Featured, History

A History of Islam in 10 Objects

Historical objects such as artefacts, manuscripts and buildings are one of the primary sources in the study of history. Their presence or absence in a society can offer a unique insight in to the past, especially when combined with other sources such as oral narrations. They can offer a more holistic view towards society, and easily dispel the sweeping generalisations we see among those who attempt to distort Islamic history for their own nefarious purposes.

If we look to alcohol consumption in Britain, we know it’s a nation of drinkers and has a history of drinking simply from observing the huge number of pubs, bars and off licenses in the country. In 2019, according to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) there were 47,200 public houses in the UK. Bus stops are named after pubs, and they are the centre of social activity in some places. The Old Ferry Boat Inn in Holywell, England is over 1500 years old!

Do we see the same in the ancient Muslim cities? In Istanbul as an example, despite decades of secularization we find mosques everywhere not pubs. There are 3,113 mosques in the city and some date back to the time of conquest in 1453. There are 304 bars today, but these date back to the start of secularization by the Young Turks and the final abolition of the Ottoman Khilafah.

The absence of pubs itself easily dispels ludicrous claims made by some that the Muslim world has a history of drinking! An article by Khaled Diab appeared in the Guardian newspaper in 2011 titled ‘A drinker’s guide to Islam’. Although his article was on a ‘beerfest’ taking place in a Christian village called Taybeh in Palestine, he used it to infer that Muslims also drink and have a history of drinking!

Diab says, “This is not just a recent ‘innovation’, as conservative Muslims might believe. The prominent 19th-century orientalist Edward William Lane – famous for his incredibly observant if somewhat condescending book, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians – provides, in one of his lesser-known works, some fascinating details about the drinking habits of Egyptians.

‘From the conversations and writings of Arabs,’ he notes, ‘drinking wine in private and by select parties is far from being uncommon among modern Muslims.’ Lane also alludes to the fact that boozing was even more common in earlier centuries, before the introduction of tobacco and coffee as substitutes.[1]

There is plenty of historical evidence to back Lane’s assertion. Numerous prominent Muslims throughout the ages drank alcohol. Even caliphs, such as the Abbasid ruler Haroun al-Rashid of One Thousand and One Nights fame, were reputed to indulge, despite their title of ‘commanders of the faithful’.”[2]

Taqiuddin an-Nabahani says, “Archaeological objects would provide historical facts if studied honestly. Although they by themselves do not provide a historical timeline, they however denote occurrence of some events. If one examines the Islamic antiquities found in their countries, be they buildings, instruments, or any other thing, one can conclude that nothing was present in the Islamic world except Islam, the system of Islam and rules of Islam. Additionally, the Muslims way of life and actions conducted were Islamic.”[3]

What follows are ten artefacts, manuscripts and buildings from Islamic history which I hope paints a more holistic picture of the Islamic State over the centuries. The purpose is not to provide an overly detailed explanation of each object, as there are thousands of research papers and books available for those interested in wider reading. Rather the purpose is to highlight some key points which the historical object points to, and which paints a picture of the Islamic society over the centuries.

  1. Early Qur’an fragments
  2. The First Gold Dinars
  3. Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba
  4. The Canon of Medicine
  5. Dar al-Adl
  6. Timbuktu Manuscripts
  7. Ahdnama
  8. Letter of Gratitude from the Irish to the Ottomans
  9. Hejaz railway
  10. Church of Holy Sepulchre

1. Early Qur’an fragments

These are some of the oldest written manuscripts we have of the Holy Qur’an. They were discovered in 2015 not in Makkah or Madinah but in Birmingham University. How did they make their way to Birmingham?

After defeating the Ottomans in WW1, Britain occupied Iraq and then began ‘collecting’ its treasures as it did in Egypt and India. This Qur’an manuscript is part of the Mingana Collection of more than 3,000 Middle Eastern documents gathered in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, a Chaldean priest born near Mosul in modern-day Iraq. He was sponsored to take ‘collecting trips’ to the Middle East by Edward Cadbury, who was part of the chocolate-making dynasty.[4]

Radiocarbon dating found the Qur’an manuscript to be at least 1,370 years old, making it among the earliest in existence. Professor David Thomas of Oxford University says that some of the passages of the Qur’an were written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels – and a final version, collected in book form, was completed in about 650.

He says that “the parts of the Koran that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death”.

“These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed.”[5]

Preservation of the Qur’an

The majority of Muslims were indifferent to the discovery because they know with certainty that Allah (Most High) has preserved the Qur’an, and even to this day the tradition of hifz (preservation through memorization) continues throughout the world. Such a discovery does have value however, in that it complements the discussion when explaining the miracle of Qur’an to non-Muslims.

Taqiuddin an-Nabahani says, “It has been proven by decisive and definite evidence that when the Prophet died the whole Qur’ān had been written on pieces of shoulder blades (of animals), palm risps and on lukhafs (a thin broad white stone). All of it was preserved in the hearts of the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them). When an ayah or ayāt would be revealed he would order that they be written down before him at once. He did not prevent the Muslims from writing the Qur’ān in other than what he used to dictate to the scribes who wrote down the revelation.”[6]

The Qur’an was preserved through a combination of oral narration and writing. The narration was performed by thousands and thousands of independent narrators, making it impossible that they could have colluded together in corrupting the Qur’an. This method of successive narration is known as mutawatir.

An example of how the classical method of hifz preserves the Qur’an is the controversy caused by former Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik when he faced a supreme court petition for failing to recite surah Ikhlaas correctly during a Cabinet meeting. He also failed to recite it again during a meeting of the Senate. Although his mistake was subtle, the rest of the Cabinet and Senate immediately noticed it and corrected him. This is because every Muslim is taught to memorise the final ten surahs of Qur’an when they are a child so they can perform their prayers.This is the same method of preservation which took place during the time of the Prophet ﷺ and Sahabah. The Qur’an was recited privately in every home, and aloud publicly in the mosques three times a day, and four times on a Friday.

