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Muslims and Christians

Covenant of MohammedI have been to the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai. It has one of the greatest libraries in the world. One of the most important documents in its collection is the famous “Achtiname of Muhammad,” a covenant between the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the monks of the monastery. It enjoins Muslim care of Christians that may surprise some people.

It commands Muslims to protect Christians living under Muslim rule, as well as Christian pilgrims on their way to monasteries. Christians are to have freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, care for their church buildings, exemption from military service and taxes, and the right to protection in war.

The promises are made to all Christians everywhere, and are binding for all time. There are no conditions placed on Christians to receive these promises. They do not have any obligations in this covenant – this is a charter of rights, not of duties. This covenant is a challenge to Muslims and to Christians. It is a radical early example of religious tolerance and inclusiveness.

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; of the burdens which are paid by others as an oath of allegiance. They must not give anything of their income but that which pleases them—they must not be offended, or disturbed, or coerced or compelled. Their judges should not be changed or prevented from accomplishing their offices, 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.

Poll-taxes should not be put upon their judges, monks, and those whose occupation is the worship of God; nor is any other thing to be taken from them, whether it be a fine, a tax or any unjust right. Verily I shall keep their compact, wherever they may be, in the sea or on the land, in the East or West, in the North or South, 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 drachmas a head per year (i.e. about 200 modern day US dollars).

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 Islams 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 Islams 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.

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28 Responses to Muslims and Christians

  1. Clearly ISIS never heard about this. Or heard about it and trumped it with their interpretation of the Qu’ran.

  2. Islam’s history is consistent violence – they are looking to build a kingdom on earth and how you get there is of little consequence. There is little enlightenment and their God is not the God of Christianity. Their world view is a complete contrast with Christianity where we look for a heavenly kingdom. This is not to excuse Christianity’s past but its 2014 and ignorance or lack of civilisation is no longer really an excuse.

    Regrettably I see no accommodation with them is possible unless God changes hearts – they want to kill everyone who will not convert and will then dine on themselves within the various sects within Islam.

    The problem with fundamental Muslims is Muslim fundamentals. I despair at the silent but supposed peaceful majority of Muslims – where are they speaking against these monstrous crimes?

    Rational debate is not possible with irrational people and at the end of the day Christ is it – no other option exists.

    • I’m not sure, Brown, how your comment quite responds to Mohammed’s covenant with Christians. If you are saying that this covenant has been broken, that is a reason to remember it now. If you are blaming this on God for not changing hearts, that is a question beyond this thread. There are a lot of “they” and “these” in your comment that appear to universalise and generalise, certainly beyond my own experience. Blessings.

  3. You only need to look at the tolerance given to Orthodox Christians under the Ottoman empire for many centuries.
    In contrast to that, I heard that in the 1990’s an apology was made seven hundred years after the ending of the Crusades by Christians for their treatment of Muslims.
    Some years later, a force from a Christian country invaded Iraq.

    • Iraq which was, of course, *not* a Muslim country. At the time it was a secular state, with a very sizable Christian minority.

  4. Not too surprising to me, to learn of the peaceful origins of the Prophet Muhammad’s Covenant with the monks of the monastery of Saint Catharine.

    Unfortunately, we hear too much about the ISIS type of Muslim community – whose puritanical fundamentalism has done great disservice to Muslim/Christian dialogue which is actually going on in different parts of the world.

    Fundamentalism in any religion can be counter-productive of true spirituality.

  5. This looks as authentic to me as the Donation of Constantine. There was no such book as ‘the Koran’ during the life of Muhammad (and what’s with this silly ‘pbuh’ honorifics?) and he died (AD 622) long before Egypt was conquered by the Arabs (AD 640). The clear purpose is to protect monks from jizya and other disabilities imposed by the Muslim Arabs.

    • Since I pointed to scholarship about this, Kieran, please point to the scholarship that lead you to the contention that this is inauthentic. Could you explain what the history of the Koran’s origin has to do with this thread? You might disagree with or not use what you refer to as honorifics, but referring to someone’s use of it as “silly” is not appropriate on this site. Blessings.

  6. The West has been warned:

    “Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.

    Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.

    Archbishop Amel Nona
    Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul, now exiled in Erbil”
    http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2014/08/archbishop-of-mosul-i-have-lost-my.html

  7. Thanks Bosco for posting this wonderful testimony to authentic Islam, truely a religion of tolerance and peace.

    ISIS is no more Islam than the U.S. invasion of Iraq was Christianity.

    Many Muslim scholars leaders have spoken out against ISIS in recent weeks.

