Dr. John Andrew Morrow to SHAFAQNA: An insight into Prophet Muhammad’s life (PBUH)
Sunday, 25 January 2015 11:15
Not only is he a senior scholar, academic, and professor, he is also a respected ‘alim holding the titles of ustadh, duktur, hakim, and shaykh. Dr. Morrow has spent over a decade in the United States working at various universities including Park University, Northern State University, Eastern New Mexico University, the University of Virginia, and Ivy Tech where he was unanimously appointed to the rank of Full Professor. One of his most noteworthy and memorable experiences involved working as a professor of advanced Spanish, Islamic culture, and world literature for the Institute for Shipboard Education’s Semester at Sea Program.
Aside from his academic duties, Dr. John Andrew Morrow (Imam Ilyas Islam) is the Director of the Covenants Foundation, an organization dedicated to disseminating traditional, civilizational, Islam; promoting Islamic unity; protecting persecuted Christians; and improving relations between Muslims and members of other faiths. He regularly travels the world to promote peace and justice.
Dr. John Andrew Morrow recently published “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World,” a compilation of religious manuscripts and other sacred documents ratified by the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) which so far have seldom been studied or even made known to the public.
At such a time when interfaith relations have yielded, bent and cracked under the weight of sectarianism and religious radicalism, Dr. Morrow brought light to one of Islam’s most valued treasure – tolerance. More than just a book, “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christian World,” is a testament to Islam’s wisdom and the love it professes.
Shafaqna had the pleasure to sit with Dr. John Andrew Morrow and benefit from his invaluable insight.
SHAFAQNA – Dr. Morrow before we actually begin discussing your research and your book I’d like you to shed some light on your journey toward Islam, or should I say back to Islam.
For as far back as I can recall, I remember being immersed in the radiance of divine love. Not only did I believe in God, I felt God flowing through my every atom and I saw God in all things. I never had any doubt that Allah was everywhere and permeated all of existence. My mother, who would lead me in prayer at my beside every night, made my faith blossom. I was baptized, attended church regularly, and was confirmed. It was only after I had embraced Islam at the age of 16 that I officially changed from the church to the mosque. Unlike many others, I was fortunate enough to have been raised with faith and a strong set of moral values for which I have God, the Church, and my parents to thank. This is not to say that I was sinless: it simply means that I knew right from wrong and did not operate in an ethical vacuum. Thanks to this moral monotheistic worldview, I was able to avoid committing any mortal sins.
I have met many in the West who claim that they were infidels before they became Muslims. That is not my case. Consequently, I view my transition from the Catholic faith to Islam as progression, moving from one step to another on the path of spiritual perfection. It is not a break with the prophetic tradition of Jesus, Moses, and Abraham, but its continuation and natural culmination. It is not a move from unbelief to belief as in the case of atheists, or from polytheism to monotheism in the case of polytheists, but from one message to a more elevated message. Call it clarification and rectification. I had many influences on my journey, including the Bible and other sacred scriptures, along with activists and inspirational leaders like Malcolm X. It would take a book to summarize my journey to Islam and within Islam. I have touched upon my experiences in many articles; however, a more detailed treatment might be in order at some point in the future. It all depends on the desire of the Divinity.
SHAFAQNA – Do you feel a personal and spiritual obligation toward Islam?
I do indeed: intensively and personally. It is what drives me, nourishes me, and motivates me. Consider it a higher calling; an obligation; and a debt to be repaid. No matter how hard I work, no matter how much I research, write, and publish, it is never enough. I am never satisfied. As soon as a project is complete, I immediately launch another one and often manage half a dozen major research endeavors at a time. What can I say? “Surely my prayer, my sacrifice, my life, and my death are (all) for Allah, the Lord of the worlds” (6:162).
SHAFAQNA – What inspired you to delve into the life of Prophet Muhammad in such a manner? It feels as if you are looking to connect with the man behind the prophet.
I love, respect, and admire the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny. When he is insulted, I am offended. This does not mean that I am going to kill anyone or blow something up. I strive to be among those who “restrain their rage” (3:134). I feel a deep, personal, connection to the Messenger of Allah. I attempt, to the best of my ability, considering the context in which we currently live, to be his devoted disciple.
