(The following opinion piece was published in al-Bawaba: The Middle East Gateway on April 15, 2004, and has long been removed from the newspaper’s archives. It was supposed to be included in Islamic Insights: Writings and Reviews, an anthology of Dr. John Andrew Morrow’s journalism, published by Ansariyan Publications in 2010; however, it was excluded due to the fact that it did not meet the approval of Iran’s Ministry of Culture. The position of the Islamic Republic of Iran was to support armed struggle as opposed to non-violence and diplomacy. As the 2018 developments in Gaza demonstrate, many Palestinian people have developed greater political maturity over the past decade and a half and are now engaging in more effective methods of opposition that are far more likely to inspire sympathy as opposed to terrorist actions committed against civilians.)
After over 50 years of struggle, the time has come for Palestinians to make a strategic shift in their struggle, break the impasse, and move from the bullet to the ballot. Rather than fighting for a fractured Palestinian state, Palestinians should demand their rights as citizens of the single state of “Israel/Palestine” and wage their battle through the ballot.
In the Palestinian context, the path of violence has been proven ineffective and incapable of leading to a lasting solution. Moreover, the military destruction of Israel is an unrealistic ambition. The Arabs do not have the might to defeat Israel. Not only does Israel have the most powerful army in the Middle East, it is a nuclear power under the protection of the most of the Western world. If the recent history of the Palestinian problem has taught us anything, it is that it cannot be resolved by force. Both Israelis and Palestinians have cornered themselves into untenable ideological trenches engendering an unending spiral of violence and suffering. It is time for both parties to start from scratch and come up with a more creative compromise: the creation of a liberal secular democratic state where all people, Jews, Christians and Muslims, are equal before the law and can coexist in freedom, mutual respect, peace and harmony. This single state, which would certainly be supported by the immense majority of the world population, may be the only viable solution to the Palestinian problem and the only approach that can bring peace to Israel and Palestine.
Both sides will scream “sell-out.” The Zionists will insist on the concept of a Jewish state purged of Palestinians. The Arab nationalists will continue to demand their tiny piece of leftover pie when they can actually have the whole pie and eat it too. Islamists will demand the destruction of Israel and the creation of an “Islamic” state purged of Jews. Clearly, these positions have no place in a pluralistic society and can only lead to death, destruction and mayhem. Zionism is not palatable to Arabs. Arab nationalism is not palatable to Jews. And Islamic fundamentalism is not palatable to either. While Palestinians may empathize with the despair that leads young men and women of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to perform “martyrdom operations,” they certainly would not want to be ruled by them. Unlike other Arabs who seem content with more or less dictatorial governments, the vast majority of Palestinians want a liberal democracy not unlike the one in Israel, minus the human rights abuses. Muslim activists will denounce such a strategy as an implicit or even explicit recognition of the state of Israel which it certainly is not. It is recognition that Israel is Palestine, that Palestine is Israel, that the land is one and should remain one. Call it Israel, call it Palestine, call it the Federation of Israel and Palestine, call it what you wish, it is one nation that should join the distinct international organizations of the region. Change its name if you wish, it remains the same. Scattered in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel, Palestinians must resign themselves to lack of influence, lack of territory, lack of recognition, lack of nationhood and lack of rights. If they demand the vote of Israel, are represented by population, their impact would be decisive.
Israel has a population of 6,116,533 inhabitants, 20% of which are Palestinians. If we add these 1,223,306 Arab Israelis to the 3.5 million Palestinians living in the occupied territories we come up with a figure of over 4.7 million Palestinian Muslims and Christians along with 4.9 million Jewish Israelis. Instead of destroying “Israel,” Palestinians can easily coexist with Jews, Christians, atheists, polytheists, etc., in the same country. If the Palestinians demand the vote, the Israelis will be hard pressed to grant it to them. If they fail to do so, they will place themselves in the position of American segregationists and South African supremacists who denied the vote to blacks. If the Palestinians demand the vote, and the Israelis refuse to respect their rights, world public opinion will turn increasingly against the Israelis. The Palestinian struggle would immediately be viewed as a struggle for universal human and civil rights. They can turn to marches, demonstrations and sit-ins demanding their right to vote. They can make the choice clear to Israelis: “The Ballot or the Bullet.” If the Israelis decide to repress the democratic movement it would be to their own downfall, for in that case the Palestinians could move from a localized intifada to a full-blown civil war against an apartheid regime. The repression of Palestinians who wish to co-exist with Jews in a pluralistic democratic state would lead to widespread censure of Israel as well as economic boycotts as was the case with South Africa. Palestinians need to think strategy and to change strategy. While the suicide bombings of civilians and the blowing up of babies has done little to boost support and solidarity for the Palestinian cause, turning from the bullet to the ballot can change the course of history. And if the Palestinians are the ones who cannot accept or understand the need for adopting a new strategy, then it will only lead to endless bloodshed without any possibility of changing the course of events. And Allah knows best.
A British man who hides behind the acronym ECAW claims that the Ashtiname or Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai suffers from three anomalies and, therefore, is “definitely fake.” For the sake of honest individuals who might be misled by the writings of the individual in question, I have stepped up to the stage. Consequently, in the following paragraphs, I will concisely debunk these allegations.
Anomaly # 1
ECAW asks: “Why would Mohammed grant a covenant of protection in 623 AD to a group who were not under his control and he was therefore not in a position to protect?” He also argues that:
Since Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar, that means it was written just one year after the Hijra, Mohammed’s migration to Medina. By that time Mohammed had not yet fallen out with the other religious and tribal groups in Medina. In fact, the only substantive thing he is reported to have done in his first year was to set up the Constitution of Medina which gave equal rights and responsibilities to Muslims and non-Muslims.
The fact of the matter is that the Prophet Muhammad was already signing treaties, making covenants, and forging alliances before he migrated to Medina. In fact, the Sirah of Ibn Ishaq reports that he received a delegation of Christians in Mecca (Morrow, 2017, vol. 2: 16). This is independently confirmed by early Christian sources.
Not only did the Messenger of Allah sign covenants of good-will with religious communities and denominations, he also made agreements with the Negus of Abyssinia (Bangash 41-60). The Messenger of Allah was acting like a head of state even when he was stateless. This infuriated the idol-worshiping infidels of Mecca. As a result of the First and Second Pacts of ‘Aqabah, the landless leader soon found himself at the head of the Medinan State.
From the time he settled in Medina to the time he passed away, he wrote hundreds of letters and signed dozens of treaties with communities of all kinds. “Prior the Battle of Badr… of 2 AH,” writes Zafar Bangash, “there were a total of eight expeditions” to the tribes west of Mecca (161). Another two expeditions were sent to Yanbu‘ and to Safawan (161). The Prophet Muhammad offered treaties to the Tribe of Damrah, the Tribe of Juhaynah, the Tribe of Zur‘ah, the Tribe of Rab‘ah, the Tribe of Muzaynah, the Tribe of Mudlij, the Tribe of Ghifar, and the Tribe of Ashja‘ (159-190).
By the second year of the hijrah, the Messenger of Allah had placed most of north-western Arabia under his protection from Medina all the way to the Sinai. This fact is confirmed by Nektarios of Sinai (c. 1600 to 1676 CE). As he explains in his Epitome, which was written in 1659 or 1660, and based on ancient Arabic manuscripts from the Monastery of St. Catherine:
In the second year of Muhammad’s hijrah his religious and military power increased. During that time, two Christian rulers … gathered some men with the aim of waging war against one of Muhammad’s companions… The latter sustained defeat and all his men were killed. Once this became known to Muhammad, he took all the men that he had with him at that time, around three hundred and ten in number, and when the two parties met, they swiftly fought. The Christians were only one hundred and ninety and subsequently lost the battle. Seventy of them were killed, whilst only fourteen from Muhammad’s side perished. This was the first war Muhammad had with Christians and by God’s providence, he defeated them.
This victory became the source of fear for many people, who turned to him to pay tribute, bounding to pay taxes in order for him to let them retain their Faith. These were idolaters, who came from Persia and worshiped the sun as God, along with Jews and many other Greeks. [Among them] there were also many Christians from the region of the Red Sea, [the Erythraean Sea] who came to visit him, as well as the monks from Mount Sinai along with the Christian slaves they had from the period of Justinian.
A Christian ruler named Paxikios came to Muhammad and when the latter saw his merits, he offered him great hospitality and knelt before him. His companions then asked him why he did so and he replied to them that “you should also honor these people, for their Faith is righteous and true and their Books, as I read, were sent by God.” He then asked the monks what they required from him, and they replied: “we see that everyone turns to you and wish to make an agreement to stay unmolested by your people. Therefore, we came to ask for your permission to keep our Faith and monastery unharmed.”
