Religious Tradition in the Hejaz

Hejaz Peninsula from the north to the south and from the east to the west, has always interacted with different cultural elements and religious traditions throughout history. This region, which stretches from Palestine-Jordan, known as “the golden crescent” in the north, to Mesopotamia has accommodated many traditions from pagan cultures to monotheistic movements. Assyrian-Babylon paganism worshipped the stars and planets, while polytheistic Greek culture, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Manichaeism have all existed in this region. Apart from these religions, many movements that are known as secret religions and which involve esotericism and mysticism have also thrived here. This region was also the place in which many prophets conveyed the faith of monotheism, which is based on the absolute unity of God. Prophets like Abraham, Zachariah, and Jesus invited people to accept God as the one and superior power, to avoid associating partners with Him and to worship Him alone; these prophets struggled against polytheism, idolatry, cruelty, immorality and sedition. A similar condition also existed in Egypt, located to the northwest of the Hejaz, in Abyssinia to the west of Hejaz, Yemen to the south of the Hejaz, and coastal regions of the Indian Ocean, located to the east of the Hejaz. Many cultural and religious traditions have existed that have been important for humanity in all these regions.

The Hejaz, located in the center of all these regions, has been affected by different political and religious traditions throughout history. Byzantium lay to the north of the Hejaz and represented Christianity; the Sassanians to the northeast represented Zoroastrianism. Both these states were important and powerful in the region. Judiasm was another important religion at the time, and Jewish communities lived in various areas of the region. Apart from these, it is known that the religion and the culture of the Nabatene kingdom, which ruled over the north of the Hejaz, were very influential on the Arabs in the area.

In the period of Prophet Muhammad, the people of the Hejaz region were, for the most part, polytheist Arabs. They were called ummis by the Jews and Christians living in the region. The term ummis means people who do not have a tradition of a revealed book in their religion. The polytheist Arabs called the Jews and the Christians Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book). This term was related more to the Jewish assertion of a written revelation tradition in order to distinguish themselves from the polytheist Arabs. The Jews mainly lived in cities such as Yathrib and Khaybar. Some Christians were living in important cities of the region like Mecca, but Christianity were more prevalent to the north and south of the Hejaz. Apart from the Jews and the Christians, there are some accounts in later sources that mention a community called the Hanifs. These people were important in that they were not adherents of the traditional Arabian polytheism. It is known that the Prophet (pbuh) made contact with these people from time to time, but it would not be correct to say that this relationship was a close one. It is interesting that Arab idolaters did not display a strong reaction against these “People of the Book” who were different from them in terms faith, but they were violently opposed to Prophet Muhammad. The most important reason for this may be the consideration that the movement of these people was not so influential that it could threaten the social and political structure in Mecca.
Basic Principles in the Prophet’s Relations with Non-Muslims

a) Morality

The most obvious aspect in Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s attitudes and behavior towards non-Muslims is the fact that he never made compromises in his moral virtues. As the Quran states, the Prophet always showed “the most beautiful morality” and presented humanity with the most beautiful example of this morality. The image of Trustworthy Muhammad (Muhammad al-Amin) is the essence that he showed towards people, whether they were believers or not. Although non-Muslims, who were fiercely opposed to him, accused the Prophet of rejecting traditional teachings, eradicating the common religion and concept of society and of changing the religion of their ancestors, they never accused him of deceit or mendacity in words or attitude. In fact, the Prophet climbed Mount Safa during the early periods of his prophethood in order to publicly convey Islam to the people of Mecca; from here he said the following words to the people gathered there: “O Quraishis, if I inform you that an aggressor's army is behind this mountain advancing toward you and is ready to attack you, would you believe me?” They all said with one voice, “Surely, we would consider such a report from you as absolutely correct, because we have never heard you telling a lie.” Then the Prophet continued: “Well, I inform you that a great torment is quite near you. Allah has told me to warn my closest kin. I can help you neither in this world nor in the afterlife if you do not proclaim that there is no god but Allah.” (Balazuri, I. 120). That the Prophet was trustworthy, that he defended justice, that he took sides with the poor and the weak, that he gave importance to family relations, that he emphasized the rights of parents, and many similar characteristics, are all matters of historical record; that he had such a character is an indication of the uniqueness of Prophet Muhammad in his society. The Prophet continuously warned Muslims to treat non-Muslims with such positive behavior and attitudes. For instance, he said to Muaz whom he had sent to Yemen as a governor, a place at that time largely inhabited by the People of the Book: “Avoid being cursed by the aggrieved, because there is no barrier between their curse and that of Allah” (Bukhari, Zakat 41, 63, Magazi 60).

