Since the beginning of Islamic history, Palestine, and the city of Jerusalem
in particular, has been sacred to Muslims. In contrast to Jews and Christians,
Muslims have made their regard for the sacredness of Palestine an opportunity
to bring peace to the region. In this chapter, we will address some historical
examples of this fact.
'Isa (Jesus), one of the prophets sent to the Jews, marks another important
turning point in Jewish history. The Jews rejected him, and then were
driven from Palestine and subjected to great misfortunes. His followers
became to be known as Christians. However, the religion that is called
Christianity today would be founded by another man, called Paul (Saul
of Tarsus). He added his own personal vision of Jesus into the original
teaching and formulated a new doctrine in which Jesus was not defined
as a prophet and messiah - as he was - but as a divine figure. After two
and a half centuries of dispute among the Christians, Paul's teaching
turned into the doctrine of Trinity. It was a distortion of the teaching
of Jesus and his early followers. After this, God revealed the Qur'an
to Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, so that he
could teach Islam - the religion of Abraham, Moses and Jesus - to all
Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims for two reasons: it is the first qibla
that Muslims faced during their ritual prayers, and it is the site of
what is considered to be one of the greatest miracles performed by the
Prophet Muhammad: the mi'raj, the night journey from al-Masjid al-Haram
in Mecca to al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, his ascent through the heavens,
and his return to al-Masjid al-Haram. The Qur'an recounts this event as
Glory be to Him who took His servant on a journey
by night from the Masjid al-Haram to the 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)
In the Qur'anic accounts of the Prophet, may God bless him and grant
him peace, most of the relevant verses refer to Palestine as being
"blessed, holy lands." Verse 17:1 describes the site upon which
the Masjid al-Aqsa is located as the land "whose
surroundings We have blessed." In verse 21:71, which describes
the exodus of Prophets Ibrahim and Lut, the same lands are referred to
as "the land which We had blessed for all beings."
At the same time, Palestine as a whole is important to Muslims because
so many Jewish prophets lived and fought for God, sacrificed their lives,
or died and were buried there.
Thus, it is no wonder that, in the past 2,000 years, Muslims have been
the only power to bring peace to Jerusalem and Palestine.
Caliph Umar Brings Peace and Justice to Palestine
After Rome expelled the Jews out of Palestine, Jerusalem and its environs
However, Jerusalem once again became a center of interest after the Roman
Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity (312). Roman Christians built
churches in Jerusalem, and transformed it into a Christian city. Palestine
remained Roman (Byzantine) territory until the seventh century, when it
became part of the Persian Empire for a short time. Eventually, the Byzantines
The year 637 represents an important turning point in Palestine's history,
for after this it came under Muslim control. This event brought peace
and harmony to Palestine, which for centuries had been the scene of wars,
exile, looting and massacre. Moreover, every time it changed hands, which
was rather frequent, it witnessed new brutalities. Under Muslim rule,
however, its inhabitants, regardless of their beliefs, would live together
in peace and harmony.
Palestine was conquered by Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph. When
he entered Jerusalem, the tolerance, maturity, and kindness he showed
to the area's inhabitants, regardless of their religion, marked the beginning
of a beautiful new age. A leading British commentator on religion Karen
Armstrong describes the capture of Jerusalem by Umar in these terms in
her book Holy War:
The Caliph Omar entered Jerusalem mounted
on a white camel, escorted by the magistrate of the city, the Greek Patriarch
Sophronius. The Caliph asked to be taken immediately to the Temple Mount
and there he knelt in prayer on the spot where his friend Mohammed had
made his Night Journey. The Patriarch watched in horror: this, he thought,
must be the Abomination of Desolation that the Prophet Daniel had foretold
would enter the Temple; this must be Antichrist who would herald the Last
Days. Next Omar asked to see the Christian shrines and, while he was in
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the time for Muslim prayer came round.
