Was Islam Spread by Sword: Contrasting Umar Farooq and Charles the Great?

Epigraph:

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)

Temple Mount(1)

Umar Farooq found the Temple Mount to be a garbage dump for Jerusalem in the 7th century and personally cleaned and restored it!

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Umar, also spelled Omar (Arabic: عمر بن الخطابtranslit.: `Umar ibn Al-Khattāb, Umar Son of Al-Khattab, born 577 CE – died 3 November 644 CE), also known as Umar Farooq, was one of the most powerful and influential Muslim caliphs (successors) in history.[5] He was a senior Sahaba of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He succeeded Abu Bakr (632–634) as the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate on 23 August 634. He was an expert Islamic jurist known for his pious and just nature, which earned him the epithet Al-Farooq (“the one who distinguishes between right and wrong”).

Under Umar, the caliphate expanded at an unprecedented rate, ruling the Sasanian Empire and more than two-thirds of the Byzantine Empire.[9] His attacks against the Sasanian Empire resulted in the conquest of Persia in fewer than two years (642–644).[10] According to Jewish tradition, Umar set aside the Christian ban on Jews and allowed them into Jerusalem and to worship.[11]

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.

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 in Spain or the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, because of the generosity, wisdom and religious tolerance of one man Umar. 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, where Umar Mosque was built centuries later, allowing the church to remain a Christian holy place.

Umar’s visit to Jerusalem is documented in several sources. A recently discovered Judeo-Arabic text has disclosed the following anecdote:[68]

Umar ordered Gentiles and a group of Jews to sweep the area of the Temple Mount. Umar oversaw the work. The Jews who had come sent letters to the rest of the Jews in Palestine and informed them that Umar had permitted resettlement of Jerusalem by Jews. Umar, after some consultation, permitted seventy Jewish households to return. They returned to live in the southern part of the city, i.e. the Market of the Jews. (Their aim was to be near the water of Silwan and the Temple Mount and its gates). Then the Commander Umar granted them this request. The seventy families moved to Jerusalem from Tiberias and the area around it with their wives and children.

It is also reported in the name of the Alexandrian Bishop Eutychius (932–940 CE) that the rock known as the Temple Mount had been a place of ruins as far back as the time of the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, who built churches in Jerusalem. “The Byzantines,” he said, “had deliberately left the ancient site of the Temple as it was, and had even thrown rubbish on it, so that a great heap of rubble formed.” It was only when Umar marched into Jerusalem with an army that he asked Kaab, a Jew, “Where do you advise me to build a place of worship?” Kaab indicated the Temple Rock, now a gigantic heap of ruins from the temple of Jupiter.[71] The Jews, Kaab explained, had briefly won back their old capital a quarter of a century before (when Persians overran Syria and Palestine), but they had not had time to clear the site of the Temple, for the Rums(Byzantines) had recaptured the city. It was then that Umar ordered the rubbish on the Ṣakhra (rock) to be removed by the Nabataeans, and after three showers of heavy rain had cleansed the Rock, he instituted prayers there. To this day, the place is known as ḳubbat es ṣakhra, the Dome of the Rock.

Charlemagne (2 April 742– 28 January 814), almost a century after Umar Farooq, also known as Charles the Great or Charles I, was King of the Franks who united most of Western Europe during the Middle Ages and laid the foundations for modern France and Germany. He took the Frankish throne from 768, became King of Italy from 774, and from 800 was the first recognized Romanemperor in Western Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier. The expanded Frankish state he founded is called the Carolingian Empire.

The oldest son of Pepin the Short and Bertrada of Laon, Charlemagne became king in 768 following the death of his father. He was initially co-ruler with his brother Carloman I. Carloman’s sudden death in 771 under unexplained circumstances left Charlemagne as the undisputed ruler of the Frankish Kingdom. Charlemagne continued his father’s policy towards the papacy and became its protector, removing the Lombards from power in northern Italy, and leading an incursion into Muslim Spain. He also campaigned against the peoples to his east, Christianizing them upon penalty of death, at times leading to events such as the Massacre of Verden. Charlemagne reached the height of his power in 800 when he was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day at Old St. Peter’s Basilica.

Called the “Father of Europe” (pater Europae),[3] Charlemagne united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire. His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of cultural and intellectual activity within the Catholic Church. Both the French and German monarchies considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne’s empire.

In the summer of 779, he again invaded Saxony and reconquered Eastphalia, Engria, and Westphalia. At a diet near Lippe, he divided the land into missionary districts and himself assisted in several mass baptisms (780). He then returned to Italy and, for the first time, there was no immediate Saxon revolt. Saxony was peaceful from 780 to 782.

