Jerusalem: words from a Christian pilgrim, a Jewish academic, a Muslim leader and a patriarch

By Brother Hamza Tzortzis

Bernard the Wise, a pilgrim monk, visited Egypt and Palestine in the reign of Al-Mu’tazz (866-9 CE), and he had the following to say:

“… the Christians and the Pagans [i.e. Muslims] have this kind of peace between them there that if I was going on a journey, and on the way the camel or donkey which bore my poor luggage were to die, and I was to abandon all my goods without any guardian, and go to the city for another pack animal, when I came back I would find all my property uninjured: such is the peace there.” [Cited in Walker, C. J. (2005) Islam and the West: A Dissonant Harmony of Civilisations, p. 17.]

The Jewish academic historian Amnon Cohen illustrates how the Jews of Ottoman Jerusalem were free and contributed to society:

“No one interfered with their internal organisation or their external cultural and economic activities… The Jews of Ottoman Jerusalem enjoyed religious and administrative autonomy within an Islamic state, and as a constructive, dynamic element of the local economy and society they could—and actually did—contribute to its functioning.” [Cohen, A. (1994) A World Within: Jewish Life as Reflected in Muslim Court Documents from the Sijill of Jerusalem (XVIth Century). Part One. Philadelphia: The Center for Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania, pp. 22-23.]

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, the companion and student of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), granted the Christians of Palestine religious freedom, security and peace. His treaty with the Palestinian Christians stated:

“This is the protection which the servant of God, the Leader of the faithful, grants to the people of Palestine. Thus, protection is for their lives, property, church, cross, for the healthy and sick and for all their co-religionists. In this way their churches shall not be turned into dwelling houses, nor will they be pulled down, nor any injury will be done to them or to their enclosures, nor to their cross, and nor will anything be deducted from their wealth. No restrictions shall be made regarding their religious ceremonies.” [Tabari, M, S. (1967) Tarikh Tabari: Tarikh ar-Rusul wal- Muluk. Edited by Muhammad Ibrahim. Vol 3. 3rd Edition. Cairo, Dar al-Ma’aarif, p. 609.]

In 869 CE, patriarch Theodosius of Jerusalem confirmed the Muslims’ adherence to the values of their beloved Prophet (peace and blessing he upon him):

“The Saracens [i.e. the Muslims] show us great goodwill. They allow us own customs without hindrance.” [Cited in Walker, C. J. (2005). Islam and the West: A Dissonant Harmony of Civilisations. Gloucester: Sutton Publishing, p. 17.]

History is full of evil, tragedy and suffering. However, it contains abundant good. Let’s learn from it. ‪This is why we shouldn’t over glorify our history. It’s a sign of a defeated mind. Rather, we should learn lessons from it; continuing the good, removing the bad.‬

I pray for tolerance, peace, coexistence and the removal of all types of oppression and injustice—for all.


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