Muslim-Christian Brotherhood: a Historical Fact and Social Necessity
His Eminence lecture was one of the activities in the symposium “Brotherhood of Religions’ Followers” at Al-Assad Library
24 – 25 January 2000.
In the Name of God,
the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise be to God the Lord of all Worlds, and the best greetings and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his forefather Prophet Abraham, his two brothers, Moses and Jesus, upon all prophets and messengers, and all their family members and companions.
Excellencies, Eminences, Reverends, Beatitudes, Patriarchs and honoured audience, I greet you all with the greeting of Islam: As-salaamu alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh (May God’s peace, mercy and blessings be upon you all). I thank all those who have contributed to make this meeting a reality, invoking Almighty God, the Most Glorious, the Most High to guide us all to what is best for our countries and peoples.
Muslim-Christian coexistence throughout fifteen centuries has been one of the Islamic postulates with regard to creed, legislation and moral code. The Holy Qur’an has established a system of coexistence, which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) put into practice in his lifetime. His companions were also in harmony with the same straight path.
This system of Muslim-Christian coexistence has persisted perfectly throughout long centuries except for some instances where relationships sank into dark negativity, abhorrent fanaticism and hateful sectarianism. They occurred because of ignorance about the heavenly religion, deviated interpretations, interpolations, personal desires and interests, and the egotism of some clergymen. Additionally, interfering outsiders sought to sow the seeds of sectarianism, thus paving the way for colonialism and exploitation of resources in both Muslim and Christian countries.
Honoured ladies and gentlemen, the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet’s traditions have laid down the principles for coexistence with non-Muslims, and specifically with Christians. These principles are clear and based on preserving a sacred right, which is the right to human dignity. Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an:
“And verily, We have honoured the children of Adam.” T.Q.,17:70.
This points out that members of the human race are all equal. He further says:
“O people, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you.” T.Q.,49:13.
In what could be considered the great Islamic Charter of Human Rights, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, just a few months before his death, at his farewell pilgrimage:
‘Certainly your Lord is One; your father is One. You all belong to Adam, and Adam was created from earth. The most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. An Arab has no preference over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; a white one is not to be preferred over a black one, nor a black one over a white one except in righteousness. Have I informed you? O God, please bear witness. Let the people present inform those who are absent. ’ Musnad Ahmad.
God’s Messenger (pbuh) would supplicate a lot: ‘O God, I bear witness that you are the Only God. There is no God but you. I also bear witness that all humankind are brothers and sisters.’ Sunan Abu Dawood. Hence, immunity from injustice has been given to all humankind regardless of their colour, nationality, language or faith. God says:
“O you who believe, stand out firmly for God as just witnesses; and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just; that is nearer to piety, and fear God. Verily, God is Well-Acquainted with what you do.” T.Q.,5:8.
Respect for human character is an obvious fact in the Islamic texts:
“Because of that, We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation for murder or for spreading corruption on earth, it would be as if they killed all humankind; and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if they saved the life of all humankind.” T.Q.,5:32.
Islam has determined this fact without any discrimination on the grounds of colour, ethnicity or religion. The Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘God torments the people who torture their fellow humans in this world.’ Sahih Muslim.
Harm and aggression against human dignity is considered in Islam one of the worst crimes in this world and in the hereafter.
One day, the Prophet stood up respectfully for a funeral that passed by him. Immediately, Muslims stood up. Someone told the Prophet, ‘This is the funeral of a Jew.’ He responded, ‘Is he not a human being?’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
For the sake of codification, when we talk about the way Islam undertook coexistence with others, we notice that it stems from the following principle:
“God does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with those who do not fight against you on account of religion nor expel you from your homes. Verily, God loves the just ones.” T.Q., 60:8.
This verse refers to all religions and sects. It guides us to be good to others, communicate with them and treat them justly because God loves just, kind and benevolent people. Tafseer At-Tabari.
Guarantees for non-Muslims are distinct in the Islamic community. They fall into three parts:
protection against any outside aggression
protection within society
3. public freedoms.
With regard to external protection, God says in the Holy Qur’an:
“For had it not been that God checks one set of people by means of another, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of God is much mentioned, would surely have been pulled down. Verily, God will help those who help His [Cause]. Truly, God is All-Strong, All-Mighty.” T.Q., 22:40.
Muslims are supposed to fight aggressors, keep them away from the Islamic community and protect all members of this community, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Monasteries, churches and synagogues are places of worship for Christians and Jews while mosques are places of worship for Muslims. These places must be guarded against any aggression. Tafseer Al-Qurtubi.
Muslim jurists say that all residents in the Islamic State, including citizens, visitors and strangers, Muslims and non-Muslims, must be protected when the enemies want to transgress against these people in body, property or otherwise. Muslims must fight the aggressors with all their capabilities to fulfil God’s and His messenger’s pledge of protection granted to non-Muslims living in the Islamic State. Al-Furouq.
