Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD
The following is a slightly modified version of a short speech I gave in Vestal High School, New York to show that Islam is a religion of peace and that revelation has contributed in a big way to human knowledge and history.
When the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, claimed Monotheism in the polytheistic society of Mecca they turned against him and he and his followers had to face persecution for 13 long years. He migrated to Medina but the Meccans did not leave him alone there and attacked Medina, it was in these circumstances that the following verses were revealed:
“Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them — Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ — And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques.” (Al Quran 22:40-41)
By mentioning Churches and Synagogues before Mosques, the revelation was laying the foundation of genuine religious freedom for the whole of humanity.
We visited Spain during the spring vacation this year and went to the central mosque of Cordoba, which was a mosque at least for three centuries, but, it is now a Cathedral. In the year 1492 when Columbus discovered America, not a single Muslim was left alive in Spain, either converted on the point of sword, banished or killed.
Next year perhaps we will visit Turkey and go to Hagia Sophia, which is a former Cathedral, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople. The building was a mosque from 1453 until 1931, after Constantinople fell to the Ottoman. This is what groups did to the places of worship of others, the so called enemies, in medieval ages!
But, now I want to share something more dramatic with you. I want you to come with me and visit the holy land of Jerusalem. If you have been to Jerusalem you would have visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the Holiest places in Christianity. The site is venerated as where Jesus was put on cross, and is said also to contain the place where Jesus was buried. It did not suffer the fate of the Mosque of Cordoba or the Hagia Sophia, because of the generosity, wisdom and religious tolerance of one man Umar, who was the second Caliph of Islam and a very close associate of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Jerusalem was under Muslim rule from 638 until the creation of Israel in 1948, except for a period of 80 years between the First and the Third Crusade.
After a brief and bloodless siege, initiated after the offensives by the Byzantines colonies, Muslims seized control of Jerusalem from the Byzantines in February 638. Caliph Umar Farooq accepted the city’s surrender from Patriarch Sophronius in person. Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, was shown the great Church of the Holy Sepulcher and offered a place to pray in it, but he refused. He knew that if he prayed in the church, it would set a precedent that would lead to the building’s transformation into a mosque. He wanted the Christians to have their freedom of religion and their worship places. Therefore, he instead prayed on the steps outside, allowing the church to remain a Christian holy place. It would take Europe several centuries to catch up with the ideal set by Umar regarding religious tolerance, based on the revelation of the Quran and the actions of the Prophet Muhammad. In the 8th century Charlemagne, Charles the Great was converting Scandinavians on the point of sword to Christianity and during the First Crusade, in the eleventh century each and every Muslim was killed in Jerusalem, according to the Christian sources, some 70,000 Muslims were killed including 10,000 in the Mosque of Umar itself. No wonder, we owe our religious freedoms, in our great country of USA, historically speaking, to the revelation of the Quran: “And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques.”
In conclusion, the square minaret of the Mosque of Umar next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in the picture below, very powerfully establishes Islamic belief in freedom of religion and puts to rest, the accusation, for all periods to come that Islam was spread with sword. Islam was actually the pioneer of religious freedoms as I have demonstrated in many of my articles and posts. For the Muslims the political struggle was always divorced from the freedom of religion.
Square minaret of the Umar-mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulcher in the fore-ground