Truth has Come and Falsehood has Vanished Away: A Response to Jayson Casper’s “Covenantal Theology”

Truth has Come and Falsehood has Vanished Away: A Response to Jayson Casper’s “Covenantal Theology”

By Dr. John Andrew Morrow

The Muslim Post (January 2, 2019)

On December 21, 2018, Jayson Casper, a Cairo-based writer who covers the minority Copts, published an article titled “Covenantal Theology” in Christianity Today which poses a very important question: “Can Muhammad’s Ancient Promise Inspire Muslim-Christian Peace Today?”

The author commences by commenting upon the biblical progression of covenants, the Covenant of Abraham, the Covenant of Moses, the Covenant of David, and the Covenant of Jesus, and wonders whether Christians should embrace the Covenant of Muhammad.

Casper notes that the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai, known also as the Ashtiname, played a central role in the release of Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan on trumped up charges of blasphemy.

The journalist points out that judge Asif Khosa referenced The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, published by yours truly, in his verdict.

Rather than provide a one-sided perspective on the subject, Jayson Casper consulted with a cohort of scholars, some more reputable than others. He called upon Mustafa Akyol, an author I respect for his work on The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims. “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.” He pointed out, however, that some experts dispute their authenticity and that most Muslims are unaware of them.

For Casper, these are “two serious challenges for the treaties” when, in reality, there are completely inconsequential. The fact that a few scholars have expressed skepticism carries little weight when compared to over one thousand years of scholarly consensus and historical implementation. Most American Christians have never heard of the Great Commission; however, this does not change the fact that this call to evangelize is found in the Gospel of Matthew (28:18-20). Nearly half of Americans believe that the Golden Rule is one of the Ten Commandments when it is not.

Only sixty percent of Americans know the commandment “thou shalt not kill.” Only forty-five percent could recall the commandment “honor thy father and thy mother.” Only thirty-four percent knew “remember the Sabbath.” And only twenty-five percent recalled “do not make false idols.” To say that the Covenants of the Prophet can have little impact in Islam because most Muslims do not know about them is the same as saying the Ten Commandments can have little impact in Christianity because most Christians cannot name them all.

Casper consulted with Professor Mustafa Abu Sway of al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Quds University in Jerusalem who acknowledged that the Prophet Muhammad made treaties with many communities, including the Christians of Najran. He noted, however, that one of the principles of textual criticism is that shorter documents are likely more authentic.

The Covenants of the Prophet have come down to us in short, medium, and long versions. It could be argued that shorter versions were expanded upon. It could, however, also be argued that the lengthy originals were shortened for the sake of concision or the sake of censorship by more oppressive rulers. The principle in question is problematic in an Islamic context since its earliest text, the Qur’an, is by far the longest. According to my assessment, the evidence suggests that the lengthy documents are the most authentic, namely, the Qur’an and the Covenants of the Prophet.

The journalist points out that Theophilos III officially endorsed the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World and wonders if other Christians should consider doing so as well? Well, why not? There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. For Wilson Chowdhry, from the British Pakistani Christian Association, however, it may not make much difference in the matter of human rights. Such apathy is appalling. The Covenants of the Prophet saved a human life, that of Asia Bibi. They could potentially save more lives particularly since they now form part of a legal precedent. If the Covenants of the Prophet became incorporated into the legal system, in Pakistan and elsewhere, the short, medium, and long-term impact would be significant. What is more, if the Covenants of the Prophet became part of the educational curriculum in the Muslim world, the sentiments of billions of Muslims could undergo a paradigm shift.

Demonstrating questionable judgment, in my opinion, Jayson Casper contacted Dr. Mark Durie, and Anglican pastor from Australia, who described The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World as “pious propaganda.” This is faintly comical coming from someone whose academic career centers on the production of “impious propaganda.” He claims that the history of Islam is one of religious discrimination. He also rejects the notion that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are sister religions and claims that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. In so doing, he ignores the vast religious heritage shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the fact that Arab Jews and Christians pray to God under the name Allah.

