Clarifying Misconceptions on Islam
By Owais Bayunus, Engage Minnesota
Islam is a universal call to mankind, not an “Arab” or an “Eastern” religion as many depict it. Although it addresses all people, including Jews and Christians, they are not categorized as enemies or “infidels.” The term “infidel” is of European origin, used at the time of the Crusades to describe Muslims.
Goodness is acknowledged by Islam wherever it resides. The following points will elaborate the pluralistic society in which Muslims have lived and how close Muslims consider Jews and Christians are to them:
1- Christians and Jews are considered People of the Book in Islam because they share the same source from which the Qur’an has been revealed, and a Muslim must believe in all the Prophets of God including each and every one of the Israelite Prophets (Isaac, Jacob to Jesus), and the books revealed to them. Muslims believe in the same God as the Jews and the Christians, and “to kill an innocent man is like killing the whole mankind and saving a life is saving humanity.” Muslims believe in the birth of Jesus to Virgin Mary, and in the second coming of Jesus. The names Jesus (Isa) and Moses (Musa) are very common among Muslims.
2- Muslim men are allowed to marry Christian or Jewish women with good character. A wife is the closest person to a man. She can be the mother of his children, the guardian, the teacher, the lover and protector of his children, and the one who builds their character. How can Islam, on the one hand tell you to consider them as “infidels” and on the other hand let them be the closest person to you and your children?
It should also be remembered that once a Muslim man marries a Christian or Jewish woman, it becomes obligatory upon him not only to let her practice the obligations of her own religion freely, but to help her in carrying them out, such as taking her to church or synagogue, and whatever is necessary for her to remain a devout religious person of her own faith.
A Muslim man does not have any contradiction with the Christian or Jewish wife as far as the belief in all the Prophets is concerned as he reveres them equally, if not more, as she does.
Muslims are permitted by Islam to eat the food offered to them by the People of the Book (unless specifically prohibited such as alcohol or pork) and to reciprocate by offering their food to them. “The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and your food is lawful unto them”. Qur’an (5:5)
3- Historically, Muslims have been the unchallenged master of the Holy Land for approximately1300 out of the last1450 years. They allowed Jews and Christians to practice their faith, as is evidenced by their holy sites that still exist today.
Muslims offered complete freedom of religion to its inhabitants and allowed Jews to return to the Holy Land, where they were banned from entering from the first Century CE during Roman and Christian periods. During the entire Muslim Era in the Holy Land, Jewish and Christian communities thrived in the holy land. They could follow their books, laws, and customs, and attended synagogues and churches without fear from the time of Jesus till the time when Muslims lost the Holy Land to Israel in 1948 CE.
It must be remembered that when Jews (along with Muslims) were turned out of Spain in 1493 CE, after a Christian take over, and Jews had no place to go, Ottoman Muslims provided safe Haven to Jews in Turkey, Bosnia and North Africa.
4- During the past 2000 years, after the advent of Christianity and Islam, the best time of the Jews was under the Muslim rule in Spain. Ask any Sephardic Jew, whether Jews were better off under Muslim rule or the under the Christian rule. There is a saying on record from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and which Muslims read, “One who kills a non-Muslim under protection will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise.” He also said, “Whoever hurts a non-Muslim under protection, I am his adversary, and I shall be an adversary to him on the Day of Resurrection.” Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have stood up for the respect of a Jewish funeral procession passing by. When reminded by one of his companions that the funeral was for a Jew (not Muslim), the Prophet ordered “Stand up.”
5- When Jerusalem was taken over by Umar, the second Caliph in Islam, 638 CE, he was invited by the Patriarch Sophronios to pray inside the Church of Holy Sepulcher. Umar was a very far-sighted man. He declined the request on the ground that it might give some future ‘oppressive’ ruler an excuse to convert it to a mosque because Umar had prayed there. He preferred to pray at the outside footsteps of the church, instead. That holy church is still there.
