By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
Prophet (pbuh) warned Muslims that “anyone who kills a non-Muslim citizen will not smell the fragrance of paradise” (Nasai). This indicates his high regard for Christians and Jews whom the Quran entitled “Ahlul-Kitab” (People of the Book) repeatedly and in clear words. This is precisely why the Prophet (pbuh) strongly admonished his followers about the mistreatment with them: He said, “He who wrongs a Jew or a Christian will have myself as his accuser on the Day of Judgment” (Bukhari).
Speaking generally about all non-Muslims living in an Islamic country, the Prophet said: “He who hurts a Dhimmi (non-Muslim citizen of an Islamic state) hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys Allah.” (Reported by Imam Tabrani)
The Prophet also declared: “Whoever hurts a non-Muslim, I am his adversary, and I shall be an adversary to him on the Day of Rising.” (Reported by Al Khateeb)
Another Hadith report quotes the Prophet (pbuh) as having said, “On the Day of Resurrection I shall dispute with anyone who oppresses a person from among the non-Muslims, or infringes on his right, or puts a responsibility on him which is beyond his capacity or takes something from him against his will.” (Reported by Abu Dawood)
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was very much concerned about the protection of the rights of Jews and Christians, as well as other Ahl al-Zimmah (non-Muslim citizens of Islamic state) and religious minorities of the state that he established. A substantial and irrefutable proof of this is that during his lifetime in Arabia, Christians were protected even against foreign invading enemies. The Prophet (pbuh) particularly stressed that religious institutions of other communities should not be harmed. Monasteries, churches and synagogues must be respected, because the Quran itself respects them as the places of worship for the People of the Book, protected by God (Al-Hajj 22: 40). In accordance with this divine commandment, the Prophet (pbuh) concerned himself with the protection of the holy places of the Ahlul-Kitab (People of the Book).
Once, a delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery came to the Prophet (pbuh), requesting his protection. He granted them a charter of rights, which went down well in the Islamic history as the first written document for the protection of minority human rights and respect for their faiths. Here is the letter addressed by the Prophet (pbuh) to the religious leaders of Saint Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai who had sought the protection of the Muslims:
“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who follow Christianity, near and far, we are with them (We stand by them). Verily I, the servants of God, 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 Allah’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they (Christians) 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. None of Muslims is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day.”
From several ancient and modern rolls preserved in the monastery’s library, it has been authenticated that the Covenant of the Prophet (pbuh) played great role in the protection of special privileges for the monks. The monastery was under the protection of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) himself and later under the Arab and Turkish leaders and Napoleon. This is precisely why it remains safe and intact even today. The historical Fatimid mosque built next to the Orthodox Church is still serving a glaring example of religious co-existence.
The Sinai holy sites, which have also been mentioned in the Qur’an, are of paramount historical importance and authenticity. According to the historical records preserved at Sinai, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) not only knew but also visited the Sinai priests. It is recorded that when the delegation from Sinai requested a letter of protection from the Prophet (pbuh) in 626 AD, he granted and authorized the covenant by placing his hand upon it. According to numerous sources, the Turkish Sultan Saleem I (in AD 1517) took the original letter of protection for safekeeping to the royal treasury in Constantinople. However, he confirmed the monastery’s prerogatives and granted certified copies of this document to the monastery, each depicting the hand print of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) in token of his having touched the original. This historical document of the Islam’s message of religious tolerance is still preserved in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. The original document in Arabic can still be seen. Here is the image of the Letter of Protection from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to the Christians of St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai:
One of the websites working under the project of UNESCO (the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) states:
“The Letter of Protection is known as the Ahtiname, from the Arabic words ahd, which means “obligation,” and name, which means “document, testament.” The document has been instrumental in the protection of the monastery, and as a means of ensuring peaceful and cooperative relations between Christians and Moslems. The continuous existence of the monastery during fourteen centuries of Islamic rule is a sign of the respect given to this Letter of Protection, and the principles of peace and cooperation that it enshrines.” (http://www.sinaimonastery.com/en/index.php?lid=76)