The Prophet Muhammad and the Christian priests of Mount Sinai

· Agnosticism
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Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai

The Holy Prophet Muhammad was the greatest pioneer of religious freedom and tolerance. When I say it, I literally mean it, for it would take history more than 1000 years to produce anything, remotely equal to the covenant that he gave to the Christian monks of Mount Sinai and to the Christians in general, in generosity and tolerance.

Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai, given by Muhammad, may peace be on him.

By the grace of Allah I have found the complete record of the Covenant in Christian sources, in the above mentioned book of a noble writer, John Davenport:

“In proof of the correctness of the view thus taken by the historian of the tolerant character of Mohammed, the following public document is here inserted, being extracted from a work entitled ‘A Description of the East and other Countries,’ by Richard Pococke, Bishop of Meath, and published in 1743, vol. i. p. 268. The high character of its author for piety, integrity and learning is a sufficient voucher for the authenticity of the document which is as follows :—

The Patent of Mohammed, which he granted to the Monks of Mount Sinai, and to Christians in general.

“As God is great and governeth, from whom all the prophets are come, for there remaineth no record of injustice against God; through the gifts that are given unto men, Mohammed, the son of Abdallah, the Apostle of God, and careful guardian of the whole world, has written the present instrument, to all those that are his national people, and of his religion, as a secure and positive promise to be accomplished to the Christian nation and relations of the Nazareen, whosoever they may be, whether they be the noble or the vulgar, the honourable or otherwise, saying thus:

I. Whosoever of my nation shall presume to break my promise and oath which is contained in this present agreement, destroys the promise of God, acts contrary to the oath and will be a resister of the faith (which God forbid!) for he becometh worthy of the curse, whether he be the king himself or a poor man, or what person soever he may be.

II. That whenever any of the monks in his travels shall happen to settle on any mountain, hill, village, or in any other habitable place, on the sea or in deserts, or in any convent, church, or house of prayer, I shall be in the midst of them, as the preserver and protector of them, their goods and effects, with my soul, aid and protection, jointly with all my national people, because they are a part of my own people, and an honour to me.

III. Moreover, I command all officers not to require any poll tax of them or any other tribute, because they shall not be forced or compelled to anything of this kind.

IV. None shall presume to change their judges or governors, but they shall remain in their office without being deposed.

V. No one shall molest them when they are travelling on the road.

VI. Whatever churches they are possessed of, no one is to deprive them of them.

VII. Whosoever shall annul any of these my decrees, let him know positively that he annuls the ordinance of God.

VIII. Moreover, neither their judges, governors, monks, servants, disciples, or any others depending on them, shall pay any poll tax or be molested on that account, because I am their protector, wheresoever they shall be, either by land or sea, east or west, north or south; because both they and all that belong to them are included in this my promissory oath and patent.

IX. And of those that live quietly and solitary upon the mountains, they shall exact neither poll tax nor tithes from their incomes, neither shall any Mussulman partake of what they have, for they labour only to maintain themselves.

X. Whenever the crop of the earth shall be plentiful in its due time, the inhabitants shall be obliged, out of every bushel, to give them a certain measure.

XI. Neither in time of war shall they take them out of their habitation, nor compel them to go to the wars, nor even then shall they require of them any poll-tax.

In these eleven chapters is to be found whatever relates to the monks; as to the remaining seven chapters they direct what relates to every Christian.

XII. Those Christians who are inhabitants, and with their riches and traffic are able to pay the poll-tax, shall pay no more than 12 drachmas.

XIII. Excepting this, nothing more shall be required of them, according to the express word of God, that says: ‘Do not molest those that have a veneration for the Books that are sent from God, but rather, in a kind manner, give of your good things to them, and converse with them, and hinder every one from molesting them.’

