It is a little known fact of history that Muhammad—the founder of the Muslim religion—once sent a letter to the Orthodox Christian monastery of Saint Catherine’s at the foot of Mount Sinai, vowing to protect its inhabitants as well as all Christians (Achtiname of Muhammad, A.D. 628). This decree was to be in effect forever, and was “signed” with an imprint of Muhammad’s hand.
A portion of that letter, translated into English:
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 is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day.
There are many Muslims throughout the world today that abide by Muhammad’s words. For example, the Muslims who came to the aid of the Coptic Christians in Egypt after a series of church bombings comes to mind (offering themselves as “human shields” so the Christians could worship in peace), as do the ones protesting alongside Christians in both Cairo and Alexandria during Egypt’s civil unrest a few years ago.
But there are Muslims who do not follow the commands of their own prophet, instead twisting Islam into a religion of hatred, genocide, and endless violence. It seems to me that adherence to Muhammad’s own instructions would be critical for all Muslims—but for some reason, only certain sects seem to agree.
As Christians, we should take care not to generalize. Not all Muslims are created equal, and there are many places in the world where both Christians and Muslims live peacefully side-by-side.
The new Patriarch of Antioch (John X) once addressed the relationship between both Christians and Muslims in the Patriarchate’s homeland of Syria:
We should stress here the fact that our Muslim brothers, our co-citizens, have a special place in our heart and mind. Our relations with them go beyond the mere living together in peace. With them we share all the concerns which face the development of our countries, and the peace of our people. With them we build the common future of our children, with them we face all dangers. We shall work on rejecting every negative spirit that could negate our presence on this land of ours or could limit our role in serving our country. We will work faithfully to get rid of ignorance through strengthening the ways of dialogue and communion, asking God to shed on us His grace in the spirit of togetherness for the best of the people in this region of the world.
At the end of the day, our greatest goal should be to pray for our Muslim friends and neighbors, seeking the Lord’s mercy for them all, without distinction.