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The Peace and Justice Brought to Palestine by the Caliph Omar

Jerusalem was the capital of the Jews until A.D. 71. In that year, the Roman Army made a major assault on the Jews, and exiled them from the area with great savagery. As the time of the Jewish diaspora began, Jerusalem and the surrounding area was becoming an abandoned land.

However, Jerusalem once again became a centre of interest with the acceptance of Christianity during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Roman Christians built churches in Jerusalem. The prohibitions on Jews settling in the region were lifted. Palestine remained Roman (Byzantine) territory up until the 7th century. The Persians conquered the region for a short time, but the Byzantines later reconquered it.

An important turning point in the history of Palestine came in the year 637, when it was conquered by the armies of Islam. This meant new peace and harmony in Palestine, which had for centuries been the scene of wars, exile, looting and massacre, and which saw new brutality every time it changed hands, a frequent occurrence. The coming of Islam was the beginning of an age when people of different beliefs could live in peace and harmony.

Palestine was captured by Hazrat Omar, the second Caliph after the Prophet (pbuh) himself. The entry of the Caliph into Jerusalem, the compassion, maturity and kindness he showed towards people of different beliefs, introduced the beautiful age that was beginning. Karen Armstrong describes the capture of Jerusalem by Hazrat Omar (ra) in these terms in her book Holy War:

The Caliph Omar entered Jerusalem mounted on a white camel, escorted by the magistrate of the city, the Greek Patriarch Sophronius. The Caliph asked to be taken immediately to the Temple Mount and there he knelt in prayer on the spot where his friend Mohammed had made his Night Journey. The Patriarch watched in horror: this, he thought, must be the Abomination of Desolation that the Prophet Daniel had foretold would enter the Temple; this must be Antichrist who would herald the Last Days. Next Omar asked to see the Christian shrines and, while he was in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the time for Muslim prayer came round. Courteously the Patriarch invited him to pray where he was, but Omar as courteously refused. If he knelt to pray in the church, he explained, the Muslims would want to commemorate the event by erecting a mosque there, and that would mean that they would have to demolish the Holy Sepulchre. Instead Omar went to pray at a little distance from the church, and, sure enough, directly opposite the Holy Sepulchre there is still a small mosque dedicated to the Caliph Omar.

The other great mosque of Omar was erected on the Temple Mount to mark the Muslim conquest, together with the mosque al-Aqsa which commemorates Mohammed’s Night Journey. For years, the Christians had used the site of the ruined Jewish Temple as the city rubbish dump. The Caliph helped his Muslims to clear the garbage with his own hands and there Muslims raised their two shrines to establish Islam in the third most holy city in the Islamic world.

With the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, the city became a safe haven in which all three religions could co-exist in peace. John L. Esposito writes:

When the Arab armies took Jerusalem in 638, they occupied a center whose shrines had made it a major pilgrimage site in Christendom. Churches and the Christian population were left unmolested. Jews, long banned from living there by Christian rulers, were permitted to return, live, and worship in the city of Solomon and David.

The agreement that Caliph Omar had signed with the Patriarch of Jerusalem when he entered Jerusalem is a result of his compassion.

In short, Muslims brought civilisation to Jerusalem and all of Palestine. Instead of beliefs that showed no respect for other peoples’ sacred values, and which killed them simply out of differences of faith, there reigned the just, tolerant and moderate culture of Islam. After its capture by Hazrat Omar, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in peace and harmony in Palestine. Muslims never tried to use force to make people convert, although some non-Muslims who saw that Islam was the true religion did so of their own free will.

The peace and harmony in Palestine lasted as long as Muslim rule in the region. However, at the end of the 11th century, a conquering force entered the region from abroad, and the civilised land of Jerusalem was barbarically and savagely plundered, in a way never before seen. These were the Crusaders.

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