XIV. If a Christian woman shall happen to marry a Mussulman, the Mussulman shall not cross the inclination of his wife to keep her from her chapel and prayers and the practice of her religion.*

XV. That no person hinder them from repairing their churches.

XVI. Whosoever acts contrary to this my grant, or gives credit to anything contrary to it, becomes truly an apostate from God and 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 Mussulmans shall wage war for them.

XVIII. And by this I ordain that none of my nation shall presume to do or act contrary to this promise until the end of the world.

Witnesses: Ali the son of Abu Thaleb. Homar, the son of Hattavi. Ziphir, the son of Abuan. Saith, the son of Maat. Thavitt, the son of Nesis. Amphachin, the son of Hassan. Muathem, the son of Kasvi. Azur, the son of Jassin. Abombaker, the son of Ambi Kaphe. Ottoman, the son of Gafas. Ambtelack, the son of Messutt. Phazer, the son of Abbas. Talat, the son of Amptolack. Saat the son of Abbatt. Kasmer the son of Abid. Ambtullack the son of Omar.

This present was written by the leader, the successor of Ali, the son of Abu Thaleb; the prophet marking it with his own hand at the mosque of the Prophet (on whom be peace!) in the second year of Hegira, the third day of the month of Machorem.

* Turkish lawyers give as an example of this point, that the Mussulman son of a Christian mother is bound to convey her, when old or infirm, to the church door, upon a beast (horse or a mule etc.); and should he be poor and possess no beast, he is bound to carry her on his shoulders.” [1]

(John Davenport. An apology for Mohammed and the Koran. 1869. Pages 147-151. The book is available on Archive.org)

Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai

Saint Catherine’s Monastery (Greek: Μονὴ τῆς Ἁγίας Αἰκατερίνης Moni tes Hagias Aikaterines) lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai in the city of Saint Catherine in Egypt‘s South Sinai Governorate. The monastery is Orthodox and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the UNESCO report (60100 ha / Ref: 954), this monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world together with the Monastery of Saint Anthony, situated across the Red Sea in the desert south of Cairo, which also lays claim to that title.

Contents

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Christian traditions

According to tradition, Catherine of Alexandria was a Christian martyr initially sentenced to death on the wheel. However, when this failed to kill her, she was beheaded. According to tradition, angels took her remains to Mount Sinai. Around the year 800, monks from the Sinai Monastery found her remains. Though it is commonly known as Saint Catherine’s, the full, official name of the monastery is the Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai, and the patronal feast of the monastery is the Transfiguration. The relics of Saint Catherine of Alexandria were purported to have been miraculously transported there by angels and it became a favorite site of pilgrimage.

History

6th-century hot wax icon

The oldest record of monastic life at Sinai comes from the travel journal written in Latin by a woman named Egeria about 381-384. She visited many places around the Holy Land and Mount Sinai, where, according to the Hebrew Bible, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.[1]

The monastery was built by order of Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527-565), enclosing the Chapel of the Burning Bush ordered to be built by Helena, the mother of Constantine I, at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush; the living bush on the grounds is purportedly the original. It is also referred to as “St. Helen’s Chapel.” The site is sacred to Christianity and Islam.

Saint Catherine’s monastery, 1852

Patent of Mohammed

A Fatimid mosque was built within the walls of the monastery, but it has never been used since it is not correctly oriented towards Mecca.

During the seventh century, the isolated Christian anchorites of the Sinai were eliminated: only the fortified monastery remained. The monastery is still surrounded by the massive fortifications that have preserved it. Until the twentieth century, access was through a door high in the outer walls. From the time of the First Crusade, the presence of Crusaders in the Sinai until 1270 spurred the interest of European Christians and increased the number of intrepid pilgrims who visited the monastery. The monastery was supported by its dependencies in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Crete, Cyprus and Constantinople.

