The Little Known Tolerant and Humane Side of Islamic Civilisation

by Salah Zaimeche Published on: 13th October 2003

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No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post. can safely be said that no faith can show as equal sense of brotherhood between diverse colours as in Islam.

Figure 1. Door of the Moristan of Kala’oon/Qawaloon,1878 (Source)

This author completed this work around 2003, that is nearly a decade and half ago under a different title: The Little Known Tolerant and Humane Side of Islamic Civilisation. Since then hardly anything changed for the better. Rather the opposite, everything that happened since did for the worse. Muslims and Islam are disliked, hated, even more, and by even more people about everywhere one dares look. Let anyone dare read comments about any article on Islam and Muslims on the internet. And it is not acts such as the latest outrages in Manchester (22 May 2017) and in London (3 June 2017) which are going to help, are they? One would think the contrary. If, indeed, there is act as most repellent it is that of murdering those who were murdered on those days, in Britain, the nation that has been most welcoming to Muslims. The way things are evolving, there would be nobody to welcome Muslims one day, and they might find themselves being conducted to the exit doors, instead.

Of course this author is no superman in the field who is going to fix it, and one has to conclude that only Allah has the power to change the way Muslims and Islam are perceived, and one day dealt with. What this author like others who have some sense can do is to try, and most of all try to convey the facts and truth, and leave the rest to the Almighty. All that happens in this life is for a purpose, and the main thing, as far as a scholar is concerned, however modest his or her scholarship, is to aim for the best, convey the truth, calmly, without any panic, regardless of events, and regardless if the situation around changes or not. One should never compromise and be dissuaded from following the path of reason, and firm belief that the only way to alter things eventually is to stick with truth. In one’s course of action many people and forces intervene and try to dissuade one from telling the truth because it disturbs the foes of Islam and it disturbs those amongst Muslims who like to delude themselves. One of course does not listen to such forces and individuals because should one do, one remains vile and servile to the end of life. A bit of cowardice and corruption is fine but too much is unbearable. So, one does one’s bit, takes as much care as possible in the mire of this smut of world, and enjoys the good things one is fortunate to come across whilst they last and whilst one lasts. And that’s it.

Figure 2. Scholars at an Abbasid library, from the Maqamat of al-Hariri by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, Baghdad, 1237 AD (Source)

In performing one’s scholarly duty, one must not mislead. If one misleads, and one is believed one causes untold harm. And the more a misleading one is believed by more the more destructive one is. If we Muslims do not look at our reality face to face, and keep deluding ourselves, we will never get anywhere. We set aside for a moment the goodness of others, who just like Muslims have their great and most vile. Human nature is the same wherever you go: capable of the worst and best. None is immune of either. Humane nature and faith have nothing to do with each other. Faith, rightly understood or assimilated, only makes you less bad than you would otherwise be. One here is referring to oneself.

In looking at the subject of this article, let’s focus on Muslims. To try and convey the idea that all Muslims are great, good, constructive, fascinating, inventive, or anything that is good, is the most preposterous claim any individual can make. If we believe that because of our outer morality we are the best people on earth, we are lying to ourselves. What counts are not the rituals, which very often mask utter corruption, vileness, and depravity. What really count are goodness of the heart and soul and good deeds. The practice of the faith is just a duty. And in terms of goodness to others, if any Muslim society (Turkey excepted (but only in this field of goodness, for Turks are like other Muslims in other respects) can show the same kind of generosity and tolerance towards Muslims such as the British, one would truly define such society as great, but it does not exist (Turkey, indeed, excepted). Muslims are millions of leagues of being the admirable nation of a few centuries back when they led the world in all that was great. One is not going to dwell on what is wrong with Muslim societies of today, not because one is frightened, but simply because only an encyclopaedia is necessary for that. One must also begin to take care of one’s own faults, and this author is himself far from being a good observant of Islam however hard he tries to do one or two good things in his lifetime. So, let’s set aside the violence which characterizes most Muslim societies, ridden with wars, terror, torture, mass disappearances, mass killing and mayhem, a reality that is the main factor that breeds Muslim depraved acts everywhere. Our societies do indeed produce monsters because the ground is fertile for monsters to grow. Let’s stay away from this, for this website is the wrong venue to dig into the gore and tragedies of the Muslim land. Let’s respect its sanctity.

