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.

12-6

Swiss Vote Betrays Enlightenment Ideals

December 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Juan Cole

swiss miss This campaign poster was banned for being racist, but apparently the goal of the poster, now that is all right.

Swissinfo surveys the headlines in Switzerland Monday morning and finds that the press there universally condemned and expressed dismay at Sunday’s vote. Editors expressed consternation at the inevitable tarnishing of Switzerland’s image and worried about the consequences. Will there be boycotts? Sanctions? Appeals to the European Court of Human Rights?

I can anticipate right now arguments to excuse this outbreak of bigotry in the Alps that will be advanced by our own fringe Right, of Neoconservatives and those who think, without daring saying it, that “white culture” is superior to all other world civilizations and deserves to dominate or wipe the others out.

The first is that it is only natural that white, Christian Europeans should be afraid of being swamped by people adhering to an alien, non-European religion.

Switzerland is said to be 5 percent Muslim, and of course this proportion is a recent phenomenon there and so unsettling to some. But Islam is not new to Europe. Parts of what is now Spain were Muslim for 700 years, and much of the eastern stretches of what is now the European Union were ruled by Muslims for centuries and had significant Muslim populations. Cordoba and Sarajevo are not in Asia or Latin America. They are in Europe. And they are cities formed in the bosom of Muslim civilization.

The European city of Cordoba in the medieval period has been described thusly:

‘ For centuries, Cordoba used to be the jewel of Europe, which dazzled visitors from the North. Visitors marveled at what seemed to them an extraordinary general prosperity; one could travel for ten miles by the light of street lamps, and along an uninterrupted series of buildings. The city is said to have had then 200,000 houses, 600 mosques, and 900 public baths. Over the quiet Guadalquivir Arab engineers threw a great stone bridge of seventeen arches, each fifty spans in width. One of the earliest undertakings of Abd al-Rahman I was an aqueduct that brought to Cordova an abundance of fresh water for homes, gardens, fountains, and baths.’

So if the Swiss think that Islam is alien to Europe, then they are thinking of a rather small Europe, not the Europe that now actually exists. Minarets dotted Cordoba. The Arnaudia mosque in Banja Luca dates back to the 1400s; it was destroyed along with dozens of others by fanatics in the civil war that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

As for the likely comeback,that Muslims came to Europe from the 700s of the Common Era as conquerors, unlike Christianity, actually both were conquering state religions. It was the conversion of an emperor that gave a favored position to Christianity in Europe, which was a small minority on the continent at the time. And Charlemagne forcibly imposed Christianity on the German tribes up to the Elbe. In the cases both of European Christianity and European Islam, there were many willing converts among the ordinary folk, who thrilled to itinerant preachers or beautiful chanting.

Others will allege that Muslims do not grant freedom of religion to Christians in their midst. First of all, this allegation is not true if we look at the full range of the countries where the 1.5 billion Muslims live. Among the nearly 60 Muslim-majority states in the world, only one, Saudi Arabia, forbids the building of churches. Does Switzerland really want to be like Saudi Arabia?

Here is a Western Christian description of the situation of Christians in Syria:

‘In Syria, as in all other Arab countries of the Middle East except Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion is guaranteed in law . . . We should like to point out too that in Syria and in several other countries of the region, Christian churches benefit from free water and electricity supplies, are exempt from several types of tax and can seek building permission for new churches (in Syria, land for these buildings are granted by the State) or repair existing ones.

It should be noted too that there are Christian members of Parliament and of government in Syria and other countries, sometimes in a fixed number (as in Lebanon and Jordan.)

Finally, we note that a new personal statute was promulgated on 18 June 2006 for the various Christian Churches found in Syria, which purposely and verbatim repeats most of the rules of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated by Pope John Paul II.

That is, in Muslim-majority Syria, the government actually grants land to Christians for the building of churches, along with free water and electricity. Christians have their own personal status legal code, straight from the Vatican. (It is because Christians have their own law in the Middle East, backed by the state, that Muslims in the West are puzzled as to why they cannot practice their personal status code.) Christians have freedom of religion, though there are sensitivities about attempts to convert others (as there are everywhere in the Middle East, including Israel). And Christians are represented in the legislature. With Switzerland’s 5 percent Muslim population, how many Muslim members of parliament does it have?

It will also be alleged that in Egypt some clergymen gave fatwas or legal opinions that building churches is a sin, and it will be argued that Christians have been attacked by Muslims in Upper Egypt.

