“Early Christian-Muslim Encounters: The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World”
SHAFAQNA – The following is the transcript of a lecture Dr John Andrew Morrow, a prominent cleric and acclaimed author, delivered at the International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Jackson, Mississippi, on Thursday, November 12th, 2015.
A‘udhu billāhi min al-Shayṭān al-rajīm.
Bismillāh al-Rahmān al-Rahīm. Alḥamdulillāhi Rabb al-alamīn
Ṣalawātu wa salām ‘alā Muḥammad al-Amīn ashraf al-mursalīn wa khātim al-nabiyyīn.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Sisters and brothers, Supporters and skeptics, Friends and foes
Or should I say
Foes whom we hope to make friends; people who are misinformed due to erroneous information that is spread incessantly by a multitude of means. Welcome.
I thank you all for attending this lecture on “Early Christian Muslim Encounters: The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World.”
And I thank Sidi Emad al-Turk, and everyone at the International Museum of Muslim Cultures here in Jackson, Mississippi, for making this presentation possible.
Tonight I take you on a journey.
I take you from the present to the past to show you that the horrors of the present are not rooted in the past, and that the past can serve as a model for creating a more positive present.
This is not to say that there have not been past horrors. Wrongdoings have been committed by the followers of all major religions. However, these mistakes from the past should serve as lessons for the present. We should not be condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. We should take steps to ensure they never occur again.
I invite you, I urge you, and I implore you to put aside your preconceived notions for a time; set aside your prejudices for a moment; and cast aside your value judgments for the duration of this presentation.
I admit: this is no easy task. We are very much the product of our environment, upbringing, and culture. We have been bombarded with certain beliefs, some true and some false. We need, to try, at the very least, to clear the clutter from our minds and our hearts in order to be receptive to truth.
As difficult as it may be, as a scholar, I have been trained to do it. To assume ignorance. To clean the table. To purge the mind. To commence with a blank slate. Let us all take a deep breath and begin…
A child is born in Mecca in the sixth century. His childhood is filled with miraculous signs. Priests, monks, and mystics predict that he will be a great prophet. Twice orphaned, his life is endangered by unbelievers. Monks approach his mother, and later his uncle, offering to take him into their protective custody; to guard and protect him in the safety of their isolated monasteries. Guarded by angels, he is kept safe. He works as a shepherd, contemplation the beauty of God’s creation. He joins the caravans of his uncle and travels throughout all of Arabia and the Middle East, reaching what is now modern day Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Armenia… and, according to some sources, as far as North Africa and Spain, as well as Abyssinia.
According to ancient accounts, he supplied the monks from the Monastery of St. Catherine’s at Mount Sinai where he discussed matters of theology and philosophy with the monks; where he visited to sacred sites associated with the prophets of the Old Testament; and where he used to mediate in the cave of Moses, on the top of Mount Sinai, emulating his prophetic predecessor.
One day, while resting in front of the monastery, an eagle appeared, and circled around the young Muhammad, much like that cloud that had followed him on his journeys to Syria, where he was recognized as a prophet by Bahira the Monk and Nestor the Monk.
The Abbot from St. Catherine’s Monastery perceived the sign. He foretold that Muhammad would become a mighty leader. He invited him into the monastery; treated him with utmost hospitality; and asked him to grant the monastery a patent of protection, a covenant, writ, a letter of protection… Muhammad, in all humility, said that he was not in a position to do so… after all, he was but a poor orphan…
Nonetheless, the Abbot was adamant. He brought a piece of parchment, papyrus or paper, along with a bowl of ink. Muhammad dipped his hand in the ink and stamped the paper symbolizing his promise of protection.
The years pass and Muhammad receives revelation. He is persecuted for a decade. Finally, he established a State in Medina. Shortly after his arrival in Medina, he creates the Constitution of Medina; it was a social contract between the State and the citizens of that State. It established, first and foremost, equality between all parties: Jews, Muslims, and pagans, regardless of race, gender, or religion. It provided for the protection of all parties, including women and the poor. It eradicated racism, social superiority, and gender privilege. It created a multilingual, multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious, and multiracial society: a tolerant, cosmopolitan, society; an island of social, economic, and political justice in an ocean of racism, sexism, elitism, hedonism, violence, oppression and exploitation.
