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The Covenants of the Prophet: Read an Excerpt
Muslims, of course, are not entirely to blame for failing to live up to the ideals of early Islam. Often, they are responding to centuries of Crusades, colonialism, imperialism, and neo-imperialism. If Muslims were generally tolerant of the People of the Book, their attitude gradually changed in response to changing circumstances. By the 14th and 15th century, Muslim jurists adopted a more restrictive approach towards non-Muslims. As Humphreys observes, "Many of these texts are quite late . . . and represent a period when the status of non-Muslims had sharply degenerated from earlier times; here as elsewhere no one text should be made the basis for sweeping generalizations" (259). In other words, for every action, there comes a reaction. If Jews and Muslims once lived in harmony in many Arab countries, sharing the same common language, culture, and traditions, the establishment of the State of Israel ruined a millennium and a half of conviviality. Centuries of colonial aggression, which continues to the present through Western intervention, invasion, and occupation, has done nothing but increase animosity towards Christians as a whole. Campaigns to convert Muslims to the Christian faith, and continued attacks against everything Muslims hold to be sacred, such as the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad, have led many Muslims to view all Christians with suspicion and their churches as Trojan horses.
Expanding upon the fifth item, the Prophet addresses the issue of taxation, for a second time, in item eight: "Neither their judges, governors, monks, servants, disciples, or any others depending on them, shall pay any poll-tax, or be molested on that account." Fearing, rightfully so, that those who would succeed him might attempt to "read between the lines" of item five and argue that only the monks were granted tax-free status, and that such status did not apply to their judiciary, servants, students or dependents, the Prophet stresses that the freedom from the poll-tax applies to the entire Christian community at Mount Sinai. Once again, he reiterates his warning. In the words of the Most Noble Messenger, "I am their protector, wherever 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." The Prophet is not merely their ruler. He is their protector. The Messenger of Allah was not merely the local warlord who reigned over Medina. He was not simply the leader of the Muslim community. He was, as he says so himself, the Rightful Ruler of the World, by the grace of God, and the guardian, not only of Islam, but of all Abrahamic religions. As such, he was the Patron of the People of the Book.
Because pan-Arabia contained a relatively large number of hermits, monks and wandering ascetics, including the likes of Bahira and other famous figures, the Prophet provided protection for all of them:
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 Muslim partake of what they have; for they labor only to maintain themselves.
Not only did he extend protection to the pious contemplatives among the People of the Book, he required that they be provided for: "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." In so doing, the Prophet demonstrated that he cared, not only for their spiritual vocation, but for their physical well-being. By supporting the People of the Book, the Prophet aimed to encourage good-will and cordial relations between the Christian and Muslim communities. When a government cares for its people, those people, save for the treacherous, will always be loyal and loving. The Prophet's policy was to win the hearts of the non-Muslims through selfless acts of kindness and consideration.