ISLAM HAS BROUGHT PEACE AND HARMONY
TO THE MIDDLE EAST ALL THROUGH HISTORY
Palestine, and particularly Jerusalem at its heart,
has been holy for Muslims since the beginning of the history of
Islam. Muslims' seeing Palestine as holy has enabled them to bring
peace and harmony to the region. We shall be considering some historical
instances of this in this article.
There are two fundamental reasons why Jerusalem is
holy for Muslims: It is the first direction to which Muslims used
to turn to pray. Furthermore, what can be seen as one of Prophet
Mohammed's greatest miracles, his ascent to heaven, was from Masjid
al-Haram to Masjid al-Aqsa, in other words from Mecca to Jerusalem.
This fact is revealed in the Koran in these terms:
Glory be to Him who took His slave on a journey
by night from the Masjid al-Haram to the Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings
We have blessed, in order to show him some of Our Signs. He is the
All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. (Surat al-Isra: 1)
In stories about the Prophets in the Koran, those holy
verses that discuss Palestinian lands refer to them as 'blessed
lands' and 'holy lands.' In the above verse about the ascent to
heaven, Masjid al-Aqsa is described as a land 'whose surroundings
We have blessed.' In Surat al-Anbiya, in which the migration of
the prophets Abraham and Lot is recounted, the same territory is
described as 'a land We have blessed.' All Palestinian soil, where
many prophets from the tribe of Israel have lived, fought in the
path of God, and been martyred or died and buried, is holy for Muslims.
Consequently, Muslims have brought "blessings",
i.e. peace and security to Jerusalem and Palestine over the last
The Peace and Justice brought to Palestine by Khalif
Jerusalem was the capital of the Jews until A.D. 71.
In that year, the Roman Army made a major assault on the Jews, and
exiled them from the area after great savagery. As the time of the
Jewish diaspora began, Jerusalem and its surrounding area was becoming
an abandoned land.
However, Jerusalem once again became a center of interest
with the acceptance of Christianity during the time of the Roman
Emperor Constantine. Roman Christians built churches in Jerusalem.
The prohibitions on Jews settling in the region were lifted. Palestine
remained Roman (Byzantine) territory up until the 7th century. The
Persians conquered the region for a short time, but the Byzantines
later reconquered it.
An important turning point in the history of Palestine
came in the year 637, when it was conquered by the armies of Islam.
This meant the genesis of a period of peace and harmony in Palestine,
which had for centuries been the scene of wars, exiles, looting
and massacre, and which saw new brutality every time it changed
hands, a frequent occurrence. The coming of Islam was the beginning
of an age when people of different beliefs in Palestine could live
in peace and harmony.
Palestine was captured by Omar, the second caliph after
the Prophet himself. The entry of Omar into Jerusalem, the incredible
tolerance, maturity and kindness he showed towards people of different
beliefs, introduced the beautiful age that was beginning. The British
historian and Middle East expert Karen Armstrong describes the capture
of Jerusalem by Omar in these terms in her book Holy War:
The Caliph Omar entered Jerusalem mounted on a white
camel, escorted by the magistrate of the city, the Greek Patriarch
Sophronius. The Caliph asked to be taken immediately to the Temple
Mount and there he knelt in prayer on the spot where his friend
Mohammed had made his Night Journey. The Patriarch watched in horror:
this, he thought, must be the Abomination of Desolation that the
Prophet Daniel had foretold would enter the Temple; this must be
Antichrist who would herald the Last Days. Next Omar asked to see
the Christian shrines and, while he was in the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre, the time for Muslim prayer came round. Courteously the
Patriarch invited him to pray where he was, but Omar as courteously
refused. If he knelt to pray in the church, he explained, the Muslims
would want to commemorate the event by erecting a mosque there,
and that would mean that they would have to demolish the Holy Sepulchre.
Instead Omar went to pray at a little distance from the church,
and, sure enough, directly opposite the Holy Sepulchre there is
still a small mosque dedicated to the Caliph Omar.
The other great mosque of Omar was
erected on the Temple Mount to mark the Muslim conquest, together
with the mosque al-Aqsa which commemorates Mohammed's Night Journey.