Word of Muhammad’s success, and the creation of a new social system spreads throughout Arabia and beyond.
Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, all of whom were oppressed by the Byzantine and Persian Empires are exposed to an entirely new idea: freedom of religion, participative democracy, and justice for all.
In the second year of hijrah, the monks from St. Catherine’s monastery send a delegation to Medina and remind him of his promise. It was then and there, in his mosque in Medina, in the presence of his companions, that he dictated to Ali a set of rights and privileges that he was granting, not only to the monks from Mount Sinai, but to all the Christians of the World who would be his friends and allies. The document, known in Turkish and Persian as the ashtiname or in Arabic as the ‘ahd nabawi, would remain on display in the Monastery of St. Catherine’s until 1517 when Sultan Selim had the original placed in the Treasury of the Ottoman Empire for safe-keeping, granting the monks certified copies and translations of the original.
Attacked by the pagans from southern Arabia, the Prophet makes peace with the Christians of southern Arabia. Betrayed by a few Jewish tribes surrounding Medina, he makes peace with the Jews of southern Arabia and the Jews of northern Arabia.
Persecuted by the Byzantine Empire, many Christian denominations were branded as heterodox and heretical. The Prophet Muhammad reached out to them, promising them freedom of faith and protection. Soon, Muhammad had created a buffer of allies, consisting of Jewish and Christian communities, to the south and the north, effectively protecting him from his pagan Arab enemies from the south, and the two superpowers of the time, the Byzantine and Persian Empires.
Fortunately, the Prophet had friends; friends he had made during decades of leading caravans throughout the Middle East. Known as al-Amin, or the Trustworthy One, his reputation for righteousness extended far beyond Arabia.
His friends, both Jewish and Christians, serves as his eyes and ears throughout Arabia and on the hinterlands of the Byzantine and Persian empires. They notified him of any troop movements.
During the final four years of his life, Muhammad corresponded with Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian leaders. He received a regular stream of delegations from around the Middle East. He granted covenants of protection to old friends and allies and made new supporters in the process.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, also reached out to the Byzantine and Persian Empires, offering them treaties of peace and alliance. Not only did they arrogantly refuse his advances; they deployed their troops to attack the Muslims.
How different the world we be today had the European Christians made peace with the Prophet. There would have been no Crusades. There would have been no Colonialism. There would have been no Imperialism. Christians, Muslims, and Jews, could have co-existed, as fellow monotheists, as the Family of Abraham.
By the time the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, passed away, he had granted covenants of protection to Greek Orthodox Christians, to Syriac Orthodox Christians, to Assyrian Christians, to Armenian Christians, to Coptic Christians, to the Christians of Persia and the Christians of the World. He also granted covenants of protection to the Jews of the Hijaz, to the Jews of the Yemen, and to the Jews of northern Arabia. What is more, he granted covenants of protection to several Zoroastrian communities.
The Covenants of the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, were once widely known in the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim world. During the time of the Prophet, and the early Caliphs, the Ummah or Motherland, included all monotheists. It was only later, when relations between the various communities started to break down, that the People of the Book were excluded from the Community of Believers. They were still protected communities; however, they no longer fit into the new, increasingly narrow, definition of Islam. Why did relations break down? I blame Muslims. But I also blame Christians and Jews. I blame them all. Some Muslims violated the Covenants of the Prophet. There can be no doubt. At the same time, some Jews and Christians also violated the Covenants of the Prophet. There can be no doubt. This was not, however, the will of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who was intent on creating a monotheistic movement that embraced all people of faith under the cover of Islam.
Although the protections granted by the Covenants of the Prophet were respected by most Muslim dynasties, the spirit of solidarity and unity envisioned by the Prophet was lost. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed, approximately one hundred years ago, the Covenants of the Prophet fell into oblivion. They no longer formed a part of the collective consciousness of Muslims. The Christians of the Middle East, however, never forgot them, nor did a small segment of Muslim scholars.
