Prophet’s (s) Promise to Christians

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Muqtedar Khan, Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware

The_Patent_of_Mohammed Muslims and Christians together constitute over 50 percent of the world. If they lived in peace, we would be half way to world peace. One small step we can take towards fostering Muslim-Christian harmony is to tell and retell positive stories and abstain from mutual demonization.

In this article I propose to remind both Muslims and Christians about a promise that Prophet Muhammad (s) made to Christians. The knowledge of this promise can have enormous impact on Muslim conduct towards Christians. Muslims generally respect the precedent of their Prophet (s) and try to practice it in their lives.

In 628 AD, a delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery came to Prophet Muhammad (s) and requested his protection. He responded by granting them a charter of rights, which I reproduce below in its entirety. St. Catherine’s Monastery is located at the foot of Mt. Sinai and is the world’s oldest monastery. It possesses a huge collection of Christian manuscripts, second only to the Vatican, and is a world heritage site. It also boasts the oldest collection of Christian icons. It is a treasure house of Christian history that has remained safe for 1,400 years under Muslim protection.

The Promise to St. Catherine:

“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).”

charter The first and the final sentence of the charter are critical. They make the promise eternal and universal. Muhammad (s) asserts that Muslims are with Christians near and far, straight away rejecting any future attempts to limit the promise to St. Catherine alone. By ordering Muslims to obey it until the Day of Judgment the charter again undermines any future attempts to revoke the privileges. These rights are inalienable. Muhammad (s) declared Christians, all of them, as his allies and he equated ill treatment of Christians with violating God’s covenant.

A remarkable aspect of the charter is that it imposes no conditions on Christians for enjoying its privileges. It is enough that they are Christians. They are not required to alter their beliefs, they do not have to make any payments and they do not have any obligations. This is a charter of rights without any duties!

The document is not a modern human rights treaty, but even though it was penned in 628 A.D. it clearly protects the right to property, freedom of religion, freedom of work, and security of the person.

I know most readers, must be thinking, So what? Well the answer is simple. Those who seek to foster discord among Muslims and Christians focus on issues that divide and emphasize areas of conflict. But when resources such as Muhammad’s promise to Christians is invoked and highlighted it builds bridges. It inspires Muslims to rise above communal intolerance and engenders good will in Christians who might be nursing fear of Islam or Muslims.

When I look at Islamic sources, I find in them unprecedented examples of religious tolerance and inclusiveness. They make me want to become a better person. I think the capacity to seek good and do good inheres in all of us. When we subdue this predisposition towards the good, we deny our fundamental humanity. In this holiday season, I hope all of us can find time to look for something positive and worthy of appreciation in the values, cultures and histories of other peoples.

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and a fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

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Wood Burning Stoves

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

tufail

As early as Roman times stoves made of clay, tile, or earthenware were in use in central and N Europe. Early Swiss stoves of clay or brick, without chimneys, were built against the outer house wall, with an opening to the outside through which they were fueled and through which the smoke could escape. Scarcity of fuel made an economical heat-retaining device necessary, and these primitive stoves, built of clay, brick, tile, or plastered masonry, became common in the Scandinavian countries, Holland, Germany, and N France. Some exquisitely colored and glazed tile stoves, dating from the 16th and 17th cent., show traces of Moorish influence. In Russia large brick stoves formed a partition between two rooms. Because of the very long flue, which wound back and forth inside the structure, these could be heated for some hours with a small amount of light fuel.

The Franklin stove, invented in 1743 and used for heating, was the lineal descendant of the fireplace, being at first only a portable down-draft iron fireplace that could be set into, or before, the chimney.

It was soon elaborated into what was known as the Pennsylvania fireplace, with a grate and sliding doors. In common use for a period after the Revolution, it was followed by a variety of heaters burning wood and coal. The base burner, or magazine coal heater, was widely used before the general adoption of central heating.