For Durie, Allah is not the God of the Bible. For him, Islam boils down to the barbaric Shariah Law in its extreme Salafi-Wahhabi-Takfiri forms, genital mutilation, lawful deception (taqiyyah), violent response to opposition, anti-Semitism, and suppression of religious freedom. He accuses the Prophet Muhammad of murdering many people while claiming that Jesus never killed anyone. Tell that to the billions of Amerindians, Africans, and Asians who were butchered in the name of Christ. Durie claims that terrorists are not defaming Islam but attempting to observe it. Durie neither writes nor speaks like a scholar or an academic but rather like a propagandist and hate-monger who seeks to demonize a major world religion and its adherents.

For Durie, the Covenants of the Prophet were forged by Christians who were seeking to improve their conditions under Muslim rule. He provides no proof whatsoever to support his claims. He finds it odd that a community of monks would receive a covenant that promises religious freedom to Christian women who marry Muslim men. He fails to realize that that the entire region was Christian at the time; not only St. Catherine’s Monastery. The Jabaliyyah Arab tribes were all Christians. The Ummah of Muhammad consisted of religious communities. Therefore, it was natural for him to communicate with the Christian leaders of similar communities when offering covenants of alliance.

Showcasing his arrogance and ignorance, Durie stated that he was not aware of any serious scholar who accepted the Covenants of the Prophet as genuine. Since they number in the hundreds, I cannot possibly list all of the authorities who stand behind the Covenants of the Prophet. If I exclude religious figures, and focus only on contemporary academics, the list includes: Dr. Omid Safi, Dr. Craig Considine, Dr. ‘Abbas Mirakhor, Dr. Jeremy Henzell-Thomas, Dr. Kevin Barrett, Professor Faisal Kutty, Ahmed El-Wakil, Dr. Bridget Blomfield, Dr. Hisham Ramadan, Dr. Muhammad-Reza Fakhr-Rohani, Dr. Aida Gasimova, Dr. Munawar Anees, Dr. Anna Maria Martelli, Arnold Yasin Mol, Dr. Joseph Hobbs, Dr. Gregory Stanton, Professor Amjad Khan, Dr. Dustin Byrd, Dr. Mohammed Elsanousi, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, Dr. Yousef Casewit, Zachary Markwith, Dr. Alan Godlas, Dr. Reza Shah-Kazemi, Dr. Cyrus Ali Zargar, Dr. Muqtedar Khan, Professor Emeritus Abdallah Schleifer, Dr. Azlan Shamsuddin, Dr. Mohamad Gemeaha, Dr. Sayyid Syeed, Safi Kaskas, Dr. Mohamed Hosny, Dr. S.M. Ghazanfar, Dr. Halim Rane, and scores of others. So, go ahead Dr. Mark Durie. Why don’t you send a letter to all of these supporters of the Covenants of the Prophet and tell them that they are not “serious scholars?” They might conclude that you are a clown.

According to Casper, I have poured my life into the Covenants of the Prophet and I ache for oppressed Christians which is within the realm of reality. However, he then makes a highly questionable claim. He alleges that I praise “the ideals of Islamic governance and the example of Hezbollah and the Ayatollah Khomeini.” This is a misrepresentation of my views. Regardless of the subject of my research, I praise the positive and I criticize the negative. I have pointed out in the past that the Iran provides religious liberty to Jews and Christians and ensures that they are represented in government. I have pointed out that the Hezbollah works closely with its Christian constituents and that the militia played an active part protecting the Christians of Syria from the terror of ISIS. But this does not mean that I am a follower of the Iranian regime or the Hezbollah, any more than I am a follower of the American government and the US Military. I am a scholar, an analyst, and a critic.

Casper then turns back to Chowdhry, the Pakistani Christian, who argues that Christians should not support me in spreading tolerant interpretations of Islam, a self-defeating attitude if there ever was one. For Chowdhry, Christians should focus on loving God, their neighbors, and their enemies. The problem, my dear Chowdry, is that your love will never conquer the hearts of the Takfiri-Wahhabi terrorists who wish to wipe your community off the map. Your minority Christianity will not soften their hearts. The only weapon against the Anti-Islam and Fake Islam of the Takfiris is Covenantal Islam. For Akyol, “The antidote to… bigotry… must come from Islam itself… The Supreme Court of Pakistan just showed us an example.” And that example, fellow Christians and Muslims, comes from the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad.