Covenants of the Prophet can be found at the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai; at the Monastery of St. George in Syria; at the Monastery of Simonopetra in Greece; in the archives of the King of France; and in the national archives in Germany. Covenants of the Prophet were found in Istanbul, Seert, Mardin, and Aghtamar in Turkey as well as in New Julfa, in Isfahan, in Persia. Covenants of the Prophet have also been found as far away as Surat, in India. There was a time when most churches, monasteries, and synagogues displayed Covenants of the Prophet, charters of rights and freedom that were granted to them by Muslim Caliphs and Sultans. There are those who argue that the Covenants of the Prophet are forgeries produced by Christians, for self-protection, or by Muslims, in order to improve the image of Islam. These arguments have been thoroughly and systematically refuted.
The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad, may God grant him peace and blessings, have been transmitted through solid chains of historical transmission from the early days of Islam to the present. They are mentioned, in part or in whole, in Muslim and Christian sources from the early years of Islam to the present. The language and terminology they employ is ancient and comparable to that found in the earliest authenticated Islamic source, the Constitution of Medina. While some critics have alleged that the Covenants of the Prophet are spurious, the overwhelming majority of scholars and academics, both Christian and Muslim, have asserted that they are genuine. In short, there is scholarly consensus concerning their reliability.
I therefore invite you to read the booklet titled Six Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of His Time which is available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Arabic, and which will soon be printed in Dutch, Persian, Turkish, Russian, and Azeri, among other languages.
If you wish an in-depth scholarly study of the Muhammadan Covenants, then I urge you to read The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World in English, Spanish, Italian or Arabic.
If, after this 450 page work, you still have questions, you will certainly find the answers in Critical Studies on the Covenants of the Prophet, a thousand page academic work, featuring twelve studies by yours truly and twelve studies by leading specialists from around the world.
I would also invite you to visit the International Museum of Muslim Cultures which will be hosting an exhibit on the Covenants of the Prophet commencing in September of 2016.
The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad are radical and revolutionary in the best sense of these terms. They grant freedom of religion. They grant freedom of religious practice. They provide for protection of churches, monasteries, synagogues, and temples. They prohibit compulsion in religion. They forbid forced conversions. In the event a Jewish or Christian woman marries a Muslim man, out of her free will, the Covenants command that the husband to respect his wife’s religion, to allow her to attend services at the church or synagogue; and to obey the rules of her religion. Religious rights and women’s rights: this is truly unprecedented. The Muhammadan Covenants outlaw excessive taxation. They free monks and priests from military service. They oblige Muslims leaders to provide for the material well-being of monks and clerics. They instruct Muslims to help maintain and repair churches and monasteries. They also compel Muslims to defend theAhl al-Kitab, the People of the Book, from their enemies.
Reading the Covenants of the Prophet is comparable to reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of Rights of Freedom or the Bill of Rights, only that the Muhammadan Covenants were written 1400 years ago. This is something truly remarkable.
Many have wondered why the Islamic World declined, degenerated and eventually collapsed. The causes were many; however, one of the major causes was the fact that both Muslims and the People of the Book violated, neglected and ignored the Muhammadan Covenants, a social, spiritual, political, and economic contract that ensured congenial relations, respect, equality, justice, safety, diversity, and prosperity.
Muslims have many shortcomings. Christians have many shortcomings. Jews have many shortcomings.
While we are all guilty of wronging each other, can we agree to keep God out of the picture?
Can we agree to put Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad out of the picture?
Can we agree not to blame Judaism, Christianity or Islam for all of our sins?
Although we cannot, will not, and should not agree on everything:
Can we agree that God is One?
Can we agree that God is good and that God is Just?
Can we, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims, agree to follow in the footsteps of Abraham: namely, to believe in God and to do good?
Can we agree on the Golden Rule?
Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you?
If Moses, peace be upon him, were to see the slaughter of civilians in Palestine, he would not be pleased.
If Jesus, peace be upon him, saw millions of human beings murdered in his name, he would not be pleased.
So, rest assured, if Muhammad, peace be upon him, saw the horrors being committed by al-Qaedah, the Taliban, al-Nusrah, and ISIS, he would not be pleased.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, prophesized that “The time will come when the only thing that remains of Islam is its name and the only thing that remains of the Qur’an is its writing” (Mishkat).
I regret to inform you:
That day has come. In fact, it came a long, long time ago…
Were Muhammad, the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, to return to Earth today, and were he to witness the crimes and atrocities being perpetrated in his name, he would, without a shadow of a doubt, disown, reject, repudiate, and excommunicate all parties that falsely profess to follow in his footsteps.