He returned to Saxony in 782 and instituted a code of law and appointed counts, both Saxon and Frank. The laws were draconian on religious issues; for example, the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae prescribed death to Saxon pagans who refused to convert to Christianity. This revived a renewal of the old conflict. That year, in autumn, Widukind returned and led a new revolt. In response, atVerden in Lower Saxony, Charlemagne is recorded as having ordered the execution of 4,500 Saxon prisoners, known as the Massacre of Verden (“Verdener Blutgericht”). The killings triggered three years of renewed bloody warfare (783–785). During this war the Frisians were also finally subdued and a large part of their fleet was burned. The war ended with Widukind accepting baptism.

Charles the Great expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800. The French and German monarchies descending from the empire ruled by Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor cover most of Europe. In his acceptance speech of the Charlemagne Prize, Pope John Paul II referred to him as the Pater Europae (“father of Europe”).

According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

Charlemagne’s most demanding military undertaking pitted him against the Saxons, longtime adversaries of the Franks whose conquest required more than 30 years of campaigning (772 to 804). This long struggle, which led to the annexation of a large block of territory between the Rhine and the Elbe rivers, was marked by pillaging, broken truces, hostage taking, mass killings, deportation of rebellious Saxons, draconian measures to compel acceptance of Christianity, and occasional Frankish defeats. The Frisians, Saxon allies living along the North Sea east of the Rhine, were also forced into submission.

Contrasting Umar Farooq from the seventh century and Charles the Great a century later, shows us in glowing colors, which religion was spread by sword and today it has taken me less than an hour to put this article together from easily available sources. Perhaps some student of theology, philosophy or history can dig deeper and write a book on this subject.  So long!

Additional Reading

How Islam Taught Medieval Christian Europe Religious and Political Tolerance

14 replies

  1. The general answer to the title question is: Yes, and additionally so was Christianity.

    Both religions were spread by conquest over the centuries with all the horrors that go along with conquest. Disputing that denies history and base human nature.

    Both were guilty, neither were innocent, in this regard.

  2. Conquests opened the way for Islam, as medieval societies did not allow for any conversion, even in Europe until the eighteenth century, you did not have a single Muslim alive. So conquests were needed but not the final cause of conversion to Islam.

    India, after a 1000 year Muslim rule, when the British conquered it, was still a Hindu majority country.

    The Muslim armies never went into Malaysia or Indonesia to think that they converted them.

    The same cannot be said for Christianity in Europe, Americas and Australia.

  3. So, what is your point? That Muslims were only somewhat ‘bad’ and Christians were always ‘bad’? What does that have to do with the present day? Again, what exactly is the point of your original posting?

    Isn’t the purpose of this website to bring people of faith together rather than point fingers, make judgements and alienate those of differing faiths?

    I sometimes wonder about that…

  4. We can come together on 30 Articles of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as we do that we can in a friendly way be discussing theology, philosophy and history for a better future.

    Each human life will be considered sacred, but, let us not have any sacred cows and have a frank discussion about past, present and future.

  5. Great article Mr Shah. I hope it can be distributed to a much larger group of people. Is there a way to put it on Face book.It will do good to millions of people if nothing else it will increase their knowledge and understanding of world history

  6. Thank you Jaleel for your kind words. We will be tweeting it to our 29,000 followers in Twitter. Please link it in your Facebook account or where ever you can.

    Best Regards!

  7. Charlemagne, despite his wars and conflicts with the Muslim Saracen seafaring raiders whom he took Sardinia and Sicily from and the Moors who had conquered Spain from the Visigoth Christians, did make contact with the Caliph of Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid, who presented him with an Asian elephant named Abul-Abbas and a clock…

    Evidently, despite differences of faith and empire, there was some manner, even then, of attempts at coming to an understanding between Christians and Muslims.

    Yes, we can learn from history…

  8. The article shows clear difference in the way Umar treated the (Christian and Jewish) people of Jerusalem when he took over the city. He did not kill or convert any one, did not compel any one.
    On the other hand Charlemagne being a Christian ruler, did what he did. There is no need to hide away from it. It will also show the merit of Islam and Christianity. In those days, Church was on wrong path. Nowadays the Muslims are on wrong path.
    The subject head of this article is to prove that Islam was not spread by sword. It should wash away the accusation being spread by Christians that Islam was spread by sword and that Islam allows use of sword to spread its faith.
    Interesting note: There is no word “sword” mentioned in entire Quran. But Bible NT speaks of buying swords even by selling own clothes.
    WE need to know all these things (of history) in order to improve our relations.