Your question is quite intuitive. For many, the history of Muhammad started with the word: “Read!” (96:1) and the little that was known of his previous life was of little import. I, however, as intrigued by the man behind the prophet; namely, his life prior to the proclamation of prophecy. For many, this issue is trivial, irrelevant, and immaterial. However, to me, it explains many matters: we may know the “how” and the “what” but in many cases we lack knowledge of the “why.”
The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World paints a much fuller picture of Muhammad’s birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and manhood until the miracle on Mount Hira. Previously, all we had were incomplete sketches. This is not to say that the information was unavailable. It was simply suppressed by early Muslim historians for polemical and dogmatic reasons and, surely, for political ones as well. They feared the implications of the information. They believed it weakened the foundations of Islam. Resultantly, they attempted to purge the Prophet of his pre-prophetic past, alleged that he knew nothing of Judaism, Christianity or other religions; feigned that he had only traveled twice out of Arabia; asserted that he was illiterate; and attempted to blot out anyone or anything that could have influenced him ideologically.
If Muhammad was well-travelled, well-cultured, and well-informed, does this make him less of a prophet? Not in my estimation. In the contrary, it makes him more of a man and more of a prophet and messenger. As much as the Ummayads encouraged this image, Muhammad was not an ignorant and insignificant man. He was the height of humanity and the Proof of Allah for all creation. Shame on those so-called Muslims who claim that he was inconsequential, that he was simply an ordinary, even flawed, man, who received a revelation that anyone else could have been given. On the contrary, he was the cause of creation, a pre-Adamic prophet, and a perfect human being who was connected to Allah throughout his life; both guarded and protected. Muhammad’s attempts to open up to the Divinity did not commence at Mount Hira: they formed a fundamental part of the first forty years of his life.
SHAFAQNA – It could not have been easy to conduct such extensive work. We are talking intellectual archeology here! Can you tell us about your research? Where your travels took you and the type of reactions you got from fellow scholars around the world?
Intellectual archeology is indeed an excellent description of the type of work in which I have been engaged. It was as a result of my research on Aljamiado-Morisco literature that I realized to what extent we Muslims had lost our legacy. I learned that there were hundreds of manuscripts, written in Spanish, but in the Arabic alphabet, which contained works that had not survived in Arabic and other languages. I have spent decades studying these lost sources and will be sharing my findings in a work titled Shi‘ism in the Maghrib and al-Andalus in the near future. From my early days of Islamic studies, I realized that there was a huge gap, spanning centuries, in which sources were missing. I was always convinced that copies of these ancient books must exist somewhere. Although he lived in the 1600s, one thousand years after the passing of the Prophet, blessed be he and his progeny, ‘Allamah Majlisi was determined to salvage as many ancient sources as possible. The result is the encyclopedic work known as Bihar al-anwar. I have attempted, in my own modest way, to replicate his example. The discovery of lost covenants and letters of the Prophet in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s inspired me as did the locating of the most ancient copies of the Qur’an in the 20thcentury. I have been traveling the world and exploring archives for decades with a very precise mission: to recover, protect, preserve, and disseminate what rightfully belongs to Islam. I have found treasure troves worth more than all the gold in the world. They would take the rest of my life to study and share. In order to accomplish this ambitious task, the Covenants Foundation needs help and funding. Consequently, I call upon philanthropists to provide an endowment to make these plans a reality. I am an independent academic with limited resources. If you are impressed by The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World and my other works, and you wish more revelations to see the light, then I cannot do it without proper funding. I call upon believers to contribute to this cause with their zakat, khums, and sadaqah, in the path of Almighty Allah.
SHAFAQNA – In your own words who is the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) I’m using the present here as I believe his legacy to be forever alive.
