Dylan Mehri: Islam as the Peacekeeper Religion

Dylan Mehri

Religion 275

Professor Mahallati

September 26, 2016


“God belongs only to you.”

“Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.”


As the Persian poet, Hafez, once said, “God belongs only to you.” This quote may be interpreted in various ways, but I see it as an explanation for how and why people interact with their own faith. Each individual has their own interpretation of what God looks and acts like, their own perception of what the afterlife may be like, and how to practice their respective religions. The obvious connection between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism is the aspect of monotheism that separates these three religions from the many others that worship more than one god. The fundamentals of all three of these monotheistic religions have enough similarities to create the possibility of coexistence; however, they all leave enough room for interpretation to create conflict between each other. In any society, there are rules, religious, legal or ethical that carry consequences for those who do not abide. In pre-modern societies, the breakage of religious rules often merited a more severe punishment than it does today, and the Persian, Sufi poet Rumi offers an oasis for those who want to escape the constraints of religious principles. He says, “Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.” I believe that Rumi refers to the religious rules of “right and wrong” that often offer strict guidelines to real life situations that may be more ambiguous to decipher. It is unclear to me what kind of society Rumi alludes to when he says, “there is a garden,” but I would imagine it is one that minimizes interfaith conflicts.

While today’s conflicts between Jews and Muslims may seem normalized, the two societies have historically been interconnected and cooperative. Theologically similar, Islam and Judaism maintain an aforementioned strict monotheism, incorporate dietary laws, possess an institution for religious law scholars, and so on. Outside of the doctrinal similitude between the two religions, the de facto relationship between the two religions has been mutually beneficial. John Bunzl’s Islam, Judaism, and the Political Role of Religions in the Middle East, explains that the origin of “The closeness of relations between the two peoples is demonstrated by the fact that, centuries before Muhammad, Jews began to settle all over the [Arabian] peninsula” (Bunzl 29). After the creation of Islam, Muslims and Jews became intermingled in Medina and throughout the region. The two societies continued to coexist and prosper even when the Jews became engulfed within Muslim sultanates. The positive nature between the two cultures may be epitomized in Muslim Spain between the 8th and 13th centuries. Under Muslim rule, Jews were freely allowed to practice their own religion without the harassment and oppression that Christian rule often imposed. During the Islamic governments of Spain, major Jewish works in philosophy and ethics were published, which led to the culmination of Jewish culture (Mahallati). Islamo-Jewish relations were so intimate that at one point a Jewish man was appointed to the head of the Muslim army in Spain. After Muslim rule in Spain came to its conclusion, and Queen Isabella of Castile’s 1492 inquisition, the Ottoman Empire offered sanctuary to the expelled Spanish Jews.  Given these facts, history has proven Islam and Judaism can function as integrated and coexisting societies. Instead of accusing one another of causing conflicts as often happens nowadays, followers of Islam and Judaism should seek each other in Rumi’s garden away from right and wrong.

Just as Judaism and Islam enjoy a connection from the fundamentals of the religions, Christianity and Islam maintain an overlap in their principles. Professor Richard Bulliet from Columbia University provides a modern example of the relationship between Islam and Christianity that can be applied to pre-modern societies as well. When a Christian missionary came to the door of Bulliet’s acquaintance, the Ambassador to the U.N. from Iran, the Ambassador explained to the missionary that there is no need to convert him because he is already Christian (Bulliet 8). Islam maintains many of the ideas from the Bible including that of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. According to Mulliet, Christians originally viewed Muslims as fellow churchgoers, except for the fact that Muslims did not view Jesus as the Son of God. Seen as “misguided,” Muslims “could be persuaded to become Christians,” and thus many missionaries were set up to convert them (9-10). The Christians attempts would prove futile when in the 7th and 8th century, the Arab conquest would control from Pakistan to Spain, meaning that most Christians were under Muslim rule (10). However, the Islamic Empire was not focused on converting the Christians, as they had tried to do to the Muslims earlier. In fact, Islam as a religion was so non-threatening to Christianity that its greatest danger, explained by a post-conquest Christian author appears complimentary of Islam. Bulliet quotes the writer, who says that, “because the Muslims are so rich and their culture is so advanced and they are so successful and their religion is so easy to believe that some of our weak sisters are converting to Islam” (11). Nonetheless, European Christians felt the increasing power of Muslim rule and beginning in the 10th century, a series of Holy wars, the Crusades, were carried out by Catholic Popes and Christian armies for the next 400 years against the Islamic Empire. After the Crusades, Islamo-Christian relations never truly repaired, and the conflict between the two societies continues today even though each has borrowed technology, philosophies, and culture from each other.

In pre-modern societies, Islam can be seen historically as the peacekeeper between Christianity and Judaism. Although Muslim Sultan’s engaged in war against lands held by Jews and Christians, the intentions were not to wipeout Jewish or Christian populations, but rather to exercise power and become wealthy. Under Muslim rule, Jews, Christians, and those of other faiths including Hinduism were allowed to practice their faith. Muslims saw the benefits of Judaism and Christianity as Abrahamic and as the foundation for their own faith. It would be interesting to see if all religions and spiritualities were able to coexist peacefully if the Islamic Empire had been successful in creating a worldwide caliphate.



Works Consulted

Bunzl, John. Islam, Judaism, and the Political Role of Religions in the Middle East. University Press of Florida. Print. 2004.

Mahallati, Jafar. “Islamo-Jewish Convivencia.” Religion and Politics in the Modern Muslim World, Monday September 12, 2016 Oberlin College.

Bulliet, Richard. “Islamo-Christian Civilization.” Department of Religion Mead-Swing Lecture Series on “Ethics of Friendship in Muslim Cultures: Theory and Practice,” Craig Auditorium, Tuesday March 9, 2010 Oberlin College.

Department of Religion Mead-Swing Lecture Series on “Ethics of Friendship in Muslim Cultures: Theory and Practice.” “Islamo-Christian Civilization” Lecture by Richard Bulliet, professor of Islamic History at Columbia University Transcription by Rachel Bouer