This is an article by by, Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthal, the first British Muslim.
This is taken from a group of lectures given by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthal in 1925. These were published by The Committee of Madras Lectures on Islam in 1927, under the title Cultural Side of Islam. We have reproduced it from 1976 reprinting by the Publisher, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore, Pakistan. The lectures were also published under the title Islamic Culture by the University of Michigan in 1929.
All references are to the Holy Quran unless mentioned otherwise.
Introducing the author:
Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall (7 April 1875 – 19 May 1936) was a Western Islamic scholar, noted as an English translator of the Qur’an into English. A convert from Christianity, Pickthall was a novelist, esteemed by D. H. Lawrence, H. G. Wells, and E. M. Forster, as well as a journalist, headmaster, and political and religious leader. He declared his Islam in dramatic fashion after delivering a talk on ‘Islam and Progress’ on November 29, 1917, to the Muslim Literary Society in Notting Hill, West London. See the Wikipedia for details.
— The Muslim Times (@The_MuslimTimes) May 22, 2016
There is a quality which one associates with a high degree of human culture, and that is tolerance. One of the commonest charges brought against Islam historically, and as a religion, by Western writers is that it is intolerant. This is turning the tables with a vengeance when one remembers various facts:- One remembers that not a Muslim is left alive in Spain or Sicily of Apulia. One remembers that not a Muslim was left alive and not a mosque left standing in Greece after the great rebellion in 1821. One remembers how the Muslims of the Balkan peninsula, once the majority, have been systematically reduced with the approval of the whole of Europe, how the Christian under Muslim rule have in recent times been urged on to rebel and massacre the Muslims, and how reprisals by the latter have been condemned as quite uncalled for. One remembers how the Jews were persecuted throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, what they suffered in Spain after the expulsion of the Moors and what they suffered in Czarist Russia and Poland even in our own day, while in the Muslim Empire Christians and Jews had liberty of conscience and full self-government in all internal affairs of their communities.
In Spain under the Umayyads and in Baghdad under the Abbasid Khalifas, Christians and Jews, equally with Muslims, were admitted to the schools and Universities-not only that, but were boarded and lodged in hostels at the cost of the State. When the Moors were driven out of Spain, the Christian conquerors held a terrific persecution of the Jews. Those who were fortunate enough to escape fled, some of them to Morocco and many hundreds to the Turkish Empire, where their descendants still live in separate communities, and still speak among themselves an antiquated form of Spanish. The Muslim Empire was a refuge for all those who fled from persecution by the Inquisition; and though the position which the Jews and Christian occupied there was inferior to that of Muslims it was infinitely to be preferred to the that of any Muslims, Jews or heretics-nay, even any really learned and enlightened man — in contemporary Europe.
The Western Christians, till the arrival of the Encyclopaedists in the eighteenth century, did not know and did not care to know, what the Muslims believed, nor did the Western Christians seek to know the views of Eastern Christians with regard to them. The Christian Church was already split in two, and in the end, it came to such a pass that the Eastern Christians, as Gibbon shows, preferred Muslim rule, which allowed them to practise their own form of religion and adhere to their peculiar dogmas, to the rule of fellow Christians who would have made them Roman Catholics or wiped them out. The Western Christians called the Muslims pagans, paynims even idolaters–there are plenty of books in which they are described as worshipping an idol called Mahomet or Mahound, and in the accounts of the conquest of Granada there are even descriptions of the monstrous idols which they were alleged to worship–whereas the Muslims knew what Christianity was, and in what respects it differed from Islam. If Europe had known as much of Islam, as Muslims knew of Christendom, in those days, those mad, adventurous, occasionally chivalrous and heroic, but utterly fanatical outbreak known as the Crusades could not have taken place, for they were based on a complete misapprehension. To quote a learned French author:
“Every poet in Christendom considered a Mohammadan to be an infidel and an idolater, and his gods to be three; mentioned in order, they were Mahomet or Mahound or Mohammad, Opolane and the third Termogond. It was said that when in Spain the Christians overpowered the Mohammadans and drove them as far as the gates of the city of Saragossa, the Mohammadans went back and broke their idols. A Christian poet of the period says that Opolane the “god” of the Mohammadans, which was kept there in a den was awfully belabored and abused by the Mohammadans, who, binding it hand and foot, crucified it on a pillar, trampled it under their feet and broke it to pieces or beating it with sticks; that their second god Mahound they threw in a pit and caused to be torn to pieces by pigs and dogs, and that never were gods so ignominiously treated; but that afterwards the Mohammadans repented of their sins, and once more reinstated their gods for the accustomed worship, and that when the Emperor Charles entered the city of Saragossa he had every mosque in the city searched and had “Muhammad” and all their Gods broken with iron hammers.”
