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The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World
By John Andrew Morrow
Book Excerpt: Chapter Two
Commentary on the Content of the Covenant with the Monks of Mount Sinai
The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai commences with the invocation of God's greatness and quickly moves into specifics: "As God is great and governs, from whom all the prophets are come, for there remains no record of injustice against God." Not only is God great, dictates the Prophet, but He also governs. The point is important both theologically and politically. Theologically, the Jews and Christians were engaged in a series of polemics concerning the role of the Creator. Some Jewish scholars argued that God has retired from active participation in the world after Creation, a view shared by the Deists of the Enlightenment and also by some contemporary Christian thinkers, such as Ernesto Cardenal. The Islamic position, espoused by the Prophet, is in agreement with the Catholic tradition which holds that God is actively engaged in a continuous process of Creation and Re-Creation. Hence, He is very much the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.
If God rules, then, it follows that the rule of God should be established upon the earth; as the Lord's Prayer beseeches, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." This raises the critical questions of who is invested with the authority to implement the Law of Allah upon the land. Islam answers: none other than the prophets of God; among whom Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, represents the completion of the prophetic mission. Hence, the importance of Muhammad as khatim al-anbiya or the Seal of the Prophets, he who is the "careful guardian of the whole world." As such, the covenant he bequeathed to the monks of Mount Sinai is directed, not only to the entire Muslim ummah, but to the Christian Nation as well. As the Prophet proclaimed: he "has written the present instrument to all those who are in his national people, and of his own religion, as a secure and positive promise to be accomplished to the Christian nation." During a period in which class was everything and strictly defined one's role in society, the Prophet did not direct his covenant to the rich, the powerful, and the noble. He did not give his word simply to the ecclesiastic establishment. His covenant was concluded with each and every Christian: "whosoever they may be, whether they be the noble or the vulgar, the honorable or otherwise." The Covenant, then, conveyed a clear rejection of classism, elitism, and racism. It is thus in complete agreement with the contents of the Constitution of Medina: all are equal before God for whom the most important thing is not language, skin color, social status or class position which exclude others, but rather the degree of piety, humanity, love for others (which includes not only human beings but the entire natural order), sincerity of faith, the acceptance of His Commandments, and complete certainty as to the special place occupied by His Prophets, Messengers, and Imams.
As the covenant was made in the Name of Allah and His Most Noble Messenger, it was binding upon all Muslims at all times. The first item of the covenant is a stern warning directed to those who violate the Prophet's promise:
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 becomes worthy of the curse. . . .
Once again, the Prophet reiterates his rejection of racism, elitism, and classism, warning that the curse of Almighty Allah will befall on any of those who betray his oath "whether he be the King himself, or a poor man." If a man's word is gold, the Prophet's word was made of platinum and the most precious and priceless jewels. The Prophet personally promised to grant protection and safety to all Christians covered by the covenant:
whenever any of the monks in his travels shall happen to settle upon any mountain, hill, village, or 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. . . .
Since all Muslims must submit to the will of Allah and His Messenger, the Covenant of the Prophet is binding on all believers. The promise of protection is made, not only in the name of God and His Prophet, but in the name of all of his followers. As the Prophet makes explicitly clear, the covenant is concluded "jointly with all my national people." Rather than view Christians as Others and Outsiders, the Messenger of Allah insists that "they are a part of my own people, and an honor to me," clearly comprehending that those who possess power are judged on the basis of how they treat the minorities in their midst. As categorically demonstrated by this covenant, there is truly nothing honorable in exterminating members of minorities or engaging in religious, ethnic or racial "cleansing." The honor of the law resides in embracing diversity and multiculturalism, as the Qur'an affirms (49:13). The French, the English, and the Spanish, on the other hand (to cite only a few examples), spent over a millennium attempting to impose a single language and a single religion upon their nations to the detriment of religious and linguistic minorities. Australia—which, like Canada, earlier promoted multiculturalism—now advocates assimilation. By defending diversity, the Prophet Muhammad established a norm of social justice rare in any time. The Prophet never imposed shari'ah law on non-Muslims. Jewish people were judged on the basis of Jewish law and Christians were judged on the basis of Christian law. The example of the Prophet was emulated by Imam 'Ali (d. 661 CE). After receiving the pledge of allegiance from the people, Imam 'Ali made the following famous statement: