What are the examples of dialogue during the time of our Prophet (PBUH) and his tolerance towards the followers of other religions?
Interreligious dialogue is not something invented but something revived. That is, it is not something completely new, it is like taking the water out of the wells which dried; it is to revive something that became unfamiliar to us because we didnt use it for a long time, which was regarded as nonexistent but actually existed.
Yes, tolerance, interreligious dialogue, respect to everybody, the idea of accepting everyone as they are and to apply it are not things that emerged during this century. If the Madina Document is examined through this point of view, it will be seen that our Prophet (PBUH) declared every human being, no matter what his religion, race and nationality is, had the right to practice his religion, to live, to travel, to trade and to have property. It is stated in the document that these rights are inviolable and holy. The same truth is repeated in the Farewell Sermon with different words, style and manner.
There are about ten years between the Madina Document and the Farewell Sermon. So there is no change in the line during these ten years; on the contrary there is reminding and confirmation. These ideas were not only mentioned in the Madina Document and the Farewell Sermon, but they were also applied. Our Prophet (PBUH) applied them, so did the Four Caliphs and those who followed them and so on. During the conquests, Muslims did not pull down synagogues and churches, did not interfere with the rights of the minorities and did not limit the freedom of consciousness. The minorities that lived under the protection of Muslims in history understood what Muslims had granted them only after other invaders confiscated these rights.
However, we should also admit that these principles were not always applied as sensitively as our Prophet (PBUH) and the Four Caliphs did during the fifteen-century Islamic history. They werent applied because some people who did not understand the essence of Islam became administrators, and worldly thoughts that cannot be associated with Islam came into prominence. Love of holding office, feeling of interest, tribal fanaticism and a lot of similar negativeness emerged. Accordingly, sometimes definite orders of Islam were interpreted differently. Sometimes these different interpretations were applied. So a lot of rudeness was committed in the name of Islam. However, the rudeness did not actually belong to Islam but to the people who did not understand the essence of Islam.
Since Islam assigns its followers the tasks of tolerance, dialogue with the followers of other religions, respect to everybody and the idea of accepting everyone as they are and the application of all these, nobody can ascribe these principles and this process to themselves. Yes, it is not a product of the compassion and mercy of anybody. On the contrary, it is the compassion and mercy of Islam.
As our Prophet (PBUH) is a guide for Muslims in every issue, he is also a guide in the issue of dialogue with the other religions and their followers. The life of our Prophet (PBUH) is based on forgiveness and tolerance. He always treated the followers of other religions with love and tolerance.
The source of tolerance and interreligious dialogue is the Quran, which is also the source of our religion and this thought comes down to us like an overflowing river through the communicator of the Quran, our Prophet (PBUH). From this point of view, tolerance and dialogue is the natural ethics of a Muslim since it depends on the Quran and the Sunnah.
Our Prophet (PBUH), who had boundless tolerance, lived together with the People of the Book in Madina and found common agreement points even with the people who say they are Muslims but cause conflicts and with the seditious souls who want to play people with clean consciousness off against each other almost everywhere and showed tolerance to them. He even gave his shirt as a shroud for Abdullah b. Ubay b. Salul, who acted as an enemy towards him throughout his life, when he died and upon request our Prophet agreed to perform the janazah (death) prayer for him. Thereupon Hazrat Umar reminded him that Ibn Salul was a hypocritical person by listing the evils he had committed against the Prophet throughout his life that it was not appropriate to perform the prayer and pray for him. Our Prophet (PBUH) pointed out the 80th verse of Chapter at-Taubah (Whether thou ask for their forgiveness or not, (their sin is unforgivable): if thou ask seventy times for their forgiveness, Allah will not forgive them) and said my Lord let me free about this issue. Therefore if it is necessary, I will ask more than seventy times for his forgiveness(1). Then the 84th verse of Chapter at-Taubah was sent down by Allah and the definite judgment was made: Nor do thou ever pray for any of them that dies, nor stand at his grave. Therefore there is no being similar to him nor any message presented to humanity similar to his. Therefore it is impossible for those who try to follow this Guide of Salvation, who is the best example, to think differently.
