MUSLIMS AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK IN HISTORY
We have appointed a law and a practice
for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a
single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has
come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one
of you will return to God….. (Qur'an, 5:48)
Unbiased people who study Islamic history and the Muslims' relationship
with the Jews and Christians living under Islamic rule will come across
the following fact: The People of the Book have always lived in peace
and tranquility under Islamic rule. Sometimes, Jews and Christians who
were oppressed by their own religious or political rulers sought refuge
and safety in Muslim countries. The most important reason for their enviable
position, when compared to that of their coreligionists in Europe, was
the Muslims' submission to the Qur'an's morality.
Islam, a religion of peace and acceptance, requires believers to treat all people with justice and respect. Devout Muslims are tolerant, forgiving, modest, understanding, gentle, genuine, and honest. In fact, God commands them to be just even when it is not in their own interests or those of their families to be so; to feed orphans and prisoners of war first, even if they are hungry themselves; and to be selfless, patient, and firm in virtue. Such Muslims are far more accepting of non-Muslims, for they know that compulsion is disallowed in religion. When dealing with non-Muslims, they do their best to show the way to the right path, address the other person's conscience, and become the means of this person's acceptance of a virtuous life, which is only possible if God grants him or her faith. The following verse reveals that God rules people's hearts and that only He can bring light into them:
Do those who believe not know that if God had wanted
to He could have guided all humanity? (Qur'an, 13:31)
You cannot guide those you would like to, but God guides
whoever He wills. He has best knowledge of the guided. (Qur'an, 28:56)
Muslims are only responsible for relaying the truth and inviting people to believe, for belief cannot be forced upon someone. God says:
There is no compulsion in religion. Right guidance has become clearly distinct from error. Anyone who rejects false deities and believes in God has grasped the Firmest Handhold, which will never give way. God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Qur'an, 2:256)
Muslims naturally abide by the Qur'an's morality when dealing with the People of the Book. For example, the Qur'an says that Muslims are expected to respect the Christians' and the Jews' beliefs and reputations, protect them and be compassionate toward them, for they are fellow believers in God's existence and unity, His angels and Prophets, the Day of Judgment, and the necessity to abide by religious morality.
God also reveals that those Christians and Jews who believe in Him and the Day of Judgment and do good deeds will receive the fairest rewards for their virtue:
Those with faith, those who are Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans, all who believe in God and the Last Day and act rightly will have their reward with their Lord. They will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. (Qur'an, 2:62)
Thus, good tidings are given to all who believe in God and the Day of
Judgment and do right deeds. The faithful will attain salvation and happiness.
Qur'an 5:48 states that "We have appointed a law and a practice
for every one of you," and they have to "compete with
each other in doing good." This is a request for all sincere
believers to live righteously and compete in doing good. Therefore, Muslims
cannot be uncompromising and intolerant toward people who, like themselves,
believe in God and are righteous. The history of Islam proves this point.
Before we analyze this history, we must point out a very important factor that
determines the Muslims' attitude toward the People of the Book: Muslims'
love for Prophets Moses (pbuh) and Jesus (pbuh).
