In this first part of or our interview, we talk to Dr. John Andrew Morrow, author and scholar, about his life’s journey and thoughts. He is best known for his Covenants’ Initiative that aims to create better understanding between Muslims and Christians in the world today.
CI: Let us begin with your journey to Islam; tell us something about it.
Like most Métis and French Canadians, I was raised Roman Catholic and I am profoundly grateful that my parents, the Church, and the Bible cultivated my faith, morals, ethics, and values. Raising children without a divinely-revealed religion and without a sense of Natural and Divine Law is detrimental to both self and society. Like all human beings, I was born with a divinely-instilled inclination to believe. Consequently, I am who I was: a believer in the One. I am not a “New Muslim” nor am I a “revert” or a “convert.” I was raised as a follower of Jesus (a) as well as the prophets and messengers who preceded him. Due to historical, cultural, and geographical reasons, the message of Muhammad (pbuh), the final messenger of God, had not reached my people. My transition into Islam was natural. I did not move from disbelief to belief or from immorality to morality. I simply perfected my religion. I graduated from Christianity to Islam. At the time of the Prophet, there were unbelievers — pagans, heathens, idolaters, polytheists, and atheists — and there were believers: Jews, Messianic Jews or Judeo-Christians, and Christians. There were also the Hanifs, the Arabs who followed the ancient religion of Isma‘il and his father Ibrahim (a). Most members of these faith communities made a smooth transition into Islam. They recognized it as a continuation and completion of their faith traditions. So it was for me. Regardless of where I was born, I would have been a believer in one God: a Brahman in ancient India, a believer in the Great Spirit in pre-Columbian North America, a follower of Nezahualcoyotl in Mesoamerica, a Jew in the time of Moses, a Christian in the time of Jesus, and now, a Muslim in the age of Muhammad (a). I started to study Islam at the age of 13 and took shahadah at the age of 16. I have been a practising Muslim for 30 years and have never ceased to study. What was so appealing about Islam? Divine unity and divine justice; spirituality and social commitment; ethics and morality as well as the importance of family.
CI: Your book, Covenants of the Prophet with the Christians of the World, has received wide recognition among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Let’s start with addressing some key issues in your book. You claim to have found evidence that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) spent a great deal of time with the Christian monks in Sinai during his twenties. Some detractors would argue that this claim feeds the orientalist narrative that the Prophet learned his teachings from Christians and Jews and then self-invented Islam. What is your response?
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was well-traveled. This is a fact. It is well-established in classical Muslim sources. Abundant references to these can be found in The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World along with Islam and the People of the Book: Critical Studies on the Covenants of the Prophet. Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, who was both a Western academic and a traditionally trained Muslim scholar, held this to be true. Consequently, one cannot exclude the possibility that he traveled to Mt. Sinai as it was located along the main trading routes that the Arabs, including Abu ˇalib, routinely employed.
As Muslims, we do not believe that Islam is a new religion. Islam, namely, the belief in One God, divine revelation, and the hereafter, along with major moral laws, was the religion of Adam, Idris (Enoch), Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Yahyå (John), Jesus, and Muhammad (a). The Prophet did not draw upon Jewish and Christian doctrines to create a new religion: he was the heir of the Judeo-Christian tradition and its culmination. Although some orientalists have argued that the Prophet learned his teachings from Jews and Christians and invented Islam — and they base this belief on the Cycle of Bahira Legends that circulated among some Christians who were unfriendly toward Islam, Muslims, and the Prophet — this is not the tradition that was passed down by the monks who were acquainted with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). The tradition of the Prophet’s travel to the Sinai — which could have taken place when he was a youth, during the early days of his mission in Madinah, or even toward the end of his prophetic mission, namely, when he went to Maqna — has been transmitted by large numbers of sources over the past 14 centuries. I have cited them in “The Covenants of the Prophet: Questions and Concerns” and “The Provenance of the Prophet’s Covenants,” both of which are found in Islam and the People of the Book.