Qadaa wal-Qadr

An important point to note is how the Sahabah understood the verse of Qur’an, where Allah (Most High) says,

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا ٱلذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُۥ لَحَـٰفِظُونَ

“It is We Who have sent down the Reminder (Qur’an) and We Who will preserve it.”[7]

After the Battle of Yamamah against the false prophet Musaylama the Liar, many Huffaz (memorisers of the Qur’an) were martyred. Due to this Umar ibn Al-Khattab feared the loss of some parts of the Qur’an and so had an idea to bring all the written sheets in to one book. He presented his idea to the Khaleefah Abu Bakr, and Abu Bakr tasked Zayd ibn Thabit, the scribe of the Prophet ﷺ who wrote down the revelation to begin the task of compiling the Qur’an.[8]

This shows that the Sahabah understood their responsibility in the sphere of actions which human beings have control over. They didn’t simply say Allah will preserve the Qur’an so we don’t have to do anything. They took the burden on themselves and utilized the state to do this.

The State is the method to protect Islam

The Islamic State implements, protects and propagates Islam. When Abu Bakr was Khaleefah, Umar ibn Al-Khattab was his Wazir. They both used the mechanisms and resources of state to compile and preserve the Qur’an. This along with Abu Bakr’s strong stance against the rebels during the Ridda Wars led Abu Hurairah to say, “By the One Whom there is no god but him, if Abu Bakr had not been appointed as Khaleefah then Allah would not have been worshipped.”[9]

During the time of Uthman bin Affan, a major fitna (discord) occurred due to the differences in recitation between the people of Ash-Sham and the people of Iraq. The people of Ash-Sham recited according to the recitation of Ubay ibn Ka’b and the people of Iraq according to Abdullah ibn Mas’ud. Since each side hadn’t heard the dialect of the other, they started accusing each other of disbelief. In order to avert this fitna, Uthman established an agency for compiling the Qur’an based on the master copy compiled by Abu Bakr, and fixing it on the dialect of Quraish. Seven copies were produced and then dispatched with a teacher to the various provinces of the state.[10]

2. The First Gold Dinars

The Islamic State has a bi-metallic currency based on gold and silver. This was first established by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in Madinah who made the state’s currency as the gold dinar and the silver dirham. The state had no ability at the time to mint its own currency so used the Roman Dinar and Persian Dirham. This continued throughout the Umayyad period until the Khaleefah Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan minted the first distinct Islamic currency in 74H[11].

A point to note is that Tabari puts the date at 76H[12] and other historians say 75H, but after the ‘standing caliph’ coin emerged with the date 74H stamped on it we now know for definite when the minting started.

Abdul-Malik was the first to mint distinct gold dinars and silver dirhams based on the weight that the Prophet ﷺ had established. It was narrated from Ibn ‘Umar who said, ‘The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The weight is the weight of the people of Makkah, and the measure is the measure of the people of Madinah.”[13] This shows that the Islamic economic system was implemented by Abdul-Malik.

Although initially the coins resembled the Byzantine coins and pictured Abdul-Malik as the ‘standing caliph’[14] this iconography was quickly replaced with the shahada and other Islamic mottos.[15] Most likely this was due to the ulema of the time advising the Khaleefah that it’s prohibited to draw full pictures of living beings.

First Phase of minting – 74H

The official language of the state is Arabic

The inscriptions on the coins were all in Arabic because the official language of the Islamic State is Arabic. Abdul-Malik is the one who not only minted coins in the Arabic language, but also changed the state’s administration (diwan) from Greek and Pahlavi (middle Persian) to Arabic.

When Islam first conquered the Byzantine and Sassanian lands the taxation offices (diwan al-Kharaj) were all in Greek and Pahlavi. Only the military bureaus (diwan al-jund) which kept records of the soldiers were in Arabic because the army consisted solely of Muslim Arabs.[16] The diwan al-Kharaj was run by Christians and Zoroastrians due to their expertise in the administration of taxes. The state simply left them in place rather than wiping out the civil service. It’s permitted for dhimmi to be in state administration and be heads of the diwan as occurred during the Umayyad period. Sarjun ibn Mansur, was a prominent official in the diwan under Mu’awiyah and continued serving the Umayyads for the rest of his life. Transferring the diwan to Arabic forced all people in the provinces, whether Muslim or non-Muslim to begin using Arabic for official state business. This had a dramatic effect on the Arabisation of the state’s territories and the indigenous populations who in a short period of time adopted Arabic as their native tongue. Even Christians in Ash-Sham began conducting religious services in Arabic.

Hugh Kennedy writes, “The Middle East conquered by the Muslims in these early decades was a multicultural society, a world where different languages and religions coexisted and intermingled in the same geographical area. After the success of the conquests, the language of the new elite was Arabic. Even for government, however, the existing administrative languages – Greek in Syria and Egypt, Middle Persian (Pahlavi) in Iraq and Iran, Latin in Spain – continued to be used for the business of government.