Muhammad was the first and last; the first prophet to be created, and the last prophet to be sent. He is the beloved of Allah and the hope of humanity. May Almighty Allah shower him will blessings ad aeternum, grant us his intercession of the Day of Judgment, and his company in the Hereafter. Not only does his legacy live on, he lives in, in the company of the Creator, watching over his followers, praying for them, and inspiring them by the will of Almighty Allah. He lives on in the Qur’an, the authentic Sunnah, and the Covenants he concluded. He is reflected in all the goodness that radiates from the Muslim Ummah.
SHAFAQNA – What is the biggest misconception Christians hold against Islam?
As an academic, I am expected to avoid generalizations. Hence, I cannot speak of Christians as a collective whole. They are not a monolithic mass. Catholics are very different from Protestants. Eastern Christians are different from Western Christians. There are differences from denomination to denomination. An Assyrian Christian is not like an Armenian Christian. A Southern Baptist is not like a Unitarian Christian. While many Muslims equate the West with Christianity, the West has ceased to be Christian for centuries. If 40% of Americans attend mass once per week, only 10% of UK citizens, 7.5% of Australian citizens, and 5% of French citizens go to church. Quite often, these statistics are propped up by immigrants from more traditional countries where Christianity is not comatose. Church attendance, however, varies greatly from country to country in the Americas. Take a good hard look at the social positions emanating from the West, which are being codified into law, treated as human and civil rights, and which are being exported abroad as part of foreign policy. Listen to 99.9% of Western music Watch 99.9% of Western movies. Survey some statistics. The West has long ceased being Christian. Although nearly half the population in the United States identifies as conservative Christians, they are only conservative politically and economically; they are certainly not conservative sexually or show any restraint militarily. They practice corporate, imperial, Christianity, which serves the selfish interests of the elite 1%. They are on the side of Imperial Rome as opposed to the side of Christ.
As Muslims, we object when the mass media scapegoats 1.5 billion Muslims. Consequently, we must avoid doing the same when we speak of our Christian brethren. As a fan of your work, I know that you are well-aware of these distinctions; however, I want this point to be clear to all of your readers. When Charles Upton, Hector Manzolillo, and I, commenced the Covenants Initiative in 2013, we shared the Covenants of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his household, with all the Christians of the world. Patriarchs, pontiffs, abbots, and archbishops from the Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Assyrian, and Catholic Churches have all expressed their gratitude at our efforts to protect persecuted Christians in the Middle East and beyond. If Western Christians are stunned and surprised when they come across the Covenants of the Prophet for the first time, some to the point of unbelief, Eastern Christians are almost universally familiar with them. While virtually all Muslims have forgotten about them, the Eastern Christians have maintained the Covenants of the Prophet as part and parcel of their collective consciousness. In fact, Eastern Christians take a particular pride in the fact that they were specifically protected by the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be upon him. As one Antiochian priest told me, I was preaching to the choir: “The Middle Eastern Christians know this already. It’s only the Christians in the West who don’t!” To be quite honest, some Eastern Christians believe that they are closer to the Prophet Muhammad that many Muslims are. They know what Islam stands for but they do not see it in the actions of some misguided and self-professed Muslims.
Although they are not free of prejudice and stereotypes, many Christians of the East understand the reality of Islam. How can they not? They have lived under Muslim domination for 1400 years. While there were some exceptions, they know full well that cordial relations were the rule. The fact that there are millions of Christians still living in predominantly Muslim countries provides positive proof that Islam protected them. The Christians of the East know full well that the “Islamic State” is really the “Anti-Islamic State.” They know full well that Salafis, Wahhabis, and Takfiris are not followers of the Prophet Muhammad, their guardian and protector, the man who described them as his flock, and who viewed himself as their shepherd. The problem resides with Western Christians.
To answer your question: what is the biggest misconception Christians hold against Islam? I would respond: the belief in the inherent injustice of the Prophet Muhammad; that the man was a fraud, a fake, a pedophile, a rapist, a mass murderer, and terrorist. It soils me to even repeat these atrocious lies and I seek refuge from Allah and turn to him in repentance for sharing them. Many Western Christians, who claim to follow Christianity, a religion of love, and who profess to follow Christ, are actually filled with hatred and are far from Christ-like. They have been duped and deceived by those who demonize the Prophet in an attempt to undermine Islam. They are oblivious to the fact that those who seek to destroy Islam also seek to destroy all revealed religions.
