Why did the people of Jerusalem (Quds) want to give the keys of Jerusalem to the Caliph Umar when the cities of Damascus and Jerusalem were conquered?

The Details of the Question

- What is the “assurance of safety (aman)” given to the people of Jerusalem (Quds)?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It is necessary to have a look at the events of the year 15 H (636-637 AD) for the answer to this question:

In 15 H, during the caliphate of Umar (ra), the Muslims conquered the “Land of Damascus”, that is, a part of the Middle East: First the city of Homs, which is currently a part of the Syrian state, was conquered, followed by Baalbek. Abu Ubayda b. Jarrah, the commander-in-chief of the Damascus region, also captured Hama in Syria, subjecting its Christian inhabitants to jizya and tribute. The Eastern Roman government was constantly retreating in the face of the Muslim advancement on all fronts in order to resist it in the future. Afterwards, Abu Ubayda’s army captured Shayzar, Ma’arra and Latakia through fighting. It then moved on to Raha/Urfa. The emperor Heraclius realized that he could no longer stand between the armies of Damascus and Iraq. One day, he looked longingly from a high hill at his former fertile land, the fertile crescent moon, and said,

“Farewell, a long farewell to Syria.”

Then, he evacuated all the fortresses between Iskenderun and Tarsus to go to Constantine, leaving an uninhabited desert between Antioch and the Greek / Roman border.

Following the conquest of Qinnasrin, Abu Ubayda invaded Halab and captured this beautiful city of Damascus through peace. Then, the enemy considered the situation and surrendered Antioch to him without resistance. After that, Abu Ubayda’s army captured Manbij. Thus, all the towns west of Damascus fell into the hands of Islam. Then, Abu Ubayda, the commander-in-chief, sent Khalid b. Walid to Marash. Khalid b. Walid captured Marash when the Romans were about to leave it.

Umar (ra)’s Meeting with the Commanders and the Keys of Jerusalem

After all these conquests, Abu Ubayda, the commander-in-chief of the Damascus region, went to Palestine. Shurahbil b. Hasana, who was under his command, and who was the commander of the Jordan region, conquered the Jordan valley. Amr b. As, the commander of the Palestinian region, was a clever man and had superior knowledge of warfare. He appointed his commanders Alqama and Masruq for the conquest of Jerusalem and sent Abu Ayyub to Ramla. 

Afterwards, Amr himself came to the aid of the Muslim army for Jerusalem and defeated the army of the Byzantine commander Artabon; Artabon retreated in defeat inside the walls of Jerusalem. (1) Amr, then, conquered the towns of Gaza, Nablus and Jaffa in the region of Palestine and sent word to the notables of the city for the surrender of Jerusalem. The notables of Jerusalem replied that they would only surrender the city if the caliph gave them a covenant and assurance of safety. When the Caliph Umar (ra) was informed of the situation, he appointed Ali (ra) as the acting head of state (2) and set out to meet the commanders of the Damascus region in Jabiyah. 

The first commanders who came to meet him were Abu Ubayda, Yazid b. Abu Sufyan (the elder brother of Muawiya) and Khalid b. Walid. Umar (ra) was wearing a patched shirt as he came toward them. He was riding a camel or a mare. (3) When he approached the commanders, he saw that they were riding the best horses and wearing nice clothes, and he became furious. He immediately jumped down from his horse and threw stones at them. He shouted at them as follows:

“How quickly you have changed your mindset and opinion! Have you come out to meet me dressed like this?”

Umar (ra), like the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and Abu Bakr (ra), was against luxury and comfort and disliked extravagance. When he saw them dressed in beautiful and attractive clothes like the Romans, he was angry and rebuked them. Did these people start to like worldly things?

The commanders responded as follows to defend themselves

“This is just a show. We have only our weapons on us.”

Thus, they aplogized to the caliph. Accepting their apology, the caliph said “all right” and they reached Jabiyah together. Amr b. As and Shurahbil came and joined the group there. Amr and Shurahbil, the commanders of Palestine and Jordan, kissed the caliph’s knee. Umar (ra) hugged them.

The caliph and the commanders met with the notables of Jerusalem in Jabiyah. The keys of the city were handed over to the Caliph Umar (ra) on the condition that Umar (ra) would give them an assurance of safety and they would pay jizya (head tax). (4) Apparently, the people of Jerusalem wanted to secure their affairs, to be sure of the safety of their property and lives, and to hand over the city to the caliph after a treaty with him because of some considerations regarding their religion. The patriarch of Jerusalem was ready for peace, but he wanted the Caliph Umar to personally take the responsibility of the city upon himself. (5) Indeed, this assurance of safety points to the issues we have mentioned:

The Assurance of Safety Given to the People of Jerusalem

When Umar (ra) took over the city, he gave the inhabitants of Jerusalem an assurance of safety, which is very important for the dhimmis in history. This is an important document in terms of Islamic history, Islamic law and the people of the conquered countries. It is also important in terms of relations between Islam and Christianity. The document is as follows:

“In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. (6)

This is the assurance of safety which the servant of Allah, Umar, the Commander of the Believers, has granted to the people of Aelia (Quds/Jerusalem). He has granted them safety for their lives and possessions, their churches and crosses, the sick and the healthy of the city and for the rest of its religious community.

