A model of peaceful co-existence

AMID the war and conflict that we are witnessing in Jerusalem or Baitul­muqaddis today, we cannot help but wonder whether peace could ever exist in this land.

The call for the liberation of Jerusalem by the Palestinians is not just a political struggle, but also raises concerns about human rights and dignity – especially for those who were chased out of their homes, and are shrouded in constant fear for their safety.

One could say that the current circumstances unfolding in Jerusalem are simply a modern version of colonisation.

For those wondering why Malaysian Muslims have such a deep interest in an area located thousands of miles away, the importance of the land to Muslims must be clarified.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is one of the three most sacred sites for Muslims, apart from the Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina. The Al-Aqsa was the first qibla or direction that Muslims face during prayers, before the order from Allah the Almighty to change it to face the Kaaba in Mecca.

It is also the place to which Prophet Muhammad travelled during the Isra’ (Night Journey) before the ascension to Mikraj (Heaven), and the place where he led the prayers of all the earlier Prophets during that Night. However, it is not a secret that the city is also a sacred site for the two other major monotheistic Abrahamic religions – Judaism and Christianity.

During the era of the Islamic Caliphate, the city and its surrounding areas made up a peaceful region where all traditions and cultures – especially from the three religions – were able to live together in harmony.

When Caliph Umar Al-Khattab liberated Jerusalem from the Byzantine Empire in the seventh century, he also ended the injustice, exclusionism of religion and race, oppression and discrimination inherent in the lives of the people of Jerusalem at that time.

Prof Dr Abdul Fatah El-Awaisi, a renowned scholar in the study of Baitulmuqaddis, explains that the model of peaceful co-existence in the city and its surrounding areas during the period of the Islamic Caliphate signified a comprehensive vision of a city where people with various religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds could live together in an environment characterised by multiculturalism and diversity.

These conditions were achieved through cultural engagement, acceptance and tolerance.

The city was governed upon the realisation that the principles of justice and tolerance were central in Islam, resulting in the region becoming a successful exemplar of inclusivity.

Allah says in the Holy Quran: “Do not allow your hatred for other men to lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Deal justly (with all people), for justice is closest to God-consciousness. And remain conscious of Allah, for truly Allah is ever aware of all that you do.” (Al-Maidah, Chapter 5: Verse 8)

Prophet Muhammad also emphasised: “All creatures are God’s family (‘iyalullah), and those dearest to God are the ones who treat His family most kindly.” (Narrated by al-Bayhaqi)

Throughout Caliph Umar’s leadership in Jerusalem, he laid down an important basis of peaceful co-existence and managing plurality in the region. This is known in history as al-‘Uhda al-‘Umariyya or Umar’s Assurance of Aman (Safety).

He granted the people of Jerusalem freedom to practise their religions and cultures, and guaranteed the safety and security of their lives, rights and properties. These fundamental actions taken by the Amir al- Mukminin (Commander of the Faithful) reflected how Islam upholds justice and respects the rights of other individuals, regardless of their race and religions.

Umar’s approach was later adopted by Salahuddin Al Ayubi when he reconquered Jerusalem in 1191. In his reply to King Richard I, Salahuddin stated that “Baitulmuqaddis is ours as much as it is yours”.

This clearly indicated how Islam respected the rights of the Christians in Jerusalem, although they had an upper hand in terms of power and authority during that time.

The pages of history have taught us that Baitulmuqaddis was indeed a land of hope and peace for people of different religions and cultures. It was the land of hope for the Prophets and their followers, and is still a land of hope for the future of mankind.

Prophet Muhammad’s journey from the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca to the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the Night Journey indicated the promises of blessings from Allah in the land of Baitulmuqaddis.

This is mentioned in the Holy Quran: “Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him some of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.” (Al-Isra’, Chapter 17: Verse 1)

Hopefully, this land of barakah (blessing) will soon be blessed again with peace and justice for all mankind.

> Enizahura Abdul Aziz is a Fellow with Ikim’s Centre for the Study of Syariah, Law and Politics. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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