Christians esteem the biblical progression of covenants—Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic—finalized by Jesus as he ushered in the New.
But for the sake of religious freedom in the Muslim world, should they embrace a further covenant: Muhammadian?
Modern scholarship suggests the Muslim Prophet’s Christian covenants could offer contemporary guidance; they already influenced a favorable verdict in the case of Christian Asia Bibi in Pakistan.
After eight long years on death row, Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy by the Muslim nation’s Supreme Court in late October. The Christian mother of five had been sentenced for uttering contempt for Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, while attempting to drink water from a well.
The three-judge panel ruled that contradictions in accuser testimony and Bibi’s forced confession by a local cleric rendered the charges invalid.But in the official court document, one justice went as far as to partially base his judgement on how Bibi’s accusers violated an ancient covenant of Muhammad to the Christian monks of Mount Sinai—“eternal and universal … not limited to [them] alone.”
“Blasphemy is a serious offense,” wrote judge Asif Khosa, “but the insult of the appellant’s religion … was also not short of being blasphemous.”
He referenced a 2013 book by John Morrow, a Canadian convert to Islam. The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World is an academic study of six treaties commanding the kind treatment of Christians, reportedly dated to the seventh century.
Each similar in scope, they command Muslims not to attack peaceful Christian communities, to aid in the construction and repair of churches, and even to allow self-regulation of tax payments.
It is “nothing short of providential,” Morrow wrote, that they have been “rediscovered” at a time of widespread Islamist violence against the Christians of the Middle East.
“For Muslims, it means a wake-up call, an awareness that they have deviated from the Islamic tradition,” Morrow told Patheos, the religion and spirituality website.
“[It] requires that Muslims not only tolerate Christians, but love them as their brothers and sisters.”
This resonates with Mustafa Akyol, Turkish author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.
“The Supreme Court of Pakistan must be congratulated,” he said. “Both for saving Asia Bibi from execution, as well as taking great pains to explain why this was the right Islamic thing to do.”
But the senior fellow at the Cato Institute also gave two serious challenges for the treaties in Covenants. Some experts dispute their authenticity; and most Muslims are unaware of them.
“Yet to me, these covenants look convincing, at least in their general spirit,” said Akyol, “because they resonate with ecumenical themes already in the Qur’an.”
Islam’s holy book calls Christians the closest of all people to Muslims, with a direct call for the protection of synagogues, churches, and monasteries.
Professor Mustafa Abu Sway of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Quds University in Jerusalem said Muhammad made agreements with many Christian communities. He celebrates especially how the prophet received delegates from Najran (near the border with Yemen), hosting them in his mosque.
Covenants claims to rediscover the full text. Evaluation of any ancient manuscript involves the textual criticism principle that the shorter are likely the most authentic, said Abu Sway; however, he found Morrow’s findings to be genuine in spirit to others from Muslim history. The Pact of Omar is a well-known example, signed with the patriarch of Jerusalem in 638.
It is cited today as a mark of coexistence by the current Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, who also offered appreciation to Morrow.
“As our Middle East region passes through its contemporary plight, we commend your efforts to foster peace and reconciliation,” wrote Theophilos III in his official book endorsement. “We offer you wishes for success in sharing your positive message.”
Should other Christians do the same?
If Akyol raised two issues, Wilson Chowdhry of the British-Pakistani Christian Association raises a third: It may not make much difference.
Ever since the Bibi verdict, Pakistan has been awash in protests by extremist Muslims demanding her death—and that of the judges who acquitted her. Many local Christians—who make up less than two percent of a population of more than 200 million—refuse to speak to the media for fear of retribution, reported CNN.
Bibi remains in protective custody as asylum requests are considered.
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Source: Christianity Today