In the Name of God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the Lord of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds, and peace be upon all the prophets, messengers, and friends of God.
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Publish Date: 18 December 2017

I would like to welcome you to this gathering focused on "Achieving a Better Understanding of the Other.” I come in peace seeking peace in the hope of building bridges of understanding between Muslims and the People of the Book for the sake of this planet and humanity.

I would like to thank Sister Zahra Abidi, the Executive Director of Roots of Conflict, for organizing this important event. Islam, true Islam, has a long tradition of powerful women: women with spiritual might and women with political clout: Asiyyah, the wife of Pharoah; Mary, the Mother of Jesus; Khadijah, the pillar of Muhammad; Fatimah, the wife of ‘Ali, and Mother of the Imams; Zaynab, the sister of Husayn, the Lord of the Martyrs; Hamidah, the wife of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, and Narjis, the Mother of Imam al-Mahdi, the Savior of Humanity who, along with Jesus, will ride the world from corruption and exploitation and establish a global government of peace and justice.So, I commend Sister Zahra for her initiative and call upon the Muslim community, as a whole, and the Shiite community, in particular, to support her efforts. It is not true that only scholars can lead: leaders are those who should lead. Some scholars should just focus on leading prayers.

I would also like to thank our friends and allies from St. Luke’s Church and St. Mark’s Cathedral for hosting this event. I would also like to thank Sheikh Noor-uddin, a respected scholar, for sharing the podium with me this evening. God-willing, he will be providing you with some important insights on the origin and early development of Islam. By the grace of God, I begin:

"No fear shall be upon them, nor shall they grieve” (2:62). Such are the words of the Qur’an. Such are the words that were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel, peace and blessings be upon them both. Such is the attitude of Islam, true Islam, towards the People of the Book. Allow me to place this line of verse in its broader context. As Almighty Allah states in the Glorious Qur’an:

Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord. No fear shall be upon them, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)

The verse in question is clear. It establishes that all monotheists who do good deeds will ultimately attain salvation: they have nothing to fear. As Almighty Allah elucidates in the Glorious Qur’an:

For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ. (5:48)

We, believers in One God, whether we are Jews, Samaritans, Christians, Muslims, Sabeans, Zoroastrians, Brahmans, or monotheistic members of the First Nations, have theological differences. Big deal. Get over it. Almighty Allah Himself (or Herself if you prefer) explicitly expresses opposition to uniformity. The Creator espouses unity within diversity. Rather than fight over petty religious differences, God challenges us to "compete with each other in righteousness” (5:48). As Almighty Allah explains once again:

O mankind [my apologies for the gender-centric translation]… O humankind, We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing, and All-Aware. (49:13)

Differences enrich us. Homogeneity is boring. Rather than focus on areas of disagreement, Almighty Allah asks us to concentrate on areas of agreement:

Say: We believe in Allah and in what was revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. We believe in what given to Moses and Jesus and to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and to Him do we submit” (3:84)

In other words, Allah asks us to seek common ground with the People of the Book:

O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah. (3:64)

Although there is little common ground between monotheists, polytheists, and atheists in theological matters, there are areas of agreement in ethical and moral areas. Consequently, Allah encourages Muslims to adopt a tolerant attitude towards those who do not share their beliefs. As Almighty Allah says in the Glorious Qur’an: "To you your religion and to me mine” (109:6).

As far as Islam is concerned, nobody has a monopoly on truth. We should all respect the elements of true found in different religious traditions. Did not the Prophet ask Muslims to "Travel, for even if you don’t gain wealth, you will certainly gain wisdom” (Makarim al-Akhlaq). In other words, we must be open-minded and learn from others.

Whether people believe or disbelieve, they are all human beings. As Imam ‘Ali, the successor of the Prophet, peace be upon them both, said: "People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity.” Our religions may or may not unite us; however, our humanity can and should bring us together. Islam’s mercy and tolerance extends even to agnostics and atheists. As Imam Husayn, the grand-son of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon them both, said on the Day of ‘Ashurah: "If you do not have a religion, then at least be free and open-minded in your present life.”

Yes, I know, this sounds too lovie-dovie to some of you. It sure stands in stark contrast to the teachings of ISIS. Yes, indeed, it’s day and night, white and black, God versus Satan. It’s like comparing Christ to Slavery, Christ to Segregation, Christ to the Klan, and Christ to colonialism, imperialism, and globalism. Just like there are demonic entities that have exploited Judaism and Christianity to political purposes, perverting their teachings to turn them into tools of oppression and exploitation, so have some diabolic forces corrupted the teachings of Islam for the most sordid of reasons.  Please allow me to give you a short history of Islam: the enemies of the Prophet Muhammad, those who fought and opposed him savagely during his lifetime, usurped the spiritual and political authority of his successors, and turned Islam into an imperial dynasty.

