The event was just as remarkable as was it's founder and organizer, Professor Rudolf Siebert, Department of Comparative Religion, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo. The ninety-year old Siebert was a pilot for the German Airforce during WWII. Siebert was never a Nazi sympathizer and always stood strongly for his Catholic faith. As a war prisoner, Siebert landed in the USA where he settled and made an illustrious academic career.
Professor Siebert clearly follows the peace-seeking precepts of the Inter-University Center (IUC), founded in 1972 by Ivan Supek (1915 –2007), a Croatian physicist, philosopher, writer, playwright, and peace activist. As Rector of the University of Zagreb, Dr. Supek was co-founder of the international Pugwash movement of scientists and public leaders who sought to defuse the Cold War by creating a steady dialogue aimed at nuclear disarmament, and who in 1976 issued the Dubrovnik-Philadelphia declaration to that effect.
The IUC and the New Cold war
As the IUC booklet proudly proclaims, Dubrovnik continues to serve as “a bridge between Regions of Europe and with the World”. This mission is all the more important as the New Cold War, now with a New Christian Russia, rages unabated. For Professor Siebert, it was the 41st annual forum he would like to alternate with Yalta, Russia.
Was Shakespeare English?
As if by Providence, this time, in addition to speakers from Germany, France, Croatia and the USA, two presenters with a very strong Russian background came to the forum. One of them was a Russian born, London based film director Alicia Maksimova, who presented her documentary with the intriguing title, “Was Shakespeare English?”
For 97 minutes, the audience was spellbound as the film provided a persuasive answer to the real identity of a man who wrote Shakespeare works. It appears that under the commonly accepted English mask, there was hiding an Italian Calvinist of Sicilian origin, probably born in Messina, a political immigrant, who, in an effort to escape religious persecution by the Holy Inquisition, spent the second half of his life in England in exile.
Their stories suggest the playwright's remarkably familiarity with the Italian topography, Renaissance, Medieval and Classical literature, history, navigation, law, fashion and the way of life, a familiarity that would have been inaccessible even to the most sophisticated English traveler of the time, much less to a common man who has never set foot outside of England.
The film is a docu-voyage shot in beautiful settings; it makes the detailed knowledge of Shakespeare's plays accessible to everyone.
The other presenter with a strong Russian background was the author of this report, a former Soviet defector and professor of Russian Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and now president of Russia & America Goodwill Association (RAGA.org), a non-profit organization of Americans for better relations with Russia. I talked about John Morrow’s booklet “Six Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of His Time” and my translation of it into Russian.
A Global Peace Science book gift from St. Petersburg
At first, I presented to Professor Siebert a gift from St. Petersburg from Dr. Leo Semashko, a Russian philosopher and peace champion, who a long time ago turned away from the Marxist theory of class struggle and then, twelve years ago, created his own Peace Science, as well as the Global Harmony Association (GHA). The gift was a hefty volume of “Global Peace Science”, a collection of writings of “173 co-authors from 34 countries”, published in New Delhi in 2016. Many authors are from the USA: Noam Chomsky, William Blum, Rene Wadlow, Sharon Tennison, Naomi Klein, Stephen Lendman, and of course Rudolf Siebert who has been also advocating for better US-Russia relations.
Semashko’s peace effort is remarkable for it's global outreach. Besides the American and Russian authors (Nicholas Roerich, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Julia Budnikova, Yuri Tsymbalist et al), there are also authors from Ireland, France, Greece, Israel, and India. The current president of GHA Dr. Subhash Chandra and former President of India, the late Abdul Kalam (2002-2007) was among its founders.
4. In view of the IUC’s well-established reputation as a place of East-West dialogue, they also got a copy of Semashko’s Global Peace Science volume and John Andrew Morrow’s book.
Professor Siebert’s invitation
Soon I got Siebert’s invitation to his 41st course “The Future of Religion: Civilization or Barbarism?” With the rise of islamophobia in the US, EU and elsewhere, I chose to report about the work of an American scholar, who has argued that ISIL-style terrorism may represent various militant Islamic sects but is far removed from Islam’s mainstream.
About two years ago, after sending out a RAGA newsletter, I got a letter from a certain professor John Morrow who ask me to translate into Russian a series of treaties that the Prophet Muhammad made with a number of Christian communities. Among other things, the Prophet commanded the Muslims not to attack the Christians, but protect them from the attackers. Prof. John Marrow asked me to translate his booklet “Six Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad” into Russian as soon as possible “for the benefit of all people of Russia, Muslims and non-Muslims”.
I thought it was a good idea. However, not being a specialist on Islam and not knowing Arabic, I asked John to give me a scholarly justification for treating the covenants as authentic sources of Islamic theology. John soon sent me a hefty volume “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World” published in the USA in 2013.
I read the volume with great interest, especially, since I knew something about the topic. While studying anthropology and ethnic studies at the Moscow State University in the USSR, I took one semester of Arabic and attended the course on the history of religion. I knew that Islam emerged, as an Abrahamic faith in kinship with both Judaism and Christianity and that Jesus was regarded one of the prophets. I also knew that there were periods when the Muslim rulers were rather tolerant of Christians. In short, I found John’s argument persuasive and agreed to translate his booklet of primary sources.
As John explains it in the introduction, “If the Qur’an has been ignored, so has the Sunnah, and the single most neglected aspect of the Sunnah consists of the letters, treaties, and covenants of the Prophet Muhammad… If most Muslims know selected surahs from the Qur’an, and a handful of hadith, few, if any are familiar with the more than three hundred letters, treaties, and covenants produced by the Prophet, may Almighty Allah bless him and his holy household.”
John focused on six manuscripts he extracted from the Sunnah: the Covenant (aka firman or achtiname) of the Prophet Muhammad with:
(1) the Monks of Mount Sinai
(2) the Christians of Persia
(3) the Christians of Najran (on the border of today’s Yemen and Saudi Arabia)
(4) the Christians of the World (Mount Carmel manuscript)
(5) the Christians of the World (Cairo manuscript)
(6) and the Covenant with the Assyrian Christians.
John himself translated the above manuscripts from Arabic to English, except the 2nd and the 6th which he borrowed from previous translators.
- “If a monk or pilgrim seeks protection, in mountain or valley, in a cave or in tilled fields, in the plain, in the desert, or in a church, I am behind them, defending them from every enemy… for they [the monks and the pilgrims] are my protégés and my subjects”.
- “A bishop shall not be removed from his bishopric, nor a monk from his monastery, nor a hermit from his tower, nor shall a pilgrim be hindered from his pilgrimage”.
- “No churches shall be destroyed, nor shall the money from their churches be used for the building of mosques or houses for the Muslims. Whoever does such a thing violates Allah’s covenant and dissents from the Messenger of Allah”.
- “No unjust tax will be imposed, and with the People of the Book there is to be no strife, unless it be over what is for the good”.
- “If a Christian woman enters a Muslim household, she shall be received with kindness, and she shall be given opportunity to pray in her church; there shall be no dispute between her and a man who loves her religion”.
All six covenants project the same friendly and protective attitude toward Christians. All six command reciprocity from the Christians. One reads: “Christians shall not be asked to fight for Moslems against the enemies of the Faith, neither shall Moslems at war with foreign nations or engaged in massacre constrain Christians to make common cause with them against the enemy”.
Another says that when “it becomes necessary for them (Christians) to hide a Moslem in their own mansions or houses, they shall give him a place to lie, and take care of him, neither forsaking him, nor leaving him without food, so long as he shall be in hiding”.
One can easily agree with John’s conclusion: “I hope and pray that the publication of these Six Covenants of the Prophet with the Christians of His Time will contribute to the spread of peace, justice, and love throughout the Muslim world. How shameful it is that Takfiri terrorists have soiled the image of Islam, presenting it as a religion of hate and violence… It is high time that we bring back the beauty of Islam”.
John Morrow, an American professor and Muslim peace activist
First a few words about the publisher of these manuscripts. According to his site, “Dr. John Andrew Morrow was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1971. Raised in a multilingual family, he lived in Montreal for ten years and in the Greater Toronto Area for another twenty. The product of a Catholic education, he completed his elementary school in French, his high school in English, and his university studies in English, French, and Spanish. He embraced Islam at the age of 16 after which he adopted the name Ilyas ‘Abd al-‘Alim Islam. After completing his Honors BA, MA, and PhD at the University of Toronto, where he acquired expertise in Hispanic, Native, and Islamic Studies, he pursued post-graduate studies in Arabic in Morocco and the United States”.
John is a full professor of Spanish and Islamic Studies at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Recently he reported that his booklet, translated into 13 languages, including the main European languages and Russian, as well as Azeri (for which I contacted my friend in Azerbaijan), is about to be published in one volume. A separate translation into Azeri, with John’s introduction, is already out.
