From Muhammad's founding of Islam and his unification of the Arab tribes in the seventh century, Muslims were instructed to practice respect towards other religions. This tolerance was essential to ensure peace and stability in Medina and throughout Asia Minor, as these lands were populated by Jews, Christians and other faiths. Most of the Islamic empires established in this region upheld the tradition of religious tolerance, although conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims was frequent.
The Seljuk Turk Empire
The Seljuk Turk Empire was established in the 10th century in the region of Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor. Within the empire, Sunni Muslims dominated and frequently clashed with the Shiite Muslim minority. In 1071, the Seljuk Turks took control of Jerusalem, and Christians in the city were persecuted for their beliefs. This led Pope Urban II to organize the first Crusade. In recapturing Jerusalem, Crusaders slaughtered members of the city's Muslim and Jewish population.
The Ottoman Empire
The Seljuk Turks were decimated by the Mongols in the 13th century. The Mongols were, however, ultimately drawn into the Islamic faith and discarded their beliefs in shamanism and Buddhism. Mongol control of Islamic lands deteriorated throughout the 14th century, eventually giving way to the rise of The Ottoman Empire. Religious tolerance was shown to Christians and Jews in The Ottoman Empire, but members of both faiths were legally prohibited from worshipping in public and were required to wear distinctive clothing.
The Safavid Empire
The Safavid Empire formed in Persia, the region that is modern-day Iran, in 1501. The empire also included parts of what are today Turkey and Georgia. Conflict with its neighboring empires was continual as the Safavid Empire was Shiite and its neighbors were Sunni Muslims. Because Shiite Islam was the state religion, Sunni Muslims fled the empire. Shiite Islam flourished, but followers of any other form of Islam -- including Sufi, the order from which the Safavids evolved -- were persecuted. All other religions were banned in the empire.
The Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire was the last of the Islamic empires to form. It represented the union of several Indian and Pakistani kingdoms under one government during the 16th and 17th centuries. Babur, the first Mughal emperor, realized appeasement of the Hindu majority was crucial to the success of his empire and allowed Hinduism to be practiced freely. Succeeding emperors advanced religious toleration even further. Akbar the Great, Babur's grandson, had several Hindu wives, and his son is credited with establishing Urdu -- a combination of Arabic, Persian and Hindi -- as the official state language. One of the last emperors, Aurangzeb, ended religious toleration.
- The Muslim Times: The Tolerance of Islam is Founded on Unique Religious Teachings
- The Library of Congress Country Studies: A Country Study: Turkey: Turkish Origins: Sultanate of Rum
- History.com: Jerusalem Captured in First Crusade
- Wesleyan University: Early Modern Jewish History: Overview: 5. The Ottoman Empire
- BBC: Religions: The Safavid Empire (1501 to 1722)
- BBC: Religions: The Mughal Empire (1500s, 1600s)
- UCLA College of Letters and Sciences: Division of Social Sciences: History & Politics: The Mughal Empire
- Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images