b) Patience

The Prophet showed endless patience while conveying Islam to non-Muslims. He never tired of speaking to people again and again and telling them about the monotheistic belief which is the essence of the religion. He was always sincere in his relationships and he abstained from useless polemics or quarrels. As is stated in the Holy Quran, the Prophet always treated people well; he used kind words, and avoided rude or aggressive attitudes or behavior. As a matter of fact, despite the rude behavior of some communities he encountered when conveying the religion, the Prophet curbed his anger and asked for salvation for them from Allah. For instance, Prophet Muhammad went to Taif with Zayd ibn Haritha in search of a freer environment in which to convey the message of Islam because of the increasing pressure in Mecca, but the leading figures of Taif treated him with rudeness and provoked the people to stone him and drive him from the city. In response to this sad experience, Prophet Muhammad prayed that the people of Taif would be granted deliverance. It was due to his kind and forgiving attitude that the people did not refuse to listen to his message; rather, they thought about this message and came to Islam, despite the opposition and pressure they faced at the beginning.

c) Constructiveness

Prophet Muhammad never forced people when conveying Islam to them. He never forced them to accept the messages that he conveyed in line with the principle “There is no compulsion in religion” (Al-Baqarah, 256). He did not listen to those who advised or desired the use of violence to bring people to Islam and he always remained distant from such people.

The Prophet was always constructive in his relationships with people, whether they were believers or not. In particular, he maintained good relations with the Jewish tribes and the Arab polytheists with whom he lived, particularly in the Medinan period, as long as they did not show hostility towards Muslims and as long as they did not violate any mutual treaty. Prophet Muhammad saw no harm in different communities living together, with each community contributing something useful to the society. For instance, Muslims and non-Muslims were able to live together in peace in Medina under the agreement known as “The Medina Document”, which had been signed by the different groups in Medina in the early stages of the Medinan period. The different communities undertook common responsibilities to form a society, and this situation could continue as long as the provisions of the agreement were not violated. The Prophet even worked with some Arab polytheists who had been prisoners of war. For instance, after the Battle of Badr, the Muslims benefited from the ability to read and write that some of the idolaters and prisoners had; in return for their release, they taught the Muslims how to read and write.

d) Respect for Basic Rights and Freedoms

Prophet Muhammad focused on the humanity of the people whom he was addressing, rather than on their differences in faith, ideas and life styles. In other words, he behaved in line with the idea that the people around him were human and possessed a life and a soul. He did not act according to whether they were Muslim or not. For instance, in Medina the Prophet stood up before a passing funeral procession. His Companions said to him: “O Prophet, that man was not a Muslim.” In response to this, the Prophet emphasized the quality of being human, the common feature that all people share, with the following words: “Did he not have a soul?”

The Prophet guaranteed the lives, property, honor and freedom of religion of the non-Muslims who were living among the Muslims, and he put great emphasis on these issues. This is a condition that Islam gives importance to; the basic values must be protected by the religion. As a matter of fact, the protection of life corresponds to the basic right to live, the protection of religion corresponds to freedom of belief, the protection of the mind corresponds to freedom of faith, the protection of property corresponds to the freedom of being able to earn capital and property, the protection of generations corresponds to the freedom to have a family. These constitute the fundamental rights that humans have according to Islam. These rules apply not only to Muslims, but to all human beings. Accordingly, Prophet Muhammad protected these basic rights in the society in which he lived, whether the people were Muslim or not. He made clear the attitude that must be taken towards those non-Muslims who agreed to live in an Islamic state with the following words: “He who torments non-Muslim torments the Messenger of Allah. Accordingly, he who torments the Messenger of Allah torments Allah.”