He then asked them where their Monastery was and when he heard that they came from the Mount where the Law [Ten Commandments] was given to Moses, he revered them greatly and affirmed to them that “you should not have any fear nor feel that someone would harm or be unfair to you, for he who would treat you like that, may God smite him. I am also planning to visit that holy Mount and there I will grant you a letter, so that no one will cause you or the Christian people any harm for all eternity. From you, I do not wish for any payment perpetually, since you are the worshippers of that holy place, however, from the rest of the Christians I will demand that they pay tax and their faith will not be threatened.”
Once the monks had heard these words, they went on their way. Shortly after and within the same year, Muhammad himself, traversing the desert sands, came to the monastery and climbed up the mountain. He highly honored and venerated the place as holy; he also ordered his companions to do the same and revered the peak of the mountain as holy. For, according to him, this was the place where God had a long discussion with the Prophet Moses. Even today, this event is known to the most learned Turks. He [Muhammad] then climbed down the mountain, and the abbot along with the rest of the fathers, had a great feast with him, offering him hospitality for an extended period of time. Far from the monastery, in an area half the size of a lodging house, the local Arabs, in fact, indicate a place and claim that this is where he stood and spoke. This place is venerated and worshiped by Arabs with piety, when they pass by there.
While staying at the Monastery, he [Muhammad] granted a Letter to them, known as the Covenant or agreement as he calls it, which encompasses a wide range of worthy subjects for the monks of that Monastery, as well as for the whole of Christendom. This Letter should certainly be considered quite noticeable, as it was not written by any human but through God’s providence. For, if the Letter had not been composed then no monastery nor any monk would have existed. All the lay Christians through this Letter, may maintain their Faith unharmed and unmolested, because the Letter includes some beneficial articles for them. (Morrow, 2017, vol. 2: 434-435)
Granting a covenant to the monks of Mount Sinai in the second year of the hijrah is not an anomaly: it formed part of an established and strategic pattern that lasted the entire course of Muhammad’s prophetic mission.
ECAW asks: “Why would he release them from the obligation to pay the Jizya tax which they were therefore not subject to?”
The fact of the matter is that the Prophet Muhammad offered to make alliances with non-Muslims throughout the Middle East and beyond. If they pledged loyalty to the Prophet, as opposed to the Byzantines and Persians, he promised to offer them freedom of religion and freedom from onerous taxation. Only those who violently opposed the Prophet were subject to conquest and tribute. Call it the carrot or the stick. The Christians of Najran, the Sinai, Assyria, Armenia, and Persia actively sought the protection of the Prophet Muhammad from their oppressive overlords. The same can be said of the Jews and Samaritans from Palestine, the Jews from Yemen, and the Jews of Maqna. The same also applied to the Zoroastrians. As Nektarios of Sinai noted, polytheists, Magians, Jews, and Greek Christians submitted to the Prophet Muhammad during the early years of his rule in Medina. As Stephen J. Shoemaker has shown in The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad’s Life and the Beginnings of Islam, “The oldest Islamic biography of Muhammad, written in the mid-eighth century, relates that the prophet died at Medina in 632, while earlier and more numerous Jewish, Christian, Samaritan, and even Islamic sources indicate that Muhammad survived to lead the conquest of Palestine, beginning in 634-35.” If this is correct, the spread of Islam into the Sinai and Palestine did not take place during the reign of the first two Caliphs: the Prophet Muhammad had himself consolidated Islam in all of Arabia, and several surrounding regions, during his own lifetime.
ECAW alleges that “[t]he Jizya tax which the Covenant exempted the monks from paying did not yet exist, even in Medina.”
The fact of the matter is that the jizyah, which simply means “tribute” or “tax,” has existed since time immemorial. For those who possess a Wikipedia level of understanding of Islam, let us quote from its entry on the subject:
William Montgomery Watt traces its origin to a pre-Islamic practice among the Arabian nomads wherein a powerful tribe would agree to protect its weaker neighbors in exchange for a tribute, which would be refunded if the protection proved ineffectual. Jews and Christians in some southern and eastern areas of the Arabian Peninsula began to pay tribute, called jizya, to the Islamic state during Muhammad’s lifetime.
Jizyah, therefore, existed before the rise of Islam. Among the Arabs, it was tribute paid for protection. Among the Byzantines and the Sassanians, it was a system of taxation and tribute. According to Morrow, “The jizyah, which is a Persian as opposed to Arabic word, was a continuation of a national tax from Sassanian times.” (vol. 2: 448). “As for the jizyah,” he explains, “it was not a late introduction as traditionally believed by Muslim scholars. In fact, it was a Persian tax that was adopted by the Prophet.” (vol. 2: 452).
When Morrow wrote that “the jizyah did not exist in the early days of Islam” (2013: 94), he was apparently referring to the Meccan period and the initial Medinan period. The Prophet, for example, did not impose jizyah on the non-Muslim citizens of the Ummah in Medina. The Jews of Medina, with whom the Prophet concluded the Constitution of Medina, were not subject to the jizyah. The same cannot be said of the Jewish Opposition, namely, the three tribes that lived on the outskirts of Medina and who were apparently not parties to the Constitution of Medina.
The only agreement that existed between the Prophet and the Banu Qurayzah, for example, was a pact of non-aggression which the Jews violated. “Despite having broken their treaty obligations,” writes Morrow, “the Prophet’s emissary urged the Banu Qurayzah to enter, once again, into an agreement with the Messenger of Allah. Otherwise, they were offered the opportunity to pay the jizyah” (2013: 40). As Morrow explains, “The Banu Qurayzah, however, remained defiant, and stated that they preferred to die than to pay taxes” (2013: 40).
The jizyah did not apply to citizens of the Ummah who were subject to the Constitution of Medina nor did it apply to covenanted communities of priests, monks, and rabbis. It did, however, apply to allied non-Muslims as well as belligerent populations that were subjected by force. However, even they could be excused from the jizyah in return for military service. Simply because verse 29 of chapter 9 of the Qur’an, which commands Muslims to fight unbelievers until they pay the jizyah, was reportedly revealed in the year 630 CE, namely, year 9 of the hijrah, does not mean that this form of taxation did not previously exist. In fact, it is mentioned in prophetic traditions that date from the seventh, fourth, and second year of the hijrah.
As for ECAW’s allegation that the jizyah was discriminatory, he can be pointed to Morrow’s study on the subject. As the good professor explains,
jizyah was not punitive nor was it intended to be a financial burden. Consequently, any Muslim ruler who used and abused jizyah to oppress the People of the Book committed a grave sin… The jizyah is not the end all and be all of Islam. It is not absolute. Its meaning and mode of application varied… According to a precedent set by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, the jizyah is not an obligation and can be replaced by an alternative form of taxation… In fact, in India, Akbar the Great (r. 1556-1605 CE) did away with seven centuries of Muslim rulers imposing the jizyah on non-Muslims…
As to whether jizyah has any place in modern times, my jurisprudential position is clear; it is … null and void, and none but Imam Mahdi and Jesus could reinstate it by divine decree. Until then, either all citizens pay taxes or they do not pay taxes. There is no place for a two-tiered or three-tiered tax system. Since the sum of jizyah and zakat were more or less equal in the time of the Prophet, citizens should not be taxed at different rates on the basis of their religion. The only people exempt from certain types of taxes are rabbis, monks, priests, nuns, and other clerics. In short, any non-profit engaged in charitable work can request tax-free status…
According to the Covenants of the Prophet, levels of taxation can only vary based on income: those who have more are both expected and obliged to contribute more to society… As for the jizyah, the various schools of jurisprudence imposed its upper limits in accordance with the Covenants of the Prophet. Rather than increase taxation, many Muslim rulers, like Mu‘awiyyah, Yazid, and ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, lowered it, as they did with the Najranites who now lived in ‘Iraq and, in the case of Harun al-Rashid, went so far as to abolish it completely…
Finally, while some critics of Islam insist that the jizyah was oppressive and discriminatory, they conveniently ignore the fact that a similar tax was imposed by Christian rulers upon Muslim minorities… “In the context of the early history of Muslim-Christian encounters,” concludes Green, “Islam, not Christianity, often proved more accepting of religious diversity” … As for the issue of jizyah, it is important to remember the words of Caliph ‘Abd al-‘Aziz who said: “God has sent the Prophet Muhammad to invite people to Islam and not as a tax collector”… (Morrow, 2017, vol. 1: 145-149)
As empirical evidence demonstrates, there is no basis to anomaly 1, anomaly 2, and anomaly 3. They are not anomalies. They are not inconsistencies. They are misinterpretations. “If the promoters of the Covenants Initiative can refute my objections,” promises ECAW, “then I will apologise and wish them well but, going by past experience, they won’t even try.” Well, I have tried and, many will argue, I have succeeded in debunking the allegations of ECAW. Will he then honor his word?
