away, then say, ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims [submitting to Him].’”(Ala-Imran: 64)
Amongst the most famous councils of the Muslim-Christian dialogue after the Revelation Time:
The council of al-Baqellany at Constantinople with the bishops and monks at the presence of the king and Emperor Basileios II [Basil II(365-416 A.H. )]The debate took place in 371 A.H. Al-Baqellany was the head of the delegate that has been sent by Adudh-Ad-Dawlah.
There was the debate of Rahmatullah al-Hindi with the bishop Fender, head of the missionaries in India. The debate took place in the city of Akbar-Abad in 1270 A.H. Sheikh Rhamatullah wrote about this debate in his book Izhar al-Haqq. He was against the missionaries and the British occupation, so he declared jihad(struggle) against them. He invited the head of the missionary, bishop Fender for a debate. “One of the most important conditions for this debate to take place was that if the bishop was not able to reply to the questions, he had to accept Islam. If sheikh Rahmatullah, on the other hand, was not able to reply too, he had to follow Christianity. The bishop, nevertheless, vanished after his failure in the debate.” In the debate, they discussed distortion, abrogation, trinity, the truth about the Qur’an and the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH). “Allah (SWT) granted us success in the issues of abrogation and distortion,’ said sheikh Rahmatullah “which were of the most critical and oldest issues as well, according to the claims of the bishop in his book Hal al-Ishkal. When he listened to these two issues, he refused to discuss the other three issues.”
Amongst themost renowned old scholars, who studied Christianity wereIbn-Taymeyah in the East. He is the author of a book called al-Jawab al-SahihlimanBaddala Din al-Messiah andIbn-Hazm al-Andalusi in Andalusia.
Accepting the other is the foundation of the religious freedom in Islam
People are free about their religions and beliefs. This is the essence of the Islamic law, which states that nobody should set himself as a guardian over people’s minds or beliefs, for there is no compulsion in religion. Allah (SWT) says, “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.”(Al-Baqrah: 256) Islam does not accept compulsion neither in disbelief nor in belief. The essence of belief or disbelief is the complete human freedom, with no guardianship nor compulsion. According to one’s choice, will be the responsibility before Allah (SWT) on the Day of Judgment.
At this point, some people raise some questions about ‘the verse of the sword’ and that we should propagate our creed among people. The knowledgeable scholar, Ibn-Kathir, in his commentary on the verse “And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing,” (Al-Anfal: 61), he discussed the opinion that this verse had abrogated the verses of peace. “Peace: meaning to make peace with, reconciliation, truce, so incline to it and accept it from them. Therefore, when the polytheists, in the year of Hudaybiya, asked for a truce between them and the Messenger (PBUH) for nine years, he accepted it along with the rest of their conditions. Abdullah, the son of imam Ahmad, “Muhammad Ibn-Abu-Bakr al-Maqdemy narrated to us that FudhaylIbn-Soliman [an-Numayry] through Muhammad Ibn-Abu-Yahya, through IyasIbn-Amr al-Aslamy, who reported from Ali Ibn-Abu-Taleb (RA) that the Messenger (PBUH) said, “There will be difference [between people] and something may happen. If you can make it go towards peace, then do it.” Mujahed said, “This verse was revealed about Banu-Qurayza,” which is an issue yet to be studied, because the whole context of this verse revolves around the Battle of Badr. Ibn-Abbas, Mujahed, ZaydIbn-Aslam, Atta’ al-Khurasany, ‘Akrimah, al-Hasan and Qatadah said, “This verse has been abrogated by the verse of the sword in the chapter of At-Tawbah, that is, “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day…” (At-Tawbah: 29) which is not a confirmed interpretation too. This is because the verse in the chapter of At-Tawbah contains a command to fight them [polytheists] if it is possible. But if the enemy is more powerful by numbers, then it is permissible to make a truce with them, and this is according to this noble verse. It is also according to what the Prophet (PBUH) has done on the Day of Hudaybiya. Thus, there is no conflict, abrogation nor particularization here. And Allah Knows best.”
