Muslim’s Alliance with Christians and Jews
June 27, 2017
Muslims’ Alliance with the People of Book
By: Faysal Burhan
Muslim Alliance with Christians
It may sound strange to some ears, these days, to hear about Muslim/Christian or Muslim/Jewish collaborations. However the fabric of Islam and the reality of history clearly point out the legitimacy of these facts. Many Christians, and perhaps Muslims, do not know that there were several instances of cooperation between Muslims and Christians and Muslims and Jews during rise of Islam in defense of justice and against the Idolaters.
Islam was born into a community of idol-worshippers in Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula in 622 AD. Christianity and Judaism followers were mainly in the neighboring Medina and Najran regions of the Arabian Peninsula. When Prophet Muhammad delivered Islam to his people, he was faced with much opposition from the Pagan Quraysh of Mecca. During the first few years, the Prophet was only able to convert a handful of people to his cause. Among the converts were merchants, nobles and slaves. The oppression toward the Muslims accelerated and turned into torture and execution. Several of the slaves were tormented to death by their masters (see our article, Focus on Early History of Islam (A Refreshing Look at the Sirah) for more details. Among the actions, Prophet Muhammad had pursued to save his people, was to seek protection from Christians. During the later stages from the birth of Islam, in Medina, the Prophet and the Jews interred into an agreement for protecting their city, Medina against the Pagans. These facts point to the fact that Christian and Jews have a special status in Islam and therefore special relations with Muslims.
(Muhammad), the unbelieved say: ‘you are not a messenger.’ Say, ‘God and those who have the knowledge of the Scripture (the Jews and Christians), are sufficient witness (to my prophethood).’ Qur’an, 13:43
But those firm in knowledge among them (People of the Book) and the faithful believe in what God has revealed to you (Muhammad) and to those before you, and those who are steadfast in prayer, pay their religious tax, and believe in God and the day of Judgement. They all will receive a great reward from US.
(Muhammad), We have sent revelations to you just as were sent to Noah and the prophets who lived after him and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, his decedents, Jesus and Job, Jonah, Aron and Solomon. We gave the Psalms to David. Qur’an, 4:162-163
And most surely some of the People of the Book believe in Allah, and (in) that which has been revealed to you (Muhammad), and (in) that which has been revealed to them, bowing in humility to Allah; they will not sell the signs of Allah for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord; surely Allah is quick in account. Qur’an, 3:199
The Prophet (p) also said:
“Let it be known, if any one (Muslim) commits injustice, insults, aggravates, mistreats or abuses a person of the People of the Book (protected, by the state or an agreement), he will have to answer me (for his immoral action) on the Day of Judgment.” Abi Yousef, Khiraj, see Izzeddin Blaque, Minhaj Alsaliheen, Page 106
It is apparent in the references above that Muslims not only believe in the messages of the previous prophets, but they also revere, honor and practice their teachings. This fact made the Muslims emotionally affected by what happen to the followers of those prophets. For example, the Muslims grieved when the Persian idolaters defeated the Byzantine Christians. Angel Gabriel descended, consoling the Muslims and bringing the good tidings that the Christians would be victorious in the near future. This was forecast with divine certainty in Surah Rum:
“Alif. Lam. Mim. Defeated has been the Roman Empire in the lands close-by; yet it is they who, notwithstanding their defeat, shall be victorious within a few years. With Allah rests all power of decision in the past and in the future. And on that day the believers shall rejoice in Allah’s help. He helps whomever He wills, since He alone is almighty, a dispenser of grace.” Qur’an, 30:1-5
Muslims’ Alliance with the Christians of Abyssinia
In the fifth year after the birth of Islam, Prophet Muhammad proposed to his companions to migrate to Abyssinia in an attempt to deliver them from the persecution and the violence of Quraysh. In this regard, the Prophet stated the following:
“I propose that you migrate to Abyssinia, where there is a Christian king, well known for his justice. He is said to have not wronged any one in his kingdom.” Al Hafith, al Bidayah we al Nihayah, Volume 3, Page 58
There are two important underlying facts in the Prophet’s proposal showing grounds of Muslim’s tolerance towards Christianity. The first underlying fact is that the Prophet proposed a new home for Muslims that was governed by a Christian king without any reservation about it in being a Christian one. This is a given and understood evidence of Islam’s readiness to collaborate and work with Christians in promoting goodness and repelling oppression and evil. The second underlying fact in the Prophet’s plan is that the Prophet had no reservation of the Christians not accepting his proposal and to work with the Muslims. These underlying facts are a momentous proof that Muslims and Christians were not in conflict, but rather in cooperation. Thus, despite Muslim’s and Christian’s differences did not prevent the Prophet and the Christians from working together on the many common element between them. We invite you to read Dr. William Baker’s book, More in Common Than You Think, the Bridge Between Islam and Christianity for more information on the common ground existing between Islam and Christianity.
