Friday, March 11, 2016

The Pact of Umar

Copy of the Pact [source]
The Pact of Umar is a document that outlines rights and restrictions for Christians living in Muslim-held territory. Its true origin is uncertain, and different versions exist. Some of the points gleaned from the various versions follow:
  • The ruler would provide security for the Christian believers who follow the rules of the pact.
  • Prohibition against building new churches, places of worship, monasteries, monks or a new cell.
  • Prohibition against hanging a cross on the Churches.
  • Muslims should be allowed to enter Churches (for shelter) in any time, both in day and night.
  • Prohibition of Christians and Jews against raising their voices at prayer times.
  • Prohibition against teaching non-Muslim children the Qur'an.
  • Palm Sunday and Easter parades were banned.
  • Funerals should be conducted quietly.
  • Prohibition against burying non-Muslim dead near Muslims.
  • Prohibition against telling a lie about Muslims.
  • Prohibition against adopting a Muslim title of honor.
  • Prohibition against engraving Arabic inscriptions on signet seals.
  • Prohibition against non-Muslims to lead, govern or employ Muslims.
  • The worship places of non-Muslims must be lower in elevation than the lowest mosque in town.
  • The houses of non-Muslims must not be taller in elevation than the houses of Muslims.
It could have been worse: there could have been no Pact at all.

There is a legend that it was negotiated by Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem until his death on 11 March 638. After Arab armies conquered Jerusalem in 637, Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab came to Jerusalem; he and Sophronius (a Syrian Arab by descent) toured the city together. When the time came for Umar to pray, they were near a Christian church. Sophronius suggested to Umar that he enter the church to pray. Umar (supposedly) declined, because future Arabs might take it as a precedent and want to replace the church with a mosque. Sophronius was moved by the ruler's graciousness, and gave him the keys to the church, which remain in the hands of an Arab family to this day. (For a more historically accurate accounting of the keys, see here.)

Many scholars prefer to believe that the Pact is of later origin, and was retroactively ascribed the Umar because he was the first Arab ruler of Jerusalem. Another possible source is Caliph Umar II (no relation)

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