That was the kind of “history” on which the populace in Western Europe used to be fed. Those were the ideas which inspired the rank and file of the crusader in their attacks on the most civilised peoples of those days. Christendom regarded the outside world as damned eternally, and Islam did not. There were good and tender-hearted men in Christendom who thought it sad that any people should be damned eternally, and wished to save them by the only way they knew-conversion to the Christian faith. The mission of St. Francis of Assisi to the Muslims and its reception vividly illustrate the difference of the two points of view. So does the history of the Crusade of St. Louis against Egypt which also had conversion as its object. A very interesting illustration of this point is to be found among the records of the Society of Friends, commonly called the Quakers. It was the subject of an article by Mabel Brailsford in the ‘Manchester Guardian’ in November 1912.
In Charles II’s reign a young English woman, who had been a servant-girl, became an active member of the Society of Friends and suffered persecution on that account. She was twice flogged in England for protesting against Church customs of the day. She, with two other Quakers, went to preach in New England, as the American colonies were then called. There they were thrown into prison on a charge of witchcraft and released only after many hardships. After her return to England she set out with five other Quakers to convert the Grand Signior, as the Sultan of Turkey was called. In the journey across Europe her companions fell into the hands of the Inquisition, and only one of them was ever heard of afterwards. He returned to England after many years, a globering madman. She after much persecution and annoyance, pursued her journey quite alone, took ship at Venice and was put ashore on the coast of the Morea, far from the place she wished to go to, but in Muslim territory. From thence she walked all the way to Adrianople, but she need not have gone on foot; far from the moment she set foot in the Muslim Empire persecution was at an end. Everybody showed her kindness; the Government Officials helped her on her way; and when she reached Adrianople, where the Sultan Bayazid was then encamped, and asked for audience of the Emperor, saying that she brought a message to him from Almighty God, the Sultan received her in State, according her all the honours of an ambassador. He and his courtiers listened with grave courtesy to all she had to say, and, when she finished speaking, said it was the truth, which they also believed. The Sultan asked her to remain in his country as an honoured guest or, at least, if she must depart, to accept an escort worthy of the dignity of one who carried a message of the Most High. But she refused, departing, as she had come, on foot and alone and so reached Constantinople without the least hurt or hindrance and there took passage on a vessel bound for England. It was not until the Western nations broke away from their religious law that they became more tolerant; and it was only when the Muslims fell away from their religious law that they declined in tolerance and other evidences of the highest culture. Therefore the difference evident in that anecdote is not of manners only but of religion. Of old, tolerance had existed here and there in the world, among enlightened individuals; but those individuals had always been against the prevalent religion. Tolerance was regarded of un-religious, if not irreligious. Before the coming of Islam it had never been preached as an essential part of religion.
For the Muslims, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are but three forms of one religion, which, in Its original purity, was the religion of Abraham :- Al-Islam, that perfect SELF-SURRENDER to the Will of God, which is the basis of Theocracy. The Jews, in their religion, after Moses, limited god’s mercy to their chosen nation and thought of His kingdom as the dominion of their race.
Even Christ himself, as several of his sayings, show–for instance, when he asked if it were meant to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs, and when he declared that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel–seemed to regard his mission as to the Hebrews only; and it was only after a special vision vouchsafed to St. Peter that his followers in after days considered themselves authorized to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
The Christians limited God’s mercy to those who believed certain dogmas, and thought of His Kingdom on earth as a group apart from the main stream of this world’s life–the aggregate of devout Christians. Every one who failed to hold the dogmas was an outcast or a miscreant, to be persecuted for his or her soul’s good. In Islam only is manifest real nature of the Kingdom of God.