After a couple of generations, however, this began to change. Around the year 700, sixty or more years after the earliest conquests, the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik decreed that Arabic and Arabic alone was to be used in the administration. The decree was surprisingly effective. From this time, anyone wanting a position in the expanding bureaucracy of the Islamic state, whether they were Arab or non-Arab by descent and upbringing, needed to be able to read and write in Arabic. The inscriptions on the new style, image-free coins and the roadside milestones were all in Arabic. There was no point for most people in learning Greek or Pahlavi because there were no career opportunities in them. It was around this time, in the early eighth century, that the Arabic traditions of the conquests began to be collected and written down.”[17]

An International Currency

On the coins we find the central inscription is “Allah is one, Allah is the eternal, He did not beget and He was not begotten”. This is in response to the Byzantine coins depicting an image of Jesus (as) on their coins. Despite ongoing hostilities between the Byzantines and the Islamic State, they were both major trading partners, and so inevitably their currency would find its way in to circulation in both states. Since the Islamic state was the centre of international trade, the Islamic coins soon found their way in to the heart of Europe. In the late 1930s, an Arabic silver dirham dating from the time of the Umayyad Khaleefah Marwān II (r. 744-50) was found in the village of Potoci in modern day Bosnia-Herzegovina.[18]

A copy of a dinar minted during the rule of the Abbasid Khaleefah Al-Mansur was even found during the reign of Offa, King of Mercia (r. 757–796CE) who ruled most of what is modern-day England. Although Offa was a Christian, he copied the Abbasid gold dinar including the shahada.[19]

Coin of King Offa

The Hijri Calendar

The coins themselves also contain the date of manufacture which is evidence that the state was using the Hijri calendar. There are two papyrus documents surviving from Egypt bearing the dates Muharram 22H (December 642CE) and Safar 22H (January 643CE) which record requisition orders concerning the payment of one ardeb of wheat per month to the Arab forces.[20] These documents are from the time of Umar ibn Al-Khattab who conquered Egypt, established the hijri calendar and the diwan. These papyri therefore conform completely to the historical narrations we have of Umar’s rule.

Coin Inscriptions

As mentioned, the inscriptions on the coins were specifically chosen as a daw’ah to the Christian Byzantine empire and beyond.

Obverse of Dinar 77H

Inscription position: obverse

Central inscription: There is no God but Allah, He is alone, He has no associate.

Marginal inscription: Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. He sent him with Guidance and the true religion that he might overcome all… [religions even though the polytheists hate it][21]

Reverse of Dinar 77H

Inscription position: reverse

Central inscription: Allah is one, Allah is the eternal, He did not beget and He was not begotten

Marginal inscription: In the name of Allah, this dinar was struck in the year 77.[22]

Dispelling dispersions against the Khaleefahs

This is the importance of historical objects, as opposed to out of context quotes which cast dispersions over the Khaleefahs of the past. This is what Abdulwahab El-Affendi does when he quotes a statement from Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan telling a Makkan congregation that “anyone who after today says to me, ‘be conscious of Allah,’ I will have him beheaded”[23], as evidence of corrupt rulers who didn’t accept accountability. Abdul-Malik had just defeated Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr who was the legitimate Khaleefah, but who Abdul-Malik viewed as a rebel. The followers of ibn az-Zubayr in Makkah were therefore also seen as former rebels against his rule. This is not to excuse what Abdul-Malik did but to put his quote in to the wider context.

Abdul-Malik is also credited with restarting the Islamic conquests after years of decline due to the internal civil strife in the state against ibn az-Zubayr. He fought the Byzantines in Anatolia, Armenia and North Africa and won a decisive victory in Anatolia at the Battle of Sebastopolis in 692CE. He also built the famous Dome of the Rock Mosque in Al-Quds which is the oldest purpose-built mosque with its original structure still in existence today.

3. Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba

Mihrab in Mosque of Cordoba

If you paid a visit to the Cathedral of Córdoba in Spain today you would notice a number of features which are out of place in a church. Most notably there is a mihrab covered in Qur’anic verses which points to the Cathedral’s origins as a mosque.

Construction of the mosque began in 785 (169 AH) and finished in 786 (170 AH). It was commissioned by Abd al-Rahman I who was the first Emir of the Emirate of Córdoba.

In 711CE / 92H the Umayyad general Tariq bin Ziyad crossed the Mediterranean from the province of Maghreb (modern day Morocco) and landed his army on a mountain in the Iberian Peninsula. This mountain became known as Tariq’s Mountain (Jabal Tariq) which is anglicised as Gibraltar. This was the beginning of the Islamic conquests in to modern-day Spain and which established Islamic rule over the region for nearly 800 years.[24]

Al-Andalus 719CE

The Problem of Disunity

After the Abbasids defeated the Umayyads in 750CE, Abd al-Rahman I (Abd al-Rahman ibn Mu’awiya ibn Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik) managed to escape to Al-Andalus after spending a number of years in exile. It is there he became an independent governor or Emir who ruled by Islam, but who was not under the authority of the Abbasid Khilafah. The Emirate of Córdoba continued as an independent province until the 11th century before splitting in to a number of independent Muslim principalities known as Ta’ifas.

Al-Andalus 1009CE

Infighting between the Ta’ifas allowed the Christian states in the North to exploit this disunity and they pushed south managing to conquer in turn each of the Ta’ifas including Cordoba in 1236 by King Ferdinand III of Castile as part of the Reconquista (a series of battles by Christian states to expel the Muslim Moors). Upon the city’s conquest the mosque was converted into a Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Granada was the only Ta’ifa left and was conquered in 1492 by King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella leading to the end of 800 years of Islamic rule in Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella established the Spanish inquisition in 1478 led to rid Spain of all non-Christians. This led to the expulsion of Muslims and Jews and the forced conversion of those who couldn’t escape.

Disunity will destroy Islam

Disunity is something we are very familiar with. Despite our huge population, abundant natural resources and most importantly believers in the correct deen, Muslim blood is split throughout the world, with no aspect of Islam safe whether hijab, mosques or even the Qur’an itself. This was prophesised by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ when he said, “The knots of Islam will be undone one by one, each time a knot is undone the next one will be grasped, the first to be undone will be the Ruling and the last will be Prayer.”[25]

The dynastic rule which plagued the Islamic State and provinces through the centuries was a principle factor in causing disunity and halting the conquests. This is because rulers became more concerned with the dunya – preserving their own ruling families – than the wider objective which is to spread Islam to the world. Without a shura based system of bay’a the only option for those seeking to come to power was by military force. This occurred in Spain with the Ta’ifas.

