Ghengis Khan: Father of Tolerance

Ghengis Khan is the first Mongol “barbarian” to conquer the “civilized”world. Yet this “barbarian” developed and enforced a policy of religious freedom throughout his empire, a policy that was maintained by his successors. The ruling Mongol families and their advisors were made up of Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists.

Another little tidbit left out of history books is that the Mongols loved debating almost as much as they loved a good fight—but not as much as they liked drinking. A Franciscan monk named Rubruck arrived in the court of Mongke Khan in 1254. Rubruck had been sent by the French King Louis IX and had made several attempts to explain his brand of Christianity to Mongke (one of Ghengis’s grandsons), who followed an Assyrian Christian branch. Mongke decided to let Rubruck try to convince him and others by participating in a debate.

A Buddhist monk, a Muslim cleric, and Rubruck began their debate in front of a large audience. There were strict rules to the debate which even disallowed antagonistic language. They debated for hours and rested and drank between each round. The debate is recorded as ending when all parties gave up the idea of being able to convince the other sides and diversely began, with their associated groups, to sing hymns, recite the Koran and meditate, all in a drunken stupor. This behavior may seem unharmonious and unrefined, but it compares most favorably to the pogroms and inquisitions underway elsewhere.

This is not to gloss over the huge atrocities committed by the Mongols in battle, where often they spared no one. If a city surrendered, they sometimes left the place intact, especially in the case of China, where they seemed to have appreciated the value of what they were taking to a greater extent than in cities like Baghdad with its great libraries and schools, which were destroyed.

While Rubruck was debating freely in the Mongol court, his king, Louis IX, began a campaign of intolerance against the Jews under his control. Louis, later given sainthood for his piousness, rounded up about 12,000 Jewish texts and illustrated manuscripts and burned them. And in 1255, the Pope for the first time granted permission for the torture of heretics by priests.

During this time, Rubruck arrived home with Mongke’s words: Mongke believed that like humans have many fingers, God also gave man their many differences.”

I find it ironic that the history books portray Mongols as worthless barbarians when, in fact, Europeans could have learned some extremely valuable lessons from them. Would Jews have been better off if the Mongols had been able to conquer and hold Europe? Certainly European civilization could have advanced more quickly without all those religious wars. For example: Arab sciences and math would have been adopted centuries earlier, for the benefit of all. And Spain would have profited greatly had they kept their educated Jewish and Muslim citizens.

Well, that’s my take on medieval life. What do you think?

Mickey Hoffman is the author of two mystery novels, Deadly Traffic and School of Lies, published by Second Wind LLC. and available on, Smashwords and BN Nook. For details please check out my website:


~ by mickeyhoffman on December 25, 2011.

One Response to “Ghengis Khan: Father of Tolerance”

  1. Ghengis died in 1227 so it’s inaccurate to say that he was the model of “tolerance.” However, it is well known that once the Mongols had pretty much completed their conquest, they were indeed, very accepting of the variety of religious practices among the various regions they had under their control.

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