Verily those who believe, and those who keep the Jew’s religious rule, and Christians, and Sabaeans–whosoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day, and doeth right-their reward is with their Lord; and there shall nor fear come upon them, neither shall they suffer grief.” (2:62)
They say: none entereth Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. Such are their own desires. Say. Bring your proof (of that which ye assert) if ye are truthful. (2:111)
“Nay, but whosoever surrendereth his purpose to Allah while doing good (to men), surely his reward is with his Lord; and there shall be no fear come upon them, neither shall they suffer grief.” (2:112)
“They say: Be Jews or Christians then will ye be rightly guided. Say: Nay but (ours is)the religion of Abraham, the man by nature upright, and he was not of those who ascribe partners (to Allah).””Say: We believe in Allah and in that which is revealed unto us, and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and the tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and that which was given to the Prophets. We make no difference between any of them, for we are those who have surrendered (unto Him).”
“And if they believe in the like of that which ye believe, then are they already rightly guided; and if they are averse, then are they in opposition. Allah will suffice thee (for defense) against them. He is All Hearing, All-Knowing.” (2:135-137)
And yet again:
“Allah! There is none to be worshipped save Him, the Alive, the Enduring. Age and slumber come not night Him. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Who is he that intercedeth with him save by His leave? He knoweth all that is in front of them and all that is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will, His throne extendeth beyond the Heavens and the Earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous.” (2:255)
“There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And whose rejecteth vain superstitions and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handle which will not give way. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing”. (2:256)
The two verses are supplementary. Where there is that realization of the majesty and dominion of Allah, there is no compulsion in religion. Men choose their path–allegiance or opposition–and it is sufficient punishment for those who oppose that they draw further and further away from the light of truth.
What Muslims do not generally consider is that this law applies to our own community just as much as to the folk outside, the laws of Allah being universal; and that intolerance of Muslims for other men’s opinions and beliefs is evidence that they themselves have, at the moment, forgotten the vision of the Majesty and mercy of Allah which the Quran presents to them.
But people object that Muslims to-day are very intolerant people, who call everybody who does not agree with them a Kafir, and infidel. And many Muslims even will, alas seek to justify such abuse by saying that in the Quran itself there are many references to the Kafirin as people with whom the Muslims ought to have no dealings, people upon whom they should wage war. At the risk of wearying my audience I shall pause to explain who and what the Kafir really is.
In the Quran I find two meanings, which become one the moment that we try to realize the divine stand point. The Kafir, in the first place, is not the follower of any religion. He is the opponent of Allah’s benevolent will and purpose for mankind–therefore the disbeliever in the truth of all religions, the disbeliever in all Scriptures as of divine revelation, the disbeliever to the point of active opposition in all the Prophets whom the Muslims are bidden to regard, without distinction, as messengers of Allah. The first of the Kafirin was Iblis (Satan)–the angel who through pride refused to pay reverence to man when he was ordered to do so.
إِ”And when We said unto the angels Prostrate yourselves before. Adam, They fell prostrate all except Iblis. He refused through pride, and so Became of the disbelievers.” (Kafirin).” (2:34)
The Quran repeatedly claims to be the confirmation of the truth of all religions. The former Scriptures had become obscure, corrupted; the former Prophets appeared mythical, so extravagant were the legends which were told concerning them, so that people doubted whether there was any truth in the old Scriptures, whether such people as the Prophets had ever really existed. Here–says the Quran–is a Scripture whereof there is no doubt: here is a Prophet actually living among you and preaching to you. If it were not for this Book and this Prophet, men might be excused for saying that Allah’s guidance to mankind was all a fable. This Book and this Prophet, therefore, confirm the truth of all that was revealed before them, and those who disbelieve in them to the point of opposing the existence of a Prophet and a revelation are really opposed to the idea of Allah’s guidance–which is the truth of all revealed religions.
“Say: Who is an enemy to (the angel) Gabriel? For he it is who hath revealed (this Scripture) to thy heart, confirming all that was revealed before it, and for a guidance and glad tidings to believers.”