Courteously the Patriarch invited him to pray where he was, but Omar as
courteously refused. If he knelt to pray in the church, he explained,
the Muslims would want to commemorate the event by erecting a mosque there,
and that would mean that they would have to demolish the Holy Sepulchre.
Instead Omar went to pray at a little distance from the church, and, sure
enough, directly opposite the Holy Sepulchre there is still a small mosque
dedicated to the Caliph Omar.
The other great mosque of Omar was erected on the Temple Mount to
mark the Muslim conquest, together with the mosque al-Aqsa which commemorates
Mohammed's Night Journey. For years, the Christians had used to
the site of the ruined Jewish Temple as the city rubbish dump. The Caliph
helped his Muslims to clear the garbage with his own hands and
there Muslims raised their two shrines to establish Islam in the third
most holy city in the Islamic world.9
In short, Muslims brought civilization to Jerusalem and all of Palestine.
Instead of holding beliefs that showed no respect for other peoples' sacred
values and killing people simply because they followed a different faith,
Islam's just, tolerant, and moderate culture brought peace and harmony
to the region's Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities. Muslims never
resorted to campaigns of forced conversions, although some non-Muslims
who saw that Islam was the true religion did convert of their own free
This peace and harmony lasted as long as Muslims ruled in the region.
However, at the end of the eleventh century, an external conquering force
from Europe entered the region and plundered the civilized land of Jerusalem
with a barbarity and savagery that had never been seen there before. These
invaders were the Crusaders.
The Crusaders' Savagery and Saladin's Justice
The Crusaders captured Jerusalem after a five-week
siege, and proceeded to loot the city's treasures and slaughter
its Jews and Muslims.
While Palestine's Jews, Christians, and Muslims
were living together in peace, the Pope decided to organize a crusade.
Following Pope Urban II's call on 27 November 1095 at the Council of Clermont,
more than 100,000 Europeans set out for Palestine to "free" the Holy Land
from the Muslims and find the fabled wealth of the East. After a long
and wearying journey, and much plundering and slaughter along the way,
they reached Jerusalem in 1099. The city fell after a siege of nearly
5 weeks. When the Crusaders moved in, they carried out a savage slaughter.
All of Jerusalem's Muslims and Jews were put to the sword.
In the words of one historian: "They killed all the Saracens and the
Turks they found ... whether male of female."10 One
of the Crusaders, Raymond of Aguiles, boasted of this violence:
Wonderful sights were to be seen. Some of our men (and
this was more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies; others shot
them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them
longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet
were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's
way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared
to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services
are normally chanted ... in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode
in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.11
Saladin (Salah ud-Din al-Ayyubi), who defeated
the Crusaders in the battle of Hattin, was noted in historical sources
for his justice, courage, and honorable character.
In 2 days, the Crusader army killed some 40,000
Muslims in the barbaric manner just described.12 The
peace and harmony in Palestine, which had lasted since Umar, ended in
a terrible slaughter.
The Crusaders made Jerusalem their capital and established a Latin Kingdom
stretching from Palestine to Antioch. But their rule was short-lived,
for Saladin gathered all of the Muslim kingdoms under his banner in a
holy war and defeated the Crusaders at the battle of Hattin in 1187. After
this battle, the two leaders of the Crusader army, Reynald of Chatillon
and King Guy, were brought into Saladin's presence. He executed Reynald
of Chatillon, who had become infamous for the terrible savagery he had
committed against Muslims, but let King Guy go, as he had not committed
similar crimes. Palestine once again saw the true meaning of justice.
Three months after Hattin, and on the very same day that Prophet Muhammad
(pbuh) had been taken from Mecca to Jerusalem for his night journey through
the heavens, Saladin entered Jerusalem and freed it from 88 years of Crusader
occupation. In contrast to the Crusaders' "liberation" of Jerusalem, Saladin
did not touch one Christian in the city, thereby turning aside their fear
that they would all be massacred. He merely ordered all Latin (Catholic)
Christians to leave Jerusalem. The Orthodox Christians, who were not Crusaders,
were allowed to stay and worship as they chose.