Ask most of these so-called Christians what they know about Islam and seek shelter from the venomous flood of vitriol that is forthcoming. All they know is what they have been told. They parrot what they have heard. They regurgitate what was fed to them. They live in an echo chamber of hate-fueled lies. Right-wing radio, right-wing television, right-wing printed media… In many cases, the left is silent; however, increasingly, the left has been promoting the same hostile attitude towards Muslims. The animosity against Islam comes down like torrent of toxic sludge, drenching all who are exposed to it, and rendering them radioactive, contaminating anyone who comes in their contact. As Almighty Allah warns: “If you follow most of those on earth, they will mislead you from the way of Allah. They follow nothing but conjecture: they do nothing but lie” (6:116).
To these people I say: Open your mind. Flush the toilet of your brain. Disinfect your heart. Purge and purify your soul. Seek knowledge of Islam from its own genuine sources. Do not be like donkeys being chased over a cliff. Learn about Islam, true Islam; original Islam. Read a reliable biography of the Prophet. Consult traditional Islamic sources on spirituality. Examine works on Islamic history, culture, and civilization. Most importantly, read a good translation of the Qur’an with an unbiased mind and peruse the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World which, as far as I am concerned, represents the quintessence of Islam.
While what I say is true, it does not mean that I am unaware of the harsh reality faced by Muslims in many parts of the world. We can talk about “how to spread true Islam” in under-developed or, shall we say, over-exploited countries, until we are blue in the face. It is hard to talk to someone about religion when he is hungry. First, you have to feed him, help him overcome his misery and then, and only then, are you well-positioned to rectify their religious views. Otherwise, everything we say is mere rhetoric that is disconnected from reality. If we want peace, we must spread prosperity.
SHAFAQNA – Radicals are persecuting religious minorities across the Middle East while claiming to hold God’s truth. How can we learn from your book? What do you want readers to take away from your book?
First of all, let us not describe these people as “radicals,” “extremists,” “fundamentalists” or similar terms. Let us call them what they really are: terrorists, murderers, and mercenaries at the service of evil. The crimes being committed by Takfiri terrorists in the name of Allah, Muhammad, and Islam are comparable in cruelty to those committed by the Nazis during the Second World War. Although their names vary, from ISIS to al-Nusrah, and from the Taliban and Boko Haram, those who are familiar with Islamic history know precisely who these people are. They are a combination of khawarij and nawasib. They do not represent the Islam of the Prophet but the Anti-Islam of the Ummayads. They are the misbegotten spawn of Yazid and al-Hajjaj. May Almighty Allah curse them in this life and in the Hereafter! They are not reviving Islam nor are they returning to it. They are resurrecting pre-Islamic paganism and heathenism. Their Prophet is the Anti-Christ and their god is Satan. You will know them by the fruits they bear. Muslims are good and sweet like the fruit of Paradise. These Anti-Muslims are as bitter as the Tree of Zaqqum. Good begets good and evil begets evil. They profess to be an Islamic State when their actions clearly manifest that they are a Satanic State. What can people learn from my book? They can learn about Islam.
Judging from the tens of thousands of mentally and spiritually-disturbed men and women who have joined the ranks of these mass murderers, rapists, torturers, mutilators, pimps and pedophiles, there is no shortage of cultural Muslims and converts who cannot tell the difference between God and the Devil. I know as much as any individual with active brain waves that the terrorists operating in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and beyond, are mostly mercenaries. They are there for the money. Were the funds to dry up, so would their ranks. There are other brainwashed zombies who believe that they are fighting for Islam when it is blindingly clear that they are pawns in a geopolitical destabilizing campaign. Far from being freedom fighters, these drop-outs, losers, criminals, ex-cons, fornicators, drug addicts, alcoholic, murderers and sexual predators—who “found Islam” at some point and “want to take revenge on the West”—are actually playing a major part in false flag operations aimed at destroying the image of Islam.