Figure 3. Opening ceremony of the First Ottoman Parliament at the Dolmabahçe Palace in 1876 (Source)

Let’s, however, just say in the shortest space what else is wrong with Muslim societies, and that maybe this website allows us to say, certainly with some reluctance as, unlike this author, it does not like to upset anybody. We have to say this, for unless we admit the reality we can never correct it. And if we do not correct it we will be forced to live with what makes us miserable and backward at once, for without some basics, backward we will remain, forever. Indeed, let’s explain to those who are deluded, and who know nothing about what development means: development does not consist in building more shopping malls, concreting the ground wherever it is not concreted enough, opening more so-called universities to cover up chronic unemployment, and having more cars on the road, and more plastic waste filthying the land; development is a society that functions in order, discipline, creativity, and harmony, guided by and always aiming for the best, the creative, and the beautiful. All these are alien to modern Muslim societies. Modern Muslim societies are chaotic, noisy, and fail to observe any discipline in regard to even the most basic such as taking care of their trash, or parking their vehicles properly. These societies are rabidly consumerist, obsessed with shopping malls, and their lands in places have become gigantic landfills of all that is discarded. The sight of trash in woodlands, parks, rivers, beaches, and other places is utterly revolting. Everywhere one sees a deadly assault on all that is naturally beautiful and green, mountains blasted for quarrying, woodlands rased to the ground, trees cut in their thousands where there are few thousands of them, and in their millions where there are millions of them, an utter disrespect to the environment as if it were a command to do so. Hardly any Muslim, especially in the West, knows what the pleasure of gardening or keeping a nice garden is, in fact his first duty is to concrete such a garden as soon as he buys an abode. There is nothing inventive in the Muslim world, nothing creative in institutions supposedly devoted to scholarship, and book reading is anathema amongst nearly all in such societies. Brains are drowned in shisha cafes, shopping malls, extravagant weddings and manifestations of the sort, and are drugged by football and dire television shows, some shows so cretin one wonders how any person can even nod their heads in the country that produces most of them. And we can go on.

Figure 4. Ahmet Ali Celikten is amongst the first black military pilots in history, clearly showing military diversification in the Ottoman Empire (Source)

Now, the remit of this work is not to explain how we got here, but stopping some such evils would be a good idea. Banning shisha cafes, forbidding smoking everywhere, shutting shopping malls and some smut purveying television channels, besides closing down 80% of pseudo universities, and sending their personnel to herd sheep, and making it criminal offence to cut trees, trash the land, and pollute water could be good starters indeed towards the road to recovery.

All this being said, the dire state of Muslims today and their societies is owed to many causes, but one thing it does not owe to is Islam. It is not Islam which is at the root of the sick acts by some so-called Islamist extremists, however hard they try to hide their murderous nature, their inner vileness, behind the faith. It is not Islam which is at the root of Muslim scientific and intellectual coma. It is not Islam which is at the root of Muslim onslaught on the environment. It is not Islam which is at the root of dirt and chaos, which blights Muslim towns, cities, and their outskirts, as well as the highways, and everywhere one looks, walks or goes.

We will explain this, but first let’s show how the enemies of Islam blame all evils of Muslim society on the faith, and how they are unfortunately followed in this by many supposed Muslims, who, in their own Islamic societies implement or conduct anti Islamic policies, which only add to the mayhem of such Muslim societies. On this last point briefly, in some Muslim countries, some powerful people think that by weakening Islam through encouraging alcohol consumption and lewdness, for instance, they are bringing their societies to modernity. Let’s just tell them that they are just adding filth upon filth.

Islam the target of all

A multi-volume work is required to just outline the verbal (set aside the military for a moment) onslaught on Islam over the centuries. ‘The Sword of Islam’, ‘The Islamic Threat,’ ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage,’ ‘The Green Peril,’ Islam’s New Battle-Cry’: in a veritable flood of publications with these and similar titles, various authors seek to explain Islam to us,’ says Lueg,[1] who adds:

Simplified and undifferentiated descriptions of Islam in the media fan the flames of vague fears of a supposed threat to Western culture, and create a hostile image of Islam…. Instead of knowledge or at least an unbiased examination of Islamic societies, we have clichés and stereotypes, which apparently make it easier to deal with the phenomenon of Islam. The Western image of Islam is characterised by ideas of aggression and brutality, fanaticism, irrationality, medieval backwardness and antipathy towards women.”[2]

This tradition of assaulting opinion with these and similar depictions dates centuries back. Vitkus writes:

The demonisation of the Islamic East is a long and deeply-rooted tradition in the West – spanning the centuries, from the early medieval period to the end of the 20th century.”[3]

Muslim threat, savagery, backwardness, and whatever else the Western mind and tongue have chosen to depict Islam with, somehow retreated to the background throughout much of the 20th century whilst the Cold War raged between the ex Soviet Union and the West, and whilst left wingers, the world over, especially in Central and Southern America, paid the heaviest price in blood, torture, and every form of cruelty that could be inflicted on human beings. Then, as the Soviet Union began to weaken throughout much of the 1980s (in large measure thanks to Muslims who contributed heavily to its demise,) and finally unravel towards the end of that same decade, the shift of enmity, once more, returned to the old foe: Islam.

