Arab Christians and the Quran from the Origins of Islam to the Medieval Period
ARAB CHRISTIANS AND THE QURAN – Sample Book
Introduction – ARAB CHRISTIANS AND THE QURAN PDF
When Arab armies swept through the Middle East in the 640’s, they not only conquered largely Christian populations but also brought with them new scriptures they believed had been revealed by God, which claimed to have a message for Christians.
The ensuing relationship between the Muslim rulers and their Christian subjects was influenced by the teaching of the Qurʾan concerning Jesus who was only a messenger and not the Son of God as Christians believed. Jesus’ death by crucifixion and subsequent resurrection from death were cast into doubt by the Qurʾan. Muslims interpreted the Qurʾan to say that the scriptures of the Christians were corrupt.
How did Christians respond to these criticisms of their convictions? They were at least able to maintain their faith and practice after annual payments of a head tax. As time passed, conversions to Islam became more frequent not only to avoid taxation, but to gain opportunities for advancement in society. The purpose of Christian apologetic writing about Islam in the early centuries of the Islamic Era was both to enable Christians to defend their faith in the face of Muslim critique, and to stem the flow of Christians becoming Muslims.
The contributions in this collection of essays are focused on the time frame between the arrival of Islam and the end of the Abbasid period in the late thirteenth century when Christians had be-come a minority in the Middle East.
The focus of these chapters reflects the importance of the topic of Christian attitudes to the Qurʾan from the coming of Islam to the largely Christian Middle East. When Christians began to interpret the Qurʾan they found many references to Biblical characters and themes.
However, the overall message conveyed by the Scriptures of the Muslims seemed to demand a reinterpretation of those Biblical messages. The study of Arab Christian responses to the Qurʾan has been developing over recent years. The publication of Clare Wilde’s history of Christian attitudes to the Qurʾan in 2014 gives a panoramic view of the topic.1 The examination of detailed aspects of that history made in the fol-lowing chapters will enhance the study of the relationship between Christians and Muslims in the formative centuries after the arrival of Islam.
The relationship of Christians in the Arab world to the scriptures of the Muslim majority was the topic of the seventh Woodbrooke-Mingana Symposium on Arab Christianity and Islam held from 16–20 September 2013 at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Selly Oak, Birmingham. The Symposium has been organised on a four-yearly cycle by Professor David Thomas, of Birmingham University. On behalf of the participants in the series of Symposia, I would like to offer our grateful thanks to him for his leadership in the promo-tion of the study of Arab Christianity and Islam.
The first volume in the series edited by David entitled The History of Christian-Muslim Relations was published by Brill in 2003 and this contained the collected papers from the fourth Woodbrooke-Mingana Symposium held on 12–16 September 2001. It is indeed a fitting tribute to David’s commitment to publication that this volume appears in the same series after more than thirty other books making available research into the relationship between Arab Christians and Muslims.
The collected papers presented here are prefaced by a guest contribution from Sidney Griffith who has been a regular participant in the Mingana Symposia, but who was unable to be present at the 2013 event. We are grateful for his analysis of Arab Christian attitudes to the Qurʾan that he has presented here entitled, ‘The Qurʾan in Christian Arabic Literature: A Cursory Overview.’
Griffith argues that when Christian Arabic writers in the early Islamic period quoted from or alluded to the Qurʾan in their works, or even sometimes built their apologetic or polemical arguments on proof-texts drawn from the Qurʾan, they were deflecting challenges to Christian thought and practice, and com-mending the credibility of Christian doctrines in terms that would carry weight within the Arabic-speaking, Islamic milieu in which Christians and Muslims lived together.
Due to its role as the first Arabic book, the Qurʾan’s diction and idiom, even its distinctly religious vocabulary, entered the common parlance not only of Muslims, but the spoken and written Arabic of Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Christian Arab authors made use of proof-texts from the Qurʾan to enlist the authority of the Islamic scripture in their apologetic efforts to commend the veracity of Christian doctrines, albeit that these same doc-trines were in most instances at variance with the Qurʾan’s own teaching, and that there was a vast difference between the Christian and Muslim readings of the same texts.
In the first of the collected papers from the seventh Mingana Symposium, Juan-Pedro Monferrer-Sala examines how the Qurʾan comments on biblical personalities and stories that Christians had already interpreted for genera-tions before the arrival of the message brought by the Prophet Muhammad. Christian and Jewish versions of biblical stories in Arabic likely formed part of the narrative context in which the Qur’an emerged.
He compares the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the text of Genesis, in Rabbinic commentary, and in the Qurʾan, and seeks to examine certain compositional and organisational aspects of the text to see how the story was received into the Qurʾan. He argues that a wholly-narrative text lacking in additional ele-ments, clearly amassed various discursive accretions over time. These were of three kinds: narrative, homiletic and paraenetic, their essential function being to enable people to learn lessons from the past.