The justice of Islam and its care for the People of the Scripture
A Muslim is prohibited from wronging one of the People of the Scripture or any other one. If this took place, justice has to be done. If the judge on the earth would, for any reason, misjudge, the justice of the heaven would hasten to manifest itself and help the wronged against whoever had wronged him. Allah (SWT) revealed a number of verses, in which He proves the innocence of a Jew, who has been, wrongly, accused by one of the Ansar of stealing him. These verses are, “Indeed, We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth so you may judge between the people by that which Allah has shown you. And do not be for the deceitful an advocate,” (An-Nisa’: 105) until the verses, “But whoever earns an offense or a sin and then blames it on an innocent [person] has taken upon himself a slander and manifest sin. And if it was not for the favor of Allah upon you, [O Muhammad], and His mercy, a group of them would have determined to mislead you. But they do not mislead except themselves, and they will not harm you at all. And Allah has revealed to you the Book and wisdom and has taught you that which you did not know. And ever has the favor of Allah upon you been great.”(An-Nisa’: 112-113)
The story, in brief, was that a few people of the Ansar [QatadahIbnul-Nu’man and his uncle Rifa’ah] accompanied the Messenger (PBUH) in some of the ghazwah . The shield of Rifa’awas stolen. A man from a family called the Sons of Ubayreq from the Ansar was under suspicion. The owner of the shield came to the Messenger (PBUH) and said, “To’ma, the son of Ubayreq stole my shield.” When the thief knew about this, he hid the shield in the house of a Jew called ZaydIbn-Assamin then said to some of his family, “I have hidden the shield in the house of so and so. They will find it in his house.” Members of the thief’s family went to the Messenger (PBUH) and said, “O Prophet of Allah. Our relative is innocent. The man who stole the shield is so and so. We know it, so declare the innocence of our relative publicly and defend him. If he is not saved by you, he is doomed then.” When the Messenger (PBUH) knew that the shield had been found in the Jew’s house, declared the son of Ubayreq’s innocence publicly. Before finding the shield at the Jew’s house, the real thief’s family said to the Prophet (PBUH) that QatadahIbnul-Nu’man, deliberately and without any evidence, have accused them, while they are a good Muslim family. Qatadah narrated, “I went afterwards to the Messenger (PBUH) to talk to him. so, he blamed me saying, ‘How do accuse a family, who are known for their good faith and reputation while you have no proof or evidence?’ I went out then, wishing if I would lose some of my wealth and not talk with the Messenger (PBUH)about this issue! My uncle, Rifa’a then came to me asking, ‘Hey nephew, what have you done?’ I told him what the Messenger (PBUH) had said to me. “To Allah we resort for help,’ said my uncle. A little while later, the following verse was revealed, “Indeed, We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth…” (An-Nisa’: 112)
In his commentary on this story, SayyedQutb says, “In such a critical and very sensitive time, these verses were revealed to the Messenger (PBUH) and all the Muslims in order to treat a Jew with justice. That man was wrongly accused with theft. Those who accused him were a religious family from the Ansar, who are the main supporters and soldiers of the Messenger (PBUH) in the face of the enemies of the new religion. Therefore, it was not merely declaring the innocence of an innocent man, on whom a group of people has set their conspiracy. Although the declaration of innocence is highly valued by Allah (SWT), yet what is more important is setting the scale of justice, which does not incline towards whims or tribalism. It does not swing according to the love or hate of someone, no matter what the circumstances are.”
This is the law of Allah (SWT) that does not favor anyone over the other. The world laws of today, which are disguised under the mask of justice and human rights, they are the ones, which allow a human being to use discrimination against his fellow brother. This is what the civilization of the white man, practically, did not achieve in this world until this very day. Many orientalists have witnessed the justice and tolerance Islam has shown when the world did not know about those values. Adam Mitz says,“The biggest difference between the Islamic Empire and Europe, which was all Christian in the Middle Ages is the existence of huge numbers of the followers of other religions, living among Muslims. Those are the People of the Covenant, whose presence, at the beginning, was the barrier between the Muslim peoples and establishing a political unity. Churches and synagogues kept as peculiar parts. The People of the Covenant depended on the covenants between them and Muslims, and the rights they have gained and did not accept to mingle with Muslims. The Jews and Christians were keen on keeping the Muslim state, all the time, incomplete.”
