Non-Muslims in Muslim History
By: Dr. Ahmad H. Sakr (Dr. Ahmad H. Sakr is President of Foundation for Islamic Knowledge, P.O. Box 665, Lombard, IL 60148)
This article is devoted to a special group of Non-Muslims, namely those who are called Christians (Catholics, Protestants, others) and Jews. Such groups are considered in Islam to be People of the Book. People of the Book are looked upon by Muslims as God-fearing, God-loving, and God-conscious.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam are rooted in the Abrahamic religion where Islam is the most recent religion sent by God to humankind as a complete way of life. Muslims are required to respect and honor people of the book. An Islamic state must protect non-Muslims and ensure their peace and harmony within Muslim territories.
During the Days of the Prophet
As far as the Jews are concerned
1. During the life of Prophet Muhammad, the Jews in Madina had a synagogue and an educational institute by the name of Bait-Al-Madras. He made sure it was preserved as well as all the Jews attending it were protected.
The Prophet of Islam made several treaties with the Jews. Following is an
extract of a message that he wrote to form a treaty:
As far as the Christians are concerned
1. The Prophet honored the Christians of Najran from Yemen who visited him in his own mosque in Madina. The Christians prayed according to Christian fashion inside the mosque, and the Prophet and his followers prayed in Muslim tradition.
2. The Prophet respected the autonomy of the Christian churches. The nomination and the appointment of bishops and priests was left to the Christian community itself.
3. Prophet Muhammad promoted cooperation between Muslims and Christians in the political arena as well. The prophet selected a non-Muslims and delegated him as his ambassador to Negus, the king of Ethiopia. The name of that ambassador was 'Amr-ibn-Umaiyah-ad-Damri.
4. During the days of the Prophet, there were two super powers, the Persians and the Romans. The Romans adopted Christianity while the Persians adopted atheist beliefs. Those two super powers were at war with each other. During that period, Muslims were a small minority in the Arabian Peninsula. They prayed to Almighty God that the Romans would win the war against the Atheistic forces. The feelings and the beliefs of the Muslims were based on the fact that the Romans were part of the People of the Book. (See Qur'an 30: 1-7)
The Prophet sent a message to the Monks of Saint Catherine in Mount
Sinai. The English translation of that document is as follows:
During the Days of 'Umar
1. The Second Caliph (religious leader of Muslim people) 'Umar, asked his Governor in Syria to recruit a Greek person who could put the accounts of their revenues in order. He also appointed a Christian to head his Administration.
2. 'Umar respectfully declined to pray inside the church of Resurrection in Jerusalem, but he did pray outside. He was concerned that his followers would take it over from the Christians, if he prayed inside.
3. Muslims were given the key of the Church of Basilica in Jerusalem during the days of the Caliph 'Umar. The Muslims are still taking care of it today.
4. During the time of Caliph 'Umar certain Muslims had taken a piece of land belonging to a Jew. They constructed a mosque on it. 'Umar ordered the demolition of the mosque and the restoration of the land to the Jew.
When Jerusalem was submitted to Caliph 'Umar, an agreement was made
between 'Umar-and the local Christians. The agreement goes as follows:
During the Umaiyads and Abbasids
1. Non-Muslims were holding the rank of Political, Ministers, Administrative positions and membership in Executive Councils. Non-Muslims were given judicial autonomy, not only for personal status, but for all affairs of their life: Civil, penal and others. During the Abbasid Caliphs, Christian Patriarchs and Jewish Hakhams (Rabbis) held highest positions in the Islamic state. They held the position of advisors in the cabinet of the Caliph himself.
When the Muslim army reached the valley of the Jordan and Abu Ubaydah
pitched his camp at Fihl, the Christian inhabitants of the country wrote to the
3. Mu'awiyah (661-680) employed Christians very heavily in his service, and the other members of the reigning house followed his example. Christians frequently held high posts at court.
4. During the days of 'Umar Ibn 'Abd-al-'Aziz (an Umaiyad Caliph) some Muslims took a church to enlarge the Grand Mosque of Damascus (Al-Masjid Al-Umawee). Caliph 'Umar Ibn 'Abd-al-Aziz ordered the demolition of that part of the mosque and to restore the church. However, the Christians opted for a monetary settlement.
5. Non-Muslims were given the citizenship of the Muslim country in which they lived including the right to vote for the election of the Muslim state. However, they were exempted from being drafted in the Muslim army.
6. During the days of Haroon Al-Rashid, Dr. Gabriel, the personal physician of the caliph Haroon al-Rashid, was a Nestorian Christian.
Christians and Jews lived peacefully with Muslims.
Non-Muslims flourished among Muslims. None were killed in the name of Islam. The
mere presence of a large number of Christians and Jews in the Muslim world is a
sign of the tolerance of Muslims to the non-Muslims. Jews fled from Spain during
the Inquisition, and Muslims welcomed them in their lands. They protected them
and helped them to establish themselves and they indeed flourished.
Contemporary Treatment of Non-Muslims
Non-Muslims flourished in the Muslim world in all
aspects of life even after the abolition of colonialism. Anywhere a person goes
in both the Arab world and the non-Arab Muslim world, he will see Christians and
Jews. They have lived freely in the Muslim community and have thrived in the
fields of religion, education, economics, politics, health, industry, farming,
housing, banking, festivities, and social services.
Today there are forces that seem to be propelling a clash of civilizations, but let us build a bridge of understanding and mutual respect through the exploration of commonalities among all civilizations.
Source: Adapted with some modification from "Non-Muslims through Muslim History" by Foundation For Islamic Knowledge, P.O. Box 665, Lombard, IL 60148 USA, Phone: (630) 495-4817, Fax: (630) 627-8894 website: www.ahmadsakr.com Email ahmadsakr¨yahoo.com
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