The Patent of Muhammad (Charter of Privileges)

The Patent of Mumammed:  A Charter of Privileges

The Patent of Mumammed:
A Charter of Privileges

In 628 C.E. Prophet Muhammad (s) granted a Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. This Charter is known by several names, such as The Patent of Muhammad, or the Actiname (Ashtiname) of Muhammad. It consisted of several clauses covering all aspects of human rights including such topics as the protection of Christians, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.

The Monastery of St. Catherines describes this as follows: “According to the tradition preserved at Sinai, Mohammed both knew and visited the monastery and the Sinai fathers. The Koran makes mention of the Sinai holy sites. In the second year of the Hegira, corresponding to AD 626, a delegation from Sinai requested a letter of protection from Mohammed. This was granted, and authorized by him when he placed his hand upon the document. In AD 1517, Sultan Selim I confirmed the monastery’s prerogatives, but took the original letter of protection for safekeeping to the royal treasury in Constantinople. At the same time, he gave the monastery certified copies of this document, each depicting the hand print of Mohammed in token of his having touched the original.[1]

The authenticity of this document was widely accepted until the 19th century. The official history is as follows:

The original ashtiname, or order of protection, was taken to the Ottoman Treasury in Istanbul by Caliph Selim I in 1517, and replaced with a certified copy. Several certified historical copies are displayed in the library of St Catherine, some of which are witnessed by the judges of Islam to affirm historical authenticity. The monks claims that during the Conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman sultan Selim I in 1517, the original document was seized from the monastery by Ottoman soldiers and taken to Selim’s palace in Istanbul for safekeeping.[2][3] A copy was then made to compensate for its loss at the monastery.[2] It also seems that the charter was renewed under the new rulers, as other documents in the archive suggest.[4] Traditions about the tolerance shown towards the monastery were reported in governmental documents issued in Cairo and during the period of Ottoman rule (1517–1798), the Pasha of Egypt annually reaffirmed its protections.[2][5]

The authenticity of this document has been doubted by scholars, who cite similar letters in the possession of other religious communities — such as Muhammad’s letter to the Christians of Najrān, whose text is preserved in the Chronicle of Séert.[2] Leaving aside questions of its provenance, the authority of this Charter of Privileges has been confirmed over and over again throughout history. Both the Ottoman Empire and the Pasha of Egypt confirmed its protections throughout history.[2] Even today, during this period of persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East, Muslim scholars such as Muqtedar Khan[6] and organizations such as The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada[7] point to the universality of this document and call for other Muslims to honor it.

St Catherine’s Monastery

English Translation of the Charter of Privileges by Richard Peacocke


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. None shall presume to change their judges or governors, but they shall remain in their office, without being deported.
  5. No one shall molest them when they are travelling on the road.
  6. Whatever churches they are possessed of, no one is to deprive them of them.
  7. Whosoever shall annul any of one of these my decrees, let him know positively that he annuls the ordinance of God.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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].
  15. 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.
  16. That no person hinder them from repairing their churches.
  17. 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.
  18. No one shall bear arms against them, but, on the contrary, the Muslims shall wage war for them.
  19. 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.[5]

[1] http://www.sinaimonastery.com/en/index.php?lid=68
[2] Ratliff, “The monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai and the Christian communities of the Caliphate.”
[3] Lafontaine-Dosogne, “Le Monastère du Sinaï: creuset de culture chrétiene (Xe-XIIIe siècle)”, p. 105.
[4] Atiya, “The Monastery of St. Catherine and the Mount Sinai Expedition”. p. 578.
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achtiname_of_Muhammad
[6] http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2009/12/30/prophet-muhammads-promise-to-christians/125
[7] http://www.islamicsupremecouncil.com/theeternalpromise.htm