Local professor, Covenants Initiative hope to bring peace to Middle East

By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 – 8:28 am

You wouldn’t expect a book by a professor at Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast to be placed in the hands of Pope Francis, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and Muslim and other scholars around the world.

But that is the case with “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World,” by Professor John Andrew Morrow, who hopes the book will help end persecution of Christians and others in the Middle East.

“We are with the oppressed and the persecuted, and we are against the oppressors and persecutors,” said Morrow, 43, a professor of foreign languages.

By “we” he means the Covenants Initiative, an effort he started with poet Charles Upton of Lexington, Ky., to make world leaders and Muslims aware of six covenants Islam’s great prophet, Muhammad, signed with Christian groups before his death in 632 AD and before Islam expanded across the Middle East and beyond. Muhammad signed similar agreements with Jewish and other groups, Morrow said.

In return for agreeing to live under the civil government of a Muslim confederation, the covenants with Christians guaranteed they would retain their rights, property and freedom of religion, Morrow said. The documents also said the groups’ clergy, churches and religious sites should be protected.

Muhammad guaranteed this protection until the end of the world, said Morrow, a Montreal, Canada, native who now lives in Auburn and has been teaching at Ivy Tech-Northeast for five years.

“I believe these covenants are critically important,” Morrow said. “They serve as a model,” showing how Muslims and Christians lived together in peace for more than 1,000 years.

That peace broke down after first France and then England chose to ignore them beginning about the late 1700s during those nations’ quests to create colonial empires, Morrow said. Many people now don’t know the covenants exist.

“The terms of the covenant(s) agree with the teachings of Islam,” Nuhu Abdulai, a scholar at the Fort Wayne Islamic community’s Universal Education Foundation, said in an email. “However, the attribution of the covenants as mentioned in the post or the book to the Prophet cannot be verified. I did not come across it in our reliable sources.”

Muhammad lived peacefully with Christians and Jews and … “he had peaceful agreements with them, some of which are mentioned in the authentic books of history,” Abdulai said. Islam’s holy book, the Quran, also contains many references encouraging Muslims to “deal justly and kindly” with people of different religions and to protect those who don’t know God, or Allah, so they can hear his word, Abdulai said.

Morrow, who said the covenants have been authenticated “by scores of scholars,” first learned of them about 1990 while writing a paper on jihad, or Muslim holy war, in college. He started his book in fall 2012, and it was published last November.

The 466-page book since has been translated into Arabic, Spanish and Italian, Morrow said. A Muslim scholar affiliated with the Covenants Initiative gave a copy to Pope Francis in September.

The six covenants now are being translated into 12 languages for distribution as e-books around the world, Morrow said. E-book translations in a few languages now are available for free at the Covenants Initiative website, www.covenantsoftheprophet.com.

Morrow hopes knowledge of Muhammad’s covenants will inspire true Muslims to stand up to and throw out extremists, such as the Islamic State and rebel groups fighting in Syria.

When they take over an area, Islamic State and rebel groups fighting against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad — including rebels backed by the United States — have ordered Christians to convert to Islam or die, Morrow said. The extremist groups also have killed clergy and destroyed churches and monasteries.

Such actions “are an insult to the Prophet’s name” and go against the Quran, which prohibits indiscriminate killing and killing noncombatants, Morrow said.

To spread awareness of the covenants, Morrow has spoken at universities, before a committee at the House of Lords in London and at Canadian embassies in Paris, Belgium and London. He’s willing to speak before any group not hostile to what he has to say.

Morrow hopes in some way to help save lives and bring about peace.

“I’m not the type of person who can sit still in the face of injustice,” he said.


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Dr. John Andrew Morrow is a senior scholar specializing in Islamic, Indigenous, and Hispanic Studies.