The was again prophesised where the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, ‘The nations will soon summon one another to attack you as people when eating invite others to share their dish.’ Someone asked: ‘Will that be because of our small numbers at that time?’ He said: ‘No, you will be numerous at that time, but you will be scum and rubbish like that carried down by a torrent, and Allah will take fear of you from the breasts of your enemy and cast Al-Wahn into your hearts.’ Someone asked: ‘Oh Messenger of Allah, what is Al-Wahn?’ He said: ‘Love of the world and dislike of death.’[26]

Jewish Immigration to the Islamic State

It wasn’t only Muslims targeted in the Inquisition; Jews were also targeted. When the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II heard about the expulsion of Jews from Spain by King Ferdinand, he said: “You venture to call Ferdinand a wise ruler,” he said to his courtiers, “he who has impoverished his own country and enriched mine!”[27]

Jews not only found sanctuary in the Ottoman domains but prospered a great deal. Hans Dernschwam, a travelling agent of the Fugger banking house, describes the Jews in Turkey in his travel diary:

“In Turkey you will find in every town innumerable Jews of all countries and languages. And every Jewish group sticks together in accordance with its language. Wherever Jews have been expelled in any land they all come together in Turkey, as thick as vermin; speak German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Czechish, Polish, Greek, Turkish, Syriac, Chaldean and other languages besides these. As is their custom, everyone wears clothes in accordance with the language he speaks.

In Constantinople, the Jews are thick as ants. The Jews themselves say that they are very numerous. They live in the lower part of the city near the sea. Those Jews that are old, who have a little money, travel to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem, and still hope that they will one day all come together, from all countries, into their own native land and their secure hold of the government. The well-to-do Jews send money to Jerusalem to support them, for one cannot make any money there …

Many Marranos – that is Jews who turned Christian, as in Spain or voluntarily became Christians in other places – all come to Turkey and become Jews again. The Jews of Constantinople also have a printing press and print many rare books. They have goldsmiths, lapidaries, painters, tailors, butchers, druggists, physicians, surgeons, cloth-weavers, wound-surgeons, barbers, mirror-makers, dyers, silk-workers, gold-washers, refiners of ores, assayers, engravers …

The Jews do not allow any of their own to go about begging. They have collectors who go from house to house and collect into a common chest for the poor. This is used to support the poor and the hospital.”[28]

In fact, this led one academic David Wasserstein to make the claim that “Islam saved Jewry”.[29]

Muhammad Asad sums up Europe’s view towards Islam which continues to this day with the new ‘mini-crusades’, banning hijab, closing mosques and criminalising Islamic thought. He says, On the contrary, that hatred [of Islam] grew with the passing of time and hardened into a custom. It overshadowed the popular feeling whenever the word “Muslim” was mentioned; it entered the realm of popular proverbs, it was hammered into the heart of every European man and woman. And what was most remarkable, it outlived all cultural changes. The time of the Reformation came, when religious factions divided Europe and sect stood in arms against sect: but the hatred of Islam was common to all of them.

A time came when religious feeling began to wane in Europe: but the hatred of Islam remained. It is a most characteristic fact that the great French philosopher Voltaire, who was one of the most vigorous enemies of the Christian Church in the eighteenth century, was at the same time a fanatical hater of Islam and its Prophet. Some decades later there came a time when learned men in the West began to study foreign cultures and to approach them sympathetically: but in the case of Islam the traditional aversion almost always crept as an irrational bias into their scientific investigations, and the cultural gulf which history had unfortunately laid between Europe and the world of Islam remained unbridged, the contempt for Islam had become part and parcel of European thought.

It is true that the first orientalists in modern times were Christian missionaries working in Muslim countries, and the distorted pictures which they drew of the teachings and the history of Islam were calculated to influence the Europeans in their attitude towards the “heathen”; but this twist of mind perseveres even now, when the orientalist sciences have long since become emancipated from missionary influences, and have no longer a misguided religious zeal for an excuse. Their prejudice against Islam is simply an atavistic instinct, an idiosyncrasy based on the impression which the Crusades, with all their sequels, caused on the mind of early Europe.”[30]

This is the clear difference between when the Islamic State is in authority over non-Muslims, and when non-Muslims are in authority over Muslims.

4. The Canon of Medicine

Ibn Sina, known as Avicenna in the West was a Persian polymath who is regarded as one of the most significant physicians, astronomers, thinkers and writers of the Islamic Golden Age, and the father of early modern medicine. His monumental work Al-Qanun fi’l-tibb (The Canon of Medicine) is an encyclopedia of medicine in five volumes which he completed in 1025CE, and was still in use throughout 18th century in Europe, 700 years later.

Islam and science

Islam never had the same conflict with science that Christianity did. This is because Islam clearly defines the role of the mind, and the areas where free thinking is permitted – rational sciences – and the areas where it was restricted to the text – the religious sciences and legislation.

Ibn Khaldun says, “It should be known that the sciences with which people concern themselves in cities and which they acquire and pass on through instruction, are of two kinds: one that is natural to man and to which he is guided by his own ability to think, and a traditional kind that he learns from those who invented it.

The first kind comprises the philosophical sciences. They are the ones with which man can become acquainted through the very nature of his ability to think and to whose objects, problems, arguments, and methods of instruction he is guided by his human perceptions, so that he is made aware of the distinction between what is correct and what is wrong in them by his own speculation and research, in as much as he is a thinking human being.

The second kind comprises the traditional, conventional sciences. All of them depend upon information based on the authority of the given religious law. There is no place for the intellect in them, save that the intellect may be used in connection with them to relate problems of detail with basic principles.”[31]

This is why Bruno Guiderdoni, Director of the Observatory of Lyon who is a specialist in galaxy formation and evolution, says, “The Qur’an is the only religious book I can believe in as a scientist.”[32]

It was common in Islamic history for scholars of Islam to also be scientists. This harmony between Islam and science allowed the Islamic world to be the centre of scientific development. A huge number of inventions were created along with advancements in medicine which benefited the whole world.