Figure 5. President Reagan meeting with Afghan Mujahideen leaders in the Oval Office in 1983 (Source)

According to many Western commentators [Esposito wrote back in 1992] Islam and the West are on a collision course. Islam is a triple threat: political, demographic, and socio-religious. For some, the nature of the Islamic threat is intensified by the linkage of the political and the demographic.”[4]

Islam, Esposito notes:

Is portrayed as the aggressor… The West is described as defensive, responding with counterattacks, crusades, and re-conquests.. If the contemporary threat is “sudden,” then the reader will logically conclude that Muslims have a historic propensity to violence against and hatred of the West, or else that Muslims are an emotional, irrational, and war-prone people.”[5]

In De L’Islam en general et du monde moderne en particulier, the Frenchman, Jean Claude Barreau, holds:

What could be described as the “great humiliation”, and what is indeed present in the basic disposition of the Muslims, can be explained by the origins of their religion: it is warlike, conquest-hungry and full of contempt for the unbeliever.[6]

Islam as a whole is presented as the aggressor against the West. It embodies ‘a theology of conquest and victory, but no theology of defeat’.”[7]

According to the American news magazine Time,

This is the dark side of Islam, which shows its face in violence and terrorism, intended to overthrow modernizing, more secular regimes and harm the Western nations that support them.”[8]

Then, understandably, the outrage (9/11) not only confirmed all that had hitherto been attached with Islam, it further enhanced ‘the dark, vile and evil’ side of the faith, the whole and powerful Western apparatus of opinion making unleashing the most systemic onslaught on a faith never experienced in history. There is no need to dwell on this onslaught as the literature is vast, and is a daily outpouring available to anyone to consult wherever they look: internet, printed stuff, television, or wherever. Let us just look at some ways Islam is seen at fault or responsible for the woes of the modern world, and let the focus be on the learned contribution to this.

V. S. Naipaul’s depictions of Islamic society carry the legitimacy of being told by a non Westerner. In An Area of Darkness (1964),[9] and Among the Believers (1981),[10] V.S. Naipaul travels through Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.[11] In his travels all he could see was the mayhem of Muslim society: chaos, noise, filth, and all that sullies Muslim society. He narrates.[12]

Black, open drains, of exposed fried food and exposed filth; a town of prolific pariah dogs of disregarded beauty below shop platforms, of starved puppies shivering in the damp caked blackness below butchers’ stalls hung with bleeding flesh; a town of narrow lanes and dark shops and choked courtyards, of full, ankle lengthed skirts and the innumerable brittle, scarred legs of boys.”[13]

Figure 6. Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul (Source)

Naipaul ‘understood the sources of the evils of Muslim society’: Islam. Muslims’ failure in life ‘led back again and again to the assertion of the faith.’[14] Islam, in his opinion, was merely a refuge from distress,[15] that achieved nothing, but was parasitic and uncreative.[16] Islam, to him, is

A religion of fanaticism that leads to a sensation of utter futility; an archaic form of devotion in a rapidly progressing world. It is symptomatic of a renunciation of civilisation that can only marginalize those who are renouncing it by placing them in an intellectual vacuum from which there is no escape. The Islamic alternative to the Western pattern of social behaviour is an aberration, a contemptible failing in sophistication and skill.”[17]

And in the Muslims’ rejection of the West, Naipaul sees:

Their rage – the rage of a pastoral people with limited skills, limited money, and a limited grasp of the world – is comprehensive. Now they have a weapon: Islam. It is their way of getting even with the world. It serves their grief, their feeling of inadequacy, their social rage and racial hate.”[18]

For his ‘profound, erudite, and first class depiction of Islamic society,’ Naipaul earned the Nobel Prize, and the greatest literary accolades from the West.

Summing up the ‘defects of Islamic society’ are Baroness Cox and John Marks, who make the following comparison with Western society:

[In regard to social and political conditions]:

Western societies are decentralised. The political, educational, cultural, religious, and economic spheres of human life are partially separated and pluralism is encouraged and realised. There are a number of political parties and free elections by secret ballot.

Ideological traditional Islamic and Islamist societies, on the other hand, are monolithic, intolerant of dissent, and, de facto, lacking in individual freedoms. Control is attempted over all aspects of life in the name of Islam.”

[In relation to legal conditions]:

In the West, there is a diffusion of power with the partial separation of legislative, executive and judicial processes. Both statute law and common law can be modified and evolve over time as can holy or canon law.

On the Islamic side, no effective checks exist on the exercise of power by the Ulema or the ruling group. The legal system is dominated by the shari’a or Islamic Holy Law, derived from the Koran and the hadith (the Prophet’s Tradition); there is no other kind of law.”

[On the use of force]:

In the West, Governments have a monopoly in the use of force for defence against external enemies and to maintain order. This monopoly is subject to and controlled by the powers exercised by the legislature and independent judiciary.

In Ideological Traditional Islamic and Islamist Societies Jihad or Holy War is an obligation-imposed by Allah on all Muslims-to strive unceasingly to convert or to subjugate non-Muslims. Jihad is without limit of time or space and continues until the whole world accepts Islam or submits to the Islamic state. The use of force internally is subject to the shari’a.”

