Sunday, May 22, 2011

The 'Charter of Privileges': Proof of a Peaceful, Tolerant Islam?

Christ is Risen!

There is a document kept at St Catherine Monastery at Mt Sinai which, it is claimed, was written by Muhammad, and which is significant for the protections it offers for Christians under Islamic rule, not only those of the Monastery, and not only in the seventh century, but, it is claimed by some, for all Christians for all time.  This is acknowledged to not be the original document, but a copy, and is significant for the religious tolerance, protection for non-Muslims, and pluralistic cachet it presents. Supposedly written by Muhammad himself in 628 A.D., this document, if authentic, would be an enormously important artifact, and could cause a tectonic shift in the battle for the soul of Islam supposedly being waged between the zealous and extremely motivated radical Islamists (the Egyptian Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, etc.), and the apparently not so zealous or motivated 'Moderate' Muslims, who seem unwilling or unable to refute the Islamists.

This document, the 'Charter of Privileges', is pointed to by those with little background in the subject of Islam as the definitive statement on Islam's true nature as the 'Religion of Peace' (and Tolerance!). From time to time a Muslim spokesman presents it, it goes viral, and well-intentioned non-Muslims post it, share it, and hold it up as a rebuttal to those who dare criticize or ask legitimate questions about Islam.

For the record, below is the English translation of the 'Charter', as provided by Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq, with their prefatory comments and concluding statement:

In 628 C.E. Prophet Muhammad (s) granted a Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. It consisted of several clauses covering all aspects of human rights including such topics as the protection of Christians, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.   An English translation of that document is presented below.

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).
This charter of privileges has been honored and faithfully applied by Muslims throughout the centuries in all lands they ruled.

Sadly, the 'Charter of Privileges' is not any sort of definitive statement on Islam, and has never been taken to be such by any Islamic authority or school of Islamic jurisprudence for the nearly fourteen centuries since Muhammad founded the religion.
 Dr. Mark Durie discusses this document in one of his blog posts. Further, Durie's book, The Third Choice, documents the historical manifestation of the dhimma, the contract of 'protection' offered to Christians and Jews who refused to convert to Islam. The terms of the dhimma contract, based on the Koran and the Sunnah (the 'way' of Muhammad) are precisely the opposite of the spurious 'Charter', imposing humiliating terms of submission on conquered non-Muslims.  Here are some key excerpts from Dr. Durie's article:

"Dr Muqtedar Khan has written a recent opinion piece, ('Muhammad's promise to Christians', December 30, 2009), calling upon Christians and Muslims to 'tell and retell positive stories' about each other, and 'abstain from mutual demonization'. He follows his own advice by telling a nice story about a letter, which is thought to be sent from Muhammad to the monks of St Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai in Egypt...

"...Dr Khan's example of St Catherine's letter is misleading and unfortunate.  Dr Khan must surely be aware that scholarly opinion does not regard this document as genuine.  It is almost certainly a forgery, created to bolster the security of the Christian monks of the Mount Sinai Monastry.  This is why the document no longer exists in its original form: there never was an original letter.   In reality the very existence of this document is evidence of the fear under which the monks have lived, as are the impregnable walls of the monastery building itself.

"Dr Khan must also be aware that this letter is in conflict at several points with classical Islamic sources, including the Koran. 

"Dr Khan asserts, on the basis of the Mt Sinai letter, that Christians 'do not have to make any payments' for living in peace with Muslims.  However he does not mention that the Koran commands the imposition of a tax (known as jizya) upon conquered non-Muslims (Sura 9:29), and this was incorporated into Islamic law.  Also, although the letter states that Christians were to be allowed to repair their churches, the orthodox Islamic position was that churches were not allowed to be repaired after conquest.  This was based upon the Pact of Umar, which has been relied upon by many great Muslim commentators and jurists. Undoubtedly this phrase was included in the forged letter to counter the difficulties Egyptian Christians were having living under sharia conditions.  The reference to Christian girls not being forced to marry Muslim men against their will does not reflect Muhammad's intentions for 7th century monks at Mt Sinai, but the ever-present fear, which Egyptian Christians experience to this day, that Christian women could be forced into unwanted marriages with Muslim men.

"In the end, it is the authority of the Koran and accepted sources such as the Pact of Umar which have shaped Islamic law and affected the destiny of millions of conquered non-Muslims over centuries – and continue to do so today.  Not letters held by Christians in monasteries.

"In reality Islam's policy for dealing with Christians, Jews and other conquered peoples was not shaped by the Mt Sinai letter.  It is quite misleading... to imply that it was, or that this letter could be regarded as compelling evidence for Islam's policy towards non-Muslims." 

The documented history of Islam's supremacist, intolerant attitude towards and treatment of non-Muslims, whether those it conquered, or those it encounters in its efforts to spread the rule of Allah across the entire world, flies in the face of questionable aberrations like the 'Charter'.  We see evidence of this today in the relentless, murderous persecution of the Coptic Christians at the hands of Muslim mobs in Egypt, and in Middle East public opinion polls which document the desire of Muslims to restore the global caliphate and openly reinstitute and apply the dhimma contract.  

Similarly, peaceful verses in the Koran must be understood in the full context of Islamic history and practice, and with eyes wide open regarding the Islamic doctrine of abrogation, a Koranic teaching which holds that whenever a verse in the Koran seems to be in conflict with another verse, the one 'revealed' later in Muhammad's life 'abrogates', or supersedes — nullifies and replaces — the earlier verse.  For example, advocates of the mythical fantasy of a 'peaceful, tolerant Islam' hold up Sura 2:62 as a proof of their position. 
Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians — whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve (Koran 2:62).
Yet orthodox Islam understands this verse as meaning not tolerance towards non-Muslims, but quite a different thing.  An in depth Koranic commentary notes the following:

Muslim commentators are not inclined to see this as an indication of divine pluralism. The translators Ali and Pickthall, as well as Asad, all feel it necessary to add parenthetical glosses that make the passage mean that Jews and Christians (as well as Sabians, whose identity is disputed) will be saved only if they become Muslims. And according to Ibn Abbas, this verse was abrogated by Qur’an 3:85: “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).” Qutb opines that 2:62 applied only before Muhammad brought Islam to the world, a view supported by a saying of Muhammad recorded by Tabari, in which the Prophet of Islam says that Christians who died before his coming will be saved, but those who have heard of him and yet rejected his prophetic claim will not be.

Thus the ulema — the consensus of Islamic jurisprudence — understand the reward promised by 2:62 as either conditional on Jews and Christians becoming Muslims, and/or as being abrogated by later verses (e.g. 3:85) condemning their non-Islamic religion.  

The Charter of Privileges is but another smokescreen in the fourteen-century-long drama of the 'heresy of the Ishmaelites' (St John of Damascus' term).  While we can be thankful for Muslims who do not openly practice the supremacist dictates of their religion, we must never delude ourselves into thinking that there is a pacifist, tolerant, multicultural Islam which has, can and does peacefully coexist alongside Christianity. History proves otherwise, as do the Islamic texts, the example of Muhammad, and the consensus of all schools of orthodox Islamic jurisprudence, not to mention the testimony of the hundreds of thousands of Christian martyrs under the sword of Islam, who preferred to endure torture and death rather than deny their  Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let us therefore align ourselves with the Holy Neomartyrs in their love for Christ, rather than with those who present fairy tales and lies about the prophet of antichrist and his cursed religion. Those who deny the witness of the Neomartyrs, deny Christ Himself, and have not the truth in them.