Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World
By John Andrew Morrow

Book Excerpt: Foreword

The two foundational sources of the Islamic tradition have always been the Holy Qur'an—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 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. One of the most valuable contributions of this work is that it represents a comprehensive treasury of rare, ancient, Islamic sources, many of which have been quite difficult to obtain. Rather than spend their time scouring European and Middle Eastern archives, scholars will now have all the sources they need to conduct further studies on the Covenants and advance our knowledge in this fascinating field. Not only has Dr. Morrow included the original primary sources in Arabic and Persian, he has provided corrected versions of most of these in modern Arabic typescript, along with a wide variety of translations for the purpose of comparative analysis. Consequently, the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World represents a necessary and foundational resource and source of reference for all subsequent studies.

In many cases, textual criticism by modern secular scholars has had a negative effect on our understanding of the scriptures and traditions of the Abrahamic religions, at least from the standpoint of the believer. Differences in style and genre in texts traditionally attributed to a single writer are often parceled out to several writers—writers invented by the critics themselves—with little justification outside the unwarranted belief that no writer of ancient times could have commanded a spectrum of styles, used them for distinct purposes, or directed them to different audiences. And one effect of this prejudice has been the tendency to view a given sacred tradition as a kind of pastiche, accidentally, arbitrarily, or cunningly sewn together from God-knows-what mass of heterogeneous influences, usually for the purpose of pulling the wool over the eyes of the "ignorant masses." Needless to say, the notion that the Holy Qur'an could have been dictated, word for word, to the Prophet Muhammad, on specific known occasions, sometimes through the intermediary of the Angel Jibra'il, sometimes directly by Allah, is disallowed from the outset.