[With regard to inequalities]:

In the West: There are commitments to equality before the law and to political equality for all citizens. Nevertheless, inequalities of status, opportunity and reward persist.

In Islamic societies: Shari’a law requires inequalities between Muslims and: (i) Christians/Jews; (ii) all other non-Muslims; and between men and women. Slavery has been endemic in the Muslim world for centuries and still continues. Substantial inequalities of opportunity and reward persist.”[19]

Plenty more could have been added and few more extracts of such daily outpouring will be seen under different headings below. Enough has been said, though, to show that anyone, such as this author, for instance, saying anything good about Islam is not only going counter current but must truly be out of their minds.

Yet, this ‘force of darkness’ is in fact, in truth, the kindest and most humane force that has ever existed or will ever exist. This sounds an insult to good sense. Far from it, history proves it. And such unique humane side of Islam, hardly if ever publicised, has to do with the very faith itself.

The Myth of Islam as a religion of the sword:

Qu’ran III, 128: God has said;

…. and those among men who pardon others, and God loves those who act rightly.”

Figure 7. Cat resting on a pillow next to an imam in Cairo, by John Frederick Lewis (Source)

Throughout its message, all the Qur’an calls for is kindness, goodness, respect for the lives and sanctity of others, and acting fairly and humanly in all situations. It calls for fair treatment to slaves, orphans, women, the infirm, and the vanquished enemy. It calls for the protection and care for all living creatures, and all that the Almighty has created, the trees, the land, the water, the creatures in the wilderness, and those creatures that humans have tamed. It is a challenge upon any person to point to one single verse in the Qur’an that calls for harming others or anything, even a grass, or a spider, or an ant. It is a challenge upon anyone to find one single hint in the Qur’an that justifies walking randomly and slaying innocent, non fighting, citizens of any faith. It is a challenge upon anyone to find a single word in the sacred text that says that it is right to mow down, or butcher, or blowup women, children, the passers by, or anyone. These acts are only justified in the sick minds and even sicker souls of the filth who perpetrate them. Where do the enemies of Islam find the text that Islam justifies violence, and where do the scum who commit atrocities in the streets of both the Muslim and non Muslim word find justification for their deeds is the most mysterious mystery to this author, and may both parties rot in hell for distorting what is otherwise the greatest message gifted to humanity.

The sword (violence) and Islam are nearly always depicted simultaneously, yet the very opposite marked history. From the early stages of Islam, and during the history of the Caliphate, it has followed a policy of general leniency, to all, and even to the defeated foe. Hence, after the entry of the Prophet (PBUH) in Mecca, Scott says:

With a magnanimity unequalled in the annals of war, a general amnesty was proclaimed and but four persons, whose offences were considered unpardonable, suffered the penalty of death.”[20]

Davenport narrates how in the early stages of Islam, the Prophet admonished the Muslim warriors:

In avenging my injuries, said he, molest not the harmless votaries of domestic seclusion; spare the weakness of the softer sex, the infant at the breast, and those who, in the course of nature, are hastening from this scene of mortality. Abstain from demolishing the dwellings of the unresisting inhabitants, and destroy not the means of subsistence; respect their fruit trees, no injure the palm, so useful to Syria for its shade and so delightful for its verdure.”[21]

The First Caliphs after the Prophet followed exactly upon the same steps.

Be just [ran Abu Bakr’s proclamation] Be valiant; die rather than yield; be merciful; slay neither old men, nor women, nor children. Destroy no fruit trees, grain, or cattle. Keep your word even to your enemies.”[22]

Under Caliph Omar, Syria came under Muslim sway. One day, probably early in September 635, Glubb narrates:

The Muslims flooded into Damascus at dawn. The Byzantine governor surrendered on terms that all non Muslims were to pay a poll tax of one Dinar (approximately equivalent of one pound sterling or two US Dollars and fifty cents) per year and a measure of wheat for the maintenance of the army. The cathedral was divided in half by a partition wall, the Muslims in future praying in one half, the Christians in the other. There was no killing or looting. These terms were of extraordinary generosity. Cities take by storm were, in Europe, liable to be sacked, even as recently as the Napoleonic wars (1798-1815).”[23]

An example of this amongst the many experienced by the Muslims is in 1098 when during the first crusade (began 1096) the crusaders took Ma’arrat an’Numan. For three days the slaughter never stopped; the Franks killed more than 100,000 people.[24]

Robert the Monk, following the taking of Ma’arrat:

Our men cut into pieces, and put to death children, the young, and the old crumbling under the weight of the years… Streams of blood ran on the roads of the city; and everywhere lay corpses.”[25]

Radulph of Caen said how:

In Maa’rra our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled.”

