Coexistence: A Bright Side of Islamic civilization

  • | Tuesday, 30 April, 2024
Coexistence: A Bright Side of Islamic civilization

Allah created humanity in diverse races and with different mindsets and ideas, and thus the Almighty Allah has set coexistence as a main human value since the beginning of human civilization. Since the commencement of creation, many peoples of different races and ethnicities, who believed in this value, coexisted in peace for ages. Since its advent, Islam set coexistence as a main component of its value system. The Islamic civilization proved to be the best in understanding the essence of such an important human value.

The fledgling Muslim state established by Prophet Muhammad PBUH in Medina accorded the value of coexistence a special attention as a way for promoting fraternity among the people of the Medina –Muslims and Jews- and Muslim emigrants coming from Mecca. The Prophet PBUH laid the foundations of coexistence among all people of the Medina in Ṣaīfat al-Madīnah (Medina Document), which came to be known as the first civil constitution in the history of Islam. The document included a cardinal rule of coexistence, that is: “Jews have the right to [freely practice] their religion, as well as Muslims do; unless for those who act unjustly and sinfully. Doing so, they bring evil only on themselves and their people.”

Adopting this approach, the Rightly-Guided Caliphs and the Prophet’s PBUH companions upheld the Prophetic practice and the Divine order of coexistence among people of different faiths and ethnicities in the Muslim community. This happened at a time characterized by religious and racial discrimination among people of the same nation.

Fourteen centuries have passed since the establishment of the Muslim state by the Prophet PBUH where he upheld the value of coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims, not only as part of the Islamic legislation and fiqh, but also as a part of the Islamic culture and civilization.

History tells many examples of non-Muslims who were engaged in managing the affairs of Muslim state. Mūsā ibn Maymūn (Maimonides) who served as Salāḥ al-Dīn al-Ayūbī's (Saladdin) physician and Yuḥanna ibn Māsawīh (Janus Damascenus) who served as director of the House of Wisdom, the most important scientific institution established at the Abbasid era, are good cases in point here. Thus, history proves that Muslims were not surpassed by any other nation in upholding and promoting coexistence. Living by this value, Muslims were capable of integrating with others within the Muslim state and in other communities as well. This in return helped Islam to be the most widely spread religion around the world, according to a study published by Pew Research Center in 2017. The study states, “Islam is the fastest growing religion around the world, and probably it will be the religion with most followers by the end of the century.”

Islamic Civilization and Diversity

Historians acknowledge that the Islamic civilization has tolerated different cultures. With borders extending from Andalusia in the west to China in the east, it was capable of embracing this whole wide variety of cultures and peoples living within its borders. Muslims ruled many parts of the world. Nonetheless, many of the nations they ruled were given the right to keep their mother tongue and religion for centuries until those people embraced Islam and changed their tongue to Arabic. Orientalist Sir Thomas Arnold states in his book The Preaching of Islam that under Islamic rule, non-Muslims enjoyed unprecedented level of tolerance, which had not been found even in Europe in the pre-modern times.

Egypt is known for adopting and promoting values of coexistence and integration from an early time. History tells that Copts were fully aware of the lofty values and morals of Muslims, whom they welcomed, since the Muslim armies had left the Arabian Peninsula. Muslims’ reputation as defenders and protectors of religions was a motivation for Egyptians to accept Islam. Many Christian clergymen, such as Sāwīrus (Severus) ibn al-Muqaffaᶜ, were keen on translating books of the Coptic heritage into Arabic. Severus lived in Egypt in the third hijrī century. He translated the Coptic heritage from the Greek and Coptic languages into Arabic. He was one of the first Copts to write in Arabic and he also witnessed the establishment of Cairo by the Fatimids. That time when Copts started using the Arabic tongue along with the Coptic one –their ancestors’ language, Egypt turned into Islam’s strong defensive system against its rivals, without resorting to any abusive or discriminative measures as was the case in the then Europe.

Upper Egypt, specifically Nubia that fiercely resisted the Muslim army that came to Egypt, witnessed a new example of coexistence and tolerance. Muslims didn’t compel Nubian people to embrace Islam but instead concluded a treaty with them titled “Pact of Baqt” under the supervision of the Muslim leader ᶜAbd ᵓAllah ibn ᵓAbī- al-Ṣarḥ. In the pact, Muslims gave the Nubians the right to trade and travel freely and demanded them to maintain a mosque for Muslim visitors and residents, which in return helped Islam to spread widely in Nubia.

