Prohibiting attack on churches

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

Prohibiting attack on churches


ign: justify; line-height: 150%; margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt; unicode-bidi: embed; direction: ltr">We reviewed requests no.75 for the year 2011 which arrived via different media channels in the wake of church attacks in Egypt. The question includes the following:       
- What is the ruling for attacking churches and places of worship or jeopardizing them by tearing them down or bombing?
- What is the ruling if these assaults take place while the worshippers are inside the churches or places of worship?
- Is it true that there is no covenant of protection [dhimma] between Muslims and Christians as some people claim?                       


Freedom of conscience
Islam is the religion of coexistence; its principles do not acknowledge compulsion in religion nor condone violence. Based on this, it does not coerce people of other faiths to convert but made freedom of conscience a voluntary choice.

Proof from the Qur`an
There are many verses in the Qur`an attesting to freedom of faith. These include:
There is no compulsion in religion: true guidance has become distinct from error. [Al-Baqarah: 256]
Say [O Muhammad]: "The truth is from your Lord" let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject it. [Al-Kahf: 29]
You have your religion and I have mine. [Al-Kafirun: 6]

Protecting the places of worship of non-Muslims
Since Islam acknowledges freedom of faith, it allows non-Muslims living in Muslim countries to freely practice their religious rites inside their places of worship. As such, it guarantees the security of their places of worship and accords them special protection by prohibiting all forms of aggression against them.

Protecting non-Muslims, one of the objectives of jihad
According to the Qur`an, the reason Allah Almighty has established Muslims in the land and commanded them with jihad is to eliminate oppression, fight aggression, protect places of worship against destruction and guarantee the security of worshippers. Allah says, Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid His (cause)—for verily Allah is full of strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will). (They are) those who if We establish them in land, establish regular prayer and give zakat, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the end (and decision) of all affairs. [Al-Hajj: 40-41]

Commenting on this verse, Ibn 'Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) said, "Monasteries are the dwelling places of monks, synagogues the places of worship of the Jews, churches the places of worship of the Christians and mosques the places of worship of Muslims" [Recorded by 'Abd Ibn Hamid and by Ibn Abu Hatim in his Tafsir].

Muqatil Ibn Sulaiman said in his Tafsir, "The [followers] of all of these faiths commemorate Allah in abundance inside their places of worship. Therefore, Allah Most High urges Muslims to defend them [against aggression]."[1]

Imam al-Qurtubi said in his Tafsir (vol.12, p.70), "This verse means that had not Allah the Almighty prescribed that the prophets and believers fight enemies, the polytheists would have prevailed and destroyed the places of worship established by people of different faiths. He therefore protected these places by prescribing fighting [against assault], thereby allowing the people to devote themselves to worship. Jihad existed in previous communities and, through it, Divine law and acts of worship were established. It is as if He has said, "Call [the people] to jihad, let the believers fight." Allah further reinforced this meaning by His words, Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another ...

The above words demonstrate that without jjhad, truth would have been defeated in every nation. So, whoever from among the Christians or Sabians denies jihad, contradicts his own doctrine since fighting was prescribed for every community to protect its religion... Ibn Khuwayz Mandad said that this verse prohibits tearing down the churches and synagogues of the dhimmis as well as Magian temples." [2]

The Prophetic sunnah acknowledges freedom of faith and guarantees the safety of places of worship In a letter addressed to the bishop of the people of Al-Harith Ibn Ka'b and the bishops, clergymen, adherents and priests of Najran, the Messenger of Allah wrote, "They are entitled to whatever is in their possession, notwithstanding its being large or small, including their synagogues, churches, monasteries as well as to the protection of Allah and His Messenger . No bishop may be removed from his bishopric, no priest may be denied his priesthood and no clergyman may be denied his ministry. Nothing of their rights may be breached or abolished and neither their authority nor any of their status-quo shall be violated provided they are sincere in advice and accept their obligations without injustice."[3]

Kindness towards non-Muslims
Islam goes even further and commands its followers to be just, merciful and kind towards non-Muslims.

Allah Almighty says, Allah forbids you not with regards to those who fight you not for (your) faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just [Al-Mumtahana: 8].