Showing the benefits of the Muslims’ tolerance, he also adds, “The Christians’ existence among Muslims was a reason for toleranceto prevail. It is the tolerance that has been called for by the reformers at that time.There was also the need to live under the umbrella of coexistence along with the correlations that should exist as well. This, in turn, created, from the very beginning, a kind of tolerance that has not been known in Europe in the Middle Ages.The source of such tolerance was the development of Comparative Religions as a science. It is the science studying different religions and sects. There was a great demand in studying it.
The Christians in the Islamic State
The Christians are called the People of Themmah(the covenant) or themmiyoon (the people of the covenant). They, along with other people, who had pacts with Muslims, are called the same way. Dr. Philip Hitti says, “The circle of the People of the Covenant (originally, the People of the Book such as the Christians, Jews and Sabians)has widened to include -as we have seen- the followers of Zoroaster, Mani, the Sabians of Harran and others. They all enjoyed the good treatment of the People of the Book, who had a pact with the Muslims to be treated kindly. Thus, the People of the Covenant lived in their farms and country houses, adhered to their traditions and preserved their original languages.”
Themmah means covenant. Whoever has a covenant with Muslims is calledthemmy (from the People of the Covenant). Ibn-Kathir says, “In 11 A.H., al-Ma’moun commanded to call out among the public: “Whoever speaks well about Mo’aweyah is safe. The best human being after the Messenger (PBUH) is Ali Ibn-Abu-Taleb.”
There is a covenant between Allah (SWT) and the believer. The People of the Scripture, as well, have a covenant with the Muslims. The term themmy has no bad connotation to the Christians or any other one. The term ‘citizen’ was not a common term at that time. What was common, however, was to call the citizens of the Islamic state‘a Muslim and a themmy’.
The relationship between the Muslim and the non-Muslims, who did not fight against Islam, is originally founded on kindness, justice and cooperation, whether they live inside the Islamic stateor outside it. Allah (SWT) says, “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” (Al-Mumtahanah: 8)
As for those who fought Islam, theyshould be punished in the same way the acted, whether theyare originally Muslims, apostates or Muslims who have deviated from the course of the whole ummah (Muslim nation) and its legitimate ruler and resorted to aggression fighting Islam. Allah (SWT)says, “O whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.”(Al-Baqarah: 194)
On the other hand, transgression from the Muslim side is prohibited according to what Allah (SWT) says, “Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.”(Al-Baqarah: 190)In the light of these elevated laws stated in the Islamic law that is made by Allah (SWT), Muslims have coexisted with the follower of other religions. Muslims and the People of the Scripture exchanged, even, their food as Allah (SWT) has permitted each party to eat from the food of the other. Allah (SWT) says, “…and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them.”(Al-Ma’idah: 5)
Islam prohibits insulting them or their religion, offending them with words orvkilling them. Muslims are allowed to visit them, let them into mosques, pray in churches, wear their clothes, visit their patients, resort to their help when it is necessary, trade with them, marry from them, etc.The People of the Covenant enjoyed a high status in the state. “There is nothing in the Islamic law that would hinder the People of the Covenant from undertaking any work.” It is enough here to mention that the physicians of the Caliph ar-Rashid were Christians, such as: BukhtishuJurjis, Mesue the Elder. Generally, “the head of the Christians in Baghdad was the physician of the Caliph, while the best of the heads of the Jews were always in the company of the Caliph.”
Christians were appointed as ministers in the Abbasid dynasty. The Caliph al-Muttaqy (940-944 A.D.) had a Christian minister. The Caliph al-Mu’tadhid (893-902 A.D.) appointed a Christian as the head of the Muslim army. Christians,in such high offices, have enjoyed all the appreciation and respect equally as their Muslim colleagues.
The numbers of the Christians assuming high offices in the Islamic state were high, that the state would apparently look as if it is under their rule. Adam Mitz says, “We find it very surprising the abundance of non-Muslim laborers and senior staff within the Muslim state; where Christians governed Muslims in Muslim provinces, and complaints against non-Muslims’ seniority in these provinces dates far back.”