The British, the Germans, and the French have a long, well-documented, history of using “Muslim” extremists to advance their imperial agendas, turning Arabs against Turks, Turks against Armenians, Kurds against the Assyrians, Jews against Muslims, and Muslims against Muslims. Now, the capitalist imperialists of the age are actively engaged in perpetrating genocide against Shi‘ites, Christians, Sufis, and the few Sunnis who have not succumbed to the scourge of Salafism and Wahhabism. Extremists, fanatics, and sexist psychopaths have no place in any civilized society. Their violent, intolerant, rhetoric would never be tolerated in many Muslim and non-Muslim countries: Morocco, Syria, Iran, Russia, China, and elsewhere.
Many of these pseudo-Muslim monsters who are terrorizing the world are the product of the West; the product of European ghettoes; the children of immigrants who were expelled from the bowels of Capitalism. Many of these maniacs were born, raised, educated, and radicalized in the West under the watchful eye of Western intelligence services. They raise vicious pit-bulls, rottweilers, presa canarios, and Boer bulls, unleash them on innocent Muslims and Christians, and then blame the victims when some of these dogs turn against them and maul them. As Muslims, we must never apologize for the attacks committed by the canines of our enemies. We cry for the victims, but we blame the owners of the attack dogs. We do not accept the blame for what we did not do.
The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World does not deal with most of these issues directly but the book should be read with this background in mind. What do I want readers to take away from my book? I want them to realize, accept, and recognize that God is good, that the Prophet is good, that Islam is good, and that all real Muslims are genuinely good. My book presents the Prophet Muhammad for what he really was: the best of examples, a divine blessing, and a mercy from God. Muslims will read, almost certainly for the first time, the words of Muhammad himself. They will learn about his vision of society and his benevolent and loving attitude towards the People of the Book. They will also see how the provisions contained in the Covenants of the Prophet were implemented by most Muslim leaders over the course of history. Most importantly, these precious documents provide a blue-print for establishing the true Islamic State, the Ummah or the Commonwealth of Islam.
SHAFAQNA – Now, why have scholars ignored the manuscripts you put together? Omission or spiritual falsification?
Since the demise of Islam as a world power one hundred years ago, and the gradual decline of Islamic civilization and culture over the course of the previous centuries, Muslim scholars have succumbed to collective amnesia or submission to the ruling elites who caused Islam to decay. There was a time when scholars were few but knowledge was great. We live in a time when there are many scholars but very little knowledge. This is not to say that there are not some great scholars in the Muslim world. It is simply an admission that we resemble the faint glow of a firefly compared to the light of the moon. The Muslim world is marred by tradition, in the worst sense of the word. It struggles against advances and innovation.
Although scholarship is supposed to be open; it is closed. Muslim scholars treat interpretations made one thousand year ago as sacrosanct and have canonized sources, thereby preventing further academic advances. They teach the Kitab of Sibawayh, the foundational work on Arabic grammar, as if it were the Qur’an or the Bible, as if no new advances have and can be made in the field of linguistics. They treat Islam as if it were fossilized or frozen. The curriculum in most religious institutions remained rigid for centuries. No improvements were made. Pedagogical methods were petrified. Students were not trained to think independently; merely to regurgitate, word for word, the opinions of others.
If Muslims students and scholars received a broad intellectual formation during the Golden Age of Islam, subject matters in more modern times were reduced to the rudimentary. While significant progress has been made in Shi‘ite seminaries over the past few decades, so-called Sunni institutions, directly or indirectly dependent on Saudi Arabia, solely teach Salafism and Wahhabism. Their approach is reductionist, literalist, essentialist, and fundamentalist, as well as absolutist, extremist, intolerant, and exclusionist. If anyone wonders where all these terrorists came from, simply follow the termites back to their mounds.
Unless one understands the catastrophic collapse of the traditional Islamic education model, one will never understand why Muslim scholars have ignored the manuscripts that I have uncovered, recovered, and brought into the light. Most major universities in the non-Muslim world have larger collections of Arabic and Islamic books than the best Islamic universities and seminaries in the Muslim world. One scholar, who spent three decades studying in a major center of Islamic studies in the Muslim world, wondered: “Why is it that our teachers have never taught us about the Covenants of the Prophet?” The answer may sound insolent but the truth is often a slap in the face. They never spoke about them because they themselves have never heard of them. Their predecessors, however, from the time of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, until the early twentieth century, were fully aware of these documents and their significance. What accounts for the break in transmission? It was Western interference in the Muslim World and the fragmentation of the Muslim Ummah.