Bangash, Zafar. Power Manifestations of the Sirah: Examining the Letters and Treaties of the Messenger of Allah. Toronto: The Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, 2011.
Morrow, John Andrew. The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World. Tacoma, WA: Angelic Press and Sophia Perennis, 2013.
—. Islam and the People of the Book: Critical Studies on the Covenants of the Prophet. 3 vols. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.
Shoemaker, Stephen J. The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad’s Life and the Beginnings of Islam. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
“The essential problem that the study of religion poses is how to preserve religious truth, traditional orthodoxy, the dogmatic theological structures of one’s own religion and yet gain knowledge of other traditions and accept them as spiritually valid ways and roads to God.” – Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Islam and the Encounter of Religions” (1999)
Christian-Muslim relations have been in the spotlight in recent years. Much have been due to the rise of religious extremism and conflicts involving and affecting the Christian and Muslim communities. In a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, Christians were the subject of harassment in 108 out of the 159 countries, while Muslims were harassed in 100 countries. These harassments include physical assaults, arrests and detentions, desecration of holy sites, discrimination and verbal assaults. In several of these cases, the tensions and conflicts involve direct Christian-Muslim clashes. Alas, despite the professed ‘Abrahamic roots’ of the two religions, Christian-Muslim relations remain fragile in the face of contemporary challenges. Given that both communities constitute more than half of world’s population (54% combined in 2010; Christianity 31%, Islam 23%) and projected to grow, Christian-Muslim relations have been the focus of several interfaith initiatives in the last few years; and rightly so.
Factors causing and driving these conflicts vary, but two historical determinants cannot be ignored. First, is the residue of the past memory of the imperial rivalry culminating in the era of the Crusades that continues to shape contemporary extremist narratives weaved along with an a-historical and de-contextualised theological response towards the Other. Second, is the mess of postcolonial conditions shaped by the baggage of a colonial era that pits the ‘Christian West’ against the ‘Muslim ummah’ read into unresolved contemporary geopolitical and economic conditions of the Muslim world. Hence, mending Christian-Muslim relations in the contemporary context must not ignore a critical evaluation of history and how the past had shaped the present.
These past determinants that has seeped through the contemporary reality may have amplified, inadvertently, the extremist narrative that Islam and Christianity are bound for a clash, defined by a cosmic narrative that the two religions are eternally locked in rivalry till the end of time where one’s legitimacy and presence can only be substantiated by the denial and obliteration of the other. It was as though co-existence and embrace between the two religious communities was anathema and contrary to the very essence of what it means to hold the truth or to be a faithful believer. For Muslim extremists in particular, this antipathy towards Christianity may range from a refusal to greet Christians on festivities such as Christmas, to an avowal to launch armed jihad against them. On the other side, for Christian extremists, the antipathy towards Islam may range from discriminatory treatment of Muslims to support for the bombing and invasion of Muslim countries.
Inter-connected and complex history
The extremist narrative, however, has mistaken the true nature of the Christian-Muslim relationship, which has never been of a single track. It ranges from mutual cooperation to rivalry, diatribe to dialogue, and conciliation to confrontation. (Bennett, 2008; Goddard, 2000) This is true, even of the medieval period, where Fletcher (2003) remarked: “Wherever and whenever we direct our gaze we find a diversity in the type or the temperature of encounter.” While acknowledging the centuries old conflict and rivalry that has shaped perceptions and relations between two of the world’s biggest religions (Jamieson, 2016), one must also be cognisant of the much-ignored strand of authentic embrace between the two religions, particularly in the formation of a civilisation that forms the basis of the modern world. Richard Bulliet’s The Case for an Islamo-Christian Civilization (2004) made excellent overtures to this. Bulliet dismisses the idealised notion of a separate (and antithetical) “Western” and “Islamic” civilisations, and argues that there are more similarities and peaceful interactions between the Christian and Muslim world than we would care to admit. A case in point is the much studied la convivencia (‘the coexistence) of the Muslim Iberian Peninsula of the medieval period that Menocal (2002) describes eloquently in her book, Ornament of the World. A specially commissioned study compiled as Borders of Islam (2009) further strengthens the case that Huntington’s once popular idea of an inevitable ‘clash of civilisation’ is a myth that ignores the complexity of conflicts involving Muslim and non-Muslim societies that cannot be reduced to a simplistic dualism or fault-line between Islam and other religions.
It is important, therefore, to firstly, highlight these nuanced situations as a counter to the supremacist view of religion that denies the value (not just the fact) of religious diversity and is bent upon dominating or obliterating the Other. Secondly, there is a need to promote a different narrative: one that is not simply utilitarian in the face of our contemporary reality of religious pluralism, but derives its legitimacy from the rich and diverse religious tradition and informed by the complex nature of Christian-Muslim relations from the formative period of Islamic history. Below, I shall highlight three aspects deserving of attention in the narrative. It is a narrative that can form a basis for the reformulation of a contemporary Muslim ‘theology of religions’ that departs from the notion of an irreconcilable division and opposition between Christianity and Islam that extremists peddle towards fulfilling the self-professed inevitable confrontation between the communities of both faiths. However, I am cognisant that I am discussing this from the Muslim angle and will leave further elaborations on the Christian perspective to my Christian friends and theologians.
An alternate theology and reading of early relations
Historical amnesia, historians often caution, is a danger that makes every society vulnerable to ideological manipulations. This is certainly germane to today’s situation, with the rise of demagoguery and extremism via global technology and mass communication. In highlighting an alternate reading of Christian-Muslim relations from the earliest period of Islamic history, I hope that new and creative engagements with the tradition can occur that can lead to better prospects to mend the relationship amidst the increasingly divisive rhetoric of extremists from both sides. This, inevitably, will involve an exploration into three components: the sacred foundational text of Islam (i.e. the Qur’an), the early interactions between both communities prior to the age of dynasties, and the continuous strand linking the formative period to later evolution at the theological and practical level.
In looking at these three components, I would affirm that the general validity of the Christian faith was never doubted during the formative years, even though Islam did try to correct ‘errors’ that could be understood as minor and not significant enough to set them apart from the monotheistic path emphasised by Islam. In fact, the idea of Islam nullifying the Christian faith through supersession is one interpretation that cannot be confused with the default theology of all Muslims. In his erudite analysis of pluralism, Sachedina (2001) wrote: “There is no doubt that the Koran [sic.] is silent on the question of supersession of the previous Abrahamic revelations through the emergence of Muhammad. There is no statement in the Koran, direct or indirect, to suggest that the Koran saw itself as the abrogator of previous Scriptures… It is important to bear in mind that the Koran introduces the idea of abrogation in connection with specific legal injunctions revealed in particular verses but apparently repealed, that is, abrogated or superseded by other verses. Accordingly, applying abrogation to Islam’s attitude toward preceding Abrahamic traditions was, to say the least, debatable.”
Throughout Islamic history, there have been voices that were amenable to an inclusive theology of religions. Within this alternate theology, Christians and Muslims are linked through a divine thread that unites them beyond the literal and outward forms of religion. Sufism, the spiritual branch of Islam, offers the most promising resource to understand this aspect further. (Nasr, 1999) A case in point is the writing of the celebrated mystic-philosopher, Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 1240), whose interpretation of Q. 5:17 (“They have disbelieved/kafara who said: Truly God is the Messiah son of Mary…”) to mean a literal “covering up” (kufr) and not disbelief. For Ibn ‘Arabi, the Christians concealed God in the form of Jesus and not in “saying ‘He is God’ nor ‘the son of Mary’” (Fusūs al-Hikam, in Shah-Kazemi, 2006). Other Muslim scholars with an inclusive approach to Christianity includes Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273) and al-Kashani (d. 1329), both hailing from the mystical and esoteric tradition in Islam. The Syrian 18th century Mufti of Damascus, al-Nabulusi (d. 1731), represents another interesting alternate theology that departs from the dominant exclusivist strand by saying that Christians with faith in God in their hearts are indeed believers, even if they remain as non-Muslim in their legal status. (Khalil, 2012) This is similar to how Indonesian scholar, Nurcholish Madjid (2003) interprets the distinction between islām (submission to God) and Islam (a legal category of being a follower of Muhammad) – as the Qur’an 3:67 declares Abraham, who preceded Muhammad, as ‘one who submits’ (muslīm). This distinction allows for a more inclusive truth-claim while being expansive in defining the path to the divine beyond the human construction of religion; or, as the Qur’an puts it: “To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way (shirʿatān wa minhāj). If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people…” (Q. 5:48)
Firstly, the close affinity that Muslims had with the Christians can be substantiated through the foundational text of the Qur’an. Q.5:82 declares that “nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, ‘We are Christians’…” The context of the verse was not entirely clear nor can be substantiated, but what is certain is that it acknowledges “a certain spiritual affinity between the Christians and the Muslims.” (Nasr, 2015) This affinity was also grounded in notable extension found in the Prophetic tradition. In one report (ahadith) found in both Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, the Prophet said: “I am the closest of the people to Jesus the son of Mary in this life and in the Hereafter.” When asked how is that, he further replied: “The prophets are brothers from one father with different mothers. They have one religion and there was no other prophet between us.”
