Of all the causes of human restlessness and, even war, none is as dangerous as religion. This is because religion is mostly a fixation of the mind with little room for flexibility. The danger often engendered by religion becomes worse when religion is commercialized and tied to materialism as in the case of Nigeria where competition, between Islam and Christianity has virtually become a tacit symbol of enmity.
Islam and Christianity are not the only religions in any part of the world. But because of certain similarities between them, some traits of artificial rivalry seem to have characterized the coexistence of their adherents even as those religions have been turned into a mega market for certain heartless charlatans who are claiming to be clerical leaders. This spiritually obnoxious situation has come to confirm that if money is removed from religion today, in Nigeria, sanity, in the realm of religion will surely be restored to pave way for societal tranquility.
The Role of History
History, being the permanent teacher of mankind, can never cease to play the role of a reference point in human life. The historic charter which Prophet Muhammad (SAW) led his noble companions to sign with some Christian leaders in the 7th century is a vivid reminder of the indelible role which history plays in the life of man.
Perhaps no man in history preceded Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in recognizing this fact and in giving it the authenticity that it deserves.
In recognition of Prophet Isa (Jesus) the son of Maryam (Mary) as his predecessor and fellow Apostle, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) signed a charter with some Christian leaders in 628 CE and the charter remains valid, in principle, till today. The signing of that charter by Allah’s anchor Prophet was also a clear indication that Islam recognizes the authenticity of the mission of Prophet Isa (Jesus) as a continuation of Allah’s divine religion earlier preached by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham).
How it happened
In the year 628 CE, a Christian delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery travelled to the city of Madinah, to meet Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and seek from him, protection of the Islamic government under his command. That was a few months after the treaty of Hudaybiyyah and four years before the demise of the Prophet. The real objective of that delegation was to solicit for the protection of the Islamic government as an assurance for the security of the adherents of Christianity against the aggression of the then Persian Empire.
(St. Catherine’s Monastery is the world’s oldest Monastery located at the foot of Mt. Sinai which has a huge collection of Christian manuscripts, second only to those of the Vatican City. And, by an act of the United Nations, it is known today, as a world heritage site).
In response to the request by the above mentioned Christian delegation, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) granted the world Christendom a written charter of rights, the very first of its type within the religious sphere, in history.
Contents of the Charter
The contents of that charter were as follows:
“This is a message from Prophet Muhammad, the son of Abdullah, serving as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity (as their religion) near and far, that we (Muslims) are with them. Verily, I and all the servants of Allah, as well as the helpers of Islam (ie: the hosts of Prophet Muhammad in Madinah), hereby make promise to defend Christians because they are my citizens and by God, I stand out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them (concerning their way of worship). Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one should destroy a house of their religion or damage it or loot it. Whoever violates this charter has breached Allah’s covenant with mankind and disobeyed His Apostle”.
“Verily, Christians are my allies and have my secure charter against all they hate. No one should force them to fight for a course in which they have no belief or compel them to migrate against their wish.
Neither is the sacredness of their covenant to be violated nor their Monasteries to be disrespected. And, if any damage should happen to their Monasteries by chance, they must not be prevented from repairing them. No Muslim should disobey this charter till the Last Day (end of the world)”.
Before the Charter
Prior to the historic charter mentioned above, several verses of the Qur’an had been revealed to Prophet Muhammad (SAW), ascertaining the divine missions of all the Prophets that preceded him, including that of Prophet Isa (Jesus) the son of Maryam (Mary). And, because of those Qur’anic revelations, no Muslim can claim to be a true adherent of Islam without acknowledging Prophet Isa (Jesus), as an Apostle of Allah.
Believing that being followers of Jesus Christ was enough a condition to enjoy the privileges contained in the above charter, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) assumed that the Christians, would also be civilized enough to reciprocate that unprecedented gesture whenever and wherever they coexist with Muslims, not only by tolerating the latter’s mode of worship and way of life, but also by refraining from any naked or avowed act of provocation or disdain against them (Muslims), which could precipitate a religious rancour. Another noticeable aspect of the charter is the Prophet’s silence on any payment by the protectorate Christians which was the general norm among nations in those days.
Thus, that ‘Charter of Rights’ was a free gift. And from the contents of that charter, the reason became clear, why the Islamic State under the command of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) or any of his rightly guided companions who became Caliphs after his demise never crossed swords with any Christian group or nation throughout their regimes. If any wars like those of the crusades ever broke out centuries later, between Christians and Muslims such could only be attributed to a breach of the charter by ignorant adherents of both religions. And, that does not have anything to do with the tenets of the two religions.
- Upholding the Charter
It was in upholding that charter that the second Caliph in Islam, Umar Bn Khattab, refused to observe Muslim prayer (Salat) inside the Church of Jerusalem when he visited the area, following the liberation of that region by the Islamic State from the Persian Empire in which Zoroastrianism (worshiping of fire) was the main religion. On that historic occasion, the Church of Jerusalem had been cleared by Muslim soldiers for the observance of Salat which Caliph Umar, as Head of State, was to lead. But when he was invited to lead the Salat, he simply declined and rather ordered the soldiers to find another place for Salat and keep the Church intact for the Christians to worship therein in their own way. He said he would not do what Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had prohibited before his demise. Caliph Umar then warned the Muslims who accompanied him never to convert Churches to Mosques for that would amount to religious aggression which was capable of breaching the Prophet’s charter with the Christians.
The doctrine of one God one mission purportedly shared in the world today by three religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) cannot be from the same perception. Each of those religions has its own revealed Book and their adherents practice their faiths according to the doctrines contained in those Books. It will therefore be wrong of the adherents of one particular religion to adjudge those of others as deviants or infidels who must be exterminated.
Religion is like an examination. Those who sit down to write it in blue ink must not turn themselves into examiners using red ink to mark it. Paradise is Allah’s own domain. He admits whoever He wishes into it. And, this is done not necessarily by the assessment or recommendation of any sheer charlatans but by the impartial judgment Allah. Only the Almighty Allah who chose our parents for us without our knowledge before we came into this world and, who knows where each of us would finally be buried, has the final say on everybody’s destination. If the truth must be told, the real cause of religious conflicts in Nigeria is not intolerance as often hypocritically claimed by some people but greedy provocation emanating from avarice in the guise of religion. Nigerian press is particularly guilty of this by fueling such provocations. It is wrong to expect that tolerance would thrive in a society where provocation and injustice refuse to abate. Propagating a religion by denigrating another religion is an act of satanic provocation. And those who want peace to prevail in Nigeria must desist from such intolerable act.
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