Prophet Muhammad believed that freedom of religion and civic rights were important components of a “Muslim nation,” according to an analysis of the prophet’s covenants with Christians.
Craig Considine, a lecturer in Rice University’s sociology department, studied “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with Christians” and found that these agreements established freedom of religion and civic rights for Christians living within the “ummah” (Arabic for “community”). He argues that the covenants can be used to develop a stronger democratic partnership between Muslims and Christians in the Islamic world and elsewhere.
His analysis appears in the journal Religions.
“These covenants were designed to protect and even defend peaceful Christian communities, not attack them,” Considine says. “The research clearly shows that contemporary Islamic states that mistreat and discriminate against Christians cannot be justified in light of Prophet Muhammad’s covenants.”
9 thoughts on “Religious Freedom Was Key To Muhammad’s “Muslim Nation””
Let’s assume muhammad existed and died in 632 as the islamic sources claim. Egypt, which was at a time a mostly Christian nation (Christian Copts, not Arabs, are the native people of Egypt), was conquered by invading hordes or raving muslims circa 640, and the conquest was not preety – it was a bloody tale of rape, pillage and bloody murder. How come muslims acted against the “religious freedom” allegedly preached by muhammad in this alleged covenant?
Oh, and why is it that there is no mention of this covenant in any contemporary islamic source? Why is it that it bears a drawing of a mosque with a minaret, even though minarets were only added to mosques 80 or so years after the time muhammad allegedly died?
If I had to bet, my bet is that this alleged covenant was a forgery created by religious minorities (probably Christians) who wanted to defend themselves against the humiliating and discriminatory treatment imposed on them by the Pact of Umar which, among other humiliating impositions, prevented Christians from building new churches or repairing already existing ones, and prevented non-muslim men from marrying muslim women, thus ensuring the Christian community was always in decline. Christians were also forbidden to buy bigger houses than muslims, were forced to go out of the road to make room for muslims, had to wear distinctive clothing and were mandated to house and feed for three days any muslim who asked them to do so.
There are plenty of good reasons to doubt the authenticity of these covenants but I don’t think the minaret on the covenant with the monks of Mt Sinai is one of them. No originals of any of them exist today, only supposed copies of supposed copies. A mosque could plausibly have been added as an innocent embellishment at a time when all mosques had minarets.
Personally I think the most compelling argument is this:
“Why would Mohammed grant a covenant of protection in 623 AD to a group who would not come under Muslim control until at least 640 AD, several years after his death? Why would he release them from the obligation to pay the jizya tax which they were therefore not subject to?”
I know Mohammed was a long term strategic thinker but not that long term I think! Perhaps Dr Considine can explain.
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Some interesting facts for the doubtful commenters above: Under a true Muslim state, Christians and Jews (and arguably others, based on Quranic evidences and other covenants entered into by the Prophet Muhammad) Have the right to live according to their own respective laws and hold their own courts established upon their respective faiths. (The Quran even asks, “Why do they come to you (Muhammad) for judgement while they have the Torah?” (5:43) ) and the Jizya, which so many people love to speak of with venom in their voices, is merely a tax – the Muslims of a Muslim nation pay a mandatory tax as well, called Zakat. Zakat is part of Islam – an act of worship, similar to the five daily prayers or Hajj. It would not be fair or sensible to require non-Muslims to perform an Islamic act of worship when they are not believers/subscribers to Islam. In addition, the Jizya has limitations: it is only required from MEN of certain age (military age) and not required from women or any men outside the age range. It is effectively a covenant that says that the Muslims nation will PROTECT the non-Muslim citizens from aggressive entities. If the men opt to join the military, the Jizya is waived and instead they would be PAID a salary. If there was to be an aggression from which the Muslim nation could not protect its non-Muslim citizens, the Jizya would have to be refunded to them. Because in Islam it is wrong to take money for services not rendered. Hope that helps broaden your understanding and see that there is much much more to Islam and the complex systems of governance than you may have been led to believe.
Monkey Duster, you asked a great question I invite you to ponder further and look into it with sincerity. There are in fact many texts you will find in the Quran and in the Hadith speaking of the future far beyond the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. Accept it as food for thought. As for the historical accounts – I request you to look at them from more than one side, as we know “history” often gets skewed and if we truly want to understand what happened it requires we read even the accounts we don’t want to agree with. Most complained about events that occurred in history, where the Muslims are made to seem as if they were deranged rapists, are actually told quite differently not only from the Muslim’s perspective, but from other lesser known sources. It takes effort to find them because they’ve often been buried in order to propagate a particular narrative favorable to a particular side – most often the western side in our context.
And as always, thank you Craig for your fantastic and tireless efforts to defend humanity from the fractures caused by ignorance and fear of the unknown. 😉
Danielle, Thankyou for your reply.
1. I do not dispute your claim that non-Muslim groups (or people of the book at least) were able to live according to their own religions and laws in Mohammed’s Medina but of course it was subject to paying the jizya. This was indeed a tax paid by non-Muslims but was clearly not “merely” a tax. It was also intended to impose humiliation and subjection on unbelievers as I am sure you are aware from 9:29 and the Sharia. I’m pretty sure somebody or other (Ibn Kathir?) claimed that its primary objective was to encourage conversion.
2. From the context, I think the question about future events you refer to is the one I asked about the Mt Sinai covenant. I notice that you didn’t attempt to answer it, instead referring to other unspecified and unreferenced events in the Islamic scriptures thereby multiplying the problem. In fact I don’t see how anyone could answer it without recourse to time travel and I think it completely blows out of the water any claim that the covenant can be authentic. If, however, you could provide a solution I would be most grateful.