Muslims Love Prophets Moses (pbuh) and Jesus (pbuh)
In all epochs, God has sent Prophets to deliver His revelations to humanity. Prophets are chosen in His presence and therefore are ennobled by Him. These role models of virtue taught His religion to their nations, advocated goodness and warned of evil, and helped people toward faith. The Qur'an gives many examples of past nations and peoples and their Prophets' lives. These narratives reveal details of their teachings about God and His religion, their ideological fight against unbelievers, and the responses they received from the people they invited to faith. The Prophets' patience, selflessness, sincerity, fine thinking, and other superior human virtues made them ideal role models. Muslims believe in all Prophets who were chosen by God to reveal the truth to humanity, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them all):
He has laid down the same religion for you as He enjoined on Noah: that which We have revealed to you and which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: "Establish the religion and do not make divisions in it." What you call the idolaters to follow is very hard for them. God chooses for Himself anyone He wills, and guides to Himself those who turn to Him. (Qur'an, 42:13)
reveals that Prophet Mohammed (may God bless him and grant him peace)
is an ideal role model for all people who believe in God and the Day of
Judgment (Qur'an, 33:21), which is why Muslims seek to acquire his morality,
follow his noble path, and become people who please Him. The Qur'an's
accounts of Jesus (pbuh) and Moses (pbuh), whose lives are told in some
detail in the Qur'an, contain many examples of wisdom and morality for
God reveals that Moses (pbuh) and his brother Aaron (pbuh) were His ennobled servants:
We showed great kindness to Moses and Aaron. We rescued them and their people from their terrible plight. We supported them, and so they were the victors. We gave them the clarifying Book, guided them on the Straight Path, and left the later people saying of them: "Peace be upon Moses and Aaron." That is how We recompense good-doers. They truly were among Our believing servants. (Qur'an, 37:114-22)
God sent Moses (pbuh) to the Children of Israel, then enslaved by Pharaoh,
for the following reason: "Then We gave Moses the Book, complete
and perfect for him who does good, elucidating everything, and a guidance
and a mercy, so that hopefully they will believe in their encounter with
their Lord" (Qur'an, 6:154). The Qur'an reveals how Moses (pbuh)
Has the story of Moses not reached you? When he [Moses] saw a fire and said to his family: "Wait here. I can make out a fire. Maybe I will bring you a brand from it, or will find guidance there." Then when he reached it, a voice called out: "Moses! I am your Lord. Take off your sandals. You are in the holy valley of Tuwa. I have chosen you, so listen well to what is revealed." (Qur'an, 20:9-13)
Moses (pbuh) fought against Pharaoh and his close allies, as well as those hypocrites and people of weak faith from among his own nation, and proved himself a universal role model by means of his submission to God and his faith, patience, courage, selflessness, intelligence, motivation, and drive. Muslims feel deep respect for him.
This painting depicts Jesus (pbuh)
healing the sick, one of the miracles he performed by God's will.
It is on display in the Louvre Museum. "Jesus Healing the
Blind of Jericho" by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).
Prophet Jesus (pbuh) is introduced as "God's Messenger
and word" (Qur'an, 4:171), as well as a "sign"
(Qur'an, 21:91) for people. The Qur'an reveals some enlightening information
about his mission, miracles, and life. For example;
When the angels said: "Mary, your Lord gives
you good news of a Word from Him. His name is the Messiah, Jesus, son
of Mary, of high esteem in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those
brought near." (Qur'an, 3:45)
The nature of the divine revelation given to him is described as follows:
And We sent Jesus, son of Mary, following in their footsteps, confirming the Torah that came before him. We gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light, confirming the Torah that came before it, and as guidance and admonition for those who guard against evil. (Qur'an, 5:46)
As the Qur'an reveals, Jesus (pbuh) is distinguished from the other Prophets
in several ways. The most significant of these is that he did not die,
but was raised up to God's presence and will return. The Qur'an states
that "they certainly did not kill him" (Qur'an, 4:157),
but that God raised him up to His presence. The Qur'an also reveals information
about his second coming and future life. Given that all of the events
it foretells come true, Muslims are awaiting his return with great joy
and anticipation, and are doing their best to prepare for his arrival.
Prophet Mohammed's (may God bless him and grant him peace)
Prophet Mohammed (may God bless him and grant him peace), the best role model for Muslims who deal with the People of the Book, was always just and compassionate toward Jews and Christians and tried to create an atmosphere based on reconciliation and love among these three religious communities. Various agreements and guarantees allowed Christians and Jews to live as autonomous religious communities. When the young Muslim community was still suffering from the Makkan polytheists' cruelty and oppression, our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) advised some of them to seek refuge with the Christian king of Ethiopia, Negus (or al-Najashi). The Muslims who later on migrated to Madinah with our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace), on the other hand, developed a model of coexistence with that city's Jewish community that was to become a model for all later generations. The Muslims' acceptance of Jews and Christians during the period of Islam's expansion in Arabia entered the history books as an example of justice and acceptance.