The Umayyads and the ‘Abbasids ruthlessly hunted down the descendants of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and slaughtered them like the innocent lambs that they were. The enemies of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, did not simply kill the Progeny of the Prophet, they killed Islam in the process. They destroyed it from within. Truth became mingled with falsehood but, as Almighty Allah states in the Glorious Qur’an: "Truth stands clear from falsehood” (2:256). So, let us talk a bit about the Covenants of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and see what true Muhammadan Islam teaches.

In accordance with the Qur’an, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, consulted with the community in Madinah. He met with tribal and faith leaders. He deliberated with them. Then, under his leadership, but in collaboration with non-Muslims, he created and promulgated the Covenant of Madinah, the first constitution in the history of humanity which provided equality for all, regardless of religion, tribe, race, gender or social class. "They are one community [or ummah],” proclaims the Covenant of Madinah: "conditions must be fair and equitable to all.” Jews, Muslims, polytheists all had to contribute equally to the defense of the Ummah.

The religious rights of the People of the Book were protected: "The Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs.” "To the Jew who follows us belong help and equality,” it proclaims, "he shall not be wronged, nor his enemies aided.” Muslims were even obliged to protect and defend the allies of the Jews: "The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.”

The enemies of the Ummah, namely, the pagans from Quraysh, who persecuted the Muslims and non-Muslims who followed the Prophet, the Muslims and non-Muslims who followed the Prophet, were to be given no protection. All members of the Ummah were bond "to make peace and maintain it.” However, in the event they were attacked by their common enemies, they were all required to rally in defense of it.

The Covenant of Madinah established the rule of law among a lawless people: "Whenever you differ about a matter it must be referred to Allah and to Muhammad.” The teachings of the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an, became the law of the land, governing their respective communities. The Prophet was to oversee their implementation impartially. He was the final arbiter.

Word of the Prophet Muhammad’s rise continued to spread to the four corners of the world. In the second year of the hijrah, a delegation of monks from St. Catherine’s Monastery visited him in Madinah where they reminded him of his promise of protection. There, in his mosque in Madinah, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, dictated to ‘Ali the ‘ahd al-nabi, the ‘ahd nabawi, the ashtinameh, the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai, which guaranteed freedom of religion, protected religious establishments, granted tax-free status to priests, monks, and nuns, and prohibited forced conversions.

The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and grant him peace, provided the same protections to the People of the Book throughout the Greater Middle East. He protected the Christians of Najran, Aylah, Egypt, Syria, Persia, Armenia, and the world. He protected the Samaritans in Palestine. He protected the Jews from the Yemen and Maqnah. He also protected the Zoroastrians.

The authenticity of Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the People of the Book is documents is indisputable. They have been transmitted consecutively from the 7th century to the present. Hundreds upon hundreds of scholarly authorities have concluded that they are genuine. What is more, they were treated as authentic and established as law by Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, and ‘Ali, by the Fatimids, the Ayyubids, the Ottomans, and the Safavids, among others. So, what do these documents say? They are quite lengthy, and time is of the essence. Allow me then to provide you with some key quotes for the sake of clarity and concision.

The Treaty of Najran, which appears in the Tafsir of Muqatil ibn Sulayman al-Balkhi (d. 767 CE), the Kitab al-kharaj of Abu Yusuf (738-798 CE), the Kitab al-Siyar of Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani (d. 805 CE), the Tabaqat of Ibn Sa‘d (845 CE), and the Kitab al-Amwal of Ibn Zanjawayh (d. 865 CE), reads: "No bishop is to be driven from his bishopric, no monk from his monastery, and no priest from his priestly vocation.”

The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of Najran, the original of which was found in the House of Wisdom in 878/879 CE, and entered the Chronicle of Seert in the 9th century, reads: It is not permitted to remove a bishop from his bishopric, a monk from his monastic life or an anchorite from his vocation as a hermit. Nor is it permitted to destroy any part of their churches, to take parts of their buildings to construct mosques or the homes of Muslims.

The Treaty of Najran, cited in Baladhuri’s (d.  892 CE) Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, reads: "No bishop is to be driven from his bishopric, no monk from his monastery, and no hermit from his hermitage.” The Treaty of Najran, which was recorded by Ibn Qayyim, prior to 1350 CE, is very similar to the version published by Ibn Sa‘d in the 9th century. It reads: "No bishop is to be driven from his bishopric, no monk from his monastery, and no priest from his priestly vocation. No changes will be made with regards to their rights.”

The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai which was placed in the Ottoman Treasury in 1517 CE, reads:

A bishop shall not be removed from his bishopric, nor a monk from his monastery, nor a hermit from his tower, nor shall a pilgrim be hindered from his pilgrimage. Moreover, no building from among their churches shall be destroyed, nor shall the money from their churches be used for the building of mosques or houses for the Muslims.

