An Example of Religious Toleration from the Golden Horde

By Siti Jamilah

Islam promotes peace and, indeed, there is no error in the teachings of Islam since it is sent by Allah the Almighty. Islam is a revealed religion, and the verses of the Qur’an are free from human intervention. Islam covers all aspects of human life and guides them to follow the correct way of life. This perfection of Islam, however, does not mean that we have rights to insult followers of other religions and compel them to accept Islam.

Today we are living in a world where Islam and Muslims are labeled in a negative way and people judge about them based on several stereotypes created by Media. Muslims are generally labeled as terrorists or ‘Jihadists’ in a negative sense although jihad never spread any injustice or discrimination in Islamic history. Unfortunately, today several extreme groups in the Muslim world easily use this noble word ‘jihad’ to justify their evil acts although Islam never promoted extremism. These certain groups call their terrorist organizations as ‘Islamic State,’ but it seems that they really do not understand the real teachings of Islam, especially what is related to the rights of non-Muslims. But before making any generalizations, let us go to history and see how non-Muslims were treated under Islamic rule.

The best example of practicing toleration towards non-Muslims can be seen during the period of Uzbek Khan (Oz Beg Khan, r. 1313-1341), the greatest ruler of the Golden Horde, a western province of the vast Mongol empire, located in the modern territory of Russia. Under his rule, Islam became an official religion of the state and Islamic culture flourished through the establishment of madrasahs, mosques and libraries.

The Golden Horde was situated in Eastern Europe, north of the Caspian and Black Seas and east of Moscow that consisting of different multi-ethnic and multi-cultural social fabric. It is believed that during the reign of Uzbek Khan, the Mongol elites were highly encouraged to convert to Islam which gradually followed by the non-Mongol population.  At the same time, he was quite tolerant towards the local Christians and the pagans who lived under the umbrella of the Golden Horde. They had been given full freedom to practice their religious rituals without interrupting by this Muslim government.

For example, the permission was granted for Alexander Nevsky, a Grand Prince of Novgorod to build up the Christian Orthodox Church in Sarai, the capital city of the Golden Horde. The Christians also were imposed to pay Jizyah, but it did not ever burdened the non-Muslims as its amount was very small. In addition, the Russian rulers (one of the Christian ethnic groups in Golden Horde) were given a special privilege to collect the Jizyah from their population.

The policy of religious tolerance implemented by Uzbek khan led the people of the Golden Horde gradually to accept Islam. In the principality of Kipchak, for instance, there was no single non-Muslim living in this territory as their rulers all accepted Islam freely and the entire population followed them. It is true to say that “Al-Dinn al-Nass a’la Mulukihim” (Ordinary people follow the religion of their rulers).

To summarize, if a Muslim will truly implement the original teachings of Islam according to the Shariah Islamiyyah, he will never promote any extremism and terrorism.  At the same time, if we use our own common sense, we will understand that it is impossible for any religion that its entire followers of all centuries will follow the exact understanding of true religion. There will be some minority groups who will create their own ways of understanding or interpretations of their religion to make it the most suitable for their worldly purposes.

It is an obligation for us to follow the fundamental principles of Islam formulated in the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet SAW. Virtues like kind-heartedness, good morality, amity, goodwill, gentleness and kindness should be our main principles when we are dealing with the followers of other faiths.

 

References:

Akhmetova, E. (2013). Islam In Russia: Historical Facts and Modern Developments. Malaysia: IAIS.

Muslikhatun. (2008). “Kebijakan Pemerintahan Uzbeg Khan ( 1313- 1341) Pada Masa Dinasti Golden Horde.” Retrieved from, http://digilib.uin-suka.ac.id/1072/1/BAB%20I,%20V,%20DAFTAR%20PUSTAKA.pdf

Writer is a final year student at the department of History and Civilization, International Islamic University Malaysia

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