Notably, Q.5:82 was not an isolated verse. In fact, twice in the Qur’an was the salvific possibility of the Christians mentioned in unequivocal terms – “wa lā khawfun ‘alaihim wa la hum yahzanūn / on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (Q.2:62; cf. 5:69). Fazlur Rahman, in his Major Themes of the Qur’an (1989), mentions that the Prophet was aware of the unity of the Abrahamic faiths, but gradually acknowledged the mutually exclusive “communities” only when in Medina. In fact, the Qur’an’s frequent witness to the authenticity of the People of the Book (Christians and Jews included) is remarkable that Cyril Glassé (2001) once remarked, “The fact that one Revelation [i.e. the Qur’an] should name others [i.e. the Ahl al-Kitāb/People of the Book] as authentic is an extraordinary event in the history of religions.”
Examples abound in the Qur’anic text. In Q.10:94 and 16:43, Prophet Muhammad was asked to enquire from the People of the Book with regards to the truth of God’s revelation to him in the face of the Meccan detractors, while Q.74:31 mentions that the Prophet sought consolation from the People of Book who were certain of the truth that God revealed to him. In fact, the recognition of the People of the Book as bearers of divine truth in the Prophetic age was confirmed by a late Medinan verse that attempts to remove two important social barriers – dietary and marriage restrictions: “The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time…” (Q.5:5). Mahmoud Ayoub (2007), a foremost scholar on Christian-Muslim relations observes that these verses “demonstrate clearly the unity of faith and purpose which, according to the Qur’an, should exist among the three communities of faith [i.e. the Jews, Christians and Muslims].”
In one interpretation of early Islam, Donner (2010) notes that the Prophet and his early followers were less enamoured by the exclusive distinctiveness of their faith – a marked difference during the age of Muslim dynasties that understandably, would have carved out an exclusive faith to consolidate its position of power amidst the presence of the Christian Roman-Byzantine and Zoroastrian Persian-Sassanid empires to the west and the east of Arabia, contemporaneously. Hence, the early “believers” (mu ͗minūn, as a confessional identification, instead of the later and more exclusive identification of muslimūn) sense themselves as “constituting a movement open to all who believed in God’s oneness and in righteous living”, which forms the ecumenical character of early Islam.
Secondly, the Qur’an’s acknowledgement of the Christians in largely positive terms (except in a few verses, e.g. Q.5:72-3, Q.9:30 and Q.5:116, which describe Christian beliefs in ways that even the majority of the Christians would not identify with and hence, can be seen as Christian ‘heterodoxies’ or possibly, ‘heresies’), is best understood in the significant presence of Christianity in the Arabic context during the Prophetic age, particularly in north-west, north-east of Arabia, as well as the east coast of the south. This presence has been amply discussed in Trimingham’s Christianity among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times (1979). “The fact remains,” wrote the El Hassan bin Talal (1998), “that the Christian Arabs are in no way aliens to Muslim Arab society: a society whose history and culture they have shared for over fourteen centuries to date, without interruption, and to whose material and moral civilization they have continually contributed, and eminently so, on their own initiative or by trustful request.”
Based on one of the earliest biographical sources on Prophet Muhammad, Sirāt Rasul Allah (‘The Life of the Prophet of God’) by Ibn Ishaq (d.767), there were at least five direct encounters between the Prophet/early Muslims and the Christians, and in all of these, they were largely non-hostile and affirming of the closeness in faith: (1) a monk in the desert by the name of Bahira who saw the mark of prophethood in Muhammad when the latter was 12 years old and followed his uncle, Abu Talib for trade to Syria; (2) a Christian scholar by the name of Waraqa ibn Naufal, who assured Khadijah, the Prophet’s wife, that Muhammad will be a prophet to the Arabs, when she sought his advice concerning the traumatic experience of Muhammad after receiving his first revelation, (3) the early converts’ migration to Abyssinia circa 615 CE to seek protection from Negus, a Christian ruler of the kingdom of Axum, following the Meccan persecution – and upon hearing the Muslim delegation’s recital of a verse on Jesus from a chapter on Mary from the Qur’an, was reported to have picked up a stick and said that the difference between the Muslim and Christian belief on Jesus is no greater than the length of the stick; (4) the Prophet’s hosting of a delegation of Christians from Najran for a discussion, which ended with peaceful disagreements but of significance was the invitation of the Prophet to the Christians, led by a bishop, to perform their prayers within the Prophet’s mosque compound; and (5) the Prophet, towards the end of his life, sending letters to the neighbouring Christian rulers such as Heraclius, the emperor of Byzantine and the Negus of Axum, to accept Islam – an encounter that reflected the expanding power of the early Muslim community more than an exclusive theological assertion.
Thirdly, the positive attitude of the early Muslims may have informed the largely tolerant nature of later Muslims with regards to the Christians. Reza Shah-Kazemi in his book, The Spirit of Tolerance in Islam (2012) demonstrates how “tolerance of the Other is in fact integral to the practice of Islam; it is not some optional extra, some philosophical or cultural indulgence, or still less, something that one needs to import from some other tradition.” Examples abound in various periods of Islamic history. So much so that even Voltaire who was extremely critical of religion, pointed to the “sociable and tolerant religion” of Islam, in contrast to rabid intolerance of the Christian West where no mosque was allowed, but “the Ottoman state was filled with churches”.
One interesting document that may be representative of the tolerant characteristic of early Islam that shapes later Muslim attitude is the “Covenant of the Holy Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World” (known in Arabic as al-‘Ahd wa al-shurut allati sharataha Muhammad rasul Allah li ahl al-millah al-nasraniyyah) that was extensively discussed – along with other similar covenants to the monks of Mount Sinai, Christians of Persia, Najran, Assyria and the Armenian Christians of Jerusalem – in John Andrew Morrow’s book, The Covenants of Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World (2013). In the covenant, the Prophet gave the promise “to guard and protect” the “all those who profess the Christian religion, in the Eastern lands and its West, near and far, be they Arabs or non-Arabs, known or unknown” which includes not “to remove a bishop from his bishopric, a monk from his monastic life, a Christian from his Christianity, an ascetic from his tower, or a pilgrim from his pilgrimage. Nor is it permitted to destroy any part of their churches or their businesses or to take parts of their buildings to construct mosques or the homes of the believing Muslims.” The document further outlined various other protections, including freedom of religion: “No one who practices the Christian religion will be forced to enter into Islam… They must be covered by the wing of mercy and all harm that could reach them, wherever they may find themselves and wherever they may be, must be repelled.” Remarkably, the covenant covers the specific protection of Christian women, where “the girls of the Christians must not be subject to suffer, by abuse, on the subject of marriages which they do not desire. Muslims should not take Christian girls in marriage against the will of their parents nor should they oppress their families in the event that they refused their offers of engagement and marriage. Such marriages should not take place without their desire and agreement and without their approval and consent” and “If a Muslim takes a Christian woman as a wife, he must respect her Christian beliefs. He will give her freedom to listen to her [clerical] superiors as she desires and to follow the path of her own religion.”
