LESSON 1: Introduction to the Prophetic Covenants and the Covenants Initiative
by Charles Upton
The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, are treaties that he made with various non-Muslim religious communities of his time. We believe that the best way to introduce the Covenants, and show their contemporary relevance, is to present them in terms of their use in interfaith action and international relations since 2013, when their widespread public re-discovery began with the publication of The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World by Dr. John Andrew Morrow. We will start by giving a picture of the international peace movement this book created, Covenants Initiative, since it has been at the forefront of this rediscovery. If we were to begin with a strictly academic overview of the Covenants in their historical context (see LESSONS 2-4), their crucial relevance to our time might not be fully grasped; therefore we have designed LESSON 1 as a inspirational introduction to the drama of the rediscovery of the Prophetic Covenants in the 21st Century, which will hopefully motivate the student to inquire further.
This course is designed to be self-administered, either by a single individual or a community. Individuals who complete it are encouraged to share it with others they think might be interested, and perhaps start a study group. And though it is designed primarily for Muslims, members of other faith communities, and/or the general public, will also be able to learn much from it.
[Dr. John Andrew Morrow]
The Covenants Initiative: What We Have Done & What We Hope to Do
by Charles Upton
The Covenants Initiative began in 2013 with the publication of the ground-breaking book The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World by Dr. John Andrew Morrow. The covenants or treaties of the Prophet with various Christian communities, which Prof. Morrow re‐discovered in obscure libraries and collections, as well as in a number of ancient monasteries in the Middle East to which he traveled in search of these vital documents—also providing exhaustive historical research and textual analysis to establish their validity—uniformly command Muslims not to kill, rob or in any way oppress peaceful Christians, or stop churches from being repaired, or tear down churches to build mosques, or even prevent their Christian wives from going to church and taking spiritual direction from Christian priests and elders. On the contrary, the Prophet commands all Muslims to actively defend these communities “until the coming of the Hour.”
As soon as the book appeared it was widely recognized as of central relevance to our post 9/11 world, where religion as a pretext for conflict has in many ways replaced the secular ideological struggles of the 20th century. In order to publicize this book and emphasize its great value in interfaith peacemaking, the Covenants Initiative invites Muslims to subscribe to the theory that the Covenants of the Prophet are legally binding upon them today, and to sign a Declaration to that effect [see LESSON 5, section 5.9]. This has allowed many Muslims from all walks of life, including prominent scholars and religious leaders, to lend their support to our efforts.
The six covenants featured in The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World have been printed in a separate booklet, Six Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of His Time, which has been translated into 15 languages. Dr. Morrow also convened a consortium of scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim; together with them he produced and published a three-volume anthology of “covenants studies” entitled Islam and the People of the Book. This work includes covenants of the Prophet with Jews and Parsees as well as Christians, clearly indicating that it was Muhammad’s intent to establish a confederacy of all the religions who believe in the One God.
Since 2013, the Covenants Initiative has become an international movement within Islam. Over 700 articles on the Prophetic Covenants have been published, and Dr. Morrow has granted many interviews and given innumerable speeches in the United States, in Canada (including at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2018), in France before ministers of the French government, in the Netherlands, in Brussels before EU officials, in the UK before the House of Lords, in Abu Dhabi before ambassadors and foreign ministers of a number of Muslim nations, and in Iraq before Shi’a Ayatullahs. Dr. Morrow was also part of a delegation of Muslim leaders to the Obama White House in 2016. In the same year he received an Interfaith Leadership Award from the Islamic Society of North America. In 2017 he was awarded a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition by the U.S. House of Representatives, and delivered an address to President Hassan Rouhani of Iran at the United Nations.
Early on we garnered letters of support from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Greek Orthodox Church and Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem. We have also developed ongoing and cordial relationships with St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai and the Simonopetra Monastery on Mt. Athos. A copy of Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World was presented to Pope Francis, and we enjoy an ongoing relationship with the Vatican through Shaykh Yahya Pallavicini, President of the Comunità Religiosa Islamica Italiana (COREIS). In February of 2019, the Vatican co-hosted a seminar in Rome along with the Caux Round Table on the Covenants of the Prophet; in October of the same year, a conference on the Covenants took place in Istanbul co-sponsored by the Vatican and including the Caux Round Table, a representative of the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox metropolitan vicar of Mardin in southeastern Turkey and one of our academic colleagues from the Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar.
The Istanbul conference was centered around Dr. Morrow’s book The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World. We first realized that we were having a true international effect, however, when ISIS burned St. Mary’s Cathedral in the Philippine island of Mindanao in 2017, after which the Governor of the Autonomous Muslim region of Mindanao invoked the Covenants to denounce this action as “un-Islamic”; we are confident that this response was largely due to our efforts. Probably our most significant achievement, however—and certainly our most gratifying—took place in November of 2018 when the Justices of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in their decision to acquit the Christian woman Aasia Bibi on charges of blasphemy, quoted extensively from Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World in their written decision. Possibly in response to this decision, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has referenced the Covenants in a number of his speeches.
In order to extend and expand the work of the Covenants Initiative, the Covenants of the Prophet Foundation [501 (c) (3)] was created in 2019 [see https://covenantsoftheprophet.org]. Our first major project as a foundation has been to partner with the International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Jacksonville, Mississippi, USA in the creation of a traveling exhibition dedicated to the Prophetic Covenants entitled “Muslims with Christians and Jews: Covenants & Coexistence.”
Our Future Plans
As for our future plans, they include two main thrusts:
1} FURTHER RESEARCH ON THE COVENANTS. We now have access to literally thousands of documents related to the Prophetic Covenants: fatwas, proclamations by Caliphs and Sultans, as well as many ancient copies and textual variants of the Covenants themselves. To do justice to this great mass of material according to modern scholarly methods would require a legion of competent researchers with significant resources backing them up. And though it may still be premature to speak of a post-ISIL Islam, this is precisely the sort of research that could lay the groundwork for such an era, where the twin errors of modernizing secularism and reactionary Takfiri Salafism/Wahhabism are negated in favor of a third and much more fertile alternative: a return to the broad and comprehensive view and practice of the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad themselves—whose intent, as expressed in such documents as the Prophetic Covenants and the Constitution of Medina, and by the Prophet’s actions to implement them, was to create a federation of the Peoples of the Book, embracing all who believed in the Unity of God, the Angels, the Prophets and the Last Day. Furthermore, as both the Covenants and the Medina Constitution make clear, this federation was to be based on a “universal declaration of human rights” derived not from secular, atheistic western ideologies—many of them springing from the French Revolution, which was nothing less than a revolution against religion—but from the original essence of the Islamic Revelation itself. Only a return to the root of the religion, the root from which the vast tree of civilizational Islam sprang, can arm and inform Islam to make itself entirely contemporary, and thereby empower it face the daunting challenges of the 21st century.
2} THE USE OF THE COVENANTS TO INSPIRE INTERFAITH LEADERSHIP AND PROMOTE INTERFAITH SOLIDARITY. Since the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad command all Muslims until the end of time to refrain from attacking or oppressing peaceful Christians, but rather to actively defend them—a mandate that is also extended to other Peoples of the Book—the Covenants can be taken as a call from the Prophet to today’s Muslims to become involved in what might be called united front ecumenism, in the kind of interfaith activities that have as their goal a greater solidarity between the Abrahamic faiths, if not all the traditional religions, in the face of social influences and outright attacks that seem designed to weaken them, co-opt them, and limit their range of action.
Religion for Today—Covenants of the Prophet with Christians
by Dr. John Andrew Morrow
The Awakening: The Covenants Initiative
[Dr. John Andrew Morrow]