Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Islam 101: Muslim Conduct towards Churches and People of the Cloth

There have been reports of people attacking churches and at least one nun killed in Africa since the Pope's statement of a few days ago quoting Manuel II. (And other things have happened before.) I thought this would be a good time to cover the topic above in a little more detail.

As Muslims, we need to be very clear in our own minds, and not just for CSPAN and CNN and the purposes of daawa, that attacking Churches, specifically, is a direct violation of a direct order from The Prophet (Allah's peace be upon him and all the Prophets and Messengers before him). These orders are best understood from a charter he gave to the Monks of St. Catherine in the Sinai. The monastery itself has consequently been very highly regarded and respected by Muslims ever since. But the way the document is written, it is not just about that monastery, but also, in my humble opinion, captures how he wanted his followers to treat Christians in general and people of the cloth in particular.

And before people start challenging the theology of the Catholic Church, let us remember that the Councils of Nicea had already happened by The Prophet's time, and St. Catherine, while (according to the Wikipedia) an Orthodox institution, still follows the Nicean creed.)

In his own words,
"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."
and
"No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses."
and, at least one translation starts the last paragraph to say,
"Every help shall be given them in the repair of their churches. They shall be absolved from wearing arms. They shall be protected by the Muslims."
while others say
"Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants."
[My Arabic is not fluent and if anyone can take a look at the original Arabic text and help get a more exact sense of the text, please let me know. I think I am familiar enough with Arabic to make a judgement with some help.]

As to who, where, and when this is applicable, the document is very clear at the very beginning that "we don't rule such-and-such territory; it is the occupier's/government's responsibilty" is not an excuse we can fall back on:
"Any Muslim violating and abusing what is therein ordered would be regarded as violator of God’s testament and would be the breaker of His promise and would make himself deserving of God’s curse, be he a king or a subject."
and
"No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world)."
Too often, in the rush to take the Pope to task, or condemn cartoons in Denmark (and I have done by part of taking to task and critiquing the cartoons, though maybe for slightly different reasons than most), we forget to keep that in mind; that the tradition of The Prophet and his Khalifas (not to mention the Qur'an and the rest of our canon/qanoon) is that places of worship and people of the cloth are inviolate, whatever the circumstances. And whoever is doing the attacking--and I pray it is not someone who considers themselves a Muslim, for that points to another, much, much deeper problem in the Ummah today--if a Muslim community has any authority and influence in the area, it is our duty to protect them, plain and simple. And not for the image of Islam, or international relations or because I am a "friend of the West", but because if we take the words of the Qur'an and The Prophet seriously, we believe that Allah will take us to account on this issue on the Day of Judgement.

[PS: You can follow up on the document starting on the Wikipedia here or here: ]

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