Persecution of Christians shames Muhammad’s legacy
by Craig Considine
Things are spiraling out of control in Egypt, especially for its Coptic community, which has recently been attacked for allegedly helping oust the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood from power.
The Copts are Egypt’s largest Christian group who make up roughly 10% of the Egyptian population. Over the last several weeks they have witnessed a horrendous string of events that have ranged from murders to the destruction of churches and communities.
The hardest hit area has been Al Nazla, where Christian homes and shops have been covered in harsh graffiti that display anti-Christian sentiments. Sami Awad, a member of the Al Nazla church, stated that “First [Muslims] stole the valuable things, and then they torched the place. Whatever they couldn’t carry, they burned.” Some Muslims in the Al Nazla area have vowed to support the Muslim Brotherhood even if they have to spill blood.
Unfortunately, some Muslims in Egypt and around the world actually condone the racist and violent actions of some members of their faith. These kind of Muslim extremists would argue that it is okay for a Muslim to attack a Christian church. Other Muslims have cried out against such violence and have claimed that an attack on a Christian is an affront to God’s will. Other members of the Islamic faith have even physically protected churches in Egypt to show their solidarity with the Copts.
Ultimately, we have to figure out who is right: the extremists or moderates? To shed light on this matter, we should turn to the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad. How would Muhammad treat Christians around him? If he were alive today, what would he say about Muslims’ violence towards Christians in Egypt and elsewhere around the world?
A useful example to consider is the letter which Muhammad sent to Christian monks at St. Catherine’s in the Sinai, Egypt, in the year 628 AD. At the time, Christians sought refuge from persecution and violence, and Muhammad wrote a letter to the community to tell them that he would do everything in his power to secure their safety.
In a nutshell, Muhammad offered the Christians toleration and peace. He called on his fellow Muslims to ‘defend [Christians], because Christians are my citizens.” This command for his Muslim followers suggests that Muhammad envisioned an Islamic society as one that would be safe for Christians and people of other faiths to live in.
Muhammad’s letter also includes notes on how Christian judges are not to be removed from their offices, nor are monks to be forced out of their monasteries. “No one is to destroy a house of their religion,” Muhammad said, “or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.” He added: “Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.”
The depth of Muhammad’s humanity can also be found in the Constitution of Medina, a document he created to make sure that the more vulnerable members of society felt safe and protected under the majority Muslim rule. Also called the Medina Charter, Muhammad’s Constitution gave equal rights to non-Muslims living under an Islamic government. “Strangers” in Muhammad’s Muslim society were to be treated with special consideration and “on the same ground as their protectors.” Acting as a social charter for all Muslims to live by, the Medina Constitution helped to actualize the idea of a single community made up of a diverse people living under one government and under one creator.
In his final sermon at Mount Arafat in 632 AD, Muhammad left a code of equality for Muslims to follow. “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab,” he stated, “nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab… a white person has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” The Quran and Muhammad’s final sermon show his apathy for judging people based on their beliefs or skin color and his indifference to a homogenous society based on exclusive requisites for belonging.
This last Sunday, a monastery in Degla, just south of Minya, did not hold Sunday prayers for the first time in 1,600 years. The time is ripe for Muslims to follow Muhammad’s example by defending Christians. It is now the onus of Muslim Egyptians to take up his banner of tolerance and human rights and protect the Copts no matter the cost.
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