For years, the Christians had used to the site of the ruined Jewish
Temple as the city rubbish dump. The Caliph helped his Muslims to
clear the garbage with his own hands and there Muslims raised their
two shrines to establish Islam in the third most holy city in the
Islamic world. 
In short, Muslims brought 'civilization' to Jerusalem
and all of Palestine. Instead of barbaric beliefs that showed no
respect for other peoples' sacred values, and which killed them
simply out of differences of belief, there reigned the just, tolerant
and moderate culture of Islam. After its capture by Omar, Muslims,
Christians and Jews lived together in peace and harmony in Palestine.
Muslims never tried to use force to make people convert, although
some non-Muslims did so of their own free will.
The peace and harmony in Palestine lasted as long as
Muslim rule in the region. However, at the end of the 11th century,
an invader entered the region from abroad, and the civilized land
of Jerusalem was barbarically and savagely plundered, in a way never
before seen. These barbarians were the Crusaders.
A historical testimony of Muslim tolerance to the Christians: Muslim
Dome of the Rock next to the Christian Church.
The Savagery of the Crusaders
Crusaders plundered Jerusalem
and killed all its non-Christian inhabitants.
While members of all three religions were living in peace and harmony
in Palestine, the Christians in Europe decided to organize the 'Crusades.'
Following a call by Pope Urban II on 25 November 1095 at the Council
of Clermont, more than 100,000 people from all over Europe set out
for Palestine to 'Free the Holy land from the Muslims' and find
the fabled wealth of the East. After a long and wearying journey,
and much plundering and slaughter of Muslims, they reached Jerusalem
in 1099. The city fell after a siege of nearly five weeks, and the
Crusaders moved in. And they carried out a savagery the like of
which the world has seldom seen. All Muslims and Jews in the city
were put to the sword. In the words of one historian, 'They killed
all the Saracens and the Turks they found... whether male of female."
 One of the Crusaders, Raymond of Aguiles,
boasted of this violence:
Wonderful sights were to be seen. Some
of our men (and this was more merciful) cut off the heads of their
enemies; others shoot them with arrows, so that they fell from the
towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into flames.
Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of
the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of
men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened
at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services are normally
chanted ... in the temple and the porch of Solomon, men rode in
blood up to their knees and bridle reins. 
In two days, the Crusader army killed
some 40,000 Muslims in the barbaric ways just described. 
The peace and harmony in Palestine, which had lasted since Omar,
ended in terrible slaughter. The Crusaders violated all the ethical
laws of Christianity, a religion of love and compassion, and spread
terror, allegedly in the name of Christianity.
The Justice of Saladin
The barbaric Crusader army made Jerusalem their capital,
and established a Latin Kingdom whose borders stretched from Palestine
to Antioch. However, the Crusaders who brought savagery to Palestine
did not last long. Saladin gathered all the Muslim kingdoms under
his banner in a holy war, and defeated the Crusaders at the battle
of Hattin in 1187. After the battle, the two leaders of the crusader
army, Reynauld of Chatillon and King Guy, were brought in Saladin's
presence. Saladin executed Reynauld of Chatillon, who had won fame
with the terrible savagery he had committed against Muslims, but
he let King Guy go, as he had not committed the same crimes. Palestine
once again saw the true meaning of justice.
Immediately after Hattin, and on the very same day
that Prophet Mohammed had been taken from Mecca to Jerusalem in
one night, the day of the ascent, Saladin entered Jerusalem and
freed it from 88 years of Crusader occupation. When the Crusaders
had taken the city 88 years earlier, they had killed all the Muslims
inside it, and for that reason they were afraid that Saladin would
do the same thing to them. Whereas he did not touch even one Christian
in the city. Furthermore, he merely ordered the Latin (Catholic)
Christians to leave it. The Orthodox Christians, who were not Crusaders,
were allowed to live in the city and live and worship as they chose.
