Christians and Muslims: The Other Story

Wars between Crusaders and Caliphates tell us more about the political rivalry for wealth and power between two civilizations. It tells us nothing about the spiritual connection that has always existed, very strongly, between believing Christians and believing Muslims…”


 Christians and Muslims: the other story

Arshad Gamiet/Royal Holloway University of London/16th March 2012

“A-úthu billáhi minash shaytánir rajeem. Bismilláhir rahmánir raheem

Al hamdu lillahi nahmaduhu wanasta’eenahu, wanastagh-firuhu, wanatoobu ilayhi, wana’oothu Billaahi min shuroori an-fusinaa, wamin sayyi aati a’maalinaa. May- Yahdillahu fa huwal muhtad, wa may- yudlill falan tajidaa lahu waliyan murshida. Wa ash-hadu an Laa ilaaha ill-Alláh, wahdahoo laa shareeka lah, wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhoo warasooluh

All Praise is due to Alláh, We praise Him and we seek help from Him. We ask forgiveness from Him. We repent to Him; and we seek refuge in Him from our own evils and our own bad deeds. Anyone who is guided by Alláh,  is truly guided; and anyone who has been left astray, will find no one to guide him. I bear witness that there is no god but Alláh, the Only One without any partner; and I bear witness that Muhammad, sws, is His servant, and His messenger.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem! Ya Ay-yuhal-latheena ‘aamanut taqul-laaha, haqqa tuqaatihee wala tamu tun-na, il-la wa antum Muslimoon.”

O You who believe, – be aware of Allah, with correct awareness, and die not except as Muslims.

Ya Ay-yuhal-latheena ‘aamanut taqul-laaha, wa qooloo qawlan sadeedaa. Yuslih-lakum a’maalakum wa yaghfir lakum thunoobakum, wamay yu-til-laaha warasoolah, faqad faaza fawzan atheemaa.”

O You who believe, – Be aware of Allah, and speak a straightforward word. He will forgive your sins and repair your deeds. And whoever takes Allah and His Prophet as a guide, has already achieved a mighty victory.

In the opening verse of Sura An-Nisaa’, Allah says:

O mankind! Show reverence towards your Guardian-Lord Who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate and from the two of them scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;― Be conscious of Allah, through Whom ye demand your mutual (rights) and (show reverence towards) the wombs (that bore you): for surely, Allah ever watches over you.

My Dear Sisters and Brothers,

In the verse I just quoted, the Holy Quran reminds us that we are all descended from common ancestors, we are all children of Adam and Eve, peace be on them.  Yet there are still people who forget this, and who treat others with unbelievable hatred and contempt. In recent days, some Christians have been burning Qurans and some Muslims have been bombing churches and committing acts of mindless terror. They claim they are defending their religion and serving God. But each group is equally misguided. They’re just massaging their own bruised egos. Senseless violence between followers of one great religion and another has nothing to do with real faith.

Wars between Crusaders and Caliphates tell us more about the political rivalry for wealth and power between two civilizations. It tells us nothing about the spiritual connection that has always existed, very strongly, between believing Christians and believing Muslims.

In today’s khutbah I want to focus on this topic. Let’s look at three remarkable Christians to illustrate the intimate connection between the followers of Jesus and Muhammad, may Allah’s peace and blessings be on both of them. We can learn some important lessons from their stories.

They are Bahira, Waraqa and Najashi, the king, the Negus of Abyssinia.

Let’s begin with Bahira the Monk. As we know, Prophet Muhammad was an orphan. His father died before he was born, and his mother died just a few years later. So he was left in the care of his uncle Abu Talib. One day Abu Talib decided to take him along with a caravan to Syria. Along this route was a monastery. Bahira, a Christian monk lived there.

As the caravan approached, Bahira noticed a small cloud was shading it from the sun, in an otherwise cloudless sky. When the caravan stopped by a tree, the cloud also stopped. This tree, by the way, is still alive, subhanallah! It’s still there. It’s the only tree, in fact the only vegetation of any kind, for more than 100 miles in any direction, between Jordan and Syria. This tree stands all alone in the empty desert, the last living sahaba, the last living entity still connected with our beloved Prophet, sws

Bahira invited the travellers to a meal, and after examining the boy Muhammad closely he recognised the mark of prophet-hood on his back. He advised Abu Talib to take good care of him, because his own people would seek to harm him.