He identifies a pre-Qurʾanic Arabic version which was subsequently adapted, disseminated and glossed to suit the requirements of the Qurʾanic text that included not only the pre-Qurʾanic text, but also additional elements of the story (narrative, homiletic, and paraenetic), some of which must already have been in circulation prior to the arrival of Islam.
The composition of the Qurʾan became a topic of concern for Arab Christians in the early period of Muslim rule. Muslims claimed that the Qurʾan came down intact from heaven via the angel Gabriel and that Muhammad had been faithful and faultless in the recitation of the message. Christian questioning of the reliability of these claims was most clearly expressed in the correspon-dence of al-Kindī with al-Hāshimī which Sandra Keating argues was written in the second half of the 820’s.
She believes that the author of al-Kindī’s Risāla was a Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) Christian, associated with the court of al-Ma ʾmūn, and in conversation with a Muslim, al-Hāshimī, who had invited him to Islam. She points out that al-Kindī had extremely detailed knowledge of the Qurʾan and its early canonization, and that he indicates that some of what was once common knowledge of the collection and canonization of the ‘official’ muṣḥaf of the Qurʾan had been lost because it was suppressed.
Keating regards al-Kindī’s Risāla as a non-official witness to the redaction of the Qurʾan, as well as its early collection, in a carefully ordered account. While the accuracy of this account might be questioned, there is no doubt that al-Kindī is not inter-ested in supporting the ‘official version’ of the origins of the Qurʾan.
This alone makes the Risāla a valuable text for understanding the early process of the reception of the Qurʾan. Her particular focus is to show how the author turns the charge of taḥrīf against the Muslims, arguing that it is the Qurʾan that was manipulated during its collection, and that the text the Muslims possess is not completely reliable.
Emilio Platti’s contribution to the study of the al-Hāshimī-al-Kindī corre-spondence is a detailed study of the second part of al-Kindī’s work concerning the authenticity of Qurʾan. He agrees with Keating that ʿAbdallāh al-Hāshimī and al-Kindī were themselves high ranking dignitaries at al-Maʾ mūn’s court, as suggested by al-Kindī’s report of a speech given by the caliph to those who attended his counsel. Platti is more concerned than Keating to analyse the Muslim sources cited by the author relating to the collection of the Qurʾan. He notes firstly, the argument of al-Kindī that the text of the Qurʾan contains borrowed stories and religious material from two sources, the Torah and the Gospel.
Secondly, according to al-Kindī, people were reading the Qurʾan in so many different ways that the Caliph ʿUthmān decided to intervene and to ask some people to collect all available Qurʾanic material. Platti shows that al-Kindī’s information about the collection of the Qurʾan is in accord with some Islamic traditions which are older than the Islamic material edited by Bukhārī (d. 870), Ṭabarī (d. 923) and Ibn Abī Dāwūd (d. 929). Platti is convinced that this early material found in al-Kindī’s Risāla should be included in any future research on the collection of the Qurʾan.
Mark Beaumont provides a close reading of the apologetic writing of ʿAmmār al-Baṣrī, a theologian from the East Syrian church who was active in the first half of the ninth century, to evaluate ʿAmmār’s approach to the Qurʾan. ʿ
Ammār defends the truth of Christianity by arguing that the first Christian disciples spread the faith not by human means but by reliance on divine signs that, according to the Qurʾan, could not be copied. When Muhammad brought signs from God they were in continuity with earlier signs, such as the gospel that Jesus brought. Therefore, Muslims must accept that Christianity was ac-companied by these signs to which the Qurʾan testifies. However, the message of the Qurʾan is not actually in continuity with the message that Jesus brought in the Christian Gospels.
Since Muslims allege that Christians must have cor-rupted the pure teaching of Jesus, ʿAmmār mounts a defence of the authentic-ity of the Gospels by expressing astonishment that the disciples would have invented such a distasteful religion that centred on the worship of a crucified man, or such a narrow minded religion that prohibited re-marriage after di-vorce. The accusation of corruption is rather turned against Muslims who have to account for the way the Qurʾan has altered the teaching of the Gospels.
This is a theology of engagement that demonstrates attention to Muslim concerns that relies on carefully reasoned argument, and models for future generations of Christians, even to our own times, a respectful apologetic stance that does not refrain from asking Muslims the most difficult questions about the Qurʾan.
Gordon Nickel follows up the theme of the Muslim accusation that Christians corrupted their scriptures. He studies the passages in the Qurʾan that relate explicitly to Christians and their scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. He engages in a critical review of the interpretation of these texts in Qurʾan commentary that expects the Christian scriptures to predict the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.
He notes that there is a persistent tradi-tion in Muslim thought and practice to search for verses in the Bible that can be claimed as prophecies of Islam’s messenger. On the other hand, often at the same time and sometimes from the same writers, a Muslim accusation of bibli-cal falsification has been based on the perception that no prophecies of Islam’s messenger are to be found in the Bible.
David Thomas asks two related questions: How seriously did Christians take Islam in the early centuries of the Islamic era, and how seriously did they take
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