The rank of the People of the Scripture has reached its peak under the Islamic state. Dr. Philip Hitti says about that that the Christians and Jews assumed many important offices in the circles of finance, writing and professional classes that even Muslims form the public envied them for. This, in turn, resulted in some new legislation that would keep the People of the Scripture within a certain limit. This new legislation, however, was not put into effect all the time.
Many Muslims, nevertheless, have felt quite aggrieved at the Christians being in control of the office in the Islamic state. They felt as if they are strangers in their own countries. This is a proof of the extent of the freedom that the Christians have enjoyed under the umbrella of Islam.
Adam Mits says, “The movements that were resisting Christians were meant to be directed firstly for standing in the face of the dominance of the People of the Scripture over Muslims. A real Muslim cannot stand such dominance.” After all, there has to be a social balance between all sects and religions in order to preserve the security of the whole society.
Christians had the same inviolability exactly as the Muslims. It is forbidden to transgress them, whether their souls or wealth. Adam Mitz says, “As for the life of the themmy, according to the madhab (school of law) of Abu-Hanifah and Ibn-Hanbal is as equal in value and blood money as is the Muslim’s. It is a crucial issue as a principal.”
Christians have lived with Muslims in the same districts. There was no isolation or siege. “In the Islamic cities, there were no ghettos for the Jews or Christians, so they would not go out of it. Nevertheless, the followers of each religion preferred to live close to each other. The Christian monasteries were widely spread allover Bagdad that there was almost no district empty of them.”
The state was credible to the Christians. Therefore, at times, it intervened to conciliate between the different Christian sects. “The Muslim policemen intervened many times between the Christian sects in order to stop the fights between them. In the 8thHijri century, the ruler of Antioch appointed a man, whose monthly salary was 30 dinars. His premises was near the Altar. His main job was to prevent the disputers from killing each other.”
The Islamic state has decreased taxes for them and it did not take levyfrom the weak of them. In 366 A.H. / 976 A.D., the Caliph at-Ta’iissued an order that the levy should be taken from the People of the Covenant in the month of Muharram (the first month of the Hijri year) according to their statuses. It is not to be taken from women, those who did not reach adulthood, old people, handicaps, the destitute, nor ascetic monks.”
The Christians have been appreciated during the Abbasid dynasty. “Recently, a pledge that had been given by al-Muktafi in 1138 A.D. to protect the Nestorians was published. It shows the extent of the mutual friendly feelings between the Islamic religious authorities and the Christian leaders.” Christians have performed their rituals quite freely. “The Islamic government did not intervene in the religious rituals of the People of the Covenant. Rather, some Caliphs were asked to be present at their parades and festivals. The Caliph would give his orders to protect them.”
The Muslims joining the celebrations of the Christian Holidays was the reason Imam Ibn-Taymiya,lately in his time, to author a book called Iqtida’ as-Sirat al-MustaqimMukhalafatAs’hab al-Jahim. It proves how the Muslims were over-celebrating the Christian Holidays that the Islamic entity was about to vanish. Ibn-Taymiya says, “As for imitating the Persians and the Byzantines, it has spread in the Muslim nation, whether in words or acts. It is quite obvious for every believer, who knows about Islam and the innovations that have took place in it. We are not meant, here, to detail the issues that have taken place in the nation and resemble the acts of those who have evoked the anger of Allah and those who are astray. Some of those acts, however, may be forgiven either because their doer may have mistakenly done them or because the good deeds erase the bad deeds or for any other reason. Rather, we only wish to show how much the slave of Allah is in dire need for the guidance of the straight path and that a door would be opened for you to recognize deviation and be cautious of it.”
The last text indicates three things:
The widespread of the Muslims imitation to the Christians and Jews and being influenced by them,
A believer is not punished for each and everything he imitates, especially if he had followed a certain opinion, which proved later to be wrong,
It is a duty for a Muslim to know the rulings of the Islamic law so as to keep away from going the wrong way or follow the path of the non-believers.