John is not just a scholar, but also pro-peace activist. He and his Muslim associates came up with the so-called Covenants Initiative, an appeal to Muslims of all countries to sign a declaration of empathy with all Christians who have suffered from terrorism throughout the Middle East. It asks Muslims to:
<<take a vigorous, proactive, and public stance in support of peaceful Christians presently being attacked by some seriously misguided “Muslims” >>.
In April 2016, I met John during his visit to Washington DC to receive the Interfaith Service Award by Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) “for his efforts to encourage interfaith dialogue and cooperation”.
In August 2016, a number of Grand Muftis, including the Grand Shaykh of Al-Azhar (the highest authority in Sunni Islam), issued a fatwa that explicitly declares that “Salafi-takfirists, Daesh (so-called ‘Islamic State’) and similar extremist groups” are not Muslims. This happened during a conference in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. A similar statement from the Russian Council of Muftis followed. John was elated: “In one fell swoop, Wahhabism, the official state religion of only two Muslim countries—Saudi Arabia and Qatar—was not part of the majority Muslim agenda any longer.”
Among other reports, attracting my attention was “Shame as a means of social control” by Francis Brassard of Rochester Institute of Technology in Dubrovnik. It was the story of Mahatma Gandhi when he began his career as a lawyer in South Africa. The young Gandhi was so ashamed of his Indian origin and culture that he was always immaculately dressed in suit and tie as a real British gentleman. Only later in life, when he became a champion of the poor and downtrodden, did Gandhi turn to the simplicity of native attire and behavior.
This reminded me of the man whom Gandhi admired, the Russian novelist and philosopher Leo Tolstoy. Gandhi admired Tolstoy not just for the teaching of non-resistance to evil by violence, but also for his turning to the simplicity of Russian peasant attire to signal to the world that his concerns are those of the Russian people.
“Desacralization of the World”
At this year marks the 100th anniversary since the downfall of the tsar and the beginning of a 73-year long Communist experiment in Russia which defined the 20th century, the question arises: What would have happened, if Russia did not abandon its national identity, rooted in Christianity, in favor of Marxism-Leninism, a radical utopian ideology in the garb of “Western”science, progress, and civilization? What if Russia had rejected the temptation of both Western capitalism and Western anti-capitalism in the form of world revolution to abolish all exploitation, inequality and injustice? What if Russia rejected the “science” of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and stayed with the wisdom and ethical imperatives of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy?
It appears that by opting for a Western “progressive” theory and rejecting its own heritage Russia lost a lot, and gained very little. This is a question to be answered at next such forum whose topic we defined as “Desacralization of Life in Modern World”. After all, the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 was the first to introduce not just “desacralization,” but also desecration of all religious objects--of all confessions--on a mass scale of totalitarian state.
One of the delights in Dubrovnik was walking in Old Town (Stari grad) with its mix of ethnic cultures of the Croates, Serbs, and Bosnians; with Catholic churches co-exiting with Christian Orthodox, a Mosque and a Synagogue. What a delight it was just to absorb Dubrovnik’s ancient Latin and Slavic heritage! However, the highlight of our stay in Dubrovnik was the banquette that Professor Siebert gracefully arranged for Alicia and me in Hotel Grand Villa Argentina. After sharing delicious servings of seafood, there came the time-honored ritual of raising toasts for all the guests and for the glorious occasion itself.
I was not talking of a bird of prey seen on several European coats of arms. As a contract interpreter for US State Department, I traveled across all the states. The best state symbol I saw, was that of Louisiana where the French and Anglo cultures have been fused with that of native Indians. It was the image of Pelican, a Bird of Peace, known to be a good provider for its young.
According to Wikipedia, “In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood by wounding her own breast when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican came to symbolize the Passion of Jesus and the Eucharist, and usurped the image of the lamb and the flag. A reference to this mythical characteristic is contained in the hymn by Saint Thomas Aquinas, "Adoro te devote" or "Humbly We Adore Thee", where in the penultimate verse he describes Christ as the "loving divine pelican, able to provide nourishment from his breast"
“I envision the future of the EU, USA and Russia in the image of Pelican, a bird of Peace, a diligent provider for its dependents”. I was delighted that all present gracefully accepted my toast.
Vladislav Krasnov (aka W. George Krasnow), Ph.D., former professor and head of Russian Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, California, the founder and president of Russia & America Goodwill Association (www.RAGA.org).
All statements in this report are an opinion of the author. Act at your own risk. Russia & America Goodwill Association (RAGA) is not responsible for the content of the article. Any views or opinions presented in this report are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RAGA. Any liability in respect to this communication remain with the author.