These arguments are fallacies. You cannot compare the behavior of some Muslim fanatics in rural Egypt to the laws and ideals of the Swiss Republic. We have to look at Egyptian law and policy.

The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Seminary, the foremost center of Sunni Muslim learning, ‘added in statements carried by Egyptian newspaper Youm al-Saba’a that Muslims can make voluntary contributions to build churches, pointing out that the church is a house for “worshipping and tolerance.” ‘ He condemned the fundamentalist Muslims for saying church-building is sinful. And Egypt has lots of churches, including new Presbyterian ones, following John Calvin who I believe lived in . . . Geneva. Aout 6 percent of the population is Christian.

The other problem with excusing Switzerland with reference to Muslims’ own imperfect adherence to human rights ideals is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The bigotted Right doesn’t even have the moral insight of kindergartners if that is the sort of argument they advance. The International Declaration of Human Rights was crafted with the participation of Pakistan, a Muslim country; the global contemporary rights regime is imperfectly adhered to by all countries– it is a claim on the world’s behavior, something we must all strive for. If the Swiss stepped back from it, they stepped back in absolute terms. It doesn’t help us get to global human rights to say that is o.k. because others are also failing to live up to the Declaration.

The other Wahhabi state besides Saudi Arabia, Qatar, has allowed churches. But they are not allowed to have steeples or bells. This policy is a mirror image to that of the Swiss.

So Switzerland, after centuries of striving for civilization and enlightenment, has just about reached the same level of tolerance as that exhibited by a small Gulf Wahhabi country, the people of which were mostly Bedouins only a hundred years ago.

11-50

Hindu Mobs Ransack Villages as Christians Hide in Forests

September 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Gethin Chamberlain, The Observer

2008-09-03T125407Z_01_DEL04_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-RELIGION

An activist from Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M) attends a protest against the killing of Christians in Orissa, in New Delhi September 3, 2008. Hindu mobs have burnt at least four more churches in eastern India, officials said on Monday, as religious violence appeared to spread. Thousands of people, mostly Christians, have taken shelter in makeshift camps in Orissa state, where Hindu mobs went on the rampage last week after a Hindu leader was killed.  

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Thousands of terrified Indian Christians are hiding in the forests of the volatile Indian state of Orissa after a wave of religious ‘cleansing’ forced them from their burnt-out homes with no immediate prospect of return.

A mob of Hindu fundamentalists rampaged through villages last week, killing those too slow to get out of their way, burning churches and an orphanage, and targeting the homes of Christians. Up to 20 people were reported dead, with at least two deliberately set alight, after the murder of a Hindu leader last Saturday provoked the violence.

In some districts, entire villages lay deserted, abandoned by Christian populations who would rather shelter in the forests than return to face the risk of death. Some villagers attempted to return to their homes yesterday despite threats of further violence.

But Christian leaders who had spoken to those who have fled said that even among the trees they were not safe. Some of their tormenters have pursued them, trying to finish the job.

One of those hiding in the forest, Abalkora Diggal, described how a group arrived at Balkidadi village on Monday morning chanting anti-Christian slogans. ‘In the evening, a much bigger group of over 1,000 people fired in the air and warned us to leave if we wanted to stay alive,’ he told a local journalist.

They fled into the forest, emerging only when they saw an aid convoy arrive under heavy police protection. Afterwards, they returned to the forest, without food or fresh water. ‘I had a home and a tractor. I reared goats and hens. Now I have nothing,’ said Mr Diggal.

Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India, told The Observer that many people were too frightened to return to their homes.
After speaking by mobile phone to some of those in hiding, he said: ‘They are living without food or drink and even there they are being hunted down by these people. I have spoken to nuns and priests who are hiding in the forests.

‘They said that it was a horrifying experience. Groups arrived at their villages carrying guns, swords and homemade weapons and even small bombs, which they used to blast the places. The groups targeted every Christian house in their villages. The people had a list of the Christian houses and institutions and none were spared.’ The Church said nearly 3,000 houses had been destroyed, most of them owned by Christians. More than 60 churches were burned down and at least half a dozen convents.

‘It is the result of a sustained hate campaign against Christians in Orissa,’ Rev Joseph said.

Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, described the violence as a ‘national shame’, while Raphael Cheenath, the Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, called for an end to the ‘ethnic cleansing of Christians’.

The violence erupted after the murder of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati at an ashram last Saturday night, along with four other activists from the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) party.

It was claims by the VHP that Christians were to blame for the deaths that acted as a trigger for the killing spree, although Maoist guerillas have since claimed responsibility for the murders. Reports said that about 30 Maoists opened fire on the ashram. A spokesman for the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army said it had targeted Saraswati, who had campaigned against conversions and the killing of cows, for ‘fascist activities’.

The revenge killings have been indiscriminate: a 19-year-old Hindu Rajni Majhi was burned to death by a mob who attacked the Christian-run Missionary Orphan Centre in the Bargarh district.

Some of the 150,000 Christians in the Kandhamal area have been sheltered by Hindu neighbours, but about 5,000 are believed to have sought refuge in the forests, with up to 10,000 under guard in camps set up by the government.

Underlying the violence is a long-simmering dispute between Hindus and Christians in the state over the conversion of low-caste Hindus to Catholicism. The success of the Christian churches has fuelled resentment among hardline Hindus. The Vatican has condemned the violence. Most of India’s billion-plus citizens are Hindu, while just 2.5 per cent of them are Christians.

Shoot-on-sight orders were issued to security forces in eight districts and a curfew remained in place yesterday in nine districts.

About 3,000 Christians demonstrated outside the Orissa state building in New Delhi yesterday, holding placards calling for peace and condemning the state government. On Friday about 25,000 Catholic schools were closed in a symbolic protest against the killings.

10-37

Community News / North America Vol 8 Iss 17

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Breaking down the barriers at Wesleyan
MIDDLETOWN, CT—In order to prove that Muslims and Jews can coexist peacefully, Rabbi David Leipziger Teva and Imam Abdullah Antepli of Wesleyan University took a group of Muslim students to Istanbul and Jerusalem. The group of 11 students say that their outlook was totally transformed after their 11 day excursion, reported the campus newsletter.
The group visited the K-6 Hand-in-Hand School in Jerusalem where Palestinian and Israeli children of all faiths learn together. In Israel the group also visited the Kibbutz Metzer, a socialist commune, and other historical landmarks.
The group met with journalists, lobbyists, human rights activists and political leaders, including Vatican Representative of Istanbul, George Marovitch and Chief Rabbinate and Rabbi of Turkey Isaac Halevo.
Rachel Berkowitz a freshman from Trumansburg, NY, says the trip helped her gain a strong desire to learn more about Islam, Judaism, interfaith dialogue and about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I think the difference I have made has been internal, rather than external,” says Berkowitz. “I have learned and changed so much. I feel I now have a broader perspective.”
“On the trip, we learned that there was a sense of hope, a hope for peace,î sayid freshman Jamal Ahmed. “Despite terrible hardships, there are still great strives towards peace and beautiful co-existence. I learned more about the Jewish culture, religion, and Israeli society than I thought possible in such a short time.”
Rare copy of a translation of the Holy Quran donated to Muslims
DEARBORN, MI—A nearly 300-year old English translation of the Holy Qur’an — the Islamic scriptures — has been donated to the Islamic Center of America (ICA) by Richard L. Steinberg, a Detroit trial attorney. The book is to be held in trust for all Muslim peoples in metro Detroit at the ICA, according to a press release.
“If we do not stand together as a nation, but become a community of clashing cultures and warring factions, we will all be destroyed,” Steinberg stated. “Jesus said ‘I give to you a new commandment that you shall love one another’ and the Qur’an says ‘I swear by the declining day that man is in deep loss except for those who believe, do good deeds, urge one another to the truth and urge one another to steadfastness.’ This is the community our faiths are calling us to.”
The copy donated to the ICA was purchased from Bauman Rare Books in New York and contains a hand-drawn map of the Arabian Peninsula, a genealogical chart of the Prophet Muhammad, and a drawing of the original lay-out of the sacred shrine in Mecca. It also contains a preliminary discourse discussing Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
Steinberg has been practicing law for 34 years and his notable cases include the first Title IX discrimination case in the country and his recent defence of Geoffrey Feiger in the investigation of contributions to the John Edwards 2004 presidential campaign. He is an ordained Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a member of the Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church in Detroit. Steinberg was recently re-appointed to the Michigan Advisory Board of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Muslims request zoning change
HARRISBURG, PA—A Mus-lim couple have submitted a request to Silver Spring Township seeking a change in the zoning ordinance to allow for places for worship in the residential estate district. Mr.and Mrs.Azim Qureishi own four acres of land and plan to donate it to the local Muslim community to build a Mosque.
The Muslim group wants to build a 8000 square foot mosque costing about $6-800,000, Qureishi was reported as saying to the Sentinel.
The estate district where the land is located is the only residential district in the township that does not allow places of worship.
An attorney representing the couple that his clients are willing to pay the costs to advertise the text change to give the public proper notice.