    God Bless

  8. Bosco, you can find arguments on the thread here: http://www.jihadwatch.org/2012/06/ibn-warraq-walter-scott-the-talisman-the-crusades-richard-i-of-england-and-saladin-myths-legends-and
    which I read some time after this struck me as being like the Donation of Constantine: an ex post facto justification. Sinai wasn’t under Arab or Muslim threat during the life of Muhammad (who traditionally died in 632, not 622 as I mis-wrote above). As I said, ‘the Koran’ didn’t exist then either, so the citation is clearly anachronistic. Clearly the document had some protective power for the monks during the Ottoman period, but the language, pictures (!), Koranic citation, and extremely precise rules point to it being much, much later than AD 626. There are many legends about Muhammad, which clearly served a purpose (to protect monks and their buildings), but this isn’t how Muhammad treated religious minorities (not that Christians were a minority in Egypt in the 7th century).
    As for ‘pbuh’, why would a Christian want to honor a man who (if the Koran is to be believed – and really I don’t know how much it has to do with the historical person, I’m pretty sceptical about this)as well as the hadith, did ‘a lot of bad stuff’ in his life? If not ‘silly’, certainly a bit mannered?

    • Thanks, Kieran. To be clear – I have no expertise in this area whatsoever. I see that the link in my post has two translations; the older one does not cite “the Koran”. Therefore I see no reason to reject authenticity based on its citing in one translation as I have no way of ascertaining the translation methodology being used, and whether the words “the Koran” are present in the original. If you can read the original, do let us know. Blessings.

      • I found the Arabic text and in reading over it I am struck by how non-Qur’anic the language is. It is debated how much the Qur’an has to do with Muhammad, but the Qur’an is our only contender for what might have been Muhammad’s language. The Qur’an refers to Christians, but it generally does so very differently than this document does, although some care has evidently been taken to present this document as from a Muslim perspective. But it’s not only words for Christians which non-Qur’anic, but even words like “place” and “properties” are used in senses here which are not attested in the Qur’an, which uses other words for those meanings. This document also disagrees with basically all of the theories that scholars think they know about early Islam. As lovely as it would be if true, as a Middle Eastern historian I must conclude that this document has nothing to do with Muhammad or even with early Islam. The “missing original” is a common trope for forgeries to explain why the writing looks so recent.

        • Thanks, “Theophiletos”. We normally use our ordinary name in the community around this site. Is there any reason why, for this comment, you need to shield behind a pseudonym? Blessings.

  9. Egypt was not under Muslim or Arab attack in 626. It was still in the Byzantine empire.
    Reference to ‘the Koran’ is clearly anachronistic.
    The pictures are evidently inauthentic. Muhammad would not have put a handprint on a document.
    The purpose of the document, to protect the monks, is very clear.

  10. theophiletus: I agree with your impressions (though I don’t read Arabic). I don’t think St Catherine’s Monastery thinks it’s original to the 7th century either (at least they don’t claim it is).
    Of course, the condition of Christians in Egypt isn’t an academic question. I am glad the Muslim Brotherhood-linked government was overthrown; it must have been a very nervous time for Christians.
    I’ve discovered your blog and appreciate your erudition and irenic purpose.

  11. I am just worried that the Koran was quoted with chapter and verses. It is widely known that Mohammed did not see a copy of the Koran before his death so how was the Koran quoted in an agreement?

    • I’m not sure, Datong, whether that is in the original, or merely in this translation. It seems to me this may be a bit like arguing about a translation of the Bible which includes chapter numbers, verse numbers, story headings… Blessings.

  12. On September 1, 2014, Shaykh Yahya Pallavicini, Italian Ambassador of the Covenants Initiative, an international movement of Muslims to defend persecuted Christians based in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Lexington Kentucky, presented a copy of The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World to Pope Francis. The book, by Dr. John Andrew Morrow, a professor, author, and research scholar, contains the texts of six treaties between Muhammad and Christian communities of his time; they command Muslims not to attack or rob peaceful Christians, but rather defend them “until the end of the world.” Many Muslim scholars consider these covenants, authored by the Prophet himself, to be legally binding upon Muslims today. Shaykh Pallavicini described Francis as “very touched by my words of solidarity for the Christians in the Middle East”; the Pope extended his blessings to him for the important role we have as Western Muslims.

  13. Muslims and Christians should dialogue from positions of equality and respect. At times christians bend over backwards to accommodate Muslims. Christians are being massacred in Iraq and Middle East. There is a deliberate plan to eliminate Christians from this two countries – this is not a religious issue – it is criminal and should be dealt with as such

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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