The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, which was recorded in 1538 CE, reads:

It is not permitted to remove a bishop from his bishopric or a Christian from his Christianity, a monk from his monastic life or a pilgrim from his pilgrimage or a hermit from his tower. Nor is it permitted to destroy any part of their churches, to take parts of their buildings to construct mosques or the homes of Muslims.

The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, which was printed in 1630 CE, reads:

It is not permitted to remove a bishop from his bishopric or a Christian from his Christianity, a monk from his monastic life or a pilgrim from his pilgrimage or a hermit from his tower. Nor is it permitted to destroy any part of their churches, to take parts of their buildings to construct mosques or the homes of Muslims.

Although no Arabic version of the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of Persia is currently known to exist, it also contains a very similar clause:

Their building enterprises shall not be interfered with; their priests shall not be molested in the performance of their task… neither shall their churches be dismantled or destroyed, or their homes and mansions confiscated by Muslims, for mosques or residences…

And while a Persian version of the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Assyrian Christians survives, the Arabic is apparently no longer extant. Nonetheless, it conveys the same key components:

Leave their possessions alone, be it houses or other property, do no destroy anything of their belongings… their church buildings shall be left as they are, they shall not be altered, their priests shall be permitted to teach and worship in their down way… None of their churches are to be torn down, or altered into a mosque…

Enough with the repetition, you may think. However, its purpose is didactic. There are those who claim that the Covenants of the Prophet are 16thcentury forgeries. When that was proven to be false, they claimed that they were 10th century forgeries. However, even that has been proven to be false.

I am sorry to disappoint Islamophobic trolls, who refuse to believe that any good could come from the Prophet or Islam; however, the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad were circulating in the 9th century, the 8th century, and yes, even the 7th century. They are what we call in Hadith Studies:mutawatir, transmitted by so many people, for so long, from the 7th century to the 21st century, that it is impossible to accept that they all agreed upon a falsehood.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, never said: "Follow the Qur’an and only the Qur’an.” No, he told us to hold fast to the Qur’an and the Ahl al-Bayt (Muslim). He told us to follow his Sunnah but only as transmitted and interpreted by his authorized representatives, the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt and their faithful followers.

A text has no life of its own. It is inert. It comes alive when it is read and interpreted. The Qur’an, on its own, in the hands of evil-ones, can become an instrument of evil. Just look at the way ISIS interprets the Qur’an. They turn the Qur’an into a Satanic Scripture just like white supremacists turn the Bible into the work of Beelzebub.

As al-Sharif Ahmad ibn Muhammad Sa‘d al-Hasani al-Idrisi al-Azhari, the Founder of the Ihsan Institute and a distinguished graduate from al-Azhar University, has stated, the Covenants of the Prophet "serve to clarify the true meanings of the verses of the Qur’an.” La yakfi al-Qur’an. The Qur’an does not suffice. We must follow the Qur’an and the Prophet. We must follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

We must follow the true Sunnah as transmitted by the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt, peace be upon them. And who transmitted the Covenants of the Prophet? None other than Imam ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him. If we, as Muslims, hold on to the Qur’an and the Covenants of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon his and his purified progeny, we will never go astray.

Islam, true Islam, traditional, civilizational Islam, balances justice with mercy. It creates a tolerant, pluralistic, society, governed by the rule of law, which provides equality and equity for all its citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, tribal affiliation, gender, social class or economic status.

The Qur’an, the Sunnah, the Shari‘ah, the Constitution of Madinah, and the Covenants of the Prophet, the Imams, the Caliphs, the Sultans, and the Shahs of Islam all provide fundamental and universal civil and human rights. The Islam of the Prophet and the Islam of the Imams, peace and blessings be upon them all, provides safety and security for both Muslims and non-Muslims. As Almighty Allah commands in the Glorious Qur’an: "No fear shall be upon them, nor shall they grieve” (2:62).

Dr. John Andrew Morrow (Imam Ilyas Islam) is a proud member of the Métis Nation, one of the three aboriginal peoples recognized by the Canadian government. He embraced Islam at the age of 16 after several years of serious study. He has been a student of the Islamic Sciences for over thirty years and has acquired knowledge around the world. His teachers have included traditional scholars of Islam from various schools of jurisprudence and spiritual paths as well as Western academics. He received his PhD from the University of Toronto at the age of 29 and reached the rank of Full Professor by the age of 43. He retired from academia in 2016 to devote his time entirely to research, scholarship, and service. Dr. Morrow has authored hundreds of academic articles and over thirty scholarly books, the most influential of which is The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World (2013). He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Islam and the People of the Book, a three-volume encyclopedia on the Muhammadan Covenants which features critical studies by over twenty leading Muslim scholars along with translations of the treaties of the Prophet in over a dozen languages. Dr. Morrow received an interfaith leadership award from the Islamic Society of North America in 2016 and a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the US House of Representatives in 2017. An award winning academic, author, and activist, he lectures around the world and acts as an advisor to world leaders.


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