It is like day and night and night and day.
We are taking polar opposites.
Right versus wrong.
Good versus evil.
As Nu‘aym b. Hammad records in hisKitab al-Fitan (The Book of Tribulations):
“It is related on the authority of ‘Ali (may Allah ennoble his countenance): “When you see the black flags, remain where you are and do not move your hands or your feet (namely, “Stay put and don’t get involved in the fighting”). Thereafter there shall appear a feeble folk to whom no concern is given. Their hearts will be like fragments of iron. They are the representatives of the State (Ashāb al-Dawlah). They will fulfill neither covenant nor agreement. They will invite to the truth, though they are not from its people. Their names will be agnomens [namely, Abu So-and-so], and their ascriptions will be to villages. Their hair will be long like that of women. [They shall remain so] till they differ among themselves, and then Allah will bring forth the truth from whomever He wills.”
As one can imagine, supporters of ISIS say this hadith is weak and that there is a defect in its chain. The fact of the matter is that Imam ‘Ali foretold the rise of ISIS 1400 years ago. If the content is correct; if the prophecy comes true; then the tradition is clearly genuine.
ISIS flies black flags.
They are a feeble people who do nothing but follow their whims and vices.
ISIS terrorists have hearts of iron; namely, their hearts are hard; they have no compassion or mercy.
The name of ISIS in Arabic is al-Dawlah, the State: Dawlat ul-Islam; Dawlat ul-Islam, they keep crying.
Imam ‘Ali, may God be pleased with him, identified these devils by name.
ISIS claims to call to truth but they are not from the People of Truth; namely, they are not Muslims; they are Khawarij; they have broken away from Islam; they are the infidels that they accuse others of being.
Their names will be agnomens; in other words, Abu So-and-So, the Father of So-and-So. And so, we find that all of their terrorist mercenaries use such names: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu ‘Umar al-Shishani.
Their hair will be long like that of women. That speaks for itself and has no bearing whatsoever on my current hairstyle.
How will this ISIS crisis end?
“[They shall remain so] till they differ among themselves, and then Allah will bring forth the truth from whomever He wills.”
In other words, they will turn against each other, like the rabid dogs that they are. In fact, that have been at it for some time.
These Takfiri/Wahhabi terrorists spend more time killing each other than fighting the Syrian army.
Do not despair: ISIS will be annihilated and the Truth of God will prevail.
The problem is that many of these terrorist mercenaries, who number in the tens of thousands, will return home; here, to the Western world.
If ISIS is defeated militarily in Syria and Iraq, it merely means victory in a battle. The war, however, will continue.
While we must confront Wahhabi terrorists militarily, we must also wage war against them intellectually.
We are not dealing with a war between Islam and the West.
We are dealing with a war between real Islam and fake Islam, between the followers of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah, the Messenger of God, who lived 1400 years ago, and Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, the creator of a death cult called Salafism and Wahhabism, that was spawned a mere two hundred years ago.
It is our obligation, as Muslims, to spearhead the war against Wahhabism.
We need to identity the origin of this ideology.
We need to identity the parties that fund the propagation of this ideology.
We need to identity the parties that use these pit-bulls for geo-political purposes.
And we need to hold all of them accountable at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Let there be no rest for the wicked!
Let us hunt-down every murderous mercenary, every rapist of Yazidi girls, every crucifier of Christians, and every destroyer of churches, monasteries and mosques.
You will not escape the justice of God!
If you combat so-called Radical Islam with anti-Islam, you simply reinforce the narrative of the radicals. You add fuel to the fire. You justify their ideology. You push people into their camp.
We are faced with two forms of Islam; true, traditional Islam, as espoused by Ahl al-Sunnah, Ahl al-Tasawwuf and Ahl al-Bayt; by traditional Sunnis, traditional Sufis, and traditional Shiites, and a fraudulent form of Islam known as Salafism, Wahhabism, Jihadism, and Takfirism.
If you are given an option between an Islam that is just, peaceful, compassionate, caring, and liberating, and an Islam that is unjust, heartless, merciless, brutal, despotic and psychotic, should you not side with the former?
Islam is not going away.
There are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world today.
