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 Muslim-Christian Relations, The Good, the Bad

There were great times and there were the bad ones.

Tolerance, respect and cooperation some times. Murder, intolerance and hostility on other occasions.

These have been some of the defining features of Muslim-Christian relations throughout history. Here are some examples of the good and the bad.

First the good memories:

1. Habasha and the Negus

It was a Christian king in a predominantly Christian land who gave the small, persecuted community of early Muslims in the beginning of the Prophet Muhammad`s mission protection. May Allah`s peace and blessings be upon the Prophet.

The Muslims sought refuge in Habasha, modern day Ethiopia, after suffering starvation and torture at the hands of the polytheistic Makkans. The Prophet Muhammad said about the Negus and Habasha: "a king rules without injustice, a land of truthfulness."

Muslims were welcomed, protected and lived in peace with the Christians of Habasha. But this did not sit well with the Makkans, who did not want to see them leave Makkah or want the message of Islam to flourish in peace.They spent special envoys with gifts and lies about the Muslims to convince the Negus to send the Muslims back to Makkah. They told the Negus that this "new" faith took pride in insulting not just ancestral Makkan beliefs, but the beliefs of Christians as well.

Another king may have simply taken their word and automatically kicked the Muslims out. The Negus did not. He ordered that the leader of the Muslim community come to his court and explain Islam`s position.

Enter Jafar ibn Abu Talib, early Muslim refugee to Habasha, and cousin of the Prophet.

Not only did he eloquently explain the message of Islam and the persecution of those who accepted this truthful message. He also recited the opening verses of Surah 19 of the Quran, Surah Maryam or Mary, after the Negus asked him to recite part of Quran.

King Negus listened to the recitation of the Quran in focused attention. He cried as he listened, so much so that his beard got wet. When Jafar completed the recitation, Negus said, ‘Surely this Revelation and the Revelation of Jesus were from the same Source.` Then to the two Makkan ambassadors, he said, `By God, I will not hand over these persons to you.`

But the story does not end here. The Makkans would not give up so easily. They asked the king to find out what the Muslims` view of Jesus and his Divinity were, knowing of course, the difference in the Christian and Muslim positions regarding Jesus.

Again, Jafar responded, with no compromise of principles, just the simple, clear Truth:

`He (Jesus) is God`s servant and Messenger; a spirit and a word from God that He bestowed on the Virgin Mary.`

 

Upon hearing this, Negus picked up a straw from the ground and said:

‘By God, Jesus was not even as much as one straw more than what you have said about him.`

 

He returned the gifts of the Quraysh. Negus told them he was not used to taking bribes and the Muslims would remain under his protection.

This was an early victory for positive Muslim-Christian relations.

2. Umar ibn al-Khattab and Jerusalem

Jerusalem and its surrounding territory were and remain holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews. It was during the Caliphate of Omar ibn al-Khattab that Muslims first gained leadership of this territory. May Allah be pleased with Omar.

The Muslim reaction to this victory is something to remember.

Omar entered Jerusalem in humility. He walked in with not he, the Caliph, but his servant comfortably riding on a camel. They had been taking turns walking and riding.

At one point in Jerusalem, the Christians asked him to pray in their church but he declined. He said he was afraid that in the future Muslims could use this as an excuse to take over the Church to build a Masjid.

The Christians gave the key of the Church of Resurrection to Muslims to be responsible for its safety. This key is still with the Muslims today as a sign and symbol of the mutual trust.

3. Saladin (Salah el Deen Ayyubi) and the Crusades

It was in response to the horrific oppression in Jerusalem at the hands of the Crusaders in the 11th century and the need to free the area of their control that Sultan Salah el Deen Ayyubi (Saladin) liberated Jerusalem from them in 1187.

His arrival brought relief for the local Christian population, who helped him, after the oppression they suffered at the hands of their co-religionists, the Crusaders.

Not only did Saladin treat the Crusaders with kindness, he ensured that Muslims and non-Muslims lived in peace and harmony with each other.

One particular story about him recounts that some Muslim soldiers were besieging