The scholars at this critical juncture in Islamic history must make a choice: to reconnect with their tradition or to continue down a path that is a proven failure. So far, the Covenants of the Prophet have reached over one hundred thousand people. Tens of thousands have read them. Hundreds of scholars support them. They tend to be independent scholars who belong to Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Tasawwuf and Ahl al-Bayt. Tellingly, the vast majority of mainstream Sunni scholars, who work at the service of a certain state that occupies most of Arabia, refuse to recognize the significance of the Covenants of the Prophet because their masters, who control their sustenance, have not commanded them to do so. I have met with Imams of major mosques who support the Covenants in secret but are not in a position to endorse them publicly.
It is not as if this state, named after a single family, as opposed to its people, has not expressed interest in the Covenants. In fact, they were the first to do so, an invitation of patronage I declined, despite promises of fame and fortune, since their obvious goal was to co-opt the Covenants of the Prophet for public relation purposes while simultaneously spreading their religion of hatred, intolerance, and terror around the globe. Other influential players in the Muslim world also extended a hand, in return for absolute allegiance, something that I grant only the Universal Pivot and Axis of the Age.
Is the ignorance of the Covenants due to omission? Yes, both unintentional and intentional. Is ignorance of the Covenants the result of attempts to suppress the true socio-political and spiritual teachings of the Prophet? The facts speak for themselves.
SHAFAQNA – Muslims everywhere are in pain. Fear, mistrust and disunity have plagued the Islamic Ummah. Have we lost our way?
There is no doubt that “human beings are in loss, except such as have faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy” (103:2-3). As Almighty Allah states in a famous sacred saying: “All of you are astray except for those I have guided.” Consequently, we continually implore Allah to “Guide us on the straight path” (1:6). People cannot change unless they first recognize that they have a problem. Muslims need to stop pontificating about thegreatness of Islam in the past and face the failure of Islam in the present. Islam is merely the mirror reflection of Muslims. As followers of the Islamic faith, what we do, be it good or be it bad, reflects on our faith. Our action or inaction is projected back upon the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. As believers, our aim should be to make him proud; not to make him embarrassed and ashamed. I have no doubt that the Prophet, in all his mercy and compassion, would not hesitate to disown a whole host of so-called Muslims who have stained his name with their sickening sins. The Rope of Allah (3:103) is dangling; but who is holding on to it? The straight path is there; but who is walking it? Many Muslims, by the mere fact that they are Muslims, are on the straight path: the problem is that many of them are walking backwards on it.
Muslims are a spectrum. They come in all shades. Some are righteous and some are wicked. Some follow Imams who lead to Heaven, while others follow Imams who lead to Hell (28:41). The overwhelming majority of Muslims are apathetic. They are on the path of Islam but they are paralyzed by ignorance. I am not bashing Muslims collectively nor am I making sweeping overgeneralizations. I say it like it is. There is a great deal of good among Muslims. Islam has truly left a legacy. However, pre-Islamic and un-Islamic influences have also left their mark. We do not need an Islamic Reformation or Deformation. We do not need to return to the primitive past of pious or impious predecessors through a misreading and misinterpretation of the primary sources of Islam invented two centuries ago. We have no need for a Caliphate of the Corrupt. We need an Imamate of the Just.
The Muslim Ummah needs to undergo a Collective Awakening. If Islam is to be re-established, it will be bottom-up, not top down, from the depth of our soul as opposed to through the scopes of machine guns and mortars. The war we must wage is within ourselves. We will never succeed in Islamizing any society until we have Islamized our own lower selves. We may not be perfect, but at least we can be good, and strive for goodness. Faith, hope, and perseverance form the foundation of our spiritual and socio-political arsenal.
By Catherine Shakdam