Their churches will not be inhabited nor destroyed. Neither they, nor the land on which they stand, nor their cross, nor their possessions will be confiscated. They will not be forcibly converted, nor any one of them harmed. No Jew will live with them in Aelia.

The people of Aelia (Quds/Jerusalem) must pay the poll tax like the people of the other cities, and they must expel the Byzantines and the robbers.

As for those who will leave (migrate from Quds), their lives and possessions shall be safeguarded until they reach their place of safety; and as for those who remain, they will be safe (they will have safety of lives and property). They will have to pay the poll tax like the people of Aelia.

If those people of Aelia who want to leave with the Byzantines and take their possessions, their churches and crosses will be evacuated because they will be safe until they reach their place of safety. Those villagers who were in Aelia before the killing of so-and-so may remain in the city if they wish, but they must pay the poll tax like the people of Aelia.

Those who wish may go with the Byzantines, and those who wish may return to their families. Nothing will be taken from them until their harvest has been reaped.

The contents of this assurance are under the covenant of Allah, are the responsibility of His Prophet, of the Caliphs, and of the believers if the people of Aelia pay the poll tax according to their obligations.”

This assurance of safety was attested by Khalid b. Walid, Amr b. As, Abdurrahman b. Awf and Muawiya b. Abu Sufyan. The assurance of safety was written and came into force in (15 H / 637 AD). (7)

When Umar (ra) came to take the keys of the city from the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the fall of the year 15 H (637 AD), he gave the assurance of safety to the Patriarch.

In fact, the local Christians had not been able to get on well with the Greek and Roman Christians. One source gives the reasons for it as follows:

“For most of the first century after the Migration (Hijrah), the majority of the citizens of the Islamic State were Christians who enjoyed respect, freedom and new dignity that they had not enjoyed under the rule of Christian Rome or Greek Byzantium.

Both of those powers were imperialists (colonialists) and racists. They colonized the Near East and oppressed the natives who were not Roman or Greek.

Under Islamic rule, the Christians lived in peace and prospered for centuries.” (8)

This assurance of safety guaranteed many things that the racist and imperialist Romans and Greeks, who were Christians, did not to those who remained in Jerusalem, most of whom were Christian natives.

The Byzantine Greeks abandoned the land of the fertile crescent to the natives. The patriarch of Jerusalem had already heard about the Muslim attitude toward Christians. The assurance of safety granted by the Caliph Umar (ra), who came to Jerusalem, eliminated the oppression, discrimination and persecution of the imperialist and racist Greek Byzantium. This document first of all showed the social and cultural level of Islamic tolerance, and it was also an example of a civilized approach to non-Muslims in a humane and religious manner. This humane and compassionate attitude toward the natives had a significant impact on the continuation and continuity of the conquests.

The following lines summarize the approach of Islam to non-Muslims and the attitude of the Islamic State toward the Christians:

“Throughout this period (the spread of Islam), the Islamic State had oppressive Sultans and Caliphs along with equitable ones. If it had it been part of the Islamic idea to eradicate the Christians, it could have been easily accomplished without any signs. However, what protected the Christians was Islam’s respect for the Prophet Isa (Jesus Christ) as the Prophet of Allah and for his book, the Gospel, as the revelation sent to him, and its acceptance of them as such.” (9)

Footnotes:

1. Dhahabi, al-Khulafaur-Rashidun, p. 66; Ahmet Cevdet Paşa, I, 370.
2. He had also appointed Ali (ra), who was also his father-in-law, as the acting head of state, when he left Madinah before the Battle of Qadisiya.
3. Dhahabi, al-Khulafaur-Rashidun, p. 66, 100; Heyet, Doğuştan Günümüze, II, 93
4. Dhahabi, al-Khulafaur-Rashidun, pp.  66, 99; Mawardi, pp. 96-97; Ibnul-Athir, II 422, 502; Balazuri, II, 348; Sarıcık, Ehli Beyt, pp. 160-162.
5. al-Faruqi, I. Raji- L. Lamia, p. 239.
6. Hamidullah, Wasaiq, p. 488. no. 357.  Cf. al-Faruqi, I. Raji- L. Lamia, p. 220.
7. Hamidullah, Wasaiq, p. 489; Hitti, I, 233; Heyet, Doğuştan Günümüze, I, 93.
8. al-Faruqi, I. Raji- L. Lamia, p. 220, Chapter 9.
9. al-Faruqi, I. Raji- L. Lamia, p. 220.

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