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Faith

Friday Sermon: What is the responsibility of Islam toward Christianity?

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Faith

Friday Sermon: What is the responsibility of Islam toward Christianity?

“And who is more unjust than he who prevents (people) from the places of worship of Allah, that His name should be remembered in them, and strives to ruin them? (As for) these (who seek to ruin them), it was not proper for them that they should have entered them except in reverential fear; (instead) they shall meet with disgrace in this world, and they shall have great chastisement in the hereafter” (Qur’an 2:114).

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“And who is more unjust than he who prevents (people) from the places of worship of Allah, that His name should be remembered in them, and strives to ruin them? (As for) these (who seek to ruin them), it was not proper for them that they should have entered them except in reverential fear; (instead) they shall meet with disgrace in this world, and they shall have great chastisement in the hereafter” (Qur’an 2:114).

How have the beliefs in the Prophet Jesus (a) developed over time? How did the early Christians understand Jesus compared to those who received the agreed upon Gospels? How are people remembering Jesus today? And how do those narratives compare to those in the Qur’an and Islamic narrations?

The purpose of asking these questions over these upcoming Friday Sermons is to allow the Muslim community to develop its understanding of Jesus Christ in the Christian tradition where there may be similarities, and how to present its case for greater proximity between Muslims and Christians. In reality, and according to scholars like Dr. Richard Bulliet, author of the seminal work The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, these two great faiths have learnt and protected one another and so this must continue today.

The Qur’an places great emphasis on mutual protection, especially the inviolability of sacred spaces and places of worship. That is to say, that Muslims are responsible to ensure Christian and Judaic spaces are protected, the same as it expects those faiths to protect Muslims spaces of worship.

Importantly, this protection is not limited to the physical protection of life and buildings, but as the Qur’an is the unblemished and perfect Word of God, it clarifies misinterpretations of previous scriptures and so the Muslim is also responsible to protect the faith and purity in devotion to the Prophets, something we will expand upon in the coming parts, God-willing.

In this section let us look at the physical inviolability and sacredness of Churches and Synagogues, and the responsibilities that attach itself to those.

At the time of revelation, the Jews and Christians had continued with a long period of sporadic warfare with each other, often destroying each other’s holy books and sites. They accused each other of having no place with God:

وَقَالَتِ الْيَهُودُ لَيْسَتِ النَّصَارَىٰ عَلَىٰ شَيْءٍ وَقَالَتِ النَّصَارَىٰ لَيْسَتِ الْيَهُودُ عَلَىٰ شَيْءٍ وَهُمْ يَتْلُونَ الْكِتَابَ كَذَٰلِكَ قَالَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ مِثْلَ قَوْلِهِمْ فَاللَّهُ يَحْكُمُ بَيْنَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فِيمَا كَانُوا فِيهِ يَخْتَلِفُونَ

“And the Jews say: The Christians do not follow anything (good) and the Christians say: The Jews do not follow anything (good) while they recite the (same) Book. Even thus say those who have no knowledge, like to what they say; so Allah shall judge between them on the day of resurrection in what they differ” (Qur’an 2:113).

Because they believed the other had no standing with God, they happily desecrated each other’s spaces of worship. The Qur’an objected to this, taking no sides, but imploring for great reverence and a feeling of deep spirituality when entering such places of God’s name being glorified:

وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّن مَّنَعَ مَسَاجِدَ اللَّهِ أَن يُذْكَرَ فِيهَا اسْمُهُ وَسَعَىٰ فِي خَرَابِهَا أُولَٰئِكَ مَا كَانَ لَهُمْ أَن يَدْخُلُوهَا إِلَّا خَائِفِينَ لَهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا خِزْيٌ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

“And who is more unjust than he who prevents (people) from the places of worship of Allah, that His name should be remembered in them, and strives to ruin them? (As for) these (who seek to ruin them), it was not proper for them that they should have entered them except in reverential fear; (instead) they shall meet with disgrace in this world, and they shall have great chastisement in the hereafter” (Qur’an 2:114).

This means that these sites were given protection in the Qur’an. In fact leading historian Dr. Juan Cole states that the Prophet Muhammad (s) had envisioned the whole of Hijaz as a sanctuary for these religions, away from the persecution and violence they reaped on each other in other parts of the world.

These verses were re-revealed on multiple occasions in order to reflect on the importance of sanctified sites in Islamic thinking. For example, occasions included:

1) “Ibn Abbas, cited in the book ‘Asb-ab-un-Nuzul’, that this verse was revealed about Fatlus-ur-Rumi, a Roman, and his friends. They fought against the Children of Israel and burnt the Torah. In that war, Jewish children were made captives, and Jerusalem was ruined and filled with corpses.”

In fact, with the wars between the Byzantine and Persians, and the alliances between the Jews and the latter, there was often the massacre and destruction of holy sites.

2) ‘Allamah Tabarsi narrates from Ibn Abbas, in his book ‘Majma’ul-Bayan’ that this responds to the destruction of Jerusalem which continued until it was conquered by Muslims.

3) Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a) says that this verse was revealed about the Quraysh when they prevented the holy Prophet (s) from entering Mecca and the Ka’bah.

4) It refers to the sites in Mecca where Muslims used to pray at, which pagans destroyed totally after the emigration of the Prophet (S) from Medina.

The Qur’an speaks again about the mutual nature of protecting these sites, and that is that Jews and Christians who must protect Islamic sites in the same way. This is particularly pertinent today during periods of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and when synagogues, churches and mosques are attacked, often leaving massive numbers of casualties behind.

“Had it not been for Allah’s repelling some people by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause)” (Qur’an 22:40).

In fact one of the earliest examples of this protection is when the Prophet Muhammad (s), whilst being a merchant on behalf of Lady Khadija (a) prior to revelation, spent several months living with Christian monks at the Monastery of St. Catherine at the place of the revelation of the Torah to Prophet Musa (a).

The first thing the Prophet (s) did was write an accord of peace, trust, and protection, signing it with his handprint, which remained there until the 17th Century when it was taken by the Ottomans to Istanbul (for further reading, refer to The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World by John Andrew Morrow).

Looking then at these verses and Prophetic history, the first responsibilities of the Muslims toward Christians (and Jews) in ANY country is to guarantee freedom of worship and the protection and reverence of places of worship and historical importance. This is expected to be reciprocated so that a civilisation of God consciousness is spread and built upon.

Based on this, the Muslims would then engage with the stories of Prophet Jesus (a), which we will address from next week’s sermon InshaAllah.

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