Monday, July 6, 2015

Prophet Muhammad A Friend Of Christians? (Islam-Christianity Brotherhood)

            Should Christians and Muslims be archenemies?

            Christians have no reason whatsoever to persecute anyone; they are mandated to love their neighbors. However, Islamic State’s (ISIS) persecution of Christians has probably amplified the Islam-Christianity divide – the notion that Islam constantly endeavors to persecute Christians.

            During the few years I lived in the Kingdom of Bahrain, I was constantly thankful to God for the peaceful ambiance offered by the rulers of Bahrain to the Christians. My Christian friends living in the Arabian Peninsula would affirm this perception from their location.

            Sincere Muslims abide by Prophet Muhammad’s mandates. Hence, examining Prophet Muhammad’s attitude towards Christians is an appropriate vantage point to study the dynamics of relationship between Muslims and Christians.

            “Achtiname of Muhammad” is a letter written by Prophet Muhammad upon the request of a delegation from St. Catherine’s monastery - world’s oldest monastery located at the foot of Mt. Sinai. St. Catherine’s monastery is a treasure house of Christian history and a world heritage site that remained safe for 1400 years under Islamic protection.

            Prophet Muhammad’s letter to St. Catherine's monastery, affirmed for its historical authenticity and preserved in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, states his firm support to the Christians then and now, “This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them…

            …No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate…

            …Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).” [1]

            This is the English translation of the “Achtiname” by Anton F. Haddad:

            “This is a letter which was issued by Mohammed, Ibn Abdullah, the Messenger, the Prophet, the Faithful, who is sent to all the people as a trust on the part of God to all His creatures, that they may have no plea against God hereafter. Verily God is the Mighty, the Wise. This letter is directed to the embracers of Islam, as a covenant given to the followers of Nazarene in the East and West, the far and near, the Arabs and foreigners, the known and the unknown.

            This letter contains the oath given unto them, and he who disobeys that which is therein will be considered a disobeyer and a transgressor to that whereunto he is commanded. He will be regarded as one who has corrupted the oath of God, disbelieved His Testament, rejected His Authority, despised His Religion, and made himself deserving of His Curse, whether he is a Sultan or any other believer of Islam. Whenever monks, devotees and pilgrims gather together, whether in a mountain or valley, or den, or frequented place, or plain, or church, or in houses of worship, verily we are [at the] back of them and shall protect them, and their properties and their morals, by Myself, by My Friends and by My Assistants, for they are of My Subjects and under My Protection.

            I shall exempt them from that which may disturb them…nor the monks disturbed in exercising their religious order, or the people of seclusion be stopped from dwelling in their cells.

            No one is allowed to plunder the pilgrims, or destroy or spoil any of their churches, or houses of worship, or take any of the things contained within these houses and bring it to the houses of Islam. And he who takes away anything therefrom, will be one who has corrupted the oath of God, and, in truth, disobeyed His Messenger…for they are under My Protection and the testament of My Safety, against all things which they abhor.

            No taxes or tithes should be received from those who devote themselves to the worship of God in the mountains, or from those who cultivate the Holy Lands. No one has the right to interfere with their affairs, or bring any action against them. Verily this is for aught else and not for them; rather, in the seasons of crops, they should be given a Kadah for each Ardab of wheat (about five bushels and a half) as provision for them, and no one has the right to say to them this is too much, or ask them to pay any tax.

            As to those who possess properties, the wealthy and merchants, the poll-tax to be taken from them must not exceed twelve Dirhams a head per year (i.e. about 45 cents).

            They shall not be imposed upon by anyone to undertake a journey, or to be forced to go to wars or to carry arms; for the Muslims have to fight for them. Do no dispute or argue with them, but deal according to the verse recorded in the Koran, to wit: ‘Do not dispute or argue with the People of the Book but in that which is best’ [29:46]. Thus they will live favored and protected from everything which may offend them by the Callers to religion (Islam), wherever they may be and in any place they may dwell.

            Should any Christian woman be married to a Musulman, such marriage must not take place except after her consent, and she must not be prevented from going to her church for prayer. Their churches must be honored and they must not be withheld from building churches or repairing convents.

            They must not be forced to carry arms or stones; but the Muslims must protect them and defend them against others. It is positively incumbent upon every one of the Islam nation not to contradict or disobey this oath until the Day of Resurrection and the end of the world.” [2]

            Dr. Muqtedar Khan, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delaware, and founding director of Islamic Studies program, asserts the implications of Prophet Muhammad’s letter, “The first and the final sentence of the charter are critical. They make the promise eternal and universal. Muhammed asserts that Muslims are with Christians near and far, straight away rejecting any future attempts to limit the promise to St. Catherine alone.

            By ordering Muslims to obey it until the Day of Judgment the charter again undermines any future attempts to revoke the privileges. These rights are inalienable.

            Muhammed declared Christians, all of them, as his allies and he equated ill treatment of Christians with violating God’s covenant.

            A remarkable aspect of the charter is that it imposes no conditions on Christians for enjoying its privileges. It is enough that they are Christians. They are not required to alter their beliefs, they do not have to make any payments and they do not have any obligations. This is a charter of rights without any duties!” [3]

            Sincere Muslims revere Prophet Muhammad and abide by his teachings. Therefore, Muslims, namely the ISIS and the likes, who persecute Christians despite the “Achtiname” are disobeying their Prophet.

            Another significant implication of the “Achtiname” is upon the existence of Christian churches in Islamic nations. Islamic nations should not prevent the existence of the Christian church.

            In other words, Christians should be allowed to worship their God in public and in the community of fellow Christians in Islamic nations. Islamic nations should allow Christians to worship without inhibition.

            If Prophet Muhammad had indeed affirmed his support to Christians, there should be an indestructible brotherly relationship between Muslims and Christians, despite the irreconcilable differences in theology.



[2] Ibid.


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