Our story goes fast-forward to a mountain cave near Makka and Muhammad is now a man of 40. He often comes here to meditate, but tonight, one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, a strange thing happens. Suddenly, the Angel Gabriel appears, and hugs Muhammad in a tight embrace, almost squeezing the life out of him, commanding him to read. He protests: I cannot read! I’m illiterate! But again and again he is commanded: Read! Until the first verses of the Holy Quran come tumbling forth from his lips:

Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem! Iqra! Bismi Rabbikal lathee khalaq! Khalaqal insaana min ‘alaq. Iqra wa rabbukal akram; Al-lathee ‘al lama bil qalam, ‘alamal insaana ma lam ya’alam”

 In the name of Allah, the All- Merciful, the All-Compassionate.

READ! In the name of thy Lord Who created, (1) Created man from a clot of blood. (2) Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous, (3) Who teaches by the pen, (4) Teaches man that which he knew not!

This was the beginning of Muhammad’s assignment as God’s last Prophet. Gripped by fear and dread, he rushed home to his wife, Khadija, pleading, “Cover me, cover me!” He feared that he was losing his mind. But Khadija reassured him, saying “You always maintain family ties, always feed the poor and you stand by the downtrodden. Allah would never humiliate you or forsake you.”

And where do you think she took him to find advice and consolation? to the rich and powerful, the grandees of Makka? No! She was rich and powerful herself. But she took him to her cousin, Waraqa,  a poor man in failing health who was a Christian. He was old and losing his sight, but he reassured Muhammad that this event was foretold in earlier scripture. “If I lived long enough I would stand by you, even when your people turn against you,” said Waraqa. “Will my people turn against me?” asked Prophet Muhammad. Waraqa replied: “Never has a prophet brought what your will bring without his people turning against him.”

We are reminded here, that Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus all met with ingratitude and violent rebellion from their own people, the very people who needed to be saved from themselves. Doesn’t that sound familiar? People of faith are always resisted by their own people who worship other gods, the false idols of power, greed and vanity.

Here’s another example of a great Christian of the time, the king, the Negus of Abyssinia, who protected a small group of Muslims from persecution from their own tribe, the Qureish of Makka.

As soon as Prophet Muhammad started preaching his message, he made enemies, lethal enemies. He called on people to worship the One God of Abraham and Moses and Jesus, not the many idols, 360 idols of wood and stone adorning the Kaaba. This was bad for business. Imagine someone preaching against capitalism and consumerism in Trafalgar Square! Not quite the same earth-shaking message, but imagine! Prophet Muhammad urged people to stop burying alive their baby daughters, for the strong to stop oppressing the weak, for the tribes to stop genocidal warfare. He was calling for change, radical change, and his enemies, sensing a threat to their power and authority, started torturing and killing his followers.

Islam was now in mortal danger.

So as a precaution, Prophet Muhammad sent a small group to Abyssinia/ Ethiopia. “There you will find a just and tolerant Christian ruler who will protect you,” he assured them.  These were the world’s first Muslim Asylum seekers, given protection by a Christian king in Africa, 1,400 years ago! Today, Good Christians in Britain and Europe are still following this noble tradition, taking care of asylum seekers who fear persecution in their own countries!

What about Muslim hospitality towards Christians?

While he was the Governor of Madinah, Prophet Muhammad received a delegation of Christians from Najran in Southern Arabia. When the time came for their prayers, they had no place to pray, so he invited them into his mosque and allowed them to pray in there.

My dear brothers and sisters! How many of us Muslims will do that today? Let’s “speak a straightforward word” (quooloo qawlan sadeedaa) as the Quran advises us. How many mosques anywhere in the Muslim world, will offer their Christian neighbours that courtesy exemplified by our own Prophet?

Here at Royal Holloway University, in a few weeks time when students write their exams, we’ll have to do our Friday prayers in another hall. For years, we’ve used the Jurgens Centre at exam time. The Jurgens Centre belongs to the local Catholic Church. Remember that. We Muslims do our Friday prayers in a hall owned by the Catholic Church. 1400 years after the Najran Christians prayed in Prophet Muhammad’s mosque, Christians in Englefield Green, England, are returning the favour!