In closing, while I disagree with some of the scholars that Casper consulted, I believe that his article could be the beginning of a real breakthrough to greater Christian appreciation of the Covenants of the Prophet.

Read the Covenants

Here are the texts of five covenants (one of which appears in two versions) of the Prophet Muhammad with various Christian communities of his time. They demonstrate that strategic intelligence and political acumen need not always be divorced, as they so often are in our world, from moral rectitude, spiritual wisdom, and—from the standpoint of the believer at least—the manifest will of God:

The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai

The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World (1630)

The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World (1538)

The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of Persia

The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of Najran

The Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Assyrian Christians

Sign the Covenants Initiative

In response to the clash of barbarisms that is presently laying the world in ruins, interested Muslims have elected to take the rare opportunity presented by the publication of The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World to launch “The Covenants Initiative,” which asks all Muslims, Sunni, Shi’ite, and Sufi, from all schools of jurisprudence and spiritual paths, including scholars and non-scholars, to append their names to the following declaration: Covenants Initiative We will forward this declaration and the endorsements we receive, along with copies of The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, to Christian leaders in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere in the world, many of whose communities are now under serious attack by Muslim “extremists.” In view of the bombings and brutal massacres committed in the name of Islam in the past, as well as others that—God forbid!—may take place in the future, it is safe to say that if there was ever a time when Muslims need to do something to break the growing identification of Islamicist terrorism with all Islam in the minds of the non-Muslim populations of the western nations, it is now. Islam has been on the losing end of virtually every interaction with the western world during the past two centuries, and is presently under relentless attack both from without and from within. Why, then, should Muslims make a point of drawing public attention to the sufferings of contemporary Christians? One reason is that compassion extended to fellow sufferers by those who themselves are in great need of compassion is a powerful and chivalrous act. Those who come with demands drive people away from them; those who come with offers of help draw them closer. It is time for Muslims to move beyond simply protesting, once again, “but we’re not all terrorists!”—a phrase which, for all its obvious sincerity, has rather a self-serving ring to it for many non-Muslims, whether it is believed or disbelieved—and take a vigorous, proactive, and public stance in support of peaceful Christians presently being attacked by some seriously misguided “Muslims,” doing so in the name of the Prophet Muhammad himself, peace and blessings be upon him, based on newly-discovered documents that record his very words. This project, insha’Allah, will have three good effects, which we will list in ascending order of importance: 1) Like nothing else we can imagine, it will present Muslims in a positive light to those who are still capable of human feeling; 2) It might save a few lives; and 3) It is a worthy thing to do in the sight of Allah, according to His clear Command as transmitted by His Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Peace is not made by generating peaceful feelings and/or attending exclusively peaceful gatherings. It is made by facing and enduring conflict, while never departing from the remembrance of God. It is a rare occurrence when strategic advantage, moral rectitude, and Divine Command apparently converge so as to point out a particular course of action; we believe that the Covenants Initiative represents just such a convergence. If you are a Muslim, and feel moved by your own conscience, after reading The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World—remembering, always, that no-one can decide for you or compel you in any way, seeing that there is to be no compulsion in religion—to add your name to this Initiative.

