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Muslim-Christian Polemics Across the Mediterranean

Muslim-Christian Polemics Across the Mediterranean: The Splendid Replies of Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī (d. 684/1285)

  • Book Title:
 Muslim Christian Polemics Across The Mediterranean
  • Book Author:
Diego R Sarrió Cucarella
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  1. Some Matters of Usage xi
  2. Acknowledgements xii
  3. Introduction 1
  4. Islam, Irrelevant for Christianity? 2
  5. The Church Has Also a High Regard for the Muslims 6
  6. The Exclusionary Dimension of Religious Identity 10
  7. Carl Schmitt and the Inescapability of the Political 12
  8. Freeing Religion from Social Antagonism 14
  9. The New Comparative Theology and Christian-Muslim Polemics 15
  10. The Mirror of the Other 19
  11. Outline 25
  12. A Scholarly Life in Defense of Islam 27
    1. The Political Context: A World in Convulsion 28
    1. Muslim-Christian Interaction in Egypt during the Thirteenth Century 30
    1. A Scholarly Life 36
      1. Primary and Secondary Sources 36
      1. Biographical Data, Education, and Teaching Posts 37
      1. In Defense of Islam 41
    1. Al-Qarāfī’s Contacts with the People of the Book 45
    1. Al-Qarāfī in Previous Scholarship 47
      1. The Jurist and the Theologian 47
      1. The Polemicist 51
    1. Concluding Remarks 57
  13. A Handbook for Polemics 60
  14. Date of Composition 60
  15. A Christian Argumentation from the Qurʾān 62
  16. Structure and Contents: A General Overview 65
  17. A Handbook for Polemics 67
  18. viii contents
  19. Written Sources 69
    1. Paul of Antioch’s Risāla ilā baʿḍ aṣdiqāʾihi alladhīna bi-Ṣaydā min al-muslimīn 69
    1. Al-Jaʿfarī’s Takhjīl man ḥarrafa al-Tawrāh wa-l-Injīl 74
    1. Al-Qurubī’s al-Iʿlām bi-mā fī dīn al-Naṣārā min al-fasād wa-l-awhām 82
    1. Al-Khazrajī’s Maqāmiʿ al-ṣulbān 90
    1. Al-Samawʾal al-Maghribī’s Ifḥām al-Yahūd 94
  20. Concluding Remarks 96
  21. Al-Qarāfī’s Reply to the Letter to a Muslim Friend 100
    1. A Blind Nation and an Ignorant Sect 101
    1. Theology of Religions: Faith among Faiths 106
      1. Muammad: A Prophet for the Pagan Arabs 108
      1. The Law of Justice and the Law of Grace 114
    1. Theology of the Word of God: The Qurʾānic Proof for Christianity 121
      1. Jesus the Messiah: A Spirit of God and His Word 124
      1. The Qurʾān and Christian Liturgy 126
      1. That Is The Book, Wherein There Is No Doubt 127
      1. Christians Should Not Be Considered Polytheists 128
    1. Theology of Divinity: Philosophizing about God 131
      1. If Muslims Knew What We Mean 131
      1. Human Language and God 135
      1. A Substance Not Like Created Substances 136
    1. Concluding Remarks 137
  22. Apologia Pro Religione Islamica 141
  23. Jesus the Messiah, the Prophet Who Did Not Die 142
    1. Crucifixion: Reality or Delusion? 142
    1. The Probative Value of the Miracles of Jesus 147
    1. The Incarnation: An Ontological Impossibility 151
  24. The Qurʾān under Fire 155
    1. Errors in the Qurʾān 155
    1. Muslim Disputes about the Qurʾān 157
  25. The Abrogation and Falsification of the Torah 161
    1. Can God Change His Mind? 162
    1. The Falsification of the Torah 166
  26. contents ix
  27. Miscellanea 169
    1. The Ḥadīth of the Pen and Paper 169
    1. The Physical Pleasures of Paradise 170
    1. Fighting for God’s Cause: Virtue or Vice? 173
  28. Concluding Remarks 176
  29. Christianity and the Innovation of A Wretched God 178
    1. The Christian Creed: Viler than Treachery 180
    1. Christian Innovated Practice and Behavior 184
      1. Christians and Circumcision 186
      1. Consumption of Pork 189
      1. The Offering of Bread and Wine 189
    1. An Islamic Theologoumenon: The Corruption of Early Christianity 192
      1. Paul’s Self-Immolation and the Ploy to Divide the Christians 193
      1. The Cunning Jewish King 195
      1. State-Manufactured Christianity 200
    1. Christian Liturgical Prayers 201
    1. Sin, Repentance, and Salvation 205
      1. Repentance and the Obliteration of Sins 207
      1. The Individual Nature of Sin 208
      1. Purification by Good Deeds 209
      1. What Salvation? 210
    1. The Christian God: A Philosophical and Theological Non-starter 211
    1. Concluding Remarks 213
  30. The Prophet Foretold 217
  31. The Proofs of Prophecy 219
  32. Muslims and the Bible: An Abiding Tension 221
  33. The Arabicization of Biblical History 223
  34. The Falsification of Previous Scriptures 223
  35. Whose Name Will Be Aḥmad 225
  36. Solutions to a Paradox 229
  37. Imagine a Pagan Arriving in Our Land 231
  38. Structure and Sources of Chapter Four 234
  39. Exegetical Themes 237
    1. Prediction of the Islamic umma 237
    1. Prediction of Muammad 239
  40. x contents
    1. The Promised Paraclete 242
    1. Muammad’s Name and Description 244
    1. Abrahamic Descent through Ishmael and Hagar 246
    1. Universality of Muammad’s Mission 248
    1. Subjugation of the Nations 249
    1. Muammad’s Fight against Error and Unbelief 250
    1. The Finality of Islam and the Abrogation of Prior Religion 251
    1. Mecca’s Role and Elevated Status 252
    1. Biblical References to Islamic Rituals 253
    1. The Original Arab Character of Islam and the Desert Motif 253
  41. 10 Concluding Remarks 254
  42. Conclusion: The Prospects of Christian-Muslim Theological Dialogue 258
  43. Appendix A: Al-Qarāfī’s Literary Production 273
  44. Appendix B: The Arguments from The Letter to a Muslim Friend 281
  45. Appendix C: The Corruption of Early Christianity 286
  46. Appendix D: Biblical Predictions 291
  47. Bibliography 303
  48. Main Primary Sources: Editions and Translations 303
  49. Other Primary Sources: Editions and Translations 305
  50. Secondary Sources 316
  51. Biblical References 347
  52. Qurʾānic References 350
  53. General Index 353

