By Shahid M Amin
February 28, 2017
AT the present time, when Islamophobia is rising in the West and elsewhere, Muslims are increasingly being depicted as intolerant. Jihad is being falsely associated with fanatical warfare. However, the historical record disproves such allegations against Muslims. A notable example is Jerusalem, which was twice in history conquered by Muslims. The first Muslim conquest was in 637 under Caliph Hazrat Umar (RA), and the second occasion was in 1187 when Salahuddin Ayyubi (known in the West as Saladin) conquered Jerusalem from the Christian Crusaders. After each conquest, Muslims treated the people of Jerusalem, comprising mostly of Christians, with great humanity and tolerance.
The historical background and religious significance of Jerusalem first needs to be recalled. Muslims, Jews and Christians alike revere Jerusalem, though for diverse reasons. The Jews see it as their ancestral and spiritual homeland. In the Christian tradition, Jesus lived mostly in Jerusalem where he preached and performed miracles; and where he was crucified, buried and resurrected. The Muslims revere Jerusalem as the first Qibla, and the third holiest city after Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem is also holy because many prophets, revered by all the three religions, spent their lives in that city. In its long history, Jerusalem has seen different rulers. The Jews were ascendant in Jerusalem since the 10th century BC. Their greatest rulers were David and Solomon. The Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar conquered and destroyed Jerusalem around 597 BC. Jews were exiled and lived in captivity for 70 years till Persian emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem. Next, the Jews lived under Greek and Roman rule, till the latter ordered their expulsion from Jerusalem in 70 AD and deported Jews as slaves all over the Roman Empire. This was the second Jewish exile. Jerusalem came under Christian control when Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312.
Muslim rule over Jerusalem commenced with its conquest in 637. It was Khalid bin Waleed, probably the greatest general in history, who led Muslims to victory over the two largest powers of the time, the Persian Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. Patriarch Sophronius, the Christian religious head of Jerusalem, insisted that the city’s surrender would be made directly to Caliph Umar. Accordingly, Umar travelled to Jerusalem, wearing simple clothes, accompanied by just one servant, each riding the camel turn by turn. Umar’s humility made greatest impression on inhabitants of Jerusalem.
A pact was signed with Sophronius known as the Umariyya Covenant which gave guarantees of civil and religious liberty to the Christians in exchange for Jizya. It contained several clauses: security for life and property, security for the churches and for ritual worship, freedom to stay in the city or to leave in safety. It is significant that Umar allowed Jews to enter Jerusalem after nearly 500 years, and to worship freely. Another remarkable act of tolerance was when Sophronius invited Umar to offer his prayers inside the Church of Holy Spulchre. Umar declined to do so, fearing that this invitation might later induce some Muslims to turn church into a mosque.
Christian Europe commenced a series of Crusades in 1096 to reconquer Jerusalem. Led by the Franks, Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders in 1099. Christian soldiers proceeded to massacre Muslim and Jewish civilians and destroyed mosques. A contemporary account by a Christian witness recorded the atrocities, noting that at Temple of Solomon, “men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.” It was Sultan Salahuddin Ayyubi who defeated the Christians in Third Crusade in 1187 after a long siege of Jerusalem. He allowed the defeated Christian soldiers to leave the city in peace on payment of ransom but those who could not pay were allowed to go without any payment.
All civilians were spared and churches and shrines were untouched. It is also notable that Salahuddin summoned the Jews and permitted them to resettle in the city. The Third Crusade was continued by the Europeans and English King Richard the Lionheart emerged as Salahuddin’s opposite number. But Richard was unable to conquer Jerusalem and decided to return home. He signed the Treaty of Ramla with Salahuddin. It allowed unarmed Christians to make pilgrimages to the holy land, which would remain under Muslim control. The chivalry and tolerance of Salahuddin made a deep impact on Europe. When Richard fell ill, Salahuddin offered the services of his personal physician. When Richard lost his horse, Salahuddin sent him two new horses. This tolerance and generosity of Muslims stood in sharp contrast with the terrible massacre of Muslims when the Crusaders had earlier conquered Jerusalem.
More recently, when Israel emerged as a state in May 1948, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled, and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were depopulated and destroyed. This is referred to as “Nakba” (catastrophe) and is commemorated on May 15 every year as a day of national mourning by the Palestinians. The 1967 War was a disaster for the Arabs and all Muslims, during which Israel occupied all of Palestine including eastern Jerusalem, containing the holiest Muslim shrines: the Dome of the Rock and the Masjid al-Aqsa. Ever since, Israeli depradations against the Palestinians have been continuing systematically, which remain unchecked by the UN and the rest of the world. The Jews have clearly forgotten how generously Muslim conquerors of Jerusalem had treated them and allowed them to return to the holy city.
In fact, throughout the ages when Muslims ruled a vast area from Spain in the West to India in the East, Jews and other non-Muslims were treated with tolerance. The greatest Jewish religious and philosophical works were written in Muslim Spain. Jews also flourished in Turkey and Egypt during the Middle Ages. After Spain was re-conquered in 1492 by Christian rulers Ferdinand and Isabella, Spanish Jews and Muslims were summarily expelled from that country, except for those willing to become Christians. The murderous Inquisition was next launched which tortured and executed those suspected to be Muslims. Such was the intolerance shown to the Muslims not only in Spain but also in Sicily and Malta, which were ruled by Muslims for centuries. Those who now accuse the Muslims of intolerance clearly do not know their own history.
Shahid M Amin served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya