The definitively fake Covenant with the Monks of Mt Sinai

covenants

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post, Mohammed’s apocryphal Covenants, about John Andrew Morrow’s book The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, finding several reasons to doubt the covenants’ authenticity. Concentrating on the most famous and best documented one, the Covenant with the Monks of Mt Sinai, I found two startling anomalies arising from the timeline.

According to Dr Morrow the Covenant with the Monks of Mount Sinai was written in 623 AD but Sinai did not come under Muslim control until c.640 AD, several years after Mohammed’s death.

So:
Anomaly #1 Why would Mohammed grant a covenant of protection in 623 AD to a group who were not under his control and he was therefore not in a position to protect?

Anomaly #2 Why would he release them from the obligation to pay the Jizya tax which they were therefore not subject to?

But there is an even more glaring anomaly, one which I only just realised was staring me in the face.

According to Dr Morrow’s own translation, the Covenant with the Monks of Mt Sinai was written “on the third of Muharram in the second year of the Prophet’s Hegira”. Since Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar, that means it was written just one year after the Hijra, Mohammed’s migration to Medina. By that time Mohammed had not yet fallen out with the other religious and tribal groups in Medina. In fact the only substantive thing he is reported to have done in his first year was to set up the Constitution of Medina which gave equal rights and responsibilities to Muslims and non-Muslims.

Dr Morrow tells us “The Constitution of Medina decreed that the citizens of the Islamic State were one and indivisible regardless of religion. Be they heathen, People of the Book, or Muslims, all those who were subject to the Constitution belonged to the same ummah. In doing so, he created a tolerant, pluralistic government which protected religious freedom.”

Jizya, the discriminatory poll tax imposed on subjugated non-Muslims, only came later, during Mohammed’s wars with the neighbouring People of the Book and polytheists (the first reference to it in the Koran comes in verse 9:29, revealed c.630 AD). Not only that but on p.94 of Dr Morrow’s book he specifically states, in another context “…the jizyah did not exist in the early days of Islam”.

So:
Anomaly #3 The Jizya tax which the Covenant exempted the monks from paying did not yet exist, even in Medina.

To sum up, Mohammed’s Covenant with the Monks of Mt Sinai, supposedly written in 623 AD, promised protection to a group that Mohammed was in no position to protect, and exemption from paying a tax which they were not subject to, and which did not even yet exist.

I would say all that means that the Covenant could not possibly have been written in 623 AD and must therefore be a later forgery (presumably perpetrated by Christian monks hoping for relief from their Muslim overlords). If anyone can provide another explanation for these 3 anomalies, not involving time travel or precognition, I would be grateful to hear it. Dr Morrow certainly does not address any of them in his book. In the meantime I maintain that the claim of authenticity for the Covenant with the Monks of Mt Sinai is just plain nonsense.

Why does it matter? Because along with the book goes a Covenants Initiative, the aim of which is to spread the acceptance and influence of the Covenants in hopes of improving relations between Muslims and Christians. A laudable aim no doubt, but if its main foundation is a forgery then the Initiative amounts to no more than wishful thinking leading to an unrealistic assessment of the man who confronts us today just as he has for 1400 years.

I encourage readers to compare the picture we get of Mohammed from the Covenants, religiously tolerant and accepting, with the one we get from the Sira, a ruthless warlord by anyone’s standards. Unfortunately it is the Mohammed of the Sira, who is firmly embedded in Islamic tradition.

If the promoters of the Covenants Initiative can refute my objections then I will apologise and wish them well but, going by past experience, they won’t even try. The nearest thing I have been able to elicit has been some fairly inventive abuse from Dr Morrow. Perhaps you might have better luck.

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2 thoughts on “The definitively fake Covenant with the Monks of Mt Sinai

  1. ECAW's blog Post author

    I am pleased to say that someone (Masihi Theophilus) has now responded to my challenge to refute my claims in the above post:
    https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/57313081/posts/1514

    First things first, I must say I find it a curious experience being referred to as “hiding” behind an acronym by someone calling himself Masihi Theophilus. But since you brought it up….

    I do indeed hide behind my pseudonym but the reasons for it have nothing at all to do with the Covenants or Dr Morrow; rather with a section of his co-religionists who regard criticism of Islam as blasphemy…and you know what that means, as the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo found out. It is usually necessary for those who criticise Islam to either surround themselves with expensive security (like Geert Wilders) or to disappear (like poor Molly Norris) or to adopt a pseudonym (like Ibn Warraq). Although I am probably too obscure to attract the attention of the throat slitters among us, I see no reason to take the risk and choose the third option as the least troublesome.

    Not only that, but my own government now enforces sharia compliant limitations on free speech, and police constables who once patrolled the streets now patrol social media for signs of Islamophobia. Anyone reckless enough to point out unpleasant truths about Islam on Facebook can expect a visit from the boys in blue, and that’s just for starters. Serious offenders can find themselves in prison, thrown among devout Muslims for a beating like Tommy Robinson, or mysteriously dying half way through their sentence like Kevin Crehan.

    Secondly, it would have been helpful if you had given a link to my post so your readers could see your chosen excerpts in context for themselves, wouldn’t it?

    Thirdly, congratulations on attempting to refute my claims. It is something that neither Dr Morrow nor any of his principal supporters will do. I have asked them.

    Fourthly, I would have been more impressed if you had found answers to my objections in Dr Morrow’s original book about the Covenants, on which I based my claims. As it is, to fully engage with your arguments I would have to shell out an additional £200 but unfortunately my Covenants budget is fully used up. Of the three new books you cite:

    Professor Shoemaker’s book looks interesting but you make so little use of it.

    Tarek Fatah, who I do regard as an honest broker, calls Zafar Bangash a “known Islamist” and the “unofficial spokesperson for the Iranian regime in Canada.” Bangash has said “Muslims must strive to overthrow the oppressive systems in their societies through Islamic revolutions” so I certainly would not take anything written by him as reliable non-partisan scholarship. Details here:
    https://www.thestar.com/news/2007/02/06/islamic_leader_under_fire.html

    As to the three volume work on the Covenants, no doubt a bargain at £156, including contributions by Dr Morrow, perhaps you can see the problem in attempting to answer scepticism about an author’s scholarship with more quotes from the same author. Or perhaps you can’t, but I regret to say that I cannot put any credence on this new testimony from Dr Morrow.

    Having dealt with those side issues, let’s get down to business. Here is your article, Masihi (my responses are in bold type):

    A British man who hides behind the acronym ECAW claims that the Ashtiname or Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai suffers from three anomalies and, therefore, is “definitely fake.” For the sake of honest individuals who might be misled by the writings of the individual in question, I have stepped up to the stage. Consequently, in the following paragraphs, I will concisely debunk these allegations.

    Anomaly # 1

    ECAW asks: “Why would Mohammed grant a covenant of protection in 623 AD to a group who were not under his control and he was therefore not in a position to protect?” He also argues that:

    Since Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar, that means it was written just one year after the Hijra, Mohammed’s migration to Medina. By that time Mohammed had not yet fallen out with the other religious and tribal groups in Medina. In fact, the only substantive thing he is reported to have done in his first year was to set up the Constitution of Medina which gave equal rights and responsibilities to Muslims and non-Muslims.

    The fact of the matter is that the Prophet Muhammad was already signing treaties, making covenants, and forging alliances before he migrated to Medina. In fact, the Sirah of Ibn Ishaq reports that he received a delegation of Christians in Mecca (Morrow, 2017, vol. 2: 16). This is independently confirmed by early Christian sources.

    Not only did the Messenger of Allah sign covenants of good-will with religious communities and denominations, he also made agreements with the Negus of Abyssinia (Bangash 41-60). The Messenger of Allah was acting like a head of state even when he was stateless. This infuriated the idol-worshiping infidels of Mecca. As a result of the First and Second Pacts of ‘Aqabah, the landless leader soon found himself at the head of the Medinan State.

