How should Muslims treat Christians? With violence? Anger? Hatred? The answer is none of the above. Below is the English rendering of a letter purportedly written by the Prophet Muhammad (sa) to all Christians.
In a time when tensions between Islam and Christianity seem to be at an all time high, we remind our Christian friends that a true Muslim cannot hurt a Christian in any way, neither by his hand, nor by his tongue.
Several certified historical copies are displayed in the library of St Catherine, some of which are witnessed by the judges of Islam to affirm historical authenticity. The monks claims that during the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517, the original document was seized from the monastery by Ottoman soldiers and taken to Sultan Selim I’s palace in Istanbul for safekeeping.
The letter, below with translation requires no further explanation. We hope it provides credence and comfort that Prophet Muhammad (sa) truly celebrated his Christian friends. (The original letter is now in the TopkapiMuseum in Instanbul)
Summary of letter
“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.
Prophet Muhammad Tomb
No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.
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).”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.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.
English translation from ‘Muslim History: 570 – 1950 C.E.’ by Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq, ZMD Corporation. P.O. Box 8231 – Gaithersburg, MD20898-8231 – Copyright Akram Zahoor 2000. P. 167
This document is the Achtiname of Muhammad, also known as the Covenant or (Holy) Testament (Testamentum) of the Prophet Muhammad, a document or ahdname which is a charter or writ ratified by the Islamic Prophet Muhammad granting protection and other privileges to the monks of Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai. It is sealed with an imprint representing Muhammad’s hand. –wikipedia
English Translation of the Ashtiname by Richard Pococke
1. Muhammad the son of ‘Abd Allah, the Messenger of Allah, and careful guardian of the whole world; has written the present instrument to all those who are in his national people, and of his own religion, as a secure and positive promise to be accomplished to the Christian nation, and relations of the Nazarene, whosoever they may be, whether they be the noble or the vulgar, the honorable or otherwise, saying thus.I. 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 becomes worthy of the curse, whether he be the King himself, or a poor man, or whatever person he may be.
2. That whenever any of the monks in his travels shall happen to settle upon any mountain, hill, village, or 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 honor to me.
3. Moreover, I command all officers not to require any poll-tax on 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 deported.
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 one 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, wherever 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 Muslim partake of what they have; for they labor 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 habitations, nor compel them to go to the wars, nor even then shall they require of them any poll-tax.
12. 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.
13. Those Christians who are inhabitants, and with their riches and traffic are able to pay the poll-tax, shall pay no more than twelve drachms.
14. Excepting this, nothing shall be required of them, according to the express order 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’ [29:46]. Give of your good things to them, and converse with them, and hinder everyone from molesting them.
15. If a Christian woman shall happen to marry a Muslim man, the Muslim shall not cross the inclination of his wife, to keep her from her church and prayers, and the practice of her religion.
16. That no person hinder them from repairing their churches.
17. Whosoever acts contrary to my grant, or gives credit to anything contrary to it, becomes truly an apostate to God, and to his divine apostle, because this protection I have granted to them according to this promise.
18. No one shall bear arms against them, but, on the contrary, the Muslims shall wage war for them.
19. And by this I ordain, that none of my nation shall presume to do or act contrary to this my promise, until the end of the world.
English Translation of the Achtiname by Anton F. Haddad:
This is a letter which was issued by Mohammed, Ibn Abdullah, the Messenger, the Prophet, the Faithful, who is sent to all the people as a trust on the part of God to all His creatures, that they may have no plea against God hereafter. Verily God is the Mighty, the Wise. This letter is directed to the embracers of Islam, as a covenant given to the followers of Nazarene in the East and West, the far and near, the Arabs and foreigners, the known and the unknown.
This letter contains the oath given unto them, and he who disobeys that which is therein will be considered a disobeyer and a transgressor to that whereunto he is commanded. He will be regarded as one who has corrupted the oath of God, disbelieved His Testament, rejected His Authority, despised His Religion, and made himself deserving of His Curse, whether he is a Sultan or any other believer of Islam. Whenever monks, devotees and pilgrims gather together, whether in a mountain or valley, or den, or frequented place, or plain, or church, or in houses of worship, verily we are [at the] back of them and shall protect them, and their properties and their morals, by Myself, by My Friends and by My Assistants, for they are of My Subjects and under My Protection.
I shall exempt them from that which may disturb them; of the burdens which are paid by others as an oath of allegiance. They must not give anything of their income but that which pleases them—they must not be offended, or disturbed, or coerced or compelled. Their judges should not be changed or prevented from accomplishing their offices, nor the monks disturbed in exercising their religious order, or the people of seclusion be stopped from dwelling in their cells.
No one is allowed to plunder the pilgrims, or destroy or spoil any of their churches, or houses of worship, or take any of the things contained within these houses and bring it to the houses of Islam. And he who takes away anything therefrom, will be one who has corrupted the oath of God, and, in truth, disobeyed His Messenger.
Poll-taxes should not be put upon their judges, monks, and those whose occupation is the worship of God; nor is any other thing to be taken from them, whether it be a fine, a tax or any unjust right. Verily I shall keep their compact, wherever they may be, in the sea or on the land, in the East or West, in the North or South, for they are under My Protection and the testament of My Safety, against all things which they abhor.
No taxes or tithes should be received from those who devote themselves to the worship of God in the mountains, or from those who cultivate the Holy Lands. No one has the right to interfere with their affairs, or bring any action against them. Verily this is for aught else and not for them; rather, in the seasons of crops, they should be given a Kadah for each Ardab of wheat (about five bushels and a half) as provision for them, and no one has the right to say to them this is too much, or ask them to pay any tax.
As to those who possess properties, the wealthy and merchants, the poll-tax to be taken from them must not exceed twelve Dirhams a head per year (i.e. about 45 cents).
They shall not be imposed upon by anyone to undertake a journey, or to be forced to go to wars or to carry arms; for the Muslims have to fight for them. Do no dispute or argue with them, but deal according to the verse recorded in the Koran, to wit: ‘Do not dispute or argue with the People of the Book but in that which is best’ [29:46]. Thus they will live favored and protected from everything which may offend them by the Callers to religion (Islam), wherever they may be and in any place they may dwell.
Should any Christian woman be married to a Musulman, such marriage must not take place except after her consent, and she must not be prevented from going to her church for prayer. Their churches must be honored and they must not be withheld from building churches or repairing convents.
They must not be forced to carry arms or stones; but the Muslims must protect them and defend them against others. It is positively incumbent upon every one of the Islam nation not to contradict or disobey this oath until the Day of Resurrection and the end of the world.
[Haddad, Anton F., trans. The Oath of the Prophet Mohammed to the Followers of the Nazarene. New York: Board of Counsel, 1902; H-Bahai: Lansing, MI: 2004]