The Prophet (PBUH) esteemed every human being whether Muslim, Christian or Jew because of the good manners given to him by his Lord.
One day the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) stands up when the funeral of a Jew passes. One of his companions (sahabas) says O Messenger of Allah! He is a Jew. Without changing his attitude and his face lines our Prophet gives the following wonderful answer: But he is a human being (2). The ears of his followers who do not know him like this and the advocates of human rights who live without knowing the universal messages he brought for the humanity should burn! There is nothing to add to this statement, and if we are from the ummah of this prophet who uttered these words, it is impossible for us to think in a different way.
Now lets mention the relationship of our Prophet (PBUH) with Christians and Jews during the period of Makkah and especially Madinah and his attitude towards them:
a. Dialogue with Christians
When our Prophet (PBUH) started to preach as the Messenger of Allah he met some Christians in Makkah at first. Waraqa Ibn Nawfal, who consoled him and Hazrat Khadija during the days when he received the first revelation, was a Christian who had manuscripts of the Bible. (3)
The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) acted in accordance with the actions of the People of the Book about the issues that he didnt receive any revelations opposing the Makkan polytheists. (4)
The relationship of the Prophet (PBUH) with Christians in Makkah, which is the cradle of Islam, started in a friendly way from the beginning. In the third year of the prophethood, the defeat of the Byzantines by the Iranians grieved Muslims in Makkah. Byzantines, who were the People of the Book, should not have been defeated by fire-worshipper Iranians. As a matter of fact, Allah sent the revelation that informed the consolation that Byzantines, the People of the Book, would defeat them. (ar-Room, 1-5).
The Christian country that our Prophet was interested in before Hijrah (migration to Madina) and where he wanted Muslims to migrate was Abyssinia. The Messenger of Allah wanted Makkan Muslims to migrate to Abyssinia because of the merciless tortures and oppression of Makkan polytheists and expressed his feelings as follows: "If you want and if you can take refuge in Abyssinia. Nobody is oppressed in the land of the sovereign king there. It is a good and secure place, stay there until Allah makes a way for you. "(5).
Some of his companions obeyed this request of the Messenger of Allah immediately. His cousin Hazrat Jafar was among them. Our Prophet (PBUH) wrote a letter of recommendation addressing the Nagashi. In this letter the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) first explained the belief of oneness in Islam and the concept of Allah in Islam and then stated the view of Islam on Hazrat Eesah as follows: "I witness that Eesa bin Maryam (Mary) is the word of Allah which He bestowed on the virgin, virtuous and untouched Maryam. Allah created Hazrat Adam with His hand and He created Maryam with his spirit and blowing. In addition, in the letter addressed to the Nagashi, he was called to Islam and he was asked to host the Prophets cousin and the people with him. (6)
Because of the words the Nagashi uttered to the group that came to him, the way he treated them and the letter he wrote to our Prophet, the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) decided that the Nagashi became a Muslim and performed janazah prayer in his absence for him in Madina when he died. (7)
There was not much activity in terms of relations with Christians during the period of Makkah as we mentioned above whereas there was an increase in the relationship with Christians during the period of Madina. After laying the foundations of the Islamic state in Madina and organizing the people of Madina in the structure of this state, the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) aimed to make contacts with the neighboring tribes. When he ensured the security of the Islamic state as a result of the alliances and wars with the neighboring tribes, he developed the contacts and called some heads of states and tribes to Islam. These calls to Islam by our Prophet took place after the Byzantines defeated Iranians in Ninova decisively. (8)
The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) sent a letter to the Mukawkis of Egypt, one of the Christian heads.(9) In this letter the Messenger of Allah called the Mukawkis and his subjects to Islam and wanted them to worship none but Allah to associate no partners with Him and not to erect from among themselves Lords and patrons other than Allah as stated in the 64th verse of Chapter Aal-e-Imran. (10)
The most outstanding issue in terms of Christian-Muslim relations in the life of the Messenger of Allah is his contacts with Najran Christians. As it is known, the region in which Christians lived most in the Arabian Peninsula was the region where the tribe of Balharis of Mazhij in Najran, Yemen lived. (11)
Our Prophet was interested in the Christians of Najran and sent them Mughira Ibn Shuba to inform them about Islam.