The British historian Karen Armstrong describes the second Islamic
capture of Jerusalem in these words:
On 2 October 1187 Saladin and his army entered Jerusalem
as conquerors and for the next 800 years Jerusalem would remain
a Muslim city... Saladin kept his word, and conquered the city according
to the highest Islamic ideals. He did not take revenge for the 1099
massacre, as the Koran advised (16:127), and now that hostilities
had ceased he ended the killing (2:193-194). Not a single Christian
was killed and there was no plunder. The ransoms were deliberately
Saladin was moved to tears by the plight of families
who were rent asunder and he released many of them freely, as the
Koran urged, though to the despair of his long-suffering treasurers.
His brother al-Adil was so distressed by the plight of the prisoners
that he asked Saladin for a thousand of them for his own use and
then released them on the spot...
When Imad ad-Din saw the Patriarch
Heraclius leaving the city with chariots crammed with treasure,
he urged Saladin to confiscate it. But Saladin refused. The Koran
said that oaths and treaties must be kept to the letter and it was
essential that the Muslims should observe the legalities... Heraclius
paid his ten-dinar ransom like everybody else and was even provided
with a special escort to keep his treasure safe during the journey
to Tyre. 
In short, Saladin and the Muslims in his command treated
the Christians with great mercy and justice, and even showed them
more compassion than their own leaders had.
Richard the Lionheart, was not very "noble" at all.
After Jerusalem, the Crusaders continued their barbarity and the
Muslims their justice in other cities in Palestine. In 1194, Richard
the Lionheart, who is portrayed as a great hero in British history,
had 3,000 Muslims, among whom were many women and children, basely
executed in Acre Castle. Although the Muslims witnessed this savagery,
they never resorted to the same methods. They abided by God's command
"Do not let hatred for a people... incite you into going beyond
the limits" (Surat al-Ma'ida) and never used violence against
innocent civilians. They never employed unnecessary violence, not
even against the Crusader armies they defeated.
The savagery of the crusaders and the justice of the
Muslims once more revealed a historic truth: Only an administration
built on the principles of Islam could allow people of different
faiths to live together in Palestine. This fact continued to be
demonstrated for 700 years after Saladin, particularly during the
The Ottoman Empire's Just and Tolerant Rule
In 1514, Sultan Selim captured Jerusalem and the surrounding
area, and some 400 years of Ottoman rule in Palestine began. As
in other Ottoman states, this period would enable Palestine to enjoy
peace, stability, and the living together of different faiths.
The tolerance of Islam continued in the Ottoman Empire. Church,
synagogue and the mosque coexisted peacefully.
The Ottoman Empire was administered under what is known as the 'nation
(millet) system,' the fundamental feature of which was that people
of different faiths were allowed to live according to their own
beliefs and even legal systems. Christians and Jews, described as
the 'People of the Book' in the Koran, found toleration, security
and freedom in Ottoman lands.
The most important reason for this was that although
the Ottoman Empire was an Islamic state administered by Muslims,
it had no desire to force its citizens to adopt Islam. On the contrary,
the Ottoman state aimed at providing peace and security for non-Muslims,
and to govern them in such a way that they would be pleased with
Islamic rule and justice.
Other major states at the same time had a much cruder,
oppressive and intolerant view of government. The Kingdom of Spain
could not tolerate the existence of Muslims and Jews on the Spanish
peninsula and inflicted great violence on both communities. In many
other European countries, Jews were oppressed just for being Jews
(for instance they were imprisoned in ghettoes), and were sometimes
the victims of mass slaughter (pogroms). Christians could not even
get on with one another: the fighting between Protestants and Catholics
in the 16th and 17th centuries turned Europe into a lake of blood.
The Thirty Years War between 1618 and 1648 was one result of this
Catholic-Protestant conflict. As a result of that war, central Europe
turned into a battleground, and in Germany alone, one-third of the
population of 15 million perished.
In such an environment, it is an indisputably important
truth that Ottoman rule was exceedingly humane.
Many historians and political scientists have drawn
attention to this fact. One of these is Columbia University's world-famous
Middle East expert Professor Edward Said. Himself from a Jerusalem
Christian family, he continues his research in American universities.
In an interview in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz he recommended
the 'Ottoman nation system' if a permanent peace is to be built
in the Middle East. What he said was:
A Jewish minority can survive the way
other minorities in the Arab world survived. …it worked rather well
under the Ottoman Empire, with its millet system. What they had
then seems a lot more humane than what we have now. 