    From the time he settled in Medina to the time he passed away, he wrote hundreds of letters and signed dozens of treaties with communities of all kinds. “Prior the Battle of Badr… of 2 AH,” writes Zafar Bangash, “there were a total of eight expeditions” to the tribes west of Mecca (161). Another two expeditions were sent to Yanbu‘ and to Safawan (161). The Prophet Muhammad offered treaties to the Tribe of Damrah, the Tribe of Juhaynah, the Tribe of Zur‘ah, the Tribe of Rab‘ah, the Tribe of Muzaynah, the Tribe of Mudlij, the Tribe of Ghifar, and the Tribe of Ashja‘ (159-190).

    Yes, Ibn Ishaq reports that Mohammed received a delegation of Christians in Mecca but that has no bearing on the matter in hand as far as I can see. All the rest of the above comes from a book I have not read, and by an author, Zafar Bangash, who I have reason to mistrust (as explained above) so I am sorry to say I am unwilling to accept any of the above at face value. But what is that face value even? Did these communications contain anything like the contents of the Covenant? I suspect if they did we would have heard about it by now.

    By the second year of the hijrah, the Messenger of Allah had placed most of north-western Arabia under his protection from Medina all the way to the Sinai. This fact is confirmed by Nektarios of Sinai (c. 1600 to 1676 CE). As he explains in his Epitome, which was written in 1659 or 1660, and based on ancient Arabic manuscripts from the Monastery of St. Catherine:

    In the second year of Muhammad’s hijrah his religious and military power increased. During that time, two Christian rulers … gathered some men with the aim of waging war against one of Muhammad’s companions… The latter sustained defeat and all his men were killed. Once this became known to Muhammad, he took all the men that he had with him at that time, around three hundred and ten in number, and when the two parties met, they swiftly fought. The Christians were only one hundred and ninety and subsequently lost the battle. Seventy of them were killed, whilst only fourteen from Muhammad’s side perished. This was the first war Muhammad had with Christians and by God’s providence, he defeated them.

    This victory became the source of fear for many people, who turned to him to pay tribute, bounding to pay taxes in order for him to let them retain their Faith. These were idolaters, who came from Persia and worshiped the sun as God, along with Jews and many other Greeks. [Among them] there were also many Christians from the region of the Red Sea, [the Erythraean Sea] who came to visit him, as well as the monks from Mount Sinai along with the Christian slaves they had from the period of Justinian.

    A Christian ruler named Paxikios came to Muhammad and when the latter saw his merits, he offered him great hospitality and knelt before him. His companions then asked him why he did so and he replied to them that “you should also honor these people, for their Faith is righteous and true and their Books, as I read, were sent by God.” He then asked the monks what they required from him, and they replied: “we see that everyone turns to you and wish to make an agreement to stay unmolested by your people. Therefore, we came to ask for your permission to keep our Faith and monastery unharmed.”

    He then asked them where their Monastery was and when he heard that they came from the Mount where the Law [Ten Commandments] was given to Moses, he revered them greatly and affirmed to them that “you should not have any fear nor feel that someone would harm or be unfair to you, for he who would treat you like that, may God smite him. I am also planning to visit that holy Mount and there I will grant you a letter, so that no one will cause you or the Christian people any harm for all eternity. From you, I do not wish for any payment perpetually, since you are the worshippers of that holy place, however, from the rest of the Christians I will demand that they pay tax and their faith will not be threatened.”

    Once the monks had heard these words, they went on their way. Shortly after and within the same year, Muhammad himself, traversing the desert sands, came to the monastery and climbed up the mountain. He highly honored and venerated the place as holy; he also ordered his companions to do the same and revered the peak of the mountain as holy. For, according to him, this was the place where God had a long discussion with the Prophet Moses. Even today, this event is known to the most learned Turks. He [Muhammad] then climbed down the mountain, and the abbot along with the rest of the fathers, had a great feast with him, offering him hospitality for an extended period of time. Far from the monastery, in an area half the size of a lodging house, the local Arabs, in fact, indicate a place and claim that this is where he stood and spoke. This place is venerated and worshiped by Arabs with piety, when they pass by there.

    While staying at the Monastery, he [Muhammad] granted a Letter to them, known as the Covenant or agreement as he calls it, which encompasses a wide range of worthy subjects for the monks of that Monastery, as well as for the whole of Christendom. This Letter should certainly be considered quite noticeable, as it was not written by any human but through God’s providence. For, if the Letter had not been composed then no monastery nor any monk would have existed. All the lay Christians through this Letter, may maintain their Faith unharmed and unmolested, because the Letter includes some beneficial articles for them. (Morrow, 2017, vol. 2: 434-435)

    I can find no trace of the Epitome of Nektarios of Sinai apart from this reference by Dr Morrow. But even so, I am sure you will see the problem in using a document making extraordinary claims, written only a few hundred years ago, purportedly based on ancient Arabic texts and found in the Monastery of St Catherine, to validate another.

    I notice that Nektarios writes “IN the second year of Muhammad’s hijrah his religious and military power increased” whereas you write “BY the second year of the Hijrah…” Since we are talking about something that supposedly happened at the start of the second year of the Hijra, it makes all the difference in the circumstances doesn’t it? I can only see this as sleight of hand on your part.

    Granting a covenant to the monks of Mount Sinai in the second year of the hijrah is not an anomaly: it formed part of an established and strategic pattern that lasted the entire course of Muhammad’s prophetic mission.

    This is just an assertion which is not supported by the evidence you bring forward.

    Anomaly #2

    ECAW asks: “Why would he release them from the obligation to pay the Jizya tax which they were therefore not subject to?”

    The fact of the matter is that the Prophet Muhammad offered to make alliances with non-Muslims throughout the Middle East and beyond. If they pledged loyalty to the Prophet, as opposed to the Byzantines and Persians, he promised to offer them freedom of religion and freedom from onerous taxation. Only those who violently opposed the Prophet were subject to conquest and tribute. Call it the carrot or the stick. The Christians of Najran, the Sinai, Assyria, Armenia, and Persia actively sought the protection of the Prophet Muhammad from their oppressive overlords. The same can be said of the Jews and Samaritans from Palestine, the Jews from Yemen, and the Jews of Maqna. The same also applied to the Zoroastrians. As Nektarios of Sinai noted, polytheists, Magians, Jews, and Greek Christians submitted to the Prophet Muhammad during the early years of his rule in Medina.

    The above are again mere assertions, in this case with no supporting references at all apart from the mysterious Nektarios of Sinai.

    As Stephen J. Shoemaker has shown in The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad’s Life and the Beginnings of Islam, “The oldest Islamic biography of Muhammad, written in the mid-eighth century, relates that the prophet died at Medina in 632, while earlier and more numerous Jewish, Christian, Samaritan, and even Islamic sources indicate that Muhammad survived to lead the conquest of Palestine, beginning in 634-35.”

    I am beginning to wonder whether your erudition runs as deep as you would have us believe. The above quote is just the first few lines of the blurb on the book’s entry on Amazon:
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Prophet-Muhammads-Beginnings-Divinations/dp/081222342X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1526451977&sr=1-1&keywords=stephen+j+shoemaker

    If this is correct, the spread of Islam into the Sinai and Palestine did not take place during the reign of the first two Caliphs: the Prophet Muhammad had himself consolidated Islam in all of Arabia, and several surrounding regions, during his own lifetime.

    What if it isn’t correct? You bring forward nothing to support the claim, presumably because you have not read the book, and even Prof Shoemaker, in the second paragraph, claims only that “these reports of Muhammad’s leadership during the Palestinian invasion likely preserve an early Islamic tradition”.

    Even if it is correct what bearing does it have on the question in hand? The Covenant itself tells us when it was supposedly written, in 623 AD. What Mohammed did or didn’t do in 634 or 635 AD is irrelevant.

    Anomaly #3

    ECAW alleges that “[t]he Jizya tax which the Covenant exempted the monks from paying did not yet exist, even in Medina.”

    The fact of the matter is that the jizyah, which simply means “tribute” or “tax,” has existed since time immemorial. For those who possess a Wikipedia level of understanding of Islam, let us quote from its entry on the subject:

    William Montgomery Watt traces its origin to a pre-Islamic practice among the Arabian nomads wherein a powerful tribe would agree to protect its weaker neighbors in exchange for a tribute, which would be refunded if the protection proved ineffectual. Jews and Christians in some southern and eastern areas of the Arabian Peninsula began to pay tribute, called jizya, to the Islamic state during Muhammad’s lifetime.

    Jizyah, therefore, existed before the rise of Islam. Among the Arabs, it was tribute paid for protection. Among the Byzantines and the Sassanians, it was a system of taxation and tribute. According to Morrow, “The jizyah, which is a Persian as opposed to Arabic word, was a continuation of a national tax from Sassanian times.” (vol. 2: 448). “As for the jizyah,” he explains, “it was not a late introduction as traditionally believed by Muslim scholars. In fact, it was a Persian tax that was adopted by the Prophet.” (vol. 2: 452).

    I take no issue with the above history of pre-Islamic jizya but it has no bearing on the issue at hand, which is at what point in time did Mohammed impose it on subject People of the Book.

    When Morrow wrote that “the jizyah did not exist in the early days of Islam” (2013: 94), he was apparently referring to the Meccan period and the initial Medinan period. The Prophet, for example, did not impose jizyah on the non-Muslim citizens of the Ummah in Medina. The Jews of Medina, with whom the Prophet concluded the Constitution of Medina, were not subject to the jizyah.

    Agreed.

    The same cannot be said of the Jewish Opposition, namely, the three tribes that lived on the outskirts of Medina and who were apparently not parties to the Constitution of Medina.

    Mohammed imposed the jizya on non-subject tribes? How did he manage that? This is news to me, and I suspect to others reading this.

    The only agreement that existed between the Prophet and the Banu Qurayzah, for example, was a pact of non-aggression which the Jews violated. “Despite having broken their treaty obligations,” writes Morrow, “the Prophet’s emissary urged the Banu Qurayzah to enter, once again, into an agreement with the Messenger of Allah. Otherwise, they were offered the opportunity to pay the jizyah” (2013: 40). As Morrow explains, “The Banu Qurayzah, however, remained defiant, and stated that they preferred to die than to pay taxes” (2013: 40).

    So the outlying tribes were both paying the jizya and not paying the jizya in the early days of Medina. Think you’d better revisit this section!

    The jizyah did not apply to citizens of the Ummah who were subject to the Constitution of Medina nor did it apply to covenanted communities of priests, monks, and rabbis. It did, however, apply to allied non-Muslims as well as belligerent populations that were subjected by force.

    We all know that “belligerent populations that were subjected by force” were subject to the jizya (of which there were none a year after the Hijra) but allied non-Muslims? What justification do you have for claiming that?

    However, even they could be excused from the jizyah in return for military service. Simply because verse 29 of chapter 9 of the Qur’an, which commands Muslims to fight unbelievers until they pay the jizyah, was reportedly revealed in the year 630 CE, namely, year 9 of the hijrah, does not mean that this form of taxation did not previously exist. In fact, it is mentioned in prophetic traditions that date from the seventh, fourth, and second year of the hijrah.

    Please supply details of these prophetic traditions. Remember my claim is that Mohammed had not instituted it by the time the Covenant to the monks of St Catherine’s was written a year after the Hijra, a claim made by Dr Morrow and which I only quoted.

