By A. G. NOORANI
(Islam is a faith with a universal vision transcending national boundaries. The vision of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was not confined to the Arabian peninsula. He sent letters to rulers of foreign states, entered into Covenants with Christians and Jews, and sent deputations to foreign countries. The famous ‘Constitution of Medina’ is a classic of its kind… For all the West’s wrongs, why did the Muslim violate the injunctions of his Prophet (PBUH) and develop the narrow bigoted outlook that possesses so many Muslim in so many parts of the world? The wrongs have to be fought; but we have also to correct our own mistake and recover the purity of the spirit of Islam as taught by the Messenger of Allah (PBUH). – Author)
Islam has acquired a significant presence in Western countries. The Economist asked on 29 January 2011 “Are Muslims taking over the world, or at a minimum, transforming Europe into Eurabia? Whatever your hopes or fears for the future of the world’s religions, a report published this week has plenty to stoke them. ‘The Future of the Global Muslim Population’, produced by the Pew Research Centre, a non-profit outfit based in Washington, DC, reckons Muslim numbers will soar from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030. In other words, from 23.4% to 26.4% of the global total.
“At the heart of its analysis is the ongoing effect of a “youth bulge” which peaked in 2000. In 1990 Islam’s share of the world’s youth was 20%; in 2010, 26%. In 2030 it will be 29% (of 15 to 29 year olds). But the Muslim world is slowed by heading towards paunchiness: the median age in Muslim-majority countries was 19 in 1990. It is 24 now, and will be 30 by 2030. (For French, Germs and Japanese the figure is 40 or over). This suggests Muslim numbers will ultimately stop climbing, but later than the rest of the world population.”
Islam is a faith with a universal vision transcending national boundaries. The vision of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was not confined to the Arabian peninsula. He sent letters to rulers of foreign states, entered into Covenants with Christians and Jews, and sent deputations to foreign countries. The famous ‘Constitution of Medina’ is a classic of its kind.
In his magisterial work, ‘The Sprit of Islam’, Ameer Ali Syed records that “the Prophet granted to the monks of the monastery of St. Catherine, near Mount Sinai, and to all Christians, a Charter which has been justly designated as one of the noblest monuments of enlightened tolerance that the history of the world can produce. This remarkable document, which has been faithfully preserved by the annalists of Islam, displays a marvellous breadth of view and liberality of conception. By it the Prophet secured to the Christians privileges and immunities which they did not possess even under sovereigns of their own creed; and declared that any Moslem violating and abusing what was therein ordered, should be regarded as a violater of God’s testament, a transgressor of His commandments, and a slighter of Hills faith. He undertook himself, and enjoined on his followers, to protect the Christians, to defend their churches, the residences of their priests, and to guard them from all injuries. They were not to be unfairly taxed; no bishop was to be driven out of his bishopric; no Christian was to be forced to reject his religion; no monk was to be expelled from his monastery; no pilgrim was to be detained from his pilgrimage. Nor were the Christian churches to be pulled down for the sake of building mosques or houses for the Moslems. Christian women married to Moslems were to enjoy their own religion, and not to be subjected to compulsion or annoyance of any kind on that account. If Christians should stand in need of assistance for the repair of their churches or monasteries, or any other matter pertaining to their religion, the Moslems were to assist them. This was not to be considered as taking part in their religion, but as merely rendering them assistance in their need, and complying with the ordinances of the Prophet which were made in their favour by the authority of God and of His Apostle. Should the Moslem be engaged in hostilities with outside Christians, no Christian resident among the Moslems should be treated with contempt on account of his creed. Any Moslem so treating a Christian should be accounted recalcitrant to the Prophet.”
He records also that “the ninth year of the Hegira was noted for the embassies which flocked into Medina to render homage to the Prophet of Islam. The cloud which so long had rested over this land, with its wild chivalry, its blood-feuds, and its heathenism, is now lifted forever. The age of barbarism is past.
“The conquest of Mecca decided the fate of idolatry in Arabia. The people, who still regarded with veneration those beautiful moon-goddesses, Manat, Lat, and ‘Uzza, and their peculiar cult, were painfully awakened by the fall of its stronghold. Among the wild denizens of the desert the moral effect of the submission of the Meccans was great. Deputations began to arrive from all sides to tender the allegiance and adherence of tribes hitherto most inimical to the Moslem. The principal companions of the Prophet, and the leading citizens of Medina, at his request, received these envoys in their houses, and entertained them with the time-honoured hospitality of the Arabs. On departure, they always received an ample sum for the expenses of the road, with some additional presents, corresponding to their rank. A written treaty, guaranteeing the privileges of the tribe, was often granted, and a teacher invariably accompanied the departing guests to instruct the newly-converted people in the duties of Islam, and to see that every remnant of idolatry was obliterated from heir midst.”
This was written about a century ago. There has appeared recently a work which contains the full text of the Covenant with the monks of the monastery of St. Catherine and a good few other such Covenants as well. (‘The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World’ by John Andrew Morrow; Angelico Press/Sophia Perennis, USA 2013; 441 pages. In a surprise discovery, the writer acquired this all too rare book from Paramount Publishing Enterprise at 152/0, Block 2, P.ECHS, Karachi 75400). It has the full texts of six Covenants in the English translation, with the original Arabic text in kufi script and photostats of the original, as transcribed by the scribes of the Prophet (PBUH). They are prefaced by the compiler John Andrew Morrow’s erudite essay on, “The Prophet Muhammad and the People of the Book”. Each text has a commentary capped by a detailed examination of the authorities, careful description of how each of these rare documents was tracked, the historical context in which the Prophet (PBUH) entered into each of the Covenants, Morrow’s General Conclusions and his suggestions for future scholarship.
Witnesses to each Covenant are listed, and the work is profusely illustrated with photographs of the places, including “the cave where Moses received the Ten Commandments and where Muhammad (PBUH) meditated while at Mount Sinai”, and 19 photostats of the letters he wrote to some including the rulers of Oman and Bahrayn, the Emperor of Abyssinia, the ruler of Egypt, the Persian Emperor and to Heraclius.
Morrow, a 43 year old Canadian, studied Arabic and specialised in Islamic and Hispanic Studies. He completed the full cycle of traditional Islamic seminary studies. He has published a multitude of scholarly writings in English, French and Spanish and is currently Associate Professor of Spanish and French at Ivy Tech in Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.
The importance of this work cannot be exaggerated. Its publication is itself a major event in Islamic scholarship as Charles Upton points out in his Foreword “The two foundational sources of the Islamic tradition have always been the Holy Quran – the direct Word of Allah as revealed to his Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him – and the prophetic hadith literature, the record of the sayings of Muhammad as remembered by his wives, his close companions, and others who had been in his presence and heard his words. (The tradition of sirah or prophetic biography is also important, but it has never held the same pre-eminent position as these two). When, after the Prophet’s death, his wife ‘A’ishah was asked what his character was like, she answered: “It was exactly like the Qur’an.”
“With the publication of The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World we may in fact be witnessing – unexpectedly, miraculously, at this extremely late date – the emergence of a third foundational source for Islam, one that is entirely consonant with the first two: the application of western methods of textual and historical research to the documents composed by the Prophet (PBUH) himself during his lifetime. These documents – letters, covenants, treaties, etc. – while they have been known to a few scholars for many centuries, have been largely neglected by both traditional Muslim and modern western scholarship, and are virtually unknown to the mass of believers.”
There are two other reasons why this work is so welcome. First, is the timing and, next, its lessons for Muslims, Christians and Jews, alike. The author of this book has opened up the world of the Prophet (PBUH) and his contemporaries as few before him. Who knew that, before the Crusades, Muslims on the hajj visited Christian and Jewish sacred sites on their way to Mecca? Who knew that Christians as well as Muslims, in the time of the Prophet, were called by the title al-mu’minin, “the faithful”? Who knew that Christian knights and warriors sometimes fought side-by-side with the armies of Islam? Who knew that even Crusaders were given safe-conduct by Muslim authorities to make pilgrimages to the Christian holy sites controlled by Islam? “Dr. Morrow makes a compelling case that the original intent of Muhammad was not to create a strictly Muslim state, but rather a confederation of the People of the Book. Muslims, as the founders of this confederation, would retain their pre-eminence, but all the peoples of the Islamic ummah were to enjoy the rights accorded to citizens of that confederacy – rights that were extended, under certain circumstances, even to pagan polytheists.
“… It is nothing short of providential that The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World has seen the light of day at this precise historical moment. The Covenants of the Prophet with various Christian communities of his time, which Dr. Morrow has rediscovered in obscure monasteries and collections, providing cogent arguments for their validity, uniformly state that Muslims are not to attack peaceful Christian communities, rob them, stop churches from being repaired, tear down churches to build mosques, prevent their Christian wives from going to church and taking spiritual direction from Christian priests and elders, etc. On the contrary, the prophet commands Muslims to actively protect these communities “until the End of the World.” In view of the contemporary, massively destabilising attacks by the Western powers on many Muslim nations, and the continued spread of the Wahhabi/Salafi version of Islam – a form of wilful and militant ignorance which has been the social and ideological seed-bed for so much “Islamic” terrorism, and which is opposed in so many particulars both to the rulings of the prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and the clear teachings of the Holy Qur’an – even making itself vulnerable, in certain instances, to manipulation by the very Western powers who are apparently dedicated to the total destruction of traditional dar al-islam – the revelation of newly rediscovered documents recording the Prophet’s very words, which command Muslims to protect and defend peaceful Christian communities, not attack them, could not be more timely, more crucial, and in greater need of wide and rapid dissemination.”