Curiously, none of these original traditions claim that the Prophet studied with Christian monks. On the contrary, they assert that a Christian abbot from St. Catherine’s Monastery witnessed a sign of God clearly showing him that Muhammad (pbuh) was destined to greatness and that he would become a powerful leader; hence, the abbot asked him to protect the monastery after he proclaimed his prophecy. This tradition does not reinforce the orientalist narrative any more than the tradition that both Bahira the Monk and Nastura the Monk recognized young Muhammad as a future prophet. These are not the only instances in which seers, monks, priests, and rabbis prophesized that Muhammad was the long-awaited prophet who would come from Arabia. They are found in both ancient Christian and Muslim sources. They confirm, rather than deny, his divinely-ordained prophetic mission and the truth of his teachings.
CI: You reside in the US. There is currently a great deal of polarization between the so-called left and the right spectrum of the political trend. Many Muslim organizations have accepted the mainstream liberal narrative that leftists are friends of Muslims and rightists are outright racist and enemies of Islam. Neither the left nor right is monolithic. Are there any healthy right/conservative groups and organizations in the US with whom Muslims could build a mutually beneficial alliance?
Most Muslims in the West have cast their lot with the liberals. They have naively bought into the lie that liberals are tolerant people who care about Muslims. Tell a liberal that you oppose abortion on demand, that you oppose fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, gay marriage, and transgenderism, that you are convinced that the traditional family structure is in danger, that you believe that there are only two genders, that you oppose the use of alcohol and drugs, that you believe that both men and women should dress modestly, and that you are against illegal immigration since you believe in the rule of law, and see how tolerant they really are. You will be called by every profanity excluded from the dictionary. At the very least, you will be accused of being a racist, a sexist, and a fascist.
While I disagree with half of what Michael Savage has to say, I do agree with the other half, particularly his assertion that liberalism is a mental disorder. At the same time, however, I am equally convinced that conservatism is a mental disorder. Both are extremes. Both are symptomatic of spiritual, psychological, and social imbalance. While the political spectrum varies from country to country and from age to age, I stand at the center that was marked by Muhammad (pbuh), the Messenger of Allah, and the other Prophets of God who preceded him. Liberalism, both classical and social, had a platform in the past: opposition to slavery, racism, segregation, and discrimination, the right to vote for women, equal pay for equal work, along with a call for civil rights and human rights. Now, they spend their time cavorting with transsexuals, anti-white racists, and takfiri terrorists. The liberals sure have strange bed fellows.
What does liberalism stand for today? The right of children to choose their own gender? The right for illegal immigrants to invade Western nations with impunity? The right to blame white Westerners for crimes that they never committed and that most of their ancestors never committed? What does liberalism stand for today? Sexual anarchy? The destruction of the traditional family? The supplanting of religion by secularism? The right to change the ethnic, racial, cultural, and religious background of a country overnight as it ensures liberal votes, spreads secularization, and promotes globalization? The right to create a single people, speaking a single global language, sharing a single global culture, and sharing faiths “that are all the same” since they are all under the umbrella of the One World Religion? What does liberalism mean today? The right to destroy the sovereignty of nation-states to subject them to a New World Order controlled by the one-percenters, a bunch of billionaire elites who wish to exterminate most human beings who are overcrowding a planet they view as their personal country club and resort? As Muslims we categorically reject racism. We do, however, value diversity. Hence, we must oppose efforts to homogenize humanity, to weaken resistance, and to facilitate subservience. For the globalists, races, religions, languages, cultures, and ideologies are sources of division and conflict. If they are suppressed, there will only be submission, not to God, but to the real rulers of the world.
Although most Muslims feel that they share more affinities with liberals, who pretend to profess an unflinching belief in pluralism and an appreciation for diversity, they share just as much in common with certain conservatives, including, in some sectors, a clear sense of right and wrong derived from the prophets of the Old and New Testaments. As a Muslim, if I must choose between a person who believes in God and a person who is an atheist or an agnostic, I will side with the person of faith. As a Muslim, if I must choose between a person who believes in chastity and a person who advocates sexual immorality, I will side with the person who has a sense of human decency. Despite the slanderous propaganda of liberals, leftists, socialists, communists, anarchists, secularists, atheists and Satanists, most religious conservatives are not racist nor are they sexist. Simply because one believes in the teachings of the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an, the traditional family and the existence of two genders, does not mean that one is a racist, a bigot, a misogynist, an extremist, a fascist, or a terrorist. Tolerating the intolerable is not tolerance: it is complicity and advocacy. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have the right to stand their moral ground, stand for what is sacred, and advocate for what they believe is best for society based on revelation and reason.