    As for ECAW’s allegation that the jizyah was discriminatory, he can be pointed to Morrow’s study on the subject. As the good professor explains,

    jizyah was not punitive nor was it intended to be a financial burden. Consequently, any Muslim ruler who used and abused jizyah to oppress the People of the Book committed a grave sin… The jizyah is not the end all and be all of Islam. It is not absolute. Its meaning and mode of application varied… According to a precedent set by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, the jizyah is not an obligation and can be replaced by an alternative form of taxation… In fact, in India, Akbar the Great (r. 1556-1605 CE) did away with seven centuries of Muslim rulers imposing the jizyah on non-Muslims…

    As to whether jizyah has any place in modern times, my jurisprudential position is clear; it is … null and void, and none but Imam Mahdi and Jesus could reinstate it by divine decree. Until then, either all citizens pay taxes or they do not pay taxes. There is no place for a two-tiered or three-tiered tax system. Since the sum of jizyah and zakat were more or less equal in the time of the Prophet, citizens should not be taxed at different rates on the basis of their religion. The only people exempt from certain types of taxes are rabbis, monks, priests, nuns, and other clerics. In short, any non-profit engaged in charitable work can request tax-free status…

    According to the Covenants of the Prophet, levels of taxation can only vary based on income: those who have more are both expected and obliged to contribute more to society… As for the jizyah, the various schools of jurisprudence imposed its upper limits in accordance with the Covenants of the Prophet. Rather than increase taxation, many Muslim rulers, like Mu‘awiyyah, Yazid, and ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, lowered it, as they did with the Najranites who now lived in ‘Iraq and, in the case of Harun al-Rashid, went so far as to abolish it completely…

    Finally, while some critics of Islam insist that the jizyah was oppressive and discriminatory, they conveniently ignore the fact that a similar tax was imposed by Christian rulers upon Muslim minorities… “In the context of the early history of Muslim-Christian encounters,” concludes Green, “Islam, not Christianity, often proved more accepting of religious diversity” … As for the issue of jizyah, it is important to remember the words of Caliph ‘Abd al-‘Aziz who said: “God has sent the Prophet Muhammad to invite people to Islam and not as a tax collector”… (Morrow, 2017, vol. 1: 145-149)

    This is irrelevant to the anomalies in question but let me just remind you what Allah said on the subject of jizya in the aforementioned verse 9:29:

    “Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.”

    As empirical evidence demonstrates, there is no basis to anomaly 1, anomaly 2, and anomaly 3. They are not anomalies. They are not inconsistencies. They are misinterpretations. “If the promoters of the Covenants Initiative can refute my objections,” promises ECAW, “then I will apologise and wish them well but, going by past experience, they won’t even try.” Well, I have tried and, many will argue, I have succeeded in debunking the allegations of ECAW. Will he then honor his word?

    Well, that was very thin gruel indeed, a mixture of irrelevancies, unsupported assertions, assertions which might or might not be supported by books other than those which we both have access to, and more assertions by Dr Morrow.

    What you certainly have not done is to explain the anomalies I referred to, but merely attempted to “explain them away” with scatter shot quotes then claim victory.

    In my view only someone who had already given up critical enquiry in favour of belief could accept that you have come anywhere close to refuting my claims, just as only a true believer could claim that Dr Morrow made a convincing case for the Covenant’s authenticity.

    By the way, it seems I’m not the only one who is less than overwhelmed by his scholarship:
    http://www.iandavidmorris.com/morrows-lost-covenant/

    Sources

    Bangash, Zafar. Power Manifestations of the Sirah: Examining the Letters and Treaties of the Messenger of Allah. Toronto: The Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, 2011.

    Morrow, John Andrew. The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World. Tacoma, WA: Angelic Press and Sophia Perennis, 2013.

    —. Islam and the People of the Book: Critical Studies on the Covenants of the
    Prophet.
    3 vols. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.

    Shoemaker, Stephen J. The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad’s Life and the Beginnings of Islam. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

    Reply

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