Muhammad Asad says, “The Renaissance, that revival of European arts and sciences with its extensive borrowing from Islamic, mainly Arabic, sources, was largely due to the material contacts between East and West. Europe gained by it, in the domain of culture, far more than the world of Islam ever did; but it did not acknowledge this eternal indebtedness to the Muslims by a diminution of its old hatred of Islam.”[33]

Ibn Sina was not held back by Islam, in fact he was motivated by the Islamic texts which encouraged the seeking of cures to diseases. The Prophet ﷺ said, “There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.”[34]

5. Dar al-Adl

Robert Hay

These are the ruins of the Dar al-Adl first built by Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad in Cairo in 1315. The Mamluk Sultanate held the seat of the Abbasid Khilafah after Baghdad was ransacked by the Mongols in 1258. The depiction here is by Robert Hay who painted this in the early 19th century and is part of his ‘Illustrations of Cairo’ published in 1840. The building was later demolished in 1825 by the Ottoman governor Muhammad Ali Pasha (r. 1805 to 1848) who built the Alabaster Mosque in its place.

What is the Dar al-Adl?

The Khilafah has an institutionally independent high court called the Court of Unjust Acts (Mahkamat ul-Mazalim). It is presided over by the most eminent and qualified judges in the state and granted extensive powers by the shari’a. It has the power to remove any official of state regardless of his role or rank, including the governor, mayors and even the Khaleefah. The Dar al-Adl was the Mazalim court of the Sultans who ruled the Khilafah from the later Abbasid period when the central authority weakened in Baghdad and semi-independent rulers (Sultans) arose in the regions.

The Mazalim Court is in the capital at the heart of government and investigates any government oppression that occurs from the Khaleefah, his assistants and any other government official. The court also checks all legislation, administrative laws and constitutional amendments to ensure they conform to shari’a and will arbitrate in disputes between the Khaleefah and the Majlis.

Ordinary citizens who have a serious complaint against any official or ruler can register it with the Mazalim Court.

What is unique about the Mazalim Court compared to other judicial courts, is that the Government Investigations Judge (Qadi Mazalim) has investigatory powers and does not require a plaintiff to register a complaint before launching an investigation. This court will therefore constantly monitor the actions of all officials of the state including the Khaleefah to ensure their conduct conforms to shari’a and no oppression is committed against the people.

The executive counterbalance to the power of this Court is by the Khaleefah in principle having the power to appoint and remove the Chief Justice and any judges below him. The Khaleefah can either give his Chief Justice the power to appoint all the Mazalim judges or the Khaleefah himself can appoint them.8

In the times of the Sultans of Egypt and Ash-Sham the Court of Unjust Acts was known as the House of Justice (Dar al-’Adl). The Sultan Al-Malik Al-Salih Ayyub appointed deputies to act on his behalf in the house of justice, where they sat to remove the Mazalim, and to gather the witnesses, judges and the Faqihs.[35]

Nasser O. Rabbat, Professor of Islamic Architecture at MIT describes the historical workings of the Dar al-’Adl: “This unique institution, which may be best translated in todays context as “palace of justice,” was initially conceived for the qada al-Mazalim service that is, for the public hearings held once or twice each week and presided over by the ruler himself or his appointed deputies to review and redress grievances submitted by his subjects.

The earliest known dar al-’adl (pl. dur al-’adl) was built ca. 1163 by Nur al-Din Mahmud ibn Zanki is his capital Damascus, and the last one was constructed by the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun (r. 1294-1341, with two interruptions) at the Citadel of the Mountain (Qal at al-Jabal) in Cairo in 1315 (it was rebuilt in 1334).

Three more dur al-’adl are known to have been constructed between these two dayes: one in Aleppo in 1189 by al-Zahir Ghazi, the son of Salah al-Din, one by al-kamil Muhammad in the Citadel of Cairo ca. 1207, and one by al-Zahir Baybars in 1262 on the slope of the spur upon which the Citadel of Cairo was built. After this no more dur al-’adl seem to have been built until modern times, then the palace of justice was introduced.”[36]

6. Timbuktu Manuscripts

For centuries private households in Timbuktu have been preserving manuscripts detailing art, medicine, philosophy, and science, as well as copies of the Qur’an from the 13th century. These Timbuktu Manuscripts as they are officially known are said to number 700,000 and are the subject of many research projects by western universities and the UN.[37]

Africa under Islam

Mali Sultanate 1350

Timbuktu is in Mali. Today Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world but under Islam the Mali Sultanate was one of the richest countries on earth. Its wealth came from gold, copper and salt mines and the 14th century ruler of Mali was Mansa Musa who was one of the wealthiest people to ever live. When he performed hajj it is reported he give away 30 tonnes (£1.3billion) of gold causing a ten year gold recession in the cities of Cairo, Madinah, and Makkah.[38][39]

Mali was also a centre of Islamic learning. In the early 1400s, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Tamimi, travelled to Timbuktu only to realize that the level of scholarship was so high, that he would have to go to Fez first to take prerequisite courses before he could study there.[40]

Mali 2022

This shows that before the colonial era, the parts of Africa under Islamic rule were rich and its people highly educated. This is a far cry from the impoverished continent we see today and the claims of the colonial powers that they were ‘civilising the natives’.

Samuel Huntington says, “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”[41]

7. Ahdnama

The original Adhnama in the Franciscan Monastery, Fojnica, Bosnia

The Ahdnama is a treaty between Sultan Mehmet II (Al-Fatih) and the Bosnian Franciscan Christians of the Catholic Church in 1463.

The Ahdnama is a clear and definitive historical record of the rights Islam gave to Christians living under its rule. The original Ahdnama is still kept to this day in the Franciscan Monastery in the vicinity of Fojnica, Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Sultan Mehmet al-Fatih’s great-great grandfather was Sultan Murad I who began the conquests to open up the Balkans to Islam. He is famous for defeating the Serbs at Kosovo field in 1389 and establishing the authority of Islam over Kosovo. Allah blessed Sultan Murad I with martyrdom (shahadah) in this battle.

