Protection of non-Muslim houses of worship in Islam

๐๐ซ๐จ๐ญ๐ž๐œ๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง ๐จ๐Ÿ ๐ง๐จ๐ง-๐Œ๐ฎ๐ฌ๐ฅ๐ข๐ฆ ๐ก๐จ๐ฎ๐ฌ๐ž๐ฌ ๐จ๐Ÿ ๐ฐ๐จ๐ซ๐ฌ๐ก๐ข๐ฉ ๐ข๐ง ๐ˆ๐ฌ๐ฅ๐š๐ฆ

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Islam guarantees the protection of Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims who reside in Muslim lands. Their houses of worship should be defended from attack and their right to worship according to their choice respected. The right to self-defense was granted in Islam in order to protect freedom of religion.

Allah said:

ูˆูŽู„ูŽูˆู’ู„ูŽุง ุฏูŽูู’ุนู ุงู„ู„ูŽู‘ู‡ู ุงู„ู†ูŽู‘ุงุณูŽ ุจูŽุนู’ุถูŽู‡ูู… ุจูุจูŽุนู’ุถู ู„ูŽู‘ู‡ูุฏูู‘ู…ูŽุชู’ ุตูŽูˆูŽุงู…ูุนู ูˆูŽุจููŠูŽุนูŒ ูˆูŽุตูŽู„ูŽูˆูŽุงุชูŒ ูˆูŽู…ูŽุณูŽุงุฌูุฏู ูŠูุฐู’ูƒูŽุฑู ูููŠู‡ูŽุง ุงุณู’ู…ู ุงู„ู„ูŽู‘ู‡ู ูƒูŽุซููŠุฑู‹ุง

Were Allah not to check people by means of others, there would have been demolished the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is often mentioned.

Surat Al-Hajj 22:40

Hasan Al-Basri comments on this verse, saying:

ูŠูุฏู’ููŽุนู ุนูŽู†ู’ ู‡ูŽุฏู’ู…ู ู…ูุตูŽู„ูŽู‘ูŠูŽุงุชู ุฃูŽู‡ู’ู„ู ุงู„ุฐูู‘ู…ูŽู‘ุฉู ุจูุงู„ู’ู…ูุคู’ู…ูู†ููŠู†ูŽ

The houses of worship for non-Muslim citizens are defended by the believers.

Source: Ahkam Al-Quran Al-Jassas 5/83

Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse, saying:

ู‚ูŽุงู„ูŽ ุงุจู’ู†ู ุฎููˆูŽูŠู’ุฒู ู…ูŽู†ู’ุฏูŽุงุฏูŽ ุชูŽุถูŽู…ูŽู‘ู†ูŽุชู’ ู‡ูŽุฐูู‡ู ุงู„ู’ุขูŠูŽุฉู ุงู„ู’ู…ูŽู†ู’ุนูŽ ู…ูู†ู’ ู‡ูŽุฏู’ู…ู ูƒูŽู†ูŽุงุฆูุณู ุฃูŽู‡ู’ู„ู ุงู„ุฐูู‘ู…ูŽู‘ุฉู ูˆูŽุจููŠูŽุนูู‡ูู…ู’ ูˆูŽุจููŠููˆุชู ู†ููŠุฑูŽุงู†ูู‡ูู…ู’

Ibn Khuwaiz said: Included in this verse is the prohibition of demolishing the churches of non-Muslim citizens, their temples, and their houses of worship.

Source: Tafseer Al-Qurtubi 22:40

This legal requirement is part of the tolerance, compassion, and good will that Islam teaches concerning other religious groups. The Prophet defined Islam as safety and security for people in general.

Abdullah ibn Amr reported: A man asked, โ€œO Messenger of Allah, whose Islam is best?โ€ The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

ู…ูŽู†ู’ ุณูŽู„ูู…ูŽ ุงู„ู†ูŽู‘ุงุณู ู…ูู†ู’ ู„ูุณูŽุงู†ูู‡ู ูˆูŽูŠูŽุฏูู‡ู

Those from whose tongue and hand people are safe.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 6714, Grade: Sahih

Some interpreters have tried to limit the implications of the relevant verse by saying the phrase โ€œin which the name of Allah is often mentionedโ€ refers only to the mosques. However, this would make the grammar of the verse more awkward than it would normally be understood. Many of the foremost commentators conclude that the name of Allah is often mentioned in the synagogues, churches, and mosques.

Ibn Kathir writes:

ูˆูŽู‚ูŽุงู„ูŽ ุงู„ุถูŽู‘ุญูŽู‘ุงูƒู ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽู…ููŠุนู ูŠูุฐู’ูƒูŽุฑู ูููŠู‡ูŽุง ุงุณู’ู…ู ุงู„ู„ูŽู‘ู‡ู ูƒูŽุซููŠุฑู‹ุง

Ad-Dahhak said: In all of them the name of Allah is often mentioned.