The Quran itself is very clear on this point. “He has revealed unto you (Muhammad) the Scripture with truth, confirming that which was (revealed) before it, even as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel. (3:3)”
“Say (O Muhammad): ‘O people of the Scripture: Come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but God, and that we associate no partners with Him, and that none of us shall take others as lords besides God.’(3:64)” (This was a hint of the covenants).
“And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him so we submit.(29:46)”
“Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.(2:62)”
Morrow scoured for the Covenants in the Libraries of Universities in Europe and the United States and in Lebanon among other places. He has drawn laboriously on the works of scholars in the past. “The present edition of the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World includes six of the covenants concluded by the Messenger of Allah with distinct communities all of which were translated directly from the original Arabic. It features modern typed versions of the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai, the Covenant of the prophet Muhammad with the Christians of Najran, the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of Persia, and the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Assyrian Christians. It also includes scanned copies of the ‘Ahd wa al-shurut published by Gabriel Sionita in 1630 and Johann Georg Nissel in 1655 as well as a copy of what appears to be the original covenant brought from Palestine to Paris by Father Pacifique Scaliger in 1629. This possible source covenant, which dates to 1538, has never been previously published. Likewise, besides being cited over the centuries in various sources, the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with the Monks of Mount Sinai has never been fully published in book format in both Arabic and English.”
Morrow and a host of other scholars launched “The Covenants Initiative” with this declaration. “We the undersigned hold ourselves bound by the spirit and the letter of the covenants of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) with the Christians of the world, in the understanding that these covenants, if accepted as genuine, have the force of law in the shariah today and that nothing in the shariah, as traditionally and correctly interpreted, has ever contradicted them. As fellow victims of the terror and godlessness, the spirit of militant secularism and false religiosity now abroad in the world, we understand your suffering as Christians through our suffering as Muslims, and gain greater insight into our own suffering through the contemplation of your suffering. May the Most Merciful of the Merciful regard the sufferings of the righteous and the innocent; may He strengthen us, in full submission to His will, to follow the spirit and the letter of the covenants of the prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the world in all our dealings with them. In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds.”
The author’s narrative of the Prophet’s life (PBUH) shows that even before the Revelation he had been to Syria and to Yemen and along the coasts of the Gulf and was well acquainted with the customs of the Christian world. He was well travelled and was familiar with the environment in which he functioned. Particularly significant is his visit to the Monastery of St. Catherine’s in Mount Sinai. The original of the Covenant, signed by Abu Bakar and Ali and sealed by the Prophet (PBUH) was taken away by Sultan Selim, the Ottoman Conqueror of Egypt, to Istanbul but he left behind a firman Confirming the same privileges. He had bought the original for four thousand gold crown. Quranic verses link the prophet (PBUH) to the Mount of Sinai (95:1-6).
“Up to the 14th century, Muslims from all schools of law and thought regularly made pilgrimage to Mount Sinai and prayed in the mosque located in the monastery. When Greffin Affagart (d.c. 1557 CE) visited Mount Sinai between the years 1533-1534 CE, he observed that ‘The Turks and the Moors have a singular devotion to this place, not only for the mysteries of the old Testament that took place there, but also for the holy virgin Catherine, whom they reverence, for which reason they have built a mosque in the monastery namely, a church with a priest who is charged with maintaining it and officiating in their fashion, and in which are found the privileges which Muhammad granted to the monastery. …
“If it is now customary for Muslims who go to Mecca for the hajj to also pay a visit to the Prophet’s tomb in Medina, prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948 Muslims typically included a visit to the mosque of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem as well.”