Sultan Mehmet’s father Murad II fought the second battle of Kosovo and began the conquests to open Bosnia to Islam. Following in the footsteps of his father and great-great grandfather, Sultan Mehmet completed their good work and opened up the entire region to Islam.

Islam, as the final message for mankind established clear and detailed rules relating to the rights of all non-Muslims living under its rule.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “He who harms a person under covenant, or charged him more than he can, I will argue against him on the Day of Judgement.”[42]

The classical scholars of Islam also detailed the rights of Muslims towards the non-Muslim citizens known as dhimmi. The famous Maliki jurist, Shaha al-Deen al-Qarafi says, “The covenant of protection imposes upon us certain obligations toward the ahl al-dhimmah. They are our neighbours, under our shelter and protection upon the guarantee of Allah, His Messenger ﷺ, and the religion of Islam. Whoever violates these obligations against any one of them by so much as an abusive word, by slandering his reputation, or by doing him some injury or assisting in it, has breached the guarantee of Allah, His Messenger ﷺ, and the religion of Islam.”

A translation of the Ahdnama is below.

Ahdnama of the Fatih sultan Mehmet

Mehmet the son of Murat khan, always victorious!

The command of the honorable, sublime sultan’s sign and shining seal of the conqueror of the world is as follows:

I, the Sultan Mehmet – Khan inform all the world that the ones who possess this imperial edict, the Bosnian Franciscans, have got into my good graces, so i command:

let nobody bother or disturb those who are mentioned, not their churches. Let them dwell in peace in my empire. And let those who have become refugees be and safe. Let them return and let them settle down their monasteries without fear in all the countries of my empire.

Neither my royal highness, nor my viziers or employees, nor my servants, nor any of the citizens of my empire shall insult or disturb them. Let nobody attack insult or endanger neither their life or their property or the property of their church. Even if they bring somebody from abroad into my country, they are allowed to do so.

As, thus, I have graciously issued this imperial edict, hereby take my great oath.

In the name of the creator of the earth and heaven, the one who feeds all creatures, and in the name of the seven mustafas and our great messenger, and in the name of the sword I put, nobody shall do contrary to what has been written, as long as they are obedient and faithful to my command.

May 28th 1463

8. Letter of Gratitude from the Irish to the Ottomans

In 1845, the onset of the Great Irish Famine resulted in over a million deaths. The Ottoman Sultan at the time, Khaleefah Abdul-Mejid I declared his intention to send 10,000 sterling to Irish farmers in aid but Queen Victoria requested that the Sultan send only 1,000 sterling, because she had sent only 2,000 sterling herself. The Sultan sent the 1,000 sterling but also secretly sent 3 ships full of food. The English courts tried to block the ships, but the food arrived in Drogheda harbor and was left there by Ottoman Sailors.[43]

Due to this, the Irish people wrote a letter of gratitude to the Ottoman Sultan. “As the Irish nobles and people, we, the undersigned, present our dearest gratitude to the generous philanthropy and interest shown to the suffering and grieving people of Ireland by His Majesty [Sultan Abdülmecid], and we would like to thank him for the generous donation of 1,000 pounds sent in order to meet the needs of the people of Ireland and relieve their suffering.”[44]

Founded in 1919, Drogheda Football Club put a star and crescent on their emblem.

Reverend Henry Christmas wrote in 1853 about this incident.

‘One or two anecdotes will put his character in its true light. During the year of famine in Ireland, the Sultan heard of the distress existing in that unhappy country; he immediately conveyed to the British ambassador his desire to aid in its relief, and tendered for that purpose a large sum of money.

It was intimated to him that it was thought right to limit the sum subscribed by the Queen, and a larger amount could not therefore be received from his highness. He at once acquiesced in the propriety of his resolution, and with many expressions of benevolent sympathy, sent the greatest admissible subscription. It is well known that his own personal feeling dictated the noble reply of the divan to the threatening demands of Austria and Russia for the extradition of the Polish and Hungarian refugees.

“I am not ignorant,” was his reply, “of the power of those empires, nor of the ulterior measures to which their intimations point; but I am compelled by my religion to observe the laws of hospitality; and I believe that the sense and good feeling of Europe will not allow my government to be drawn into a ruinous war, because I resolve strictly and solemnly to adhere to them.”

This is the true spirit of Christianity, and there is more it in the Mohammedan Sultan of Turkey, than in any or all of the Christian princes of Eastern Europe.’[45]

In May 2006, the Drogheda Municipality, celebrating its 800th anniversary, put a plaque of gratitude on the wall of the municipal building (today’s Westcourt Hotel), which hosted the Ottoman sailors who brought the aid 150 years ago at that time, in order to honor the memory of this incident.

Islam treats people and states according to what the sharia prescribes. It is not one ‘size fits all’ where we treat belligerent states who occupy Muslim lands the same as those who do not have a history of antagonism towards Islam. This is derived from the Holy Qur’an where Allah (Most High) says,

لَّا يَنْهَىٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَـٰتِلُوكُمْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَـٰرِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوٓا۟ إِلَيْهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُقْسِطِينَ

إِنَّمَا يَنْهَىٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ قَـٰتَلُوكُمْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَأَخْرَجُوكُم مِّن دِيَـٰرِكُمْ وَظَـٰهَرُوا۟ عَلَىٰٓ إِخْرَاجِكُمْ أَن تَوَلَّوْهُمْ ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَلَّهُمْ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلظَّـٰلِمُونَ

“Allah does not forbid you from being good to those who have not fought you in the deen or driven you from your homes, or from being just towards them. Allah loves those who are just. Allah merely forbids you from taking as friends those who have fought you in the deen and driven you from your homes and who supported your expulsion. Any who take them as friends are wrongdoers.”[46]

Article 189 of the draft constitution of The Islamic State[47] establishes foreign relations with other states according to four principles:

1. The existing states in the Islamic world are considered to be part of one land and therefore they are not included within the sphere of foreign affairs. Relations with these countries are not considered to be in the realm of foreign policy and it is obligatory to work to unify all these countries into one state.