Hit and run charge against Muslim teen dismissed
DAVIS, CA— A Yolo County Superior Court judge dismissed the case against Halema Buzayan, the teenage Muslim girl who claimed that she was unfairly targeted for being a Muslim. In June of last year, a witness reported to the police seeing an SUV hit a parked car and flee the scene. The Davis police investigated the report and believed that Halema Buzayan was driving. The family said the driver was the mother.
Six days later the police arrested Halema Buzayan for misdemeanour hit and run.
The Buzayans paid $870 for the vehicle damage shortly after the incident. In one court hearing the victim of the parking lot fender-bender testified on Halema Buzayan’s behalf. On Monday, 10 months after the incident, a Yolo County Superior Court judge dismissed the case.
The Buzayans believe they were investigated and prosecuted differently because they are Muslim. They are supported by community activists who last week petitioned the Davis City Council to create an oversight commission for the police department. “When the community showed up they really provided a comfort that kind of made up for the discomfort caused by the police department,” said Halema Buzayan. “So it meant so much to me and it was such a wonderful feeling.”
The Buzayan family is now planning to file a civil lawsuit against the Davis Police Department on allegations of ethnic bias.
Awareness week kicks off with talk on Women in Islam
MADISON, WI—The Islamic Awareness Week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison kicked off with two lectures on Islam and Women. More than 60 people attended the panel addressed by Yasmin Mogahed, a freelance journalist, and Rohany Nayan, the principal of the Madinah Academy of Madison.
Mogahed said that women are not objects to be seen as physically pleasing to others.
“We dress this way as an act of devotion to God,” Mogahed said. “When a woman covers her body, she is covering what is irrelevant for people to see.
“When people judge me, they should judge me based on my heart, my character.”
Nayan said there are some nations where men repress women because the male leaders are insecure and crave power. Nayan said that in her native country of Malaysia, nobody gave her any trouble for being a woman.
“During the time of the Prophet (s), women had a golden age,” Nayan said, referring to the life of the Prophet Mohammed (s), who lived from the years 570-632 in the common calendar. “The Prophet (s) was never threatened by a woman.”
Somali student awareness at UM
MINNEAPOLIS, MN—The Somali Student Association at the University of Minnesota held a day long event to create awareness about the Somali culture. The day was marked by food, clothing, arts and cultural performances.
Organizers said that one doesn’t have to travel overseas to gain cultural experience. It can happen right on campus. 15 percent of population of Minneapolis in made up of Somalis and they have a sizable presence on campus.
Somali Student Association secretary and global studies senior Kadra Ibrahim said it is important for the association to show its presence on campus.
There are many different cultures on this campus and it is crucial that the Somali Student Association is able to celebrate its culture in the midst of such a vast array of cultures, she told the student newspaper.
Islam exhibit at California State University-Sacramento
SACRAMENTO, CA—The Muslim Student Association of the University of California at Sacramento held an Islamic exhibition to counter the prevalent negative image of the faith. Students were encouraged to ask questions as they viewed the walk through exhibition.
Several professors came to the exhibit with their entire classes. Those interested were given free copies of the Holy Qur’an and other Islamic literature.
MAS Minnesota Convention attracts thousands
The Muslim American Association-Minnesota’s third annual convention attracted over 3000 attendees. Two sessions related to politics attracted the most number of participants. Democratic candidates spoke at a late-morning session titled “Democracy in America: A return to our Democratic ideals.” In the afternoon, Republican candidates spoke on the theme “Building a More Diverse Minnesota: Is there room for Muslims?” Keith Ellison, who is running for the US Congress, and if elected will be the first Muslim Congressman also spoke at the event.
From thought-provoking and spiritually uplifting lectures, to fun-filled entertainment sessions, there was something for everyone. With over 50 bazaar vendors, shopping was a popular past-time activity between sessions. Comedy sessions, skits, and songs were among some of the entertainment sessions we witnessed.
Many members of the community also took advantage of the MAS Legal Clinic to ask questions regarding immigration, housing, and other legal issues.