Al-Azhar & Promoting Integration

Al-Azhar paid due attention to the experience of Muslims in Europe and Western countries relating to integration while, at the same time, preserving the Islamic identity. Historical evidence shows Islam has never lost the battle for integration, as the majority of Muslims in the world in the present time belongs to nations that were not conquered by Islamic armies. These nations knew the Arabs and Muslims only as traders or immigrants. China, Southeast Asian countries, Central African countries, and others knew about Islam only through Islamic calling and coexistence. It only took a number of years for Muslims to coexist and integrate with the indigenous peoples who saw the morals of Islam and turned to be part of the Muslim pan-nation. Based on its clear vision of this key issue, Al-Azhar Al-Sharif paid due attention to it as evidenced by the statements of His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Prof. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, which confirm his deep understanding of this issue. In his speech delivered in the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments’ celebration of the anniversary of the Prophet’s PBUH birth in 2020 CE, he called upon Muslims to positively integrate and not be drawn into provocations of extremism and racism.

These statements come as responses to the spread of right-wing extremist ideology in the West, and the rise of calls against the presence of immigrants in Europe and Western countries. Therefore, His Eminence repeated his call to Muslims in the West that they must follow the peaceful and legal ways and adhere to the morals of the Prophet in countering hate speech and for obtaining their legitimate rights. During his reception of the German ambassador to Cairo, His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar also stressed Al-Azhar Al-Sharif’s full readiness to enroll German imams into the Imams and Preachers Training Program at Al-Azhar International Academy for Training Imams and provide them with the necessary tools and skills that enables them to refute extremist ideas and support the values of positive integration and coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims.

History of Chinese Muslims in Promoting Coexistence and Integration

Islamic history is replete with examples that show Muslims’ ability to coexist and integrate with the other. Perhaps one of the most prominent of these historical models is the societal coexistence achieved by Muslims of China, which was characterized by its gradual penetration into all parts of society. The history of Islam in China started in the first hijrī century when the Rightly Guided Caliph ᶜUthmān ibn ᶜAffān sent his messengers to China, and they were welcomed by the Chinese Emperor Tang Gaozu. Since then, the number of Muslims, mosques, and Islamic monuments has greatly increased to prove that the more Muslims were allowed to coexist freely, the more effective and constructive they were in their society. 

In this regard, it is worth noting that Chinese history records the role played by Muslims in developing the Chinese civilization. Islamic architecture, for instance, was remarkably present in China during the Yuan Dynasty, as Ikhtiyār al-Dīn, a Muslim architect, was appointed by the Mongol Khan Kublai Khan as Minister of Construction of the Yuan Dynasty, to design the new capital, Beijing. He paid great attention to the decoration of the royal palaces while adhering to traditional Chinese architectural styles. His work impressed the Italian traveler Marco Polo, who said: “In terms of luxury and beauty, Beijing has reached the pinnacle of world architectural arts.” Moreover, Islamic mosques spread throughout China, especially in eastern China. They are filled with various models of Islamic architecture mixed with Chinese architecture, such as the Great Mosque of Xi’an, in Song Dynasty. It was during that period that the Muslim astronomer Mǎyīzé (921-1005) was appointed -for the first time- in the Supreme Central Authority for Astronomy, and depended on the Islamic calendar in China, which was adopted for hundreds of years. After Mǎyīzé’s death, his sons Ma Ai” (Mǎ é 马额), and “Ma Hui.” "(Mǎ huái 马怀) succeeded him in his position. In addition, there is a large number of other Muslim scientists who offered their services and loyalty to the Chinese nation to be a true nucleus of Muslim ethnic groups in China, which amounted to 10 ethnic groups out of 56 Chinese ethnic groups.

The model of Islamic coexistence in China is characterized by sincerely calling people to Islam and acceptance of others. There is a large presence of Chinese Muslims in the cities of western China; they are highly diverse and belong to many ethnic groups. In addition, Chinese Muslims spread in many cities across China. The sincere calling of people to Islam and acceptance of others had a major role in spreading Islam. Due to his full conviction of this value and out of his wisdom and approach, Chinese preacher Ma Laichi (1681-1766) was a role model for all preachers on how to spread Islam among thousands of Chinese people belonging to various nationalities in the Tibet region, especially in the city of “Kaergang”.

In conclusion, coexistence and integration of people of different races and religions is one of the foundations required for building civilizations. It is the natural and inevitable end to all sectarian and ethnic conflicts. Although human societies have gone through many stages that made them accept the other, calls for hatred and rejection are still recurrent, which requires all legislative institutions to stand firmly against such calls by enacting strict and decisive legislations.


Categories: Articles