Najran Christians sent a delegation of sixty people to Madina. The delegation was lead by Abu Harisa bin Alqama, the chief and priest of their Midras (school), Abdul Masih and al-Ayham, the chief of the caravan. The Najran delegation arrived in Madina and came before the Prophet in his mosque; when they wanted to pray in the mosque when it was their prayer time, the companions of the Prophet opposed it but the Prophet let them pray and left the mosque with his companions. They turned to the east and prayed. (12)
The next day the Messenger of Allah called their religious leader Abu Harisa and their chief Abdul Masih to embrace Islam. There was a long argument. In order to show definitely that he was right in his cause, our Prophet offered the people of Najran to ask for mutual curse of Allah, because the arguments did not seem to be ending. Thus Allahs curse was going to be asked for the group whose cause was not right. As a matter of fact Allah asked his Prophet to offer mutual curse by commanding as follows: " If anyone disputes in this matter with thee now after (full) knowledge hath come to thee, say: "Come! let us gather together―our sons, and your sons our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves: then let us earnestly pray, and invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie!" (Âl-i İmrân, 61)
After this offer of mutual curse by the Messenger of Allah, the delegation of Najran decided to have a private meeting among themselves; during the negotiation Abdul Masih said,O Christian Group! You all know very well that Muhammad is a sent messenger and you all know that a group that dares to attempt a mutual curse with a prophet will have no offspring. Do not dare to attempt a mutual curse; sign a contract with him and keep to your religion. The members of the delegation accepted this idea and went to see the Prophet; they said,O Abul Qasim! We decided not to attempt a mutual curse. Well leave you with your religion, and well keep to our religion. Judge about us as you wish. Well give you what you want and make a contract with you. Send us a Muslim judge to settle the disputes among us. (13)
The Messenger of Allah accepted their offer as an indication of the general religious tolerance of Islam and guaranteed their freedom of living, obtaining property and religion and granted full immunity to their churches and clergymen in return for jizya (a kind of tax). In addition, he appointed Abu Ubayda to settle their disputes. (14)
As it is seen the spirit that prevailed in the Muslim-Christian relations during the era of our Prophet was the spirit of tolerance in the general religious attitude of Islam. The attitude of our Prophet towards Christians in the letters he wrote or in his encounter with Najran Christians was to inform them about their wrong beliefs and to convey the true belief to them. The aim of our Prophet in offering mutual curse was to correct their beliefs that they claimed to be right and to call them to believe in the clear principles of Islamic faith. However, there is no compulsion. The fact that our Prophet (PBUH) admitted Najran Christians into the Mosque of the Prophet that he let them pray there that he accepted their offer of contract to remain in their religion can only be explained by the spirit of tolerance in the general religious attitude of Islam.
b. Dialogue with Jews
The first direct relations with Jews, who form the other branch of the People of the Book, started with the arrival of the Messenger of Allah in Madina in 622. Arab and Jewish tribes lived in this city, which was going to be the first center of the Islamic state and there was not an administration to be called a city state.
Our Prophet felt the need for some attempts to organize mutual rights and duties between immigrant Makkan Muslims and native Arabs and Jews. It was necessary to organize the society in fields like law, education, finance and military. Therefore our Prophet made a meeting with the leaders of the Madina and formed a city state charter. This written document that reached today is regarded to be the first constitution to be formed by a state.
