Wednesday , September 16 2020

Religion a source of responsibility, not pride

Department: Orientation and Facilitation Centre

Course: Comparative religion (مقارنة الادیان)

Date: August 11th 2020

Lesson: Religion a source of responsibility, not pride


There’s a big problem in seeing one’s religion as a source of pride. One problem is that one can take pride in completely opposite and mutually contradictory things.

Take the recent conversion of the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul into a mosque. You can wager your bottom dollar that the very people who take pride in this event, will also take pride in the conduct of Umar al-Farooq on his entry into Jerusalem. Yet the two events send a completely different message.

The first thing to be clear about here is that, according to the Quran, it is not only mosques that are to be protected by the Muslims: it is any place of worship:

وَلَوْلَا دَفْعُ اللَّهِ النَّاسَ بَعْضَهُمْ بِبَعْضٍ لَهُدِّمَتْ صَوَامِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَصَلَوَاتٌ وَمَسَاجِدُ يُذْكَرُ فِيهَا اسْمُ اللَّهِ كَثِيرًا ۗ وَلَيَنْصُرَنَّ اللَّهُ مَنْ يَنْصُرُهُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَقَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ

(الحچ، ٤٠)

If Allah did not repel the aggression of some people by means of others, monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is much invoked, would surely be destroyed. Allah will surely help him who helps His cause – Allah is indeed Almighty, All-Powerful

(Al-Quran, 22;40)

It was in this spirit that the second Caliph of Islam, Umar ibn’al-Khattab, went to the utmost lengths to protect the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, when the Muslim army first occupied Jerusalem. A mosque, known as the Mosque of Umar, still stands in Jerusalem as evidence of Umar’s exemplary conduct, his going out of his way to protect a Christian place of worship: 

The Mosque of Omar minaret in Jerusalem opposite to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. After the Siege of Jerusalem in 637 CE by the Rashidun army under the command of Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, Patriarch Sophronius refused to surrender except to the Caliph Omar (579-644 CE) himself. Omar travelled to Jerusalem and accepted the surrender. He then visited the Church of the Resurrection (today better known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) where Sophronius invited him to pray inside the church, but Omar declined so as not to set a precedent and thereby endanger the church’s status as a Christian site. Instead he prayed outside, on the steps east of the church. The place where Umar ibn’al-Khattab prayed is now marked by the Mosque of Umar, significantly, near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Subsequent conquering armies – Mughals, Ottomans among them – flouted this principle of Umar ibn al-Khattab and took steps to convert non-Muslim places of worship into mosques. We are still living with the consequences, not only in Turkey, but in India also. In fact, particularly in India. If you honour others’ places of worship, they will honour yours. If you denigrate others’ places of worship – and in the process the objects of worship to which these places of worship are dedicated –  then they will denigrate your places of worship. This is the very process that we can now see unfolding in India:

وَلَا تَسُبُّوا الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا اللَّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِمْ مَرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُمْ بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ

(الانعام، ۱۰۸)

Do not revile those whom they invoke instead of Allah lest they, in their hostility, revile Allah out of ignorance. Thus to every people we have caused their actions to seem fair. To their Lord they shall all return, and He will declare to them all that they have done

(Al-Quran, 6:108)

I mention India because it is not only Hagia Sophia that is a cause celebre in this regard. There is the recent dedication of a temple to the Hindu Lord Ram in Ayodhya, on the site where the first Mughal Emperor Babur built a mosque. And there could be – God forbid – more instances of the same tit-for-tat mentality. For instance, the Alamgir mosque that the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb provocatively built on the site of a razed temple dedicated to the Hindu Lord Vishnu in Varanasi, right next to the holy Hindu bathing sites – ghats – of the Ganga River.

All these actions fly in the face of the conduct of Umar, when he conquered Jerusalem. For Umar, Islam was not a source of pride. Umar acted as he did because he wished to create a favourable impression towards Islam among Christians, one can say do the groundwork for dawa: preaching the word of Allah. Muslim imperial powers throughout history raze and occupy others’ places of worship because dawa is the last thing on their mind, building up an illusion of their own power and glory is everything to them. Religion, for them, was a source of pride. For Umar, with religion came a deep sense of responsibility. 

The same can be said of the recent conversion of the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul into a mosque. It has nothing to do with following the teachings of the Quran, or the example of the Companions of the Holy Prophet. It has nothing to do with winning hearts and minds of Christians and other non-Muslims. It has everything to do with political point-scoring and pride.

Incredibly, some of those who defend the conversion of the Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque point to the conversion of the Mosque of Cordoba, in southern Spain, into a cathedral. They take the actions of Christians as a basis for their own actions, rather than the teachings of the Quran and the actions of the Prophet’s companions! We will look at this mentality in our next dars, Inshallah.


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