To avoid such a fate, many Muslims were said by said by a Christian writer to have jumped down wells to their deaths.[26]

Figure 8. Taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, 15th July 1099 (Source)

And what happened at Ma’arrat happened in every single town and city taken by the crusaders. And yet, even when Muslims were slaughtered en masse, still, they found reserves of unequalled humanity.  Finucane tells us how in 1221, the defeated Christians were visited by their (Muslim) enemies, who brought them food to save them from starvation. Such stories of Christian Muslim cooperation, no matter how transient, humane or justified the relationship, Finucane also notes, were usually received `with incomprehension in Europe.’[27]

Forster in his criticism of Joseph White Bampton’s lectures for distorting facts to comply with his preconceptions, notes how such lectures repeat (just as today) that the nations that have embraced Islam are universally distinguished `by a spirit of hostility and hatred to the rest of mankind’.[28] Yet, the style of these sermons aims too manifestly to dazzle, notes Forster who adds:

The zeal of controversy seems equally to forget the exemplary humanity of the Saracens in Spain and the merciless barbarities of the Spaniards in South America, and of the Portuguese in India. Even during the iron Middle Ages, the religion of Mahomet was distinguished by a spirit of charitable and courteous beneficence. The treatment of Christians of Jerusalem by the generous Saladin may be cited as a memorable example.”[29]

And the same contrast in other places, wherever devout Muslims led the fight of resistance. Hence during the French onslaught on Algeria, little mercy was shown towards the indigenous population. A French officer recounts:

Order was given to deliver of war of devastation… So our soldiers acted with ferocity… women, children slaughtered, homes burnt down, trees razed to the ground, nothing was spared… Kabyle women wore silver bracelets to the arms and around their ankles. Soldiers cut all their limbs, and they did not always do it to the dead only.”[30]

Figure 9. Abdul Qadir Al-Jazairi (Source)

And yet, when Emir Abdelkader (who led the resistance against the French), freeing his French prisoners said to them: `I have nothing to feed you; I cannot kill you, thus I send you back home….’ The prisoners full of admiration for the Emir, according to the French general St Arnaud: `had their minds diseased, ‘and had been `brainwashed.’[31]

Of course, not all Muslim history is free of blemish, and Muslims did not always behave as choirboys. But, it is a challenge to anyone to show that it is Islam which was responsible for two world wars (1914-1918) (1939-1945) that wiped out the flower of youth of many nations, and contributed to untold distress. It is not Muslims, whether Sunnis or Shias who engaged in the bloodiest sectarian war in history that cost possibly thirty million lives (1618-1648). It is not Islam which gave rise to Nazism or the Ku Klux Klan. It is not Islam which gave rise to Black lynching mobs. It is not Islam which is responsible for the tragedies of anyone, including the Jews who for centuries were burnt en masse wherever they could be grabbed. It is not Islam which burnt at the stake millions of men and women. It is not Islam which went out and wiped out natives in different continents; and we can go on.[32] If we looked at the victims of violence throughout history, we will find that it is in fact Muslims, Turks, in particular, who were not just the most victims, but the vast majority of those suffered, and at all times, and in all places.[33] This author defies anyone to show the contrary.

Now, if there are evil deeds by some Muslims today, Islam is not at fault. First and foremost let is be understood and clearly: faith and human nature have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Faith can impose some rules on you, and if you are a faithful you observe them, and one such rule is the sanctity of human life. Other rules impose on you not to harm others in any way, and in fact not to cause any harm of any sort whether to animals, nature, or whatever that has been created by Allah. If you are good enough you observe such rules. But, if you are intrinsically evil or destructive you will chose to ignore them, or justify them, or have them justified to you by some sheikh (in reality someone in the hands of some dark agency, or just a sick mind and/or filthy soul) and you can kill, maim, and destroy anything you like. Whilst faith, just as the law, can impose on you rules of humanity, it is your inner self which makes you act one way or the other. When there is neither faith nor law to hold or tame the worst of people, especially in circumstances of war or violence, ‘humans’ can act in ways so horrific that even the worst mind can’t fathom. When faith and the law are absent it is only the natural goodness of some individuals that makes them act kindly. And here, Muslims have no monopoly to goodness, for goodness has no frontiers in terms of creed, ethnicity, gender, or whatever divides humans on the surface. Also, not every Muslim is a moving angel. Some Muslims are so bad, so evil, so vile, so much filth that other words need to be invented to characterize them. To go and kill innocent people, Westerners-Russians-Chinese-Jews-Muslims or others for whatever reason is not a mark of courage, it is mark of utter cowardice. Go and fight an armed soldier persecuting your people, yes, that’s the act of a man. But killing an unarmed civilian, whether man, woman, child, that is the most abject act by a piece of dirt. This act is not an act for Islam, it is an act for the devil, and is mark of depravity. We cannot have a world without depraved souls, unfortunately. Moreover, most of the authors of vile acts today as we know were just petty criminals, drug dealers, pimps, and the like, educated not in the Islamic school but in the school of crime. Furthermore, and more importantly, it is a myth to believe that acts by so-called Muslims are the works of the believers. Many, if not nearly every act of sickening violence is by individuals manipulated by obscure, invisible forces that have nothing to do with Islam, but the opposite. In words, it is very easy for any Black Ops or secret service organization to dress its murderers in the garb of a Muslim fanatic, and let them murder, maim, slaughter, and do whatever, and then blame it on Islam. True, there are young Muslims, in particular, who, in mosques or wherever, come across some individuals whom they believe to be good role models who preach to them killing and mayhem, and they follow them. Here, it is modern Muslim elites who are to blame for not enlightening their youth in regard to this trickery, and Muslims in general, who are gullible, and some idiotic enough, never to learn that he who leads you into the road of mayhem and murder is far from being whom you believe, for simply, Islam categorically forbids harming others in one way or another except in self defence which is clearly defined in the text.