Although the authenticity of the covenant was disputed – a copy of which was dated to 1538 and widely circulated in the Ottoman Empire and Europe in the 17th century – it nonetheless corroborates with other similar covenants, and with Qur’anic ethos discussed earlier, and may be representative of the historic largely tolerant treatment of Christians during the Ottoman period and before. It was recorded that when the Muslims took Jerusalem in 638 CE, the second caliph, ‘Umar b. al-Kattab (d. 644) had a written message to the city’s inhabitants: “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is a written document from ‘Umar b. al-Khattab to the inhabitants of the Sacred House (bayt al-maqdīs). You are guaranteed (āminūn) your life, your goods, and your churches, which will be neither occupied nor destroyed, as long as you do not initiate anything [to endanger] the general security (hadathan ‘āmman).” (Sachedina, 2001) Throughout Muslim history, co-existence between Muslims and Christians was a cultural norm and mutual learning – testament to early Islam’s acceptance of the universality of the good, regardless of its religious origin – was not uncommon. For example, it was known that a luminary thinker, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111) had no qualms in using Christian and Jewish sources as nass (text, used in argumentation as dalil/proof) in his writings, such as his Kitāb al-‘Ilm (Book of Knowledge). In fact, well-known 10th/11th century philosophers such as al-Sijistani (d. 1001) and Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi (d. 1023) were students of a leading Jacobite Christian, Yahya ibn ‘Adi (d. 974) who lived in Baghdad. In the Sufi tradition, it was reported that the ascetic, Ibrahim bin Adham (d. 782) turned to a Christian monk named Father Simeon, who was “my first teacher in ma ͗rifāh (mystical knowledge).”
Embracing the Other as ‘Us’
What can be observed from the brief discussion above is that early Muslims had significant contact and engagements with the Christians that were largely peaceful and respectful. This was driven by the very message of Islam that, as seen in various parts of the Qur’an, accepted the inherent diversity of religions as God’s Will. In the context of family tradition, i.e. the People of the Book, Christianity was seen as a valid religion that has elements of truth which was affirmed in the Qur’an. Much of the disagreement that the Qur’an has with regards to Christian theology are not significant enough that prohibits social integration at the most intimate level, such as the permissibility of inter-marriage and sharing of food. It was this belief that informed later cordial and friendly interactions and protection of the other. Unfortunately, as the Muslim community expanded and established an empire of its own, a need for a constituted separate and unique political identity emerged along with a more exclusivist theology that accentuate differences more than the earlier affinity and closeness. This was further compounded by a hostile period where both communities clashed during the Crusades and locked in imperial rivalry that impacted further the theology of one against the other. This carried on to the colonial period and Muslims emerging from the colonised situation still carry the burden and baggage of the period of ‘Christian West’ dominating and plundering Muslim lands and humiliating them by the racist notion of a ‘superior Judeo-Christian-Western civilisation’ and suppressing any memory of the contributions of Islam to the rise of Europe in the Middle Ages.
Knowing the burden of history requires us to confront the narrative that has and continues to shape the present perceptions. This involves a reworking of the theology of religions based on knowledge of the historicity and contingency of views located in a certain period in time, while offering a new reading derived from the same authoritative early sources but contextualised to the present. This will also require laying the foundations for conciliatory approaches as opposed to the confrontational. Diatribe that has characterised Christian-Muslim relations for the last few decades, must be replaced with greater dialogue and mutual learning. Humility to acknowledge what has gone wrong in history and our sense of inadequacy in grasping the entire majestic truth of the divine, are prerequisites.
At the popular level, theological disputes must be replaced with narrative-building. This can start with common stories and wisdoms shared across the two communities. Just as early Islam benefited and grew out of positive inter-cultural contact and interactions, we must allow for new encounters that can lead to creative reworking of theology and how we make sense of our own present religious conditions, inter-religiously. This need not be an amalgamation of the two religions, which is neither possible nor desirable. But it can be a mutual partaking of wisdom and shared commitment in the pursuit of the divine and of truth that transcends the boundaries of each religious community. Differences may exist, but just like in the earliest period of Islam, they do not define the relationship or rebuke the divine basis and legitimacy of the other. It is how Mona Siddiqui (2013) eloquently remarked: “However differently Christians and Muslims define God and their relationship to God, God remains the deepest presence in our lives… whenever and wherever I turn to God, I share this humbling but joyful relationship with all who turn to him in faith.” It is to God that we turn to ultimately, not the worship of our own religion, much less, the Ego Self.
Ayoub, Mahmoud. 2007. A Muslim View of Christianity: Essays on Dialogue by Mahmoud Ayoub. Edited by Irfan Omar. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
Bennett, Clinton. 2008. Understanding Christian-Muslim Relations: Past and Present. London: Continuum.
Bulliet, Richard W. 2004. The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. Columbia University Press.
Donner, Fred M. 2010. Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam. Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Fletcher, Richard. 2003. The Cross and the Crescent: The Dramatic Story of the Earliest Encounters between Christians and Muslims. London: Penguin Books.
Glassé, Cyril. “Ahl al-Kitāb” in The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, Revised Edition. London: Stacey International.
Goddard, Hugh. 2000. A History of Christian-Muslim Relations. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books.
Guillaume, A., tr. 1967. The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Isḥāq’s Sīrat Rasūl Allāh. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hansen, Stig Jarle, Mesoy, A. and Kardas, T. 2009. The Borders of Islam: Exploring Samuel Huntington’s Faultlines from Al-Andalus to the Virtual Ummah. New York: Columbia University Press.
Jamieson, Alan G. 2016. Faith and Sword: A Short History of Christian-Muslim Conflict, Second Expanded Edition. London: Reaktion Books.
“Not Muslim enough for the masjids… too Muslim for Western society”
John Andrew Morrow
Sha’ban 15, 1439 2018-05-01
“Not Muslim enough for the masjids… too Muslim for Western society”
We continue our conversation with Dr. John Andrew Morrow, an author and a scholar, about Muslims residing in the West. He is best known for his Covenants’ Initiative that aims to create better understanding between Muslims and Christians in the world today.
CI: Do you think Muslims in North America will be assimilated into the broader society within the next 10–20 years?
By and large, they already are. Rather than reject the negative aspects of their cultures of origin, and embrace the positive aspects of Western culture, many transnational Muslims tend to do the exact opposite. In some ways, they are only western in their passports. In other ways, they are more Westernized than Westerners. I remember the case of the gorgeous Yasmeen Ghauri in the 1990s. If the daughter of a Montreal-based imam of Indian origin can become a supermodel who poses nude, how does that bode for the rest of the Muslim community? For many young Muslims in the West, their role models are Zayn Malik along with Gigi and Bella Hadid who, incidentally, were raised as practising Muslims. They are models of successfully integrated Muslims of immigrant origin. For others, their role models are people like Linda Sarsour, a hijab-wearing leftist, and Masuma Khan, a Talibanesque leftist, both of whom support sexual immorality.
“Opposition 2 gay marriage today is same as opposition 2 interracial marriage 50 yrs ago” Sarsour tweeted. No, Linda, it is not. Interracial marriages are permitted according to the law of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (a); however, same-sex marriages are not. Or, how about these classic quotes from the Canadian-hating Afghan, “Be proud of this country? For what, over 400 years of genocide… I stand by Indigenous students.” No, you don’t, Masuma. I am an indigenous person and you certainly do not speak for my people or for Muslims. Masuma Khan, who is incapable of independent thinking, is famous for regurgitating the radical rhetoric that she has been taught by leftist college professors, including the nonsensical notion that only whites can be racist and that Caucasians cannot be victims of racism since racism supposedly does not work in reverse. Such notions are both illogical and un-Islamic. Islam denounces all racial discrimination irrespective of who is directing it and who is receiving it. Young Muslims in the West are being drawn to extremes, Salafi/Wahhabi/Takfiri terrorism on the one hand, and radical liberalism, leftism, and secularism on the other whether it is dressed in a burqa like Masuma Khan, a modern hijab like Linda Sarsour, or a mini-skirt and micro-bikini like Gigi and Bella Hadid.
These extreme alternatives are not the product of chance or random development. They are the product of programming. They are the fruit of generations of serious study, including trial and error, conducted at huge cost by powerful think tanks, policy makers, and social engineers. To a large extent, the work in question is “invisible.” Apart from attentive observers, who can put together the pieces of the puzzle, most of the research conducted, as well as its ultimate goals, goes unnoticed by 99.9% of the population since it takes place primarily in private institutions or is spread so thinly throughout public institutions that its interconnectedness is not perceived. Just like the scientists who produced the atomic bomb in New Mexico were unaware of the goal of their research, since they were separated into isolated groups that were assigned to work on very specific tasks, many of the scholars and scientists involved in social-engineering research are unaware of the implications and outcome of their work. Although they believe they are independent actors, they are but puppets on a string, without agency and impetus of their own: ignorant of the script that was written for them and the global design of the directors. Take the “Arab Spring” and the “Color Revolutions,” for example. They were the complete and total creation of intelligence agencies that conveniently exploited the shortcomings, weaknesses, and failings of distinct Arab and Muslim societies. According to Oscar LHpez Rivera, the Puerto Rican sovereigntist, David Rockefeller, and others, said more than 40 years ago that there was too much democracy and that they had to do away with it. That was the origin of the Trilateral Commission and the New World Order.