2. States who have economic, commercial, friendly or cultural treaties with our State are to be treated according to the terms of the treaty. If the treaty states so, their subjects have the right to enter the State with an identity card without the need for a passport provided our subjects are treated in a like manner. The economic and commercial relations with such states must be restricted to specific items and characteristics which are deemed necessary and which at the same time do not lead to the strengthening of these states.

3. States with whom we do not have treaties, and the actual imperialist states, such as Britain, America and France, and those states that have designs on the State, such as Russia, are legally considered to be belligerent states. All precautions must be taken towards them and it would be wrong to establish diplomatic relations with them. Their subjects may enter the Islamic State, but only with a passport and a visa specific to every individual and for every visit, unless they become practically belligerent.

4. A state of war must be taken as the basis for all dealings with States that are practically belligerent states, such as Israel for example. They must be dealt with as if a real war existed between us – irrespective of whether an armistice exists between us or not – and all their subjects are prevented from entering the State.

9. Hejaz railway

In 1908 a new railway opened from Damascus to Madinah for use by the pilgrims travelling for hajj.

Faced with growing disunity across the provinces of the Ottoman Khilafah, Sultan Abdul-Hamid II devised an ambitious plan to awaken the feelings of Islamic unity among the Ummah and strengthen the Khilafah’s authority over the Arab provinces by establishing a new railway for the pilgrims.

The project was started in 1900 and finally reached Madinah in 1908 when the railroad officially opened.

Before the Hejaz railway, the journey between Damascus and Madinah usually took two months by camel caravan and was full of hardships. Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, which moves each year, the hajj changes from season to season. Sometimes it meant travelling through the winter, enduring freezing temperatures or torrential rains. At the height of summer, it meant crossing scorching hot deserts. Towns and settlements were sparse and there were hostile tribes along the way.

With the introduction of the railway the journey time for pilgrims was cut from two months to four days. The arduous journey of travelling by camel through the desert was replaced with a few days travelling in comfort on the train. The cost of the journey was reduced from £40 to just £3.50 for a train ticket.[48]

On 1 September 1908 the Hejaz railroad officially opened, and by the year 1912 it was transporting 30,000 pilgrims a year. As word spread that travelling for hajj was now quicker and easier more Muslims were able to perform the hajj. The pilgrims using the railway soared to 300,000 in 1914.

Madinah Station

The Hejaz end of the railway was sabotaged during the Arab revolt led by Lawrence of Arabia and Sharif Hussein of Makkah, severing its link with Damascus. After the destruction of the Khilafah in 1924, and the carving up of the Arab lands under Sykes-Picot the possibility of such a unity project emerging ever again disappeared. All that remains today are some of the stations and locomotives as a reminder of this bygone era. Although the Hejaz railroad is now discarded to the pages of history it shows just what can be achieved when Muslims are united.

10. Church of Holy Sepulchre

The Church of Holy Sepulchre is in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem and is one of the holiest sites in Christianity. Dating from the 4th century it predates the Islamic opening of Jerusalem under Umar ibn Al-Khattab.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury claimed in 2018 in the Middle East ‘Christians face daily the threat of violence, murder, intimidation, prejudice and poverty.’

‘Across the region Christian communities that were the foundation of the universal Church now face the threat of imminent extinction.’[49]

While some try to frame this as Muslims oppressing Christians, or blame the rise of Islamic sentiments in the region, nothing could be further from the truth.

Muslims even more than Christians face the ‘daily the threat of violence, murder, intimidation, prejudice and poverty’ in the Middle East due to tyrannical rulers who do not implement Islam. This is also the case outside the Middle East in places such as Burma, Palestine and China.

The only reason Christians and Churches still exist in the Middle East is due to Islamic rule – the Khilafah – which protected Christians for over a millennia. However, since the Khilafah’s abolition in 1924 and the rise of nationalistic, secular, non-Islamic states, all peoples both Muslim and non-Muslim are suffering.

Thomas Arnold, who was a lecturer at Aligarh Muslim University in British India says: “But of any organised attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing.

Had the Caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years.

The Eastern Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of Christendom, throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of the Muhammadan governments towards them.”[50]

Hani Shukrallah, a Coptic Christian and a former editor of the newspaper Al-Ahram writes: ‘It is not easy to empty Egypt of its Christians; they’ve been here for as long as there has been Christianity in the world. Close to a millennium and half of Muslim rule did not eradicate the nation’s Christian community, rather it maintained it sufficiently strong and sufficiently vigorous so as to play a crucial role in shaping the national, political and cultural identity of modern Egypt.

Yet now, two centuries after the birth of the modern Egyptian nation state, and as we embark on the second decade of the 21st century, the previously unheard of seems no longer beyond imagining: a Christian-free Egypt, one where the cross will have slipped out of the crescent’s embrace, and off the flag symbolizing our modern national identity…’[51]

In fact the keys to the Church of Holy Sepulchre are still held by members of the Nusaybah Muslim family in Jerusalem who can trace their lineage back to the great sahabi Ubadah ibn Al-Samit, governor of Jerusalem under Umar ibn Al-Khattab who was first entrusted with the keys.[52]

It is true that the Fatimid Emir (who claimed himself Caliph) Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of the Church of Holy Sepulchre in 1009 but this was a mazlama (oppression) against the Christians and prohibited in Islam. Al-Hakim’s son Ali az-Zahir redressed this mazlama when he came to power after his father died and the church was restored.

