Caliph Umar Farooq versus Emperor Heraclius: Who gave us our Religious Freedoms? Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times


There should be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Al Quran 2:257)


Dome of the Rock with the rest of Jerusalem in background. Umar Farooq found the Temple Mount to be a garbage dump for Jerusalem in the 7th century and personally cleaned and restored it!

At the time of advent of Islam there were two Empires, the Roman and the Persian. The Persian Empire did not survive very long. So, it may be reasonable to ask, which of the two surviving Empires, the Roman Empire and the nascent Muslim Empire, did the most to give us our vision of the religious freedoms, in the seventh century. Umar Farooq (born 579 CE – died 6 November 644 CE), a close companion of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, led the rapidly evolving Muslim Empire from 634-644 CE. Heraclius (Latin: Flavius Heraclius Augustus, 575 – February 11, 641) was Byzantine (Roman) Emperor from 610 to 641 CE. Heraclius and Umar Farooq were contemporaries and each stands for their respective cultures and Empires. By studying the two, we can track the history of religious freedom in organized human thought during the seventh century. In this short article I want 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. These verses were revealed around 624 CE and these teachings through the practices of Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, in Arabia laid foundation of freedoms that were put into action by Umar Farooq, may Allah be pleased with him, in Jerusalem in 638 CE, when he took control of Jerusalem, after a relatively bloodless siege by the Muslim army.


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