FW’S 104 Christian and Muslim Religious Tolerance It is ironic that while they are based on similar scriptures, and therefore similar ideologies, Christianity and Islam have had divergent attitudes towards the acceptance of religious minorities. By its nature, the Christian faith antagonizes other religions, including Judaism and Islam, because, according to Christian scripture, a lack of belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ results in damnation. The Muslim faith, however, has a much more tolerant view on “People of the Book,” including Christians and Jews, since such tolerance is stipulated by Islamic scripture.
Subsequent treatment (as opposed to acceptance) of religious minorities, however, was similar between followers of the two religions, ranging from relative social indifference, for example religious freedom in exchange for a tax, to extreme violence, despite differences in attitudes towards acceptance. It appears that, for the Christians and Muslims, the relationship between religious acceptance and religious treatment/ violence is extremely weak, as the latter can usually be linked to political or economic motives.
Whether or not they advocated violence against religious minorities, Christians ere most often unwilling to accept other religions. Even Saint Augustine, who advocated a peaceful attitude towards the Jews, called them “blind” and called upon Jewish (and therefore Christian) scripture to support his negative attitude towards them (page 2, The City of God). It is then not surprising that Christians who are belligerent towards religious minorities would also share these antagonistic views. Bishop Severus of Minorca from the fifth century, who was responsible for the supposed conversion of five hundred Jews under the threat of death, compares the
Jews “with wolves and foxes for fierceness and villainy (page 14, Letter of Severus). ” With these two examples, we have seen both advocates of coexistence and advocates of violence express attitudes of intense disapproval of the Jewish faithl . Unlike Christianity, Islam endorsed religious acceptance of minorities. Such an attitude can be traced back to the Quran and the words and actions of Prophet Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam. Muslims, unlike Christians, do not antagonize the People of the Book, or at least not to the same extent.
Muslims believe in a Judgment Day where man is weighed against his sin and wrongdoings and not Just his faith. Therefore, not all non-Muslims necessarily face damnation. While it is clear that Muslims believe they “are under the best and most correct guidance” (which was also made clear by Muhammad’s constant use of the phrase, “Faithfulness is the best protection against sin they also believe that belief in Islam or the lack thereof does not make one a righteous person, but that it is one’s actions that defines him or her (page 3,4, Ordinance).
In the Ordinance of Medina, the Prophet Muhammad makes it lear that Allah will still punish a wrongdoing Muslim on Judgment Day, despite his or her faith (“Should anyone aid… Day of Resurrection”), very different from the Christian view of salvation through Christ (Page 3). Muhammad condemns “Jews and their clients] who act wrongtully and sin” tor their wrongdoings and not tor their lack ot faith (page 4).
Because faith is less central in Islamic attitudes toward religious minorities (with a heavier focus on abstinence from sin), as described above, many Muslims, including the Prophet Muhammad, encouraged peace and coexistence Just as it is encouraged n the Quran. ) Referring to the Jews and the Muslims, Prophet Muhammad says in the ordinance, “Sincerity and good counsel should obtain between them ” and also “The Jews of the Banu Awf are a community with the Believers” (page 4, Ordinance).
In the case of the Kitab al KharaJ, People of the Book are left to coexist with Muslims in Islamic states as long as they pay a tax. Abu Yusuf points to 9:29 (At Tauba) in the Quran that says, “Fight those that believe not in God and the Last Day… until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled (page 6). ” Although this could be isinterpreted as demanding violence against non-Muslims, it is actually encouraging Islamic states to enforce the paying of such taxes. These taxes also served as an economic incentive for religious coexistence and toleration.
In the dhimmi system (which was in itself Islamic law that extended rights and protections to religious minorities “of the book”) it is stated that “[the People of the Book] must be shown gentleness (page 4)” as long as they have paid their tax in full. In the conquest treaty, the People of the Book are even guaranteed religious freedom under the condition they pay the Jizya. It states, “Their churches shall neither be used as dwellings nor destroyed… No constraint shall be exercised against them in religion nor shall any harm be done to any of them. The restrictions against non-Muslims were typically mild. In the Shurut ‘Umar, Christians were restricted from teaching or publicly expressing their religion. Other secular restrictions (as opposed to restrictions on religious freedom expression) include “not seek[ing] to resemble the Muslims by imitating any of their garments (page 13)” and “not sell[ing] fermented drinks,” both much milder alternatives to religious violence. Likewise, there have been instances of Christians encouraging peace towards religious minorities.
