ISIS’s Church Attacks Break Mohammed’s Own Pledges

Assaults on Christian sites show terrorists are apostates as well as murderers.

A crescent moon is seen over St Anthony's church after it was partially opened for the first time since the Easter Sunday attacks in Colombo on May 7, 2019.
A crescent moon is seen over St Anthony's church after it was partially opened for the first time since the Easter Sunday attacks in Colombo on May 7, 2019. Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

The attacks by an Islamic State-affiliated group against Christians on Easter morning in Sri Lanka last month fall into a long-established pattern. Back when the Islamic State was expanding in northern Iraq in 2014 and 2015, the region’s 1 million Christians were some of its main targets, as well as Yazidis, Shiite Muslims, and other religious minorities. Churches were razed and Christians issued with an ultimatum: exile, conversion, or death.

The end result has been a brutal and depressingly thorough religious and ethnic cleansing. For the Islamic State, destroying churches and killing Christians came second only to its top priority of killing other so-called apostate Muslims—Shiite and Sufi Muslims in particular. But although the Islamic State claimed to be acting in the name of Islam, its actions were not only horrific but also clearly and universally recognized as blasphemy.

All the world’s leading Muslim scholars have pronounced that attacks on Christians and other terrorist tactics are antithetical to Islam, strictly against sharia as jurisprudence based on the Quran and hadith, and a hideous blasphemy against the message of the Prophet Mohammed. For example, the Pakistani-born cleric Tahi-rul-Qadri, who is recognized as one of the world’s leading Islamic scholars, issued a fatwa to this effect back in 2010.

The Quran in verse 4:59 commands Muslims to follow Mohammed and his example. And the Prophet Mohammed was very clear about how Muslims should treat Christians. He entered a treaty with Christians in the year 628 that deserves to be quoted in full here, since its words speak so clearly against terrorists’ actions:

“This is a message from Mohammed 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 God! 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 (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

This agreement was signed with the prophetic seal by Mohammed in Medina and given to a delegation of Christian monks from St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai.

The original was later moved from St. Catherine’s Monastery by Sultan Selim I of the Ottoman Empire in 1517, and today can be seen in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. When he took the document from the monastery, the Sultan and Caliph of Islam Selim renewed its terms and gave the resident monks in Sinai a copy. This copy is still at the monastery. Any Muslim can go see either of these documents with their own eyes whenever they wish to do so.

The prophet granted unconditional protection and what today is recognizable as basic human rights to Christians, “near and far.” All true caliphs since then have observed this treaty, as they have been compelled to do “till the Last Day”—i.e., this treaty cannot be abrogated. There are few things in the sharia that are as clear as this prescription toward Christians.

Nor is was this policy approach exclusively aimed at Christians. The Constitution of Medina, written by the prophet himself as the foundational document of the first Islamic State in history, the Republic of Medina, extended similar protections to Jews, for example. Jews were guaranteed fundamental protections as People of the Book, including protections of life, liberty, property, and freedom to practice their religion.

By example, by treaty, and by deed, the prophet sought peace and social harmony between ethnic and religious groups within the territories governed by his authority and by his legacy of Islamic law. This much cannot be doubted when it comes to the Prophet’s actions toward the other People of the Book—even if we are to point out that Mohammed’s successors have at times had a more complicated relationship with polytheistic so-called pagans, such as the Hindus of the Indian subcontinent. This is also why the followers of the prophet who heed his example proclaim Islam as a religion of peace.

But today, Wahhabi clerics and Islamic State fanatics proclaim that they know better than the prophet himself how to be good Muslims. That now includes destroying all churches, in direct violation of Mohammed’s covenant.

Wahhabis say they want to emulate the life and times of the prophet. The Islamic State and its so-called caliph want to rebuild the original caliphate to represent the entire umma, or Muslim community. So why then are their teachings and their actions exactly opposed to those of the original Islamic State of Mohammed in Medina from back in 622?

Even the tactics they use—suicide bombings—reek of contempt for Islam and the example of the prophet. Suicide is explicitly forbidden in Islam, just as it is in the other Abrahamic religions. Life is a gift from God. It is not for any individual human being to dispose of this divine gift for themselves, any more than it is for them to deprive others of God’s gift. Suicide is as much a violation of God’s will as murder. Suicide as martyrdom is a 20th-century innovation in Islam and, moreover, an innovation that has its roots in 19th-century Russia, among anarchist atheists.

But of course, murder is the organizing principle of the Islamic State, not Islam. The real faith of the Islamic State is death: the murder of others and the death of oneself. Muslims say “inshallah,” “God’s will be done.” The world is always and permanently the manifestation of God’s will. The ideology of the Islamic State is a revolt against the world and everyone in it: They say, “We love death as you love life.” This is why Islamic scholars recognize the Islamic State as a death cult, just as the Wahhabi ideology that underpins the Islamic State and all the other Sunni Islamist movements around the world is the antithesis of what the vast majority of Muslims recognize as Islam

So when the Muslim community worldwide came out to condemn the Sri Lanka attacks, they did not do so in the name of so-called political correctness or out of fear of reprisals, but because this Islamic State cell violated the prophet’s covenant and the message of Islam. For even the most fundamentalist Muslim who actually knows their Quran, hadith and sharia, this was an attack against the honor and authority of the prophet just as much as it was an attack against Christians on their holiest day of the year.

If the Prophet Mohammed is not your guide to God, then you are not a Muslim. By violating the prophet’s irrevocable covenant, the Sri Lanka attackers declared themselves against Islam. Under the very ideology they claim to represent, they are the apostates.

Azeem Ibrahim is a director at the Center for Global Policy in Washington. Twitter: @azeemibrahim

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