Toleration of Difference:

In the words of Daniel: The notion of toleration in Christendom was borrowed from Muslim practice.[34] And Davenport puts it:

As nothing in the world can cause an Osmanli to renounce his religion, so he never seeks to disturb the faith of others…. To the Muslim doctors, conversions of souls belong to God.”[35]

During the Muslim advance, there was not one single example, as was the case elsewhere, of any forceful conversion, even in regions such as North Africa, which is often raised as a case of such conversions by force of the sword. Forster, as had Sale (the translator of the Qur’an) pointed out, in North Africa, Islam flourished apart from reliance on `political domination’ and that its `votaries’ were `unshackled’ by restraints of a Muslim government’.[36] Equally, Voltaire, although no friend of Islam, still recognised that `it was not by the force of arms that Islam established itself in half of our hemisphere, but instead did so through enthusiasm and persuasion.’[37]

Glubb finds that in religious toleration, the Muslims of the 7th century

Had abstained from persecution and had permitted Jews and Christians to practise their own laws and to elect their own judges. Nearly a thousand years later, people in Europe were still being tortured and burned alive for their faith. And in general, the Ottomans continued the policy of religious toleration which they had inherited from the Arabs.”[38]

This toleration was also practiced in Muslim Southern Europe, where the existing religion was scarcely interfered with. ‘No counts were appointed to govern or oppress the conquered,’ Scott points out.[39]

In North Africa, seat of the supposedly fanatic Berber as many Western historian label them, the same tolerance was shown. In the year 1233, which followed the death of Al-Ma’mun, and the advent of his son al-Rachid, Gregory IX wrote to the Emir thanking him for his goodness towards Agnello, the Vicar of Fes, and for other Minor brothers living in his states. After a few years, under the same ruler, the Pope self congratulated himself with the faithful of Mauritania for the happy advance made by Christianity in the country.[40]

As for the survival of Christian and Jewish minorities under Islam, contrasting with the disappearance of Muslims in Western Christendom, Bernard Lewis, who cannot be said to be a friend of Islam, observes:

Muslims were willing to tolerate significant differences in practice and even belief among themselves; they were also willing to concede a certain place in society to other, approved religions … There is no equivalent to this tolerance in Christendom until the Wars of religion finally convinced Christians that it was time to live and let live. During the eight centuries that Muslim ruled part of the Iberian Peninsula, Christians and also Jews remained and even flourished. The consequences of the Christian re-conquest, for Jews and Muslims alike, are well known.”[41]

Araya Goubet, too, notes how `religious tolerance-Islamic in inspiration- permitted the harmonious coexistence of Christians, Moors, and Jews until the end of the 15th century. The dominance of the Christian caste over the others led to the exclusion, subjugation, and expulsion of the other two, starting in 1492. Ultimately the history of the Peninsular people can be summed up in the results generated by this `living togetherness’ of the earlier centuries and by its breaking apart beginning in the fifteenth century.’[42]

As for Ottoman so called barbarism and inhumanity, Glubb notes how modern writers in the West have lavished criticisms on the Ottoman Empire, normally basing their remarks on its condition in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is only just to record, he says, that until the 17th century at least, it was so much in advance of most European governments, and during the reign of Sulaiman the magnificent, ‘the Christian villagers of Southern Greece preferred Turkish rule to that of the Venetians. Some Christian villages in Hungary voluntarily chose Turkish government in preference to that of their fellow country-men.’[43]