‘The Constitution of Medina’ is set out in this volume with an illuminating commentary. “Muhammad clearly identified himself as the Prophet and Messenger of Allah, his religion as Islam, and his followers as Muslims in the many letters he sent which still exist in museums to this date. Of the sixty-two letters said to have been sent by the Prophet Muhammad in Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic, the texts of twenty-nine of them are available. This, of course, does not include the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai, the Covenant of the Prophet with the Assyrian Christians, the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of Persia, the Covenant of the prophet Muhammad with the Armenian Christians of Jerusalem, and the two versions of the Covenant of the prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, among possible others. Hence, over thirty-five letters of the Prophet appear to have survived over the course of the centuries. … If the claim that Islam, as a distinct religion, developed under the rule of ‘Abd-al-Malik, is false, it is nonetheless true that “(t)he relationship of mutual trust and even conviviality that characterized Christian and Muslim during the early Umayyad days began to change, however, during the reign of Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik (685-705 CE) and his four sons who succeeded him in turn”.
Fulfilling a promise he had made to the monks many years ago, the Prophet engaged in a treaty with the Monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai. “As with the treaty he concluded with the Christians of Najran, the Messenger of Allah did not expect the Christians of the Sinai to embrace Islam. He simply sought their solidarity. The Treaty of Saint Catherine, which was dictated by the Prophet to Mughirah, and signed in the year 6 AH (628 CE), stipulated the following: ‘Wherever goods that the neighbors of Allah and His Messenger have in their churches, monasteries and bishoprics, however small or great they may be, will remain in the possession. No bishop is to be driven out of his bishopric. No monk is to be expelled from his monastery. No changes will be made with regards to their rights and sovereignty or anything in their possession provided that they remain friendly (towards Islam and Muslims). They will reform the rights incumbent on them. They will not be oppressed nor will they oppress.’”
In his “Letter to Heraclius,” which was probably sent in 627 CE, the Prophet invited the Roman ruler to embrace Islam: “In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, to Heraclius, the Emperor of the Romans. Peace be upon him who follows the straight path! I invite you to embrace Islam. If you embrace Islam, you will be secure. If you embrace Islam, Allah will give you a double reward. However, if you refuse to do so, the responsibility for misguiding an entire nation will be yours. ‘O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you; That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah.’ If then they turn back, say ye; ‘Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah’s Will)’. Morrow reproduces a photostat of this historic letter. Practice conformed to percept in the earlier years before despots violated the Covenant.
In his able study ‘The Cross and the Crescent’, Richard Fletcher writes, “In the written traditions of Islam… there is an embedded cordiality towards Christianity. In practice, of course, this was not always observed. Patriarch Sophronius lamented the destruction of churches and monasteries which occurred during the Muslim invasion of Palestine. Such things happen in wartime. But the record of such capitulation treaties as survive shows that the leadership sought to observe Koranic percept.” (20-21)”
Another authority John F. Esposito (b. 1940 CE) says “When Muslims conqured Byzantium, they were welcomed by some Christian sects and groups, who were persecuted as ‘heretics’ by ‘official’ Christianity, that is, Catholicism. Many Christians welcomed Muslim rule that gave them more freedom to practice their faith and imposed higher taxes. Despite initial fears, the Muslim conquerors proved to be far more tolerant than imperial Christianity had been, granting religious freedom to indigenous Christian churches and Jews.(82)”.
Fletcher adds “To the persecuted Monophysite Christians of Syria and Egypt, the Muslims could be presented as deliverers. The same could be said of the persecuted Jews of Spain”. When the Muslims entered Spain in 711 CE, at the request of the oppressed Jews who had come to them requesting liberation, “the Arabs promised the local inhabitants that their homes and land would not be seized and that their religious customs would not be curtailed”,
When Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (1138-1193 CE) took Jerusalem in 1187 CE, he mirrored the magnanimity of the messenger of Allah: “He granted its people clemency and allowed freedom of movement to Christian pilgrims throughout his domain”.
Morrow’s critique of the West’s attitude to the Muslims, by itself and through its proxies, is eloquent: “The Phalange, a fascist movement composed of Maronite Christians, slit the throats of three hundred Muslims at road-blocks on Black Friday in 1975 and massacred Palestinians in the camp of Tel el-Za’tar a year later (Dalrymple 226). Acts of terrorism carried out by Muslims – or sometimes, if we are to believe various accounts of agent provocateur action, by persons posing as Muslims – as well as all sorts of planned attacks, usually thwarted at the last moment, are liberally reported by the Western media. What is not reported is the long history of European colonialism, and European and American neo-colonialism, both military and economic, under the relentless blows of which the Muslim world has been the loser, almost every time. Islam is ideologically violated and its holiest figure slandered on a daily basis, sometimes by the very people who pretend to value “diversity,” “multiculturalism,” and “religious pluralism.” Yet it was under the rule of Islam, not Western liberal democracy – whether or not this form of government was imposed upon a particular unwilling population by force of arms – that the Muslims of the world enjoyed the fullest rights, protections, and liberties. Conversely, the periods of greatest intolerance have coincided with Western imperialist occupation both past and present.”
But he is even handed and criticises Muslim rulers who departed from the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH). The clergy, predictably, aided them. Their influence on the Muslim mind was harmful. “The suppression of material that was favourable towards Christians took place at a time when ties between the followers of Christ and the followers of Muhammad (PBUH) had degenerated. It appears that a hardening of positions seems to have developed between the two communities with Muslim scholars becoming increasingly intransigent in their interpretations of Islam rendering the Muslim religion increasingly intolerant, puritanical, and exclusivist.
“Regardless of the reasons that motivated such manipulations of sacred history, Muslims are duty-bound to abide by the example of the Prophet Muhammad as opposed to the ideologically-inspired misinterpretations of misguided mullahs. The teachings and actions of the messenger of Allah (PBUH) speak for themselves. Not only should Muslims respect holy sites, they must respect holy people, regardless of whether or not they belong to the Islamic faith. Piety is piety. Righteousness is righteousness. Love of God and devotion are universal. Nobody has a monopoly on goodness. Until the rise of iconoclastic Salafism, which aims to destroy all historical and archaeological remnants of Islamic history, Muslims showed a great deal of reverence for sacred sites and the resting places of pious and saintly people.”
In and around Damascus alone, writes, Bethany J. Walker, “One could visit a variety of shrines, revered by Muslims and Christians alike: the Mosque of Moses’ Footprints, the birthplace of Abraham, the Cave of [Abel’s] Blood, Adam’s Cave, the Hunger Cave, the refuge of Mary and Jesus, Elias’ oratory, and the Cemetery of the Prophets. Within four miles of the city were the cemeteries of holy men and numerous mausolea of multifarious venerable, such as … various Copanions of the Prophet… and ‘’People of the House’ of the Prophet (Umm Kulthum, ‘Ali Talib’s daughter; the children of Hasan and Husayan, the sons of ‘Ali, son-in-law of the prophet); the ‘Martyrs’… Seth, Noah, and Moses, and numerous other luminaries.”
The hadith are based on a long transmission of accounts by a large number of persons. In contrast, the Covenants are direct proof of the Prophets own words (PBUH). Their provisions are similar and strikingly consistent over the years, reflecting a conscious policy. “XIV. If a Christian woman shall happen to marry a Muslim man, the Muslim shall not cross the inclination of his wife to keep her from her Church and prayers, and the practice of her religion. XV. That no person hinder them from repairing their churches. XVI. Whosoever acts contrary to my grant, or gives credit to anything contrary to it, becomes truly an apostate to God, and to his divine apostle, because this protection I have granted to them according to this promise. XVII. No one shall bear arms against them, but, on the contrary, the Muslims shall wage war for them.” Thus read the Covenant with the monks of Mount Sinai attested by Ali and several others.
The Covenant with the Christians of the World, contained detailed pledges in explicit terms. It bears quotation in extenso for it completely refutes the calumnies on Islam and its Prophet (PBUH). “It is not permitted to remove a bishop from his bishopric or a Christian from his Christianity, a monk from his monastic life or a pilgrim from his pilgrimage or a hermit monk from his tower. Nor is it permitted to destroy any part of their churches, to take parts of their buildings to construct mosques or the homes of Muslims. Whoever does such a thing will have violated the pact of Allah, disobeyed his messenger, and betrayed the Divine Alliance.
“It is not permitted to impose a capitation [jizyah] or any kind of tax on monks or bishops only that which they are prepared to give willingly.
The capitation [jizyah] upon owners of large businesses, and divers, and those who exploit mines for precious stones, gold and silver, and those who are wealthy, and powerful, among those who have professed Christianity, may not surpass more than twelve dirhams per year, so long as they are inhabitants of these countries or residents, and not travellers.
“The traveller, or the resident whose place [of residence] is unknown, is not obliged to pay the land tribute [kharaj] or the poll-tax [jizyah] unless he has inherited land over which the ruler [sultan] has a monetary right. He must pay the money [mal] as others without, however, the charges unjustly exceeding the measure of their means [or strength].
“As for the labor force which the owners spend upon to cultivate these lands, to render them fertile, and to harvest them, they are not to be taxed excessively. Let them pay in the same fashion that was imposed on other similar tributaries.