Karen Armstrong describes the second capture of Jerusalem in these words:
On 2 October 1187 Saladin and his army entered
Jerusalem as conquerors and for the next 800 years Jerusalem would remain
a Muslim city. Saladin kept his word, and conquered the city according
to the highest Islamic ideals. He did not take revenge
for the 1099 massacre, as the Qur'an advised (16:127), and now that hostilities
had ceased he ended the killing (2:193-194). Not a single Christian
was killed and there was no plunder. The ransoms were deliberately very
low ... Saladin was moved to tears by the plight of families who were
rent asunder and he released many of them freely, as the Qur'an urged,
though to the despair of his long-suffering treasurers. His brother al-Adil
was so distressed by the plight of the prisoners that he asked Saladin
for a thousand of them for his own use and then released them on the spot...
All the Muslim leaders were scandalised to see the rich Christians escaping
with their wealth, which could have been used to ransom all the prisoners…
[The Patriarch] Heraclius paid his ten-dinar ransom like everybody else
and was even provided with a special escort to keep his treasure safe
during the journey to Tyre.13
In short, Saladin and his army treated the Christians with great mercy
and justice, and showed them more compassion than their own leaders had.
When King Richard I of England captured the
Castle of Acre, he massacred the Muslims. The painting below depicts
the executions of hundreds of Muslim captives. Their corpses and
severed heads piled up beneath the platform.
After Jerusalem, the Crusaders continued their barbarity and the Muslims
their justice in other Palestinian cities. In 1194, Richard the Lionheart,
who is portrayed as a great hero in British history, had 3,000 Muslims,
among them many women and children, treacherously executed in the Castle
of Acre. Although the Muslims witnessed this savagery, they never resorted
to similar methods. Rather, they abided by God's command: "Let
not the hatred of a people (who once) obstructed you from the Sacred Mosque
lead you to transgress..." (Qur'an, 5:2) and never used violence
against innocent civilians. In addition, they never used violence unnecessarily,
not even against the defeated Crusader armies.
Crusader savagery and Muslim justice once more revealed a historic truth:
An administration built upon the principles of Islam allowed people of
different faiths to live together. This fact continued to be demonstrated
for 800 years after Saladin, particularly during the Ottoman period.
The Ottoman Empire's Just and Tolerant Rule
After Sultan Selim's conquest of Jerusalem
and its environs in 1514, a 400-year period of peace and security
began on Palestinian lands.
In 1514, Sultan Selim captured Jerusalem and the surrounding area, and
some 400 years of Ottoman rule in Palestine began. As in other Ottoman
states, this period would enable Palestine to enjoy peace and stability
despite the fact that adherents of three different faiths were living
alongside each other.
The Ottoman Empire was administered by the "nation (millet) system,"
the fundamental feature of which was that people of different faiths were
allowed to live according to their own beliefs and legal systems. Christians
and Jews, which the Qur'an calls the People of the Book, found tolerance,
security, and freedom in Ottoman lands.
The most important reason for this was that, although the Ottoman Empire
was an Islamic state administered by Muslims, it had no desire to force
its citizens to adopt Islam. On the contrary, it sought to provide peace
and security for non-Muslims and to govern them in such a way that they
would be pleased with Islamic rule and justice.