“Who is an enemy to Allah and to His angels and His messengers and Gabriel and Michael? Verily Allah is an enemy to disbelievers (in His guidance).” (2:97-98)
In those passages of the Holy Quran which refer to warfare, the term Kafir is applied to the actual fighting enemies of Islam. It is not applicable to the non-Muslim as such, nor even to the idolater as such, as is proved by a reference to the famous Proclamation of Immunity from obligations towards those faithless tribes of the idolaters who, after having made treaties with the Muslims, had repeatedly broken treaty and attacked them:
“(A statement of) immunity from Allah and His messenger towards those of the idolaters (Mushrikin, not Kafirin) with whom ye made a treaty (but they broke it).
“So travel freely in the land four months and know that ye cannot weaken Allah, and that Allah will abase the opponents (Kafirin).”
“And a proclamation to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah and his messenger are free from obligations towards the idolaters (Mushrikin), So if ye repeat it will be best for you, but if ye turn away, then know that ye cannot weaken Allah. Warn those who oppose hereafter (O Muhammad) of a painful punishment.”
“Except those of the idolaters (Mushrikin) with whom you have a treaty, and who have not injured you in aught, nor aided anyone against you. (As for them), fulfill their treaty perfectly until the term thereof. Lo! Allah loveth those who keep their duty (unto Him).” (9:1-4)
Here it is evident that a distinction is drawn between Mushrikin idolater-literally, those who attribute partners to Allah) in general, and the Kafirin. The idolaters who kept faith with the Muslims were not Kafirin. Our Holy Prophet himself said that the term Kafir was not to be applied to anyone who said “Salam” (peace) to the Muslims. The Kafirs, in the terms of the Quran, are the conscious evil-doers of any race, creed or community.
I have made a long digression but it seemed to me necessary, for I find much confusion of ideas even among Muslims on this subject, owing to defective study of the Quran and the Prophet’s life. Many Muslims seem to forget that our Prophet had allies among the idolaters even after Islam had triumphed in Arabia, and that he “fulfilled his treaty with them perfectly until the term thereof.” The righteous conduct of the Muslims, not the sword, must be held responsible for the conversion of those idolaters, since they embraced Islam before the expiration of their treaty.
So much for the idolaters of Arabia,- who had no real beliefs to oppose to the teaching of Islam, but only superstition. They invoked their local deities for help in war and put their faith only in brute force. In this they were, to begin with, enormously superior to the Muslims. When the Muslims nevertheless won, they were dismayed; and all their arguments based on the superior power of their deities were for ever silenced. Their conversion followed naturally. It was only a question of time with the most obstinate of them.
It was otherwise with the people who had a respectable religion of their own-the People of the Scripture as the Quran calls them-i.e., the people who had received the revelation of some former Prophet: the Jews, the Christians and the Zoroastrians were those with whom the Muslims came at once in contact. To these our Prophet’s attitude was all of kindness. The Charter which he granted to the Christian monks of Sinai is extant. If you read it you will see that it breathes not only good-will but actual love. He gave to the Jews of Medina, so long as they were faithful to him, precisely the same treatment as to the Muslims. He never was aggressive against any man or class of men; he never penalized any man, or made war on any people, on the ground of belief, but only on the ground of conduct. The story of his reception of Christian and Zoroastrian visitors is on record. There is not a trace of religious intolerance in all this. And it should be remembered-Muslims are rather apt to forget it, and it is of great importance to our outlook-that our Prophet did not ask the people of the Scripture to become his followers. He asked them only to accept the Kingdom of Allah, to abolish priesthood and restore their own religions to their original purity. The question which, in effect, he put to everyone was this: ‘Are you for the Kingdom of God which includes all of us, or are you for your own community against the rest of mankind?’ The one is obviously the way of peace and human progress, the other the way of strife, oppression and calamity. But the rulers of the world, to whom he sent his message, most of them treated it as the message of either an insolent upstart or a mad fanatic. His envoys were insulted cruelly, and even slain. One cannot help wondering what reception that some embassy would meet with from the rulers of mankind to-day, when all the thinking portion of mankind accept the Prophet’s premises, have thrown of the trammels of priestcraft, and harbour some idea of human brotherhood.