One such example was our beloved Prophet's (may God bless
him and grant him peace) reading of the verse: "Only argue with
the People of the Book in the kindest way - except in the case of those
of them who do wrong - saying: 'We believe in what has been sent down
to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one, and
we submit to Him'" (Qur'an, 29:46) after he had the following
words written in the text of an agreement prepared for the Christian Ibn
Harris bin Ka`b and his co-religionists: "The religion, churches,
lives, chastity, and goods of all Christians living in the East are under
the protection of God and all believers. None of those living by Christianity
will be forced to turn to Islam. If any Christian is subjected to any
killing or injustice, Muslims must help him."1
Prophet Mohammed (may God bless him and grant him peace)
allowed the Jews to become a party to the Constitution of Madinah signed
with the Aws and Khazraj clans, which permitted them to continue living
as a separate religious community. The basis for this acceptance of the
Jews' faith and traditions was laid down in the following article: "The
Jews of Banu Awf [non-Muslim minorities] are a community along with the
believers. To the Jews their religion, and to the Muslim their religion."2
As a requirement of the morality ordained by God, Prophet Mohammed (may God bless him and grant him peace) not only showed compassion and understanding toward the People of the Book, but also taught his Companions that those Jews and Christians living under the rule of Islam must be protected. The privileges that he granted them in the settlements of Adruh, Maqna, Khaybar, Najran, and Aqaba prove that Muslims both guaranteed these non-Muslims' lives and property and recognized their freedom of belief and worship. The following articles of the agreement between our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) and the Christians of Najran need to be pointed out:
To the Christians of Najran and the neighboring territories,
the security of God and pledge of His Prophet are extended for their lives,
their religion, and their property - to those present as well as those
absent and others besides;
No bishop shall be removed from his bishopric, nor any
monk from his monastery, nor any priest from his priesthood, and they
shall continue to enjoy everything great and small as heretofore... They
shall not oppress or be oppressed.
If anyone demands his right from you,
justice will be maintained between you.
Neither you will be oppressed, nor you will be allowed to oppress others.3
In addition, according to some hearsay, our Prophet (may God bless him
and grant him peace) attended their weddings, visited their sick, and
was generous to them. Prophet Mohammed (may God bless him and grant him
peace) even spread out his cloak so that the Christians of Najran who
came to visit him could sit on it. Following his death, the Muslims' moral
conduct toward the People of the Book continued to be based on the acceptance
that Prophet Mohammed (may God bless him and grant him peace) had shown
to them throughout his life.
of Prophet Mohammed's (may God bless him and grant him peace)
original letters inviting various kings and provincial governors
to Islam have been preserved. These historic documents show his
supreme virtue, acceptance of others, and his determination to
teach Islam. Rulers and their subjects were invited in the most
appropriate way to live the true religious life, and their accepting
and effective language have led many people to believe in Islam.
The wisdom inherent in our Prophet's (may God bless him and grant
him peace) style is an example for all Muslims to follow.
The above letter was sent to al-Mundhir bin Sawa,
Ruler of Bahrain. The letter reads:"... Peace be upon you!
I praise God with no associate, and I bear witness that Mohammed
is His servant and Messenger. Thereafter, I remind you of God,
the Mighty, the Glorious. Whoever accepts admonition, does it
for his own good. Whoever follows my messengers and acts in accordance
with their guidance, he, in fact, accepts my advice..."
letter to the Christian king of Ethiopia Negus (or al-Najashi)
is an important example of the Muslims' attitude toward Christians.