In fact all accounts by contemporaries, who travelled through the Ottoman realm noted the tolerance of the Ottoman state.  Othman (1281-1326), the founder of the Ottoman nation, gained the reputation of a ruler who might be safely followed, and under whose protection Christians found security both from other Turks and from the exactions of their own emperor.[44] Succeeding him, Orkhan (1326-1359) had to rule over large numbers of Christians, and many of the peasants from neighbouring territories sought his protection, for, as the Greek writers record, his Christian subjects were less taxed than those of the Empire.[45] He saw that it was wise to protect these rayahs, leaving them the use of their churches, and pursued a policy of reconciliation during all his reign.[46] When they reached the Orient after conquering the Balkans, the Ottomans strengthened confessional dialogue, allowing a revival, as unexpected as spectacular, of Arab Christianity.[47] The Ottomans tried to control not to possess, or to demean, say Courbage and Fargues.[48] And as soon as they entered Constantinople, they recognised the collective existence of religious minorities, instituting them into nations, giving them the autonomy in religious matter, judicial, cultural, and health care.[49] Following the taking of Constantinople, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch was established at the head of the first of the Christian Millet of the empire, this high personality weighing with all his spiritual and temporal authority on all Orthodox of the Empire, from the Adriatic Sea to the Persian Gulf.[50] `Unlike the period under the Byzantine, the Patriarch was no longer a humble servant of the emperor, but a recognised and respected member of the Sultan bureaucracy, with all powers over his faithful.’[51] The Ottomans sought the participation of their former enemies; officially Muslim, the Empire transformed itself, into a Greco-Turkish Diarchy which was to last until the rising and the independence of Greece (1821-1830).[52] The famed Janissaries were recruited amongst the Christians of the empire, and some military corps were entirely in the hands of Christians: Greeks, Armenians, Serbs, Bulgars and others.[53] A century of Turkish Muslim rule made Istanbul not just the first metropolis in the world, 700, 000 inhabitants,[54] but also, paradox of history, one of the three largest Christian cities. In Istanbul, and in an Anatolia profoundly Islamised, the Christian and Jewish populations emerged very strongly. Christianity experienced a revival from 8% in the census of 1520 and 1570, to 16% in the 19th century.[55] And Christian and Jewish religious authorities had the exclusive control of the cult, of schools and the judicial system.[56] Until the First World War, Istanbul kept about 40% of non Muslims, Christians and Jews.[57] Whilst on the Jews, it was amongst the Turks that they found not just acceptance, even promotion, and more importantly for them, asylum after being expelled from Spain in the late 15th.[58]

Figure 10 Manuscript page by Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of Al Andalus, born in Córdoba. Arabic language in Hebrew letters (Source)

Christian Pilgrims confirmed this openness. A 14th century account by the Irishman, Simon of Semeon and his companion, Hugh the Illuminator, who was destined to die en route in Cairo, set out from Ireland in 1323.[59] In Alexandria Simon noted that `Saracens, Christians, Greeks, Schismatic (Copts) and perfidious Jews’ dress all much alike.[60] A cursory reading of the Saint Voyage by Ogier and his fellow pilgrims travelling in the 14th century, saw that the Muslim rulers were not hostile to the pilgrims who came in large numbers to Palestine and Cairo.[61] Ogier and his company passed freely through Palestine at a time when the Turkish sultan received notice that the Christians of the West were assembling their forces in Hungary against him, and with the conquest of Jerusalem as one of their eventual objectives.[62] As long as Christians paid the tax and did not quarrel amongst themselves, as their various sects were always on the point of doing, and did not profane by their unhallowed feet the shrines of Islam, Savage notes, pilgrims worshiped in peace by the full rites of their perspective churches, and came and went as they pleased.[63] Bertrandon de la Broquiere, who was sent by Philip of Burgundy East in 1432 to study the situation with a view for the Crusade, wrote his impressions.[64] Passing through Ottoman territory and through Serbia, he noted prosperity and good cultivation of the land; and also noted that towns and cities have a mixed population of Greeks and Turks, the latter described as thrifty and clean and hardworking.[65] 16th century travellers also commented upon the prosperity and happiness of Ottoman society. Christian peasants in the conquered territories were not dispossessed of their lands, and their rights and privileges were protected by Ottoman laws.[66]

All religions are to be found side by side in the vast pacific dominion of the Sultan, and Catholicism is freer in Constantinople and at Smyrna than at Paris and at Lyons; no law restraining its outward practice.”[67]

Figure 12. 1911 Ottoman calendar in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, French and Bulgarian (Source)

And it was the same in the late seventeenth as observed by the Frenchman De la Croix, an interpreter at Constantinople, who witnessed none of such barbaric cruelty.[68] De La Croix recognised in his unpublished Memoires, how the Ottomans allowed the same freedom of worship for Christians just as they could find in France; and that Christian ceremonies were not hindered by the Turks by any means. Equally, De La Croix was impressed by the treatment of slaves, noting that their spiritual needs were not at all neglected, benefiting of chapels inside the prisons where they can pray in all liberty. He even noticed three Roman Catholic churches.[69] He adds that:

We should agree, it is better to fall in the hands of the worst Bey (Turk) galley, than in the hands of the Viceroy of Naples.”[70]