“Say: O people of the Scripture come to a proposal of arrangement between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall ascribe no partner. unto Him, and that no one of us shall take another for Lord besides Allah. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him.)” (3:64)
If the people of the Scripture, thus appealed to, had agreed to this proposal they also would have been of those who have surrendered unto Allah (Muslimun).The Messenger of Allah was not to seek his own aggrandizement; his sole concern was to deliver his message to the nations. A Unitarian Christian community would have been, for him, a Muslim community; and a Jewish community which rejected the priestcraft and superstition of the rabbis would have been the same. But though the Christians and Jews and Zoroastrians refused his message, and their rulers heaped most cruel insults on his envoys, our Prophet never lost his benevolent attitudes towards them as religious communities; as witness the Charter to the monks of Sinai already mentioned. And though the Muslims of later days have fallen far short of the Holy Prophet’s tolerance, and have sometimes shown arrogance towards men of other faiths, they have always given special treatment to the Jews and Christians. Indeed the Laws of their special treatment form part of the Shari’ah.
In Egypt the Copts were on terms of closest friendship with the Muslims in the first centuries of the Muslim conquest, and they are on terms of closest friendship with the Muslims at the present day. In Syria the various Christian communities lived on terms of closest friendship with the Muslims in the first centuries of the Muslim conquest, and they are on terms of closest friendship with the Muslims at the present day, openly preferring Muslim domination to a foreign yoke.
There were always flourishing Jewish communities in the Muslim realm, notably in Spain, North Africa, Syria, Iraq, and later on in Turkey. Jews fled from Christian persecution to Muslim countries for refuge. Whole communities of them voluntarily embraced Islam following a revered rabbi whom they regarded as the promised Messiah but many more remained as Jews, and they were never persecuted as in Christendom. The Turkish Jews are one with the Turkish Muslims today. And it is noteworthy that the Arabic-speaking Jews of Palestine-the old immigrants from Spain and Poland are one with the Muslims and Christians in opposition to the transformation of Palestine into a national home for the Jews.
To turn to the Christians, the story of the triumphal entry of the Khalifah Umar ibn-ul-Kbattab into Jerusalem bas been often told, but I shall tell it once again, for it illustrates the proper Muslim attitude towards the People of the Scripture. The general who had taken Jerusalem asked the Khalifah to come in person to receive the keys of the Holy City. The Khalifah travelled from Medina very simply, with only a single camel and a single slave. Master and man used the camel alternately, ride and tie, The astonishment of the gorgeous slave-officials of the Roman Empire when they saw the ruler of so great an empire coming in such humble guise may be imagined. None the less they paid him reverence and led him to the church of the Holy Sepulchre as the glory of their city. While Umar was in the Church the hour of Asr prayer arrived. The Christian officia1s urged him to spread his carpet in the Church itself, but he refused saying that some of the ignorant Muslims after him might claim the Church and convert it into a mosque because he had once prayed there. He had his carpet carried to the top of the steps outside the church, to the spot where the Mosque of Umar now stands-the real Mosque of Umar, for the splendid Qubbat-us-Sakhrah, which tourists call the Mosque of Umar, is not a mosque at all, but the temple of Jerusalem, a shrine within the precincts of the Masjid-al-Aqsa, which is the second of the Holy Places of Islam.
From that day to this, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has always been a Christian place of worship, the only things the Muslims did in the way of interference with the Christian’s liberty of conscience in respect of it was to see that every sect of Christians had access to it, and that it was not monopolized by one sect to the exclusion of others, The same is true of the Church of the Nativity of Bethlehem, and of other buildings of special sanctity. Under the Khulafa-ur Rashidin and the Umayyads, the true Islamic attitude was maintained, and it continued to a much later period under the Umayyad rule in Spain. In those days it was no uncommon thing for Muslims and Christian to use the same places of worship. I could point to a dozen buildings in Syria which tradition says were thus conjointly used; and I have seen at Lud (Lydda), in the plain of Sharon, a Church of St. George and a mosque under the same roof with only a partition wall between. The partition wall did not exist in early days. The words of the Khalifah Umar proved true in other cases; not only half the Church at Lydda, but the whole church in other places was claimed by ignorant Muslims of a later day on the mere ground that the early Muslims had prayed there. But there was absolute liberty of conscience for the Christians; they kept their most important churches and built new ones; though by a later edict their church bells were taken from them because their din annoyed the Muslims, it was said; only the big bell of the Holy Sepulchre remaining. They used to call to prayer by beating a naqus, a wooden gong, the same instrument which the Prophet Noah is said to have used to summons the chosen few into his ark. The equality of early days was later marred by social arrogance the part of the Muslims, but that came only after the Crusades. The Christians were never persecuted, save for a short period when Southern Syria was conquered by the Fatemites of Egypt for a time. Then under the mad ascetic Khalifah, AI-Hakim bi-Amr-Illah (whom the Duruz to this day worship as God incarnate) they suffered very cruel persecution. Hundreds of Christian hermits living in caves among the rocks of the Judean wilderness were ordered to be abominably mutilated, and though they escaped through the intervention of the local Muslims, cruel persecution of the Christians did take place: their pilgrims were interfered with, and the services of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were interrupted for a time. It was the news of that persecution, carried to Europe by returning pilgrims which was the cause of the first Crusade. But by the time the Crusading army reached Syria, the Fatemites had been driven out and the condition of the Christians was again normal.
