We can be very strange in the way we consider our rights and not our duties, others’ responsibilities or defects and ours’.
In 626 A.D., i. e. the second year of the Hegira and the giving of the Spirit according to the Muslim comput, it is said that Muhammad decided to secure the life of the Christians of the monks of the Monastery of Saint Katharina by providing them with rules of tolerance, expressed by the Act of “Achtiname”. Later on, in the same form of a Document, a decree was granted by the caliph Omar Ibn al Khattab, the conqueror of Jerusalem to Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem in the year 637 A.D.
This Decree is in force at the present and traditionally should rule the way the Christians have to be treated in the territories under Muslm (Islam’s) rules and regulations, traditions and faith. These have extended from Arabia (Sinai, Arab Peninsula, Jerusalem-Syria) to Iraq and Persia and then to the West (Egypt, Libya, North Africa till Morocco).
In the Church of Jerusalem, this Act or Decree (Covenant, Ahdname, Document, Testament) is considered as the major document regulating the life of the local Church of Jerusalem. It also applies to the local Churches as they were present and headed, according to the tradition of the Churches, by the Bishop and Patriarch of Jerusalem, thus the Eastern Orthodox successor of Patrairch Sophronios of Jerusalem. The text is published each year in the agenda of the Roman Orthodox Church of Jerusalem in Greek and Arabic (now also in Russian).
The original text was kept at the Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the Sinai and has been destroyed. It is today at the very core of the relationships as the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem considers its relationships in the context of the Middle-East. The Western Churches have not paid the same attention to the Achtiname due to fact that “spiritual authority” is exercized from Rome or other former Roman Empire patriarchate or recent Church jurisdiction that have always been opposed to Islam and would not consider to recognize the spiritual value of the Achtiname.
Look today at the the Jewish calendar. In 1099, the “soldiers” of the First Crusade burnt the Jews of Jerusalem. At the present, violence continues, but the Western Churches do not take into account the theological, spiritual, mental, cultural, linguistic, “political and economic” consequences of the existing Decree. It is not mentioned anywhere and in any wise at the present as the Christians living under the traditional territories of Islam are drowning apart. They are submitted to some harsh process of removal as Semitic Church from the very beginning of the Church and of Islam.
This is a mistake showing how the Semitic world evolves in our days. The Church of Jerusalem conveys a task that continues to discuss with the Muslim Authorities through its territory and the whole of the Arab Peninsula with due respect to the traditional connection founded on the consequences of the Achtiname. This aspect is not known to estranged Church bodies that have to find their way to cope with our cultural and historical backgrounds.
(translation by Prelate Peacocke)
Muhammad the son of ‘Abd Allah, the Messenger of Allah, and careful guardian of the whole world; has wrote the present instrument to all those who are in his national people, and of his own religion, as a secure and positive promise to be accomplished to the Christian nation, and relations of the Nazarene, whosoever they may be, whether they be the noble or the vulgar, the honorable or otherwise, saying thus.
I. Whosoever of my nation shall presume to break my promise and oath, which is contained in this present agreement, destroys the promise of God, acts contrary to the oath, and will be a resister of the faith, (which God forbid) for he becomes worthy of the curse, whether he be the King himself, or a poor man, or whatever person he may be.
II. That whenever any of the monks in his travels shall happen to settle upon any mountain, hill, village, or other habitable place, on the sea, or in deserts, or in any convent, church, or house of prayer, I shall be in the midst of them, as the preserver and protector of them, their goods and effects, with my soul, aid, and protection, jointly with all my national people; because they are a part of my own people, and an honor to me.
III. Moreover, I command all officers not to require any poll-tax on them, or any other tribute, because they shall not be forced or compelled to anything of this kind.
IV. None shall presume to change their judges or governors, but they shall remain in their office, without being deported.
V. No one shall molest them when they are travelling on the road.
VI. Whatever churches they are possessed of, no one is to deprive them of them.
VII. Whosoever shall annul any of one of these my decrees, let him know positively that he annuls the ordinance of God.
VIII. Moreover, neither their judges, governors, monks, servants, disciples, or any others depending on them, shall pay any poll-tax, or be molested on that account, because I am their protector, wherever they shall be, either by land or sea, east or west, north or south; because both they and all that belong to them are included in this my promissory oath and patent.
IX. And of those that live quietly and solitary upon the mountains, they shall exact neither poll-tax nor tithes from their incomes, neither shall any Muslim partake of what they have; for they labor only to maintain themselves.
X. Whenever the crop of the earth shall be plentiful in its due time, the inhabitants shall be obliged out of every bushel to give them a certain measure.
XI. Neither in time of war shall they take them out of their habitations, nor compel them to go to the wars, nor even then shall they require of them any poll-tax.
In these eleven chapters is to be found whatever relates to the monks, as to the remaining seven chapters, they direct what relates to every Christian.
XII. Those Christians who are inhabitants, and with their riches and traffic are able to pay the poll-tax, shall pay no more than twelve drachms.
XIII. Excepting this, nothing shall be required of them, according to the express order of God, that says, ‘Do not molest those that have a veneration for the books that are sent from God, but rather in a kind manner give of your good things to them, and converse with them, and hinder everyone from molesting them’ [29:46].
XIV. If a Christian woman shall happen to marry a Muslim man, the Muslim shall not cross the inclination of his wife, to keep her from her church and prayers, and the practice of her religion.
XV. That no person hinder them from repairing their churches.
XVI. Whosoever acts contrary to my grant, or gives credit to anything contrary to it, becomes truly an apostate to God, and to his divine apostle, because this protection I have granted to them according to this promise.
XVII. No one shall bear arms against them, but, on the contrary, the Muslims shall wage war for them.
XVIII. And by this I ordain, that none of my nation shall presume to do or act contrary to this my promise, until the end of the world.
[Pococke, Richard. “A Description of the East and Some other Countries.” A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World: Many of which are Now First Translated Into English. Ed. John Pinkerton. London: Longman, 1809. 389-391.]
av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
Copy of the Achtiname as it is in the office of Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem (in Arabic), I photographed it some years ago.