This was the case with the Muslims in the East. As for Andalusia:
The followers of the different Christian sects were quite free to perform their religious rituals. Each sect observed their rituals the way they used to and according to their own clergy in all matters related to judiciary and religious laws. Therefore, the Islamic conquest, generally, was not oppressive for the native inhabitants of any land. It did not also add more burdens over them. Rather, Islam has benefited Spain in some aspects as Dozy says. It eradicated the dominance of the classes exploiting all the privileges at the expense of the people. Those classes were the Nobles and clerics. Islam improved the status of the employees and workers. It gave the Christians rights such as the right to sell their property, which was not the case under the rule of the VisigothicKingdom.
This means that the dignity along with all the rights of the Christians in the Islamic state were preserved just as the Muslims’ with no discrimination. All are equal in the Islamic society that is governed by justice.
III- The Muslim-Christian international relations
The Muslim-Christian relations on the international level are historical, civilized and deep. They are founded on many positive aspects and they are the pillars of the stabilization of this world. Allah (SWT) says, “You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah ; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, "We are Christians." That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant.”(Al-Ma’idah: 82)
This, however, does not mean that these relations did not go through some real hard times. To understand these relations, we have first to understand the concept of jihad in Islam; the truth of the wars the Muslims have been through with the forces against their religion outside the Arab Peninsula and the truth of the Crusades and colonization. In the following, we will tackle these issues in details:
The aim of the jihad in the cause of Allah (SWT)
Struggling in the cause of Allah (SWT) is a fair war for the sake of eradicating the dictatorships that deny people their freedom of belief. Allah (SWT) says, “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion...”(Al-Baqrah: 256)
Jihadis not meant to force people into Islam. Allah (SWT), who is the King of Kingshas invited people to worship Him for their own benefit and the Qur’an is His banquet on earth. Whoever rejects the invitation, Allah (SWT) would not accept his deeds nor force him to embrace Islam. Kings, after all, are superior. If a human being invited a number of people for a banquet and they rejected it, would he force them to attend? Or would he turn away from them and be angry with them? The essence of the communication between people is about having the desire and love. It is notabout compulsion or force. The same applies to the relation with the Lord and the King of mankind. In this context, Gustav Lobon says, “History has proved that religions cannot be forced on people. When the Christians oppressed the Arab of Andalusia, the latter favored killing and expulsion over leaving Islam.Therefore, Islam did not spread by the sword. Rather, it spread through da’wah. Only through da’wah, the oppressed peoples like Turks and Mongol, later on, embraced Islam.”
Jihad started defending the rights of the muhajerin (immigrants), who were, unjustly, sent away from their own homes. Allah (SWT) says, “Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory.”(Al-Hajj: 39) It ended up defending the human being, wherever he is and to set the whole humanity free, no matter how they look, what their color is and where they are. It is to set them free from all dictatorships that are shackling them. Allah (SWT) says, “O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous.”(9:123) Muslims sacrificed their wealth and lives for the sake of spreading justice and giving everybody the right of choice during times that people knew nothing about political or religious freedom. Even human dignity was hardly unperceivable at the time. This is an unprecedented thing that Muslims should be proud of. They did not fight for the sake of plundering people’s wealth and dominate them. Rather, they fought for the sake of spreading justice and freedom amongst mankind, so they can choose the right belief or keep their own belief but without fear, direction or censorship. Humanity had never experienced such kind of war during the course of time, for war, throughout history until this very day is waged mainly to satisfy material interests out of greed.
The modern age has provided people with a kind of freedom and protection under the law and the authority of the state. Even world powers started not only to consider what they call it ‘human rights’, but also to intervene to protect-as they claim- those rights. This, however, was never the case in the Middle Ages. Therefore, jihad existed in that time to save human freedom and dignity and to free the human mind from the guardianship of any tyrant, who may preventpeople from following the religion they really want. It was to give them the right to choose without fearing anybody, whomsoever of those powers controlling the fate of the individual and the society as well.