Heating devices that we would call stoves had long been in existence, going back to Roman times. However, the stove as the chief cooking device, taking the place of the fireplace, dates only to around the mid-19th century with the widespread use of wood-burning or coal-burning cooking stoves stove, device used for heating or for cooking food. The stove was long regarded as a cooking device supplementary to the fireplace, near which it stood; its stovepipe led into the fireplace chimney. It was not until about the middle of the 19th cent., when the coal-burning range with removable lids came into general use, that the fireplace was finally supplanted as the chief cooking agency.

A cast-iron stove made in China before A.D. 200 has been found, but it was not until late in the 15th cent. that cast-iron stoves were first made in Europe. These consisted of plates that were grooved to fit together in the shape of a box. Probably the earliest of this type were earthenware stoves enclosed in iron castings decorated with biblical scenes and armorial and arabesque designs. They often bore inscriptions in Norse, German, Dutch, French, or sometimes Latin, and some were dated. Many were highly artistic specimens of handicraft. A typical early iron stove is the wall-jamb, or five-plate, stove, which was fueled from an adjoining room.

Dutch, Swedish, and German settlers of the American colonies, especially those of Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, brought with them five-plate stoves or molds for casting them. Iron founding began c.1724 in America, and old forges or foundries have left records of five-plate stoves sold in 1728 as Dutch stoves or, less commonly, carved stoves. These continued to be made until Revolutionary times, when they were superseded by the English, or 10-plate, stove, which stood free of the wall and had a draft or fuel door. These 10-plate devices could cook and warm at the same time and replaced, in part, the large masonry baking oven, usually built outside the house.

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Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Abu Waleed Ibn Rushd

September 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Aslam

ibn rushd Abu Waleed Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes in  Europe, was born in 1128 A.D. in Cordoba, Andalusia (now Spain). He came from a prestigious family  of lawyers and judges.  Ibn Rushd received his education in Cordoba and lived a quiet life, devoting most of his time to pursuing knowledge. He studied his familial profession, specializing in law and medicine, making good use of the magnificent library of Cordoba with its half million books.   After graduating, he practiced in al-Andalus as well as Marrakesh in North Africa. The Berber sultan offered him a judgeship in Seville, and with the patronage of the ruler, he soon moved to Cordoba as a judge–the position his father had once held. Here he passed a pleasant life for fifteen years and authored many books including a commentaries on Plato’s Republic. In 1195CE sultan’s son al-Mansur became the new ruler who banished Ibn Rushd from Cordoba and burned all his books on philosophy because of his  criticism of the Berber rulers in his commentaries. However, as a result of intervention of  leading scholars he was forgiven. He lived  another two years and died in 1198 CE in Marrakesh, capital of the Berber kingdom. Three months later his body was brought back to his beloved Cordoba to fulfill his wish.

By education, Ibn Rushd was a physician and lawyer, but he proved to be the greatest philosopher and thinker of Europe in the middle ages. He also made remarkable contributions in the fields of medicine, music, astronomy, physics, jurisprudence and psychology.

He authored more than 100 books and treatises in his life time, in which twenty were in  medicine and the rest on philosophy and other subjects. His well known treatise  Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb, Compendium of Medical Knowledge, was written while he was working in Marrakesh.  In it Ibn Rushd throws light on various aspects of medicine, including the diagnoses, cure and prevention of diseases. The treatise was divided into seven books arranging in it the works of the best physicians from the classical Greek and the Islamic world and contains several original observations of his own. Its Latin translation was known as Colliget and it became the standard text in the European universities  for several centuries.

Given his family history, it was perhaps obvious that ibn Rushd would devote some his time to jurisprudence (fiqh). His grandfather was a major figure in the Maliki school of fiqh, and so was he. By his own account it took twenty years to complete his book Bidayat al Mujtahid wa al Muqtasid; Beginning of the Independent Jurist and End of the Mere Adherent of Precedent, an excellent work on fiqh. As the title shows, he favored ijtihad or independent thinking in the areas of fiqh without specific guidance from Qur`an and ahadith.      