As we learned from history, the Prophet’s proposal was put to work and his companions who emigrated to Abyssinia were welcomed and protected by its Christian King Negus. This protection continued despite the fact that Quraysh attempted to get King Negus to expel the believers from his Kingdom.
It was reported that Quraysh had sent Amr Ibn Al’aas to King Negus with lots of precious gifts enticing him to turn down the companions’ request for protection, and to send them back to Arabia. However, King Negus did not take Amr’s request, but called the Muslims to meeting with him and his Patriarchs. When he heard their testimony regarding their new faith, the good manners they were promoting, and the mission of peace they were carrying, he did not accept Quraysh’s request to turn the Muslims down. He said to the Muslims: “You are free to go about where you may wish in my kingdom. Where ever you go you shall be protected.”See Al Hafith, al Bidayah we al Nihayah, Volume 3, Page 60
The Muslim continued to live in Abyssinia, under the protection of its King even after the Muslims at home, in Medina in the Arabian Peninsula, had gained strength and were able to protect themselves against Quraysh. During their stay in Abyssinia, the Muslims showed loyalty and allegiance to the country that hosted them. In fact, al Hafith in al Bidayah we al Nihayah relates that the immigrant Muslims in Abyssinia had fought alongside the Christian forces of the King against rebels in their country. Al Hafith reported that Muslims joined the soldiers of King Negus fighting rebels in the Kingdom. He stated that al Zubier Ibn al-Awam, who was the leader of a squadron, had swam across the Nile river with his companions to fight the King’s enemy on the other side. This act clearly showed Muslim’s alliance with the Christians, and was driven by Islamic principle of loyalty in returning a good deed for a good deed. God said:
“Is there any Reward for good–other than good?” Qur’an, 55:60
The Christian Delegation to Prophet Muhammad
Another significant Christian’s alliance with Muslims was the Abyssinian Christian delegation to Prophet Muhammad in his exile. In its campaign of violence against Muslims, Quraysh imposed an economic and social sanction on the Prophet and his family in pressuring them to abandoned Islam.
In the eighth year from the beginning of Islam, Quraysh imposed a boycott on the Prophet and his family and forced them to move out of Mecca to an arid and dry narrow valley known as the Abu-talib Valley. The boycott went on for twenty-eight long months and was in both the social and economic aspects of life. No member of Quraysh could deal, trade, buy or sell, or socialize with the Prophet’s clan.
The boycott took its toll on the Prophet and his family. As a result, they had to eat grass, insects and roots of shrubs. Some of them could not withstand the hardship and had fallen ill and died. Shortly after the boycott was removed, the Prophet’s wife Khadeejah and, shortly after, his Uncle Abu Talib died. Their deaths were directly related to the long years of malnutrition and hardship condition in exile.
What is important for us in this story is that the lifting off of the boycott was triggered by the Christian delegation from Abyssinia that visited the Prophet in his exile in the eighth year after the prophethood. In coordination with Ja’ffar ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of the Prophet, and by King Negus of Abyssinia, a Christian/Muslim delegation of thirty-three people was sent to visit and investigate the condition of the Muslims and the ill treatment they were exposed to by Quraysh. When the delegation visited the Prophet in his exile they were overwhelmed with his wisdom and the verses of the Qur’an he recited to them. Quraysh leaders insulted the Christian delegation for showing sympathy to the Prophet and his family. However, the delegation abstained from returning Quraysh’s insult, and for this occasion, Allah revealed this verse in Surah 28, Verses 52-55, which state:
“Those to whom We sent the Book before this, –they do believe in this (Revelation); and when it is recited to them, they say: We believe therein, for it is the truth from our Lord: Indeed, we have been muslims (bowing to God’s Will) from before this. Twice will they be given their rewards, for that they have preserved, that they avert evil with good, and that they spend in charity out of what We have given them. And when they hear vain talk, they turn away therefrom and say: To us our deeds, and to you yours.” Qur’an, 28:52-55
Although Quraysh showed anger towards the Christian delegation on the outside, but the act of a foreign investigation into their internal affairs, and exposing their inhumane treatment of their own people, was a hidden concern that led to the removal of the siege.