Over the course of their glorious history and immaculate civilization and through their noble tolerant manners, Muslims from among the Predecessors and Successors [Salaf and Khalaf], from the age of the rightly guided caliphs onwards, have followed this injunction, capturing the hearts of people before conquering their lands. Examples include:
'Umar Ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him)

During his caliphate, of the leader of the believers, 'Umar Ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), wrote a letter to the Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem, granting them freedom of faith and safeguarding their persons and churches. He wrote, "In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. This is the assurance of security granted to the people of Aelia by the slave of Allah and leader of the believers, 'Umar. He, hereby, guarantees the security of their persons and property; their churches and crosses; their sick and healthy and all adherents of their faith: their churches may not be taken over nor destroyed [by Muslims]; neither may the churches and their domains, their cross and property be encroached upon or partly seized. The people may not be coerced to abandon their religion, or any one of them be harmed. The contents of this letter are under the covenant of Allah, His Messenger , the Caliphs and the believers if [the people of Aelia] pay the tax according to their obligations. This is witnessed by Khalid Ibn al-Walid, 'Amr Ibn al-'As, Abd ar-Rahman Ibn 'Awf and Mu'awiya Ibn Abu Sufyan and executed in year 15 A.H." [4]

'Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) wrote a similar letter to the inhabitants of Lod which included, "In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.This is the assurance of security granted by the slave of Allah and leader of the believers, 'Umar, to the people of Lod and their associates from the people of Palestine. He, hereby, guarantees the security of their persons and property; their churches and crosses; their sick and their healthy and all adherents of their faith. Their churches may not be inhabited [taken over] nor destroyed [by Muslims]; neither may the churches and their domains, their cross, or their possessions be encroached upon. The people may not be coerced to abandon their religion, or any of them be harmed."[5]

When 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) entered Jerusalem, the time of prayer was announced while he was inside a church. Wishing to perform prayers, he asked the bishop for a place to pray and the latter offered that he pray inside the church. 'Umar refused and, instead, prayed alone on the steps at the entrance of the church. After finishing his prayer, he told the bishop, "If I pray inside the church, Muslims may one day make this an excuse for taking the church from you, saying:' 'Umar prayed here'."[6]

Orientalists' comments on this incident
Orientalists have reported these incidents with great awe in their works. These include:
-The French orientalist Emile Dermenghen who wrote in La Vie de Mohamet or The life of Muhammad, "The Qur`an and Sunnah are replete with injunctions on tolerance. Early Muslim conquerors have accurately adhered to these teachings in all their conquests. When 'Umar conquered Jerusalem, he ordered Muslims not to disturb the Christians or their churches and when the bishop of the church of Resurrection invited him to pray inside, 'Umar refused, fearing that Muslims may one day make this a pretext for taking over the church from the Christians."
- B. Smith reported the same opinion in his book Muhammad and Muhammadanism.[7]

A pledge to safeguard places of worship
In his book Futuh Al-Buldan, Al-Blazri reported many incidents recounting how the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) pledged to safeguard the places of worship in the countries they conquered. These included:

- - Khaled Ibn al-Walid (may Allah be pleased with him). He wrote a letter to the Christians in Damascus granting them security for their churches.[8]
- - Sharhabil Ibn Hassana (may Allah be pleased with him). He granted the people of Tabariya security for themselves and their churches.[9]
- Abu 'Ubaidah 'Amir Ibn al-Jarrah (may Allah be pleased with him). He responded to the request of the Christians in Ba'albak and wrote a letter granting them security for themselves and their churches.[10] He did the same with the Christians of Hims and Halab.[11]
- 'Iyad Ibn Ghanm (may Allah be pleased with him). He wrote a letter to the people of Ar-Riqqa granting them security for themselves and their churches.[12]
- During the caliphate of 'Uthman Ibn 'Affan (may Allah be pleased with him), the conqueror Habib Ibn Maslama (may Allah be pleased with him) wrote a letter pledging to safeguard all Christians; Jews; the Magus of Dabil (a city in Armenia) — their properties, churches and synagogues.[13]
- Ubay Ibn 'Abdullah an-Nakh'i narrated that they received a letter from 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-Aziz which included the following: "Do not destroy a synagogue or a church or temple of fire worshippers as long as they have reconciled with and agreed upon with the Muslims" [Recorded by Ibn Abu Shayba in Al-Musanaf and Abu 'Ubaid Ibn Sallam in his book Al-Amwal, p.123].[14]
- 'Atta (may Allah have mercy on him) was asked whether it is allowed to demolish churches and he replied, "Do not tear down churches except if they are built inside al-Haram [the Meccan Sacred Precinct]" [Recorded by Ibn Abu Shaiba in Al-Musannaf].

