1: Give an incident of Early Christian-Muslim encounters. What is your impression of this incident?
2: The first verse/command revealed to the prophet was to recite/read. What do you think are the implications of this command for the nature of Islam as a religion and more importantly the significance of knowledge and learning to the Muslim way of life?
Dialogue between Christians and Muslims at its root is contentious, a debate forever asking, which of the two religions has a patented, exclusive right to the truth regarding matters of the so-called ‘Divine’. Gregory Bar Habraeus was a Bishop in the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 13th Century. In 1268 A.D. Gregory Bar Habraeus engaged Muslims in a dialogical encounter that resonated in a tone reminiscent of a modern political debate.
In 1268 A.D.The Muslims wrote in their objection of Christianity and Habraeus, “He (Jesus) was the expected one. But he is a prophet and a servant of God and not the Son of God. For God has said in the Koran: “God is one, He was not born, nor was he given to birth, and there is none like unto him.” And that the Koran is truthful is established by the truthfulness of our prophet, which is confirmed in three ways: First, the miracles that he had performed, as this book (Koran), which he spoke, while he was unlettered, and as the water that flowed from between his fingers, and as his foreknowledge. For he said that the Romans will be defeated, but his people will prosper and dominate the East and the West, and thus has happened. Second, is his virtuous manner. For he was quiet, humble, merciful and just. He did not lie nor transgress, but rather he was diligent, prosperous and victorious. Third, his name was mentioned in the Torah and the Gospel.”
Gregory Bar Habraeus responded, “The issue of the book and that of the miracles which are recounted, and the words of the foreknowledge are merely motivating and stimulating words to his partisans in order to more become brave in battles for the hope. Second, concerning the virtues, which you have alleged, are not signs of prophesy, seeing that even your prophet had praised the infidel king, Anousharwan with such virtues. Nor is the victory a sign of prophesy, because Alexander was even more victorious. 3: if he, Muhammad were mentioned in the Torah, and the Gospel, it would not have been hidden from us.”
What do I think of this incident?
The encounter between Gregory Bar Habraeus and Muslims represents healthy theological dialogue. Though ‘healthy theological dialogue’ could be construed as an oxymoron, it is however analogous to a hamster on a wheel who expends a great deal of energy only to end up at the same place it began. Similarly theological encounters very rarely, if ever, get anywhere in the way of tolerance, or mutual understanding.
2. The first verse/command revealed to the prophet was to recite/read. What do you think are the implications of this command for the nature of Islam as a religion and more importantly the significance of knowledge and learning to the Muslim way of life?
Since the first word is reported to have come directly from the arch angel Gabriel it implies that a Muslim is to believe in Angels, and that these Angels are capable of bringing forth revelation from the God who supposedly created the heavens and the Earth. The supernatural origins of Muhammad’s command to ‘Read/Recite’ further implies that an individual Muslim’s cognitive process must digress from notions of rationalism and transcend the empirical realm of what is understood as four dimensional reality: length; width; height; time/space. Accepting the word ‘Iqraa’(read/recite) as having a divine origin is a psychological acceptance that leads to a metaphysical perception establishing in Muslims an existential relationship to their own consciousness. All religions do this, and Islam is no different. Angels, demons, devils, jinns, and God, or gods are the actors in what can utterly be defined as a rich psycho-drama, from Iblis’ refusal to bow down to Adam to Jesus being raised from a physical death in Christianity. It could be argued that religion rivals both Hollywood and Broadway.
The acceptance of the word ‘Iqraa’ begins a psychological procession in the Muslim in a departure from rationalism into an altered psychological state of a metaphysical speculation, consequently ushering forth an existential contemplation of the self. Such is faith. Existential contemplation can be a productive psychological place as the word ‘Iqraa’ establishes a Muslim creed that is essentially introverted in nature. Salat or prayer lays the foundation of an introverted relationship that a Muslim has with God.
Al Khwarizmi a Muslim mathematician wrote the book ‘Ilm Al-Jabr’ Wa’l Muqabalah’ which introduced modern ‘Algebra’ to the world. Could this heady, introverted state of existential contemplation on behalf of the Muslim lead to a sound and highly structured branch of Modern mathematics less than 200 years after the death of Muhammad? A supposed angel tells an unlettered man to read and recite and 200 years later a Muslim discovers a highly complex mathematical system? The question now becomes: was Al Khwarizmi a mathematical genius because of Islam or was he a genius because he was simply a genius? Mozart’s genius in music is not tied up with Christianity. Mozart was a genius because Mozart was a genius. If Christianity laid claim to Mozart’s genius-Christianity would assume an unscrupulously pretentious position.
Iqraa is the beginning of a conservative political line-a line evolving into the Holy Quran and the establishment of the religion of Islam. The Muslim way of life establishes allegiance and loyalty to Islam which is in my view a political party. To continue to look at Islam as a benign religion is to be naïve and unfamiliar with the principles that fuel Islam, political principles and precepts hidden between ayah’s of the Quran open to the interpretation Islamic scholars with hidden political agendas. The Political party of Islam is fragmented, but the West (synonymous with modernism) doesn’t run like a well-oiled machine either.