Other major states at the same time had far more cruder, oppressive,
and intolerant systems of government. Spain could not tolerate the existence
of Muslims and Jews on Spanish soil, two communities on which it inflicted
great violence. In many other European countries, Jews were oppressed
just for being Jews (e.g., they were forced to live in ghettoes), and
were sometimes the victims of mass slaughter (pogroms). Christians could
not even get along with each another: the fighting between Protestants
and Catholics during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries turned Europe
into a bloody battlefield. The Thirty Years War (1618-48) was one result
of this conflict. As a result of that war, central Europe became a battleground,
and in Germany alone, 5 million people (one-third of the population),
In contrast to these brutalities, the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim
states established their rule upon the Qur'anic commands of tolerant,
just and humane administration. The reason for the justice and civilization
displayed by Umar, Saladin, the Ottoman sultans, and many Muslim rulers,
which is accepted by the West today, was due to their faithfulness to
the Qur'anic commands, some of which are as follows:
God commands you to return to their owners the
things you hold on trust and, when you judge between people, to judge
with justice. How excellent is what God exhorts you to do. God is All-Hearing,
All-Seeing. (Qur'an, 4:58)
O you who believe, be upholders of justice, bearing
witness for God alone, even against yourselves or your parents and relatives.
Whether they are rich or poor, God is well able to look after them. Do
not follow your own desires and deviate from the truth. If you twist or
turn away, God is aware of what you do. (Qur'an, 4:135)
Studies of Palestine during the late Ottoman
period reveal an advanced level of welfare, trade, and industry
throughout the region.
God does not forbid you from being good to those
who have not fought you in the religion or driven you from your homes,
or from being just toward them. God loves those who are just. (Qur'an,
If two parties of the believers fight, make peace
between them. But if one of them attacks the other unjustly, fight the
attackers until they revert to God's command. If they revert, make peace
between them with justice and be even-handed. God loves those who are
even-handed. (Qur'an, 49:9)
There is a phrase used in politics such that "power corrupts, and absolute
power corrupts absolutely." This means that everyone who acquires political
power becomes somehow morally corrupted by the ensuing opportunities.
This really applies to most people, because they shape their morality
according to social pressure. In other words, they avoid immorality because
they are afraid of society's disapproval or punishment. Authority grants
them power, however, and decreases the importance of these social pressures
upon them. As a result, they become corrupt or find it ever more easy
to compromise their own morality. If they possess absolute power (and
thereby become dictators), they may try to satisfy their own desires in
The Ottomans brought peace, stability, and
civilization to all the lands they conquered. One can still find
fountains, bridges, inns, and mosques from the Ottoman period throughout
(Left) Herogate, 16th century
(Right) Khan al-Umdan
The only human examples to which the law of corruption does not apply
is people who sincerely believe in God, embrace religion out of fear and
love of Him, and live according to that religion. Given that their morals
are not defined by society, not even the most absolute form of power can
affect them. God states in a verse:
Those who, if We establish them firmly in the land,
will perform prayer and pay charity tax, and command what is right and
forbid what is wrong. The end result of all affairs is with God. (Qur'an,
In the Qur'an, God presents Dawud, peace be upon
him, as an example of the ideal ruler, explains how he judged with justice
between those who came to ask for his judgment and how he prayed with
complete submission to God. (Qur'an, 38:24)
The Ottomans brought peace, order, and tolerance
everywhere they went.
The history of Islam, which reflects the morality that God teaches Muslims
in the Qur'an, is full of just, merciful, humble, and mature rulers. Since
Muslim rulers fear God, they cannot behave in a corrupt, proud, or cruel
manner. Of course there were Muslim rulers who became corrupt and departed
from Islamic morality, but they were exceptions to and deviations from
the norm. Thus Islam proved to be the only belief system that has produced
a just, tolerant, and compassionate form of government for the last 1,400
The land of Palestine is a testament to Islam's fair and tolerant governance,
and bears the influence of many different faiths and ideas. As reported
earlier, the governments of the Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and
grant him peace, Umar, Saladin, and the Ottoman sultans were such that
even non-Muslims consented to them. This period of fair administration
lasted until the twentieth century when, with the end of Muslim rule in
1917, the region was plunged into chaos, terror, bloodshed, and war.
