Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Caliph Umar's & Bishop Sophronius' interfaith approach: Respect


During 7th century, the Muslim army has started to expand their empire into the Christian area under the command of Caliph Umar.

"Whenever a church was taken over for use as a mosque, furthermore, the building was not allowed to revert to its former religious use. One of the traditions concerning Umar tells of his first visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. As the hour for Muslim prayer approached, the Christian bishop invited the caliph to offer prayer inside the church. The caliph is said to have declined, and instead to have stepped outside to do so. Were he to offer prayer inside the church, he said, the zealous among his followers would have claimed the building as a mosque. By praying outside the church, Umar preserved it as a Christian house of worship."
(Dale T. Irvin and Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement, vol. 1, p.274)

One lesson to learn from this unusual encounter. Bishop Sophronius' hospitality was extended to invite the caliph to use the church for his Islamic prayer even though he is convinced that the Muslims or Saracens were "godless" (Christmas Sermon 507). It is likely that the bishop opened up the place for the Muslims due to political pressure or whatever reason, but the caliph's refusal has nonetheless show us that mutual respect for differences is a reality. It is not a possible perfection that we can reach. It is a fact that has been realized. What we need is to carry on this tradition.

1 comment:

reasonable said...

Yes, Christians ought to respect others' freedom to choose to live according to their differing values/convictions instead of even thinking of trying to ask government to ban others from exercising their freedom (where no obvious harm are involved). Examples: freedom for abortion within certain weeks of conception, freedom for homosexual sex, freedom for euthanasia (within certain conditions), freedom for polygamy within certain conditions (in short, freedom to do all those things considered "sin" by Christians but causes no obvious empirical harm). Let every group respect the freedom of other groups (including Christians) to live according to their respective values/convictions. :)