It was not the Christians of Syria who desired the Crusades, nor did the Crusades care a jot for them, or their sentiments, regarding them as heretics and interlopers. The latter word sounds strange in this connection, but there is a reason for its use. The great Abbasid Khalifah Harun-ar-Rashid had, God knows why, once sent the keys of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre among other presents to the Frankish Emperor, Charlemmagne. Historically, it was a wrong to the Christians of Syria, who did not belong to the Western Church, and asked for no protection other than the Muslim Government. Politically, it was a mistake and proved the source of endless after trouble to the Muslim Empire. The keys sent, it is true, were only duplicate keys. The Church was in daily use. It was not locked up till such time as Charlemagne, Emperor of the West, chose to unlock it. The present of .the keys was intended only as a compliment, as who would say: “You and your people can have free access to the Church which is the centre of your faith, your goal of pilgrimage, whenever you may come to visit it.”
But the Frankish Christians took the present seriously in after times regarding it as the title to a freehold, and looking on the Christians of the country as mere interlopers, as I said before, as well as heretics.
That compliment from king to king was the foundation of all the extravagant claims of France in later centuries. Indirectly it was the foundation of Russia’s even more extortionate claims, for Russia claimed to protect the Eastern Church against the encroachments of the Roman Catholics; and it was the cause of nearly all the ill-feeling which ever existed between the Muslims and their Christian Zimmis. When the Crusaders took Jerusalem they massacred the Eastern Christians with the Muslims indiscriminately, and while they ruled in Palestine the Eastern Christians, such of them as did not accompany the retreating Muslim army, were deprived of all the privileges which Islam secured to them and were treated as a sort of outcasters. Many of them became Roman Catholics in order to secure a higher status; but after the re-conquest, when the emigrants returned, the followers of the Eastern church were found again to be in large majority over those who owed obedience to the Pope of Rome. The old order was re-established.
and all the Zimmis once again enjoyed their privileges in accordance with the Sacred Law. But the effect of those fanatical inroads had been somewhat to embitter Muslim sentiments, and to tinge them with an intellectual contempt for the Christians generally; which was bad for Muslims and for Christians both; since it made the former arrogant and oppressive to the latter socially, and the intellectual contempt, surviving the intellectual superiority, blinded the Muslims to the scientific advance of the West till too late. The arrogance hardened into custom, and when Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt occupied Syria in the third decade of the nineteenth century, a deputation of the Muslims of Damascus waited on him with a complaint that under his rule the Christians were beginning to ride on horseback. Ibrahim Pasha pretended to be greatly shocked at the news, and asked leave to think for a whole night on so disturbing an announcement. Next morning, he informed the deputation that since it was, of course, a shame for Christians to ride as high as Muslims; he gave permission to all Muslims henceforth to ride on camels. That was probably the first time, that the Muslims of Damascus had ever been brought face to face with the absurdity of their pretensions
By the beginning of the eighteenth century A.D the Christians had, by custom, been mad subject to certain social disabilities but, these were never, at the worst so cruel or so galling as those to which the Roman Catholic nobility of France at the same period subjected their own Roman Catholic peasantry, or as those which Protestants imposed on Roman Catholics in Ireland; and they weighed only on the wealthy portion of the community. The poor Muslims and poor Christians were on an equality, and were still good friends and neighbours. The Muslims never interfered with the religion of the subject Christians. There was never anything like the Inquisition or the fires of Smithfield. Nor did they interfere in the internal affairs of their communities. Thus a number of small Christian sects, called by the larger sects heretical, which would inevitably have been exterminated if left to the tender mercies of the larger sects whose power prevailed in Christendom, were protected and preserved until today by the power of Islam.