Following Mohammed's (may God bless him and grant him peace) letter
and his discussions with the Muslim leader and the leader of the
Makkan delegation sent to take them back to Makkah, King Najashi
proclaimed that he would protect all Muslims who sought refuge
in his country. The letter said:
The original of the letter sent by Prophet
Mohammed (may God bless him and grant him peace) to Shamir
al-Ghassani, king of Ghassan.
"I praise God to you, except Whom there is none
to be worshipped, the King, the Holy, the Peace, the Faithful,
the Watcher, and I bear witness that Jesus, son of Mary, is the
Spirit of God and His Word, Which He cast to Mary the virgin,
the good, the pure, so that she conceived Jesus. God created him
from His Spirit and His Breathing. I call you to God, the Unique
without partner, and to His obedience, and to follow me and believe
in that which came to me, for I am the Messenger of God.
... I invite you and your armies to God. I have accomplished
my work and my admonition, so receive my advice. Peace upon all
those that follow True Guidance."
Freedom of Belief and Worship
Caliph Umar's declaration to the Orthodox
patriarch Sophronios in 638. This declaration guaranteed all of
the Christians' rights in the Holy Land.
Beginning at the time of Prophet Mohammed (may God bless him and grant
him peace), there has always been freedom of religion in Muslim-ruled
lands. Muslims protected the Christians' and Jews' belief systems, rituals,
churches and synagogues, and schools of religious education. Articles
guaranteeing the protection of monasteries and churches have been important
parts of all agreements signed between Muslims and the People of the Book.
Early agreements also allowed Muslim travelers to rest in the monasteries
located along the travel routes. This suggests that Muslims were attempting
to base their relationship and dialogue with the People of the Book on
mutual respect. Historical documents reveal that many Muslims visited
monasteries to rest for the night, to enjoy a meal, or even to have a
civilized conversation during their travels or campaigns.
The People of the Book often responded warmly toward Muslims. The following expressions were recorded in an agreement signed by Caliph Umar, which was presented to Abu Ubayda by the Syrian Christians:
[We imposed these terms on ourselves:]…
not to withhold our churches from Muslims stopping there by night or day;
to open their doors to the traveller and wayfarer; …to entertain every
Muslim traveller in our customary style and feed him… We will not abuse
a Muslim, and he who strikes a Muslim has forfeited his rights.4
As "if God had not driven some people back by means of others,
monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where God's name is mentioned
much, would have been pulled down and destroyed," (Qur'an, 22:40)
points out, Jewish and Christian places of worship are regarded by Muslims
as holy places in which God's name is remembered. Thus, as it is their
responsibility to protect such places, throughout Islamic history all
Jewish and Christian houses of worship have been protected so that the
Jews and Christians can pray and worship in them as they please.
The Germus village church in Edessa (Urfa)
The People of the Book's various places of worship and holy places
were carefully protected by Muslim administrators.
For instance, historic documents signed during Abu Bakr's
reign state that the Christians of the peacefully taken city of Tabarriya
were given guarantees that their churches would not be harmed. Likewise,
the agreement signed after the conquest of Damascus stated that churches
would not be destroyed or occupied. Umar's covenant to the people of Jerusalem
guaranteed the protection of all places of worship. During the conquest
of the Armenian city of Dabil (Dvin) in Uthman's time, the assurances
given to Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians guaranteed the protection
of all places of worship.5
The Deyr Yakup Monastery in Edessa (Urfa),
Permission to restore damaged churches and build new monasteries was
never withheld. For instance, the St. Sergius monastery outside of Medain
was destroyed by Patriarch Mar Amme and rebuilt during Uthman's reign.
Uqba, the governor of Egypt, contributed to a Nestorian monastery, the
Church of Edessa was restored during the reign of Mu'awiyya, and the Saint
Marcos Church was built in Alexandria. These are just a few examples of
this tradition. The continued existence of churches and synagogues in
Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq proves the Muslims' respect
for the other divinely revealed religions. The Sinai Monastery with a
mosque right next door is an important pilgrimage center on Mount Sinai
and a symbol of Muslim acceptance.
