‘Let the Muslim be my Master in Outward Things’. References to Islam in the Promotion of Religious Tolerance in Christian Europe


Source / Courtesy: Alislam-eGazette

By Abdul Haq Compier

Islam presents a policy of religious tolerance, rooted in teachings on the universal nature of man, his free relationship to God, and the divine origins of other religions. The prophet Muhammad separated his authority as a religious leader from his position as a governor, creating a religiously diverse society from the very start. This contrasted to the Christian world, where men were regarded to be born in original sin, only to be redeemed by Christ through the one true Church. Ever since the Byzantine Empire, Christian rulers had governed by the motto ‘One State, One Law, One Faith’, leading to horrendous persecutions of heretics. Throughout history, persecuted Christians have noticed the contrast to the tolerance within Islam. When, in the 16th century, persecutions in Europe became unbearable, Christian advocates of tolerance referred to the Ottoman Empire as the model to adopt. The example of the empire was offered in debates on tolerance from Hungary to Germany, France, the Netherlands and Great Britain, up until the 18th century, by tolerance advocates such as Sebastian Castellio, Francis Junius, John Locke and Voltaire. The Netherlands became a junction, adopting not only the Ottoman model of religious diversity, but also receiving political and
military support from Ottoman sultans.

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  1. Zia H. Shah

    If it’s his region, it’s his religion!
    Eventually, after some back and forth and some fighting, in 1555, we get the Peace of Augsburg, a permanent settlement between the emperor and the German princes, which settles everything under the principle that I mentioned earlier, cujus regia, ejus religio, which means “if it’s his region, it’s his religion.” If you’ve got a territorial prince who’s a Lutheran, then his territory is Lutheran. He gets to foster the Lutheran Church. If you get a territorial prince who’s Catholic, he gets to foster the Catholic religion. And they’re supposed to live in peace with each other, tolerate each other; let Lutherans leave Catholic territories in peace and move to Lutheran territories. There’s a kind of uneasy but genuine commitment to not killing each other over their religion in the future.

    Religious warfare broke out later. They did kill each other over religion in the 30 Years’ War in the 17th century, which ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, which again reinforced that cujus regia, ejus religio principle. Once again, you have the Lutheran princes and the Catholic princes. You also ended up having tolerance extended to the Reformed people, not the Lutherans; they also then get equal rights-so, you have a rationale of religious toleration developing, and that becomes one of the crucial aspects of modernity .

    In the Middle Ages, you’d have religious warfare, where the church might suppress heresy, the Albigensian Crusades, where the knights went in and attacked heretics in southern France. In the modem period, what you have are state churches, princes who are Lutherans attacking princes who are Catholic. You’ve had Christendom divided, Christendom at war with each other for Christian reasons.

    (Prof. Phillip Cary. Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation. Teaching Company Course Transcript, 2004. Pages 160.)

  2. Zia H. Shah

    Sword and the Christendom
    Dr. Phillip Cary is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, where he is also Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College. After receiving his B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, Professor Cary earned his M.A. in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Yale University.

    Professor Cary is a recent winner of the Lindback Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching at Eastern University. He has also taught at Yale University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Hartford. As the Arthur J. Ennis Post-Doctoral Fellow at Villanova University, he taught the nationally recognized undergraduate Core Humanities seminars on ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern thought. He writes in his Course Guidebook for the series, the History of Christian Theology:

    “Anabaptists were hated in large measure because they were a threat to Christendom. ‘Christendom,’ characteristic of the medieval and early modem period, means a society in which the body politic is understood to be a Christian body. Christendom requires Christian rulers, known as ‘the sword’ of Christendom, who are concerned for the welfare of the church and are willing to enforce this concern.
    Anabaptist pacifism implies that the responsibilities of the ruler, including warfare and enforcement of religion, are not really Christian. The Anabaptists took a different route from the magisterial Reformation, that is, the Lutheran and Reformed, who were eager to enlist the support of Christian rulers or magistrates. Unlike the Lutherans and the Reformed, the Anabaptists never enlisted the support of the state or tried to become a state church. Instead, they began a series of private meetings in Zurich, purposefully to stay away from the city church. Faith, for the Anabaptists, meant the change of heart that led to obedient participation in the life of the community. Ministers were elected by the community and, after the first generation, seldom had the privilege of a university education.

    Church discipline among the Anabaptists centered on excommunication or the ban, which among the Mennonites included shunning. The ban, or excommunication, was central to the Swiss Anabaptist view of the church. The Mennonites developed a practice of shunning the excommunicated member. Debates about the procedures and extent of shunning are the most divisive issues facing early Mennonite communities.”

    Prof. Phillip Cary. The History of Christian Theology. The Teaching Company, Course Guidebook, 2008. Pages 95.

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