Saladin's Nobility And Other
Historic Events
Of Muslim Magnanimity

edited by OmarKN

Magnanimity: nobility of soul or mind, generosity
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ


Jews in Turkey
Christians in Khurasan
Emir `Abd al-Qādir Ahmed Shah Massoud
There is a rich treasure of chivalry from which to draw for this purpose in Muslim history. Like Qur'anic verses embodied in action.

The foremost example of merciful magnanimity is by no one so fully manifested as by the Prophet ﷺ himself. When the huge Muslim army approached Mecca in triumphal procession, Sa`d, a Muslim leader called out to Abū Sufyān, leader of the Quraysh of Mecca, who knew that there was no chance of resisting this army:
"O Abū Sufyān, this is the day of slaughter! The day when the inviolable shall be violated! The day of God's abasement of Quraysh.” … "O Messenger of God,” cried Abū Sufyān when he came within earshot, "hast thou commanded the slaying of thy people?” — and he repeated to him what Sa`d had said. "I adjure thee by God,” he added, "on behalf of thy people, for thou art of all men the greatest in filial piety, the most merciful, the most beneficent.” "This is the day of mercy,” said the Prophet ﷺ, "the day on which God hath exalted Quraysh.”
The Quraysh, having full reason to be fearful, given the intensity - and the barbarity - of their persecution of the early Muslims, and their continuing hostility and warfare against them after the enforced migration of the Muslims to Medina, were granted a general amnesty; many erstwhile enemies were thereby converted into stalwart Muslims.

Much later in the Middle Ages, Saladin's magnanimity at Jerusalem can be seen as an echo of the Prophet's conduct at his conquest of Mecca.

The contemporary chronicles - by Muslims and Christians alike - describe his consistent fidelity to the most noble principles of dignified warfare. Saladin's greatest triumph was the reconquest of Jerusalem on Friday, October 2, 1187; 27th of Rajab AH. After detailing many acts of kindness and charity, the Christian chronicler Ernoul writes:
"Then I shall tell you of the great courtesy which Saladin showed to the wives and daughters of knights, who had fled to Jerusalem when their lords were killed or made prisoners in battle. When these ladies were ransomed and had come forth from Jerusalem, they assembled and went before Saladin crying mercy. When Saladin saw them he asked who they were and what they sought. and it was told him that they were the dames and damsels of knights who had been taken or killed in battle. Then he asked what they wished, and they answered for God's sake have pity on them; for the husbands of some were in prison, and of others were dead, and they had lost their lands, and in the name of God let him counsel and help them. When Saladin saw them weeping he had great compassion for them, and wept himself for pity. and he bade the ladies whose husbands were alive to tell him where they were captives, and as soon as he could go to the prisons he would set them free. and all were released wherever they were found. After that he commanded that to the dames and damsels whose lords were dead there should be handsomely distributed from his own treasure, to some more and others less, according to their estate. and he gave them so much that they gave praise to God and published abroad the kindness and honour which Saladin had done to them."

Saladin's magnanimity at this defining moment of history will always be contrasted with the barbaric sacking of the city and indiscriminate murder of its inhabitants by the Christian Crusaders in 1099. His lesson of mercy has been immortalized in the words of his biographer, Stanley Lane-Poole:
"One recalls the savage conquest by the first Crusaders in 1099, when Godfrey and Tancred rode through streets choked with the dead and the dying, when defenceless Moslems were tortured, burnt, and shot down in cold blood on the towers and roof of the Temple, when the blood of wanton massacre defiled the honour of Christendom and stained the scene where once the gospel of love and mercy had been preached. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” was a forgotten beatitude when the Christians made shambles of the Holy City. Fortunate were the merciless, for they obtained mercy at the hands of the Moslem Sultan."

If the taking of Jerusalem were the only fact known about Saladin, it were enough to prove him the most chivalrous and great-hearted conqueror of his own, and perhaps of any, age. Though Saladin was exceptional, he did but express essential Islamic principles of conduct, as laid down by the Qur'an and the Prophet ﷺ.