In astronomy ibn Rushd wrote a treatise on the motion of the sphere, Kitab fi-Harakat al-Falak. He also wrote a commentary on Almagest, the great book of mathematics and astronomy written in Alexandria Egypt in 200 CE.  He rejected the Ptolemaic model of the universe and argued for a strictly concentric model of the universe.  He wrote an excellent commentary on Aristotelian physics and was the first to to define and measure force. He defined force as the rate at which work is done–this is also the modern definition.  He wrote a valuable commentary on Aristotle’s treatise, De Anima, which deals with the nature of living things.

Ibn Rushd started his philosophical work while he was in Marrakesh, and he produced his first book; Kitab  al-Jawami fil Falsafa; The Compendium of Philosophy. Here he touched on subjects like physics, earth, meteorology, logic and metaphysics, some of these topics would occupy him for the rest of his life, His most important work Tuhafut al-Tuhafut, Incoherence of Incoherence, was written in response to Ghazali’s book The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Here he counterattacked al-Ghazali  objections one by one in a conciliatory manner. He advocated the harmony between religion and philosophy and argued that they need each other to seek the same truth.   Ibn Rush was criticized by some Muslim scholars for this book, which nevertheless had a profound influence on European thought and gave them a jump-start in reason and rationalism which ushered in the west’s “Age of Enlightenment.”

He wrote three commentaries on the works of Aristotle, the shortest, Jami, may be considered a summary of the subject. The intermediate was Talkhis and the longest was the Tafsir. These three commentaries would seem to correspond to different stages in the education of pupils; the short one was meant for beginners, the intermediate for students familiar with the subject, and finally the longest was for advanced studies. The longest commentary was, in fact, an original contribution as it was largely based on his analysis including interpretation of Qu’ranic concepts. These commentaries are considered as one of the greatest intellectual reservoir ever developed in philosophy.

After confronting conservative theologians, Ibn Rushd became a bit bold and tried to take on tougher  opponents–the rulers and kings. Close to end of his life he choose to write a commentary on Plato’s Republic, one of the  great masterpieces of Greek thought. He could have explained all those wonderful ideas of this excellent work; further, he described the Andalusian rulers as decadent tyrants. Ibn Rushd’s criticism of rulers and his political philosophy in the commentary got his book burned. He had advocated revolutionary ideas like public education, even distribution of wealth, and women’s rights; it was a plea for social justice.

When the Latin translations of his  work reached Europe in  the 13th century, they were like arrows hitting a bull’s eye. The European intelligentsia were hungry to look at the world in a new way, which Ibn Rushd provided in a big way with his commentaries and his philosophy. A new phenomena of Averrosim derived from his Latin name Averroes started to take hold among the learned people of Europe, especially the professors of newly opened universities. The Catholic church was horrified and saw the storm cloud gathering. The Pope formed a commission to look into this new phenomenon, and by 1231 CE Aristotelian philosophy, all the Ibn Rushd commentaries and his books on philosophy were banned through all of Christendom.  But it was too late, the genie was out of the bottle. The sparks of this new flame drifted northward and eastward.

One of the staunchest Averroists, Pietro d’Abano, a professor of medicine and philosophy in an Italian university, defied the decrees of the church and brought Aristotle and Ibn Rushd into the University of Padua’s curriculum in 1306 CE. He argued that experiments, observations and logic were new machines for finding truth.  This use of machines invented by Greek and Muslim philosophers was too much for the Catholic church to take- the Inquisition was formed by the Church to combat Averrosim,  and it condemned d’Abano on numerous counts. He died in 1315 CE before the Church could get him but that did not stop the Inquisition, they eventually ordered his dead body burned at the stake.

Ibn Rushd’s philosophical work, which fascinated, inspired and influenced the West, were of little interest to the Muslim world, where he is remembered as a great physician. The Islamic rejection of Ibn Rushd as a thinker and philosopher is no doubt partly because of his criticism of religious orthodoxy.       

Aslamsyed1@yahoo.com

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