“The free non-Muslims enjoying Muslim protection [ahl al-dhimmah] will not be obliged to go to war with the Muslims in order to combat their enemies, to attack them, and to seize them. Indeed, such free non-Muslims [ahl al-dhimmah] will not engage in war along with the Muslims. It is precisely to discharge them of this obligation that this pact has been granted to them as well as to assure them the help and protection on the part of the Muslims. They will not be obliged to go out with the Muslims to meet their enemies or be forced to give their horses, their arms, unless they contribute to the cause freely. Whoever does so will be recognized for his action.
“No Christian will be made Muslim by force: And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (29:46). They must be covered by the wing of mercy. Repel every harm that could reach them wherever they may find themselves and in any country in which they are.
“If a Christian were to commit a crime or an offense, Muslims must provide him with help, defense, and protection. They should pardon his offense and encourage his victim to reconcile with him, urging him to pardon him or to receive compensation in return.
“The Muslims must not abandon the Christians and leave them without help and assistance since I have made this pact with them on behalf of Allah to ensure that whatever good befell Muslims it would befall them as well and that whatever harm befell Muslims would befall them as well. In virtue of this pact, they have obtained inviolable rights to enjoy our protection, to be protected from any infringement of their rights, so that they will be bound to the Muslims both in good and bad fortunes.
“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.
“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, to follow the path of her own religion, and he will not force her to leave it. Whoever, despite this order, forces his wife to act contrary to her religion in any aspect whatsoever he will have broken the alliance of Allah and will enter into open rebellion against the pact of His Messenger, and Allah will count him among the impostors.
“If the Christians seek the help and assistance of the Muslims in order to repair their churches and their convents or to arrange matters pertaining to their affairs and religion, they, [the Muslims], must help and support them. However, they must not do so with the aim of receiving any reward. On the contrary, they should aim to restore that religion, out of faithfulness to the pact of the Messenger of Allah, by pure donation, and as a meritorious act before Allah and His Messenger.
“In matters of war between them and their enemies, the Muslims will not employ any Christian as a messenger, scout, guide or spy or for any other duty of war. Whoever obliges one of them to do such a thing is an oppressor [zalim], a rebel against the messenger of Allah, and has differed over his testament [wasiyyah]”. The first four Caliphs and many others, signed as witnesses and it was “written (down) by Mu’awiggah ibn Ali Sufyan and dictated by the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) on the second day of the month of Rabi ‘Ashar during the fourth year of Hejrah in Medina”. The details testify not only to the Prophet’s outlook but also to the clarity of his mind and to his precision.
The chapter on Morrow’s “General conclusions” restates his analyses of the authenticity, significance and historical impact of the Covenants. They “present Islam in an entirely new light”. Some incidents are well known such as Hazrat Umar’s respect for Churches and Salahuddin Ayyubi’s tolerance. Harvard University Press has published on 12 May 2014 a voluminous biography ‘Saladin’ by Anne-Marie Edde’, translated by Jane-Marie Todd. It is a work of stupendous research. (704 pages $22.50).
The Prophet’s Companions followed his teachings. Abu Bakr renewed the Prophet’s (PBUH) Covenant with the Christians of Najran. “In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the most Merciful. This is the written statement of Allah’s slave. Abu Bakr, the successor of Muhammad, the Prophet and Messenger of Allah. He affirms your rights as a protected neighbour: yourselves, your lands, your religious community, your wealth retainers, and servants, those of you who are present or abroad, your bishops and monks, monasteries, and all that you own, be it great or small. You shall not be deprived of it, and shall have full control over it.”
When the people of Jerusalem surrendered to the forces of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (579-644 CE), the Second Caliph made the following decree: “This is the guarantee that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab makes with the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It protects their lives, their belongings, their churches, their crucifixes, and everything that pertains to their beliefs. Their churches will not be inhabited by Muslims nor will they be destroyed. Their household goods will not be taken from them. And they will not be forced to abandon their relgion.”
After Patriarch Solonio showed ‘Umar the various holy sites in the city in 659 CE, he invited him to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Caliph declined, saying he preferred to pray outside, as he did not want to set a precedent that Muslims could follow. He wanted to ensure the protection of a Christian holy site. ‘Umar also entrusted the custody of the site to ‘Ubadah ibn al-Samit, a Companion of the Prophet. “His descendants, known by the family name of Nuseibeh, continue to administer the holy site to this day. Uthman was equally kind to the People of the Book. He was even married to a Jacobite Christian.”