The Church Has Also a High Regard for the Muslims

The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) was a turning-point in the history of the way Catholics view other religions.17 The official teaching of the Catholic Church moved away from a “default position of hostility”18 and, for the first time, spoke respectfully about other religious traditions in general and Islam in particular:

The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, first among whom are the Muslims: they profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day (Lumen Gentium, 16).

The church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humanity. They endeavor to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own (Nostra Aetate, 3).

Magisterial documents always include references to previous church teaching and papal statements on the issue at hand with a view to emphasizing the continuity of tradition. Significantly, in the case of Islam, the only positive reference that the redactors of Nostra Aetate were able to produce was a let-ter sent in 1076 by Pope Gregory vii to the Muslim ruler of Béjaïa in present-day Algeria, a letter that stands in dissonance with the ‘crusading spirit’ of the time.19

In it, the Pope expressed his conviction that Muslims and Christians owed charity to one another more particularly than to the remaining peoples, “for we believe and confess one God, although in different ways, and praise and worship him daily as the creator of all ages and the ruler of this world.”20 This nuanced recognition of the Muslim faith in the one God did not become,  however, the official position of the Catholic Church. Only in 1959 did the Vatican suppress a paragraph from Pope Leo xiii’s ‘Consecration of the human race to Christ the King’ in which the faithful entreated Christ to be “King of all those who are still involved in the darkness of idolatry or of Islamism (qui in tenebris idolatriae aut islamismi adhuc versantur), and refuse not to draw them into the light and kingdom of God.” In the same year were abolished sev-eral formulas for the baptism of adults in which the former Muslim now seek-ing baptism was warned to abhor the Mohammedan perfidy (Mahumeticam perfidiam) and to reject the wicked sect of unbelievers (pravam sectam infidelitatis).21

When read against the backdrop of these texts, Vatican ii state-ments on Islam take on a more profound significance and it becomes clear how the council marked a before and an after in the history of Catholic engage-ment with Islam.22

The new orientation found almost immediate expression in numerous ini-tiatives of Christian-Muslim encounter. Many of these were promoted, on the Catholic side, by a special department of the Roman Curia for relations with believers of other religions established in 1964. Known at first as the Secretariat for Non-Christians, it was subsequently renamed the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The enthusiasm was high and many thought that the hostility of past centuries could be definitively replaced by a fraternal desire to know each other and work together for the sake of a brighter future.23

 The last decade or so, however, has seen an ever-growing disenchantment with the tangible results (or rather lack thereof) of post-conciliar Christian-Muslim engagement. Troll’s remark that the current phase of dialogue is character-ized by a “mood of sober realism” was cited above. José Luis Sánchez Nogales notes that it is not infrequent nowadays to meet a strong skepticism among Catholics with regard to their church’s engagement in interreligious dialogue in general, and especially, with Islam.