When any Muslim breached these covenants, the upright Caliphs renounced his actions and returned rights to their owners. One such incident was reported by 'Ali Ibn Abu Hammla who said, "The Christians of Damascus brought a suit against us before 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-Aziz concerning the right to a church which one of the Muslim rulers had given to the people of Nasr. 'Umar Ibn 'Abdul-Aziz [who was the current Caliph] took it from the Muslims and returned it to the Christians" [Reported by Abu 'Ubaid al-Qasim Ibn Sallam in his book al-Amwal, p.201].

Attacking places of worship—a practice alien to Islamic law
It is evident that attacking churches whether by demolishing, bombing, murdering or terrifying the worshippers are from among the prohibited matters which are not part of the tolerant teachings of Islamic law. Rather, this is considered an aggression against the protection granted by Allah and His Messenger to non-Muslims and the perpetrator subjects himself to adversity with the Prophet on the Day of Judgment. Sawfan Ibn Sulaim narrated through a number of the Companions' children [30 narrators according to the version of Ibn Zangawiyah and al-Baihaqi] who directly narrated from their fathers that the Prophet said, "Whoever wrongs one with whom a covenant has been made, burdens him with more than he can bear or forcibly takes something from him, I will be his adversary on the Day of Judgment" [Recorded by Abu Dawud in his Sunan, Ibn Zangawiyah in Al-Amwal and al-Baihaqi in As-Sunan Al-Kubra]. Ibn Zangawiyah and al-Baihaqi added that the Prophet pointed to his chest with his finger and said, "Whoever kills a dhimmi who is under the protection of Allah and His Messenger, Allah will prohibit the fragrance of Paradise for him; truly its whiff is smelt from a distance of seventy years." In his book Sharh At-Tabsira wa At-Tazkira (p.191), the hadith scholar, al-'Iraqi said, "This hadith was narrated with a good chain of transmission though the names of some of transmitters were omitted. They included a great number of the Companions' children and the ascription reached the degree of tawatur [i.e. multiplicity of the chains of transmission leading to certitude]."

As for the statements mentioned in classical Islamic texts on tearing down churches, they were mainly related to certain historical and social circumstances. It is not appropriate to superimpose them on Islamic law because the explicit legal evidences, the entire Islamic history, civilization of Muslims and the existence of churches and temples across Muslim countries, both past and present, attest to Islam's respect and protection of places of worship unlike any other religion or civilization.

It is worthy to mention that the rulings laid down by the ruler lift any disagreements. This means that if a Muslim ruler [in his capacity as his people's leader] chooses to follow the opinion of a certain school of jurisprudence which, in his opinion, achieves the interests of his people and social security, it becomes incumbent upon his subjects to obey him. Otherwise, it is considered deviating from Muslim authority and cohesion, resulting in corruption which undermines the interests of the country and its people.

Attacking Christians and churches violates the covenant of citizenship
Attacking Christians and churches in Egypt or other Muslim countries is considered a violation of the covenant of citizenship. Christians are citizens and are therefore entitled to the right of citizenship since they have agreed to a peaceful and secure coexistence with Muslims in a single homeland. Therefore, attacking, harming or terrifying them, shedding their blood or tearing down their churches violates this covenant and the protection granted by Muslims. Any such attack is prohibited by the primary texts exhorting Muslims to fulfill their covenants in conformity with the words of Allah Almighty Who says, O you who believe! Fulfill (all) obligations [Al-Ma'idah: 1].