Source: Tafseer Ibn Kathir 22:40

At-Tabari writes:

ุงู„ุตูŽู‘ูˆูŽุงุจู ู„ูŽู‡ูุฏูู‘ู…ูŽุชู’ ุตูŽูˆูŽุงู…ูุนู ุงู„ุฑูู‘ู‡ู’ุจูŽุงู†ู ูˆูŽุจููŠูŽุนู ุงู„ู†ูŽู‘ุตูŽุงุฑูŽู‰ ูˆูŽุตูŽู„ูŽูˆูŽุงุชู ุงู„ู’ูŠูŽู‡ููˆุฏู ูˆูŽู‡ููŠูŽ ูƒูŽู†ูŽุงุฆูุณูู‡ูู…ู’ ูˆูŽู…ูŽุณูŽุงุฌูุฏู ุงู„ู’ู…ูุณู’ู„ูู…ููŠู†ูŽ ุงู„ูŽู‘ุชููŠ ูŠูุฐู’ูƒูŽุฑู ูููŠู‡ูŽุง ุงุณู’ู…ู ุงู„ู„ูŽู‘ู‡ู ูƒูŽุซููŠุฑู‹ุง ู„ูุฃูŽู†ูŽู‘ ู‡ูŽุฐูŽุง ู‡ููˆูŽ ุงู„ู’ู…ูุณู’ุชูŽุนู’ู…ูŽู„ู ุงู„ู’ู…ูŽุนู’ุฑููˆูู ูููŠ ูƒูŽู„ูŽุงู…ู ุงู„ู’ุนูŽุฑูŽุจู

The correct interpretation is that the monasteries of the monks, the churches of the Christians, the synagogues of the Jews, and the mosques of the Muslims, in which the name of Allah is often mentioned, would have been demolished. This is according to the well-known usage in the Arabic language.

Source: Tafseer At-Tabari 22:40

In fact, the name โ€œAllahโ€ has been used for God by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians since the beginning of Islam until today. The recognition that Jews and Christians worship the same God, however flawed their understanding may or may not be, is very significant and thus their worship deserves the protection of law.

Even if we assume that the name of Allah is not invoked in non-Muslim houses of worship, they would still be entitled to the protection granted to them by Islam.

Ibn Al-Qayyim writes:

ูˆูŽู‡ููˆูŽ ุณูุจู’ุญูŽุงู†ูู‡ู ูŠูŽุฏู’ููŽุนู ุนูŽู†ู’ ู…ูุชูŽุนูŽุจูŽู‘ุฏูŽุงุชูู‡ูู…ู ุงู„ูŽู‘ุชููŠ ุฃูู‚ูุฑูู‘ูˆุง ุนูŽู„ูŽูŠู’ู‡ูŽุง ุดูŽุฑู’ุนู‹ุง ูˆูŽู‚ูŽุฏูŽุฑู‹ุง ููŽู‡ููˆูŽ ูŠูุญูุจูู‘ ุงู„ุฏูŽู‘ูู’ุนูŽ ุนูŽู†ู’ู‡ูŽุง ูˆูŽุฅูู†ู’ ูƒูŽุงู†ูŽ ูŠูุจู’ุบูุถูู‡ูŽุง ูƒูŽู…ูŽุง ูŠูุญูุจูู‘ ุงู„ุฏูŽู‘ูู’ุนูŽ ุนูŽู†ู’ ุฃูŽุฑู’ุจูŽุงุจูู‡ูŽุง ูˆูŽุฅูู†ู’ ูƒูŽุงู†ูŽ ูŠูุจู’ุบูุถูู‡ูู…ู’ ูˆูŽู‡ูŽุฐูŽุง ุงู„ู’ู‚ูŽูˆู’ู„ู ู‡ููˆูŽ ุงู„ุฑูŽู‘ุงุฌูุญู ุฅูู†ู’ ุดูŽุงุกูŽ ุงู„ู„ูŽู‘ู‡ู ุชูŽุนูŽุงู„ูŽู‰ ูˆูŽู‡ููˆูŽ ู…ูŽุฐู’ู‡ูŽุจู ุงุจู’ู†ู ุนูŽุจูŽู‘ุงุณู ูููŠ ุงู„ู’ุขูŠูŽุฉู

Allah the Exalted defends their houses of worship that have been sanctioned by law and decree. Thus, He loves to defend them even if He might detest something therein, just as He loves to defend their owners even if He might detest something about them. This is the preferred view, if Allah wills, and it is the way of Ibn Abbas regarding the verse.

Source: Ahkam Ahlu Dhimmah 3/1169

Hence, the truth or falsehood of the worship performed therein is irrelevant. Allah loves for their worship to be protected in any case.

The general rule in Islam is that any peaceful and law-abiding non-Muslim enjoys the same basic human rights as Muslims. In fact, if any non-Muslim is oppressed by a Muslim, the Prophet will plead on behalf of the non-Muslim against the unjust Muslim on the Day of Judgment.

