Muslims and Christians: the Other Story, By Imam Murtada Gusau
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise is due to Allah; we praise Him and seek help from Him. We ask forgiveness from Him. We repent to Him; and we seek refuge in Him from our own evils and our own bad deeds. Anyone who is guided by Allah is truly guided; and anyone who has been left astray, will find no one to guide him. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, the Only One without any partner; and I bear witness that Muhammad (SAW) is His servant, and His messenger.
“O You, who believes, be aware of Allah, with correct awareness, and die not except as Muslims.”
“O You, who believes, be aware of Allah, and speak a straightforward word. He will forgive your sins and repair your deeds. And whoever takes Allah and His Prophet as a guide, has already achieved a mighty victory.”
In the opening verse of Surah An-Nisaa’, Allah says:
“O mankind! Show reverence towards your Guardian-Lord Who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate and from the two of them scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;- Be conscious of Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights) and (show reverence towards) the wombs (that bore you); for surely, Allah ever watches over you.”
My Dear Brothers and Sisters!
In the verse I just quoted, the Noble Qur’an reminds us that we are all descended from common ancestors, we are all children of Adam and Eve, peace be upon them. Yet there are still people who forget this, and who treat others with unbelievable hatred and contempt. In recent days, some Christians and Jews have been burning Qur’ans and also inviting others in Texas America to the contest of drawing the cartoons, ‘as they said’, of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW), sponsored by one organisation called American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). And also some Muslims have been bombing churches, kidnapping and beheading Christians and committing acts of mindless terror. They claim they are defending their religion and serving God (Allah), which is totally untrue. But each group is equally misguided. They are just massaging their own bruised egos. Senseless violence between followers of one great religion and another has nothing to do with real faith.
Wars between Crusaders and Caliphates tell us more about the political rivalry for wealth and power between two civilisations. It tells us nothing about the spiritual connection that has always existed, very strongly, between sincere believing Christians and sincere believing Muslims.
My Respected people!
In my today’s Khutbah (Sermon), insha-Allah, I want to focus on this topic. Let’s look at three remarkable Christians to illustrate the intimate connection between the followers of Jesus and Muhammad, May Allah’s peace and blessing be on both of them. We can learn some important lessons from their stories.
They are Bahira (the Monk), Waraqa bin Naufal and Najjashi, the king, the Negus of Abyssinia (Ethiopia or Habasha).
Let’s begin with Bahira the Monk. As we know, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was an orphan. His father died before he was born, and his mother died just a few years later. So he was left in the care of his uncle Abu Talib. One day Abu Talib decided to take him along with a caravan to Syria. Along this route was a monastery. Bahira, a Christian monk lived there.
As the caravan approached, Bahira noticed a small cloud was shading it from the sun, in an otherwise cloudless sky. When the caravan stopped by a tree, the cloud also stopped. This tree, by the way, is still alive, Subhanallah! It’s still there. It’s the only tree, in fact the only vegetation of any kind, for more than 100 miles in any direction, between Jordan and Syria. This tree stands all alone in the empty desert, the last living Sahaba (companion of the Prophet), the last living entity still connected with our beloved Prophet, Muhammad, (SAW).
Bahira invited the travellers to a meal, and after examining the boy Muhammad closely he recognised the mark of prophet-hood on his back. He advised Abu Talib to take good care of him, because his own people would seek to harm him.
Our story goes fast-forward to a mountain cave near Makkah and Muhammad is now a man of 40. He often goes there to meditate, but that night, one of the last ten nights of Ramadan, a strange thing happens. Suddenly, the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) appears, and hugs Muhammad in a tight embrace, almost squeezing the life out of him, commanding him to read. He protests: I cannot read! I’m illiterate! But again and again he is commanded: Read! Until the first verses of the Noble Qur’an comes tumbling forth from his lips:
In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.
“READ! In the name of your Lord Who created, (1) Created man from a clot of blood. (2) Read: and your Lord is the Most Bounteous, (3) Who teaches by the pen, (4) Teaches man that which he knew not!”
This was the beginning of Muhammad’s assignment as God’s last Prophet. Gripped by fear and dread, he rushed home to his wife, Khadija, pleading, “Cover me, Cover me!” He feared that he was losing his mind. But Khadija reassured him, saying:
“You always maintain family ties, always feed the poor and you stand by the downtrodden. Allah would never humiliate you or forsake you.”
And where do you think she took him to find advice and consolation? To the rich and powerful, the grandees of Makkah? No! She was rich and powerful herself. But she took him to her cousin, Waraqa, a poor man in failing health who was a Christian. He was old and losing his sight, but he reassured Muhammad that this event was foretold in earlier scripture. He said:
“If I lived long enough I would stand by you, even when your people turn against you.” “Will my people turn against me?” Asked Prophet Muhammad, Waraqa replied: “Never has a Prophet brought what you will bring without his people turning against him.”
We are reminded here that Ibrahim (Abraham), Nuh (Noah), Musa (Moses) and Isa (Jesus) all met with ingratitude and violent rebellion from their own people, the very people who needed to be saved from themselves. Doesn’t that sound familiar? People of faith are always resisted by their own people who worship other gods, the false idols of power, greed and vanity.
Here is another example of a great Christian of the time, the king, the Negus of Abyssinia, who protected a small group of Muslims from persecution from their own tribe, the Quraish of Makkah.
As soon as Prophet Muhammad (SAW) started preaching his message, he made enemies, lethal enemies. He called on people to worship the One God of Abraham and Moses and Jesus, not the many idols, 360 idols of wood and stone adorning the Ka’aba. This was bad for business. Imagine someone preaching against capitalism and consumerism in Eagle Square, Abuja! Not quite the same earth-shaking message, but imaging! Prophet Muhammad urged people to stop burying alive their baby daughters, for the strong to stop oppressing the weak, for the tribes to stop genocidal warfare, to stop ethno-religious crisis. He was calling for change, radical change, and his enemies, sensing a threat to their business, power and authority, started torturing and killing his followers.
Islam was now in mortal danger.
So as a precaution, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) sent a small group to Abyssinia/Ethiopia.
“There you will find a just and tolerant Christian ruler who will protect you.” He assured them.
Yaa Salaam! These were the world’s first Muslim asylum seekers, given protection by a Christian king in Africa, 1436 years ago! Today, Good Christians in Nigeria, Africa and the world are still following this noble tradition, taking care of asylum seekers who fears persecution in their own countries!
What about Muslim hospitality towards Christians?
While he was the leader in Madinah, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) received a delegation of Christians from Najran in Southern Arabia. When the time came for their prayers, they had no place to pray, so he invited them into his mosque and allowed them to pray in there.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters!
How many of us Muslims will do that today? Let’s “speak a straightforward word” as the Qur’an advises us. How many mosques, anywhere in the Muslim world, will offer their Christian neighbours that courtesy exemplified by our own Prophet?
When believers of any faith treat believers of another faith with kindness and respect, they are also showing courtesy to God, to Allah.
My Dear Sisters and Brothers!
Let’s remember the Golden Rule, the Ethic of Reciprocity: Prophet Isa (Jesus) said:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 600 years later, also Prophet Muhammad said that:“We are not believers until we desire for others what we desire for ourselves.”
My Dear Sisters and Brothers!
The Islamic Calendar, the Hijrah, began when Prophet Muhammad evaded assassination in Makkah and migrated to Madinah. Jews, Christians and Muslims welcomed him as their new leader. They eagerly awaited his first speech, his first Khutba (Sermon). It was short, eloquent, and powerful.
He summed up the entire teaching of Islam in one short sentence:
“Spread Salaam (peace), feed the hungry; pray for a part of the night and you will enter paradise.”
That’s all.. that’s what Islam is all about; Spreading peace between people, feeding the poor, thanking our generous Provider (Allah) every night, and hoping for His good pleasure.
My Respected people!
Please, read the legacy of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that you will find today written with Gold in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. It reads:
“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
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 Ummah (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day
(End of the world).”
This charter of privileges has been honoured and faithfully applied by many Muslim regimes throughout the centuries. Imagine that! Despites wars between Crusaders and Caliphates, Christians were safe in some Muslim countries, making bread and breaking bread with local Muslims. There’s a powerful message for our troubled world today.
Those who ‘spoil God’s Covenant’ and disobey clear instructions from Prophet Muhammad will have to answer to Almighty Allah. Let us therefore show respect and love for sincere believers among the ‘people of the earlier Scriptures.’ This is what Allah commands us to do, and for more than 14 centuries, Prophet Muhammad’s letter has reminded us of this Covenant.
Brothers and Sisters!
To conclude our Khutbah (Sermon), I will say:
“Surely Allah commands justice, good deeds and generosity to others and to relatives; and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion; He instructs you, so that you may be reminded.”
“And remember Me (Allah); I will remember you. Be grateful to Me, and do not reject faith.”
“And without doubt, Rememberance of Allah is the Greatest Thing in life, and Allah knows the deeds you do.”
Indeed all praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of all creation – and May peace and blessings be upon the Prophet, his family, his companions and those who follow him precisely until the Day of Judgement.
This Khutbah (Friday sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Sha’aban 4, 1436 A.H (May 22, 2015), by Imam Murtada Muhammad Gusau, the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’at Mosque, Okene, Kogi State Nigeria. He can be reached through 08038289761.