Damaging the Places of Worship According to Islam

Places of worship ,- In the book of at-Tabaqât by Ibn Sa’d, it is said that when sixty Christians envoyed from Najran to Medina to meet the Prophet, the Prophet welcomed them at the Prophet’s Mosque. Interestingly, when the time of their worship took place, they maintained their worship at the mosque. Meanwhile, the friends of the Prophet (Shahaba) tried to ban them. But the Prophet ordered: ‘leave them’.

Through this command, the friends understood that the Prophet let them use the Mosque as a place of temporary worship. They performed worship facing east as their Qibla direction. Historical events that show the tolerance of this prophet occured on Sunday after Asar in 10 H. This event is also very well recorded in several chronicles of historical books such as Tārîkh al-Umam wa al-MulukSīrah Ibn HishamSîrah Ibn Ishaq and others.

Some modern commentators associate this hadith with Al-Qur’an Surah al-Baqarah, verse 114:

وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنْ مَنَعَ مَسَاجِدَ اللَّهِ أَنْ يُذْكَرَ فِيهَا اسْمُهُ وَسَعَىٰ فِي خَرَابِهَا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ مَا كَانَ لَهُمْ أَنْ يَدْخُلُوهَا إِلَّا خَائِفِينَ ۚ لَهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا خِزْيٌ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

” And who are more unjust than those who prevent the name of Allah from being mentioned in His mosques and strive toward their destruction. It is not for them to enter them except in fear. For them in this world is disgrace, and they will have in the Hereafter a great punishment.”

Muhammad Asad, for example, in The Message of the Quran translates the word masjid in the verse above as houses of worship ‘places of worship’. The same thing was stated by Muhammad Abduh and Rasyid Ridha in Tafsir al-Mannar who translate masjid  above as ma’abid ‘places of worship’, it means not just Muslim worship. The translation of the mosque as a ‘place of worship’ in general and not as a ‘place of Islamic worship’ specifically the verse above is clearly a translation that refers to the generic meaning of the mosque itself.

The mosque itself comes from the word sajada-yasjudu-sujud-masjid whose literal meaning “the place of prostration”, and that means the place of worship, whatever the worship is, which according to Abduh, is still in the corridor of scholars such as Jews and Christians and semi-book experts ( followers of religions that have a scriptural grip) such as Majusi, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and others.

In further developments, the mosque itself is often identified as a place of worship of Muslims and when it is called a mosque, our minds will be soon drawn to this Islamic mosque. 

Consequently, if we use this understanding consistently, it will be obviously difficult to understand the Qur’an and some of the Prophet’s hadith. Because when we explore further the use of the word mosque / masjid in the Qur’an, we will find that the word mosque does not always refer to the ‘place of worship of Islam’ but can refer to synagogues, ritual practices, and others.

For example the mosque in the sense of a worship place of Jews or synagogues, we can find easily in the use of the word “mosque al-aqsa” in QS. al-Isra: 1, and the use of the word “mosque” in QS. al-Isra: 7. While the mosque in the sense of ritual place is found in QS. al-A’raf: 31. The mosque in the sense of being a place of conspiracy of hypocrites with Abu Amir ar-Rahib and the Qurish (Mushriks of Mecca) to destroy Muslims from within is in QS. at-Taubah: 107. The mosque which functions as synagogue, church and monastery (as a place to worship God) is QS. al-Hajj: 40.

With a broader meaning of the plural form of the mosque in this verse, Asad explained, one of the most fundamental principles in Islam is the principle that every religion that has faith in God as its main teaching must be respected, even though it has a very conflicting belief.

Therefore, according to Asad, every Muslim is obliged to respect and maintain any religious place dedicated to worshiping God, it could be a mosque, church or even synagogue. 

Because of that, all efforts to prevent and obstruct adherents of other religions from worshiping God according to their beliefs are strictly prohibited, and condemned by the Qur’an as a greatest form of tyranny.

At-Thabari in Jâmi al-Bayân fi Tafsîr Qur’ân interprets the verse above: who are more unjust than those who prevent the name of Allah from being mentioned in His mosques and strive toward their destruction.” Through this view, at-Tabari categorizes people who do not value the place of worship as the most disbelieving person in the existence of Allah.

The story above, quoted from “at-Tabaqat” (Ibn Sa’ad’s book) and related to QS. al-Baqarah: 114, shows that the Prophet directly translated the spirit of the Qur’an to honor all places of worship in real praxis.  

This is also increasingly emphasized by the fact that he always ordered the friends (Shahaba) not to damage worship places in warfare. This means that the Prophet highly honours and respects the worship places of other religions, even though the faith is fundamentally very different. After the Hunain war, when he found the Torah scattered among war booties, the Prophet ordered to return the book to the Jews.

In the story above, although believing Jesus as the “Son of God” and the Virgin Mary as “Mother of God” is very contrary to the basic principles of Islam, Najran Christians were still given freedom by the Prophet to enter the Mosque and conduct their worship in it. The Prophet did not forbid them. And interestingly, if you look at the whole story at that time, the Prophet argued with these Christian figures of Najran and strongly disapproved their beliefs.

Despite being different in their beliefs, the Prophet continued to respect their beliefs, proved by the actions of the Prophet who allowed them to perform worships at the Nabawi Mosque which did not necessarily mean agreeing their teachings. An attitude that is rare and rarely found in other figures throughout history.

But unfortunately, nowdays the teachings of this Prophet were distorted by certain people for the political desires. 

Some extreme groups of Muslims misunderstood the spirit of this inclusive Prophet. Some of them burned, bombed, demolished religious buildings such as churches, synagogues and others under the name of religion. Burning, bombing and other acts of crime aimed at destroying these places of worship are clearly actions, according to the Qur’an, as adhlam “the most unjust / the most deniable.”

Read: How to educate children in Islam? The ways you’ve got to know.

Thus, terrorists who carry out suicide bombings in churches or carry out bombings on some places of worship, like churches or even mosques like those which have happened in Indonesia a few years ago, are considered as not religious people, denying God’s existence, or even being uncivilized.

By quoting the Qur’anic language for the scholars of the book (priests) who have distorted the Torah and the Gospel, Muslims who damage churches, synagogues or even mosques under the name of religion, are considered to have misused original teachings of the Prophet (yuharrifûnal kalima ‘an mawâdli’ihi). Because Islam is an open religion, Islam condemns all kinds of these actions as opposite to its main mission on earth, namely the mission to spread love to the universe (rahmatan lil alamin).

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