Journal of Shi‘a Islamic Studies Winter 2015 ∙ Vol. VIII ∙ No. 1
The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World
by John Andrew Morrow, 2013. Tacoma, Washington: Angelico Press & Sophia Perennis, xx + 442 pp., $21.95. isbn: 978-1-59731-465-7.
If I should choose an adjective to define this book, it would be ‘precious’. There are many reasons to support such a statement: academically, it brings together for the first time six Covenants concluded by the Prophet Muhammad with distinct Christian communities, all of which were translated directly from the original Arabic; historically, it throws light on the early relationship between Muslims and the People of the Book and, religiously, it invites people to rediscover the respect and tolerance that each monotheistic faith owes to the others.
The extraordinary work of the author – who retraced, perused, and compared numerous documents to try to recompose the history of each Covenant drawing on Sunni, Shia, and Christian sources – is commendable. Since some of these treaties were never published before and others were known only to very restricted circles of scholars, this book represents a unique chance to get acquainted with the letter of the message of the Prophet Muhammad with regard to Christians.
Many early edicts, letters, and covenants issued by the Prophet provided protection to the People of the Book, and they agree with the Constitution of Medina that declares that all are equal before God. The provisions they contain are directed not only to the native Muslim ummah, but to the entire Christian Nation.
Reading the Covenants, one notices that some main principles were always confirmed, for instance: it is not permitted to remove a Christian from his Christianity, a bishop from his bishopric, or a monk from his monastic life; nor is it permitted to destroy their churches or their businesses or to take their buildings to construct mosques or houses for believing Muslims; the capitation (jizyah) will be applied to those Christians who are not clerics; if a Muslim takes a Christian wife, he must respect her Christian beliefs and will give her freedom to follow her own religion. The standards set by these treaties appear not only advanced for the time of the Prophet, they remain advanced in our own age.
Unfortunately, the pact of harmony and understanding which once existed between Christians and Muslims seems to be disregarded today. In order to follow the spirit and letter of the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, the Covenants Initiative has been launched, asking Muslims to adhere to such an initiative by signing a declaration aiming at reviving the original relationship between believers in the One God.
A n n a Ma r i a Ma r t e l l i
Italian Institute for Africa and the Orient, Rome, Italy