Innumerable monasteries, with a wealth of treasure of which the worth has been calculated at not less than a hundred millions sterling, enjoyed the benefit of the Holy Prophet’s Charter to the monks of Sinai and were religiously respected, by the Muslims. The various sects of Christians were represented in the Council of the Empire by their patriarchs, on the provincial and district council by their bishops, in the village councils by their priests, whose word was always taken without question on things which were the sole concern of their community. With regard to the respect for monasteries I have a curious instance of my own remembrance. In the year 1908 the Arabic congregation of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or Church of the Resurrection as it is locally called, rebelled against the tyranny of the Monks of the adjoining convent of St. George. The convent was extremely rich, and a large part of its revenues was derived from lands which had been made over to it by the ancestors of the Arab congregation for security at a time when property was insecure; relying on the well known Muslim reverence for religious foundations. The income was to be paid to the depositors and their descendants, after deducting something for the convent. No income had been paid to anybody by the Monks for more than a century, and the congregation now demanded that at least a part of that ill-gotten wealth should be spent on education of the community. The Patriarch sided with the congregation, but was captured by the monks, who kept him prisoner. The congregation tried to storm the convent, and the amiable monk poured vitriol down upon the faces of the congregation. The congregation appealed to the Turkish Government, which secured the release of the Patriarch and some concessions for the congregation, but could not make the monks disgorge any part of their wealth because of the immunities secured to Monasteries by the Sacred Law. What made the congregation the more bitter was the fact that certain Christians who, in old days, had made their property over to the Masjid ul-Aqsa-the great mosque of Jerusalem-for security, were receiving income yearly from it even then.
Here is another incident from my own memory. A sub-prior of the Monastery of St. George purloined a handful from the enormous treasure of the Holy Sepulchre-a handful worth some forty thousand pounds-and tried to get away with it to Europe. He was caught at Jaffa by the Turkish customs officers and brought back to Jerusalem. The poor man fell on his face before the Mutasarrif imploring him with tears to have him tried by Turkish Law. The answer was: “We have no jurisdiction over monasteries,” and the poor groveling wretch was handed over to the tender mercies of his fellow-monks.
But the very evidence of their toleration, the concessions given to the subject people of another faith were used against them in the end by their political opponents just as the concessions granted in their day of strength to foreigners came to be used against them in their day of weakness, as Capitulations.
I can give you one curious instance of a “capitulation,” typical of several others. Three hundred years ago, the Franciscan friars were the only Western European missionaries to be found in the Muslim Empire. There was a terrible epidemic of plague, and those Franciscans worked devotedly, tending the sick and helping to bury the dead of all communities. In gratitude for this great service, the Turkish Government decreed that all property of the Franciscans should be free of customs duty for ever. In the Firman the actual words used were “Frankish (i, e., Western European)- missionaries” and at a later time, when there were hundreds of missionaries from the West, most of them of other sects than thy Roman Catholics, they all claimed that privilege and were allowed it by, the Turkish Government because the terms of the original Firman included them. Not only that, but they claimed that concession as a right, as if it had been won for them by force of arms or international treaty instead of being, as it was, a free gift of the Sultan; and called upon their consuls and ambassadors to support them strongly if it was all infringed.
The Christians were allowed to keep their own languages and customs, to start their own schools and to be visited by missionaries to their own faith from Christendom. Thus they formed patches of nationalism in a great mass of internationalism or universities brotherhood; for as I have already said the tolerance within the body of Islam was, and is, something without parallel in history, class and race and colour ceasing altogether to be barriers.
