Mosques, Synagogues and Churches Have Stood Side-By-Side in Peace
You hear this objection from people who know a little about the Middle East: "Haven't mosques and churches and synagogues sat side-by-side in the Middle East for a thousand years?"
The implication is, of course, that if all you're saying about Islam is true, then all Christians and Jews who live in Islamic lands would have been wiped out or converted centuries ago. But they're still there, and not only are they still there, they have their houses of worship still standing there, proving Islam's tolerance, right?
The answer to this objection is, "Yes, mosques and churches and synagogues sit side-by-side in the Middle East (except Saudi Arabia)." But the missing piece of information is the dhimma laws. So the rest of the answer is, "Islam allows for Jews and Christians (but not Buddhists, Hindus or atheists) to continue practicing their religions as long as they keep the contract of the dhimma."
Then, of course, you can explain what dhimmitude is and how it works. Dhimmis must pay a tax, usually 25 percent to 50 percent of their income. Muslims do not pay this tax. It is "protection money," which is not a slander — that's how the Muslims themselves think of it. As long as dhimmis pay this money and accept the other stipulations and humiliations required of dhimmis, they are allowed to live. If they break the dhimma contract, their lives are forfeit.
Other stipulations are many. Dhimmis are not allowed to repair their churches or synagogues, nor are their religious buildings allowed to be taller than the mosques. Jews and Christians are not allowed to display any symbols of their religion where a Muslim may see it. They are not allowed to make any religiously-oriented sounds (like singing a hymn, for example, or praying aloud) where a Muslim might hear it. They are not allowed to talk to a Muslim about their religion. The list goes on and on.
If a dhimmi violates any of these rules, the penalty is death. If they keep these rules, then yes, they can have their churches and synagogues, and so we see them throughout the Middle East and North Africa, since prior to the Muslims conquering what we now know as the Middle East, it was primarily Christians and Jews that populated those lands. Their numbers have dwindled down over the last 1400 years as they fled or were converted or killed, but there are still some remnants of the Christians and Jews left in those areas.
Islamic law covers every aspect of life, and when it is applied, Islam essentially eliminates other cultures until there is nothing left except Islam (read more about that here). The numbers of Jews and Christians in Muslim countries continues to dwindle.
When you are done explaining how and why synagogues and churches can be found in Muslim countries, explain that this is basic Shari'a law, and recommend the book, Shari'a Law for Non-Muslims. This slim volume gives a great overview of this fascinating topic, and can be a real eye-opener for people.
If you have more you'd like to add to the answer to this objection, we'd love to hear it. Either leave it here, or email it to me, and I'll post it for you. Here is a bonus: During an interview on Bill Maher's show, Ayaan Hirsi Ali answers this objection beautifully. Check it out: The Truth About Islam (seven and a half minutes long).
 Further reading