In the Prophet’s (PBUH) days, there existed three Empires – Byzantine, the Sassanids in Persia and Visigoths in Spain. Islam’s challenge to the West was on four fronts – political, strategic and military, cultural and religious. A new power had arrived, powerful, assertive and very alive. The intellectual ferment and cultural achievements were dazzling. The faith was unnerving. It might have been tolerable if it had nothing in common with Christianity – or Judaism –or was an obvious heresy. Islam was a coherent faith rooted in compelling fundamentals, offering friendship while delineating precisely where it differed. The attack on Constantinople, “the City of the Mother of God” in 670 was unnerving. The historian Andrew Wheatcroft remarks “From the outset, the pace of Islam took Christendom by surprise” (‘Infidels: The Conflict between Christendom and Islam’, 638-2002; Penguin, p. 40). The Orthodox Church developed a deep antipathy towards Islam and not very long after caliph Umar entered Jerusalem Christian scholars developed a comprehensive attack on Islam” (ibid., p. 48).
During the Prophet’s lifetime, Islam was confined to the Arabian Peninsula. He passed away in 632, and soon after that, Islam spread with extraordinary rapidity. Persia, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and North Africa fell to Arab forces. In the eighth and ninth centuries, Spain, Sicily and parts of France were conquered. By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Muslims ruled in India, Indonesia and China. The Arab Empire gradually declined. Baghdad fell to the Mongols in 1055. In Spain the Christian Reconquista movement extinguished Arab rule by conquering the last stronghold, Granada, in 1492. Arab rule in Spain lasted for nearly eight centuries. However, in 1453 Constantinople fell to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. In the eyes of Europe, the Turks had taken over from the Arabs as ‘the Islamic threat to Christian Europe’. Having conquered Egypt in 1517, the Turks reached the gates of Vienna twice, in 1529 and in 1683, but were repulsed. For five hundred years the ottomans were Europe’s most feared enemy.
In the first decade of the nineteenth century the Ottoman Empire spread across North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the greater part of the Balkans as far as the lower reaches of the Danube. It also included Palestine. Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 638. The ottoman Empire was liquidated in 1919 immediately after the First World War.
We can gauge the West’s dread of Islam from Edward Gibbon’s elegant prose “A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the reception of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Muhammad.” (‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’; The Modern Library, 1781, Vol. 2, p. 801).
Gibbon was relieved that from such calamities was Christendom delivered by the genius and fortune of one man, Charles Martel. He defeated at Poitiers (Tours) in 732 the forces of Abd al-Rahman whose detachment had overspread the kingdom of Burgundy as far as the cities of Lyons and Besamcon. The first Arab invasion of France was conducted in 718. A few years after their defeat in 732, not far from Paris, they returned in force to France. Maurontius, the duke of Marseilles, had allied himself with the Arabs. By 759 their expulsion from France was complete. Christendom launched seven Crusades against Muslim rulers over 175 years from 1095 to 1270. They spawned myths and calumnies. Minu Reeves’ ‘Muhammad in Europe: A Thousand years of Western Myth – Making’ (New York University Press 2000) documents this sordid record. She remarks “The modern conflict between Muslims and Jews was triggered by Western colonial dictates and by Zionism. It radicalized Islam and divorced it once again, as in the medieval Ages, from its mother-faiths, Judaism and Christianity. Islam had been forced into isolation, provoking anti-European feelings amongst its followers. The Balfour Declaration had reinforced the Jewish people’s awareness of its ancient claim, rooted in the religious history of Israel and the destruction of its state by the Romans in A.D. 70 … the first Jewish-Muslim territorial and ideological conflict since the advent of Islam … was in the making.”
Professor Frederick Quim, an Episcopalian priest and former diplomat, also establishes that record in his able work, ‘The Sum of All Heresies: The Image of Islam in Western Thought’ (Oxford University Press; 2008). His survey begins from the days of the Prophet (PBUH) and ends in 2000.
For a thousand years Islam was superior to Christendom and dominated its Christian neighbours as even Bernard Lewis acknowledged. For centuries “Islam was the greatest civilisation on earth”. Two works of erudition tell us in rich detail how Islam enriched the West: ‘Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History’ by Ahmad Dallal (Yale University Press 2010) and ‘Science & Islam: A History’ by Ehsan Masood (Icon Books; 2009). There was then no conflict between religion and reason. “In fact, the evidence for the presence of the rational sciences as a constitutive element in the educational landscape of classical Muslim societies is simply overwhelming. The testimony for their constant presence comes mainly from the actual combination of religious and scientific scholarship in the persons of numerous scholars, especially after the twelfth century. In different regions and periods, countless scholars produced advanced scholarship in such fields as hadith and medicine, Qur’anic exegesis and astronomy, and law and philosophy, not to mention theology, grammar, logic, and many other areas of study. Scholars often alternated teaching religious and scientific disciplines in the same place.” (Dallal, p.19).