In many places of this document, which consists of about fifty articles, Jews are dealt with; the unity that Madina Muslims and immigrant Muslims formed together with Jews are named as ummah in the 2nd and 25th articles; for instance it is stated in the 25th article that Jews and their allies are granted absolute religious freedom. This Madina city state forms one of the best examples that people of various races and beliefs can be united under a common administration.
In this new center, the messenger of Allah was not interested in administrative activities only. He wanted to have a spiritual integration with the People of the Book. He called Jews and Christians, whom he saw closer to him than his polytheist fellow townsmen, to a unity of faith since the three heavenly religions had common principles and fundamentals; he called them to unite under Islam. He was the Prophet of the humanity not only of the Arabs. Therefore the People of the Book were in the scope of his prophethood. (al-Baqara, 40-43; al-Maeda, 19) He called them to Islam with the following verse: Say: "O people of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not from among ourselves Lords and patrons other than Allah." If then they turn back, say: ye! "Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah's will)." (Aal-e Imran, 64)
This call is the universal call of the Quran to all religions beginning from Christians. It is seen in this call how different nations and religions can unite under a true word and what a wide and open guidance way and freedom law Islam shows and teaches the humanity.
As it is seen clearly in these statements, there is no compulsion in religion in the call of the messenger of Allah. His duty is to inform people about the guidance of Allah equally and ask them to follow the right path. As a matter of fact the following is stated in the twentieth verse of the same chapter: And say to the people of the Book and to those who are unlearned: "Do ye (also) submit yourselves?" if they do, they are in right guidance, but if they turn back, thy duty is to convey the Message. Carrying out this approach, our Prophet went to Bait-ul-Midras, the science and law center of the Jews in Madina, and said to them,O the community of Jews! Become Muslims and you will find the salvation (15). Jews did not pay attention to this call but they did not face any compulsion.
It is a religious fact that although his desire to integrate in oneness with the People of the Book was not fully realized, our Prophet always sought ways to live together with them in a free environment with an understanding of tolerance and never quit it. The Prophet (PBUH) was open to everyone to make a dialogue in accordance with the orders of the Quran. This principle which the Word of Allah pointed out to the Prophet and all Muslims was outlined by the 46th verse of the Chapter al-Ankaboot: And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation) unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say "We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)."
The Messenger of Allah and all Muslims acted in accordance with this divine command and acted respectfully towards everyone without discriminating between beliefs and stuck to laws and regulations. There are a lot of examples of this approach in the lives of first Muslims.
Lets give some examples:
Our Prophet, who always carried out the 256th verse of Chapter al-Baqara There is no compulsion in religion as the freedom of choosing a religion, said the following to the envoys of the King of Himyar who came to Madina in 630 to inform that they became Muslims:
If a Jew or Christian becomes a Muslim, he becomes equal to believers. Whoever wants to remain as a Jew or Christians, he is not interfered. (16)
This freedom of faith was valid not only spiritually but also legally. The freedom of Jews, Christians and others living under the administration of Islam to carry out their own laws was secured by the Quran. Sometimes non-Muslims did not carry out this freedom and asked the Prophet to settle their disputes. In this case the Prophet was left free to judge or not to judge by the Quran, and if he wanted to judge, he was ordered to judge in accordance with justice and what Allah sent down to him. (al-Maeda, 42,48,49)
The attitude that the state showed the People of the Book called zimmis, who were among the citizens of the first Islamic state can be envied even today. Non-Muslims had to pay jizya in return for the exemption from some tasks. The ethic level of the judgments given by Hazrat Umar relating to this issue is beyond any appreciation.
Jizya was not taken from women, children, the old, the poor, the unemployed, the handicapped and the clergymen who had no income.
Apart from administrative field, the tolerant attitude towards the prayers and churches and synagogues of the People of the Book were continued in the Islamic states of the following centuries. The fact that there are numerous functioning churches and synagogues of the People of the Book in Muslim countries today cannot be possibly attributed to some other reasons.
As it is known by the people who are familiar with Islamic sources, the relations of Muslims with the People of the Book became visible in almost every field of social life as years passed by. The Messenger of Allah himself made use of non-Muslims by appointing them as officials, teachers, technicians, builders and soldiers.