In countries where nationality and language were the same in Syria, Egypt and Mesopotamia, there was no clash of ideals, but in Turkey, where the Christians
spoke quite different languages from the Muslims, the ideals were also different . So long as the nationalism was unaggressive, all went well; and it remained unaggressive-that is to say, the subject Christians were content with their position-so long as the Muslim Empire remained better governed, more enlightened and more prosperous than Christian countries. And that may be said to have been the case in all human ‘essentials,’ up to the beginning of the seventeenth century. Then for a period or about eighty years the Turkish Empire was badly governed; and the Christians suffered not from Islamic Institutions but from the decay or neglect of Islamic Institutions. Still it took Russia more than a century of ceaseless secret propaganda work to stir up a spirit of aggresive nationalism in the subject Christians, and then only by appealing to their religious fanaticism.
After the eighty years of bad government came the era of conscious reform, when the Muslim Government turned its attention to the improvement of the status of
all the peoples under it. But then it was too late to win back the Serbs, the Greeks, the Bulgars and the Romans. The poison of the Russian religious political propaganda had done its work, and the prestige of Russian victories over the Turks had excited in the
worst elements among the Christians of that Greek Church, the hope of an early opportunity to slaughter and despoil the Muslims, strengthening the desire to do so which had been instilled in them by Russian secret envoys, priests and monks. .
I do not wish to dwell upon this period of history, though it is to me the best known of all, for it is too recent and might rouse too strong a feeling in my audience. I will only remind you that in the Greek War of Independence in 1821, three hundred thousand Muslims-men and women and children-the whole Muslim population of the Morea without exception, as well as many thousands in the northern parts of Greece –were wiped out in circumstances of the most atrocious cruelty; that in European histories we seldom find the slightest mention of that massacre, though we hear much of the reprisals which the Turks took afterwards; that before every massacre of Christians by Muslims of which you read, there was a more wholesale massacre or attempted massacre of Muslims by Christians; that those Christians were old friends and neighbours of the Muslims-the Armenians were the favourites of the Turks till fifty years ago-and that most of them were really happy under Turkish rule, as has been shown again and again by their tendency to return to it after so called liberation.
It was the Christians outside the Muslim Empire who systematically and continually rode their religious fanaticism: it was their priests who told them that to slaughter Muslims was a meritorious act. I doubt if anything so wicked can be found in history as that plot for the destruction of Turkey. When I say “wicked,” I mean inimical to human progress and therefore against Allah’s guidance and His purpose for mankind. For it has made religious tolerance appear a weakness in the eyes of all the worldlings, because the multitudes of Christians who lived peacefully in Turkey are made to seem the cause of Turkey’s martyrdom and downfall; while on the other hand the method of prosecution and extermination which has always prevailed in Christendom is made to seem comparatively strong and wise. Thus religious tolerance is made to seem a fault, politically. But it is not really so. The victims of injustice are always less to be pitied in reality than the perpetrators of injustice. From the expulsion of the Moriscoes dates the degradation and decline of Spain. San Fernando was really wiser and more patriotic in his tolerance to conquered Sevile, Murcia and Toleda than was the later king who, under the guise of Holy warfare, captured Granada and let the Inquisition work its will upon the Muslims and the Jews. And the modern Balkan States and Greece are born under a curse. It may even prove that the degradation and decline of European civilization will be dated from the day when so-called civilised statesmen agreed to the inhuman policy of Czarist Russia and gave their sanction to the crude fanaticism of the Russian Church. There is no doubt but that, in the eyes of history, religious toleration is the highest evidence of culture in a people. Let no Muslim, when looking on the ruin of the Muslim realm which was compassed through the agency of those very peoples whom the Muslims had tolerated and protected through the centuries when Western Europe thought it a religious duty to exterminate or forcibly convert all peoples of another faith than theirs –let no Muslim, seeing this, imagine that toleration is a weakness in Islam. It is the greatest strength of Islam because it is the attitude of truth. Allah is not the God of the Jews or the Christians or the Muslim only, any more than the sun shines or the rain falls for the Jews or Christians or Muslims only. Still, as of old some people say:
“None enters Paradise he be a Jew or a Christian.” (2:111)
Answer, them in the words of the Holy Quran:
“Nay, but whatsoever sunrendereth his purpose to God, while doing good to men, surely his reward is with his Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they suffer grief.” (2:112)