Arnold's classic work, The Preaching of Islam, remains one of the best refutations of the idea that Islam was spread by forcible conversion.

There is an incident on the nature of the mass conversion of one group (narrated in Arnold's classic work, The Preaching of Islam), the Christians of the Persian province of Khurasan, and may be taken as indicative of the conditions under which Christians, and non-Muslims in general, converted to Islam. This is the letter of the Nestorian Patriarch, Isho-yabh III to Simeon, Metropolitan of Rev-Ardashir, Primate of Persia:
"Alas, alas! Out of so many thousands who bore the name of Christians, not even one single victim was consecrated unto God by the shedding of his blood for the true faith.… [The Arabs] attack not the Christian faith, but on the contrary, they favour our religion, do honour to our priests and the saints of our Lord and confer benefits on churches and monasteries. Why then have your people of Merv abandoned their faith for the sake of these Arabs?

This honouring of Christian priests, saints, churches, and monasteries flows directly from the practice of the Prophet ﷺ - witness the treaty he concluded with the monks of St. Catherine's monastery in Sinai, and the permission given by the Christians of Najran to perform their liturgy in the holiest place in Medina, the Prophet's own mosque." (ref: Qur'an 22:39-40)

Jews and Christians under Muslim rule were not subject to any major territorial or occupational restrictions, such as were the common lot of Jews in premodern Europe and this pattern of tolerance continued to characterize the nature of Muslim rule towards Jews and Christians until modern times, with very minor exceptions.

It was at this time also that Jews were suffering intense persecution in central Europe; they likewise looked to the Muslim Ottomans for refuge. Many Jews fleeing from this persecution would have received letters like the following, from Rabbi Isaac Tzarfati. This is what he replied to those Jews of central Europe who were calling out for help:
"Listen, my brethren, to the counsel I will give you. I too was born in Germany and studied Torah with the German rabbis. I was driven out of my native country and came to the Turkish land, which is blessed by God and filled with all good things. Here I found rest and happiness.… Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of. We are not oppressed with heavy taxes, and our commerce is free and unhindered.… Every one of us lives in peace and freedom. Here the Jew is not compelled to wear a yellow hat as a badge of shame, as is the case in Germany, where even wealth and great fortune are a curse for the Jew because he therewith arouses jealousy among the Christians.… Arise, my brethren, gird up your loins, collect your forces, and come to us. Here you will be free of your enemies, here you will find rest."

One of the most important figures of recent history is the Emir `Abd al-Qādir, leader of the Algerian Muslims in their heroic resistance to French colonial aggression between 1830 and 1847. The Emir manifested his magnanimity, his unflinching adherence to Islamic principle, and his refusal to stoop to the level of his so-called civilized adversaries, by issuing the following edict:
Every Arab who captures alive a French soldier will receive as reward eight douros.… Every Arab who has in his possession a Frenchman is bound to treat him well and to conduct him to either the Khalifa [Caliph] or the Emir himself, as soon as possible. In cases where the prisoner complains of ill treatment, the Arab will have no right to any reward.

When asked what the reward was for a severed French head, the Emir replied, 25 blows of the baton on the soles of the feet.

When he was finally defeated and brought to France, before being exiled to Damascus, the Emir received hundreds of French admirers who had heard of his bravery and his nobility; the visitors by whom he was most deeply touched, though, were French officers who came to thank him for the treatment they received at his hands when they were his prisoners in Algeria.

Not only did the Emir ensure that his French prisoners were protected against violent reprisals on the part of outraged tribesmen seeking to avenge loved ones who had been brutally killed by the French, he also manifested concern for their spiritual well-being: a Christian priest was invited by him to minister to the religious needs of his prisoners. Likewise, as regards female prisoners, he exercised the most sensitive treatment, having them placed under the protective care of his mother, lodging them in a tent permanently guarded against any would-be molesters. It is hardly surprising that some of these prisoners of war embraced Islam, while others, once they were freed, sought to remain with the Emir and serve under him.

