The Charter of Medina established a multi religious Islamic State, conferring collective responsibility to nine constituent tribes to avert actions against the State. The Quraysh, Yathrib and Jews were mentioned repeatedly. Excluding scholarly inferences, an incisive reading of the Charter of Media indicates that Christians were not mentioned. Why so?
There could be many reasons to explain this exclusion.
First, the Quraysh hardly had sizable number of Christians.
Secondly, according to Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah the most authentic scholar on the Charter, the Yathrib tribe had merely 1%-4% Christian population. This could mean that the responsibility of their conduct rested on the tribal leader.
Thirdly, the major Christian concentrations were in Sinai, Najran, Assyria, Petra, Armenian Christians of Jerusalem and Persia. As they were not part of the State of Medina, they were excluded.
Lastly and most plausibly, the Holy Prophet’s close association with the Christians precluded any possibility to include them in the other. They were The Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) Own.
As will follow, Christians and Muslims were inseparable allies and part of the same Ummah, a supra-national community with a common history. This is evident from the fact that The Holy Prophet (PBUH) concluded five treaties with the Christians, also called the ‘Covenants of the Prophet Muhamad (PBUH) with the Christians of Sinai, Persia, World, Assyria and Najran from 2AH to 10 AH’. Though it has become common in Pakistan to often refer to the First Covenant concluded with the Christian Monks of Mount Sinai (St. Catherine) in 2 AH, no Christian or Islamic Scholar has commented or analysed the Last Covenant with the Christians of Najran sealed in 9-10 AH. No amount of interpretations and analysis can dilute its centrality to Christian-Muslim unity.
The Covenant under directions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was written by Mu’awiyyah bin Sufyan and witnessed besides others by Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Abu Bakar, Hazrat Usman and Hazrat Ali. It was sealed in 9 and 10 AH with amendments. The amendments are significant because it set aside some strong theological differences between Christianity and Islam as a matter of individual Faith with allegiance to the same Allah. One passage quoting the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in the Covenant is noteworthy.
“The Christians recognised my alliance. They recognised my rights. They earned my concerns and affection by fulfilling the obligations that I had contracted with them spontaneously in the name of all Muslims spread from East to West, my protection during my life and after passing when Allah will make me die. So as long as Islam will spread and my true mission and faith will grow, this Covenant will be obligatory for all believers and Muslims, so long as water fills the ocean floor, rain falls down from the sky, the earth produces plants, the stars shine in the firmament, and the dawn appears to the traveller nor will it be permitted for anyone to break this treaty, alter it, add to it, delete from it. Anyone from my Ummah who, after me breaks this Covenant of Allah, Glorified and exalted be He, the Proof of Allah will be raised against him and Allah is sufficient as a witness.”
In Islam and Ummah these covenants are a law as Covenants of Allah. This explains why The Holy Prophet (PBUH) conferred these special rights on Christians and not others? It goes without mention that Christians in an Islamic State are inseparable from Muslims and must be treated as such.
An appraisal of history certainly supports my hypothesis.
Foundational structures for Inter-Faith cooperation between Christianity and Islam started to build before advent of Islam. With the advent of Islam, these were consolidated through covenants supervised by the Holy Prophet PBUH.
There was a close association of the Holy Prophet with Christians in his extremely tough childhood and teens. In these formative years, he learned the scriptures from the monks in the Sinai Desert. There was also a special union that existed between the Holy Prophet and his Christian relatives. Within its compound, the religiously and historically important Christian Monastery of St. Catherine also had ‘Worship Place of the Holy’ for the Prophet to pray. It is now a mosque; perhaps the first one even before the declaration of Prophet Hood. It is here that the first covenant with Christians was signed. For Muslims, this covenant on behalf of Allah is valid till eternity.
There is a mutual spiritual veneration amongst the Christians and Muslims of Arabia since the beginning.
The reverence for Messiah and Virgin Mary amongst Christians and Muslims is mutual.
The Christian message of Peace “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will” is repeated in Islam as, “Peace be upon him who follow the straight path”.
The accounts of Virgin Mary, visitation of Archangel Gabriel, and the conversations therein, virgin birth of Jesus and arrival of Messiah are remarkably similar in the Gospels and Holy Quran. Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus is explicitly identified as the most exalted woman in Islam and named in the Holy Quran seventy times with an exclusive Surah e Maryam. She is also exalted in Surah e Tahrim and Surah e Imran.
Arab Christians and Muslims display far more inter-faith harmony than the non-Arab Muslim countries. In early days, Muslims built small Christian Chapels as extensions to their mosques. These symbols are displayed all over Arabia.
Christians never suffered discrimination by Holy Prophet and Pious Caliphate. There is no evidence of Christians fighting against Muslims during the early conquests. Rather, Christian generals and soldiers fought alongside Muslims against Byzantines and Romans. Christians were also close to the Pious Caliphate, the epitome of which was witnessed in the battles of Karbala. Even today, Christians in Iraq mourn and mutually pray for the dead in Muharram.
The Umayyad transfer of science and philosophy to Europe owes a lot to Arab Christian translators and men of knowledge.
The interfaith harmony and coexistence is still the norm. It is difficult to make a distinction about religions in terms of names, culture and dress in Egypt, Palestine, Jordon, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Kurds.
In contemporary history and practice, this link is often missed in the non-Arabian Muslim countries as also some Arab Kingdoms. With Allah as witness, this is a violation.
As regards Pakistan, there is also an interesting parallel.
Christians of Bengal, Punjab and Sindh backed all India Muslim League in creation of Pakistan. Do we Pakistanis ever reason why a reference to Christians was never made in Qaid e Azam Muhamad Ali Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947?
The answer is simple. Christians were integral part of the Ummah of Pakistan. Jinnah and S P Singha the Christian leader knew this.
Will the Islamic Republic of Pakistan now oblige and live up to these rich traditions and Covenants witnessed by Allah? According to these Covenants, refurbishing and reconstructing churches and institutions of Christians is a responsibility of Muslim rulers.
Aforesaid, reinstating Christian IDPS of 1947, Gordon College Rawalpindi, Murray College Sialkot and Edwards College Peshawar could be the start point.
The article is a summary of a scholarly paper read by the author at Fatima Jinnah Women University seminar on Interfaith Harmony.