For example, Saint Augustine cites a verse from Psalm 59 as his main inspiration for relative tolerance: “He is my God. His mercy shall help me. My God has shown this to me in the midst of my enemies. Slay them not lest they forget the law. Scatter them in thy power” [italics added for emphasis]. From this passage, he concludes that both the physical killing and the religious killing (eliminating their Jewish identities) of Jews are not desired by God. Instead, he finds value in the idea hat the Jews were scattered throughout the world for Christian communities to use as reminders of Christ’s sacrifice.
While one’s attitude towards religious minorities may come directly as a mandate from one’s perception2 of the Christian faith, as it did for Saint Augustine, it could also come from political motivations, for example the desire to maintain political superiority. In Las Siete Partidas, Jews are given some religious freedoms but given fewer civil freedoms. The legal code of king Alfonso X states that, “Jews should pass their lives among Christians quietly and without isorder, practicing their own religious rites, and not speaking ill of the faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (page 5).
According to this passage, Jews are given the freedom to practice their own religion but are prohibited from certain types of speech. In addition to being barred from blasphemous speech, Jews are banned from holding public office in order to keep Christian political superiority. These conditions, however, were benign compared Bishop Severs’ convert-or-die attitude. It is clear that Bishop Severus of Minorca serves as a good example of a Christian who led a group f Christians into violence towards a minority group, in this case, the Jews.
However, the relationship between Severus’ belligerent actions and his attitude towards religious minorities is not as clear. As described above, Bishop Severus coerced over five hundred Jews to convert to Christianity through violence. Even Bishop Severus acknowledges this violence, but Justifies it in the following excerpt from Letter of the Conversion of the Jews: “… the sinful appearance of our long-standing affection was transformed into temporary hatred though for love of eternal salvation. In every ublic place, battles were waged against the Jews over the Law, in every house struggles over faith” (page 15, Letters of Severus).
Severus makes it clear to his reader that he brought about this brutality because of his devotion to his faith. However, the sincerity of this statement becomes doubtful when one considers Bishop Severus’ career and political status. Minorca was a small, relatively insignificant island, making the Bishop of this small island also relatively insignificant. However, as we can see by Severus’ fervor in his writing and his pride over the mass conversion, Severus was an mbitious bishop wanting to be better known throughout the Christian community.
With the arrival of Saint Stephen’s relics at Minorca, Severus became a far more important man as he had Jurisdiction over holy relics. It is then very possible that this sudden religious uprising was instigated by Severus’ desire to further his own career using the momentum he gained with the arrival of the relics. This means that it is likely that the religious violence on Minorca largely resulted from one man’s political motives and not Just his negative attitude toward religious minorities.
The Extermination of the Banu Qurayza,” a Muslim text depicting events similar to those on Minorca, illustrates another example of religious violence that may have been politically driven. The extermination was preceded by a twenty-five day siege that started when “The angel Gabriel appeared to the Apostle of Allah (page 8)” and told him to “march against the Banu Qurayza. ” Just as it had for the events on Minorca, this siege and subsequent massacre appear to be religion driven. However, one must first consider the political atmosphere and tensions between the Jews and he Muslims.
As described in “Muhammad’s Jewish Adversaries in Medina,” the “Jews began to manifest their hostility toward the Apostle of Allah (page 6). ” Although the document claims the tension came from “Jealousy… because Allah… had conferred distinction upon the Arabs by choosing [Muhammad] as His messenger amongst them (page 6),” it is rather likely such tensions grew from the political power Muhammad had gained. In addition, the siege came shortly after the Jews allegedly failed to provide financial aid towards Medina’s defense when it was attacked by Meccan forces, a responsibility outlined in the Constitution of Medina.
For these reasons, it would be a defensible argument to say that even the extermination of the Banu Qurayza was a politically driven event, having a very weak relationship with the relatively accepting view (relative to the Christian view) that was outlined in the Constitution of Medina. It, then, becomes clear that both Christians and Muslims have engaged in both religious violence and religious tolerance, despite differences in views towards religious minorities . Witn such a low correlation between these views and these ctions, one begins to question the importance of religious acceptance in political toleration of religious minorities.
We have seen in both cases of violence that there may have been political motives behind them, no matter the religion of the aggressor. We have also seen in both cases of toleration that there may have been political or economic motives behind them as well. Knowing this, a major question arises: if there is such a weak connection between acceptance and violence, is there really such a thing as religious violence, or is it political and economic conflict veiled in the disguise of religious conflict?