By Abdülhamit Bilici
October 31, 2014
Caliph Omar, who is renowned for his attention to justice, paid a visit to sacred sites after taking over control of Jerusalem from Governor Sophronius. He visited Masjid al Aqsa and later also wanted to see the Church of Resurrection where, according to Christian belief, Jesus was crucified and prepared for burial. Sophronius, who was walking with Omar, recalled that he performed prayers everywhere he visited and asked him to do the same at the church. Omar rejected the request saying, “If I perform prayer here, Muslims will build a mosque on this very spot.” Instead he found an empty area to the south of the church for prayer, upon which Muslims thereafter erected a mosque named after Omar.
Caliph Omar, before leaving the city, introduced guarantees for the local people so they could freely exercise their religious freedoms. The pact, undersigned by the Caliph and his commanders, guaranteed the properties and lives of all people regardless of whether Omar, the Caliph, was sick or healthy. He further assured the people that there would be no interference in their sacred places, symbols or religious beliefs; that churches would not be converted into residential homes; that the previous rights of the people would be preserved; and that there would be no pressure or repression. Overall, he assured that nobody would be harmed.
This approach, which has served as the basis of how Muslims should treat others, has been upheld from then until now. The Ottoman experience confirms this. A book entitled “Macedonia under the Ottoman Rule,” based on archive resources, provides a clear example of the approach in the Balkans. Yako, a Jewish man who was living in Skopje, addressed a petition to the Office of the Governor on Aug. 1, 1870 to sell alcoholic beverages in his store in Tahtakale. The petition was referred to the municipality for review the next day. The local assembly, in its reply six days later, stated that even though the location was suitable for launching such a business, it was necessary to seek the opinion of the administrative assembly as the store was facing a church. The administrative assembly in turn denied permission on the grounds that it was facing a church and there were a large number of people walking by the store.
This is part of our legacy of religious tolerance but to understand our current status one must simply look around. Everybody talks about the idealized state of religious freedom and acceptance during the Ottoman era but in reality, there is a state of savagery everywhere which is intolerant of other religions and even dissenting Muslim views. The radical and extremist movements, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and its derivatives, who convert sectarian and ethnic identity into political fanaticism do the greatest harm to Muslims. Beheadings, the destruction and burning of educational institutions and places of worship, young people being killed violently while delivering meat to the poor, are all products of this mindset.
Talking to the person sitting next to me on a plane back from Erzurum, I realized the situation was even graver. The man was a 30-year old pharmacist with a long, black beard. A friend of his had told him to shave his beard or he would be targeted in the belief that he was a member of ISIL. He did not shave his beard but some of his friends did. In particular, he complained about the promotion of views and current ideas that did not originate in these lands. Recently Muhammed Keskin from the İsmailağa Islamic community also wrote about efforts to rid Turkey of its national identity and of Turkish Islam in his piece published in Marifet Magazine. He was thereafter strongly criticized by those who welcome foreign religious movements and ideas into the country. Perhaps this is the main reason for growing hostility by the oligarchic structure against the Hizmet movement, one of the representatives of constructive religious movements in Turkey and around the world. Some may not realize the coming danger and rely on the so-called parallel state arguments but Fethullah Gülen, aware of the threat posed by this trend against all Muslims, draws attention to the danger by sponsoring ads in European, American and more recently the Kurdish media. Gülen, who condemns the violence committed by ISIL, particularly as it relies on religious discourse, cautions against the danger in Kobani and delivers messages embracing all people and groups in the region.
It is important to preserve national independence but it is equally important to preserve the unique spiritual identity of the people as well. Unfortunately, Muslims who hold a twisted view of and approach to Islam are doing greater harm to their religion than their enemies.