There are those that say that Islam was spread by the sword and people were forced into the religion. However, that is very far from the truth. Islam is the most tolerant of other religions and its history proves that. It not only recognizes racial equality but it follows principles of religious tolerance-two concepts that did not exist in ancient civilizations before Islam. This is a three part series on this very important issue. Part two of this series will feature some examples in our history where the principles of religious tolerance of Islam where put to action.


One of the first examples we have of religious tolerance was during the hijra (migration) to Madinah. There were a large number of Jews living in Madinah at the time and the Prophet (PBUH) immediately established a treaty with them that their beliefs were to be respected and that they were to work together to ward off any attacks on Madinah.

Later, when a delegation of Ethiopian Christians came to Madinah, the Prophet (PBUH) let them stay in the mosque and he himself took care of them and served them. “They honored our companions, so I want to honor them myself,” he said. Similarly, when a delegation of Christians came from Najran he also let them stay in the mosque and hold their prayers there. They would meet with the Prophet (PBUH) to discuss and defend their religion and he would listen and debate with them in a gentle and polite manner. The Prophet (PBUH) married a Jewish woman, Sophia bint Hunain, and a Christian woman, Maria, to show that Muslim men can marry women from the people of the Book, ahl el kitab.

The practice of religious tolerance continued after the Prophet’s (PBUH) death. During the Caliphate of Umar ibn Al Khattab, when Jerusalem was conquered, Umar responded to the requests of the Christians that no Jews be allowed to live among them.  One day, while he was in the main church, the time for asr came in but Umar did not want to pray inside the church, even though there is nothing against that. He was afraid that if he prayed inside the church the Muslims might later see that as an excuse to take it as a mosque. So out of respect for the Christians, he did not pray there.

In the Islamic civilization, mosques were often built next to churches and the churches were given full authority over their own religious and church matters. The state would only interfere to help solve problems between Christian groups and would be very fair in the judgment.

The best example of this was when Sultan Mohammed Al Fatih conquered Constantinople. The first thing he did was enter the church of Aya Sofia and tell the frightened Christians, who had fled to the church for safety, that they could return safely to their homes. He organized the affairs of the Christians and gave them the rights to their owns churches, religious laws and customs and told them they would enjoy the same rights as their predecessors. He allowed the priests to elect their own patriarchs. The Patriarch had authority to his own people and operated like a state within a state. Sultan Mohammed announced his recognition of the law of the Orthodox Church and helped return looted relics back to the church. He gave them more rights and security than the Byzantines, who were also Christian, had done before him. And the Ottoman Sultans that came after Mohammed Al Fatih continued to do so as well.

When the Muslims conquered Egypt, they restored the rights of the Copts of Egypt and gave them back the churches that had been taken away from them by the Byzantines.

In the Islamic empire, jobs were given to people regardless of religion or school of thought. There were many prominent Christian doctors in the Islamic empire as well as Christians in government positions.  There were study circles where people of all religions and schools of thought would come together including those that the Caliph, Al Mamun, would participate in. Al Mamun would say to the group, “Discuss whatever you want of knowledge, without each of you quoting his religious book as evidence, lest that should provoke sectarian problems.”

These are just a few examples out of a thousand years of religious tolerance under Islamic rule. We also have many examples today as our religion commands us to practice tolerance and respect for other’s beliefs.





Sibāʻī, Muṣṭafá. Civilization of Faith: Solidarity , Tolerance and Equality in a Nation Built on Shari’ah : A Journey through Islamic History. Riyadh: International Islamic House, 2005. Print.

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