Testimony of a Victim of Intolerance: Macarius, The Patriarch of Antioch
Anyone who is interested in the history of religious tolerance/ persecution and the history of the spread of Islam should read the excellent book published in 1913 : “The Preaching of Islam“, by Sir T W Arnold, Professor of Arabic at University College London.
having studied thousands of books, letters, papers etc, in 10 different languages, Prof. Arnold produced a mass of evidence that discredited the myth that Islam was spread by the sword. He argued that Muslims, in general, have been very tolerant towards people of other faith. The author did not shy away from citing the few occasions where some Muslims have in fact persecuted their subjects .
In support of this thesis, I will reproduce several testimonies, written mostly by prominent Christians, at different stages of history starting by an example from the not too distant past:
Writing in the 17th. century, at the height of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, Macarius, the Patriarch of Antioch wrote a moving piece, describing the suffering of Russians of the Orthodox Eastern Church. He was cursing the infidel oppressors, and invoking God to help those who delivered the Orthodox Christians in the East from the tyranny that befell their brethren. But the oppressors he referred to where not the Muslims or their agents. They were in fact Christians: Catholic Poles. He wrote:
We all wept much over the thousands of martyrs who were killed by those impious wretches, the enemies of faith, in these forty or fifty years. The number probably amounted to seventy or eighty thousands souls. O you infidels! O you monsters of impurity ! O you hearts of stone ! What had the nuns and women done ? What the girls and boys and infant children, that you should murder them ? … and why do I pronounce them accursed ? … Because they have shown themselves more debased and wicked than the corrupt worshippers of idols, by their cruel treatment of Christians, thinking to abolish the very name of Orthodox. God perpetuate the empire of the Turks for ever and ever ! For thy take their impost and enter into no account of religion, be their subjects Christians or Nazarenes, Jews or Samaritans: whereas these accursed Poles were not content with taxes and tithes from the brethren of Christ, though willing to serve them; but they subjected them to the authority of the enemies of Christ, the tyrannical Jews, who did not permit them to build churches, nor leave them any priests that knew the mysteries of their religion.
Source: The Preaching of Islam by Professor T W Arnold, University College London- published 1913.
The Patriarch clearly acknowledged the tolerance of the Muslim Ottomans, which, he said, was extended to all Christians and Jews. He also betrayed his anti-Semitic feelings in the last paragraph whilst exonerating Muslims of the same.
This tale of Islamic tolerance, highlights a long period of history, when the Islamic world was a real beacon of hope for the oppressed everywhere. It is hard to imagine now but hopefully, by highlighting some of the brighter aspects of Islamic history, we can move towards achieving certain objectives:
- Remind Muslims of the tolerant attitude of Islam towards other faiths. This can enhance our experience as Muslims living in the West, brings us closer to other communities that form, with us, the increasingly diverse countries we live in.
- Expose the lies of the war mongers and Islamophobes who portray our religion in the worst possible light, and continually try to frighten everyone from Islam and Muslims, thus fostering an atmosphere of mutual mistrust and suspicion.
- Respond to elements within the Muslim communities that advocate an isolationist agenda, by teaching young Muslims that we have a long tradition of co-existing peacefully with people of different faiths.
The following verse from the Quran was said by Abdullah, son of Masood, a companion of the Prophet (ص), to sum up what Islam is about (Tabarani 8659):
[Quran 16:90] Lo! Allah enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbiddeth lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorteth you in order that ye may take heed.
Below you will find another book by a harsh critic of Islam who could not but acknowledge the tolerance Muslims afforded their subjects.
Further Reading: Online Book: The Heresy of Muhammad – annotated page