Sufwan ibn Saleem reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

ุฃูŽู„ูŽุง ู…ูŽู†ู’ ุธูŽู„ูŽู…ูŽ ู…ูุนูŽุงู‡ูุฏู‹ุง ุฃูŽูˆู’ ุงู†ู’ุชูŽู‚ูŽุตูŽู‡ู ุฃูŽูˆู’ ูƒูŽู„ูŽู‘ููŽู‡ู ููŽูˆู’ู‚ูŽ ุทูŽุงู‚ูŽุชูู‡ู ุฃูŽูˆู’ ุฃูŽุฎูŽุฐูŽ ู…ูู†ู’ู‡ู ุดูŽูŠู’ุฆู‹ุง ุจูุบูŽูŠู’ุฑู ุทููŠุจู ู†ูŽูู’ุณู ููŽุฃูŽู†ูŽุง ุญูŽุฌููŠุฌูู‡ู ูŠูŽูˆู’ู…ูŽ ุงู„ู’ู‚ููŠูŽุงู…ูŽุฉู

If anyone wrongs a person protected by a covenant, violates his rights, burdens him with more work than he is able to do, or takes something from him without his consent, then I will be his advocate on the Day of Resurrection.

Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 3052, Grade: Sahih

Perhaps the best example of strictly safeguarding the rights of non-Muslims in early Islamic history was the practice of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Caliph of Islam. After defeating the Romans and neutralizing the threat they posed to the Muslim community, Umar promised the Christians in Jerusalem that their lives, their property, their houses of worship, their religious icons, and their entire communities would be protected by the Muslims.

At-Tabari records Umarโ€™s covenant as follows:

ุจุณู… ุงู„ู„ูŽู‘ู‡ ุงู„ุฑุญู…ู† ุงู„ุฑุญูŠู… ู‡ุฐุง ู…ุง ุฃุนุทู‰ ุนุจุฏ ุงู„ู„ูŽู‘ู‡ ุนู…ุฑ ุฃู…ูŠุฑ ุงู„ู…ุคู…ู†ูŠู† ุฃู‡ู„ ุฅูŠู„ูŠุงุก ู…ู† ุงู„ุฃู…ุงู† ุฃุนุทุงู‡ู… ุฃู…ุงู†ุง ู„ุฃู†ูุณู‡ู… ูˆุฃู…ูˆุงู„ู‡ู… ูˆู„ูƒู†ุงุฆุณู‡ู… ูˆุตู„ุจุงู†ู‡ู… ูˆุณู‚ูŠู…ู‡ุง ูˆุจุฑูŠุฆู‡ุง ูˆุณุงุฆุฑ ู…ู„ุชู‡ุง ุฃู†ู‡ ู„ุง ุชุณูƒู† ูƒู†ุงุฆุณู‡ู… ูˆู„ุง ุชู‡ุฏู… ูˆู„ุง ูŠู†ุชู‚ุต ู…ู†ู‡ุง ูˆู„ุง ู…ู† ุญูŠุฒู‡ุง ูˆู„ุง ู…ู† ุตู„ูŠุจู‡ู… ูˆู„ุง ู…ู† ุดูŠุก ู…ู† ุฃู…ูˆุงู„ู‡ู… ูˆู„ุง ูŠูƒุฑู‡ูˆู† ุนู„ู‰ ุฏูŠู†ู‡ู… ูˆู„ุง ูŠุถุงุฑ ุฃุญุฏ ู…ู†ู‡ู…

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful. This is what is granted of security by the servant of Allah, Umar, the commander of the faithful, to the people of Jerusalem. He grants them safety for their lives, their property, their churches, and their crucifixes, for their ill, their healthy, and their entire community. Their churches will not be occupied, demolished, or reduced in number. Their churches and crucifixes will not be desecrated and neither anything else of their property. They will not be coerced to abandon their religion and none of them will be harmed.

Source: Tareekh At-Tabari 2/449

Umar was particularly sensitive to the demands of justice concerning non-Muslims living under his authority. In a famous story, Umar was invited by the patriarch of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to pray inside the church. Umar refused, however, not out of reluctance to pray inside a church, but rather because he feared some ignorant Muslims might seize the church after him and turn it into a sort of shrine.

Ibn Khaldun reported: Umar ibn Al-Khattab entered the sacred house and came to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He sat inside among its companions until the time of prayer arrived. Umar said to patriarch, โ€œI want to pray.โ€ The patriarch said, โ€œHere is your place of prayer,โ€ but Umar refrained from doing so and instead he prayed upon the staircase near a door apart from the church. When Umar finished his prayer, he said to patriarch:

ู„ูˆ ุตู„ูŠุช ุฏุงุฎู„ ุงู„ูƒู†ูŠุณุฉ ุฃุฎุฐู‡ุง ุงู„ู…ุณู„ู…ูˆู† ุจุนุฏูŠ ูˆู‚ุงู„ูˆุง ู‡ู†ุง ุตู„ู‰ ุนู…ุฑ

If I prayed inside the church, the Muslims after me would take it and they would say: Umar prayed here.

Source: Taโ€™reekh Ibn Khaldun 2/225

This church still exists today in Jerusalem as the headquarters of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, even though it was under the authority of Muslims for centuries.

To conclude, non-Muslims citizens of Muslim countries should enjoy freedom of religion and worship within the boundaries of civil law. Their houses of worship should be protected and defended from anyone who might want to harm them.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.


Evidence of protecting Christiansโ€™ rights, churches in Islam