Moved either by the fear of an intervention of a foreign power or by the awakening of their conscientious, several leaders of Quraysh, Hisham bin Amr, Zuhair bin Umayah, Mut’im ibn ‘Addi, and Buhtury ibn Hihsam agreed amongst themselves to “stop the fool act of the boycott” and planned to call the rest of Quraysh leaders into a public meeting at the Ka’ba for the purpose of ending the boycott. The meeting was a success and the removal of the boycott was achieved. Thus, the visiting act of the Christian delegation of Abyssinia could have triggered a chain of actions that led to the lifting off of the boycott. This Christian visit was indeed a considerable act of faith that initiated the process of delivering the Prophet and his family out of the mad boycott.
During the rise of Islam and beyond, Muslims and Jews co-existed in harmony for many years. Tolerance and virtue were indivisible parts of Islam that allowed for this unity. In the year 622 CE, Prophet Muhammad (p) migrated from Mecca to Medina ending a 13 years strive in calling the people of Quraysh to Islam and escaping their latest plot to assassinate him. However in the city of Medina, the Prophet made alliance treaties with the eleven Jewish tribes and authored and dictated the Constitution of Medina, known as Shaheefatul Madina, to be the law of a land inhabited by different ethnic groups and nationalities. This document constituted the law to ever govern unified Jews and Muslims in a single state. “The Jews of Banu ‘Awf are one nation with the Muslims; the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs,” is one of its articles.
This historical manifestation established, political rights, citizen obligations, freedom of belief, freedom of speech and trade, the sanctity of life, the prohibition of bloodshed and crime, and the laws of municipalities and justice. The document also secured and promoted cooperation and fraternity among all people of any creed, color, ethnicity, and lineage, and sets out the criterion of righteousness as the base of distinction.
The constitution also spelled out the duties of both the Jews and Muslims to protect each other and their city from their enemies and to uphold justice and promote ethical conduct.
The following is an English translation of the Constitution of Medina, as recorded by Ibn Hisham.
Note: The text of this translation is copied as a hole from the book, Sunshine at Madinah, published by Islamic Publication International. No attempt is made to follow literally the lay-out of the original. On the contrary, we have, in some places, deliberately departed from the original paragraphing, and added numeral prefixes to the main paragraphs of the translation, for the purposes of easy reference and understanding. Also see Minhaj Alsaliheen, Page 777, and Albidayah wa Alnihayah, Volume 3, Page 177.
“The Messenger of God wrote document (Stipulating the relationship) between Immigrants and Helpers, in which he made peace with the Jews and pledged himself to them that they will be established in security regarding their religion, wealth and property. He pledged to honor certain rights for them and demanded that they fulfill certain obligations.”
The Constitution of Medina reads:
1. In the name of Allah the Compassionate the Most Merciful. This is a document dictated by Muhammad the Prophet (p) (governing the relations) between the believers and Muslims from Quraysh and Yathrib (Medina), and those who followed and joined them and strove with them. They are one nation, distinct from all nations. The Immigrants from Quraysh, according to their established customs are bound together and shall ransom their prisoners in the kindness and justice common among believers.
2. The Banu ‘Awf (a Jewish tribe), according to their established customs, are bound together as before, each group shall ransom their prisoners in the kindness and justice common among believers. The Banu Sa’idah, the Banu al-Harith, The Banu Jushm and the Banu an-Najjar (Jewish tribes) are likewise.
3. The Banu ‘Amr ibn ‘Awf, the Banu an-Nabeet, and the Banu al-Aws (Jewish tribes) likewise.
4. Believers shall not leave anyone among them in destitution by failing to give for him redemption money or blood-wit in kindness.
5. A believer shall not take as an ally a freed man of another believer against him.
6. The God-fearing believers shall be against who ever rebels or him who seeks to spread injustice, or sin or aggression or spread enmity between believers; the hands of everyone of them shall be together against him, even if he be a son of one of them.