Caliph Umar is reported to become very upset when he saw an old and sick Jewish person badly mistreated by young boys in the street of Jerusalem. He asked his army doctor to check the man’s health and provided a lifelong stipend to the Jewish man.
Fourteen hundred years ago, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) made a promise to a delegation of monks from the Saint Catherine Monastery (Mount Sinai) that Muslims will always protect Christian religious places. And that promise still holds.
6- Whenever Muslims took over any new land, the freedom to practice religion was given to the people there. It took Muslims two hundred years before Egypt converted to a majority Muslim land by the slow process of discussion and reasoning rather than by sword (which would have taken only a few days).
7- Muslims ruled India for almost 1,000 years. If Muslims were intolerant of other religions, such as Hindus, then 1,000 years was a sufficient time to totally convert its population to Islam as it happened in Spain and other parts of the world where Muslims lost to other religions. But this did not happen and the Muslim Moguls were famous for equal treatment to Hindus and Buddhists; they gave them ministries and let them prosper. You find the vast majority of Indians still Hindus (not Muslims).
8- There is a very clear command by God to Muslims in the Holy Qur’an, “There is no compulsion in religion” – Qur’an 2:256. Enforcing Islam on people is not considered an act of charity. Islam must be accepted by the heart. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was told by God in the Qur’an that his job (and, therefore, the job of all Muslims) is simply to pass the message of Islam to mankind and to educate them. It was not their job to convert them. Only God could convert the heart of a person.
9- We have seen the massacre of innocent Jews in WWII and the ethnic cleansing of Bosnians in 1990’s, when over 50,000 helpless Muslim women were raped for years by invading Serbs and Croats under the eyes of modern Europe, or the Kosovo’s and the Chechens and the Kashmiries, or the targeting of children’s school in Northern Ireland, all by non-Muslims. We have also seen as recently as 2002 AD, the burning alive of over 3,000 Indian Muslim men, women and children (as young as 6 months old babies) by Hindu terrorists in Gujarat India, aided by the local police who helped the killers. These have left scars on the minds and the hearts of Muslims all over the world.
10- In early Islam, when Muslims were winning one battle after another wherever they went, some Muslims started believing that they were the chosen people. The Qur’anic revelation immediately came down from God to cut that idea. The Qur’an says” VERILY, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ, i.e. Muslims], as well as those who follow the Jewish scripture, and the Christians, and the Sabians (followers of the religion of Queen Saba (Sheba)) – anyone who believes in One God and the Last Day (Day of Accountability) and do righteous deeds-shall have their reward with their Lord; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve”. Qur’an 2:61.
The Qur’an shows very clearly that Christians are the closest to Muslims on account of the good morals and virtues that they share with them. It says:
“You will find that the nearest among men in affection for the believers are those who say, Verily! We are Christians, because there are among them men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world and because they are not given to arrogance. When they listen to what have been revealed to the messenger; you see their eyes overflow with tears for they recognize the truth. They pray, Our Lord, we believe. Inscribe us as among the witnesses. Allah has rewarded them for their prayer with Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide forever. This is the reward of the good.” Surah al Ma’ida (The Banquet Table), Qur’an 5:82-83 & 85.
As a result of this positive attitude of Islam towards Christianity and the Gospels, many ancient Christians were stimulated to express their belief and recognition of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his religion. Some of them even granted the Muslims moral and financial aid to solidify and propagate Islam, such as the Emperor of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in the 7th Century CE.
It should be noted that Islam requires Muslims to treat everyone with justice and respect, and not to fight with them unless they bear arms against them or drive them out of their homes. But, then the Qur’an categorically tells them to stop if they stop. The Qur’an says “…Whoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all of mankind.”
The Qur’an is very categorical in treating non-Muslims in the best possible manner and ‘invite them to the path of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful manner and speech.’
Owais Bayunus is the Former President of Islamic Center of Minnesota, Vice Chair of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC), an advocacy group of Jews, Christians and Muslims, and former chairman of the Interfaith Dialogue of the Minnesota Council of Churches.
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