Under Islamic rule, the People of the Book have always celebrated their religious festivities as they pleased. From time to time, the Muslim leadership even attended them. A letter by the Nestorian Patriarch Isho'yab III (650-60) reveals the Muslim leaders' compassion and acceptance toward the People of the Book:
They [Abbasids] have not attacked the
Christian religion, but rather they have commended our faith, honored
our priests... and conferred benefits on churches and monasteries.6
Benjamin of Tudela, a famous twelfth-century Jewish explorer
who could not conceal his astonishment when he discovered such attitudes
in the Islamic world, expressed the impossibility of such religious acceptance
and pluralism in Christian Europe. He also stated that Jews and Muslims
prayed together in holy places and at the tombs of holy people, that mosques
were built next to synagogues, and that different congregations celebrated
each other's religious festivities.7
These historical facts reveal that, contrary to much
of what we read today, Islam is a religion of peace and acceptance. Christians
and Jews lived freely under Muslim rule and enjoyed the freedoms of religious
belief and thought.
of the St. George monastery in Ariha goes back to the fifth century.
Sabbas Monastery was built at the beginning of the fourth century.
painting depicting Mt. Sinai
There are many historical
places of worship and holy places in Jerusalem and its vicinity.
The area is sacred to all Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Many monasteries
and churches dating back to the fourth century have been preserved.
Under Muslim administrators, Jews, Christians, and Muslims freely
prayed in their respective places of worship and lived in peace
and security. Alliances of genuine believers can recreate the same
atmosphere of tranquility today.
argue with the People of the Book in the kindest way - except
in the case of those of them who do wrong - saying, "We
believe in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down
to you. Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him."
Tranquillity under Muslim Rule
Under Ottoman rule, Jews, Christians, and
Muslims lived as friends, and the People of the Book were content
with the Muslims' administration. This engraving depicts the prayer
ceremony in the Ahida Synagogue held for the Ottoman army's victory
against the Russians. The ceremony was attended by the grand vizier.
Christians and Jews enjoyed the highest degree of freedom and tolerance
under Muslim rule. During the first few centuries of the Christian era,
Jews oppressed Christians; as the latter became more powerful, they began
to oppress Jews and even fellow Christians belonging to other sects. The
Middle Ages were dominated by the Catholic church's oppression of all
Jews and Christians who did not agree with its teachings. Some non-Catholics
sought refuge with the Muslims. The oppression and violence directed by
Byzantium against the Egyptian Monophysite and the Jacobean Christians,
the horrors endured by those Jews and Orthodox Christians who found themselves
in the path of the Catholic Crusaders, and the persecution endured by
the Jews of Europe, as well as by the Muslisms and Jews in Spain after
the reconquista, have never occured on Muslim soil.
The Ottoman Empire set an example of acceptance. The Patriarch of Antalya, Makarios, compared the tyranny of Catholic Poland against the Orthodox population with the Ottoman administration and concluded:
We mourned the thousands of people, men, women, and
children killed by those heathens. The Polish wish to exterminate people
of the Orthodox faith. May God make the Turkish state eternal, because
they do not interfere with the Jews or Christians, provided they pay their
A painting depicting the arrival of the
sultan and his entourage in a Christian city and the spectacular
welcome he received. Unknown, seventeenth century.
Jews escaping Spanish tyranny found the peace and security they sought
on Ottoman soil. Driven out of Spain and faced with more hardship in other
countries where they sought refuge, many died of hunger and thirst at
the gates of towns and cities they were not permitted to enter. Jews who
boarded Genoese ships were either exploited or sold to pirates. Sultan
Bayazid welcomed the Jews into his empire and demanded that the people
show them the respect and acceptance to which they were entitled.
The order proclaimed not to refuse the Jews entry or
cause them difficulties, but to receive them cordially.9
Sultan Bayazid is known to history as a religious man, and his hospitality
and acceptance were based on the Qur'an's morality.
The above picture shows Catholic,
Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders together in Palestine.