The second part is protection within society, including protection against any injury to body, honour or property. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Any Muslim who wrongs a non-Muslim citizen, either by humiliating him, overburdening him, or by taking away anything from him by force, I will be his opponent on the Day of Judgment.’ Sunan Abu Dawood.
Throughout history scholars counselled caliphs, emirs and rulers to treat non-Muslims well and to look after their affairs. For example, Abu Yusuf, a judge, wrote to Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid reminding him that a caliph should take care of Ahl Al-Thimmah (people under the pledge of protection, i.e. non-Muslims living in the Islamic State): ‘O Emir of Believers, you should be very kind to Ahl Al-Thimmah. Your Prophet and cousin Muhammad (pbuh) commands you to take measures so that they won’t be wronged, injured or overburdened, or that any property of theirs should be taken away unwillingly except for due right.’ Al-Kharaj.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not stop at giving instructions, but rather he made a practical step when he gave the Christians of Najran his pledge of protection: ‘To Najran and its people I give the pledge of protection from God and His messenger Muhammad: protection for their properties, lands, religion, absent and present ones, clans, churches and all that they possess whether little or much.’ Al-Kharaj.
Islam guarantees non-Muslims, just as Muslims, a good life in case of inability to make a living; this is what we call social security today. The story of the rightly guided Caliph Umar bin Al-Khattab is well-known — when he came to Damascus and found some Christian lepers there, he ordered them lifetime sufficient means of living. Futouh Al-Buldan.
The just Caliph Umar bin Abdul-Aziz wrote the following to one of his governors: ‘Take care of Ahl Al-Thimmah. When one of them gets old and has no means of living, spend money on them.’ Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra.
The third part is the guarantee of public freedom, and particularly religious freedom, which includes the freedom to practise one’s own rituals and the guarding of places of worship.
The Holy Qur’an cautions Muslims against denying the rights of others through its divine rule:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth is now distinct from error.” T.Q., 2:256.
We see the confirmation of this rule in Muslims’ agreements with others. The reconciliation document between God’s messenger (pbuh) and the Christians of Najran included the following words: ‘No bishop, monk or priest is to be removed from his position unjustly.’ Al-Kharaj.
Another example is the pledge given to the Christians of Jerusalem by Caliph Umar: ‘This is the pledge of protection given by the servant of God, Umar bin Al-Khattab, the Emir of Believers to the people of Eiliya (Jerusalem). The protection is for their lives, properties, churches, crosses, the sick and healthy, and for all their co-religionists. Their churches must not be inhabited, destroyed or diminished in size, number of crosses or property. They are not to be forced to change their religion, nor are any of them to be harmed.’ Tarikh Al-Rusl wal Muluk.
One of the most outstanding examples of this lofty religious tolerance, despite there being no treaty or contract, was the act of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who permitted the Christian delegation of Najran, numbering sixty people, to enter his holy mosque and stay in it for a long period. When it was time for their prayers, they stood up facing east to offer their prayers. Some Muslims were about to prevent them, but the Prophet (pbuh) stopped them and let the Najrani people perform their prayers peacefully. Al-Sirah Al-Nabawiyya.
As for the other freedoms, the freedom of thought and education appears to be the most important. Muslims and non-Muslims had equal rights in the scientific field. The most obvious evidence of this is found in the abundant scientific research and discoveries by non-Muslims in various fields and the fame of many non-Muslim scientists living in Muslim communities.
Other freedoms given to non-Muslims were the freedoms of movement, travel and work, earning money, and occupying prominent positions in the Islamic State, except for specifically Islamic religious positions like Imams. They were also given the freedom to conduct festivals, celebrations, visits and communications with Muslims. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would visit his non-Muslim neighbours, especially when they were sick, help their needy ones, and call them to Islam very kindly. Sahih Al-Bukhari. If we would like to be more specific, we can shed some light on the history of Muslim-Christian relations in our countries, the blessed Al-Sham (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine), where we see an ideal that we, as Muslims and Christians, should be proud of and try to make it followed by others. We invite all countries that have multi-religious societies to study this marvellous ideal of coexistence that we have been enjoying since the first moment of our existence in this land.
The incident in which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) offered hospitality to the Christian delegation of Najran numbering sixty people, allowing them to stay at his mosque for a long period, eat, drink, sleep and perform their Christian prayers, was reciprocated at St John's Cathedral in Damascus which later became the Umayyad Mosque. Christians at the time of the Islamic conquest accepted to have Muslims share half of their church with them. You would see the followers of the two religions, Islam and Christianity, performing their own prayers simultaneously and adjacently: Muslims directing themselves to the Holy Ka'ba (to the south) and Christians facing east. Min Rawae’ Hadaratina.
