Ancient agreements guarantee tolerance among Muslims, Christians
Covenants between prophet Mohammed and Christian groups offer hope for today.
By Stephen B. Young and Brad Anderson
Associated Press / The Star Tribune (March 7, 2019)
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., sits Wednesday with fellow Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee during a bill markup. Omar stirred controversy last week saying that Israel’s supporters are pushing U.S. lawmakers to take a pledge of “allegiance to a foreign country.” Omar is not apologizing for that remark, and progressives are supporting her.
Rep. Ilhan Omar’s views on American Jews and their support for the nation of Israel sadly contribute to a major misunderstanding of the Muslim faith for many Americans. She has been condemned for not putting behind her a deep-seated anti-Semitism.
Calls for Democrats and Republicans to condemn Omar in the House of Representatives confirmed what many non-Muslim Minnesotans suspect: that somewhere in the Islamic faith is persistent intolerance and prejudice.
Such suspicions of Islam as a wayward Abrahamic faith are, we believe, wrong. It is important to note that the prophet Mohammed professed respect for Christians and promised to protect their churches, bishops and priests, pilgrims, and values.
We have with us today texts of six covenants made by the prophet with Christian communities of his day.
Under the terms of these covenants, the Muslim community may not impose Shari’a obligations on Christians. Christian churches are to be protected and rebuilt if damaged; Christian pilgrims are not to be harmed. Christians will not be drafted to fight in Muslim wars or pay taxes levied on Muslims.
From a recent workshop with Islamic scholars about these covenants, we have come to believe that the covenants provide clear instructions that there be harmony between Muslims and those of other faiths. This social teaching of tolerance was anchored in express words of the prophet Mohammed. And the covenants ground their moral authority on the will of God.
The covenants are not just ancient history. They have authority today. A recent concurring opinion of the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that one of these covenants is binding in our time on all faithful Muslims.
A recent document signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azar in Cairo reflects the theology infused in the old covenants.
The Pope and the Grand Imam jointly affirmed that: “Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings (equal on account of his mercy), believers are called to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need.”
The implications for today’s world, so divided and full of mistrust, of the six covenants given to Christian communities by the prophet Mohammed are profound. First, they point to a new culture of cooperation, not conflict, between Muslims and Christians everywhere. Second, they refute the theological claims of fundamentalists within the Muslim faith, revealing both Allah and the prophet Mohammed as open-minded and tolerant, in that spirit of mercy and compassion set forth in Qur’an. Third, they refute the accusation of Islamophobists that Muslim immigrants to America hope to impose Shari’a law on Americans.
The six covenants offer for Muslims a moral principle of open acceptance of certain non-Muslim norms and practices. This principle can be applied in Minnesota today to promote Muslim embrace of American traditions.
In the dispute between Rep. Omar and American supporters of Israel, the ethic found in the six covenants would have both sides differ with respect to policies within a larger context of seeking to understand the point of view of the other while refraining from demeaning them.
The covenants when made also justified a separation of the Christian Church from the state in Muslim practice, a separation taking its legitimacy from the promises of the prophet. A similar separation in the United States under our federal Constitution permits Muslims, Christians, Jews and others to mutually enjoy religious freedoms.
Our interest in learning more about the six covenants resulted in our organizing a workshop in the Vatican where Catholic scholars and Islamic experts shared their learning about history and their understanding of the texts. We became convinced that contemporary application of the covenants deserves wide support both here in Minnesota and around the world.
The workshop was another small example of how Minnesotans can bring people together to work with mutual respect for the common good.
Stephen B. Young, of St. Paul, is global executive director and Brad Anderson is co-chair of the Caux Round Table, an organization dedicated to promoting ethical capitalism.