Also highly relevant to our theme is the Emir's famous defence of the Christians in Damascus in 1860. Now defeated and in exile, the Emir spent his time in prayer, contemplation, and instruction in the finer points of the faith. When civil war broke out between the Druzes and the Christians in Lebanon, the Emir heard that there were signs of an impending attack on the Christians of Damascus. He wrote letters to all the Druze shaykhs, requesting them not to "make offensive movements against a place with the inhabitants of which you have never before been at enmity.” (ref: Qur'an 2:190)

The Emir confronted them, urging them to observe the rules of religion and of human justice. "What,” they shouted, "you, the great slayer of Christians, are you come out to prevent us from slaying them in our turn? Away!” "If I slew the Christians,” he shouted in reply, "it was ever in accordance with our law—the Christians who had declared war against me, and were arrayed in arms against our faith.”

This had no effect upon the mob. As the Turkish authorities stood by, either unable or unwilling to intervene, the Christian quarters were mercilessly attacked, and many Christians were killed. The Emir and his band of Maghrebi followers sought out the terrified Christians, giving them refuge in the Emir's home. News of this spread, and on the morning of the 10th of July, an angry crowd gathered outside the Emir's house, demanding that he hand over the Christians.

Alone, he went out to confront them, and fearlessly addressed them thus:
O my brothers, your conduct is impious.… How low have you fallen, for I see Muslims covering themselves with the blood of women and children? Has God not said:

{ "He who killes a single soul … it is as if he hath killed the whole of humanity?” } [Qur'an 5:32]
Has he not also said,
{ There is no compulsion in religion, the right way is clearly distinguished from error?  }[Qur'an 2:256]

This only enraged the mob further. More words were exchanged, the Emir retorting concerning the Algerian jihad, "I did not fight ‘Christians'; I fought the aggressors who called themselves Christians.”

The anger of the mob increased, and, at this point, the tone of the Emir changed, his eyes flashed with anger, and he sensed the possibility of battle for the first time since he had left Algeria. He hurled one last warning to the crowd, saying that the Christians were his guests, and that for as long as one of his valiant Maghrebi soldiers lived, the Christians would not be handed over. Then, addressing his own men, he said, "and you, my Maghrebis, may your hearts rejoice, for I call God to witness: we are going to fight for a cause as holy as that for which we fought before!” The mob dispersed and fled in fear.

Charles Henry Churchill, his biographer, stated just a few years after the event:
"All the representatives of the Christian powers then residing in Damascus, without one single exception, had owed their lives to him. Strange and unparalleled destiny! An Arab had thrown his guardian shield over the outraged majesty of Europe. A descendant of the Prophet had sheltered and protected the Spouse of Christ."

While Emir `Abd al-Qādir bewailed the paucity of "champions of truth” in his time; in our own time, we are confronted with an even more grotesque spectacle: the champions of authentic jihad being blown to pieces by suicide-bombers claiming to be martyrs for the faith. In 2001, one of the truly great mujahideen in the war against the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Massoud, fell victim to a treacherous attack by two fellow Muslims, in what was evidently the first stage of the operation that destroyed the World Trade Center. The reason why Massoud was so popular was precisely his fidelity to the values of noble warfare in Islam; and it was this fidelity to the Islamic tradition.

In his days the Emir had written the following, expresseing so well the situation prevailing to an even more extreme degree in our own times:
When we think how few men of real religion there are, how small the number of defenders and champions of the truth— when one sees ignorant persons imagining that the principle of Islam is hardness, severity, extravagance and barbarity— it is time to repeat these words:
{ Patience is beautiful, and God is the source of all succour”
(Sabr jamīl, waLlāhul-musta`ān). }
(Qur'an 12:18)

Quoted from:
"From the Spirituality of Jihad to the Ideology of Jihadism;" by Reza Shah-Kazemi,
which in turn is an expanded version of an article entitled "Recollecting the Spirit of Jihād," in Islam, Fundamentalism and the Betrayal of Tradition, ed. Joseph Lumbard (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2004).

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latest update: 2017-04-30


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