We cannot judge 1400 years of Islam’s treatment of Christians by this one event. We need to look to the entire period and as mentioned the existence of churches across the Middle East disprove any claim that there was a ‘genocide’ against the Christians similar to what happened to Muslims and Jews in Spain.


[1] Edward William Lane, ‘Arab Society in the Time of The Thousand and One Nights,’ pp.150

[2] Khaled Diab, ‘A drinker’s guide to Islam,’ The Guardian Newspaper, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2011/oct/08/drinkers-islam-palestinian-beerfest-alcohol

[3] Taqiuddin an-Nabahani, ‘Nidham ul Islam,’ pp.70

[4] Sean Coughlan, ‘Oldest’ Koran fragments found in Birmingham University, BBC News, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33436021

[5] Ibid

[6] Taqiuddin an-Nabahani, ‘Shakhsiya Islamiyya,’ Vol.1, 6th edition, www.maktabaislamia.com, pp.118

[7] Surah Al-Hijr, ayah 9

[8] Sahih Bukhari, 4986 https://sunnah.com/bukhari:4986

[9] Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, ‘The history of the Khalifahs who took the right way’, translation of Tareekh ul-Khulufaa, Ta Ha Publishers, pp.63

[10] Dr Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee, ‘The Biography of Uthman bin Affan,’ Dar us-Salam Publishers, pp.333

[11] http://www.arabinstitute.org/priceless-ancient-gold-coin-in-qatar-validated-by-dr-samir-al-khadem/

[12] al-Tabari, ‘The History of Al-Tabari’, State University of New York Press, Volume XXII, pp.90

[13] Sunan an-Nasa’i 4594, https://sunnah.com/nasai:4594

[14] http://www.arabinstitute.org/priceless-ancient-gold-coin-in-qatar-validated-by-dr-samir-al-khadem/

[15] Michael Bates, ‘History, geography and numismatics in the first century of Islamic coinage,’ pp.238 https://www.academia.edu/666263/History_geography_and_numismatics_in_the_first_century_of_Islamic_coinage

[16] Kosei Morimoto, ‘The Diwans as registers of the Arab stipendiaries in early Islamic Egypt,’ a chapter in ‘The Articulation of Early Islamic State Structures,’ pp.238

[17] Hugh Kennedy, ‘The Great Arab Conquests,’ pp.38

[18] M. Hadzijahic and N. Šukric, Islam I Muslimani u Bosni I Hercegovini [Islam and Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina] (Sarajevo: Starješinstvo Islamske Zajednice, 1977), pp.21

[19] British Library, https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/gold-dinar-of-king-offa

[20] Kosei Morimoto, Op.cit., pp.228

[21] The marginal legend is based on Surah 9, Taubah Verse 33. It states: “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, he was sent with guidance and the religion of truth to make it prevail over every other religion.” Note that these are not full Qur’anic verses by design.

[22] British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/C_1874-0706-1

[23] Abdulwahab El-Affendi, ‘Who needs an Islamic State?’ second edition, pp.78

[24] al-Tabari, Op.cit., Volume XXIII, pp.182

[25] Hakim/Ahmed

[26] Abu Dawud, 4297 https://sunnah.com/abudawud/39/7

[27] The Jewish Encyclopedia: a descriptive record of the history, religion, literature, and customs of the Jewish people from the earliest times to the present day, Vol.2 Isidore Singer, Cyrus Adler, Funk and Wagnalls, 1912 pp.460

[28] Dean Phillip Bell, ‘Jews in the Early Modern World,’ pp.471

[29] https://www.thejc.com/comment/opinion/so-what-did-the-muslims-do-for-the-jews-1.33597

[30] Muhammad Asad, ‘Islam at the Crossroads,’ 1934, pp.56

[31] Ibn Khaldun, ‘The Muqaddimah,’ translated by Franz Rosenthal, Chapter VI, pp.562

[32] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5Xyt3xRJr8

[33] Muhammad Asad, ‘Islam at the Crossroads,’ 1934, pp.55

[34] Sahih al-Bukhari 5678, https://sunnah.com/bukhari:5678

[35] Al-Maqreezi, ‘Al-Sulook Ila Ma’arifati Douwal Al-Mulook,’ (The way to know the States of the kings)

[36] Nasser O. Rabbat, ‘The Ideological Significance of the Dar al- Adl in the Medieval Islamic Orient,’ International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Feb., 1995), pp. 3-28

[37] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jan/28/timbuktu-library-centuries-african-history

[38] A. J .H. Goodwin, “The Medieval Empire of Ghana”, South African Archaeological Bulletin, 1957, JSTOR, pp.110 https://www.jstor.org/stable/3886971

[39] Firas alKhateeb, ‘Lost Islamic History,’ pp.135

[40] Firas alKhateeb, ‘Lost Islamic History,’ pp.136

[41] Samuel Huntington, ‘The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,’ pp.51

[42] Narrated by Yahya b. Adam in the book of Al-Kharaaj

[43] https://www.dailysabah.com/feature/2017/04/21/ottoman-humanitarian-aid-to-the-irish-gripped-by-famine

[44] Ibid

[45] Henry Christmas, ‘The Sultan of Turkey, Abdul Medjid Khan: a Brief Memoir of His Life and Reign, With Notices of the Country, Its Army, Navy, & Present Prospects’

[46] Surah Mumtahana, ayaat 8-9

[47] Hizb ut Tahrir, ‘An Introduction to the Constitution and its obligation,’ pp.374

[48] https://nabataea.net/travel/info/the-hejaz-railway/

[49] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6451501/Christians-face-imminent-extinction-Middle-East-Archbishop-Canterbury-warns.html

[50] Thomas W. Arnold, ‘The Preaching of Islam,’ Second Edition, Kitab Bhavan Publishers, New Delhi, pp.72

[51] https://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=8820&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CatholicWorldNewsFeatureStories+%28Catholic+World+News+%28on+CatholicCulture.org%29%29

[52] http://www.nusseibeh.com/