LIST OF SIGNATORIES

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Cordoba Initiative / Kathryn Qahira Santana / Marina (Nouria) Bouteillier, Los Angeles Beloved Sufis / Yousef Casewit, Yale University / Farah Kimball, International Peace Project / Zachary Markwith, Graduate Theological Union /Luqman Ali / Charles Daines / Adam Deen, The Deen Institute / Professor Alan Godlas, University of Georgia / Shaikh Kabir Helminski, The Threshold Society / Dr. Jeremy Henzell-Thomas, The Book Foundation / Irving Karchmar / Qaisra Ehsan Khan / Amnah Malik / Sadat Malik / Dr. John Parks, M.D. / Saqib Safdar, Tarbeyah:  An Exploration of Spirituality, Parenting and Education / Yusuf A.H. Salaam, Ohio Kentucky Indiana World Trade Group ETC / Dr. Reza Shah-Kazemi, Institute of Ismaili Studies / Kamal Southall / Alicia Carrara / Hector Manzolillo / Matthew Johnson / Dr. Aida Shahlar Gasimova, Baku State University / Dr. Omid Safi, University of Delaware / Dr. Hisham M. Ramadan, Kwantlen Polytechnic University / Dr. Bridget Blomfield, University of Nebraska / Dr. Said Mentak, University Mohamed I / Dr. Mohamed Elkouche, Mohamed I University / Dr. Muhammad-Reza Fakhr-Rohani, University of Qom / Dr. Amar Sellam, Mohamed I University  / Charles Upton, Covenants Initiative / Rachida Bejja, Quality Counseling & Psychological Services / Dr. John Andrew Morrow, The Covenants Initiative / Saimma Dyer / Daniel Dyer / Nigel Jackson, Artist and Illustrator / Dr. Cyrus Ali Zargar, Augustana College / Dr. Mahdi Tourage, University of  Western Ontario, King’s College / Priscilla Machado (BSW) / Faysal Burhan, Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies / Safeer Siddiqui, Ahmadiyya Moslim Djama’at / Amal Hayati / Captain Wisam Elmajed, Royal Jordanian / Mohammad Z. Malik / Ali Malik / Abdul Fattah / Yasser Chaudhary, LAFZ Magazine / Muhammad Islam Singh / Arshad Sharif, Muslim Council of Southampton / Mahmud Abdullah Abdat / Muhammad Fadillah Bin Rosli / James Parker / Baha’uddin Peter Hughes / Malak Shumburo / Zahit Krajna / Ibrahim Hanif / Sara Ozer / Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa / Sufi John Ishvaradas Abdallah, World Without Borders Interfaith Sufi Ashram / Khadija Fitzwilli Hall / Dr. Walid Radwan / Leo Abu Aziz Schmitt / Khaldoun Bitar / Enise Anas / Ahmed Saleem / Rafif Al-Ruhaimi / Guy St-Hilaire / Arnold Yasin Mol, Deen Research Center (DRC) & Leiden University / Dr. Kevin Barrett, Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance / Mohamad Reza / Alim Ali, Muslim Perspectives Radio Program / Muhammad Arshad, FSU / Abbas Shah / Hussain Khan / Nebil Nuradin, Muslim Women Network / Fyza Durrani / Muhammad Abbass / Asif Merchant, Foundation for Pluralism / Mike Mohamed Ghouse, University of Delaware, Foundation for Pluralism / Dr. Muqtedar Khan, University of Delaware / Muhammed Haron, University of Botswana /Wazir Bax, Guyana Islamic Trust / Bibi Ruqaiyah Baksh, GIT Youths / Fazeel Mohamed Ferouz, President, Central Islamic Organization of Guyana / Muhammad Yunus / Tariq Najee-ullah / Abdul-Rehman Malik / Atiya Ahsan / Rifat Belal / Osman Saffah, Author and Journalist / Osman Qureshi, Author and Journalist / Fouad Ahsayni / Aasim Soomro / Cheryfa MacAulay Jamal / Abeer Ameer / Andrzej Ahmed Saramowicz, Rumi Foundation of Poland / Latifa Chentouf / Jayde Russell, London Central Mosque and ICC / Humera Khan / Fatimah Mohammed-Ashrif / Ismaeel Siddique / Noor-Malika Chishti / Dr. Munawar A. Anees, President, Rawi University / Professor Emeritus Abdallah Schleifer, American University in Cairo / Shereen Williams / Dr. Bouchra Belgaid / Dr. Maged Agour / M. Shiraz Kaleel / Zahoor Ahmad / Brent (Bashier) Slabbert / Shakireh Ispahani / Sam Amico, Niche of Light / Serhat Cakmakoglu / Mahmoud Mostafa / Tasneen Kinaci / Tevfirk Aydoner, Canadian Sufi Cultural Centre / Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, The Ecstatic Exchange / Dr. Roger Abdul-Wahhab Boase / Ghazala Akbar / Khalid Masud / Nafiseh Ispahani / Qasim Kazmi / Saleh Jaleel / Uzma Taj / Imam Rashid Patch / Salim Warda, Wardrobe Pictures / Sabah Jaka / Alexander Valenzuela / Ryan Brizendine, Yale University / Oliver S. Muhammad, As Salaam Islamic Center of Raleigh, North Carolina, USA / Siema Taj / Vehap Kola / Natalia Andujar, Junta Islamica / Mohamad Saeb Martini / Mohammed Nazerul Khairy Bin Dzulkefli, Citizen, Republic of Singapore / Shabbir Agha Abbas, Muslims for Peace, Inc. / Rashed Y. Al-Foudary / Feroz Hamd / Ishrat Ahmad / Adnan Momin / Amjad Saleem / Tamir Mutakabbir / Imad Jafar / Teresa Gill / Toheed Ahmad / Catherine Shakdam / Ahmed Akoob / Sonja Lang / Noor-Malika Chishti / Ilyas al-Kashani, Hakim Wellness / Shahid Aziz / Nuray Cetin / Hira Khan / Zeeshan Sheikh / Shaykh Muhammad ‘Umar al-Qadri, Al-Mustafa Islamic Cultural Centre, Dublin, Ireland / Nasim Ahmad / Dr. Azlan Khalili Shamsuddin, Universiti Teknologi Mara Malaysia / Malik / Ali Panju, Ridhayatullah Theatre / Mashadi, Islam Nusantara Initiative / Tharik Hussain / M. Smit / Hamza Hasnain / Ghulam Zailai, Ridhayatullah Theatre / Munis Umatia, Ridhayatullah Theatre / Ana Moreira / Amy Rose Ali / Edward Kendall / Fabrice and Nurriddeenah Boukia / Mansour Moufid / Giovanna-Wakila Ilham Hope / Elizabeth / Muhammad Suhail / Ryan Ford / Dr. Mohamad Gemeaha / Mohammad N. Mian, Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake / Sheila Musaji / W. George Krasnow, Russia & America Good Will Associates / Mohammed Rafiq Lodhi, The Lodhia Center / Jalal / David Narbutas / Syed Rizwan Rizvan, Resident ‘Alim at Masjid-e-Ali / Sajida Bandali, Taqwa Media / Dr. Farooq Bandali, Taqwa Media / Abeda Mueed / Mohammad Zaki Khizer Khan / Mourad / Nibras Muhsin / Arlandi / Mark and Catherine Dreyer / Nimrah Kaaling Ali / Fitzgerald Mistral / Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, Director for the Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances at the Islamic Society of North America /Ahlam Zaki / Muhajir Romero / Salim Warda / Slimani el-Houssine / Jasmine Ansari / Ahmed El-Wakil / Mohammad Fheili / Sayyid Slimani / Teresa Marie Gill / Abdullah Thomas / Yasmine Deghedi / Усман сын Султана / Hassan Seyyed / Sandra Hahn / Feisal Bin Abdul Rahman / Sameer Hasan / Arjen Buitelaar / Chaplain Asad S. Mannan / Stephen Olof Wikblom / Ibrahim Rabiu Hassan / Kareem M. Irfan, Esq., Past President: Council of Religious Leaders of Metro Chicago; Past Chair: Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago / Laurent Jasaron / Edward Cockrel / James Hiddle / Tariq Cheema, World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists / Mazen Helwani / Adamu Sambo / Lawrence DesForges / Tammar Soma / Marianne Hogan Nsour, Tayba Foundation / Safi Kaskas, Strategic Edge / Sahada Alolo, Northern Girl Initiative / Dr. Mohamed Hosny, Sorbonne University / Dr. S.M. Ghazanfar, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho / Professor Halim Rane, Griffith University / Rashid De Ridder / Divaan e Ishq / Abdullah Faiz Zain / Shah Hussain / Sakina Begum / Suzanne Giraud / Ait Serhane / Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Co-Founder of Zaytuna / Dr. Arief Ahmed, Leeds Dawah Network / Barri Yudha Prawira / Warda Umm Ibtihej / Taha Poonawala…