Although only small numbers of Muslims move toward takfiri terrorism, much larger numbers are dragged into the sludge and slime of secular Western society. According to research conducted by the Family and Youth Institute, 57% of male Muslim college students have engaged in pre-marital sex (48% for females); 45% of male Muslim college students have consumed alcohol (48% for females); and 28% of male Muslim college students have used illicit drugs (19% for females). If we look at individuals between the ages of 17–35, we find that 67% of Canadian and US Muslims have engaged in pre-marital sex. The situation in the Muslim world is not much better. In some cases, it is even more dismal. Some Muslims get livid when I cite these statistics. Some say straight out, “I don’t believe you.” They can stick their heads in the sand for only so long before they will suffocate. To them I say, “Take your head out of the hole, take a deep breath, face reality, and work with the community on both prevention and treatment. Wake up.” We, as Muslims, are losing our children to the secular world order. We, conscious and educated Muslims from the West, can help. Marginalizing us will cost you dearly. Your children are succumbing to the sickness of this godless society. We have the medicine. If 76% of Muslims received sex education from the public school, only 4% received it from the masjid. Muslims are failing their children. They are not Muslim enough for the masjids, yet they are too Muslim for Western society. They are torn. We need to create safe spaces for Muslims in the West: places for those who have lived here for centuries and for those whose families immigrated in more recent times. As Imam ‘Ali said, “Do not expect your children to be like you for they were born for a different age.”
Intelligence is the ability to adapt. Failing to adapt results in extinction. We, western Muslims, can help immigrant Muslims, and their progeny, to integrate, survive, and prosper in the West without compromising primordial principles. Spiritually and morally healthy integration is possible but not for those who live in la-la-land.
CI: How could Muslims balance healthy integration with commitment to normative traditional Islam in North America?
We are supposed to be a justly-balanced Ummah (2:143). That applies to all aspects of life. We need to avoid all extremes. That includes religious extremism; however, that also includes irreligious extremism. We must learn to pick our battles and focus on pillars of faith and practice. We need to be flexible and avoid rigidity; however, we must not bend ourselves to the breaking point. We must remember that Islam represents a spectrum. While we should try to stick to safety of the center as much as reasonably possible, we must also be able to appreciate, and at times apply, aspects from both sides and even peripheral perspectives. When faced with an issue, we should examine the various rulings throughout the ages and adopt the one that is most appropriate to this period. We must consult with scholars who are traditional exponents of Islam but who are equally versed in the challenges of modernity. We have plenty of scholars of the text; however, we have very few who comprehend the context. Minority jurisprudence, which has historically been strong in Malikism, remains relevant.
Rather than rely on rulings derived from regions that were 100% Muslim, and where there was little or no racial, cultural, or linguistic diversity, western Muslims should emulate the example of Islam as it was practiced in places where pluralism flourished: al-Andalus, Sicily, the Balkans, the Ottoman Sultanate, China, and Southeast Asia. We should learn from the struggles and successes of the past, particularly the Muslims in the United States who were first organized here in the early-1900s. I consider it mandatory for all Muslim leaders in North America to familiarize themselves with the history of Caucasian and African-American Muslims in the United States. Patrick D. Bowen’s two-volume History of Conversion to Islam in the United States should be required reading. Let us learn from our failures and triumphs. Let us plan strategically to ensure our future, the future of our children, and the best possible future for the societies in which we choose to live and contribute. Is it possible for Muslims to balance healthy integration with commitment to normative traditional Islam in North America? Yes, indeed. However, it will require serious soul-searching on the part of transnational Muslims along with serious sacrifice. They need to cast off their cultural chrysalis and emerge as beautiful, western, Muslim butterflies. ∞
By Dr. John Andrew Morrow
Inshā’ Allāh walid, “God-willing, it will be a boy,” said a woman to my pregnant wife. La or no, she replied, Inshā’ Allāh bint, “God-willing, it will be a girl.” Confused, the woman repeated herself once again. Inshā’ Allāh walid, she insisted, and my wife, retorted, on key, Inshā’ Allāh bint.
Although my wife was frustrated by the incident, I was far from shocked. I had heard such sexist nonsense for decades. In fact, I recall when a proud young father visited a mosque with his four daughters. He was greeted by big burly bearded men who lamented his sonless state: “We are so sorry for you. We pray that Allah will give you a boy.”
For many parents, both Muslim and non-Muslim, the birth of a child is a blessing, regardless of its gender. Rather than pray specifically for a male, they simply pray for the child to be healthy. Regrettably, however, some Muslim men, particularly those from certain patriarchal cultures, hold misogynistic ideas. What is worse, they have imposed such values, or lack thereof, upon just as many women. In fact, instead of celebrating the birth of girls, some Muslims express grief.
Although many populations have been exposed to Islam for over 1400 years, the Muslim faith has failed to fully penetrate their hearts in the same way that stones do not absorb water. Their response to the conception or birth of a girl is the same today as it was fourteen centuries again. As Almighty Allah describes in the Glorious Qur’an: “And when the good news is given to any of them of a daughter, His face turns dark and he is filled with grief” (Qur’an 16:58).
The situation described in the Qur’an was lived by the Prophet himself, peace and blessings be upon him, his family, and his faithful followers. In a tradition related by ‘Amili, one learns that: A man heard news of having a newly born baby daughter while he was in the presence of the Messenger of Allah. He became upset. The Messenger of Allah asked: “Are you upset?” He said: “When I was coming out of my house, my wife was in labor, and now they have brought news to me that I have a daughter.” The Messenger of Allah stated: “The earth has enough room for her, and the sky provides her with shelter, and Allah will provide her with sustenance. She is a sweet-smelling flower from which you will get much enjoyment.”
Unlike many Muslim men, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his household, loved and valued the opposite sex. He assured that anyone who raised one, two or three girls, and did not favor his sons over any of them, Allah would grant him Paradise (Ahmad, ‘Amili, Barbahari, Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kulayni, Abu Dawud). In the words of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, “Sons are a favor and daughters are good deeds. Allah will ask about favors but reward you for your good-deeds” (Kulayni).
According to the Messenger of Allah, “Girls are models of affection and sympathy and a blessing to the family” (Muttaqi al-Hindi). He stated that “If a person has one daughter, Allah will screen him from the fire of Hell owing to his daughter; if he has two daughters, Allah will admit him to Paradise; if he has three, Allah will exempt him from the obligation of charity and jihad” (Muttaqi al-Hindi).
Although the Prophet Muhammad was the best of creation, he was devoid of male progeny. His sons all died in infancy. As Almighty Allah asserts in the Glorious Qur’an: “Muhammad is not the father of [any] one of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And ever is Allah, of all things, Knowing” (33:40). According to some Sunni and Shiite sources, the Messenger of Allah only had daughters. For some Shiite sources, he only had one: Fatimah al-Zahra’.
As the Messenger of Allah stated, “All sons are from their fathers except the sons of Fatimah, as I am their father” (Aḥmad). Speaking of Hasan and Husayn, he said that “There are my sons” (Tirmidhi, Tabari, Ibn al-Sari, Tabarsi). In a patriarchal culture in which the merit of men was measured by the amount of men they produced in their off-spring, this was a paradigm shift that placed females back in their proper place of dignity, respect, and reverence.
As the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, asserted “Allah, the Exalted, is kinder to females than males” (Majlisi). He promised that “Whoever does good to daughters will be saved from Hell” (Majlisi). He insisted that “The best of your children are your daughters” (Hakim) and asserted that “The sign of a fortunate woman is that her first child is a girl” (Hakim).
So, considering the words of Allah, glorified and exalted be He, and those of His Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, my wife and I proudly prayed: Inshā’ Allāh bint or “God-willing, may it be a daughter.” And Allah answered our prayers. Welcome to the world, little Ayah. You are a flower from the Garden of Paradise.
By Dr. John Andrew Morrow
In the Name of Adonai. In the Name of the Father. In the Name of Allah. In the Name of the Great Spirit, Manitou, the Creator, the Omnipresent and Omniscient. That covers Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the spiritual teachings of the First Nations. Welcome. And if you don’t believe in God or you believe in many gods, welcome to you as well. This is an interfaith gathering. We insist on being inclusive and having a sense of humor.