Should the law succeed in judging between people fairly, there will be no need for immigration or fighting. The Messenger (PBUH) showed his Companions what is better for them than jihad in the time of peace and security, that is the remembrance of Allah (SWT). It is narrated that the Messenger (PBUH) said, “Shall I not inform you of the best of your deeds and the purest of them in the sight of Allah, your Master, the raisers of your ranks, better for you than spending gold and silver in charity, and better for you than your encounter with your enemy whose necks you chop off and they strike at your necks?” They said, ‘Certainly (inform us).’ He said, “Remembrance of Allah.” If the law, nevertheless, failed to treat people fairly, fighting then would be a legal right to achieve justice until the Day of Judgment.
The truth about the historical wars between Islam and Christianity
There was not a religious war between Islam and Christianity throughout history that has started from the Muslims’ side. Had Islam been pursuing the eradication of the authority of Christianity, Muslims would have demolished the churches in their countries. They would have permitted transgressing Christians and exterminating them physically. There would have been a complete different attitude towards Christianity as a whole. When the Muslims entered Jerusalem, for example, Omar Ibnul-Khattab(RA) would have never prayed beside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher fearing that Muslims might think of taking it and change it into a mosque. There were some old historical problems between the Jews and Christians. Therefore, the latter made it a condition that the Jews should not live in the Sacred City. They changed the place of the Rock, into a dump site, because it is sacred to the Jews.They even called it the ‘Junk’, which became the name of the church the Christians had built there too. Omar cleaned the rock with his own clothes and the Muslims helped him as well cleaning the rock. When Saladin reentered Jerusalem, he thought about knocking down the church, fearing that the Christians might conquest the country once more to reach for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. His Muslim advisors told him not to do so. “Christians never gave up making pilgrimage in this very spot, even it was a level plain. This city has been opened for the Emir of the believers, Omar Ibnul-Khattab, long before you. He, then, left this church for them. So, take him as an example; turn away from it and leave it as it is, following the footsteps of Omar (RA).
The noble attitude of Saladin toward everything considered as sacred in Christianity and even toward the Crusaders, his own enemies, has been greatly admired by the Arab and Europeans as well. Saladin, along with Harounar-Rashid and Beabers, is counted among the leaders that are quite popular to the Arab. In Europe, chanters in the Middle Ages have praised him a lot, just as the contemporary novelists have done. He is still an icon of heroism and chivalry.
There is no such thing as an Islamic war against the Bible, churches, bishops, monks nor with the followers of Christianity. Rather, the war between Muslims and Byzantines was about a political authority that refuses to acknowledge the true religion for political reasons. An authority that refuses a religionbeing spread between its citizens. When Islam managed to move that authority away from power, the freedom of choice was left for people to choose their beliefs and religions. Many people embraced Islam in folks after they knew about it and mingled with the Muslim conquerors. In this context, Gustav Lobon, showing the effects of the Crusades on the Christians, says, “The Christians managed to get rid of their uncivilized attitude by virtue of their contact with Arabs, adapting their principals regarding chivalry and the consequences and duties of those principles such asprotecting women, the old and children and fulfilling one’s obligations. Etc.
In the chapter of the Crusades, we referred to that the Christian Europe was much lower in their morality than the Muslim East. Stating the superiority of the Arabs over Europe, he says, “Arabs are the ones who opened the door for Europe to know what they did not know of the different kinds of knowledge in science, literature and philosophy only by their cultural influence. They are the ones who civilized us and were our leaders for six centuries.”
Peace is a strategic target of all religions
Peace is the target of all religions. Therefore, the reasonable should notice the importance of eradicating sedition and not giving the chance to the biased media to kindle the fire of animosity between Christianity and Islam in anywhere, because this would weaken both religions at the same time. This would benefit none but the colonizers, who disbelieved in religions and believed only in the materialistic life. Those, who are masked with democracy and holding high slogans about human rights and protecting minorities, only to gain their urgent political and economic ends. The interests of the two religions require them both to stand hand in hand in the face of the international Zionist interests in Jerusalem and Palestine.
The Arab Christians joined their Muslim brothers in a national unity in all the Arab countries against Judaization of Palestine. It is required to reinforce this consolidation, so all Christians and Muslims around the world should share in it to preserve the cultural identity and the sanctified objects in Islam and Christianity in the Holy Land. They should be cautious of what the Zionists, who hold enmity toward all religions, especially Christianity and Islam. It is in the interest of the two religions to reinforce the cultural dialogue between each other. They should also reinforce the economic and human relationships between their countries for the sake of the whole humanity.