The peace brought to the area ended with the Ottoman Empire's
collapse. Creating peace will be possible only by establishing
an alliance of all genuine believers.
Another example of the comfortable and prosperous lives
led by Jews on Muslim soil was seen in Muslim Andalusia. This state, which
founded the most advanced civilization in Europe at that time, was characterized
by its acceptance of non-Muslims. Andalusia was gradually weakened due
to the constant attacks of Spanish Christians. Granada was its last stronghold,
and historic documents state that "those who have not seen the splendor
of Jewish life do not know what splendor is." At that time, Granada was
the safest place on Earth for Jews.10
A sermon by the chief rabbi of the great
synagogue of Jerusalem, 1836. Jews living under Ottoman rule practiced
their religion in complete freedom.
Another example is Palestine, where Jewish and Christian communities
enjoyed religious freedom, lived in peace and safety, and engaged in trade
and crafts. The Ottoman Empire guaranteed peace and security for five
centuries in the area, and such order has never been seen there since.
The freedoms and acceptance enjoyed in Jerusalem and its surrounding area
under Ottoman rule is described by one of Israel's ex-foreign ministers,
Abba Eban, as follows:
Jerusalem and the Jewish nation suffered
bloodshed and torture from the Romans and every other occupying force.
Only after the conquest of Jerusalem by Sultan Yavuz Selim and its fortification
by Kanuni did the Jewish nation discover what humanity, equality, and
a peaceful life meant.11
Throughout the Muslim world, Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together in peace and tranquility for centuries. The People of the Book engaged in commerce and acquired property as they wished, engaged in the trade or profession of their choice, and were appointed to posts in the state administration and even in the sultan's palace. They enjoyed the freedom of thought and expression at the highest degree, and made scientific and cultural achievements that are still with us today. They were not denied their social rights, and enjoyed maximum freedoms of belief and worship. For instance, historical sources reveal that Christian physicians in the Abbasids' palace could read the Bible with their families and staff, and no one interfered with their worship.
The importance of science and scientists in the Islamic
world guaranteed the caliphs' patronage of Christian and Jewish scientists.
Scientists of various religious denominations would meet at state-organized
gatherings to discuss scientific matters. Jewish and Christian physicists
would exchange views with their Muslim counterparts, and many medical
works would be discussed in the presence of the caliph or his bureaucrats.12
Living under the Islamic rule, the People of the Book took part in the
bustling cultural life. Muslim leaders extended their cultural patronage
to the lands they conquered and imported them to Baghdad, capital of the
empire, where they would be studied by Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scientists.
Each of them in turn, could teach their works based on these studies alongside
their own religious beliefs. At a time when Muslims supported science
and freedom of thought, Europe, the center of Christianity, had Inquisition
courts that burned people at the stake for their heretical, meaning
non-Catholic, thoughts or religious beliefs.
"The Mosque of Omar on the Ancient
Site of The Temple," by David Roberts, Mathaf Gallery, London.
Glory be to Him Who took His servant on a journey
by night from the Sacred Mosque [Masjid al-Haram] to the Further
Mosque [Masjid al-Aqsa], whose surroundings We have blessed, in
order to show him some of Our Signs. He is the All-Hearing, the
All-Seeing. (Qur'an, 17:1)
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher visited
by Christian pilgrims, 1836. Christian pilgrims could visit Palestine,
then under Muslim administration, as they wished and worship freely.
A photograph of the Wailing Wall, 1900.