Richard Fletcher’s book ‘The Cross and the Crescent: The dramatic story of the earliest encounters between Christians and Muslims’ (Penguin Books; 2003) holds that “In the long term the most fruitful zone of interaction between Christian and Muslim during the crusading epoch lay in intellectual life. A major cultural development of the early Abbasid period was the acquisition by the Islamic scholarly community of the scientific and philosophical learning of the ancient world by means of the translation of its textual heritage into Arabic. We glanced at the diffusion of that corpus of knowledge throughout the Dar al-Islam, and then at the dawnings, in the mathematical interests of Gerbert of Aurillac, of an awareness that Western scholars had much to learn from their Muslim neighbours. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries this Arabic corpus was translated into Latin, the language of learning in western Christendom, and thus made available to scholars. This was a process whose significance in the intellectual history of the world it would be hard to exaggerate.” (p.116)
After citing examples of such ventures in translation he points out “The range of Geek or Arab authors now available to scholars such as Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln (d. 1253), or his pupil Roger Bacon (d. 1292) would have astounded the learned men of Adelard’s day . So would the institutions in which they could be studied. Learning had moved away from the monasteries, with their deeply conservative loyalty to a syllabus of study almost exclusively concerned with the Bible and the Church Fathers. The scholars of the thirteenth century studied and argued in new institutions called ‘universities’ – at Paris, Bologna, Oxford, to name but three – with libraries, lecture halls and textbooks. The whole atmosphere of scholarship had changed. In this as in many other respects the thirteenth century is recognizably a part of our modern world.”
Prof. Richard Bulliet put it picturesquely. “The diverse and long-standing peaceful side of European-Muslim relations remains in shadow. When you arise in the morning, your toothbrush and the hard soap you wash with are borrowings from the Muslim world. At breakfast, your orange juice and coffee come from the Muslims, and so does the sugar you put in your coffee and the clear glass and glazed coffee cup you drink from. You read your newspaper. Both paper and the idea of printing are borrowings from Muslim society. What do you do later? Play chess? Eat pasta? Play your guitar? All from the Muslim world.
“Beyond daily life, of course, there are myriad other borrowings from Muslim societies, particularly in the areas of medicine, chemistry and philosophy. Today these are normally treated as irrelevancies from a long ago time. But that seemingly irrelevant long ago time was actually the time of the Crusades that so many think are still highly relevant. The languages of all European countries contain hundreds of words of Arabic, Persian or Turkish origin, mostly dealing with science (alcohol, algebra), consumer goods (sugar, coffee), and elegant living (lute, damask).” (The International Herald Tribune; 16 July 2007).
The historian William Dabymple recalls that “throughout Muslims and Christians have traded, studied, negotiated and loved across the porous frontiers of religious differences. Probe relations between the two civilizations at any period of history, and you find that the neat civilizational blocks imagined by writers such as Bernard Lewis or Samuel Huntington soon dissolve. … What is most interesting about the early modern cases … is how the tolerant and pluralistic brand of Islam dominant at the time overpowered foreigners as often by its power of attraction as by the sword.” (An insightful review article, ‘The Truth About Muslims’; New York Review of Books; 4 November 2004).
If the Balfour Declaration sowed the seeds of the forcible planting of a Jewish State on Arab lands, the Sykes-Picot agreement broke up the unity of the Arab nation while it and the McMahon letters to the Sheriff of Mecca practised deliberate deceit on the Arab – and at one remove, the Muslim world. The practitioners still refuse to make amends and their victims refuse to forgive; for the wrongs continue.
Prof Dallal’s questions are pertinent. “Why did the Muslims fall behind while Europe progressed? In the early twentieth century, this question was often reformulated: Why did Muslims fail to achieve a renaissance despite their awareness of a need for one? What structural factors thwarted the Islamic modernization efforts? Invariably, science was invoked in discussions of decline and ways of overcoming it. And despite the bleak conditions for the practice or progress of science in the contemporary Islamic world, most Muslim intellectuals, and people with a broad range of opinions generally, proclaim its neutrality and value. Yet the outcome suggests that these discussions have had little impact on the development of a contemporary scientific culture in Muslim societies.”
Therein lies the abiding relevance of Prof. Morrow’s path-breaking work. For all the West’s wrongs, why did the Muslim violate the injunctions of his Prophet (PBUH) and develop the narrow bigoted outlook that possesses so many Muslim in so many parts of the world? The wrongs have to be fought; but we have also to correct our own mistake and recover the purity of the spirit of Islam as taught by the Messenger of Allah (PBUH).
The author is an eminent Indian scholar and expert on constitutional issues.