While liberals and conservatives take different positions on social issues such as abortion, affirmative action, the death penalty, the role of the public sector, education vouchers, embryonic stem cell research, energy, euthanasia, climate change, gun control, healthcare, homeland security, immigration, private property, religion, same-sex marriage, social security, taxes, the role of the United Nations, and welfare, they are, in reality, but two sides of the same coin and the difference between liberal and conservative governments in the West is generally superficial since the world revolves around economic as opposed to social interests. Both liberals and conservatives are secular and believe in the separation of church and state. Both believe, not in the Great Prophet Moses, the Great Prophet Jesus or the Great Prophet Muhammad (a) but in the Great Profit Margin. Both serve the interests of the global economic elites as opposed to the interests of God, the Prophets, and the people. They place their trust, not in God, but in the Market, some type of Supreme Force that “regulates itself.” We just need to submit to it. We, believers in God and followers of His Prophets, however, hold that human beings were not created to serve the economy but rather the economy was created to serve people.
Although conservatism, like liberalism, has been co-opted by the economic elites, the neocons, and the alt-right, who are just as diabolical as the liberal degenerates they denounce, having turned conservatism into savage capitalism, racism, sexism, and imperialism, there are some conservatives with whom traditional Muslims can make common cause. This would include cultural conservatives, moral conservatives, religious conservatives, fiscal conservatives, paleo-conservatives, and traditionalist conservatives — but certainly not neoconservatives.
Despite their shortcomings, shortsightedness, and ignorance in certain areas, practicing Catholics have been firm when it comes to defending the fundamentals of their faith and its relevance in the world today. Orthodox Christians, in general, who tend to be even more conservative in theology and practice, also share universal, time-honored values. Although I am partial to the Catholic Church, both East and West, I admit that bridges can also be built with Protestants, particularly with conservative groups like the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Hutterites, as well as more liberal denominations like the Anglicans and Methodists.
I had long written off Southern Baptists, assuming erroneously that these predominantly white anglophones were all intolerant racists and white supremacists. My views changed when I met an old white preacher who was a Southern Baptist. He listened to a lecture I delivered in Jackson, Mississippi, in which I lambasted ISIS and shared the true teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Not only did I change the way he viewed Islam and Muslims, the man made me change the way I viewed Southern Baptists. Although Muslims tend to gravitate toward liberal Jews who share the same values, or lack thereof, of liberal Christians, there are plenty of conservative, orthodox, and even ultra-orthodox Jews who are very close to traditional Muslims in their worldview. Just like it is unfair to claim that all Muslims are anti-Jewish, it is also unfair to claim that all Jews are anti-Muslim. The message is clear: we, human beings, of different races, ethnicities, cultures, languages, religions, and political beliefs, must get to know one another. Then, and only then, will we see how much we share.
CI: What could Muslims in the US and Canada do to reach out to the conservative segment in society in these two countries?
Reaching out to conservatives is the same as reaching out to liberals. Make some calls. Send some emails. Knock on doors. Meet some people. Agree to agree. Focus on similarity. Learn from one another in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect. Work together toward common causes. Personally, I would focus more on religious conservatives, including some of the denominations I previously mentioned, than political conservatives. I would not advise Muslims to reach out to extreme Trumpians, the violent side of the alt-right, racist neocons, radical Zionists, and other overtly anti-Islamic parties. I know some brothers, both African American and Caucasian American, who dialogue with people on the fringe. It takes proper training and preparation — not to mention, courage. As normative Muslims, we should be willing to talk to anyone who wishes to talk to us in a constructive fashion. We should respond to those who reach out to us and, at times, we should also reach out to others. Some may or may not respond, but the offer of dialogue, peace, collaboration, and reconciliation should always be on the table.