7. A believer shall not slay a believer for the sake of an unbeliever nor shall he aid an unbeliever against a believer.
8. The bond of God is one, the least of them (believers) may give protection (to a stranger) on behalf of them. Believers are protectors one of another, to the exclusion of outsiders.
9. The Jew who follows us is surely entitled to our support and the same equal rights as any one of us. He shall not be wronged nor his enemy be assisted.
10. The peace of believers is one and indivisible; no believer shall make a separate peace without other believers, when they are engaged in war in the way of God, except when conditions are deemed fair and equitable to all.
11. In every foray, a rider must take another behind him. The believers must avenge the blood of one another, if anyone of them fails fighting in the cause of God. The God-fearing believers follow the best and most upright guidance.
12. No polytheist shall take the property or person of Quraysh under his protection nor shall he intervene on their behalf against a believer.
13. Whoever is convicted of deliberately killing a believer without legitimate cause, shall be liable to retaliation, unless the next of kin is satisfied (with blood money). The believers shall all be against him, and they are bound to keep him under their custody (until either the next of kin is satisfied or retaliation takes place).
14. It shall not be lawful to a believer who has accepted this document as binding, and who believes in God and the last day, to help an evil-doer or to shelter him. The curse of God and His anger on the Day of Resurrection will be upon him if he does, and neither repentance nor ransom will be received from him.
15. Whenever you have a disagreement amongst you, it must be referred to God and Muhammad.
16. The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war, so long as they are fighting alongside the believers.
17. The Jews of Banu ‘Awf are one nation with the Muslims; the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs, their freedmen and their persons shall be protected except those who behave unjustly or sinfully, for they hurt but themselves and their families. The same applies to the Jews of Banu an-Najjar, Banu al-Harith, Banu Sa’idah, Banu Jusham, Banu al-Aws, Banu Tha’labah, and the Jafnah, clan of the Tha’labah and Banu al-Shua’ibah. Doing good deeds is a protection against sinfulness. The freedmen of Tha’labah are as themselves. The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.
18. None of them shall go out to war, save with the permission of Muhammad. But none shall be prevented from taking revenge for a wound inflicted upon him. Whoever kills a man, kills himself and his household, unless it be one who has wronged him, for God would accept that.
19. The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims bear theirs. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. Their condition must be one of mutual advice, consultation and charity rather than harm and aggression.
20. No man is liable for a crime committed by his ally. Support must be given to him who is wronged. The Jews must spend of their wealth, along with the believers, so long as fighting continues.
21. Yathrib (Medina) shall be a sanctuary for the people of this document. A stranger under protection shall be as his protecting host, unharmed and committing no crime. A woman shall not be given protection without the consent of her family.
22. If any dispute likely to cause trouble should arise among the people of this document, it must be referred to God, and to Muhammad.
23. God approves and is pleased with the piety and goodness in this document.
24. Quraysh and their helpers shall not be given protection.
25. The people of this document are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib. If they are called to make peace and maintain it, they must do so; and if they make a similar demand on the Muslims, it must be carried out except with one who insists on fighting against their religion.
26. To every small group belongs the share which is their due as members of the larger group which is party to this covenant. The Jews of the Aws and their clients, are entitled to the same rights as any other party to this document, together with the goodness and charity from all parties to it. Charity and good deeds exclude sinfulness and wrongdoing.
27. There is no responsibility except for one’s own deeds.
28. God approves of such truth and goodness as is included in this document.
29. This document shall not constitute any protection for the unjust or the wrongdoers.
30. Whoever goes out to fight or stays at home is safe in the city, unless he has committed an injustice or a crime. God is the protector of whoever honors his commitment to this document, and is God-fearing and so is Muhammad, the Messenger of God.
Tolerance of other faiths and the spirit of cooperation with all members of the human family are engrained in the fabric of Islam. Muslims and Jews and Muslims and Christians lived for thousands of years in peace and harmony. When there was conflict and clash between Muslims and Jews, it was not because of the faith, but because of the breaching of certain agreements or for aggression and injustice. As an example, check out our article, The Prophet of Islam and the Jews: Basis of Conduct, Acceptance, Respect and Cooperation and then click on “Other Historical Accounts.”
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