Evidence from the Sunnah
- Abdullah Ibn 'Amr Ibn al-'As (may Allah be pl eased with them both) narrated that the Prophet said, "Whoever possesses all four signs of hypocrisy is a manifest hypocrite, and whoever has one of them, possesses an element of hypocrisy until he gives it up: when he is entrusted, he betrays his trust; when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he quarrels, he behaves impudently" [Recorded by Bukhari in his Sahih].
- 'Amr Ibn al-Hamik al-Khuza'i narrated that the Prophet said, "Whoever is entrusted with another's life and kills him, will carry a flag [to mark] his perfidy on the Day of Judgment." [Recorded by Ibn Majah]. In al-Baihaqi's version of the hadith and al-Tayalsi's version in his Musnad, the hadith reads as, "If a man is entrusted with another's life and kills him, I have nothing to do with him even if the murdered man is a disbeliever."
- 'Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet said, "The protection granted by the least number of Muslims [to a non-Muslim] is tantamount to that of the entire [community]; whoever violates it incurs the curse of Allah, the angels and all the people. Allah will not accept any of his deeds, whether obligatory or voluntary" [Bukhari].
- It is evident that such destructive actions result in deception, and murdering and harming civilians. Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet said, "A believer is not to kill another treacherously. Faith is a deterrent to such a killing" [Recorded by Abu Dawud and by al-Hakim in his Mustadrak]. Ibn al-Athir wrote in An-Nihaya, "Killing treacherously is by taking others unawares [after giving them security] and killing them." This hadith means that faith prevents a person from betraying others after granting them security much in the same way as a hobble hampers freedom of movement. The Prophet's injunction is either a propositional statement, and is therefore a prohibition because the act entails deception, or an explicit prohibition.

A Prophetic recommendation
The mother of the believers, Um Salamah (May Allah be pleased with her) narrated that before his death, the Messenger of Allahsaid, "Be mindful of Allah, be mindful of Allah in regard to the Copts of Egypt. You shall overcome them, and they will add to your numbers and support you in the cause of Allah" [Recorded by Al-Tabari in Al-Mu'jam Al-Kabir. Al-Haithami, the hadith scholar, declared it authentic]. The Messenger of Allah also said, "Be kind to the Copts of Egypt for they will add to your strength and help you overcome your enemies by the will of Allah" [Recorded by Abu 'Yala in his Musnad and by Ibn Hibban in his Sahih. The hadith scholar, Al-Haithami, declared it authentic].

Musa Ibn Jubair reported through some of the Sheikhs of Medina that 'Umar Ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) wrote a letter counseling 'Amr Ibn al-'As (may Allah be pleased with him) who was the ruler of Egypt at that time. He wrote, "O 'Amr! Know that Allah sees you and is watchful over your deeds as He says in His noble Book: "And give us the grace to lead the righteous" [Al-Furqan: 74] i.e. you must be a good example to be followed. Remember that there are people of dhimma under your rule and that the Messenger of Allah has commended the Copts to Muslims in his words, 'Be kind to the Copts of Egypt for they are people of dhimma and kinship'. The kinship to which the Prophet refers to is that of Hajar, the mother of Prophet 'Isma'il, who was an Egyptian. The Prophet also said, 'Whoever wrongs one with whom a covenant has been made or burdens him with more than he can bear, I will be his adversary on the Day of Judgment'. O 'Amr! Beware not to make the Messenger of Allah your adversary on the Day of Judgment for, if you do, he will surely be yours " [Recorded by Ibn Sa'd in Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra and by al-Muttaqi al-Hindi in Kanz al-'Ummal (vol.5, p.760)].[15]

A historical attestation
Whoever contemplates historical events will realize the veracity of the Prophet's words regarding his attestation to the Copts of Egypt who welcomed their Muslim conquerors and coexisted with them in peace and security in one homeland. Thus, Egypt witnessed the most successful and profound example of coexistence and cooperation among people of different faiths in one community that history has ever known.