When believers of any faith treat believers of another faith with kindness and respect, they are also showing a courtesy to God, to Allah.

My dear sisters and brothers, let’s remember the Golden Rule, the Ethic of Reciprocity: Nabi Isa, Jesus saidl “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 600 years later, Prophet Muhammad said that we are not believers until we desire for others what we desire for ourselves.

“Innalláha wa malaaikata yusallúna alan nabi. Yá ay yuhal latheena ámanu sallú alayhi wasalli mú tas leema. Allahumma salli alá Muhammad, wa ala áli Muhammad, kama salayta ala Ibrahim, wa ala ali Ibrahim.Allahumma barik ala Muhammad, kama barakta ala Ibrahim, wa ala ali ibrahim. Fil ála meen, innaka hameedun majeed.”

Allah and His angels send greetings on Prophet Muhammad, O you who believe, send greetings on him, and salute him with a worthy salutation! O Allah, send peace on Muhammad and his family, just as you sent peace on Abraham and his family. O Allah, send blessings on Muhammad and his family, just as you sent blessings on Abraham and his family. In both worlds, You are Praiseworthy and Exalted.

Second Khutbah:

“Soob’ hanallahi wal hamdu lillah, wala hawla wala quwwata illah billah yu althi yual theem”

Glory to Allah!  Praise to Allah! There is no power and no strength except from Allah!

My dear sisters and brothers,

The Islamic Calendar, the Hegira, began when Prophet Muhammad evaded assassination in Makka and migrated to Madinah. Jews, Christians and Muslims welcomed him as their new leader. They eagerly awaited his first speech, his first sermon, khutbah. It was short, eloquent, and powerful.

He summed up the entire teaching of Islam in one short sentence:

“Spread salaam (peace), feed the hungry; pray for a part of the night and you will enter paradise.”

That’s all…   That’s what Islam is all about: Spreading peace between people, feeding the poor, thanking our generous Provider every night, and hoping for his good pleasure.

A few years ago my wife and I visited the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. In the middle of the Sinai desert we found Mount Sinai, where Moses received the 10 Commandments. At the foot of the mountain is the ancient St Catherine’s Monastery. We were amazed to find a mosque inside this monastery. We were also amazed to find that local Muslim Arabs have been coming to the monastery every day, for over 1,400 years, to knead the dough and bake the bread there, side by side, with Coptic Christian monks.

But the monks showed us something even more amazing. High up on a wall is a gold-framed Charter of Privileges to the Christians. It is written in Arabic, and it is signed by Prophet Muhammad, with the seal of his ring imprinted in red wax. The one we read was a copy, as the original Charter is in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. It reads:

This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.
Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.
No compulsion is to be on them.
Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.
No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.
Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.
The Muslims are to fight for them.
If a female Christian is married to a Muslim it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.
Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.
No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).

This charter of privileges has been honoured and faithfully applied by many Muslim regimes throughout the centuries. Imagine that! Despite wars between Crusaders and Caliphates, Christians were safe here, making bread and breaking bread with local Muslims. There’s a powerful message for our troubled world today.

Those who ‘spoil God’s Covenant’ and disobey clear instructions from Prophet Muhammad will have to answer to Almighty Allah. Let us therefore show respect and love for fellow believers among the ‘People of the earlier Scriptures.’ This is what Allah commands us to do, and for more than 14 centuries, Prophet Muhammad’s letter has reminded us of this Covenant.

Brothers and sisters, to conclude our khutbah:

InnaAllaha, Yamuru bil adel, wal ihsaan, wa eetaa-i zil qurba; wa yanha anil fuhshaa-i, wal munkari walbaghi; ya-idzukhum lallakum tathak-karoon. (Sura 16:90),

“Surely Allah commands justice, good deeds and generosity to others and to relatives; and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, so that you may be reminded.”

Fadth kuroonee adth kurkum, wash kuroolee walaa tak furoon [2:152].

“and remember Me: I will remember you. Be grateful to Me, and do not reject faith.”

wala thikrul-Laahi akbar, Wal-Laahu ya’lamu maa tasna’oon.” [29:45].

“and without doubt, Remembrance of Allah is the Greatest Thing in life, and Allah knows the deeds that you do.”

Ameen.                   Aqeemus salaah