Jerusalem, the center of three religions, experienced the longest period
of stability in its history under the Ottomans, when peace, abundance,
and prosperity reigned there and throughout the empire. Christians, Jews,
and Muslims, and their various denominations, worshipped as they pleased,
honored their own beliefs, and followed their own customs and traditions.
This was possible because the Ottomans ruled with the belief that bringing
order, justice, peace, prosperity, and tolerance to their lands was a
Many historians and political scientists have drawn attention to this
fact. One of them is Columbia University's world-famous Middle East expert
Professor Edward Said. Originally from a Christian family of Jerusalem,
he continues his research at American universities, far from his homeland.
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, he recommended resurrecting
the "Ottoman nation system" if a permanent peace is to be built in the
Middle East. In his own words,
A Jewish minority can survive the way other minorities
in the Arab world survived… it worked rather well under the Ottoman Empire,
with its millet system. What they had then seems a lot more humane than
what we have now.14
Indeed, Palestine never witnessed another "humane" administration once
Ottoman rule ended. Between the two world wars, the British crushed the
Arabs with their divide-and-conquer strategy and simultaneously empowered
the Zionists, who would later prove antagonistic even to them. Zionism
incurred the Arabs' wrath, and, from the 1930s on, Palestine became the
scene of clashes between the two groups. Zionists formed terrorist groups
to fight the Palestinians, and, shortly thereafter, began attacking the
British as well. Once Britain threw up its hands and abandoned its mandate
over the region in 1947, the clashes turned into war and the Israeli occupation
and massacres (which continue to this day) began in earnest.
In order for the region to enjoy "humane" rule once again, Jews must
abandon Zionism and its goal of a "Palestine exclusively for the Jews,"
and accept the idea of sharing the land with Arabs on equal terms. Arabs,
for that matter, must abandon such un-Islamic goals as "driving Israel
into the sea" or "putting all Jews to the sword," and accept the idea
of living together with them. According to Said, this means reviving the
Ottoman system, which is the only solution that will allow the region's
people to live in peace and harmony. This system may create an environment
of regional peace and security, just as it did in the past.
In the last chapter, we will examine the details of this solution. But
before we do so, let's revisit the past to examine the chaos and cruelty
that engulfed Palestine after Muslim rule ended.
- Turkish Daily, 15.4.95
WE MISS THE OTTOMANS
The Arab world longs for the days when civilization, tolerance
and justice prevailed.
TURKIYE - Turkish
LEWIS: THE MIDDLE EAST IS LOOKING
FOR A LEADER
THE OTTOMAN SOLUTION FOR JERUSALEM
The plan for a solution to the Jerusalem problem, drawn
up by Turkey on the basis of the policies implemented
in the region by the Ottomans regarding the status of
Jerusalem at a time when the Middle East peace process
is going through its most difficult times, has been welcomed
by the Palestinians, while Israel is uneasy at the suggestion.
Many of today's politicians and historians
contend that the Ottoman model is an extremely important example
of how the Middle East problem might be solved.
TAKING THE OTTOMANS AS A MODEL
HP Chairman Fiorina says, "The 600-year empire was the
cement of peace."
NOSTALGIA FOR THE OTTOMANS IN THE
As the West seeks a solution to the conflicts in various
parts of the world, it longs for the might of the Ottoman
THE WESTERN WORLD LOOKS TO THE OTTOMANS
As the West seeks a solution to the conflicts in various
parts of the world, it longs for the might of the Ottoman
VIOLENCE ROSE AFTER THE OTTOMANS LEFT
THE WESTERN WORLD LOOKS TO THE OTTOMANS
The West, unable to find a solution to the conflicts in
different parts of the world, longs for the might of the
Ottoman Empire. This view was expressed in a report aired
by the American news agency Associated Press.
The violent events in the last century which began when the British
forced the Ottomans out of the region led to the Palestinians suffering
colonization, exile and occupation. The Israeli people, on the other
hand, have never been able to live in security.