3. I am surprised you claim that it is non-Muslim sources which paint Mohammed and his companions in a bad light. Do you mean to say that there are even crueller and bloodier versions than those to be found in the Sira and Hadiths?
Well, see here’s the thing. I’ve heard your argument before. It’s a manufactured argument that is incorrect. First: the Shariah is a very broad term that encompasses everything from prayer, to smiling to taking a shower and calling your mom. The notion that Jizya is intended as a humiliation is incorrect: Imam Nawawi, commenting on those who would impose a humiliation along with the paying of the Jizyah, said,
“As for this aforementioned practice (hay’ah), I know of no sound support for it in this respect, and it is only mentioned by the scholars of Khurasan. The majority (jumhur) of scholars say that the Jizyah is to be taken with gentleness, as one would receive a debt (dayn). The reliably correct opinion is that this practice is invalid and those who devised it should be refuted. It is not related that the Prophet or any of the rightly-guided caliphs did any such thing when collecting the Jizyah.” (Rawdat al-Talibin, Volume 10, p.315-16)
Ibn Qudama also said that the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the four caliphs said that taking the Jizyah should be done with gentleness and respect. (Al-Mughni, Volume 4, p.250)
Once, during the reign of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, a Jizyah collector offered the taxes collected from the people to ‘Umar, who was upset by the large amount and asked him if he had burdened the people. He replied, “No, not at all! We took only the surplus and lawful taxes.” ‘Umar asked, “Without any pressure or persecution?” The man replied, “Yes.” ‘Umar then said to him, “Praise be to Almighty Allah that the non-Muslim citizens have not been oppressed during my rule. (Ibn Salam, Imam Abu ‘Ubayd al-Qasim, Al-Amwal, p. 43. Also see Ibn Qudamah, Al Mughni, Volume 9, p. 290 & Ibnul Qayyim, Ahkam Ahlul Dhimma, Volume 1, p.139)
The scholars of Islam have formed a consensus in that it is permissible to take the Jizyah from Non-Muslims in the name of charity. For, one time there were Non-Muslims who insisted that Umar ibn Al Khattab agree to take the Jizyah from them after they called it charity and he accepted. (Ibn ‘Abideen, al-Hashiya, Volume 3, p. 432. Ibn Rushd, Bidaayat al Mujtahid, Volume 6, p. 101. Ibnul Qayyim, Zad Al Ma’aad, Volume 3, page 643. Ibn Qudama, Al Mughni, Volume 10, p. 590-91)
Several jurists understood that this word [“sâghirûn” in Qu’ran 9:29] implies that the Dhimmis have to be humiliated when paying the Jizyah. The great scholar, Ibnul Qayyim refutes this interpretation. After having quoted different opinions, he says:
“This is groundless and the verse doesn’t imply that. It is not related that the Prophet or the companions acted like that. The correct opinion regarding this verse is that the word “saghâr” means “acceptance” by non-Muslims of the structure of the Muslim right and their payment of Jizya. (Ahkam Ahlul Dhimma, Volume 1 p. 23-24).
Regarding point 2: I merely suggested that you genuinely look into it further. It’s interesting that you insist the only explanation other than time travel would be that it’s been forged. In fact there are many texts in Islam that speak of the future and other things that could not have been known in 7th century Arabia or anywhere else. If you think time travel is true, okay…. fine, have fun with that and UFO sightings…. But as you are aware, we attribute this to the fact that this knowledge comes from the Creator and owner of time. For example, the Quran mentions what is essentially the origin of the universe (i.e. the “Big Bang”) and that every living thing has originated from water (Quran 21:30) and that the universe is constantly expanding (Quran 51:47) Sahih Muslim contains a hadith where the Prophet mUhammad foretold the control of the Muslims over persia and other places at a time when the Muslims were weak and struggling for survival and couldn’t imagine governing any land whatsoever. In the Quran, the victory of the ROmans was mentioned: Quran 30:2-4 that the byzantines had been defeated (before word could have reached him) and their upcoming victory over those who overcame them within 3-9 years, which happened. The authenticity of the Quran is well known and affirmed by scholars Muslim and not.
Point 3. Sorry, but this is laughable. I read the Quran just about every day, and I read the ahadith as well. I try to live my life according to Islam with every breath I take. My husband and I have established a mosque and center for adults to study Islam. Either you haven’t read these texts yourself, or you are so jaded you are looking through tainted lenses.
I appreciate your thanks and also your response. I do hope that you will consider that there are other ways to see Islam than the way you’ve been taught by islamophobes and some so called Christian apologists. Most importantly, the majority of people who actually believe in Islam and strive to practice it daily do not see it the way you do. That to me speaks volumes, And the small percentage of deviants who see it more similarly to the way you do, have been mentioned and warned against by the Prophet Muhammad himself.
I hope I’ve helped open your mind, even if just a little. Take care.
Dr Considine, this raised by another commenter is a very good question – “Why would Mohammed grant a covenant of protection in 623 AD to a group who would not come under Muslim control until at least 640 AD, several years after his death? Why would he release them from the obligation to pay the jizya tax which they were therefore not subject to?”
I do not know the exact dates but I know that Mohammed’s forces had not expanded beyond Arabia by the time of his death. I hope you will answer the question as it seems to go to the heart of your claims about the covenants.