93% of Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding citizens
7% sympathize with extremists
Yet only 0.001% of them are actual terrorists
In your opposition to that 0.001%, do not alienate the 93%.
Do not help radicalize and mobilize that 7%.
Work with us; not against us.
Let us make common cause.
Let us call Muslims back to the Qur’an and the Sunnah
Let us call Muslims back to true, traditional, civilizational Islam
Let us call Muslims back to the Covenants of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him
Let us unite as Muslims, Christians, and Jews
Let us come together as the Family of Abraham
Let us see one another as brothers and sisters, children of Adam, and fellow human beings.
I commend efforts on the part of the Catholic Church to promote “Interreligious Dialogue.”
However, for this movement to have any real impact, Christian religious leaders need to acknowledge the importance of the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World so that we can put in place similar policies and practices. Otherwise, efforts on the part of the Catholic Church, and other Christian denominations, will amount to nothing more than “good intentions.”
The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad represent a bridge between Christianity and Islam; between Judaism and Islam; between Islam and other world religions.
They can ensure the protection of non-Muslims in the Muslim world. They can also help ensure the protection of Muslim minorities in both East and West.
The government of Myanmar needs lessons on how to treat its indigenous Muslim minority.
In light of all the rabid anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiments being openly expressed in this country, not only on the part of ignorant hatemongers but on the part of people who wish to govern these United States, it is evident that many Americans can learn something from the pluralistic and tolerant spirit of the Covenants of the Prophet.
Adolf Hitler came to power on a racist, anti-Jewish, platform. That did not turn out so well for Jewish people or for the world as a whole.
We have politicians in this country who, instead of appealing to what is the best in people, appeal to what is the worst in people: rallying people around hatred, racism, and sexism.
Our politicians should be the best of us; not the worst of us.
Are these presidential candidates the best that this country has to offer?
One is a buffoon and a bigot while the other is a brain surgeon without a brain when it comes to socio-political and economic maters. And finally, we have a
chameleon who assumes the colors of her corporate sponsors.
If these people are the cream of the crop; the candidates we have to choose from, then there is little hope for this country.
We are headed to hell in a hurry.
Reclaim this country.
Reclaim the foundations on which it was based: freedom, justice, and liberty.
Our Founding Fathers were tolerant, open-minded, intellectuals.
Many of them were not only bilingual; they were trilingual and multilingual.
What is more, they respected Islam; they respected the Qur’an; and they had good relations with the Muslim world.
The Kingdom of Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States as an independent nation.
The United States signed a Covenant with the Ottoman Empire; a treaty that was modeled on the Covenant of the Prophet with the Christians.
We were once a constructive force in the world but, for far too long, we have become a destructive force.
The United States is no longer a democracy. It is a Corpora-tocracy; and oligarchy at the service of the one-percenters.
Money does not make you masters.
Might does not make right: morals and ethics do.
I appeal to what is the best in people: love, kindness, justice, tolerance, compassionate.
I call people to the Golden Rule: do unto your brother or sister as you would have them do unto you.
I call people to the center, to the middle ground, and to moderation.
Extremism produces more extremism.
Only moderation can serve as a moderating factor.
Do not fan the flames of hatred, bigotry, stereotypes, and discrimination.
Those who incite hatred are inciting violence.
You cannot demonize a community and then claim that your hands are clean when people put your words into action.
You are fully and completely justified to hate terrorists.
You are not fully and completely justified to hate all Muslims.
You will find nobody who hates terrorists more than Muslims.
Muslims are the most killed people on the planet.
Muslims are the single greatest victims of terrorism.
You should side with the Muslim majority against the terrorist minority.
Current conditions are untenable.
Christians, Shi‘ites, Sufis, and traditional Sunnis are being systematically exterminated in Syria and Iraq.
If we fail to act, then the oldest Christian communities in the world, the Christians of the East, will be wiped off the face of the Earth as will the Shi‘ites, Sufis, and traditional Sunnis.
We need to fight fake Islam with true Islam.
We need to combat terrorists with the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the Covenants of the Prophet.
The Prophet Muhammad was at the forefront of a monotheistic movement of believers composed of Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
Let us reconstitute that alliance and join forces against our common enemies for verily the enemy of one religion is the enemy of all religions.
Believers of the world unite!
I leave with prayers of peace.
Peace be with you.