During certain periods, some non-Muslims might have been exposed to troubles, mischief and oppression by some individuals or some men in power. These offences do not represent Islam, Muslims or the wise scholars who are fully conscious of true Islam. We should not forget that the injustice caused by some people in authority throughout history was not directed at non-Muslims solely but rather befell all people in the Islamic communities including Muslims. Gustaf Lupon, Islamic Civilization.
The most significant thing to be mentioned in the history of Muslim-Christian relations in the countries of Al-Sham is their steadfast solidarity against aggressors, oppressors, transgressors and colonizers. This solidarity was obvious at the time of the Crusades a thousand years ago, and it was repeated when the French colonized Syria. Mr Fares Al-Khouri delivered a speech at the Grand Umayyad Mosque in a gathering held against the French colonization. He said, ‘The justification for the French presence in this country is claimed to protect Christians. I am Fares Al-Khouri; on behalf of Christians, I demand your protection, O Muslims, and I reject the French protection.’ Arab Christians, a Journalist Symposium.
Honoured audience, a history of positive Muslim-Christian co-existence in Al-Sham persists and should be protected to grow mutually. Such forums, meetings, discourses and conventions should be fruitful for the benefit of all people in this honoured country.
I have thrown light on some major incidents and landmarks, hoping to push Muslim-Christian principles of coexistence forward for the betterment of all peoples and to establish a bright new future, taking into consideration the following remarks:
1. Muslims and Christians in our homeland and abroad should try to preserve the positive coexistence based on mutual recognition and respect. The saying ‘Cancelling the other’ is rejected.
2. Futile arguments between Muslims and Christians must be ended. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not have such arguments; on the contrary, he made dialogue with the Christians of Najran implementing the Qur’anic verse:
“Do not dispute with the people of the Scriptures except in a way that is better.” T.Q., 29:46.
Both Muslims and Christians must seek to confront any seeds of discord and division so that no place is made for any outsider to devastate our communities.
Muslims and Christians must band together against Zionist arrogance, which allows for the seizing of Arab lands, Jerusalem in particular, by force and aggression, resulting in the tyrannical oppression of the followers of Islam and Christianity, depriving them of their religious and human rights by using ‘cleansing’ practices, which wipe out the historical and religious identity of the Arab lands.
Muslims and Christians together must confront every kind of pressure exercised by an entity that attempts to devastate the religious and human freedoms of any human being or to exploit people’s basic needs in order to dominate nations or minorities.
The whole world today lives in an extreme crisis from many perspectives and on many levels. Therefore, all people, particularly the followers of the heavenly religions, should seriously cooperate with deliberate consideration and hard work to solve this crisis through the following steps:
Confronting the danger of famine, poverty, ignorance and backwardness throughout the world.
Confronting natural catastrophes, and helping those afflicted and injured by earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.
Fighting all kinds of crimes and sectarian sedition, and putting an end to the religious and ethnic cleansing and genocide practised by some groups.
Confronting the danger of the moral and behavioural dilemmas and corruption that threaten human beings, starting with individuals and families and ending with societies.
a) Confronting the dangerous spread of plagues and deadly contagious diseases.
b) Urging the countries that possess economic and technical powers to direct their capabilities towards serving human society and to abandon the arms race.
c) Confronting the danger of some major world powers that attempt to control and exploit peoples’ natural resources by military and economic force.
d) Protecting the environment from all kinds of destruction, depletion and pollution.
e) Doing our best to prevent the possession, maintenance and spread of nuclear weapons, and particularly to make the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free zone.
f) Working hard to prevent the manufacture and spread of chemical and biological weapons
g) Exerting our joint efforts to urge governments to introduce international legislation under the supervision of the United Nations to control scientific research in the areas of genetic modification, cloning and production of cross-bred animals and plants and those augmented by dangerous hormones. We also must establish the regulations that ensure a danger-free future for humankind.
In conclusion, I would like to pray that God, the Most High, would preserve the blessings of security and the good co-existence of Muslims and Christians under the patronage of the wise leadership of President Hafez Al-Assad, who always sponsored, encouraged and supported this co-existence and love between the followers of the two universal Messages, Islam and Christianity, acting upon the Holy Qur’an’s teachings and Jesus Christ’s message. He is a loving father to his people, Muslims and Christians alike, and a role model that is perpetually keen on having all people live in complete harmony and constructive cooperation according to the instructions of these heavenly Messages.
May God guide us to what benefits all peoples and countries. All praise be to God, the Lord of all Worlds, and may God’s peace, mercy and blessings be upon you all.
(T.Q. = Translation of the meanings of the Holy Qur’an)
(pbuh = May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, and may Allah exalt his mention and raise his position more and more)