e) Invitation to Allah and the Truth

The most important mission of the Prophet was to convey the book of Allah to the people, to warn them and to invite them to Allah and the truth. In this context, the Prophet acted as a warner and reminder for everyone. There were times when people debated, argued and even struggled against him. However, he always maintained his principled attitude with patience and perseverance. For example the Christians of Najran and some other non-Muslim groups came to him to debate with him and even to test his Prophethood. Prophet Muhammad debated with them for days and explained Islam to them. Although they strongly opposed and challenged him, the Prophet never resorted to violence or anger, he responded to them with calm reliance and commitment on Allah. When the non-Muslim guests of the Prophet and the Muslims requested a place to worship, he did not hesitate to invite them to the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, one of the most sacred locations of Islam, to pray.

Prophet Muhammad never refused those who wanted to meet him, to speak with him or even to debate with him; this attitude led many people to become Muslims.

f) Ruling with Justice

Prophet Muhammad was always an unbiased arbitrator and a leader who acted with justice to defend the middle ground. His ability to arbitrate was recognized not only by the Muslims, but also by non-Muslims. Probably for this reason, the non-Muslims wanted him to arbitrate in situations that occurred with the Muslims from time to time and in problems they had amongst themselves. For some of the legal problems that occurred among the Jews, the Prophet ruled according to the Jewish laws. His commitment to justice and his character, upon which people relied, were well-known long before he became a prophet. For example, he arbitrated in a situation among the Quraishis in Mecca as to who should replace the al-Hajar al-Aswad (the Black Stone, considered holy even before the advent of Islam, as it is said to have descended from heaven) in the walls of the Kaaba after renovation work had been completed on the building. By finding a way for the tribes to cooperate equally in the task he prevented a tense situation from escalating into possible war.

In daily life, Prophet Muhammad continued to have socio-economic relations with non-Muslims; from time to time he gave and received loans from non-Muslims. There is a very interesting account about how the Prophet pawned his armor to a non-Muslim in return for a sum of money. According to Aisha, the Prophet passed away while his armor was still in pawn to a Jew (Bukhari, Jihad 89, Maghazi 86; Muslim, Musaqat 124-126). Also within the scope of the good relations with other peoples that he had established, the Prophet always accepted invitations from non-Muslims and listened to them. In fact, once he accepted an invitation from a Jewish man who then tried to assassinate him.
g) Guarding the cultural differences

Although Prophet Muhammad guarded the basic rights and laws of the non-Muslims in terms of human relations, he always took care to be different from them in terms of culture and tradition. He emphasized that Muslims should take care not to resemble the non-Muslims in their traditions or the way they cut or wore their hair and beards. In many of his speeches, the Prophet warned the Muslims about these points. For example he said “Jews and Christians never dye their hair. You should not act as they do.” (Bukhari, Anbiyâ 50, Libâs 67). On the issue of how to call people to pray, the Prophet did not approve of ideas of using horns or bells, since these practices would resemble those of Jews and Christians.

In his attitudes towards the non-Muslims, Prophet Muhammad never exhibited a collective approach that placed everybody at the same level and he always was aware that people have different strengths. It is very interesting that in the Meccan period he sent some Muslims who were overburdened by the oppression of the idolaters to the state of the Christian ruler in Abyssinia, who was known for his justice, and said; “… That place is a land of truth. Stay there until Allah saves you from your predicament.” On the other hand, it is known that the non-Muslims, polytheists and the People of the Book occasionally applied a policy of violence, exhibiting hatred and animosity, and made evident their envy and jealousy against the Prophet and the Muslims. The Holy Quran explicitly informs us about the attitudes of the non-Muslims and their attitudes towards the Muslims, in particular those of the Jews and Christians who formed the People of the Book. In the revelations imparted in Mecca that are related to the attitudes to be adopted towards non-Muslims (for instance; Al-Ankabut 46-47), it is commanded that Prophet Muhammad and the Muslims behave kindly towards the People of the Book1 and they are told that the common points should be emphasized when interacting with these people. It is emphasized that the People of the Book also believed in the revelation that had been imparted to the Prophet. When all these statements related to the period of Mecca are taken into account, it is obvious that there were expectations that the People of the Book, who had a tradition of revelations, would accept the revelations imparted to Muhammad.

