The Prophet Muhammad and the Christian priests of Mount Sinai

· Islam: A Religion of Peace
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The Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, was the greatest pioneer of religious freedom and tolerance. When we say it, we literally mean it, for it would take history more than 1000 years to produce anything, remotely equal, in generosity and tolerance, to the covenant that he gave to the Christian monks of Mount Sinai as well as to those from Najran and to the Christians in general. By the grace of Allah we have found the complete record of the Covenant in Christian sources.

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

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) 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.

File:The Patent of Mohammed.jpg

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

File:Saint Catherine Sinai.jpg
Saint Catherine’s Monastery (Greek: Μονὴ τῆς Ἁγίας Αἰκατερίνης) lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of an inaccessible gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai in Saint Katherine city in Egypt. The monastery is Greek Orthodox and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the UNESCO report (60100 ha / Ref: 954) and website hereunder, this monastery has been called the oldest working Christian monastery in the world – although the Monastery of Saint Anthony, situated across the Red Sea in the desert south of Cairo, also holds claim to that title.
The monastery possesses an important historical document, the Achtiname, in which Muhammad is claimed to have bestowed his protection upon the monastery.  I have included the picture in the very beginning.  The following description is borrowed from wikipedia:
“In 628 Muhammad (s) granted a Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. It consisted of several clauses covering all aspects of human rights including such topics as the protection of Christians, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.
An English translation of that document is as follows:
The Patent of Mohammed. granted to the Monastery of Sinai.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 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 is 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 (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

References

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

1 Comment

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  1. Zia H. Shah

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

    Prophet Muhammad (sa) 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 (sa) 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 (sa)’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

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