Among the people of the Book there
are some who believe in God and in what has been sent down to you
and what was sent down to them, and who are humble before God. They
do not sell God's Signs for a paltry price. Such people will have
their reward with their Lord. And God is swift at reckoning. (Qur'an,
Muslim leaders' sense of justice led many Christians and Jews to bring
their cases to Islamic courts, even though they had their own courts with
their own laws. At one time, the Nestorian patriarch Mar Timothee I (780-825)
even circulated a decree to counteract the ever-increasing number of Christians
taking their cases to Islamic courts.13
This unequalled acceptance and justice in Muslim lands was based on the Qur'an's morality. Muslim leaders who adopted such ethical standards always achieved security, peace, and justice in their domains. These administrations' priority was the public's happiness and prosperity; therefore, they established systems that set the standards for future generations. When these same values of compassion, mercy, justice, understanding, modesty, patience, selflessness, and devotion derived from the Qur'an's morality begin to pervade modern-day societies, it will be possible to create a world order in which all people will find peace and security.
The Non-Muslims' Legal Status
The People of the Book living within the Muslim realm were considered
dhimmis, rather than prisoners of war, and therefore were guaranteed certain
legal rights. For example, in exchange for paying the jizya tax, their
lives and property were guaranteed, and they enjoyed freedom of religious
belief and thought, were exempted from military service, and had the right
to their own law courts to resolve their disputes. On some occasions,
their taxes were refunded.
This tax on non-Muslims has sometimes been misinterpreted in order to portray it as an injustice. But as we have seen above, the protections that they secured after paying it were hardly insignificant. In addition, the collected money was used to protect the non-Muslims' rights and future, and to take care of their needy coreligionists. Studying the dhimmis' status and the Muslim administrators' practices in this regard reveal the truth of the matter.
Our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace)
said: "I am the adversary of those who wrong the dhimmis or burden
them with a load they cannot carry." According to this principle,
Muslims considered it their duty to protect those non-Muslims living under
their rule. The Muslims' sense of justice dictates that dhimmis
come under the state's protection. During the reign of Umar ibn al-Khattab,
the Muslims signed an agreement with the Christians of Hira. One of the
provisions stated: "If any of their men become weak and old, or inflicted
with a disease, or was rich and had become poor, the jizya shall be lifted
from him, and he and his family shall be supported by the public treasury
[bayt al-mal] so long as he resides in the dar al-Islam."14
This clearly reveals the attitude of the Muslim authorities toward the
dhimmis. When non-Muslims could not pay their taxes, they were
supported by public funds, which were an important aspect of state support.
Before signing the agreement he had made with the people of Damascus,
Umar revealed the sensitivity of Muslims toward the jizya and non-Muslims:
My own opinion and on the Book of Allah [citing Q. LIX, 6-8] is that
you should keep what has been given by Allah to you [of the land] in the
hands of its people …If the jizya is paid by them [the dhimmis], you should
require no more of them … For if we divide the land [among us], nothing
will be left for our descendants …[If the land is left with its people,]
the Muslims will be able to live on its produce.
Those of you possessing affluence and
ample wealth should not make oaths that they will not give to
their relatives and the very poor and those who have migrated
in the way of God. They should rather pardon and overlook. Would
you not love God to forgive you?... (Qur'an, 24:22)
You may therefore impose on them [the
dhimmis] the jizya, never to take them as prisoners, nor to do any injustice
or harm to them, or to take any of their property unless you have a [valid
legal] claim to it. You must fulfill the obligations you accepted in accordance
with your agreement with them.15
As we have seen, genuine Muslims who abide by the Qur'an's
morality considered it their responsibility to protect the lives, property,
and peace of non-Muslims. Once, during a battle with the Byzantine army,
the situation became so untenable that Muslims could no longer provide
the necessary protection to Christians. Thus, Mohammed, our Prophet (may
God bless him and grant him peace), ordered the jizya to be returned to
The amicable history between Muslims and Jews and Christians is an example for the present. The Islamic code of ethics requires that non-Muslims be accepted, that their values and beliefs be respected, and that an environment in which peaceful coexistence is possible be created. Therefore, the spread of this code, as well as efforts to correct some misguided practices claiming to be Islamic, will play an important role.
In addition, the Muslims' acceptance and understanding must find an appropriate response in the Jewish and Christian communities, because God also commands them to love all other people and to be the leaders in all matters of good and peace.