The monastery, along with several dependencies in the area, constitute the entire Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai, which is headed by an archbishop, who is also the abbot of the monastery. The exact administrative status of the church within Eastern Orthodoxy is ambiguous: by some, including the church itself,[2] it is considered autocephalous,[3][4] by others an autonomous church under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.[5][dead link] The archbishop is traditionally consecrated by the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem; in recent centuries he has usually resided in Cairo. During the period of the Crusades, marked by bitterness between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, the monastery was patronized by both the Byzantine Emperors and the rulers of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and their respective elites.

Coordinates: 28°33′20″N 33°58′34″E

Manuscripts and icons

The monastery possesses copies of an important historical document, the Achtiname, in which Muhammad is claimed to have bestowed his protection upon the monastery.[6]Prior to September 1, 2009, a previously unseen fragment of Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in the monastery’s library.[7] In May 1844, Konstantin von Tischendorf visited the monastery for research and discovered the Codex Sinaiticus from the 4th Century, the oldest almost completely preserved manuscript of the Bible. Meanwhile, the most important manuscripts have been filmed or digitized, and so the science accessible. This is certainly not for the discoveries of 1975, which previously could be viewed and evaluated exclusively by Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland from the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster, Germany in 1982.

The monastery library preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library. It contains Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Georgian, Syriac and old Udi texts. The Codex Sinaiticus, now in the British Library, left the monastery in the 19th century for Russia, in circumstances that are now disputed.[8]

The complex houses irreplaceable works of art: mosaics, the best collection of early icons in the world, many in encaustic, as well as liturgical objects, chalices and reliquaries, and church buildings. The large icon collection begins with a few dating to the 5th (possibly) and 6th centuries, which are unique survivals, the monastery having been untouched by Byzantine iconoclasm, and never sacked. The oldest icon on an Old Testament theme is also preserved there. A project to catalogue the collections has been ongoing since the 1960s. The monastery was an important centre for the development of the hybrid style of Crusader art, and still retains over 120 icons created in the style, by far the largest collection in existence. Many were evidently created by Latins, probably monks, based in or around the monastery in the 13th century.[9]

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  1. Zia Shah

    The original version of the letter can be found at the royal treasury in Constantinople in Turkey

    The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, sent a series of letters to various kings surrounding the Arab peninsula declaring his intention for peace and cooperation. One such letter was written to the monks of the St. Catherine Monastery of Mt. Sinai in 628 A.D. and known today as the “Charter of Privileges.”The letter reads:“This is a message from Muhammad, son of 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 compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. 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. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian it married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. 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 of (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”Western Islamic scholar, Marmaduke Pickthall, comments on this letter as follows:“The Charter which Muhammad granted to the Christian monks of Sinai is a living document. If you read it, you will see that it breathes not only goodwill, but also actual love. He gave to the Jews of Medina, so long as they were faithful to him, precisely the same treatment as to any Muslims. He never was aggressive against any man or class of men . . . The story of his reception of Christian and Zoroastrian visitors is on record. There is not a trace of religious intolerance in any of this.”The St. Catherine Monastery at Mt. Sinai, which is now in present day Egypt, has been designated by UNESCO as a “World Heritage Site” and is considered to be the oldest active Christian monastery in the world. In fact, the official website of the St. Catherine Monastery at Mt. Sinai proudly commemorates Prophet Muhammad’s letter of protection. The original version of the letter can be found at the royal treasury in Constantinople in Turkey. A copy is preserved on display at Mt. Sinai.

    http://www.jalsasalana.org/usa/2010/Religious-Freedom-in-America.pdf

    • Anonymous

      It is ironical that Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) examplified religious tolerance and freedom through his life but the mulla’s of this time do the opposite (and that too in his name)! Not just shameful but to dire consequences for peace in the world.The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam is a movement that is practicing what was taught by Quran and Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and is being increasingly recognised to be doing so by individuals, governments and other institutions. This is essential if peace is to return between people of all religions and ethnicities.

    • JaneyRuth Ramirez

      What a guy (pbuh)http://www.scribd.com/doc/24684118/Mahmoud-Ahmadinejad-s-Obituary

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