The Prophet Muhammad’s Covenants of Protection to Christians

The covenant of the Prophet Muhammad

In 626 Prophet Muhammad personally granted a charter to the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery to protect the rights of Christians and other non-Muslims “far and near” who were living in predominantly-Muslim areas.

It may come as a shock to many, it’s really not that surprising that Muhammad frequently visited the Christian monks of Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in the Sinai peninsula of Egypt.

The covenant of the Prophet Muhammad the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery to protect the rights of Christians and other non-Muslims

Muhammad’s Promise to the Monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery Until the End of Days :

“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).”

Muhammad’s Promise to the Monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful 

This is a book written by Mohammed bin Abdullah to all people together; A bearer of glad tiding and a warner[1], and entrusted with a deposit[2] of God in his creation, so that mankind will have no argument against God after the messengers, and God is Mighty and Wise[3]. He wrote it to the people of his religion and all who follow the Christian religion, from the East to the Western of the earth, near or far, natives or foreigners, known or unknown. A book made covenant with them, he who violates the covenant that is in it, disobeyed it for something else, and trespassed: his affair is nothing but a violation of God’s covenant; he voids his pact, and mocks his religion, and deserves a curse, whether he was a sultan (authority) or someone else from the Muslims believers:  

    • Do not foreseeably change a bishop of his bishopric, nor a monk of is monkhood, an anchorite from his cell (cave), or a hermit of his hermitic[4]; and do not destroy nor sell any patrimony of their churches. Do not utilize anything (capital or materials) from church construction into the construction of a mosque or that of the homes of Muslims. He who does something like that, has broken the covenant of God and has violated his Messenger. Jizya (a fine tribute)[5] or penalty is not to be taken from monks, bishops or worshipers, and I preserve their pact wherever they are on land or sea, East or West, North or South. They are in my conscience and charter, and protection from all evil.
    • Do not argue with them except in a way that is best, have mercy on them, and protect them from hated harm wherever they are and wherever they go.
    • Assist in reconstruct (patch, remodel) their churches and monasteries, and this would be as aid to them in their religion and for their commitment to the covenant. 

Ali bin Abi Taleb wrote this covenant with his handwriting in the Prophet’s Mosque, and witnessed this covenant the Companions of the Messenger of God, peace be upon him.


Notes:

[1] Meaning:  bring the good news to the believers a warner to the disbelievers.

[2] Meaning: covenant.

[3] Capital letters used in Mighty and Wise because these are some of the many synonyms for the word God in Islam.

[4] “hermit of his hermitic” is the closest translation to سايح من سياحته.  The verbatim translation for سايح is tourist. However, the author was not referring to our current day tourist and tourism; he refers to a spiritual ranking in the Coptic Orthodox church that can only be achieved through prayer, fasting, and being in hermit. When one reaches the level “ tourist” in the Coptic Orthodox church, it means that he can travel from point A to point B without using transportation and he can enter a building without having to go through the doors or window.

[5] Jezya: is a fee that was paid by non-Muslim men to Muslims for protection.  Women, children, and elders were exempt from paying it.

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supporting documents

Translation of the supporting documents

God is great and governeth, from whom all the prophets are come, for there remaineth no record of injustice against God; through the gifts that are given unto men, Mohammed, the son of Abdallah, the Apostle of God, and careful guardian of the whole world, has written the present instrument, to all those that are his national people, and of his religion, as a secure and positive promise to be accomplished to the Christian nation and relations of the Nazareen, whosoever they may be, whether they be the noble or the vulgar, the honourable or otherwise, saying thus:

    1. Whosoever of my nation shall presume to break my promise and oath which is contained in this present agreement, destroys the promise of God, acts contrary to the oath and will be a resister of the faith (which God forbid!) for he becometh worthy of the curse, whether he be the king himself or a poor man, or what person soever he may be.

    2. That whenever any of the monks in his travels shall happen to settle on any mountain, hill, village, or in any other habitable place, on the sea or in deserts, or in any convent, church, or house of prayer, I shall be in the midst of them, as the preserver and protector of them, their goods and effects, with my soul, aid and protection, jointly with all my national people, because they are a part of my own people, and an honour to me.

    3. Moreover, I command all officers not to require any poll tax of them or any other tribute, because they shall not be forced or compelled to anything of this kind.

    4. None shall presume to change their judges or governors, but they shall remain in their office without being deposed.

    5. No one shall molest them when they are travelling on the road.

    6. Whatever churches they are possessed of, no one is to deprive them of them.

    7. Whosoever shall annul any of these my decrees, let him know positively that he annuls the ordinance of God.

    8. Moreover, neither their judges, governors, monks, servants, disciples, or any others depending on them, shall pay any poll tax or be molested on that account, because I am their protector, wheresoever they shall be, either by land or sea, east or west, north or south; because both they and all that belong to them are included in this my promissory oath and patent.

    9. And of those that live quietly and solitary upon the mountains, they shall exact neither poll tax nor tithes from their incomes, neither shall any Mussulman partake of what they have, for they labour only to maintain themselves.

    10. Whenever the crop of the earth shall be plentiful in its due time, the inhabitants shall be obliged, out of every bushel, to give them a certain measure.

    11. Neither in time of war shall they take them out of their habitation, nor compel them to go to the wars, nor even then shall they require of them any poll-tax.

      • In these eleven chapters is to be found whatever relates to the monks; as to the remaining seven chapters they direct what relates to every Christian.

    12. Those Christians who are inhabitants, and with their riches and traffic are able to pay the poll-tax, shall pay no more than 12 drachmas.