  9. Mr. Shah, I have read some articles about Hindu massacre by Muslim rulers/Invaders in India. Even Wikipedia talks about that. How do we answer that.

  10. Since both the religions claim to link man with God therefore they in tussle to prove superiority over each other. They work good for billions of people simultaneously.
    Religions (all religions ) start with an effort to reform the existing society therefore at some stage they aquire power. Islam is a unique case where it got power in the very early stage. It started as a very pure and human nucleus but further down the road the power and desire for power got the central attention of the people at the top.
    It was quite natural historical process according to human nature.

    When we say that Islam was not spread by sword we simply mean that it was not started with the sword. Just 40 , 50 years down the road things took their own natural turn according to the norms of those days. To present the thesis in absolute terms is proving unprovable.

    On such a point which is purely question in the domain of knowledge of history, any slogan or Head line will not creat any lasting impression. History has NO sentiments it is as brutal as the Heros.

  11. @ Jaleel, I do not know the details of Mughal history and all the wars that were fought.

    But, there are two facts. Firstly, Akbar was a very liberal guy and was not working for the fundamentalists.

    Secondly, when the Muhgals were all done, India was still a Hindu majority area.

    Under a hypothetical Charles the Great, followed by Charles II, III and IV, married to the Catholic Churh, the whole of India would have been one religion, within a few generations.

  12. The point raised by Jaleel sahib is about Muslim invaders Not only Mughols.
    Baber the first Mughal king came in 1526AD.
    Muslims’ invasion of India Started in eleventh century by Ghaznavi (1002-30 AD)
    Then came Ghauri and Khulji and Tughlaq etc.
    They had to do what ever suited them. Hindus struggles against them from time to time in which blood shed was inevitable.
    One should not Blaim Islam for that. The Kings and power of kings speak through the sword for survival in alien lands specially.

    In fact Mughal era was the best example of religious tolerance. Akbar realized that he cannot reign India without cooperation and acceptance of Hindu majority. His thought proved to be correct and laid the foundation of Golden Mughal Era.

    We must keep the services of Muslim Saints and Sufis in mind also while talking about spread of Islam in India. They spread message of love ,Torrence and equality.

    What ever is mention about massacre of Hindus by some Muslim invaders is exaggerated by some predudice Hindu historians.
    Muslim Invaders are not a special case. All invaders use power in the way which helps their objectives. Islam is not responsible for that.
    We should not DEFEND every action of every Muslim Ruler. We have to stress upon the teaching of Islam which always tells to act for peace and justice. some Muslim rulers , unfortunately did not act upon this teaching and persued their own goals by all means.

    A balanced approach is the best policy. Neither we should unduly glorify Muslim Rulers nor we should be defensive for the inappropriate actions of some cruel rulers. These cruel Kings were not representing Islam. In fact they were overwhelmed by their own power only.

  13. Two points:
    Muslim ruled Spain for over 700 years.They were still minority in the end.
    Same is true for Muslim’s 1,000 years rule in India.
    The reason for war is to attain ECONOMIC dominance or to prevent one.
    Hindu & Muslims fight in India, but not in South Africa, Mauritius, East Africa,Europe or USA.
    All Kings/dictators have misused religion for their interest.
    Suleman The Great gouged eyes of his own son.
    Auranzeb ruled India for 50 years.For 25 years he fought with MUSLIM rulers of Souther India.
    Muslim Iraq & Muslim Iran are fighting.US Civil war, Christians on both sides. Ditto for WW I & II.

  14. Charlemagne or Charles the Great and total lack of religious freedom

    It is important not to forget the evolution of religious freedom in the world. As those who cannot remember the past are apt to repeat it. Charles the Great expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800. The French and German monarchies descending from the empire ruled by Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor cover most of Europe. In his acceptance speech of the Charlemagne Prize, Pope John Paul II referred to him as the Pater Europae (“father of Europe”), see Wikipedia for reference.

    According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

    Charlemagne’s most demanding military undertaking pitted him against the Saxons, longtime adversaries of the Franks whose conquest required more than 30 years of campaigning (772 to 804). This long struggle, which led to the annexation of a large block of territory between the Rhine and the Elbe rivers, was marked by pillaging, broken truces, hostage taking, mass killings, deportation of rebellious Saxons, draconian measures to compel acceptance of Christianity, and occasional Frankish defeats. The Frisians, Saxon allies living along the North Sea east of the Rhine, were also forced into submission.

    “Charlemagne.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Aug. 2009 .

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