Koranic Morality: The Source of Islamic Tolerance
The fundamental reason for the establishment of exceedingly
tolerant, just and humane administrations in the Ottoman Empire
and other Muslim states is that such government is commanded by
the Koran. The reason for the justice and civilization displayed
by Omar, Saladin, the Ottoman sultans and many Muslim rulers (and
this is accepted by the West today), was their faithfulness to God's
commands in the Koran. These are some of the commandments that make
up the basis of the Islamic view of government:
God commands you to return to their owners the
things you hold on trust and, when you judge between people, to
judge with justice. How excellent is what God exhorts you to do!
God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. (Surat an-Nisa : 58)
You who believe! Be upholders of justice, bearing
witness for God alone, even against yourselves or your parents and
relatives. Whether they are rich or poor, God is well able to look
after them. Do not follow your own desires and deviate from the
truth. If you twist or turn away, God is aware of what you do. (Surat
God does not forbid you from being good to those who
have not fought you in the religion or driven you from your homes,
or from being just towards them. God loves those who are just. (Surat
There is a phrase in politics that 'power corrupts,
and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' This means that everyone
who comes by political power becomes somewhat morally corrupted
by the opportunities this power brings with it. This really does
apply to most people, because they shape their morality in line
with social pressure. To put it another way, they avoid immorality
because they are afraid of society's disapproval or of punishment.
Power gives them strength however, and decreases social pressure.
As a result, they become corrupted, or come to easily make concessions
regarding morality. If they possess real power, in other words if
they rule a nation, they may try all means of satisfying their desires.
The only human model where the
'law of corruption' does not apply is those who sincerely believe
in God, who embrace religion out of fear and love of Him, and live
according to that religion. Because their morals are not defined
by society, not even the most absolute power can affect them. In
the Koran, God gave the Prophet David as an example of this ideal
ruler, with the way he governed even those who questioned his authority,
and the way on the other hand that he prayed with complete submission
to God. (Surah Sad: 24)
The fact that the history of Islam is full of just,
merciful, humble and mature rulers stems from this morality that
God teaches Muslims in the Koran. Since a Muslim ruler fears God,
no opportunity that he may be given will make him corrupt, proud
or cruel. (Of course rulers who became corrupt and departed from
Islamic morality do crop up in the history of Islam, but their numbers
and influence were very small).
History reveals that Islam is the only system of belief
to offer a just, tolerant and compassionate way of government in
the Middle East. The Pax Ottomana, which came to an end with the
withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire from the region, has still not
been replaced. After the Ottomans, the Middle East first passed
into the hands of European colonialists, and then became the target
of Israel's policies of occupation and aggression.
There is one fundamental reason for the current conflict
in the Middle East: The fact that the sides do not want to make
peace. What Israel must do is to abide by U.N. resolution 242 and
withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, and recognize and grant the rights
of the Palestinian people. What the Palestinians (and other Arabs)
should do is to abandon such aims as "pouring Israelis into
the sea" and accept living together with the Jews. The most
important thing of all is not to dirty just causes with barbaric
acts of terrorism against civilians.
In short, in order for there to be peace in the Middle
East, both sides have to agree to be moderate and tolerant, and
make a genuine effort to rid themselves of Jewish racism (Atheist Zionism)
or Arab chauvinism. The vision that is needed for this is hidden
in the virtues that Islamic morality has blessed the Middle East
over the past centuries.
1- Karen Armstrong, Holy War,
MacMillan, London, 1988, p. 30-31
2- Geste Francorum, or the Deeds of the Franks and the Other Pilgrims
to Jerusalem, trans. Rosalind Hill, London, 1962, p. 91
3- August C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye-Witnesses
and Participants, Pinceton & London, 1921, p. 261
4- August C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye-Witnesses
and Participants, Pinceton & London, 1921, p. 262
5- Karen Armstrong, Holy War, p. 185
6- 18.8.2000, Ha'aretz Newspaper; MiddleEast.Org, August 2000