So, a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim walk into a bar. The bartender asks: “What? Is this a joke?” Well, actually, it is. A Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim walk into a bar. The Muslim was the designated driver. A Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim walk into a bar… a juice bar. After a nice evening, they all leave with a deeper appreciation of each other’s religions. That’s a true story. It happens when people are pleasant and do not act like jerks.
I come before you today to tackle a terrible topic: Islam Between Love and Hate. Well, what can I say: there is a whole lot of hating going on. But why rely on what I have to say. Let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth or in this case from God’s mouth.
“Do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people.”
“Utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
Seriously, now. What kind of a person would kill a donkey? What kind of crime could a donkey possibly commit. Sure, they are stubborn, but that does not mean that you have the right to kill them? If you think killing innocent donkeys, camels, sheep, oxen, nursing children, infants, women, and men is bad enough, consider the following verse:
“Kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
Ponder upon this a bit. How could men determine if women were or were not virgins? God is not calling for a gynecological examination to ascertain the intact nature of their hymens. No, the men who rape them: if they were non-virgins, they would kill them, if they were virgins, they would spare them the sword and take them as concubines, the “politically correct” term for sex slaves. And all of this was divinely sanctioned. Can you stomach more sexual assault and slaughter? Here are a few other key verses from the so-called religion of peace:
“Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women”
“Stone them with stones, and dispatch them with their swords; they shall slay their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses with fire”
“When he got home, he took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory.”
Terrible, isn’t it. The violence. The gore. The injustice. The atrocities. And those are just a few key quotes. There are over 1000 similar passages in “Holy” Book that I will not mention by name. Compare that to the Sacred Scripture of another faith. The contrast is remarkable:
“God loves those who are just.”
“He has put love and mercy between your hearts.”
“God loves the doers of good.”
“God loves those who are constantly repentant.”
“God loves those who purify themselves.”
“God loves those who fear Him.”
“God loves the steadfast.”
“God loves those who rely upon Him.”
“God loves those who act justly.”
“God loves those [who fight for justice] in His cause.”
A God Who Hates. That is how Wafa Sultan describes Allah. Wafa is a medical doctor who was trained as a psychiatrist in Syria. She claims to be an authority on Islam. She works with Stop Islamization of Nations, an organization founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, among others. Considering the verses that I quoted initially, it appears the God of the Qur’an is a God of Hate. The only problem is that the verses that I first quoted are all drawn from the Bible and the verses that I quoted after are all drawn from the Qur’an.
“Do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people.” (Bible: Deuteronomy 13: 8-10)
“Utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (Bible: 1 Samuel 15:3)
“Kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Bible: Numbers 31:15)
“Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women” (Bible: Ezekiel 9:6)
“Stone them with stones, and dispatch them with their swords; they shall slay their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses with fire” (Bible: Ezekiel 23: 47)
“When he got home, he took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory.” (Bible: Judges 19:29)
“God loves those who are just.” (Qur’an 60: 8)
“He has put love and mercy between your hearts” (Qur’an 30:21)
“God loves the doers of good” (Qur’an 2:195: 3:134; 5:13; 5:195)
“God loves those who are constantly repentant” (Qur’an 2:222)
“God loves those who purify themselves” (Qur’an 9:108)
“God loves those who fear Him” (Qur’an 3:76; 9:4; 9:7)
“God loves the steadfast” (Qur’an 3:146)
“God loves those who rely upon Him” (Qur’an 3:159)
“God loves those who act justly” (Qur’an 5:42; 49:9; 60:8)
“God loves those [who fight for justice] in His cause” (Qur’an 61:4)
I mean no insult to my Jewish and Christians friends for I, as a Muslim, am a follower of Muhammad, Jesus, John-the-Baptist, Elijah, Moses, Abraham, and Adam. I, as a Muslim, believe in all the prophets and messengers that were sent by the Creator to guide humanity. I, as a Muslim, believe in the scrolls, scriptures, and books that were revealed by God to Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad: the Scroll of Abraham, the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Qur’an. I respect them all and I revere them all. I consider it prohibited to say anything that is unbecoming of them. I reject any allegations of wrongdoing on their part. The prophets and messengers of God were divinely-guided and protected: they did not sin.
I compare and I contrast the Bible and the Qur’an to make a point: that sacred scriptures must not, and cannot, be quoted out of context. It is dishonest. It is disingenuous. It is duplicitous. My strategy here is didactic or educational. Call it: giving Islamophobic Jews and Christians a taste of their own medicine by misrepresenting their religions, namely, by showing that Islam is a religion of love and peace and Judaism and Christianity are religions of hatred and violence.
I could easily have taken some of the more violent passages from the Qur’an and contrasted them to loving, merciful, and compassionate verses from the Old and New Testaments to prove the opposite, namely, that Judaism and Christianity are religions of love and peace and that Islam is a religion of hatred and violence.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have a long history of exegesis, hermeneutics, analysis, commentary, and interpretation. If you believe in sola scriptura, namely, that everyone and anyone can interpret the Bible as they deem fit, you are flying solo. You are going to crash and burn. There are people like that in Christianity. They tend to be extremists. There are people like that in Islam. They tend to be extremists as well. They tend to be literalists, fundamentalists or apologists. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we have a priestly class, a clerical class, scholars, and theologians: rabbis, priests, and shaykhs. Call it Tradition. Call it Consensus of Experts throughout the Ages. Call is Magisterium. Call it Religious Authority.
So, let’s talk about Islam and hate. To hate, in Arabic, is kariha / yakrihu / al-kurh. It means to feel disgust, be disgusted, to detest, to loathe, to abhor, and to dislike. It is something that gives offense. The verb “to hate,” in English, has no direct equivalent in Arabic. It is only translated as “hate” in English for idiomatic reasons. In English we say that something is hated. In Arabic we say that is makruh which means it is disliked, offensive or detestable. So, where does the Qur’an promote hate? Where does Allah, Almighty, say that He hates. Nowhere. The word “hate,” in this negative sense, does not appear in the Qur’an. Nothing. Rien. Nada. Walu. Ma kayn’sh.
God mentions the unbelievers “disliked” what He revealed “so He rendered worthless their deeds” (47:9). God warns against spying and backbiting, comparing it to cannibalism: “Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it” (49 :12). The step-father of Abraham is quoted as saying: “Do you dislike my gods, O Abraham? If you do not desist I will certainly revile you, and leave me for a time” (19:46). An ancient Arab prophet once said that he loathed paganism and polytheism. As God describes in the Qur’an: “The leaders, the arrogant party among his people, said: ‘O Shu’ayb! we shall certainly drive you out of our city – (you) and those who believe with you; unless you all return to our ways and religion.’ He said: ‘What! even though we do detest (them)?” (7:88).
God Almighty, in the Holy Qur’an, never, ever, says that He hates. God never says that He hates the unbelievers. The strongest words of reproach that we find in Muslim Scripture is that “God loves not: “God loves not the unbelievers” (2: 276; 3:32; 30:45); “God loves not transgressors” (2:190); “God loves not those given to excess” (5:90); “God loves not those who trespass beyond bounds” (7:55); “God loves not corruption” (2:205; 5:67; 28:77); “God loves not the wrongdoers” (3:57; 3:140; 42:40); “God loves not the wasters” (6:141; 7:31); “God loves not any arrogant boaster” (31:18; 57:23; 4:36); “God loves not the arrogant” (16:23); “God loves not those who exult in riches” (28:76); “God loves not the treacherous” (8:58); “God loves not one given to perfidy and crime” (4:107); “God loves not that evil be noised abroad in public” (4:148).
There is no hatred in the Qur’an. There is only lack of love for atheists, polytheists, and evil-doers. I know some of our Christian friends believe that God loves everyone irrespective of whether they believe or not or whether they are righteous or not. I am sorry, but I do not expect God to love genocidalists, imperialists, mass murderers, drug barons, human traffickers, pimps, pedophiles, child abusers, pornographers, rapists, Satanists, and atheists. In Islam, God is Loving, but God is also Just. He rewards and punishes. His Mercy, however, “extends over all things” (7:156). In Islam, Muslims are supposed to be caring and compassionate: “And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace” (25:63 and 28:55). As merciful as Muslims are meant to be, they must always balance justice with compassion and compassion with justice. As Almighty God says in the Holy Qur’an:
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for God, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted. (4:135)
Since only God is God, and humans, as much as they aspire to be godly, cannot be God, we, Muslims, are not expected to be indifferent to evil. We must love what God loves and disapprove of what God disapproves. We must love what the Prophet loves and dislike what the Prophet dislike. While we must reach out to others, and invite them to the Path of Love, we must also avoid getting embroiled in evil, and disassociate ourselves from the enemies of God and the Prophets. We should never, however, dehumanize them. We should avoid becoming consumed with hatred lest it clouds our vision and leads us to injustice.