This skepticism, at times open opposi-tion, revolves around two major objections: first, interreligious dialogue is seen as an abandonment of the task of evangelization thereby posing a threat to the church’s own sense of identity; and, second, interreligious dialogue is simply inefficacious, not producing the desired fruit.24

Thus, it is no surprise that many saw a manifestation of this disenchant-ment taking place when the Vatican announced in March 2006, almost a year after the beginning of Benedict xvi’s pontificate, the decision to place the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue under the leadership of the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Most interestingly, in terms of the present investigation, the President of the latter council linked the decision with the difficulty of holding a “meaningful” doctrinal dialogue with those who do not share the Christian faith in Jesus Christ:

For a Buddhist, for example, God is not a person; for others, salvation consists in the dissolution of the “I,” while for a Christian it is always the salvation of his own person. Thus dialogue is very difficult. Doctrinal dialogue is meaningful among Christians of various confessions with whom we share faith in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, with believ-ers of other religions dialogue is always possible on the basis of culture. This is the intuition that is the foundation of the Pontifical Council for Culture:

 Culture is a common terrain in which believers and nonbeliev-ers or believers of diverse religions can dialogue. The common topic that unites us, John Paul ii said in unesco, is man; about whom we certainly can dialogue. Pope Benedict xvi therefore wishes to lead the dialogue with believers of other religions to the terrain of culture and of relations between cultures.25

The above statement is taken from an interview that Cardinal Paul Poupard gave to a news agency and it should therefore not be given more weight than it can bear. It is nevertheless significant that the Cardinal shares a still-wide-spread tendency to identify interreligious dialogue with doctrinal dialogue.

 This tendency, which reflects an understanding of religion that prioritizes the intellectual content of the faith traditions, explains the assumption that such a dialogue is only meaningful among Christians, since it requires a robust “com-mon foundation” on which to build.26

The same emphasis on the doctrinal level of dialogue appears in a book-length interview first published in German in 1996 in which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger expressed an important practical difficulty affecting Christian-Muslim dialogue, namely, the question of representation: “No one can speak for Islam as a whole; it has, as it were, no commonly regulated orthodoxy.” At a deeper level, the Cardinal also emphasized the fact that “the interplay of society, politics, and religion has a completely different structure in Islam as a whole . . . Islam has a total organization of life that is completely different from ours; it embraces simply everything.” It is this all-encompassing aspect of Islam as a socio-religious system that led him to conclude that “the question of dialogue with Islam is naturally much more complicated than, for example, an internal dialogue among Christians.”27

 In light of this comment, the deci-sion to merge the presidencies of the two pontifical councils could be seen to rest upon a desire to expand, not to reduce, the field of exchange between Christians and other believers (Muslims in particular), a desire motivated by the awareness that religion and culture are not as easily distinguishable from one another as a secularized West often tends to think.

As it happened, how-ever, Benedict xvi restored the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to its previous status in June 2007.28

Even so, some voices have continued to question the possibility of a real theological conversation between Christianity and Islam and to point out the meager results that post-conciliar dialogical engagement with Muslims has produced, the most quoted evidence in this respect being the precarious situ-ation of Christian minorities in several Muslim-majority countries.

 It is argued that there cannot be a properly theological dialogue with Islam, except in the broad terms of moral values.29 Christianity and Islam are two religious visions so profoundly different that the chances of finding common ground are greater in the terrain of culture and social concerns than on theological issues.

Why this loss of enthusiasm hardly a few decades after Vatican ii? Is it a temporary loss of momentum or should we take it as a confirmation that theo-logical dialogue between Christianity and Islam is indeed impossible, a chi-mera? Must we accept the paradox that these two religious traditions, in spite of their commonalities, represent in fact two radically opposing conceptions of the human-divine relationship destined for perpetual disagreement?

of recent publications, in which he explores the continuity and discontinuity between the new comparative theology and its nineteenth-century namesake, this scholar has developed a thought-provoking analysis of the modern history of religious discourse in the West.30 Nicholson focuses his study on what he calls “the inescapability of the political” in religious discourse, by which he means the exclusionary—the ‘us’ versus ‘them’—dimension of religious identity.

 It is precisely this inevitable political dimension of religion that the tradition of liberal theology has vainly sought to overcome since the Enlightenment. This effort of liberal theology to defuse the conflictive potential of religion explains the rise of the nineteenth-century comparative theology as opposed to tradi-tional apologetics; as it also explains the twentieth-century development of pluralism in the Christian theology of religions as opposed to both exclusivism and inclusivism.

On the terrain of the academic study of religion, this effort to eliminate antagonism from religious discourse is also connected with the unwillingness of many a scholar of religion today to engage in comparisons, invoking the incommensurability of religious traditions and/or the perverse effects of cul-tural hegemony.

Nicholson, however, rightly questions the ethical and intellectual responsibility of the tendency to take religious differences as simply substantive, rather than contrastive, that is, to presume that they “are simply ‘there,’ rather than being the contingent products of the complex processes….

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