    13. Excepting this, nothing more shall be required of them, according to the express word of God, that says: ‘Do not molest those that have a veneration for the Books that are sent from God, but rather, in a kind manner, give of your good things to them, and converse with them, and hinder every one from molesting them.’

    14. If a Christian woman shall happen to marry a Mussulman, the Mussulman shall not cross the inclination of his wife to keep her from her chapel and prayers and the practice of her religion.*

    15. That no person hinder them from repairing their churches.

    16. Whosoever acts contrary to this my grant, or gives credit to anything contrary to it, becomes truly an apostate from God and his divine Apostle, because this protection I have granted to them according to this promise.

    17. No one shall bear arms against them, but, on the contrary, the Mussulmans shall wage war for them.

    18. And by this I ordain that none of my nation shall presume to do or act contrary to this promise until the end of the world.

Witnesses:
Ali the son of Abu Thaleb.
Homar, the son of Hattavi.
Ziphir, the son of Abuan.
Saith, the son of Maat.
Thavitt, the son of Nesis.
Amphachin, the son of Hassan.
Muathem, the son of Kasvi.
Azur, the son of Jassin.
Abombaker, the son of Ambi Kaphe.
Ottoman, the son of Gafas.
Ambtelack, the son of Messutt.
Phazer, the son of Abbas.
Talat, the son of Amptolack.
Saat the son of Abbatt.
Kasmer the son of Abid.
Ambtullack the son of Omar.

This present was written by the leader, the successor of Ali, the son of Abu Thaleb; the prophet marking it with his own hand at the mosque of the Prophet (on whom be peace!) in the second year of Hegira, the third day of the month of Machorem.

* Turkish lawyers give as an example of this point, that the Mussulman son of a Christian mother is bound to convey her, when old or infirm, to the church door, upon a beast (horse or a mule etc.); and should he be poor and possess no beast, he is bound to carry her on his shoulders.”[1]

(John Davenport. An apology for Mohammed and the Koran. 1869. Pages 147-151. The book is available on Archive.org) 

Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, copyright St. Catherine’s Monastery 

The golden seal of Sultan Selim I, who had the Covenant authenticated by the greatest scholars from throughout the Ottoman empire in 1517.

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

The authenticity of letter is challenging,

The Achtiname pictured earlier in this post is not the original, but actually a copy of an original from the 16th century, which was likely already a somewhat altered version of the original text written by Muhammad in 626.

Dr. Aziz Suryal Atiya was a professor of Medieval History at Farouk University when he took part in The Monastery of St. Catherine and the Mount Sinai Expedition, a research project that looked into the history of the monastery and the authenticity of the Achtiname.

Here’s what he had to say:

“After the Arab conquest of Egypt in AD 640 , it was said that the Prophet Muhammad granted the monks of Mount Sinai a covenant whereby their lives and property became secure under Muslim rule. The existing tradition is that the original charter was taken from the Monastery by Sultan Selim I after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. The Sultan, however, gave the monks a copy of it and sanctioned its terms.”

The copy now in the monastery is a copy of the certified copy given to them by the Sultan after he took the original in 1517 (supposedly for safe keeping at his palace in Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul), prompting some to question its authenticity entirely.

However, the basic premise of the letter seems to have been maintained over the years, despite any small changes that may have been made to it as it passed between different hands.

Either way, the fact that St. Catherine’s Monastery has lasted for nearly 1500 years, surviving through countless different rulers (both Christian and Muslim) and years of bitter religious conflicts in the Middle East, speaks volumes about the mutual respect of the faiths on this hallowed ground.

Some scholars believe that the Achtiname was forged by the monks of St. Catherine’s. While finding definitive scholarly sources for this claim is somewhat difficult.

In terms of chains of transmission, the ‘ahdahdname or ashtiname granted to the monks of Mount Sinai seems to be the strongest of all of the Covenants of the Prophet. It has been passed down by Muslims and non-Muslims alike for nearly a millennium and a half. From a scholarly standpoint, it reaches the highest degree of certainty that we can expect from a document dating back from the 7thcentury. It would take a dangerous combination of ignorance and arrogance for any scholar to dismiss this document as a forgery when faced with its illustrious lineage of transmission. Not only is its chain of narration solid, so is its content, which is in complete agreement with the Qur’an and trustworthy Sunnah. While some may argue that the Covenant to St. Catherine’s Monastery was an exceptional act limited to a particular place and people and applicable only for a specific time, the Prophet himself stipulated that its provisions applied to all peaceful Christians, who were friends and allies of the Muslims, for all time to come. What is more, the authenticity of the Sinai Covenant can increase the credence of other surviving covenants, whose validity and chain of transmission may not be as well documented and therefore doubted. Where plants prosper and our visual sense sees nothing but green, we know that there must be water. The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai is not simply supported by a spring, like an oasis; the greenery it produces comes closer to a tropical jungle, fed by sources, rivers, lakes, and an abundance of rain. The achtiname has been a source of life for Christians and Muslims for over a millennium and a half. May this covenant of hope continue to water seeds of peace until the end of time.

Authenticity in light of Quran:

“I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them”

There is no compulsion and coercion in regard to religion.- Quran: (2:256) 

“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.”

O You who have attained to faith! Be true to your covenants. – Quran: (5:01) 

Do not revile those whom they invoke other than Allah, because they will revile Allah in ignorance out of spite. – Quran: (6:108)

“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.”

This day all good things have been made lawful to you. The food of the People of the Book is permitted to you, and your food is permitted to them. And permitted to you are chaste women, be they either from among the believers or from among those who have received the Book before you… – Quran: (5:5)

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