I spent the last week of November in Iraq traveling between Najaf, Karbala, and Baghdad and presented my paper titled “The Sacred Duty of Protecting Sacred Sites” at a conference in Karbala on Iraq’s heritage and antiquities that featured scholars from 22 different countries.
I demonstrated that the Qur’an, the Sunnah, the Sirah, and the letters, treaties, and covenants of the Prophet Muhammad (s) are testimonies to the tolerance of Islam and its commitment to protect the lives and property of both Muslims and non-Muslims.
I proved that, in Islam, the protection of people and their property is inseparable and that they always go hand in hand.
I also established that the rights to life, liberty, and property, predate John Locke, the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as they were proclaimed by the Prophet Muhammad (s) in the seventh century, in accord with divine decree.
Based on the foundational, primary sources of the Muslim faith, I concluded that respecting, maintaining, preserving, and protecting sacred and world heritage sites was a sacred duty.
In Najaf, I was granted an audience with the Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Saeed al-Hakeem, one of the four Sources of Emulation in Iraq, and the second most senior Shiite scholar after Grand Ayatullah ‘Ali al-Sistani.
I presented him a copy of “Uhud al-Nabi li-Masihiyyi al-‘alam,” the Arabic translation of “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad (s) with the Christians of the World,” describing it as a weapon against the Takfiris.
The Grand Ayatullah and his senior staff were pleased to learn that my scholarship followed in the path of Dr Muhammad Hamidullah, the editor of “al-Watha’iq” or “The Treaties” and Ayatullah Ahmadi Minyanji, the editor of “Makatib al-Rasul” or “The Writings of the Messenger.”
Allamah Sayyid Salih al-Hakim, the nephew of the Grand Ayatullah, assured me that he would provide copies of “Uhud al-Nabi” or “The Covenants of the Prophet” to the three other Sources of Emulation, Grand Ayatullah ‘Ali al-Sistani, Grand Ayatullah Bashir al-Najafi, and Grand Ayatullah Ishaq al-Fayyaz, along with all the other senior scholars in the Seminary.
In Baghdad, I attended a marvellous inter-religious conference on the status of women in Iraq which brought together leaders from every faith community in the country, including Sabians, Mandeans, Zoroastrians, Yezidis, Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites.
It was remarkable: none of this lovey-dovey, wishy-washy, watered-down, New Age nonsense that we witness in the Western world were world religions are relativized to the point that they become meaningless.
The leaders who gathered in Baghdad were staunch believers, some with harsh words of criticism for one another, but who were determined and committed to build community ties for the betterment of the country and who were adamant about the need to co-exist as fellow citizens.
This was real interfaith work that mattered. What was taking place at that conference was worth more than one hundred Parliaments of the World’s Religions. It was meaningful. It was actionable. It was life and death.
Iraq is not a place where people who disagree with you write a bad review or unfriend you on Facebook. This is a place where your critics or opponents will kill you point blank; hence, the car inspections, the pat-downs, the bomb-sniffing dogs, and the soldiers armed with machine guns. Interfaith work entails no risk in the Western world.
In Iraq, it means placing your life on the line.
The interest in the Covenants of the Prophet was palpable. The thirst and hunger were real. The need was of the hour. This was one of the most religiously, ethnically, and linguistically diverse nations in the world: destroyed by the West by design, by the very proponents of pluralism.
Without meaningful action, we would be looking at the end of diversity in Iraq and the creation of homogenous statelets for Arab Shiites, Arab Sunnis, and Sufi Kurds, while the Yezidis, Sabians, Mandeans, and Zoroastrians are condemned to extinction.
I came to Iraq bearing the Covenants of the Prophet but I found that they were already there in the hearts of the Iraqi people who are committed to pluralism and co-existence in the most difficult and dangerous of circumstances.