The Pretentious Claim of Tolerance Towards Non-Muslims in Islam
Palestinian Christian Bishara Bahbah, who served as Yasser Arafat’s advisor on international affairs, posted on his blog “A Christmas message to Hamas.” He stated how the Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist and militant group has betrayed the Islamic teaching of tolerance towards Christians, Jews and other religious minorities with its recent proclamation “The Activities of the General Authority of Preaching and Guidance to Limit Interaction with Christmas,” dated December 15, 2020 — it called for the issuance of a fatwa (a religious edict) to instruct various ministries, including the ministries of interior and economy, as well the media to ensure its implementation.
The fatwa was to install openly discriminatory policies towards Palestinians Christians, such as declaring attire and eating utensils used by them as ‘unclean,’ ensuring Christians would keep to one side of the street, accept a “lesser form of greeting,” and not be allowed to mix with Muslims at certain events.
Citing the Pact of Umar, attributed to the second caliph, Umar (634-644 AD) after the Prophet Muhammad, Bahbah magniloquently says that relations between Muslims and non-Muslims under the agreement guaranteed a commitment by Muslims to respect and protect the religious and property rights of Christians and Jews.
This is nothing but a politically correct revisionist attempt to present Islamic medieval society as a “utopia” in which all men — never mind about the women — lived in harmony with each other regardless of their religious affiliation.
Proscriptions in the Pact of Umar
Under the Pact of Umar, Muslims should be allowed to enter Churches (for shelter) in any time, both in day and night, Christians did not enjoy the same privileges in mosques. Not to mention, there was an obligation to identify non-Muslims as such by clipping the heads’ forelocks and by always dressing in the same manner, wherever they go, with binding the zunnar (a kind of belt) around the waists. Christians to wear blue belts or turbans, Jews to wear yellow belts or turbans, Zoroastrians to wear black belts or turbans, and Samaritans to wear red belts or turbans.
Among the unjust prohibitions Christians (and other non-Muslims) had to adhere if they wished to remain alive and able to practice their faith under their Muslim conquerers were:
- Prohibition against building new churches, places of worship, monasteries, or a new cell. It was also forbidden to build new synagogues
- Prohibition against rebuilding destroyed churches by day or night, in their own neighborhoods or those situated in the quarters of the Muslims
- Prohibition against any possession of weapons
- Prohibition against governing or employing Muslims
- Prohibition against hanging a cross on the Churches
- Christians were forbidden to show their religion in public, or to be seen with Christian books or symbols in public, on the roads or in the markets of the Muslims
- Palm Sunday and Easter parades were banned
- Funerals were to be conducted quietly
- Prohibition against burying non-Muslim dead near Muslims
- Prohibition against preaching to Muslims in an attempt to convert them from Islam. This resulted many times in death as dictated by the hadith in which the Prophet of Islam says” “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” —Sahih Al-Bukhari volume 9, book 84, hadith 57
How the Pact of Umar treated non-Muslims
The Pact of Umar, which is embedded in the sharia or Islamic law, sees both Christians and Jews as dhimmi (“protected peoples”), by which they have freedom to remain in Muslim countries with limited freedom.
The dhimmis were compelled to pay the jizya (a poll tax). This coerced them to yield to discriminative norms that would remind them on a regular basis of their subordinate position. The Prophet requested his followers to invite other nonbelievers to accept Islam, as he did with their rulers. If they refused to submit, they were to be offered an opportunity to pay tribute or face deadly consequences:
Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war.… When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action.… If they refuse to migrate, tell them that they will have the status of Bedouin Muslims and will be subjected to the Commands of Allah like other Muslims, but they will not get any share from the spoils of war or Fai’ except when they actually fight with the Muslims (against the disbelievers). If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them. —Sahih Muslim, Book 19, hadith 4294
In Egypt, for example, the jizya imposed one Christians was so heavy that it lead to the first big wave of conversion to Islam. According to Islamic expert Rami Dabbas, by 705 AD, in what was essentially a Christian country, Christians had dropped to just 22% of the population and Arabic had become the official language, thereby making the Islamization of Egyptian society complete.
In Iraq, as Dabbas explains, Christians held key administrative positions, even during the reigns of the first caliphs. These Christians translated Greek philosophy and Greek science into Arabic, helping to maintain a more pluralistic society. Yet with the jizya,it can be ascertained a full two-thirds of Iraq’s Christian population had converted to Islam during the first fifty years of Muslim Arab rule.
The Pact of Umar essentially became the legal foundation for the way Muslims mistreat Christians right down to the present time. Even today, Christians are required to pay a safety tax in Muslim controlled nations. In practical terms, Muslims will allow Christians to live in their Muslim controlled cities as long as they live as second class slaves and never openly practice Christianity, which would entail evangelization to Muslims. The penalty for doing so can be anything from imprisonment, confiscation of all personal property and children, and of course death, in particular for those Muslims who convert to Christianity.
Let us also not forget how in countries where the sharia is prevalent, there are forced conversions to Islam, especially of the “weaker” sex. In Pakistan, to name just one Islamic country, each year approximately one-thousand Hindu and Christian girls are forcibly converted to Islam — so much for religious tolerance.
Bishara Bahbah recounts how growing up in a mixed neighborhood, where Christians shared Ramadan meals with Muslims and Muslims offered “good wishes” at Christmas to their Christian friends. I, too, have Muslim friends who are very respectful and are fully removed from the sharia mentality. One of them, in fact, introduced me a fellow Muslim who wanted to become a Catholic — I baptized her this past June. That does not mean, however, that Islamic society for the past 1,400 years was a “Garden of Eden” for non-Muslims as Bahbah tends to pretentiously demonstrate by citing the Pact of Umar.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.