In the ancient monastery of Saint Catherine’s at Mount Sinai in Egypt, there is a covenant of Prophet Muhammad’s in which he guarantees protection and other rights to the Christian communities of his realm.
But a retired Egyptian army general says he has filed a court case pushing for Saint Catherine’s to be demolished, thus displacing its Greek monks and potentially endangering Prophet Muhammad’s covenant.
According to Ahram, the Egyptian general, Ahmed Ragai Attiya, has called for the demolition of the monastery’s multiple churches, monk cells, gardens and other places of interest. Ahram has also noted that Attiya has leveled a host of accusations against the monastery’s monks, alleging that they have changed the names of landmarks in the surrounding area and tried to hide an underground water source known as Moses’ Well.
I have written several times about Saint Catherine’s, reminding both Muslims of the Prophet Muhammad’s tolerance for Christianity and Christians of Muhammad’s acceptance of Christians as part of his multi-ethnic community.
In the aftermath of a string of attacks during the summer of 2013 on Copts in Egypt, I highlighted that Egyptian Muslims were betraying Prophet Muhammad’s message of peace and goodwill to the Christian monks at Saint Catherine’s. In his covenant with them, Muhammad stated that there is to be no compulsion upon Christians and that their judges and homes should be safe from destruction. The Prophet of Islam also specifically mentioned ‘[n]o one is to destroy a [church], to damage it, or to carry anything from it.”
Dr. John Andrew Morrow, a scholar on Prophet Muhammad’s Covenants with non-Muslims – mainly Christians and Jews – has recently published his book The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World (published by Angelico Press, 2013) in which he discusses the importance of Saint Catherine’s Monastery.
As Morrow notes in his book which I reviewed, Saint Catherine’s is considered to be the only monastery in the world to serve as both a church and a mosque. Morrow writes that for centuries, “the sound of ringing church bells came from the monastery’s tower while the Muslim call to prayer was emitted from the minaret.” Morrow describes the location of these two religious buildings an “aural manifestation of monotheistic unity [which] would have made the Messenger of Allah [Muhammad] proud.”
In spite of Saint Catherine’s representing the goodness of Prophet Muhammad, people are calling for its destruction.
To destroy Saint Catherine’s would mean to destroy Muhammad’s orders for Muslims to tolerate Christianity. Destroying the monastery would not be a victory for anyone. It will be a catastrophe for Muslims and Christians.