We have found some writers, who are doubtful about what Allah (SWT) says, “…and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, "We are Christians," (Al-Ma’idah: 82) claiming that this verse was revealed particularly about some Christians at the time of the Messenger (PBUH). Their understanding of this verse was the result of what they see of extermination to some whole Muslim peoples at the hands of some western countries. This interpretation is incorrect, however. This is because there is a maxim that states that, ‘what has to be taken into consideration is the generality of the utterance not the particularity of the reason.’ There is nobody nearer to the Muslims than the Christians. The relations between them may go through some hard times in some historical stages. We may even find the followers of the same religion fighting each other then they become friends again. This is life.
The relations between Islam and Christianity, in their historical depth, are founded on tolerance and friendliness. They are historical relations that extend from the dawn of Islam, when Negus hosted the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) and protected them from the harm of Qurayshuntil our very day. Today, where we see some communities, peoples and Muslim minorities find their safe haven from injustice and oppression they suffer in western lands. This is to benefit from the democratic atmosphere in the western countries. The same atmosphere that Europe refuses to let its breeze to reach out to the East.
It is undeniable that these relations have gone through many stages of tension in the course of history. This is because many Christians lack knowledge about the truth of Islam, which believes in Christ, just as it believes in Muhammad (PBUH). There is also lack of knowledge from some of the public and mob in both sides that may cause them to drawn in the swamp of sectarianism planned by colonization.
It is about time to correct these relations, for the world around us has developed. Many of the westerners have given up religious fanaticism, which helps the Islamic-Christian relations to grow and be established on peaceful coexistence, mutual respect and shared interests. Ruining these relations would never benefit Christianity or Islam. It does not even go in accordance with the guidance of Jesus or Muhammad (AS). In the path of reconciling these relations, we have to pay tribute to some steps that have been taken in this direction. There are some calls for tolerance that have come out from both sides; the Islamic and the Christian as well, among of which:
A speech delivered by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawy, in which he said, “The Christians in our countries are Muslims by culture and civilization even if they are not Muslims by religion and belief. This is what has been expressed by the renowned Egyptian Christian leader MakramEbid, when he said, “I am a Christian by religion and a Muslim by abode.” He means that being in a Muslim abode has made him a Muslim. Many Christian authors, thinkers, poets and literary men praised Islam and Muhammad (PBUH) in a way that may be more enthusiastic than even some Muslims did. Among of those are Mr. Faris al-Khoury, who was the prime minister of Syria. He was one of the most enthusiastic persons about the Islamic law and its application.”
We have to pay tribute to some positive attitudes that have been shown from the Vatican, acknowledging Islam as a religion. In 1965, Pope Paul VI issued an important document, which was, and for the first time, an official acknowledgment from the Vatican of Islam as a religion. In it, it was written, “As of today, whoever believed in Allah, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Lord of Ibrahim (Abraham) and Moses (Musa) is saved and included in the peace of Lord, at the front of whom are Muslims.”
The statement of the Apostolic Exhortation announced by Pope John Paul II in Beirut in May 1997 during his official visit to Lebanon.In that statement he said, “There is a number of the current spiritual and human values that are common between Islam and Christianity. The II Vatican Council has summarized the most important of them, stating that, “The Church looks with appreciation to the Muslims, who worship Allah, the One, the Living, the Superb Upright Sustainer, the All-Merciful, the All-Competent, who created heavens and earth and who talked to mankind. They try, with all their hearts, to submit to what is destined by Allah, even if His objectives are hidden. Abraham, too, of whom Islam is proud to be affiliated to it, has submitted to Allah. Although they [Muslims] do not acknowledge Jesus as a Lord, still they highly honor him as a Prophet. They also honor his mother, Mary the Virgin. They even, sometimes, implore her with piety. They wait for the Day of Judgment, on which Allah will hold all mankind accountable for what they did after the Resurrection. This is the reason they appreciate the literary life and they worship Allah through prayer and fasting.