Violating a legal exigency
The destructive act of demolishing mosques and places of worship and threatening their congregations contravene the legal command of preserving the five things agreed upon by all faiths: religion, the self, intellect, honor and property. These represent the five objectives of Islamic law. It is evident that the actions mentioned in the question violate some of these objectives among which is the preservation of the self. This is because the murdered person is an innocent individual who is taken by surprise. It is prohibited to attack him since Allah honors life and commands us to preserve it. He says,If anyone slew a person-unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole people; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people, [Al-Ma`ida: 32]

Such barbaric attacks bring about apparent mischief by distorting the true image of Islam and lend credence to the erroneous belief that Islam is a bloody religion as the enemies of Islam attempt to propagate worldwide. This in itself paves the way for waylay enemies to wrongfully interfere in our internal affairs.

Blocking the means leading to mischief

Allah the Almighty commanded Muslims to block the means which lead to insulting Allah Almighty:

Revile not you those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus have We made alluring to each people its own doings. [Al-`An'am: 108]

In his Tafsir (vol.13, p.115[16]), Imam al-Razi said, "This verse proves the impermissibility of treating disbelievers in such a way that drives them away from the truth. If maltreatment were permissible in itself, Allah would have not prohibited it, but allowed it.He also urges us to be lenient when calling others to His way as expressed in His words to Musa and Harun when He commanded them to invite Pharaoh to the right path,

But speak to him mildly; perchance he may take warning or fear (Allah). [Ta-ha: 44]

This is if the act were permissible in itself, so how can it be so when it is primarily prohibited?!

Hiraba in Islamic law
Killing and terrifying others by such destructive actions is known in Islam as hiraba. It is consideredspreading mischief in the land and its perpetrator deserves a more severe penalty than that prescribed for murder, theft or adultery. This is because it is a methodology against the entire community. Allah Almighty says,The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or cutting off hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter. [Al-Ma`ida:33]

Some people claim that the covenant between Muslims and Coptic Christians no longer exists; this is erroneous and demonstrates a lack of sound perception. Citizenship is an Islamic principle acknowledged by Islamic law and it has been put into effect in all the constitutions and laws of Muslim countries including Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution which declares Islam as the basis of legislation.

Islam has firmly established the principle of citizenship fourteen centuries ago represented in the constitution of Medina [wathiqa] drafted by the Prophet. The constitution dictated coexistence, cooperation and equity with regards to rights and duties among the citizens of one community regardless of religious affiliation, race, denomination or any other consideration. Consequently, this covenant is legal and it is mandatory to comply with its provisions.

Allah Almighty knows best.
[1]Dar Al-Kutub Al-Misriyya. Vol. 2, p. 385.
[2] Dar Al-Kutub Al-Missriya.
[3] Recorded by Abu 'Ubaid al-Qasim Ibn Salam in Al-Amwal, p.244 published by Dar al-Fikr, Abu 'Umar ibn Shabbah al-Numairi in Tarikh al-Madina al-Munawara (Vol.2, P.584-586) published by Dar al-Fikr, ibn Zangawya in al-Amwal (vol.2, p.449) published by Faisal research center, ibn Sa'ad ibn al-Tabaqat al-Kubra (vol.1, p.266) published by Dar Sadir, al-Baihaqi in Dala'il al-Nubuwa (vol.5, p.389) published by Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiya, imam Mohammed ibn al-Hassan al-Shaibani in his book al-Siyar (vol.1, p.266) published by al- Dar al-Mutahida for publishing
[4] Recorded by al-Tabari in his book At-Tarikh (vol.2, p.449) published by Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiya
[5] Recorded by al-Tabari in his book At-Tarikh (vol.2, p.449) published by Dar al-kutub al-'Ilmiya.
[6] Recorded by ibn Khaldun in his book At-Tarikh (vol.2, p.225) published by Dar Ihya' al-Turath al-'Arabi.
[7]Excerpted from the book Al-Tasamuh wa al-'Udwaniya bayna al-Islam wa al-Gharb by Sheikh Salih al-Hasin (pages 120-121).
[8] Foutuh al-Buldan (p.120) published by al-Bayan al-'Arabi committee.
[9] Foutuh al-Buldan (p.115).
[10]Futuh al-Buldan, p. 129.
[11]Futuh al-Buldan, pp. 130,146.
[12]Futuh al-Buldan, p. 172.
[13] Foutuh al-Buldan, p. 199.
[14] Dar al-Fikr.
[15]Published by al-Risalah institution .
[16] Published by Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiya.

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