One of the values that the Messenger of Allah sees as an essential in his relations with other people is honesty. The fact that an honest person is of another religion did not prevent him from carrying out trade with him. He himself borrowed food stuffs and money from Jewish tradesmen of Madina. The following is stated in a verse:
Among the People of the Book are some who, if entrusted with a hoard of gold, will (readily) pay it back; others, who if entrusted with a single silver coin, will not repay it unless thou constantly stoodest demanding because they, say "There is no call on us (to keep faith) with these ignorant (pagans)." But they tell a lie against Allah, and (well) they know it. (Aal-e Imran, 75)
The Quran always gave privileges to the People of the Book in comparison to people who are not of the People of the Book. In the issues of marriage and food which were forbidden for pagans, the People of the Book were privileged. Muslims could marry Jewish and Christian women, and these women had the right to keep to their religion and act in accordance with their religion.
The meat of the animals slaughtered by the People of the Book and the food cooked by them were halal (permissible) for Muslims unlike those of polytheists.
This environment of closeness, tolerance and respect whose foundations laid by our Prophet (PBUH) and his friends in the light of the Quran did not remain one-sided. There are numerous actions between the People of the Book and Muslims showing that they shared the joys and grieves of each other.
According to what the historian Zahabi reported, when the great Islamic scholar Awzai died in157/774 Muslims, Jews, Christians and Copts took part in his funeral.
Even these few examples taken from the first centuries of Islam are enough to show that the religion that the last Prophet communicated was a source of mercy and justice surrounding humanity. It is true that the happy life that was obtained in the periods when Islamic principles were observed did not continue later, but it is definite that to reach a future like that will not remain as a dream if cultured and ethical generations are brought up. The people who try to be slaves worthy of the Creator, which is the target of the heavenly religions, will reach their targets God willing. (17)
1. Bukhari, Janaiz 85; Tafseeru Baraa 12; Muslim, Fazailus- Sahaba 25.
2. Muslim, Janaiz 78, 81.
3. Bukhari, Badul- Wahy 3.
4. Bukhari, Libas 70; Muslim, Fadail 90.
5. M. Hamidullah, İslam Peygamberi, (trans. Sâlih Tuğ,) Ankara 2003 I,109.
6. Hamidullah, al-Wathaiqus- Siyâsiyyea, (trans.Vecdi Akyüz), Kitabevi, İstanbul 1997,, p.115; Hamidullah, İslâm Peygamberi, I,297.
7. Muslim, Janaiz 62-67; Tirmizi, Janaiz 48.
8. Hamidullah, İslâm Peygamberi, I, 308-629.
9. Hamidullah, al-Wathaiq, p. 94; Hamidullah, İslâm Peygamberi, I,313-324.
10. Hamidullah, al-Wathaiq, p. 51.
11. Hamidullah, İslâm Peygamberi, I, 411; M. Fayda, Hz. Muhammedin Necranlı Hıristiyanlarla Görüşmesi ve Mubâhele, İlahiyat Fakültesi, İslâm İlimleri dergisi II, Ankara 1975.
12. Ibn Hisham, as-Sira, Beirut ts., I,573-574; Hamidullah, İslâm Peygamberi, I,619-620.
13. Kurtubi, al-Jami li Ahkamil-Quran, Beirut 1985, IV, 103; Wahidi, Asbabun- Nuzul, ad-Damâm 1991, p.104; Ibn Hisham, as-Sira, I, 583-584; M. Hamidullah, İslâm Peygamberi, I, 621.
14. Hamidullah, İslâm Peygamberi, I,622.
15. Bukhari, Itisâm 18.
16. Ibn Hisham, as-Sira, II, 586.
17. Mehmet S. Hatipoğlu Mehmet S. Hatipoğlu, Hoşgörü Açısından Müslümanlar Ve Ehl-i Kitap, unpublished article.
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