Although Muslims can hate evil and evil-doers, in Islam, God does not hate. In the worst-case scenario, He deprives the wicked from His love. And what can be a greater punishment than that? That is worse than any wrath He could reign down upon them. Call it the eternal silent treatment. According to the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka Kansas, however, “God hates fags.” This is not something any believing Muslim with a functioning brain would ever say. According to Fred Phelps, there are dozens of verses in the Bible that prove that the Judeo-Christian God is a God of Hate.
“And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.” (Leviticus 20:23)
“And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcasses upon the carcasses of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.” (Leviticus 26:30)
“And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.” (Deuteronomy 32:19)
“The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” (Psalm 5:5)
“Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.” (Psalm 5:6)
“For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.” (Psalm 10:3)
“The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.” (Psalm 11:5)
“There were they in great fear, where no fear was: for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them.” (Psalm 53:5)
“As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.” (Psalm 73:20)
“When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel.” (Psalm 78:59)
“Therefore, was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance.” (Psalm 106:40)
“These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)
“The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein.” (Proverbs 22:14)
“And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the LORD hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest.” (Lamentations 2:6)
“All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters.” (Hosea 9:15)
“Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me.” (Zechariah 11:8)
“And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” (Malachi 1:3)
“As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Romans 9:13)
So, apparently, there is a whole lot of hate going on in the Bible. Really, now? So, I checked. Some of these verses are in Greek. The verb that has been translated as “to hate” means to detest or to persecute: not to hate, per se. Some of these verses are in Hebrew. The verbs used literally mean “to be abhorred,” “to be a foe,” and “to be odious.” So, Mr. Phelps should learn some Hebrew and some Greek. He should also buy himself a Biblical Lexicon and learn, once and for all, that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are religions of love; not hate. They are divinely-revealed religions that, applied as intended, foster divine unity and human unity. They are all rooted in the Golden Rule: do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.
As for the Arab psychiatrist from Syria, she should master her own language before claiming that Allah is a God of Hate. She should also use her psychiatric skills to treat Islamophobes instead of promoting Islamophobia. I own and operate a large mental health facility. I studied psychoanalysis at the PhD level. I can tell you in definite terms that people who are possessed with hatred suffer from serious mental disorders. They need professional psychological and spiritual help. So, here is my prescription: a little love from Allah. Yes, a little love from Allah.
As Almighty God says in a Sacred Saying transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad:
“O son of Adam! Serve Me! Verily, I love those who serve Me.” (Shirazi)
As Almighty God says in a Sacred Saying transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad:
O son of Adam! If I did not love forgiveness I would not test anyone by means of sin. (Shirazi)
As Almighty God says in a Sacred Saying transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad:
“O Son of Adam! Behave with the people with good manners until I love you.” (Shirazi)
As Almighty God says in a Sacred Saying transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad:
“O son of Adam! The more your heart longs for this world, the more My love leaves your heart. Verily, I will not let My love and the love of this world join together in one heart. Devote yourself to My worship. Purify your deeds from showing off until I dress you in the clothing of My love.” (Shirazi)
As Almighty God says in a Sacred Saying transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad:
“O son of Adam! You desire and I desire but nothing happens except what I desire. He who tries to reach Me knows Me. He who knows Me wants Me. He who wants Me seeks Me. He who seeks Me finds Me. He who finds Me serves Me. He who serves Me remembers Me. He who remembers Me, I remember him with My mercy.” (Shirazi)
As Almighty God says in a Sacred Saying transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad:
“O My servants, I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another. O My servants, all of you are astray except for those I have guided, so seek guidance of Me, and I shall guide you. O My servants, all of you are hungry except for those I have fed, so seek food of Me and I shall feed you. O My servants, all of you are naked except for those I have clothed, so seek clothing of me and I shall clothe you. O My servants, you sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you.” (Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah)
As Almighty God says in a Sacred Saying transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad:
“My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to aske Me for refuge, I would certainly grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him.” (Bukhari)
As Almighty God says in a Sacred Saying transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad:
“A servant [of God] committed a sin and said: O God, forgive me my sin. And He said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them. Then he sinned again and said: O Lord, forgive me my sin. And He, glorified and exalted be He, said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them. Then he sinned again and said: O Lord, forgive me my sin. And He, glorified and exalted be He, said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for sins. Do what you wish, for I have forgiven you.” (Muslim and Bukhari)
As Almighty God says in a Sacred Saying transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad:
“O son of Adam! So long as you call upon me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam! Were you to come with Me with sins as nearly as great as the earth and were you to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness as great as it.” (Tirmidhi and Ahmad)
Allah, which is simply Arabic for God, the equivalent of Elohim, Adonai, and Jehovah, is Loving. As we read in the Holy Qur’an, “Verily, My Lord is Merciful and Loving” (11:90). And yet again: “And He is the Forgiving and the Loving” (85:14). As Almighty Allah, glorified and exalted be He, states in a sacred saying: “I was a Hidden Treasure and I loved to be known. Therefore, I created the creatures so that I might be known” (Ibn ‘Arabi, Ibn al-Khatib, Mulla Sadra).
Almighty God create men and women so that they could love each other in sacred matrimony: “It is He who created you from a single soul, and made his mate of like nature, in order that ye may dwell with her [in love]” (7:189). The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was described by Almighty God as a man who was “full of kindness, mercy, and love” (9:128).
Although some misinformed individuals attribute misogynistic ideas to Islam, the Messenger of God commanded Muslim men to love members of the opposite sex: “It is the tradition of the Prophets to love women” (Kulayni). The Prophet Muhammad taught that God loves those who love their families (Bayhaqi). The Prophet also taught that spouses should love each other and express such love: “The words of a husband to his wife, ‘I truly love you,’ should never leave her heart” (‘Amili). At the same time, the Messenger of Allah stresses that “The best of you among women are those who are loving and affectionate” (Majlisi). As he said on another occasion, “When you love someone, let the person know” (Majlisi). The Prophet Muhammad also instructed his followers to care for minors: “Love children and be compassionate with them, and when you promise them something, always fulfill it.”
Love is central in Islam. It is at the heart of the Golden Rule. As the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, stated: “None of you have faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself” (Muslim); “Whoever wishes to be delivered from the fire and to enter Paradise… should treat the people as he wishes to be treated” (Muslim); “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself” (Nawawi); “None of you is a believer if he eats his full while his neighbor hasn’t anything” (Ahmad); “Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves” (Abu Dawud); “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you” (Farewell Sermon); and “There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm” (Ibn Majah). In fact, the Qur’an goes beyond the Golden rule by encouraging Muslims to “Return evil with kindness” (13:22, 23:96, 41:34, 28:54, 42:40).
Does this sound like Islam to you? Not necessarily so. It certainly does not sound like the Islam that they show on television and social media. It certainly does not sound like the Islam of ISIS. That’s because it isn’t. ISIS is no more Islamic than the Klan is Christian. Al-Qaedah is no more Muslim than Mexican and Colombian drug lords are Catholic. Al-Nusrah is no more Islamic than Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army is Protestant. However, this Islam, true Islam, original Islam, normative Islam, classical, traditional, civilizational Islam is the Islam that is followed by 99.9% of Muslims. Less than 0.01% of Muslims are so-called Radical Islamic terrorists. As far as I am concerned, they are not even Muslims.
For people like Osama Ben Laden and Abu Bakr Baghdadi, for groups like the Taliban, al-Qaedah, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, and Daesh, for Takfiri terrorists, the followers of a demonic death cult created a mere two hundred years ago, Islam is nothing but hate. They may argue otherwise, but hate is the very essence of their existence. You shall know them by the fruits they bare. The Ten Commandments, as you know them, are all found in the Qur’an and they have all been violated by terrorists who claim to act in the name and interests of Islam. The Constitution of Medina, and the Covenants of the Prophet with the People of the Book, which assure civil and human rights, have been desecrated and defiled by fake and fraudulent Muslims. Hatred is at the heart of the terrorist creed. Compare that to the true teachings of the Prophet as preserved, protected, and transmitted by the Family of the Prophet, may God be pleased with them. As Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, the great great grand-son of the Prophet, stated: “Religion is love and love is religion” (Kulayni). I repeat: “Religion is love and love is religion.” I send you greetings of peace and prayers for peace. Let us love so that we can be loved.