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Preamble

It was another historic occasion at the University of Ibadan (UI) where an International Conference was jointly held on the ‘Biography of Prophet Muhammad’ (SAW) by the Muslim Ummah of Southwest Nigeria (MUSWEN) and Nusret Educational and Cultural Co. Ltd. of Turkey last Wednesday.  The theme of the Conference was: “Impact of the Exemplary Leadership Style of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) on Inter-Ethnic and Inter-Religious Harmony”.

Attendance

The well attended occasion chaired by the pioneer Executive Secretary of MUSWEN, Professor D. O. S. Noibi, was specially graced by the Governor of the State of Osun, His Excellency, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola who was accompanied by a retinue of Commissioners and his Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abdullah Binuyo.
Although the President-General of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Dr. Muhammad Sa‘ad Abubakar, CFR, mni, who was to be the Special Guest of Honour at the occasion could not attend, he was, nevertheless, eminently represented with an aura of royalty.
The Turkish team at the conference was led by the General Manager of Nusret Educational and Cultural Ltd Huseyin Baydar; President of UFUK DIALOGUE FOUNDATION, Dr. Kamil Kemanci and Mr. Nevzat Savas, Editor-in-Chief Hera Magazine (who was unavoidably absent) Alhaji Yakub Aliagan and a host of others.

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Presentation of Papers

Several academic papers were presented at the Conference mostly by academic scholars from different parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The Keynote Address of the conference was succinctly delivered by MUSWEN’s new Executive Secretary, Professor Muslih Tayo Yahya while the occasion was ably coordinated by UI’s Head of Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Professor Lateef Wole Abbas, who chaired the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) of the Conference.

Reminder

The theme of that Conference was a cute reminder of an article entitled “Islam’s Charter with Christianity” published in this column some time ago.
The article was about a covenant of peaceful co-existence which Prophet Muhammad (SAW) signed on behalf of Islam with Christian monks in protection of Christianity.

Excerpt

An excerpt from the referred article is as follows:
“For many Nigerian charlatans who claim to be clerics and preach to their congregations with instigation of hate speeches and unbridled religious hostility, there are many sources from which to learn a lesson. One of such sources is history which is globally recognized as a great teacher of teachers. Without history, there can neither be any experience for man nor any template for his future plans. It is on the fertile soil of history that the growth of man and the development of his society are firmly planted.

Symbiotic Relationship

Just as history makes man so does man makes history. But the impact of the latter outweighs that of the former by far in the trend of human civilization. However, the symbiotic relationship of both history and man is what keeps the world going.

Makers of History

In its characteristic nature as a teacher, history has made many people who continue to depend generationally on its platform for memorable footprint on the sands of time. On the other hand, there are also people who have made history to the benefit of other people even long after their demise.
However, the greatest maker of human history, as universally acknowledged, is the greatest human being that ever lived. That human being was an unlettered Arab Prophet called Muhammad the son of Abdullah and Aminah, who clearly distinguished between literacy and education with his own exemplariness and thereby opened the eyes of the whole world to the fact that literacy is just an instrument for documenting and preserving knowledge for posterity. And that is one of the factors that make Prophet Muhammad (SAW) the greatest man that ever lived.

Michael Hart’s Book

Through a famous book entitled ‘The 100: A Ranking of the Most influential Persons in History’ published in 1977, by a Jewish American astrophysicist and scholar, Michael Hart, the consciousness of the contemporary world was drawn to the uniqueness of an unlettered man who turned out to be the most educated human being ever in history. It was in that book that its author, Michael Hart, named Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as the greatest man that ever lived.
And since the publication of the historic book, no other author or scholar of note has ever come up with any acknowledged research work that can counter Michael Hart’s sense of judgment by providing a convincing alternative to the latter’s axiomatic judgment.
Thus, contrary to cynics’ baseless propaganda against Islam and Prophet Muhammad (SAW), out of sheer envy, it was this great Prophet of Islam that taught mankind the act of religious tolerance and accommodation.

The Historic Charter

In a formal recognition of Jesus Christ as his predecessor and fellow Apostle, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) signed a charter with some Christian pontiffs in 628 CE and the charter remains valid till today. The signing of that charter by the great Prophet was also clear evidence that Islam recognizes authentic Christianity as a divine religion.
It was in that year (628 CE which was the 6th year of Hijrah), that 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 for Christianity under his command. The real objective was to elicit the support of the Islamic government in ensuring protection for the then Christians against the aggression of the Persian Empire. St. Catherine’s Monastery is the world’s oldest Monastery located at the foot of Mount Sinai which has a huge collection of Christian manuscripts second only to those of the Vatican City and known as a world heritage site).

The Contents of the Charter

In response to the request of the Christian representatives cited above, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) granted them a written charter of rights as follows:
“This is a message from Muhammad the son of Abdullah serving as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far that we (Muslims) are with them. Verily, I and all the servants of Allah, as well as the helpers of Islam, 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 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 (i.e. end of the world)”.

Before the Charter

Long before the Prophet’s migration from Makkah to Madinah, a Prophetic revelation came to him in 616 CE to confirm the brotherhood of Islam and Christianity. That revelation which formed a whole chapter entitled ‘The Chapter of Rome’ in the Qur’an partly reads thus: “Rome, (the nation of the Christian Greeks) has been defeated in a neighbouring land. But after their defeat, they shall (themselves) gain victory within a few years. Allah is the Supreme Commander before and after. On that day (when they become victorious), the believers (Muslims and Christians) will rejoice in Allah’s help. Allah gives victory to whoever He wills. He is Mighty and Merciful. That is Allah’s promise; He never reneges on His promise” (Q. 30: 1-5).
And true to that divine revelation, the Roman Empire surprisingly defeated the Persian Empire to the ecstasy of the Muslims just nine years after the Qur’anic chapter was revealed. Besides, it will be recalled that the name of Jesus Christ is mentioned more than 37 times in the Glorious Qur’an giving more details of his birth and disappearance more vividly than can be found in the Bible. Also a whole chapter of the Qur’an is dedicated to Mary the mother of Jesus confirming her chastity and the miraculous birth of Jesus. It is only in the Qur’an that the report of how Jesus spoke as an infant was revealed. That chapter is called ‘The Chapter of Maryam (Mary). How else can the unity of religious mission from the unity of God be confirmed?

Implications of the Charter

By implication, the inalienability of the privileges contained in the above charter remains irreversible from the primordial time to the contemporary time. Besides, one remarkable aspect of the charter is that it did not stipulate any condition for Christians to enjoy those privileges. It is because of that unprecedented charter that Muslims, all over the world, do not blame Christianity for any misdemeanor of a Christian or attack Christianity as a religion in their propagation of Islam as some Christians do against Islam particularly in Nigeria.

Upholding the Charter

In upholding that charter, 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 religion. On that historic occasion, the Church of Jerusalem had been cleared by some 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. He 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 Christians.

Reciprocation

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 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, 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 it the reason becomes clear why the Islamic State under the command of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) or any of his rightly guided companions or disciples 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 either to a breach of the charter by ignorant adherents of one or both religions. And that does not have anything to do with the tenets of the two religions.

Summary

Judging by the contents of the papers presented at last Wednesday’s Conference at UI, it is evident that the aim of that conference was to emulate Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in using religion as an instrument of ventilating peace and harmony in Nigeria irrespective of the differences in faiths.

Conclusion 

Religion is like an examination. Those who sit down to write it with 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 by sheer mortal charlatans’ recommendation. 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.

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