These expectations continued for a while, even after the immigration of Muslims to Medina. The Treaty of Medina that guaranteed the coexistence of various groups living in Medina with respect for each others’ presence and faith was one of the first actions carried out by Prophet Muhammad in Medina after the emigration and this treaty also included the Jews and those who made treaties with them.Article 16 of this treaty guarantees that the Jews who were subject to the Muslims by means of the treaty would be allowed to continue their lives “without tyranny and without aid to their enemies.” Articles 18, 24, 37 and 45 specify the liabilities of those who signed the treat in relation to issues of mutual defense and expenditure, whereas in Articles 23, 36 and 42 it is emphasized that Prophet Muhammad was the sole authority on the text of the treaty and that he was the authority to be referred to in times of conflict. However this treaty did not last long and the Jewish tribes that had signed it, one by one, violated the agreement.

The strong opposition shown by the Arab polytheists to the Muslims in Mecca was also supported by the Jews in Medina. Many Jews did not accept the revelation that Prophet Muhammad conveyed, and acted together with Arab polytheists in preparing plans against Muslims.

The Holy Quran mentioned that the People of the Book fell into disagreement because of extremist actions and jealousy among themselves; in response to this Allah told the believers the truth about their disagreement (Al-Baqarah 213, Al-i Imran 19). The Quran also emphasizes that Prophet Muhammad was sent to them to explain the things that they had concealed (Allah) so that he could bring them an illuminating and clear book from Allah, and invite them to allow the book of Allah to rule over them (Al-i Imran 23, Al-Maida 15, 18). The Holy Quran invites the People of the Book to accept the common doctrine (tawheed) with these words: “O People of the Book! Come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside Allah.” However, the People of the Book generally rejected this invitation; they opposed Islam and tried to entice the Muslims away from it due to their jealousy and resentment (Al-Baqarah 105, 109, Al-Maida 59). The Quran states that People of the Book knew that the Quran had actually been sent by Allah (Al-Anaam 114) and that they recognized the Holy Quran as they recognized their own sons (Al-Anaam 20), but they were concealing the truth on purpose (Al-Baqarah 146). The People of the Book (Jews and Christians) claimed that they were “the sons of Allah and His loved ones” (Al-Maida 18); accordingly only they (Jews and Christians) would go to heaven (Al-Baqarah 111) and people must accept Judaism or Christianity to gain deliverance (Al-Baqarah 135). The Christians and Jews even continued the disagreement between them; the Jews said that the Christians were following something that was completely untrue, while the Christians said that the Jews were not following the truth (Al-Baqarah 113). They also argued among themselves about Abraham, each claiming that Abraham was one of them (Al-i Imran 65-66). Due to their attitudes towards the Prophet and the Muslims, some of the non-Muslims developed arguments against the Holy Prophet and the Muslims whenever they could and insulted them by making plays on words. For instance, when they came across the Muslims, they sometimes said samun alaykum (may fire/torment be on you) instead of asalaam alaykum (may greetings/well-being be on you). In response to this, the Prophet told Muslims to say “wa alaykum” (the same is upon you) when they came across them (See Bukhari, Salam 7, Isti’zan 22, Murteddin 4).

Naturally, some conflicts occurred between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. The Prophet always told the Muslims to protect the innocent people, even when these conflicts turned into fights or battles. By doing this, the Prophet ensured that no harm would come to those who did not participate in the battle, i.e., the elderly, women and children and those who were sheltering in their homes or places of worship.

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