Indeed, so it seems in this respect from a variety of contemporary sources such as Emmanuel d’Aranda, a student from Flanders, who was caught in the sea in 1640, and remained captive in the Regency of Algiers for two years (1640-2), and who narrated his experience, telling of the exceptional humanity of the Turks.[71]

Many examples of tolerance, notes Davenport, yet, then he asked himself:

Yet, how many people in France believe, upon the faith of the Augsburgh gazette, and the Athens Observer, that in Turkey they every day torture and impale those `dogs of Christians,’ as they believe on the faith of the writers of dramas and comic operas, in the handkerchief thrown by the Sultan to his favourite slave, or in the women sewn up alive in sacks and thrown into the Bosphorus.”[72]

Here, Davenport has raised over a century ago the crucial issue of the chasm that exists between claims and reality. This is indeed where the problem lies to this day. With few exceptions, Turks just as other Muslims, have shown an incredible level of ineptness in highlighting historical reality. On top of their ineptness they lack directness, i.e they always meander left and right in putting their own case, so careful to sound good and moderate that their style makes you sick. They, indeed, don’t understand what is direct talk/writing, frank, yet scholarly. They switch from the lousy weak to the extreme violent rhetoric in the blink of the eye, when direct, frank, cool facts are made to show historical reality. But for that erudition, passion, self confidence, trust in the intelligence of the foe or the other, and minimal levels of honesty, are needed but they are horrendously lacking in a scholarship that is everything but that.

The Fate of Women

In the literature of the 19th century Romantics movement, the ‘bestiality’ of the Eastern, Muslim, male is contrasted with the ‘civilised’ behaviour of the Western male. One tied women up and sold them at slave auctions; the other revered them and placed them on pedestals.[73] Thus, the French writer, Alexandre Dumas, writes:

Woman in our life is a wife, a sister, a friend, in theirs (the Muslims) she is a slave, the most unfortunate of all slaves. Her life is that of a prisoner, none other than her master comes near her. The more attractive she is, the more unhappy, because then her life is suspended on a thread, she raises her veil, and her head falls.”[74]

The woman for the fanaticised, brutal Muslim is a prize of war and piracy; the Muslim prowling upon her and ravaging her.[75] Helena, heroine of a poem by the Frenchman Alfred de Vigny is violated brutally by the Turks; an act de Vigny dwells upon in every single, morbid detail. As for her women folk, in the Orientales of Victor Hugo, another Frenchman, they are all prisoners at the Seraglio, and are offered to the beastly delectation of the Sultan. Of course, all these women are young virgins.[76] The victims of Turkish beastly desires are generally convent girls kidnapped by (Muslim) pirates, and taken to the Harem of the Sultan.[77]

Figure 13. From an adjacent room, women attend the preaching of Shaykh Baha’al-Din Veled in Balkh, Afghanistan (Source)

Similar themes were expressed in contemporary Western paintings. Generally, they depict scenes from a supposed Muslim slave market, where naked women are exhibited and sold. Kabbani looks at a number of such paintings.[78] John Faed’s ‘Bedouin exchanging a slave for armour’, dating from 1857 shows the Bedouin with an almost entirely naked slave-girl exhibited in the stall of a sword merchant. The girl’s body is inspected in such a meticulous, very searching manner, her worth assessed in armour. Her expression, Kabbani notes, ‘is a piteous one, … completely helpless; naked, bound, female, and a slave.’ The oriental man is predatory, lecherous, gross, and loathsome.

Another famous slave-market scene is Gérôme’s ‘Le Marché d’ Esclaves,’ where the slave girl is in the midst of would-be purchaser men. The girl, again, is naked, offered to the gaze of her captors and would-be buyers. The Muslim owner, holding her head veil is ‘a ghoulish-looking man,’ just as Muslims are always depicted: frightening with their gross, dark complexions, their hairy faces, big, bulging eyes, thickened lips… Four other victims await their turns for inspection, still huddled in their veils.[79] In every scene, the delicate features of the woman contrast with the beastly, monstrous appearances of her Muslim male captors and traders.

19th century and subsequent Western colonial thrusts into the Muslim world, and the accompanying Christian mission, were apparently conducted in an effort to bring about changes to Muslim society, including doing away with its ‘inhuman treatment of women.’ Amongst the countless accounts which express this ‘salutary work’ is the following article from the leading missionary organ The Moslem World, which speaks of ‘the good work’ done by France in defeating Islam in Algeria, and in the same process liberating women from its shackles. J.T.C. Blackmore (from Fort National, Algeria), in his article: ‘France: A Disintegrator of Islam’, writes:

Recently a French friend of some years standing, now risen to an important official position, said to me: ‘I want to tell you now that I am coming to see more and more that the French cannot advance very far in North Africa unless we overthrow the Moslem religion.”

Then, the author (Blackmore) goes on to describe the trial of a Kabyle/Berber who beat his wife, and how he appealed against the tribunal that decided in favour of his wife. His appeal was rejected, and the following is an extract of the decision: