Sei sulla pagina 1di 405

Edited by

A T A U L L A H SIDDIQUI

ISMAIL RAJI AL-FARUQI

E d i t e d by
ATAULLAH SIDDIQUI

T H E ISLAMIC

FOUNDATION

AND
T H E INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ISLAMIC T H O U G H T

> T h e Islamic Foundation, 1998/1419 11


T h e International Institute of Islamic T h o u g h t
Published by

T h e Islamic Foundation,
Markficld Conference Centre,
Ratby Lane, Markfield,
Leicester LE67 9sy,
United Kingdom
Tel: (0T530) 244944
Fax: (01530) 244946
E-mail:
Web

i-foiindation@islamic-foundation.org.uk

site:http://www.islaniic-foundation.org.uk/islanifound

T h e International Institute o f Islamic T h o u g h t ,


P.O. B o x 669, H c r n d o n , V A 20170-0669, U S A
Tel: (703) 4 7 * - " 3 3
Fax: (703) 471-3922
E - m a i l : iiit@iiit.org

ISBN
ISBN

(HB)
6 (PB)

o 86037 275 8
0 86037 276

A l l rights reserved. N o part o f this publication may be reproduced,


stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,
without the prior permission of the copyright owners.
Cover design: Imtiaze A . Manjra

Contents
Foreword

vii

Introduction

xi

Acknowledgements

xxx
PART I

Chapter One: The Essence of Religious Experience


in Islam

Chapter Two: Divine Transcendence and


Its Expression
Genesis and Early Development o f the Idea o f Divine
Transcendence
Divine Transcendence i n Pre-Islam

21
21
25

Mesopotamia and Arabia 25; The Hebrews and Their


Descendants 26; The Christians 30

Divine Transcendence in Islam


The Human

Capacity

to Understand 44; Tire

44
Human

Capacity to Misunderstand 48; The Expression of Divine

Transcendence in the Visual Arts 52; The Expression

of

Transcendence in Belles-Lettres 58; Safeguarding Belles-Lettres

Revelation From Changing Language and Culture 64

Chapter Three: The Role of Islam in Global InterReligious Dependence


iii

71

I . The Ideational Relation

72

A. Judaism and Christianity 73; B. The Other Religions

77; C. Islam's Relation to all Humans Uberhaupt 81

I I . The Practical Relation


A. 77ie Jewish Ummah 86; B. The Christian
88; C.

85
Ummah

Ummah(s) of Other Religions 89

I I I . Conclusion: Islam's Contribution to Global


Religious Interdependence
Discussion

91
93

Chapter Four: A Comparison of the Islamic and


Christian Approaches to Hebrew Scripture

109

PART I I

Chapter Five: Islam and Other Faiths


I . The World's Need for Humane Universalism
I I . The Lesson o f Islam

129
129
131

A . The Essence 131; B. Implications for Other Faiths


C.

133;

The Theory of Man 137; D. The History 146

I I I . The Basis for Inter-Religious Cooperation: Islamic


Humanism

Chapter Six: History of Religions: Its Nature and


Significance for Christian Education and the
Muslim-Christian Dialogue
I . The Nature o f History o f Religions

151

161
161

I . Reportage or the Collection of Data 161; 2. Construction


of Meaning-Wlwles

or the Systematization of Data

3. Judgement or Evaluation of Meaning-Wholes

168;

172

I I . The Significance o f History o f Religions for


Christian Education
I I I . The Significance o f History o f Religions for the
Christian-Muslim Dialogue
In Response to Dr. al-Faruqi Bernard E. Meland

iv

183
189
194

^'Chapter Seven: Common Bases Between the Two


Religions in Regard of Convictions and Points
of Agreement in the Spheres of Life
First. The Common Base
I . The Fields o f Cooperative Endeavour
1. In the Realm of Christian Awareness 217;

211
211
217

2. In the

Realm of Muslim Awareness 220; 3. In the Realm of Public


Human Affairs 224

^Chapter Eight: Islam and Christianity: Diatribe


or Dialogue
Precis
\
The Present Problem
Methodology o f Dialogue
Themes for Dialogue
Dialectic o f the Themes w i t h the Figurizations

241
241
244
250
256
258

A . Modern

Man and the State of Innocence 258;

B.

Justification

as Declaring

C.

or Making

Good

262;

Redemption as Otitic Fait Accompli 266

Prospects

269

A. The Catholic Church 269; B. Tire Protestants 270

Chapter Nine: Rights of Non-Muslims Under Islam:


Social and Cultural Aspects
Introduction
The Universalist Religions
The Ethnic Religions
The Position o f Islam
Inviting the Non-Believer to Share in the Summum
Bonum

287

The Necessity of Calling the Non-Believer

to Islam 287

The Freedom to Believe or N o t to Believe


The Non-Muslim's
to be Non-Convinced

281
281
282
283
284

Right to be Convinced 290; The Right


292; The Right to Convince Others

293; 77?e Freedom to be Different


v

295; The Right to

290

Perpetuate Themselves 297; Tlie Right to Work 298; The


Right to Joy and Beauty 299

Conclusion

301

PART I I I

Chapter Ten: O n the Nature of Islamic Da wah


. DaSvah Methodology

305
305

A . Da\vah

is not Coercive 305; B. Da'wah

Psychotropic Induction 307; C. Dacwah

Muslims
Rational

as well as Non-Muslims
Intellection

309; E.

Necessary 310; F. Da\vah

is not a

is Directed to

308; D. Dacwah

Da^wah

is

is

Rationally

is Anamnesis 311; G. Dacwah

is Ecumenical Par Excellence 312

I I . Da\vah Content

314

Chapter Eleven: DaSvah in the West: Promise


and Trial
. The Marvel of the Spread of Islam
I I . The Spiritual Bankruptcy o f the West
A . In the Realm of Knowledge of Man and Nature
B. In the Realm of Religion

319
319
320
320;

323

I I I . The Positive Appeal of Islam


IV. Muslim Hijrah or Emigration

325
329

A . The New Muhajirun

(Emigres) 329; B.

Islamic Emigre Mentality

331; C.

The

Un-

The Terrible Price c

Emigration 3 3 3; D. The Lost-Found Muhajirun: Tlie AfroAmericans 336

V The Muhajir as Instrument o f DaSvah


A.

The

Muhajir's

B. Da wah:Tlie
(

Awakening

Through

Only Justification for Hijrah

V I . Da'wah and World Order

338
Fire

338;

343

347

Glossary

353

Index

357
VI

Foreword
There was a time in my life . . . when all I cared about was proving
to myself that I could win my physical and intellectual existence
from the West. But, when I won it it became meaningless. I asked
f

myself: Who am I? A Palestinian, a philosopher, a liberal humanist?


My answer was: I am a Muslim I*

O n 27 M a y 1986, the M u s l i m W o r l d and the academic


community lost one o f its most energetic, engaging, and active
colleagues - Ismail Raji al-Faruqi. Publication o f Islam and Other
Faiths is a fitting occasion to remember and celebrate a M u s l i m
trailblazer o f the twentieth century.
In recent decades, the w o r l d o f Islam has had a number o f
prominent intellectuals who, combining the best education i n
Western universities w i t h their Islamic heritage, have attempte
both to explain Islam to n o n - M u s l i m audiences and to contribute to the contemporary interpretation and understanding
of Islam among Muslims. The growing Muslim communities i n
Europe and America has made the task that much more important. Ismail al-Faruqi was indeed a pioneer, one o f a select few
who blazed the trail for current and future generations.
For al-Faruqi, Islam was an all-encompassing ideology, the
primary identity o f a world-wide community o f believers and
the guiding principle for society and culture. This approach,
this wholistic Islamic world-view, was embodied i n a life and
career i n w h i c h he wrote extensively, lectured and consulted

M . T a r i q Q u r a i s h i . Ismail al-Faruqi: An Enduring Legacy (Plainficld, Indiana:


T h e M u s l i m Students Association, 1987), p. 9.

Vll

ISLAM AND OTHER IA1THS

w i t h Islamic movements and n a t i o n a l governments, and


organized Muslims i n both America and internationally.
Al-Faruqi, who saw the world through the prism o f his Islamic
faith and commitment, focused on issues o f identity, history,
belief, culture, social mores, and international relations. Whatever
the national and cultural differences across the M u s l i m World,
his analysis o f the strengths and weaknesses (past, present, and
future) o f M u s l i m societies began w i t h Islam - its presence i n
society and its necessary role i n development, issues o f identity,
a u t h e n t i c i t y , a c c u l t u r a t i o n , Western p o l i t i c a l and c u l t u r a l
imperialism, inter-religious understanding and dialogue all
were continuous themes i n his w r i t i n g .
Al-Faruqi effectively bridged the two worlds o f Islam and
the West. A f t e r c o m p l e t i n g graduate degrees i n Western
philosophy, he left America for Cairo where, from 1954 to 1958,
he immersed himself in the study o f Islam at al-Azhar University.
Returning to N o r t h America, he became Visiting Professor o f
Islamic Studies at the Institute o f Islamic Studies and a Fellow at
the Faculty o f Divinity, M c G i l l University from 1959 to 1961
where he studied C h r i s t i a n i t y and Judaism. H e began his
professional career as Professor o f Islamic Studies at the Central
Institute for Islamic Research i n Karachi, 1961-63, followed by
a year as V i s i t i n g Professor o f H i s t o r y o f Religions at the
University o f Chicago (1964). He joined the faculty o f Syracuse
University and i n 1968 became Professor o f Islamic Studies and
o f History o f Religions at Temple University, a post he retained
until his death i n 1986.
D u r i n g a professional life that spanned almost thirty years,
Ismail al-Faruqi authored, edited, or translated 25 books,
published more than 100 articles, was a visiting professor at more
than 23 universities i n Africa, Europe, the Middle East, South
and Southeast Asia, and served on the editorial boards o f seven
major j o u r n a l s . As he w o r k e d to establish Islamic Studies
programmes, recruit and train M u s l i m students, and organize
Muslim professionals, he also established and chaired the Islamic
Studies Steering C o m m i t t e e o f the A m e r i c a n Academy o f
Religion, a presence that has continued throughout the years.

Vlll

FOREWORD

A significant portion o f Ismail al-Faruqi s life was spent i n tireless


fforts both nationally and internationally for better understanding
between Christians and Muslims. H e d i d this t h r o u g h his
scholarship and p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n ecumenical dialogue. His
experience at M c G i l l University's Institute o f Islamic Studies
resulted i n a major work, Christian Ethics. A M u s l i m study of
Christianity, it was an ambitious two-year project during which
he read widely i n the history o f Christian thought and Christian
theology and had the o p p o r t u n i t y to enter i n t o extended
conversation and debate with colleagues such as Wilfred Cantwell
Smith, then Director o f the Institute, Charles Adams, and Stanley
Brice Frost, then Dean o f the Faculty o f Divinity. Christian Ethics
was a ground-breaking exercise - a modern-trained Muslims
analysis o f Christianity. Al-Faruqi combined an impressive breadth
o f scholarship w i t h tireless energy, voracious intellect, an
linguistic skills. W h i l e some m i g h t take issue w i t h his
interpretation and conclusions, he could not be faulted for not
doing his homework nor for his candour.
From the publication o f Christian Ethics i n 1967 until his death,
e was a major force i n Islam's dialogue w i t h other w o r l d
religions. As the collection o f articles i n Islam and Other Faiths
demonstrates, al-Faruqi's interest and involvement i n i n t e r religious dialogue was to continue throughout the rest o f his
life. Ismail al-Faruqi was a major voice and serious participant
in the emerging fields o f comparative religions and ecumenism.
Here was a scholar w h o demonstrated his knowledge o f the
scriptures and scholarly tradition o f the 'other*. As he travelled
around the world i n his capacitv as an Islamic scholar-activist,
he was also an active participant i n international ecumenical
meetings. As a leading Muslim spokesperson for Islam, al-Faruqi
became one o f a handful o f M u s l i m scholars k n o w n and
respected i n both Western academic and ecumenical circles. His
writings, speeches, participation and leadership role i n interreligious meetings and organizations sponsored by the World
Council o f Churches, the National Council o f Churches, the
Vatican, and the Inter-Religious Peace C o l l o q u i u m o f w h i c h
he was Vice-President from 1977 to 1982, made h i m the most

IX

ISLAM AND OTHLR FAITHS

visible and prolific Muslim contributor to the dialogue o f world


religions. In his writings, he set out the principles and bases for
Muslim participation i n inter-religious dialogue and social action.
As in many other areas, al-Faruqi served as an example to other
M u s l i m scholars o f the importance o f studying other faiths
seriously. This belief was institutionalized at Temple University
where al-Faruqi insisted that M u s l i m students seriously study
other faiths and write dissertations i n comparative religions.
A t the dawn o f the twenty-first century, the relationship o f
Islam to other faiths has never been more important. Globalization and the significant presence and force o f Islam i n the Muslim
World and the West make civilizational dialogue an imperative.
Ismail al-Faruqi provides a model to be emulated. W h i l e some
might disagree at times w i t h his analysis and conclusions, alFaruqi was a scholar w h o earned his right to participate i n an
inter-civilizational dialogue. He knew the sources o f Western
culture and thought and could debate and discuss them on an
equal footing w i t h all.
Ismail al-Faruqi was a tireless scholar-activist, w o r k i n g on all
fronts, domestically and internationally. As his former student
and first Ph.D., I had the privilege to study w i t h h i m and to
k n o w both Ismail and Lamya al-Faruqi personally as w e l l as
professionally. He took a reluctant graduate student and by the
force o f his personality and academic skills, he made Islam'come
alive' as a faith and civilization at a time when there was little
interest i n Islam or the study o f Islam i n American universities.
He was i n t u r n , creative, imaginative, challenging, provocative,
charming and, yes, committed. Islam and the teaching o f Islam
embodied his faith, profession, and vocation. I n the end, however
difficult i t is to summarize or evaluate his life, one can safely
say that given his belief that a M u s l i m was one whose submission
is a life-long struggle to realize or actualize God s W i l l , Ismail
al-Faruqi was indeed a mujahid.
Washington, D C
23 February 1998

John L . Esposito
Professor o f R e l i g i o n and International Affairs
Director, C e n t e r for
M u s l i m - C h r i s t i a n Understanding,
G e o r g e t o w n University

Introduction
Ismail Raji al-Faruqi came into an intellectual w o r l d o f his
own; shackled by circumstances, he fought to prove his ideas
right. He followed the view that not to say things clearly is not
to say them at all. Equipped w i t h an academic training, he sought
to prove or disprove those issues w h i c h had a bearing upon his
time, especially those w i t h regard to religious thought. Islam
played a crucial role i n al-Faruqi's life, and especially i n later
life. He looked at things from an Islamic perspective. This factor
was recognized by others, and i n response to a letter from
Professor H . A . R . Gibb, he wrote: ' I take your w o r d that you
believe I am "genuinely concerned for Islam as a way o f life"
and consider your c r i t i c i s m as designed to promote and
wherever necessary to correct and redress this genuine concern.'
This genuine concern was a motivating factor throughout
Faruqi's life and, thus, an overwhelming concern o f his academicmission.
Al-Faruqi was born i n Jaffa, Palestine, on i January 1921. His
father, A b d al-Huda al-Faruqi, was both a judge and a w e l l k n o w n figure i n Palestine. A l - F a r u q i , thus, grew up i n a
prosperous and scholarly family w i t h his education and family
background giving h i m the confidence to play a prominent role
in his country. After graduating from the American University
of Beirut i n 1941, he returned home and eventually became the
District Governor o f Galilee i n the Government o f Palestine. I n
1948, however, the partition o f Palestine made h i m and his family
refugees. This experience no doubt left a deep scar on h i m , and
probably influenced the future d i r e c t i o n o f his t h o u g h t .
Subsequent writings reflect this tension for he never lost his
attachment to Palestine, the land or the people and, therefore,
1

xi

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

to its history and culture. Al-Faruqi left Palestine for the United
States. There he obtained two Masters degrees i n Philosophy
f r o m Indiana and H a r v a r d U n i v e r s i t i e s respectively, and
completed his Ph.D. ' O n Justifying the Good: Metaphysics and
Epistemology o f Value* i n 1952. I n his search for the classical
Islamic heritage, he studied at Al-Azhar from 1954 to T958. A
year later, at the invitation o f Professor Cantwell Smith, he joined
the Faculty o f D i v i n i t y at M c G i l l University, Montreal, where
he studied Judaism and Christianity.
I n the course o f what follows, we w i l l highlight some o f alFaruqi's perceptions and approaches to the understanding o f other
faiths, though it w i l l not be possible to provide a comprehensive
coverage. We w i l l begin where al-Faruqi began his exploration
o f pre-Abrahamic faith in the region, namely, the religions o f the
Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations. Al-Faruqi discusses the
region and its people extensively i n his writings as a backdrop to
the study o f Judaism and Christianity, which played a crucial role
in redefining the cultural and social norms o f behaviour, and
where the advent o f Islam succeeded them all. His attention was
focused on the region; first, because o f the geographic, ethnic
and linguistic community o f the Near East.What is perhaps unique
in al-Faruqi's assessment o f the region is that he saw the history
o f it as interconnected, a kind o f eternal history, traversed i n time
and religious culture. Second, this culture and its history reveals
itself like the leaves o f a book, and its connection w i t h the Arabian
Peninsula unfolds the eternal moral and spiritual impact as
untouched by the Persian elements o f Mesopotamian beliefs,
particularly their eschatological and Messianic beliefs. The Arabs
rejected those beliefs, and this, al-Faruqi argues, is the reason
why Abraham, w h o m he calls 'the Mesopotamian Anonite from
U r ' , finds spiritual connections and solace amongst them.
Abrahams beliefs and practices not only connect h i m spiritually
in monotheistic roots but are also the very reason why he was
forced to leave his country. It was his beliefs that made h i m , both
physically and socially, an outcast i n his own community. He was
a persecuted man in Ur, the capital o f Mesopotamia in 26-24 c ,
a city w h i c h he left i n order to pursue his faith. The obvious
2

xii

INTRODUCTION

d ection which he could take from there was to the Arabian


Peninsula, which he did w i t h Hagar.
The Mesopotamians used various names for their divinities.
Some evolved from cosmic features such as their deities for
heaven the winds, the foothills and fresh waters, and another,
perhaps, secondary list provided appellations for the m o o n ,
the sun, and stars. A n or A n u m was the god o f the heavens
and the father o f other gods. R a i n was seen as his semen, w h i c h
impregnated the earth and produced vegetation. E n l i l was the
god o f the winds and storms, w h i l s t Eaki was the god o f
underground fresh water. But above all, Marduk, the city god
o f Babylon, claimed supremacy; he was appointed a k i n d o f
permanent king o f the gods'. Al-Faruqi's analysis is interesting.
In his description o f the salient characteristics o f the religious
culture o f these Near Eastern peoples and his conception o f
their relations w i t h God, he argues that they saw themselves
as servants o f a transcendent deity. Furthermore, although the
Mesopotamians had various deities, these too were regarded
as servants. He finds that they never took a single phenomenon
or element o f nature and circumscribed to i t completely, not
even exhaustively to the God to w h o m they associated others
w i t h . I n al-Faruqi's view, the 'association was always functional',
accidental, but not total. Therefore, they were not Mushrikfin.

This is where one finds difficulty w i t h al-Faruqi's excessive


analysis, w h i l s t nonetheless b e i n g i n t e r l o c k e d w i t h
imaginative ideas.
Relinquishing the Mesopotamians from the burden o f shirk,
Faruqi contrasts t h e i r v i e w o f G o d w i t h the Egyptian
perception o f God. T h e Egyptians, he found, 'perceived the
divine presence immediatelyrm nature, the Mesopotamians deduced
divine presence immediately from nature'. He saw, i n the
gyptian perception o f God in and of nature whereas the
M e s o p o t a m i a n G o d was in b u t 'never equivalent to or
convertible w i t h i t ' . Al-Faruqi seems to prepare his ground for
Arabism, both i n a geographical and spiritual sense, as a corollary
for his long and ardent argument o f Urubah. Once he reconciled
and, then, reinstated the Mesopotamians as monotheistically
3

xm

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

inclined, the true realization o f monotheism was 'rediscovered'


and 'reaffirmed' w h e n Islam succeeded them. H e found this
historically crude legacy buried under the rubble o f Greek and/
or Roman belief systems and their 'sacramentalist' versions o f
religion. Once the monotheistic set-up is established from the
Arabian Peninsula, his V rub ah theory finds its way and enters
into the Near Eastern regions and the ancient Mesopotamian
belt. Al-Faruqi pictures the Arabs and the regions they pertain
to as rejoining the 'Semitic Civilization'.
Al-Faruqi was preoccupied w i t h the specific scheme o f Urubah
or Arabism while at M c G i l l University. His preconception o f
Urubah stemmed from his obsession w i t h three stages o f it. There
is a contrast, for example, i n al-Faruqi's concept o f Arabism as
compared to the Western understanding o f nationalism w h i c h
permeated so much o f the Arab w o r l d especially during his
lifetime. Al-Earuqi describes Arab nationalismas a product o f the
last two hundred years o f Western political life, whilst Arabism,
for h i m , is by contrast thousands o f years old. Al-Faruqi's early
writings place much emphasis on defining Urubah i n a restricted
sense, but thereafter, i n later writings, he explains the wider term
Urubah, to w h i c h he attributes a large part o f the w o r l d and
wherein he finds a degree o f Arabness 'despite being non-Arabic
speaking'. He described Arabism as an 'Arab stream' where the
Arabness, i n fact, 'animates that stream and gives it momentum',
and provides them w i t h 'their language, culture and religion'.
This, he believes, the Arabs received i n four succeeding waves,
which he identifies as 'Muslims i n the seventh century A D , and
Arameans i n the fifteenth century B C , as Amorites i n the second
and third, and as Akkadians i n the fourth and fifth millennia B C '
Throughout these events, al-Faruqi finds 'something eternally
land unchangeably Arab persisted throughout history and by so
[doing, the Arab essence gave identity to the Arab stream and
continuity to the events that make up its history'.
Al-Faruqi discusses his Arabism w i t h reference to the three
monotheistic religions w i t h M i d d l e Eastern foci. H e extends
his arguments beyond geographic regions and Abrahamic
religions but little is known i n historical terms. He begins his
4

xiv

INTRODUCTION

ssion t h e o r y w i t h Judaism. T h e Judaic p e r i o d , he


progre^
Abraham. He also distinguishes between

H e b r e w ' r e l i g i o n and 'Judaism'. One is the pre-exilic


the
daism the other 'post-exilic' Hebrew ritual. The post-exilic,
h stresses, robs the Prophetic development o f its continuity.
He blames this lack o f continuity o f the Prophetic tradition on
overwhelming
exclusionism.
The
Rabbinic
t
r
a
d
i
t
i
o
n
,
an
Faruqi suggests, is responsible for de-railing Judaism from the
Prophetic tradition o f religion instead o f guiding the Jewish
people towards the exclusivism o f people and land. He further
argues that Jewish election theory is ethically unsustainable.
Al-Faruqi's concept o f Urubah, however, and its extended use
has its own critiques. Stanley Frost, then Dean o f the Faculty o f
Divinity at M c G i l l University, raised his own objections, stating:
'By what right do you take a part o f the whole (presuming you
have substantiated your thesis that there is such an identifiable
stream) and make it the definitive, constituent element? I n other
words, is not " A r a b " at best but one element, and i f any inclusive
w o r d is to be f o u n d must n o t the w o r d (and the idea) be
"Semitic")? To say "Arab stream o f B e i n g " calls the whole
concept into dispute.' This touched al-Faruqi's academic nerve
as well as his Arab identity. So, here, we would like to quote, i n
part, his response to the Semitic and Arab claim, w h i c h Stanley
Frost so poignantly identified:
C

call this unique transcendence-consciousness Arab,


rather than Semitic, because 'Arab' is not the name o f an
element in the Stream, o f ' o n e among many'. Judaism,
for instance, is Jewish because i t is the religion o f the
ews w h o were the inhabitants o f Judah. B u t i t is also
Arab because geographically, ethnically, linguistically and
ideologically, the Jews w h o were the inhabitants o f Judah
were one w i t h the Arabs. T h e Jews were an element
among other elements such as the Phoenicians, the
Anaanites, the Ancient Ma'inites, etc. But all these were
Arabs. It is true that all Arabs i n my sense are Semites,
but this all-inclusive sense o f 'Semite' is a relatively

xv

ISLAM AND OTHF.R FAITHS

modern I suspect Western concept. I doubt i f any


Semite people has represented to itself its o w n identity
as 'Semitic'. You may ask, but has any o f those peoples
represented itself as Arab? The answer is yes, the 'Arabs'
(in the smaller sense o f Peninsula Arabs) have always done
so. A n d since they are the fountainhead o f all those other
peoples, they may legitimately give their name to the
whole. I do not know o f any geographic, ethnic, linguistic
or ideological evidence w h i c h relates the Semitic peoples
including the Arabs to Canaan, or to Phoenicia, or to
Babylon, or to Judah, so as to furnish as much as a claim
that the Arab Stream o f b e i n g is really a Canaani,
Phoenician, Babylonian or Jewish Stream o f Being. O n l y
the concept 'Semite' has laid such a claim, but i t has done
so on the strength o f a modern distension o f its denotation
by Western scholars. I f the Western scholar may, i n the
19th century, pick out a concept (viz. 'Semitic') from the
Jewish tradition and give i t this all-inclusive sense, w h y
may not I take the concept 'Arab' w h i c h is far more than
a concept and restore to i t i n the 20th century the allinclusive denotation w h i c h is its due?
5

So taken was al-Faruqi by the novelty he had discovered as


also by the power o f his new idea on Urubah that he troubled
little to detach himself from the conclusions he drew from i t . He
moves on to focus on the second moment o f Arab consciousness.
A logical corollary for al-Faruqi was to link this to Christianity.
W i t h i n the 'engrossed tribalism o f the Jews' and the chronic
pervasion o f the Hebrews within the Arab stream, he discovered
Christianity as the second moment o f Arab consciousness. The
message o f Jesus was a solution to the Hebrew's problem. Jesus
was a Jew and, as such, he was aware o f their spirit and their
influences. The Jews saw Jesus as a man w i t h a mission and the
mission started w i t h his own people. The Jews, al-Faruqi argues,
recognized that their Creator was going to sweep away their
H e b r e w exclusivism, and b r i n g about a new m o m e n t o f
consciousness in the realm o f their spirit, and ethics, indeed across
xvi

INTRODUCTION

> system. Therefore, al-Faruqi points out, they 'resolved


their er
end to Jesus' activity and life i n order to protect, as
fQ I 1 I 1 L
,
^ n n i r h t the higher interest o f that system and spirit .J
they tnougin,
&
n humanity, and Jesus was
, his niessage
message was interested im
interested i n the Jews as they were part o f humanity 'and to the
extent that he was born and lived i n their midst and spoke their
language'. Jesus preached loyalty to God and that God, ab
all should be the criterion o f all measurement. Jesus was not
against the Jews per se, but clearly against the claim that they,
above all people, are God's chosen children. T h e message o
love thy neighbour was seen by the Hebrews as blasphemy.
Love o f God for them was love for the God o f Israel. The Jewish
love o f law was seen as a p r o t e c t i o n against the g r o w i n g
popularity o f Jesus' message. The teachings o f Jesus reminded

t h e m o f t h e i r weaknesses. Jesus' c r i t i c i s m o f t h e Jewish


community o f his time was direct and hard-hitting, but above
all the history o f the concept o f ' t h e Kingdom o f God' as being
for all intents and purposes the history o f the Jewish people
was boldly confronted. Jesus' teachings, then, challenged the
core concepts and beliefs o f Jewish thought. T h e notion that 'a
kingdom that exists nowhere and everywhere, i n the sense that
it has no relation to any space b u t may exist wherever its
constituents, the loving individuals, happen to be' was, al-Faruqi
found, unacceptable to the Jews. A t this challenging point i n
history, the creative and reshaping m o m e n t u m o f events had
slowly but confidently been Hellenized.
W i t h Christianity, al-Faruqi discovered that elements o f J
sus teachings were already present i n Judaic traditions and i n
Hanifism i n particular. Hanifism, to al-Faruqi,'incorporates every
noble thought i n the O l d Testament . . . from w h i c h sprang
Christianity, the religion o f the spirit and the interiorised ethic
par excellence'. The essence o f Christianity, for al-Faruqi, lies ' i n
Amos, and Jeremiah, even before the Exile'. Whether this specific discovery is correct or not is less important for us than
what he sees as Christianity's entanglement i n the history o f
the Hebrews producing a particular notion o f salvation which
he seems, himself, to rectify as giving a 'purely ethical " v i r g i n
xvii

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

b i r t h " ' to Christianity itself. Al-Faruqi seems to see himself as


the one w h o has disentangled the concept o f a possessive Lord
and, i n so doing, reinstated Jesus' affirmation o f the universalism
o f religion w h i c h was i n direct opposition to Jewish notions of
ethnocentrism.
T h e t e r m ' H a n i f i s m ' appears quite often i n al-Faruqi's
writings, and this concept o f Hanifism plays a crucial role i n his
expose o f the region's religious history. Thus, i t may not be out
o f place here to find out what he means by this. He describes
the Hamfs w h o upheld the Abrahamic tradition amongst the
Arabs as distinctly different but present i n almost every tribe o f
Arabia. Their opposition to shirk, their refusal to participate i n
pagan rituals, their love o f knowledge and o f m a i n t a i n i n g
themselves as ethically different, became the hallmark o f the
HaniJ[s). Since their beliefs and practices i n daily life were closer
to Jewish practices, despite their linguistic differences, they have
condescendingly been called hampari i n Aramaic, meaning
'separated'. Hence, they were somewhat neglected, and given
less importance i n society. Very often they had to take refug
amongst the desert tribes, and al-Faruqi argues that this i n turn
became helpful i n further preserving the hamf(s) identity and
purity. H e suggests that before the advent o f the Prophet
Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon h i m ) , three attempts
were made to reinstate Abrahamic monotheism amongst the
tribes o f the Arabian Peninsula and these were respectively made
by the Prophets H u d , Salih and Shuy'ab i n Hadramaut and Hijaz.
A l l failed because the people refused to accept these Prophets
and instead Arab shirk or associationism persisted.
Al-Faruqi suggests that the different phases o f Revelation
pertain to the stages o f the progression o f Urabah. Judaism he
views as the first moment o f Arab consciousness, Christianity as
the second and the contemporary phase as the continuation o f
Urubah and Islam. But does he expect yet another phase, either
now or i n the future? Yes, and al-Faruqi describes this phase as
that o f Islamist assertion; a new phase o f Islamic consciousness.
The requirement o f any new value must be unknown, but, i n
relation to Islam, al-Faruqi finds that this is not so because 'no
xvui

INTRODUCTION

value can be new to Islam as such since this is the collective


n a m o f all values'. To al-Faruqi, 'the Islamicness o f value is no
more than its value-ness', and i f i n Urubah new 'values [are] to be
discovered' then the logical conclusion i n al-Faruqi's view is that
'the discovered values should be "Islamic" '. Put simply, any 'new
value' and its relationship w i t h other values has to be worked out
and established and'must cohere w i t h [the] legacy o f the Ummah'.
Al-Faruqi does not see this progression as a casual process i n
mechanistic terms. Rather, i t is planned, but human beings are
free to choose their own path and the goals they invent. Therefore,
the Prophets act as reminders, critiques and reformers i n
Faruqi's concept o f progression. One may find i n al-Faruqi's
scheme o f progression, some influence from I b n Hazm w h o
looked at the movement o f these three religions i n a similar
fashion, but al-Faruqi detaches himself from any such observation.
Muhammad Abduh restated I b n Hazm's progression theory i n
an entirely different context, i.e., i n the context o f science and
civilization. He saw the progression o f humanity as occupying
three stages: '[C]hildhood, when man needed stern discipline as
a child; the Law o f Moses, Adolescence, w h e n man relied o n
feelings; the Age o f Christianity. Maturity, when man relies on/
Reason and Science . . . the Age o f Islam.'
In this progression, however, does one religious personality
o r r o w from another? A l - F a r u q i contends such views and
especially some Western scholars' proposition that Islam has
borrowed from Judaism and Christianity. H e argues that simple
co-existence and 'identical religious personalities' do not suggest
'borrowing'. H e emphasizes that i t is 'repugnant to speak o f
or rowing" between any two movements, an earlier and a later
one, when the latter sees itself as a continuation and reform o f
the earlier'. He finds that the same scholars do not speak o f
C h r i s t i a n i t y ' b o r r o w i n g ' f r o m Judaism, B u d d h i s m f r o m
Hinduism, or Protestantism from Catholicism.Yet that is precisely
how Islam sees itself regarding Judaism and Christianity, namely,
as t h e very same i d e n t i t y b u t r e f o r m e d and p u r g e d o f
accumulated tamperings and changes by leaders and scribes.
I n reading al-Faruqi, one easily detects that i n order to
e

xix

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

establish his progression theory, he has to devise a method, a


neutral one, to judge Judaism, C h r i s t i a n i t y and Islam. T h e
methodology he proposed i n Christian Ethics: A Historical and
Systematic Analysis of Its Dominant Ideas is what he calls MetaReligion, and here he argues that those believers whose religions
are compared should be listened to by the comparator. The
search for the truth is for the most part a self-analysis o f enquiry.
Here a researcher is more than a mere spectator. I n a way, a
researcher is examining the activity o f his own spirit i n his/her
own interaction w i t h the world around him/her.There is a need,
in al-Faruqi's comparative religious view, to relate or evaluate,
and he strongly believes this provides overall principles which
are not 'constrained by any religious tradition' or through which
any religious tradition can be judged. H e suggests six such
principles, w h i c h can be summarized as:
'Being o f Two Realms: Ideal and Actual', where 'the ideal
and the actual are different kinds o f being, they are t w o ' .
H e elaborates from this standpoint o f ethics, arguing:
'Fact and value are two orders o f being. I f this duality
were not true, and fact and value belonged to the same
order o f being, it woirid be groundless to judge one
"fact" by "another".'
2. 'Ideal Being is Relevant to Actual Being.' 'Since the ideal
realm acts as a principle o f classification, o f the order
and structure o f actual being, i t provides the standard to
judge i f the actual is or is not valuable.'
3. 'Relevance o f the Ideal to the Actual is a Command.' A l Faruqi stresses that the 'whole realm o f ideal being is
relevant to the whole realm o f actual being'. The actual
being has to be judged as what it ought to be. Their
relationship is not based on this and the other, rather
their relationship is c i t h e r / o r . I n other words, the
relevance o f 'ideal' is superior and the 'actual' has to
strive to attain the 'ideal'.
4. But j u d g i n g on this basis, i.e., either/or, the actual being
cannot become 'bad'. . . The 'Actual Being is as Such
Good.' 'The realm o f actual', as al-Faruqi describes i t , is

1.

xx

INTRODUCTION

-world.
This-world
is
good;
to
enter
i
t
,
to
be
i
n
i
t
,
is
this

6.

as such valuable.
To 'value' the w o r l d , to m o u l d the w o r l d and give a
direction, so that it can 'embody the structure and content
o f the ideal, value realization must be possible'.Therefore
the 'Actual Being is Malleable'. He states that 'man
can and does give new direction to the casual, forward
push o f reality, i n order to become something else,
something other than he would otherwise be'.
'Perfection o f the Cosmos is O n l y a H u m a n Burden.'
He points out that the importance o f man is that he is
the only creature w h o holds the key to the 'entrance o f
the valuational ideal into the actual'. He argues:'Man is
the bridge w h i c h values must cross i f they are to enter
the real. He stands at the crossroads o f the two realms o f
being, participating in both, susceptible to both.'
6

In the critiques' eyes al-Faruqi is struggling to convince the


reader. N o t only i n what he proposes as Meta-Religion i n the
introductory chapter o f Christian Ethics, but i n his whole critical
proposition o f Christian Ethics itself. He writes to Stanley Foster
on 9 December 1961:
You may disagree w i t h me that this is carrying the argument
o f an analysis o f Christian ethics too far. M y defence is that
have no other fulcrum from w h i c h to direct my critique.
I f my fulcrum were to be internal to Christianity, my critique
would be merely another Christianist treatise. If, on the
other hand, it were external to Christianity, my critique
would be either a copy o f an Ibn Hazm's or other Middle
Ages M u s l i m critic o f Christianity or o f a Karl Marx or
some other Western atheist. M y strategy has been to choose
a fulcrum w h i c h though external to Christianism (credal
Christianity) may still be internal to Christianity.

The journey from Urubah to Ummatic concerns, i.e., from Arab


to M u s l i m concerns, began soon after al-Faruqi j o i n e d the
Muslim Students Association (MSA) in the United States. Taking
xxi

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

a leaf out o f Jamakiddin al-Afgani's book, al-Faruqi also formed


a group called Uru/ah al-Wutuqa. Like Afghani, he focused his
thoughts on M u s l i m u n i t y t h r o u g h this f o r u m . A l - F a r u q i
approached the SLibject i n two ways. I n the first instance, he
sought to give the non-Muslim audience the zeal to rediscover
the Islamic heritage, and he encouraged fellow Muslims to
witness (Shahadah) Islam by example and by good words and
so provide a sound reference for non-Muslims. I n the second
instance, he sought to restructure the dreadful holes created i n
the realms o f t h o u g h t and knowledge by the challenges o f
modernity and colonialization.
Al-Faruqi, time and again, emphasized the importance o f
daSvah. H e saw da'wah as a duty incumbent upon all Muslims.
A duty to reach others. He spoke frequently on this subject i n
America, Europe and Asia, and two o f his writings on the issue,
' O n the Nature o f Islamic DaSvah' and 'DaSvah i n the West:
Promise and Trial', are included here. He viewed the instinct o f
d a ' w a h as synonymous w i t h mission and as present i n all
religions. ' N o religion can avoid mission i f it has any kind o f
intellectual backbone', he says and to 'deny mission' i n his view
'is to deny the need to demand the agreement o f others to what
is being claimed to be the t m t h by the religion'.
Characteristically, al-Faruqi went even further than this and
demanded agreement, arguing that 'not to demand agreement'
shows a lack o f seriousness. Da wah to h i m , by its very nature,
carries 'a necessary corollary o f its affirmations and denials'
where anybody is free to invite others. Yet the kernal o f daSvah
lies i n its integrity 'on the part o f both caller and called'.
Da'wah, i n al-Faruqi's writings, is also motivated by the fact
that Islam is the most misunderstood religion. He identifies the
reasons for this i n a very provocative way. Islam, he argues, is:
7

the only religion that contended and fought w i t h most o f


the world religions on their own home ground, whether
in the field o f ideas, or on the battlefields o f history. Islam
has been engaged i n these wars whether spiritual or
political even before i t was b o r n , before it became
autonomous at home, even before i t completed its own

xxii

INTRODUCTION

of
ideas.
A
n
d
i
t
is
still
vigorously
fighting
on
all
system
fronts. Moreover, Islam is the only religion that i n its
interreligious and international conflict w i t h Judaism,
Christianity, H i n d u i s m , and B u d d h i s m , succeeded
significantly and i n major scale in all the fights it undertook.
Equally, i t was the only religion that marshalled all its
spiritual efforts to fight Western c o l o n i a l i s m and
imperialism throughout the w o r l d when its territory
indeed, its very heartland - was fragmented and practically
all its adherents subjected to the colonialist yoke. Finally,
and yet more significantly, Islam is still winning today and
growing by means o f mission and conversion at a greater
rate than any other religion. N o wonder, then, that it is the
religion w i t h the greatest number o f enemies and, hence,
the religion most misunderstood.*
The basic characteristics o f da'wah, i n al-Faruqi s view, lie i n
its nature. H e highlights these i m p o r t a n t characteristics as
Freedom, Rationality and Universalism.
Da'wah without freedom cannot succeed, it can only succeed
' w i t h absolute integrity on the part o f both caller and called'.
This is essential. To h i m , for 'either party to tamper w i t h that
integrity' is a 'capital crime'. He argues that 'invitation', which is
the literal meaning o f da wah, 'can be fulfilled only w i t h the free
consent o f the called'. He refers to this call as a call towards God.
He argues that since 'the objective is to convince the called that
God is his Creator, Master, Lord and Judge, forced judgement is
a contradiction i n terms'. Conversion, he highlights, is not a
conversion towards Islam but to God. The question remains,
however, whether al-Faruqi is content w i t h the conversion o f a
person who turns and begins to believe i n God without believing
in Islam in a confessional sense, i.e., can this be regarded as a true
conversion or not? Al-Faruqi seems uncomfortable in answering
c

this question straight away. R a t i o n a l i t y demands, al-Faruqi


observes, that the judgement to change 'should be arrived at only
after consideration o f the alternatives, their comparison and
contrast w i t h one another, after the precise, u n h u r r i e d and
xxin

ISLAM AND O T H E R fAITHS

objective w e i g h i n g o f evidence and counter-evidence w i t h


reality'. By asserting the rational aspects o f daNvah, al-Faruqi
seems to dismiss any underhand method o f approaching this
sensitive issue. He strongly contends what he calls 'psychopathic
expansion' or elsewhere 'psychotropic i n d u c t i o n ' . A l - F a r u q i
juxtaposes this assertion against the Hebrew concept of'election'
or 'favouritism'. This universalism o f da'wall i n al-Faruqi's
writings somewhat unexpectedly connects other faiths i n the
sense that God, being the Source, means that He has given the
truth to those who are not Muslims, not only individually but
also collectively, for truth can be found inside their traditions.
This is what al-Faruqi calls a de jure mission simply because the
source o f the truth is God. I f one accepts this argument, the
whole outlook o f mission and daSvah is changed. It turns, as
al-Faruqi puts i t , into a'cooperative critique' o f the other religion
and avoids its invasion by a new t r u t h ' .
The reconstruction o f M u s l i m thought preoccupied al-Faruqi's
thought i n his later life. His participation i n the Association o f
Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS) i n the U n i t e d States, w h i c h
came into existence i n 1971, gave birth to the concept o f the
Islamization of Knowledge. Initially, the AMSS was seen as an
occasional platform for some social scientists to get together,
but al-Faruqi's participation, as its President until 1976, and his
input soon brought about the required change. Bit by bit this
forum for social scientists, w i t h their shared common concerns,
began to give the Islamization of Knowledge a new agenda. This,
i n t u r n , transformed the organization and attracted m u c h
attention beyond the i n i t i a l social scientist framework and
extended f u r t h e r than the U n i t e d States. To a l - F a r u q i ,
Islamization was not simply to label, after some laundering, the
existing knowledge into Islamic knowledge; rather, he wanted
to provoke his fellow social scientists and the M u s l i m community
living i n the West into re-examining, and reshaping the social
sciences i n light o f the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Perhaps he saw
the contemporary Muslim community i n the West as better suited
to this task than the M u s l i m U m m a h i n M u s l i m countries,
w h o m he found somewhat unwilling or unable. Essentially the
XXIV

INTRODUCTION

j o n i o f thought and exchange o f ideas that this task required


non-existent i n the Muslim World. Those w h o seemed to
have the skills and were equipped w i t h the classical training o f
interpretation and explanation, were unfortunately unaware o f
the Western trends i n knowledge and the rigorous arguments it
demands. A l - F a r u q i , then, saw himself as something o f an
i n i t i a t o r . His c o n t r i b u t i o n lay i n his skill to present the
Islamization of Knowledge as a movement and not as a venture
l i m i t e d to j u s t a few i n d i v i d u a l s . Even i n this task, his
confrontational posture did not diminish:
e e

We have an extremely important task ahead o f us. H o w


long are we going to content ourselves w i t h the crumbs
that the West is throwing at us? It is about time that we
made our own original contribution. As social scientists,
we have to look back at our training and reshape i t i n the
light o f the Q u r ' a n and the Sunnah. This is h o w our
forefathers made their own original contributions to the
study o f history, law and culture. The West borrowed their
heritage and put it i n a secular mould. Is it asking for too
much that we take knowledge and Islamize it?
9

Although al-Faruqi's immediate audience was his students


and colleagues i n various M u s l i m organizations across the
United States, he nonetheless took this task on w i t h a missionary
zeal, addressing audiences well beyond American shores. His
eyes were fixed on the heartland o f the M u s l i m World. There,
along w i t h a growing number o f M u s l i m intellectuals i n the
West, he saw much need for change. I n particular, he identified
a stagnation i n Islamic learning i n the M u s l i m W o r l d , especially
in madaris. There, the once v i b r a n t , innovative concept o f
education had been replaced w i t h a repetitive, inward-looking
one preoccupied w i t h preservation. H e also saw a lack o f
excellence i n m o d e r n education. W h a t ' m o d e r n education'
there was, he argued, was implanted into the M u s l i m W o r l d ,
and i t 'remained', i n his view, 'sterile and ritualistic w i t h a
false aura o f progress'. Thus, he was not simply concerned
w i t h the colonialization o f M u s l i m territories but also w i t h
xxv

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

the colonization o f M u s l i m minds. Generations o f Muslims


educated i n the West had produced a host o f Western-educated
Muslims w h o 'looked up to the Western knowledge' as he put
it, 'despite its irrelevance, [and] made them dependent on its
research and leadership'. He was critical o f past reformers like
Syed Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Abduh, who, he believed,
thought 'that Western sciences were value neutral and that they
would not do any harm to Islamic vahies'. This he vehemently
rejected. H e saw i n their approach an a d o p t i o n o f 'alien'
methods o f inquiry into various social science disciplines. He
argued that little 'did they know o f the fine yet necessary relation
w h i c h binds the methodologies o f these disciplines, their
notions o f truth and knowledge, to the value system o f an alien
w o r l d ' . A l - F a r u q i ' s c r i t i c a l assessment p r e d i c t e d that any
unqtiestioning adaptation o f the value o f knowledge w o u l d
h a r m the M u s l i m Ummah's understanding and w o u l d not
produce the much-needed inquiry and missionary m i n d that
the U m m a h so urgently needed. However, al-Faruqi could not
preside over the vision he had for l o n g . Even n o w w i t h a
generation having gone through the process o f Islamization there
is little sign that i t w i l l make the significant mark on the 'quality'
o f scholars that al-Faruqi envisaged. Perhaps this is still far i n
the future. Muslims generally, including their religious leaders,
and the Westernized Muslim elite i n particular, he argtied, were
dazzled by 'Western productivity and power and the Western
views o f God and man, o f life, o f nature, o f the world, and o f
time and history . . .' Thus, a secular system o f education was
built w h i c h taught Western valties and methods, and w h i c h
produced graduates ignorant o f their Islamic legacy.
Al-Faruqi was trained as a philosopher and a historian o f
r e l i g i o n , b u t his w r i t i n g s do n o t f o l l o w the t r a d i t i o n a l
academic route w h i c h demands a detached view o f religion
and the people studied. Rather, he examines religions from
an Islamic perspective, on the basis o f truth and the methods
he devised for determining the same.
A l - F a r u q i looked at religion w i t h keen and critical eyes,
examining deeply its unity and source. He had a world-view
10

xxvi

INTRODUCTION

d pattern o f thought, whose heart lay i n Islam. His inquiring


mind was always challenged by the many facets and traditions
which he tried to go beyond, and, i n so doing, he challenged
our vision and way o f understanding and measuring things. In
the process, he engages us attentively but does not necessarily
lead us always to his o w n conclusions. The reader is free to
accept or reject what he says, but he cannot ignore it.
The essays i n this volume by Ismail Raji al-Faruqi span more
than two decades. Essays w h i c h deal directly w i t h other faiths,
and w i t h Christianity and Judaism i n particular, have been
especially selected. These, i t i themselves, bear witness to
Faruqi s devotion to scholarly life and to inter-religious dialogue.
The II articles collected here, provide a good cross-section o f
-Faruqi's contribution to the study o f comparative religions.
Here an attempt has been made to compile and collect
contribution on the theme into a single volume and thus make
them available to a wider audience. These essays do, however,
need to be seen against the b a c k g r o u n d o f his g i g a n t i
contribution to the study o f religions. Such publications include
The Great Asian Religions (New York: Macmillan, 1969) w h i c h
he co-edited w i t h three other scholars, including Joseph M .
Kitagawa, and his Historical Atlas of the Religions of the World (New
York: Macmillan, 1975) which he edited w i t h David E. Sopher
(map editor), The Cultural Atlas of Islam (New York: Macmillan,
1986) edited w i t h his wife, Lois Lamya al-Faruqi, and published
soon after their brutal murder in Chicago i n the same year.
T h e four chapters i n Part I , ' T h e Essence o f R e l i g
Experience i n Islam','DivineTranscendence and Its Express
The Role o f Islam i n Global Inter-Religious Dependence'
Comparison o f the Islamic and Christian Approaches to
Hebrew Scripture', demonstrate how al-Faruqi saw the core
and connection between the religions o f the Near East. He
examines religions prior to and after Abraham, and shows how
the Islamic world-view o f religion approaches the subject. He
reveals how Islam, particularly, relates itself to both Jewish and
Christian Scriptures. We had the
f either including
Faruqi's revised article ' M c t a - R e l i g i o n : Towards a C
n

xxvn

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

World Theology', published i n the American Journal of Islamic


Social Science (Vol. 3, N o . 1, September 1986), or o f retaining its
earlier version, 'The Role o f Islam i n Global Inter-Religious
Dependence'. I n the end, we decided to retain the earlier
version: first, there is very little change except i n the introductory
and concluding parts which, we believe, are covered, to a large
extent, i n other chapters i n this book. Second, and more
i m p o r t a n t l y , the earlier version includes a discussion that
followed al-Faruqi's original presentation. W i t h a few m i n o r
changes, we have included the entire discussion i n this chapter.
Part I I collects together his writings on Islam and Christianity
and their dialogical relations. Judaism, however, occupies a
substantial part o f this debate. This section includes a chapter
o n the ' R i g h t s o f N o n - M u s l i m s U n d e r Islam: Social and
Cultural Aspects'. I t may seem slightly out o f context to include
this here. However, i t does provide a glimpse o f al-Faruqi's views
on M u s l i m and non-Muslim relations, particularly non-Muslims
i n a Muslim-majority country. It is oiir view that since it was
first published i n 1979, the debate on these aspects has moved
on considerably, w i t h dhimmah n o w being discussed i n the
context o f citizenship.
Part I I I focuses on the issue o f da'wah. Here we have selected
two articles; ' O n the Nature o f Islamic D a ' w a h ' presents the
principles and theoretical aspects o f da'wah presented i n the
Chambesy Dialogue between Christians and Muslims i n 1976,
whilst the other was presented to a Muslim audience i n 1981.
These two chapters provide the opportunity for the reader to
see how al-Faruqi perceived the relevance o f da'wah particularly
i n a Western context.
Finally, the reader may find, i n places, that certain statements
and arguments have been repeated. W i t h selections such as these,
this is bound to happen. However, we believe such repetitions
are m i n i m a l and we have done o u r best to ensure major
repetitions are avoided.

Ataullah Siddiqui

Leicester
20 January 1998

xxviii

INTRODUCTION

jvjotes
Al-Faruqi's letter dated 14 N o v e m b e r 1963.
2

I . R . A l Faruqi and L X . A 1 Faruqi, The Cultural Atlas of Islam (New York:

Macmillan, 1986), p. 50.


3.

I . R . A l F a r u q i , ' D i v i n e Transcendence and Its Expression', in Henry O .

Thompson (cd.), 'The Global Congress of the World's Religions, Proceedings of 1980-82
Conference (Washington, D C : T h e Global Congress o f the World's Religions,
Inc., 1982), pp. 267-316
4.

I . R . A l Faruqi, Urubah and Religion

(Amsterdam: Djambatan, 1962). pp.

2-3
5.

Letter dated 9.T2.1961 to Stanley Frost, D e a n o f the Faculty o f Divinity,

M c G i l l University.
6.

Ataullah Siddiqui, Christian-Muslim

Dialogue

in the Twentieth

Century

(Basingstoke, U K : Macmillan, 1997), pp. 8 8 - 9 .


7.

I . R . A l Faruqi and L . L . A l Faruqi, The Cultural Atlas of Islam, op. nr., p. 187.

8.

I . R . A l Faruqi, 'Islam', in Wing-tsit C h a n et al. (eds.), The Great Asian

Religions (London: M a c m i l l a n , 1969), p. 307.


9-

10.

The American Journal

of Islamic Social Sciences,Vo\. 5, N o . 1 (1988), p. 16.

International Institute o f Islamic T h o u g h t , Islamization

of Knowledge:

General Principles and Work Plan ( H e r n d o n , Virginia: International Institute o f

Islamic T h o u g h t , Second R e v i s e d E d i t i o n , 1989), p. 4.

xxix

Acknowledgements
Thanks are due to the following for permission to include
copyright material: Scholars Press:'A Comparison o f the Islamic
and Christian Approaches to Hebrew Scripture.' Unification
Theological Seminary Library: 'Divine Transcendence and Its
Expression' and 'The Role o f Islam i n Global Inter-Religious
Dependence.' Journal of Ecumenical Studies: 'Islam and Christianity
- Diatribe or Dialogue.' Islamic Council o f Europe: 'Islam and
Other Faiths.' Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs: 'Rights
o f Non-Muslims Under Islam: Social and Cultural Aspects.' EJ.
B r i l l : ' T h e Essence o f R e l i g i o u s Experience i n Islam' and
'History o f Religions: Its Nature and Significance for Christian
Education and the M u s l i m - C h r i s t i a n Dialogue.' Also, articles
first published i n Seminar of the Islamic-Christian Dialogue (1981),
and International Review of Mission, Vol. LXV, N o . 260 (October
1976). Finally, organizers o f the 'International Conference o f
the 15th Century Hijra' (Malaysia).
Thanks are also due to Mrs. K. Barratt and Bushra Finch for
typing the text, Mrs. DJ. Robb for typing the revised text and
all other material, Muhammad A b d u l K a r i m for preparing the
dates o f birth and death o f individuals mentioned i n the book,
Naiem Qaddoura for preparing the page lay-outs, and M r . E.R.
Fox for copy editing, proofreading and compiling the Index.
Also, thanks are due to Professor John Esposito for w r i t i n g the
Foreword, Dr. Zafar Ishaq Ansari for providing Ismail al-Faruqi's
letters, and Dr. Anas S. A l Shaikh-Ali for his valuable suggestions.

Biblical quotations are from the Authorized Version, Qur'anic


references are based on Abdullah Yusuf Ali's translation published
by the Amana Corporation (Brentwood, Maryland, USA, 1983);
however in most cases translation o f the verses is provided by
al-Faruqi himself.

PART I

CHAPTER O N E

The Essence of Religious


Experience in Islam
I

The title evidently presupposes that an essence o f religious


experience exists and that such an essence is k n o w a b l e .
Otherwise, the effort to discover such essence and to establish i t
for the understanding w o u l d be i n vain and futile. O n this
account, no statement about the essence o f religious experience
i n Islam or any other religion can afford to overlook these
methodological assumptions, or fail to establish them critically.
Moreover, i t is quite conceivable that some religions w o u l d granted they have an essence - regard its critical establishment
for the understanding as irreligious or even necessarily false. For
the investigator to flout such attitude on the part o f the religion
in question is to commit the reductionist fallacy and hence to
vitiate his o w n findings. This cannot be avoided unless the
religion itself blesses the attempt, that is to say, unless i t admits
readily and unequivocally that i t has an essence and that this
essence is k n o w a b l e . T h r e e questions therefore must be
answered i n the positive before we proceed to our task; namely:
Does the Islamic religious experience have an essence? Is i t
critically knowable? Does its critical establishment violate any
constituent clement o f that experience?
T h i s article was published in Niwien Vol
t

X X , Fasc. 3 (1973). PP.T86-20T

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

To my knowledge, no M u s l i m thinker has ever denied that


his religion has an essence. Granted that the question itself is a
modern question and that the thinkers o f the Middle Ages did
not raise i t i n the manner we do today, we can still say with
certainty that for all o f them, Islam was religion, religion par
excellence, indeed 'the religion'; that it was a coherent, autonomous
system o f truths about reality, o f imperatives for action and of
desiderata for all kinds and levels o f human activity. A l l o f them
affirmed that at the centre o f this system stood God (may He be
Glorified and Exhalted), the knowledge o f W h o m they called
tawhtd; that all the rest is a hierarchy o f imperatives (wajibdt),
r e c o m m e n d a t i o n s (mandubdt and makruhdt),
prohibitions
(muharramdt) and desiderata (hasanat) - collectively called the
Shan'ah and knowledge o f w h i c h the Muslims called fiqh.
As for the non-Muslim students o f Islam, i.e. the orientalists,
none o f them raised this question except Wilfred C. Smith. From
his inaugural lecture i n 1952 to his magnum opus, The Meaning and
End of Religion, he consistently maintained that there is no stich
essence. He held that there are only Muslims whose Muslimness
is a new t h i n g w i t h every m o r n , always changing. This is
Heraclitean enough. But unlike fatalist, pessimist Heraclitus (fl.
500 B C ) , who never entertained the possibility o f changing the
eternal flux o f things, Smith definitely claimed the possibility
and desirability o f changing the direction o f the infinite flux o f
states o f Muslimness. H o w he identifies the object o f change
among countless other possible objects; and how he w i l l be able
to claim that a change o f direction has or has not taken place
from any point i n the eternal flux, he never tells. Indeed, the
Parmenidean-Platonic-Aristotelian-Kantian and phenomenological argument that change itself is inconceivable without a
substrate that remains the same in the change, has not impressed
h i m as much as the metaphysical claim that all there is to the
phenomenon o f burning is the burning itself. I n this philosophical inconsequence, he is not alone. A whole school o f positivists,
sceptics, cynics and pseudo-scientists have made the same claim.
Smith was the first orientalist to demand autonomy for the
Islamics discipline, to condemn all interpretations o f Islam made
4

RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE IN TSI.AM

1
categories. His essay 'Comparative Religion: Whither
under ^ V p u b l i s h e d i n honour o f Joachim Wach (1898-1955)
- and
^
^.JJ - j
i i i statement o f the Western
was the

d for humility i n front o f the data of


udent ^
j ^
M c G i l l University Institute o f Islamic
dies of which he was the architect and founder and which
1
u
p r i n c i p l e that the study o f Islam must be
stood on
r
,^
. .
cooperatively undertaken by Muslims and Westerners i f i t is to
achieve any valid understanding o f its subject matter, was for
some time a l i v i n g m o n u m e n t to this a t t i t u d e . A l l this
notwithstanding, Smith suspended this supreme demand when
he came to discuss the essence o f Islam. Indeed, he devoted a
substantial part of his book to telling the Muslims what is a truer
understanding of their scripture, the Arabic Qur'an. Against the
fourteen centuries o f M u s l i m Q u r ' a n i c scholarship and
understanding, he concluded that the claim that Islam was a
system and has an essence is a relatively modern affair arising
out of three tendencies or processes o f reification to which the
Muslims have been subject in history. These are: Influence o f the
reified Near Eastern religions upon the Qur'an, o f the reifying
hypostases o f Greek thought upon Islamic thought, and o f
modernist apologetics.
The first was merely claimed by Smith. The circumstantial fact
that Persian religion, Judaism and Christianity were already
reified when Islam made its appearance proves nothing. A n y
other form could well have been adopted. I n fact, the seventhcentury Near East was not divided between two or three giant
monolithic systems. A thousand and one varieties o f religious
views belonging to every conceivable part o f the spectrum o f
religious d e v e l o p m e n t - f r o m Stone Age a n i m i s m to
philosophical mysticism - were evident o n all shores o f the
Mediterranean. Moreover, granted the 'reification' o f some Near
Eastern religious traditions, i t takes other evidence besides
Actuality to prove that this process was a change for the worse in
the said Near Eastern religions; that is to say, and as Smith holds,
that it was one in which piety and religiosity were giving place
to a shell emptied o f religious feeling. Finally, there is still no
n

i o n

i e

a s s

c a

n e e

a n c

st

aI1

ISLAM AND OTHER EAITHS

reason w h y the increased conceptual precision i m p l i e d i n


reification may not be taken advantage o f by any man or
movement w i t h i n or without the said Near Eastern religions.
O n the contrary, it woLild be strange indeed i f any subsequent
movement omitted to take such advantage; if, i n other words,
God had not done His homework i n the course o f study called
'The History o f Religions'. It would seem that i f he is to prove
his p o i n t , S m i t h w o u l d have to establish the necessary
incompatibility o f reification w i t h religiosity. But this he has not
done; and his claim remains unsubstantiated.
Secondly, it is an established fact that the Persian and Jewish
religions had done nothing to proselytize Arabia, and that the
extreme little w h i c h either o f them did i n Yaman was incidental
to political imperialism and never amounted to anything worthy
of being called'religious movement'. It is historical fact that none
of these religions had achieved any place or esteem i n the mind
of Makkah or among the badw living i n the wide expanses o f the
desert. Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians were aliens inadmissible
to the temple area as well as into the city o f Makkah. They had
to reside i n the outskirts and to do so under the constant
protection o f native Arabs whose clients they were. Moreover, it
is a fact that Persia encouraged Arab paganism to stand up to
Byzantine Christianity, w h i l e the latter reconciled itself to
peaceful coexistence w i t h that paganism.
5

As for the reifying hypostases o f Greek thought, i t is common


knowledge that Hellenism began to invade M u s l i m letters and
thought i n the late eight and ninth centuries, two hundred years
after the advent o f Islam, whereas the so-called 'reification' was
complete w i t h the birth o f Islam itself. Its terminus is the life o f
the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)
and its evidence, substance and text are the Qur'an itself Greek
thought is hence utterly irrelevant to the question at hand. So is
the argument from Muslim apologetics i n modern times. Factual
or otherwise as they may be, these arguments prove nothing i f
the 'reified' result is Qur'anic.
It is here, i.e., as regards the Qur'an, that Smith lays his weakest
claim. N o t o n l y does he tell the Muslims what Q u r ' a n i c
6

THE ESSENCE OE RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE IN ISLAM

Vmt he takes the fanciest issues w i t h their linguistic


-anings arc uuv
&
xegetical scholars and makes some q u i t e unusual
t nsions The term 'Islam' i n Al Jmran 3: 85 ('Whoever seeks
P ^ ^ other than Islam, it w i l l not be accepted o f him') and
*/ frtii'idah 5: 4 ('Today, I have completed for you your relig
made total M y blessing w h i c h has been granted to you and
accepted for you Islam as your religion') are first interpreted as
meaning 'submission, obedience to His commands' O f
Muslim
w
i
l
l
retort!
H
o
w
can
'Islam'
not
mean
these
things?
any
And who has ever claimed the contrary? That 'Islam' means these
things is beyond question. But this for Smith means that the term
means nothing else; above all, that i t does not mean that 'Islam' is a
religion i n the reified sense, i.e., a system o f propositions,
imperatives and desiderata. But this is an obvious non sequitu
That 'Islam' means submission and personal piety does not
preclude i t f r o m meaning a religious system o f ideas and
imperatives. I f this is contended, the MLislims' understanding
across the centuries is conclusive. That is why Smith resorted to
the attempt to establish that, i n the early Muslims' understanding,
'Islam' connoted a personal attitude o f piety rather than a
religious system.
In pursuit o f this objective, Smith took the definition o f 'Islam' by al-Tabari (d. 302 AH/915 C E ) , namely,'submission to M y
command and self-determination to obedience to M e ' , w h i c h
-Tabari continues w i t h ' i n accordance w i t h its obligations, prohibitions and notable recommendations prescribed by M e for
your benefit'. Unable to appreciate the sudden transfer from the
addressive to the third person form o f Arabic letters, Smith took
the 'obligations, prohibitions and notable recommendations' to
refer to ' c o m m a n d ' , rather than to 'Islam', the definiendum.
Arabically, this is utterly inacceptable. I t turns the whole sen
w>

a n C

re

o n

tence upside-down and makes ugly brokenness out o f its literary


flow. I f we may not question Smith s Arabic abilities, we must
conclude that he had bent the language to suit a preconceived
argument.
Secondly, the literal, obvious and common sense meaning o f
d-Ma'idah
5: 4, namely, 'Today, I have completed for you your
7

ISLAM AND OTHF.R FAITHS

religion. . .', Smith calls a 'modern interpretation', a 'nowadays'


interpretation, and leads his reader to suppose that the understanding that this verse signalled the completion of the religious
system o f Islam is an understanding of'nowadays', o f modern
times, o f the decades after World War I L
This is not all. That the occasion o f the revelation o f this verse,
as well as the whole o f Surah al-Ma'idah is the last pilgrimage of
the Prophet is an established historical fact beyond doubt. The
same al-Tabari, w h o m Smith reports as ignorant o f the Sitz-imLeben o f revelation o f this verse, says on pages 5249 o f volume
I X o f his great Tafsir (Old Edition) that this verse was revealed [fx
7

yawmijum^ah wa kana yawmu *Arafat, Yawm al-waqfah, wa lam ya^ish


al-nabiyyu ba*dahd ilia wahidan wa thamdmna aw ithnayni wa
thamanina yawman ('on a Friday which was the day o f standing
}

in worship on M o u n t Arafat [the consummation o f the Pilgrimage], and the Prophet did not live any longer than 81 or 82 days
thereafter.') A little further, on page 531 o f the same work, alTabari says verbatim: 'HadhihT ayah bi *Arafat fi hujjat al-wada*'
('This verse was revealed on Arafat on the occasion o f the
Prophet's farewell pilgrimage'). Is this not p r o o f enough that
towards the end o f his life, the Prophet received a revelation
which does i n fact purport to declare the completion o f the revelation, o f the religious system o f Islam?
c

That this is the meaning o f the verse was held at least as early
as al-Jahiz (d. 253 AH/868 C E ) , w h o gave us i n his Al-Bayan wa alTabyin the full text o f the Prophet's farewell sermon, a century
and a half before al-Tabari. I n the same place al-Tabari has
carefully reported, as i f foreseeing Smith's misLinderstanding o f
the whole affair, that 'other historians have indeed held that this
verse was revealed to the Prophet o f God as he marched i n his
farewell pilgrimage'. T h e story is complete i n I b n Sa'd's AlTabaqat al-Kubra and practically every historian and reporter
(muhaddith)
since. N o one o f these had ever accused his
colleagues or predecessors o f such an invention as Smith had
accused them. I n his w o r k especially devoted to the analysis o f
the historical Sitz-im-Leben o f the Qur'anic revelations entided
Asbab al-Nuzul (Cairo: M . B . Halabi, 1379/1959), A b u al-Hasan
8

- c c r M r E OF RELIGIOUS E X P E K I E N C E I N ISLAM
H I E bSShN^t
A

al W a h i d ! (d. 468 AH/1096 CE) repeated the same


_ T a b a r I . W h ereas al-

AB ibn Anma
n terms l a c u ^ * *

claim
- /J
AH/1444 CE) the Mu'tazil! rationalist, wrote
^ E x e g e s i s , the w h o l e story o f the Prophet's farewell
in his
AH/632 C E , al-Iskafi, an earlier Qur'anic scholar
pilgrimag^^
^ contrary to Smith's allegation - that
(d 43
^
' M islimun' and ' M u ' m i n u n ' are synonymous terms and quoted
/
Nrf'tf'
7
*
P
P
*
^
*
*
^
^
^
Q
u
r
'
a
n
a
defined muslimun i n terms o f Tman. Even Ibn Ishaq (d. 151 A H /
768 CE) who gave us the earliest biography o f the Prophet uses
the term 'Islam' i n both the 'reified' and 'non-reified' senses. I n
one passage he calls the Ansar o f Madinah 'the battalion o f
I s l a m ' . Smith's c o n t e n t i o n that r e i f i c a t i o n was a later
phenomenon does not stand a casual reading o f any early Islamic
source work. As for Smith's claim that al-Tabari remained silent
which we have just shown to be false - on the occasion o f the
verse i n question, it is definitely an argument e silencio and more.
For although Smith knew it was e silencio, he still found fit to
mention it. Certainly then he wished his reader to suspect that
the meaning o f the verse was 'apparendy unknown i n the third
century to al-Tabari and to those o f the Companions (may Allah
c pleased w i t h them) whose views he reports'. Al-Tabari's
silence should have kept Smith silent too, logically speaking, for
to argue e silencio is to commit a fallacy. But it did not. Smith's
mistake is hence dotibled.
t

t h o s e

al

/ U 1 /

s u

o r t

v e r s e

l a t

10

11

12

What is the essence o f religious experience i n Islam?


At the core o f religious experience i n Islam stands God. The
shahadah or confession o f Islam asserts: 'There is no God but
God.' The name o f God,'Allah', which simply means 'the God',
pies the central position i n every M u s i
ry
Muslim action, every Muslim thought. The presence o f God fills
the Muslim's consciousness at all times. W i t h the Muslim, God is
indeed a sublime obsession. What does it mean?
9

ISLAM AND

OTI1LR FAITHS

M u s l i m philosophers and theologians have battled i t o u t


among themselves for centuries, and the issue culminated i n the
arguments o f al-Ghazali (1058-1111) and Ibn Rushd (1126-98).
For the philosophers, the isstie was one o f saving the orderliness
o f the Liniverse. The world, they argued, is a cosmos, i.e., a realm
in which order and law prevail, where things happen by a cause
and causes cannot be without their proper effects. I n this stand
they were heirs to the Greek, the Mesopotamian and the Ancient
Egyptian legacies o f religion and philosophy. Creation itself was
for these traditions passage from chaos to cosmos. The Muslims
entertained the highest ideas o f transcendence and nobility o f
the divine being, but they coLild not conceive o f that being as
consistent w i t h a chaotic world.
The theologians, for their part, feared that stich an emphasis
on the orderliness o f the universe necessarilv renders G o d a
deus otiosus; that i t leaves H i m little to do once H e has created
the w o r l d and b u i l t t h e r e i n t o the c l o c k w o r k mechanisms
necessary to set everything i n causal motion. They were right.
For a world i n which everything happens according to a cause
and where causes are all natural i.e., in and from the world - is
one i n w h i c h everything happens necessarily and hence is a
world which does not need God. Such a God would never satisfy
the religious feeling. Either H e is H e by W h o m everything is, by
W h o m everything that happens happens, or H e is no God at all.
By intricate argument, they showed that such a G o d as the
philosophers taught was either ignorant o f what happens,
incapable o f controlling or initiating i t , or that there was some
other God besides H i m , who is the real cause and master o f all.
Hence, they rejected the philosophers' view and invented the
doctrine called 'occasionalism'. This is the theory that at every
m o m e n t o f time, G o d recreates the w o r l d and thus makes
happen all that happens therein. They replaced the necessity o f
catisality w i t h the trust that God, being just and righteous, w i l l
not deceive but w i l l see to i t that the right effect w i l l always
follow upon the right cause. The Lipshot o f the matter was not
the establishment o f causality, but o f divine presence, and o f

10

T H E ESSENCE Ol RELIGIOUS E X P E R I E N C E IN ISLAM

o d a t i n g causality to that presence. The theologians


acc
^ r r i e d a sweeping victory over the philosophers.
B e h i n d the t h e o l o g i a n s ' p o s i t i o n stands the M u s l i m ' s
xperience, where God is not merely an absolute, ultimate first
cause or principle but a core o f normativeness. It is this aspect o f
God that suffers most in any theory where God becomes a deus
otiosus; and i t is the Muslim's responsiveness to this core o f
normativeness that the philosophers' theory throws out o f j o i n t .
God as normativeness means that He is the being w h o
commands. His movements, thoughts and deeds are all realities
beyond doubt, but everyone o f these insofar as man conceives o f
it is for h i m a value, an ought-to-be, even when, in the case
where it is already realized, no ought-to-do flows from i t . Besides
being metaphysical, God's ultimacy is not for the Muslim isolable
o r n r n

from, or emphasizable at the cost of, the axiological. I f we were


to allow the Muslim here to use the category o f 'the value o f
knowledge', he would say that the value o f the metaphysical is
that it may exercise its imperativeness, its moving appeal or
normativeness.
God is the final end, i.e., the end at which all finalistic nexus
aim and come to rest. Everything is sought for another which in
turn is sought for a third and so on and hence demands the
nexus or chain to continue until a final end is reached which is
an end-in-itself God is such an end, an end for all other ends, all
chains o f ends. He is the ultimate object o f all desire. As such it is
He W h o makes every other good good; for unless the final end
is posited, every link in the chain is undone. The final end is the
axiological ground o f all chains or nexus of ends.

follows from this conception o f God as ultimate finalistic


terminus and axiological ground that He must be unique.
Obviously, i f this were not the case, the question would have to
e raised again regarding the priority or ultimacy of one to the
other. It is of the very nature o f a finalistic end to be unique. The
Qur'an has put it succinctly:'If there were other Gods i n heaven
and earth besides God, heaven and earth w o u l d have fallen
down.' I t is this uniqueness which the Muslim affirms i n his
confession o f faith,'There is no God but God.' I n the long history
13

II

ISLAM AND OTHER rATTHS

o f religions, the Muslim's assertion o f God's existence w o u l d


have come late. Indeed God had told h i m i n the Qur'an that
'there is no people unto w h o m He had not sent a prophet', and
that 'no prophet but had been sent to teach the worship and
service o f God'. But his assertion o f the uniqueness o f God is
new. I t brought a refreshing iconoclasm at a time and place where
dualism and trinitarianism were the higher, and polytheism the
lower state o f religious consciousness. A n d , i n order to pLirge
that consciousness free once and for all, Islam demanded utmost
care i n the use o f language and percepts appropriate to the
unique God.'Father','intercessor','saviour','son', etc., were utterly
banished from the religious vocabulary; and the uniqueness and
absolute transcendence o f the divine being were stressed that
no man may claim any relation to God w h i c h all other men
cannot claim. Islam held as a matter o f principle that no man or
being is one iota nearer to God than any other. That all creation
is creaturely, that i t stands on this side o f the line dividing the
transcendent from the natural, is the necessary presupposition o f
God's axiological ultimacy.
The relevance o f this 'unicity' o f God to the religious life o f
the person is easier to grasp. Man's heart always harbours lesser
deities than G o d , and h u m a n i n t e n t i o n is nearly always
beclouded w i t h desiderata o f varying orders o f rank. The noblest
intention is, as Kant (17241804) had taught, the purest, i.e.,
purified from all objectives of'die Willkui, A n d the purest, Islam
teaches, is that o f which God is the sole occupant after all Willkur
objects are removed and banished.
To perceive God as core or normativeness, as an end whose
very being is imperativeness and desirability, is not possible
unless there are beings for w h o m this normativeness is
normative. For normativeness is a relational concept. For it to
be, there must be creatures for w h o m the divine command is
both perceivable (and hence knowable) as well as realizable.
Relationality is not relativity and should not be understood as
implying that God is dependent upon, or needful for, man and
his world. I n Islam, God is self-sufficient; but this self-sufficiency
does not preclude the creation o f a world i n which men find the

12

THE ESSENCE OF

REL1GTOUS E X P E R I E N C E

IN ISLAM

erativeness and realize its ought-to-be s. A t the core o f the


imp
Islamic religious experience, therefore, stands G o d W h o is
uniq
^ W n w i l l is the imperative and guide for all men
lives The Q u r ' a n has put i t dramatically. It portrays God as
announcing to His angels His intention o f creating the world
and placing therein a vicegerent to do His w i l l . The angels object
that such vicegerent who would kill, do evil and shed blood is
unworthy o f being created. They also contrasted such vicegerent
with themselves who never swerve from fulfilling the divine w i l l ,
to which God answers, ' I know something w h i c h you do not
know.' Obviously, man w o u l d indeed do evil - that is his
prerogative as a free man. But for anyone to fulfil the divine w i l l
when it is perfectly i n his power to do otherwise, is to fulfil a
higher and worthier portion o f the divine w i l l . The angels are
ruled out precisely because they have no freedom to violate the
divine imperative. Likewise, i n another still more dramatic
Qur'anic passage, 'God offered His trust to heaven and earth,
mountains and rivers. These were struck w i t h fear and panic and
rejected the trust. But man accepted the trust and assumed its
burden.' The trust, or divine w i l l , w h i c h no heaven-and-earth
can realize is the moral law w h i c h demands freedom o f the agent
necessarily. I n heaven and earth, the w i l l o f God is realized w i t h
the necessity o f natural law. It is His inalterable sunnah or pattern
which, implanted i n creation, causes creation to run as it does.
Natural law cannot be violated by nature. Its total fulfilment is
all that nature is capable o f d o i n g . But man, who boldly accepts
the trust is capable o f doing the w i l l o f G o d . Only he, therefore,
of all creatures, satisfies the prerequisite o f moral action, namely
freedom. Moral values are more conditioned than the elemental
values o f nature since they presuppose t h e m . Equally, they
presuppose the utilitarian or instrumental valties and stand
therefore higher than either o f these. Evidently, they are the
higher part o f the divine w i l l which necessitated the creation o f
nian and his appointment as the vicegerent o f divinity on earth.
Because o f this endowment, man stands higher than the angels,
u e

a n <

s e

14

15

16

17

lS

he can do more than they.' H e can act morally, i.e., i n


freedom, which they cannot. Man equally shares the necessity o f
9

13

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

natural causation i n his vegetative and animal life i n his physical


presence as a thing among things on earth. But as the being
through w h o m the higher part of Gods w i l l can be realized, he
stands absolutely without peer. His is a cosmic vocation, a genuine
khilafah, or vicegerence o f the divine order.
It would indeed be poor, uncoordinated work on the part o f
God i f He had created such a cosmic creature as man without
enabling h i m to know His w i l l ; or placed h i m on an earth which
is not malleable enough to receive man's discharge o f his ethical
vocation, or on one where the doing or not-doing o f that w i l l
would make no difference.
To know the divine w i l l , man was given revelation, a direct
and immediate disclosure of what God wants h i m to realize on
earth. Wherever the revelation was corrupted, perverted, or
f o r g o t t e n , G o d has repeated the performance, t a k i n g i n t o
consideration the relativities o f history, the changes i n space and
time, all to the purpose o f keeping w i t h i n man's reach a ready
knowledge o f the moral imperatives. Equally, man is endowed
w i t h senses, reason and understanding, i n t u i t i o n , all the
perfections necessary to enable h i m to discover the divine w i l l
unaided. For that w i l l is imbedded not only i n causal nature, but
equally i n human feelings and relations. Whereas the former
half takes an exercise o f the discipline called natural science to
discover i t , the second half takes the exercise o f the moral sense
and the discipline o f ethics. The discoveries and conclusions are
not certain. They are always subject to trial and error, to further
experimentation, further analysis and to correction by deeper
insight. But, all this notwithstanding, the search is possible, and
reason cannot despair o f re-examining and correcting its own
previous findings without falling into scepticism and cynicism.
Thus, knowledge o f the divine w i l l is possible by reason, certain
by revelation. Once perceived, the desirability o f its content is a
fact o f human consciousness. Indeed, the apprehension o f value,
the suffering o f its moving appeal and determinative power, is
itself the 'knowledge' of it. For to know value is to lose one's
ontological poise or equilibrium and to roll i n the direction o f
it, that is to say, to suffer change, to begin the realization o f its

14

THE ESSENCE OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE IN ISLAM

ought-to-be, to fulfil the ought-to-do which issues therefrom.


As the leading American empiricist, C.I.Lewis (1883-1964), Lised
to say: T h e apprehension o f value is an experience and is itself
"value-ing".'
So much for the consequences of religious experience i n Islam
for the theory o f man. We ought now to consider the implications
for soteriology and history. We have already mentioned the
malleability o f the w o r l d , its readiness to be i n f o r m e d ,
rekneaded, remoulded and cut so as to make it a concretization
o f the divine pattern. This preparation, together w i t h the
availability o f revelation and the promise o f a c r i t i c a l
establishment o f the d i v i n e w i l l by reason, all render
unpardonable the failure o f man to fulfil his vicegerency. Indeed,
fulfilment o f his vocation is the onlv condition Islam knows for
man's salvation. Either i t is his own doing or it is worthless.
Nobody can do the j o b for h i m , not even God, without rendering
h i m a puppet. This follows from the nature o f moral action,
namely, it is not itself, that is moral, unless it is freely willed and
undertaken to completion by a free agent. W i t h o u t the initiative
and effort o f man, all moral worth or value falls to the ground.
Islamic soteriology therefore is the diametrical opposite o
that o f traditional Christianity. Indeed, the term 'salvation' has no
equivalent i n the religious vocabulary o f Islam. There is no
saviour and there is nothing from which to be saved. Man and
the world are either positively good or neutral, but not evil.
Man begins his life ethically sane and sound, not weighed down
by any original sin, however mild or Augustinian. I n fact, he is
at birth already above the zero point i n that he has the revelation
and his rational equipment ready for use, as well as a world all
too ready to receive his ethical deed. His religious felicity (the
term Islam uses is faldh, which comes from the root meaning 'to
grow vegetation out o f the earth') consists o f his fulfilment o f
the divine imperative. H e can hope for God's mercy and
forgiveness, but he may not count on i t while refraining from
doing the divine w i l l whether out o f ignorance, laziness or blatant
defiance. His fate and destiny are exactly what he himself makes
them to be. God's government is just, neither favourable nor
a

20

21

22

23

24

15

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

unfavourable. Its scale o f justice is absolutely that o f the most


precise and perfect balance. A n d its system o f worldly and otherw o r l d l y rewards and punishments disposes for everyone,
whether blest or unblest, exacdy what he deserves.
Islamic religious experience had great conseqtiences for world
history. T h e fire o f the Muslim's vision caused h i m to h u r l
himself onto the stage o f history therein to effect the realization
o f the divine pattern his Prophet had communicated to h i m .
Nothing was for h i m worthier than this cause. I n its interest, he
was prepared to pay the maximum price, that o f laying down his
life. True to its content, he regarded his stage as consisting o f the
whole world, o f his ummah as consisting o f mankind less a few
recalcitrants w h o m he sought to bring w i t h i n the fold by force
o f arms. His pax Islamica, w h i c h stood on his arms, was never
conceived as a m o n o l i t h i c society i n w h i c h Islam alone
predominates. I t included Jews, Chistians, Sabaeans by Qur'anic
authority, Zoroastrians by Muhammadan authority, and Hindus
and Buddhists by the jurists' extrapolation o f that authority. The
ideal remained the same, namely, a world i n which, as the Qur'an
ptits i t , 'the divine word is supreme', and everybody recognizes
that stipremacy. But such recognition to be worth anything at all
must be free, the deliberate decision o f every person. That is
why to enter into the pax Islamica never meant conversion to
Islam, but entry into a peaceful relationship wherein ideas are
free to move and men are free to convince and be convinced.
Indeed, the Islamic state put all its resources at the disposal o f
Jewish society, Christian society, H i n d u and Buddhist society,
whenever these sought her authority to bring back into line
w i t h Judaism, C h r i s t i a n i t y , H i n d u i s m , and B u d d h i s m any
member who defied or transcended that line. The Islamic state
was the only non-Jewish state where the Jew was not free to deJudaize himself, or to rebel as a Jew against the atithority o f
Judaism. The same applied to the Christian, H i n d u or Buddhist.
Whereas, up to his Emancipation i n the nineteenth century, the
European Jew who defied the directive o f his Bayt ha Din could
only be excommunicated such excommunication making o f
h i m a lawless man, awaited just outside the walls o f the ghetto
2S

16

THE ESSENCE OF RELIGIOUS E X P E R I E N C E IN ISLAM

the Christian state or any non-Jew to be dispossessed and


killed the o r i e n t a l Jew w h o defied his Bayt ha Din was
corrected by the Islamic state in the name o f his rabbis. This
constitutes an ultimate proof o f the M u s l i m understanding o f
the divine trust as ethical.

Ill
The essence o f religious experience i n Islam, we may say i n
conclusion, is the realization that life is not in vain; that it must
serve a purpose the nature o f which cannot be identical w i t h the
natural flow o f appetite to satisfaction to new appetite and new
satisfaction. For the M u s l i m , reality consists o f t w o utterly
disparate orders, the natural and the transcendent; and it is to the
latter that he looks for the values by w h i c h to govern the flow o f
the former. Having identified the transcendent realm as God, he
rules out any guidance o f action that does not proceed therefrom.
His rigorous tawhid (or unization o f divinity) is, i n the final
analysis, a refusal to subject human life to any guidance other
than the ethical. Hedonism, eudaemonism and all other theories
which find moral value i n the very process o f natural life are his
bete noire. I n his view, to accept any o f them is to set up other
gods besides God as guide and n o r m o f human action. Shirk, or
association o f other gods w i t h God is really the mixing up o f the
moral values w i t h the elemental and utilitarian w h i c h are all
instrumental and never final.
To be a Muslim is precisely to perceive God alone (that is, the
Creator, and not nature or the creature) as normative, His w i l l
alone as commandment, His pattern alone as constituting the
ethical desiderata o f creation. The content o f the Muslim's vision
^ truth, beauty and goodness; but these for h i m are not beyond
the pale o f his noetic faculties. He is therefore an axiologist i n
his religious disciplines o f exegesis, but only to the end o
reaching a sound deontology, as a jurist. Justification by faith is
h i m meaningless, unless i t is the simple introduction into
the arena o f
is there that he claims his best, as well as
r

17

ISLAM AND OTHFR FAITHS

his worst. For he knows that as man, he stands alone between


heaven and earth w i t h none but his axiological vision to show
the road, his w i l l to c o m m i t his energies to the task and his
conscience to guard against pitfalls. His prerogative is to lead the
life o f cosmic danger; for no God is there to do the j o b for h i m .
N o t only is the j o b done i f and when he has done it for himself,
but he cannot withdraw. His predicament, i f he has any by nature,
is that he must carry the divine trust to complete realization or
perish, as a Muslim, i n the process. Surely, tragedy lurks behind
every corner i n his path. But that is also his pride. As Plato put i t ,
he is 'doomed to love the good'.

Notes
1.

Mircea Eliade and Joseph Kitagawa (cds.), Tlie History of Religions: Essays

in Methodology (Chicago.The University of Chicago Press, 1959), pp. 31-66.

2.

Ibid., pp. 52-3. See also Institute oflslamic Studies brochures for 1952-61.

3.

Another more recent discover)-* of the vanity of such claim was made by

J.S.Trimmingham who, after a long career in Islamic Studies as well as Christian


mission to Muslim lands, wrote: 'A Christian cannot tell a Muslim what the
Qur'an means' (Two Worlds Are Ours, Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1971, p. 161).
4.

Wilfred C . Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion

(New York: T h e

Macmillan Co., 1962, 1963), Chapter IV.


5.

Three reasons have presented themselves to explain this Byzantine will to

co-existence with Arab paganism, namely: Theological affinity involving


trinitarianism, saviour ism and intercessionism, and sacramentalism; lack of a will
to mission promoted by interminable theological disputes; and a consuming
interest in trade arrangements.
6. One should mention here that the statistical method used by Smith, and
consisting of counting the incidence of the terms 'Islam' and *Iman* in the Qur'an,
in the tides of books mentioned by Carl Brockelmann in his famous Geschichte, is
frivolous and misleading. Classical Muslim authors were not in the habit of using
cither the word Islam or Iman in their titles. In Smith's calculus, however, this fact
counts against them. For the picture would be radically different if one realized
what the ratio is of titles using either 'Islam' or 'Iman' to those using neither. Smith
says he has looked at over 25,000 titles (77/e Meaning and End of Religion, p. 298),
but he omitted to tell his readers how many of these included the terms in
question. He gave only the percentages of the uses.

18

T H E ESSENCE OF RELIGIOUS E X P E R I E N C E I N ISLAM

Smith writes: ['Today I have completed your religion for you'] is


7
bv
Muslims
'nowadays
.
.
.
as
having
been
revealed
accordingly
understood >

nd of the Prophet's career, closing the exposition of Islam as a now completed

very
ystem' (Smith, op. ciL, p. 297)
8

/W.,Vol.IX,p.53iAl-Kashashdf

*an Haqa'iq

al-Tanzil

wa

'Uyww

al-Aqawd jiWujuh

al-la'wil

9(Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, i966),Vol. I, p. 593-

Muhammad ibn 'Abdullah al-Khatlb al-Iskafi", Durrat al-lanztl

wa Gh

10.
il-Ta'wil (Cairo: Muhammad Matar al-Warraq, 1909,p. 180). Here al-Iskafi* ass
m

Falamma taqarabat al-Lafzatan (i.e., muslimun and mu'minun) wa ka


<

Ti.

Ihid

Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibnYasar, Sirat al-Nably Sail a All aim 'Alayhi wa

Sallam, recension of Muhammad 'Abdul Malik ibn Hisham (d. 834) (Cairo:

Muhammad Subayh),Vol. IV, p. 1073.


12.

Smith, op. cit., p. 297.

13.

al-Anbiya'

14.

al-Baqarah 2: 30

15.

al-Ahzab

16.

. . . 'There is no altering to God's creation. That is the right religion

21: 22, 29,

33:72.

though most men do not know' (al-Rum 30: 30). Further elaborations of the them<
may be read in al-Baqarah 2:164; Al *Imran 3: 5; al-Anjal :y,al-An^atn
al-A 'raf 7: 54; Yiinus 10: 5-6,18,61;

Had 11:6;

6: 59,95-9

al-Nahl 16:49; la Ha 20: 6; al-Furqa

25: 45-53; etc., etc.

'There is no change in God's (swuiah) pattern of action.' (al-Ahzab

17.
p

ti*

33:62

35: 43; al-Fath 48: 23).

'Whoever wills to believe, or to disbelieve, |does so of his own accord]'

18.

(dl-KahfiS:

29). 'God does not change the situation of any group of men until they

transform their own selves' (al-Ra\l

1 3 : 1 1 ) . .Whatever man has earned, he will

certainly be given' (la Ha 20:15; al-Najtn 53:39). Man's capacity for evil is stressed
in al-!\ isa' 4: 27; al-lsra' 17:11, 67; Ibralitm 14: $^ al-Shura 42: 48, al-Ma'arij
T

Abasa 80: 17; al-'Adiyat

*9.

al-Hijr

100: 6; al- Asr


l

70: 19;

103: 2.

15: 28-30.

20.

See n. 18 above.'Whoever accepts this guidance (the Q


does so to his own merit, and whoever errs does so to his own demerit.. .Teach t
Qur an, that man may learn that it is by his own deeds that he delivers himself
rum' (Yunus 10: 108; al-An'am

6: 70.

19

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

21.

' O n that day [the Day of Judgement] men will rise severally to be shown

their own works. Then, whoso has done an atom's weight of evil will also see it
returned' (al-Zalzala 99: 68).'[On that day] . . .As for him whose scales are heavy
widi good works, he will have the pleasant existence; but as for him whose scales
are light, Hell will be his destination' (al-Qari'ah
22.

101: 69).

'[God] docs not require of any person except that of which he is capable'

(al-Mu'minun

23: 62).'God burdens no soul beyond its capacity. It shall have the

reward it earns and it shall get the punishment it incurs. . . Our Lord, burden us not
with what we have not the strength to bear' . . . (al-Baqarah 2: 286).
23.

'And orient yourself to the service of God, as the religion has directed.

That is natural, the very nature which God had embedded within you, no change
in the work (wrought) by God. That is the right religion' (al-Rum 30: 30).
24.

A tradition of the Prophet says:'Man is born a Muslim [considering that

Islam is natural religion, Ur-religion]. It is his parents which Judaize or Christianize


him' (SahJh al-Bukhari,Khab
25.

al-Jana'iz andTafsir).

A l l these principles of Islamic ethics can easily be substantiated by

quotations from the Qur'an, the supreme Islamic authority.The reader is kindly
referred to the topical selections on pp. 319-37 of 77K? Great Asian Religions, ed. and
comp. by Chan, al-Faruqi, et al. (NewYork:The Macmillan Co., 1969).

CHAPTER TWO

Divine Transcendence

and Its Expression


Genesis and Early Development of the Idea
of Divine Transcendence

The earliest 'logos' doctrine on record is that propounded by


Memphite theology. It states that the God Ptah thought i n his
heart everything i n creation and then uttered his thought. The
act o f utterance, o f expression o f inner thought into outer words,
is the creative act w h i c h brought about the real existence o f
everything. Expression i n words was a creative materialization o f
things, including a creation o f the other gods. The genesis o f the
world and o f everything i n it was a progress from divine thought
to divine word, and 'every divine word came into being through
that which was thought by the heart and commanded by the
tongue . C o n f o r m i n g w i t h long-standing Egyptian religious
wisdom, Memphite theology did see Ptah as the power i n all
things. His thinking and commanding were not only the origin
of the existence o f everything, but equally, its sustenance and
source o f life, growth and energy This notwithstanding, it was
opposed and hence, was not popular and did not survive
because it saw God (may He be Glorified and Exhalted) as i n
some aspect prior to His creation. I n other words, M e m p h i t e
1

This article was published in Henry O.Thompson (ed.). The Global Congress of
the World's Religions (Proceedings of 1980-82 Conference), (Washington, D C : The
Global Congress of the World's Religions, Inc., 1982), pp. 267-316.

21

ISLAM AND OTTILiR IAITHS

theology was rejected because o f the grain o f transcendence i t


contained. Somehow, i t removed God from His creatures though
He continued to act i n them. The Egyptian wanted to see God
in the creature, not beyond i t . God, in his view, lived i n nature.
The ancient Egyptian was repulsed by any suggestion that
removed h i m from God's proximity. That is w h y he regarded
God's hierophany in nature as constitutive. He did not have to
think God; he perceived H i m immediately i n the phenomena
o f nature. Wherever he turned, he could tell himself, Voild God.
W i t h this givenness o f God, the Egyptian mind could afford to
be abstract about God's character. Amon-Ke was characterless,
u n k n o w n . N o gods know his true shape . . . N o witness is born
to h i m . He is too mysterious for his glory to be revealed, too
great for questions to be asked o f h i m , too powerful to be
k n o w n / This enabled the Egyptian to regard God's character as
genuinely numinous, i.e., as mysterious and unknowable. He
beheld, rather than thought, God; and he knew H i m , the God,
rather than his character.
The conception o f God differed radically i n Mesopotamia.
There, the tradition had long established God as prior to His
creation. As its creator and fashioner, He stood as i t were beyond
it, prior to i t , ontologically as well as in His efficacious animation
o f it. The Mesopotamian saw God i n the phenomena o f nature:
but unlike the Egyptian, he saw the hierophany only as the
occasional appearance o f the God, not as constitutive. Nature was
for him a carrier one could almost say an expression o f divine
power, never identified w i t h it; e.g., Inanna and her reed. Enlil
and his storm, etc. The god or goddess was never either reed or
storm, though all reeds and all storms were hierophanies o f them.
Equally, each god had his o w n domain beyond which he never
went. Nonetheless, his realm was never exhaustively equated w i t h
him. His divine being was different and separate from the natural
phenomenon though inextricably associated w i t h it.
B o t h the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian felt themselves
surrounded by God on every side because nature surrounded
t h e m . However, whereas the Egyptian perceived the divine
presence immediately i n nature, the Mesopotamian deduced the
4

22

DIV1NF TRANSCENDENCE AND

ITS EXPRESSION

divine presence mediately from nature, i.e., he saw the natural


henonienon as an index which he related to the divine by an
act o f thought. For the Egyptian, God was in and of nature,
logically equivalent to, or convertible w i t h i t , and nature was
ontologically constitutive o f divinity. For the Mesopotamian, God
was in but never equivalent to or convertible w i t h i t . Abolish
nature from reality: To the Egyptian, you have abolished God; to
the Mesopotamian, you have made His effects imperceptible but
never touched God.
The w i l l or command o f God was for the Egyptian legible i n
nature, just as divine nature was immediately perceivable. That
is why morality was taken to be the science o f nature, and its
norms were called 'the teachings'. For the first time, moral
investigation absolutely coincided w i t h scientific investigation.
The 'command o f God' was itself the phenomenon o f nature.
Nature was diversity; but its diversity was merely God s idiom o f
expression. It was varied, while Divine nature was one and the
same, an underlying unity. Since this was not the case for the
Mesopotamian, he sought to understand God by characterizing
H i m as well as he could through observation o f Gods effects.
Such characterizations naturally arranged themselves into groups,
and produced i n due course a pantheon o f different characters,
each o f w h i c h was perceived as possessing a different set o f
attributes or characteristics. Marduk, the greatest god o f the gods,
had fifty names, all characteristics o f h i m , and he could be
worshipped by the recitation o f those names. Other gods had
lesser characteristics. Evidently, the characterizations o f the god
which have been collected after observing the god s acts in nature,
and were subsequently built up into a divine personality, replace
the i m m e d i a t e l y - g i v e n phenomena o f nature i n E g y p t .
Abstracting the characterizations from nature is the work o f the
imagination.
The Apollonian revolution i n Greece w h i c h built out o f the
ntes o f f e r t i l i t y and appeasement a pantheon o f gods and
goddesses i n dramatic interaction w i t h one another, was little
o r e than such work o f the imagination. Its poeticality consists
f an idealization component w h i c h differentiated it from the
ni

23

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

e m p i r i c a l generalizations o f science. I d e a l i z a t i o n is the


rearrangement and intensification o f the characteristics observed
in the hierophanic phenomena o f nature. I n both Mesopotamia
and Greece, divine transcendence consists, i n abstraction from
natural phenomena, i.e., i n regarding God as prior to nature;
and i n enabling the imagination to perceive H i m through such
character-reading. I n Greece, an additional step was taken to
intensify and rearrange the characterizations, to harmonize or
juxtapose them i n different gods. Greece had remained closer to
Egypt than to Mesopotamia by subjecting its idealization o f the
gods to nature. The A p o l l o n i a n myth-makers have followed
nature rather closely i n their idealization. I n consequence, their
gods turned otit to be personifications o f the elements of nature
raised to the n degree and rearranged so as to expose their natural
individuation.
I n contrast, Mesopotamia idealized i n the opposite direction.
Concerned w i t h divinity's ontological difference from and
p r i o r i t y to nature, its idealization (i.e., intensification and
rearrangement) pressed away from nature. I n consequence, their
gods turned out to be transcending the hierophanic elements o f
nature and tending towards total otherness from nature. The
imagination had to work harder here than i n Greece, precisely
because o f this intensified stance from nature. The phenomena
o f nature lost not only the constitutive capacity they enjoyed i n
Egypt, but equally their capacity as indices o f divinity. They
became props for the imagination w h i c h carried most o f the
b u r d e n o f p e r c e p t i o n o f the d i v i n e . As a p r o p for the
imagination, the phenomenon or element o f nature enjoys a
suggestive capacity whose pLirity is directly proportional to the
transcendentalizing o f the god i n question. I n the case o f Marduk,
God o f Babylon, the Semitic transcendentalizing effort reached
its pre-Abrahamic apogee as far as historical records give us
reason to determine. T h e gods associated w i t h nature have
become, i n the Akkadian epic o f creation, Enuma elish, mere
executives, attendants or regional governors for Marduk, the god
o f gods, who was elected to this post by the primordial assembly
o f the gods. M a r d u k has no association w i t h any specific
4

24

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

ient of nature. He is the creator o f all and hence associable


]y w i t h the 'whole' o f creation. His characterization is the
hest o f all the gods: 'By his fifty names he shall be praised.' He
the absolute ruler: I n his hand is the 'tablet o f destinies'. His
will is the law o f heaven and earth; Hammurabi as well as other
earthly kings are only executors of the law. They may reward the
obedient and punish the violators; but ultimate justification and
condemnation belong to Marduk alone.
1

Divine Transcendence in Pre-Islam


Mesopotamia and Arabia

Religion i n the Near East has always been associated w i t h the


state. Indeed, religion always provided the state's raison d'etre.This
feature o f the religious life is due to the fact that all Near Eastern
religion is life-affirming and world-oriented. It means to make
or remake history, to remould so as to perfect nature and enable
man to maximize his usufruction o f it. This connection w i t h
history has been the source o f corruption i n religion. Human
life w i t h all its passions, differentiations and motives, its thousandand-one relativities, is a constant temptation to alter the religion
to suit the person, or particular group concerned. Hence, religion
has been oscillating between purity and corruption, a stage i n
which the voice o f prophethood speaks i n clear terms what God
commands and another stage i n w h i c h the voices o f the
concerned interpret or tamper w i t h the earlier revelation to
advance their cause.
The ancient states i n Mesopotamia and D i y a r al-Sham
(Greater Syria) rose and fell in quick succession. It was natural
that the canons, definitions and imperatives o f religion would
also vary despite the permanent substrate o f principles common
to all. But especially since the middle o f the second millennium
c , when the t e r r i t o r y began to be invaded by non-Semites
from the n o r t h , northeast and northwest w h o belonged to a
d i c a l l y different w o r l d - v i e w , the p u l l towards a closer
association o f divinity w i t h nature, increased. The gods' names,
B

r a

ISLAM AND OTHER

1A1TIIS

genders and the n a t u r a l elements c o n s t i t u t i v e o f t h e i r


hierophanies rotated among them, but the interest i n them as
the divinities persisted throughout, despite the change. The
cities and villages o f Canaan and Phoenicia, for instance, found
religious satisfaction i n worshipping deities (El, Ba al, Yamm,
M o t , Ashtar, Eshmun, M i l k o m , M i l q u a r t , etc.) w h i c h were
closely associated w i t h natural phenomena, especially those o f
f e r t i l i t y However, they were interested i n these deities as
generic divine powers rather than individuals - thus reverting
to a situation resembling Egypt. They showed their faithfulness
to the transcendent god by recognizing, i n addition to the
particular gods, Ba'al, the Lord o f Heaven, the M i g h t y Lord o f
all the holy gods. I n Arabia, for another example, the masses
found religious satisfaction w i t h the tribal deities w h i c h preIslamic Arabic literature has brought to us; but they added to
these, two other levels o f divinities: the gods and goddesses o f
Makkah, and above these, Allah, the Lord and Creator o f all,
W h o never had an image, any tribal connection or hierophanic
association.
(

I n Arabia, another fact imposes itself upon us. That is the


presence o f the hariifs w h o m tradition has described as strict
monotheists, w h o rejected Arab polytheism, maintained a life
o f purity and righteousness, and rose above tribal loyalties. The
hanifs were the carriers o f the best i n the Semitic tradition.They
kept up the notion o f transcendence entertained by its ancient
adherents and prophets; and, i t w o u l d seem, even further
developed i t . Their rejection o f tribal and Makkan gods and
their abhorrence
o f t h e i r images marks t h e m as
transcendentalists o f the first calibre. They must be the media
by w h i c h the S e m i t i c t r a d i t i o n o f transcendence had
transmitted and perpetuated itself.
The Hebrews and Their Descendants

Biblical scholars are agreed that before the Exile, there is no


evidence that the god the Hebrews worshipped was transcendent.
T h e evidence surviving all editions o f the Biblical text is

26

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

rwhelniing. So many passages speak o f God i n the plural for


'Elohini' that a source text is assumed to have been incorporated
t o the scripture i n w h i c h God was indeed plural. These Elohim
intermarried w i t h the daughters o f men and produced offspring
(Genesis 6: 2, 4). I n another passage, God is referred to as a ghost
which Jacob beheld 'face to face', wrestled w i t h and nearly
defeated (Genesis 32: 24-30). I n a third passage (Genesis
Laban possessed gods w h i c h Jacob's wife Rachel h i d under
her skirts when their owner came into her tent looking for them.
The Hebrew king is declared to be the 'son o f God' (Psalms 2: 7;
89: 26; Samuel 7: 14; / Chronicles 17: 13, etc.) and the Hebrews,
'the sons o f God' i n a real sense (Hosea 1: 10; Isaiah 9: 6; 63:14-16;
etc.).The conclusion is inevitable that the Hebrew mind at that
age did indeed strike a geneological connection between the
n

people and 'their' god w h i c h does not become invalid even by


their 'a-whoring' after other gods (Hosea 2: 213). I n Deuteronomy
9: 5-6, we read that God grants favours to the Hebrews despite
their i m m o r a l i t y and stiffneckedness, because they are ' H i s
People' and He is bound by His promise ever to favour them.
Evidendy such a god was not the transcendent God k n o w n later.
That the Hebrews were content to have a non-transcendent
god, is attested by the fact that as far back as t h e i r se
consciousness goes - and hence their history - the Hebrews
were i n some measure ethnocentrist. This particularism may
well have been expressed by their notion o f God as 'their father',
of themselves as 'His chosen and elect'. Consequently, the nature
of such a deity had to be conceived i n non-transcendentalist
terms. I n opposition to this view, Biblical scholars point out that
the Exile witnessed a great j u m p toward transcendence. They
explain that this development was prompted by three influences.
Pi^st, under the pressure for self-re-examination that crushing
defeat brings, th e Hebrews might have heard and listened to a
pure transcendentalist view o f divinity taught by the hamfs o f
Mesopotamia. Second, they may have listened to the popular
transcendentalist views o f the Semitic Mesopotamian and Syrian
Masses as well as the adherents and advocates o f Zoroastrian
H g i o n . Third, their status as an element i n a new world-order
6

re

27

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

about to be born through the agency o f a goy king (Cyrus) and


a goyim people (the Persians), might have caused them to widen
the jurisdiction - and hence, the nature - o f the father-god.
These influences may have caused Detitero-Isaiah to reform the
old Hebrew notion o f God.
Under the influence o f Christianity and Islam which continLie
to the present day, Judaism made further strides towards divine
transcendence. The rabbis o f Palestine and Iraq i n the early
Christian centuries o f the MLIslim World, especially Spain, N o r t h
Africa and Egypt, have w r i t t e n treatises i n w h i c h God is as
transcendent as the best C h r i s t i a n and Islamic legacy has
conceived H i m to be. I n this regard, the writings o f Musa ibn
M a y m u n (1135-1204), Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86), I b n
Gabirol (1021-58), Ibn Kaimiiiinah, and Ibn Zakariyya stand out
among the best mankind has produced. I n the contemporary
scene, Abraham Heschel (1907-72), Leopold ZLUIZ (1794-1886),
and S o l o m o n Steinheim (17891866) have c o n t i n u e d the
medieval tradition, presenting divine transcendence i n an idiom
comprehensible to modern man.
7

However, the basic doubt affecting divine transcendence i n


Judaism remains. This doubt has two causes. First, is the Jews'
continuing to honour as divine revelation a scripture which is
open to the foregoing critique. Second, is their doctrine o f
election that is biological and, by denying the relevance o f
religion and morality, downright unethical and indeed racist. The
adherents o f Reform Judaism have for the most part abandoned
the v i e w o f v e r b a t i m revelation o f any part o f scriptLire.
Acknowledging the validity o f Biblical criticism, they maintain
that the O l d Testament is the record o f humans' views about
reality w h i c h have significance for Jews in a more intimate way
than the exhortation or reports o f other wise humans i n history.
Being human and historical, the texts o f Torah, Psalms and
Prophets do not escape the relativities o f history and must be
taken as such. This did not convince Reformed Jews that immoral
election must be equally SLibject to historical relativity and is
unworthy o f modern Jews. Indeed, their rejection o f the divine
status o f the scripture was the corollary o f their dotibt o f the

28

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

p e r n a t u r a l and transformation o f Judaism into an e t h n o cultural identity. This ethnocentricism leaves a back door open
f relating to a societal archetype who is taken to be the 'god' or
'father' o f the ethnic entity. This explains the continuing use o f
harsh, questioning, and critical, even disrespectful language i n
ddressing
oneself
to
God.
The
rabbis
o
f
old
had
done
i
t
;
and
yet
a
none had dared use the chastizing language o f E l i Wiesel's
conversations w i t h God. Shockingly tragic, the Holocaust o f
Hitler certainly was. But no tragedy whatever justifies the kind
of criticism Wiesel and his colleagues today address to God. That
God is dead, that H e abandoned His creation to Satan, that He
lost His divine concern and providence cannot be said by the
person who believes God to be God. At any rate, condemnation
of the tragic event i n no way implies its denial as a decree o f
sU

o r

God which must be acknowledged as such.


In fact, Isaiah's contribution was the identification o f Jahweh
w i t h Babylon's mighty Lord o f heaven and earth, w h o says o f
Himself: ' I am the Lord; and there is none else, there is no god
beside me' (Isaiah 45: 5-6, 14, 18; 46: 9; 47: TO). Such 'growth' o f
Hebrew divinity united the best i n Babylonian and Persian transcendentalism w i t h the Hebrew n o t i o n o f divinity. However,
Isaiah's god remained bound hand and foot to 'his people' as
before; and he now hurled his new powers against their enemies.
I f he protected and strengthened some goyim i n the process, this
was only to the end o f utilizing them as puppets i n the service o f
the only purpose he ever knew: the welfare o f his own people.
Isaiah's b u i l t - i n ethnocentricism denied h i m the possibility to
nse to the ethical consequences o f transcendentalism. Instead o f
i n g the Prophet o f Jewish transcendentalism, Isaiah accommodated the c t h n o c e n t r i s t god to the demands o f
transcendentalism required by the new age and situation. His
Work prevented the complete t r i u m p h o f transcendentalism
among the Hebrews and denied the thorough acculturation to
h i c h the Exile had exposed them. The ethical enthusiasm o f
Mesopotamia which caused the earthly counterpart o f the cosmic state to be without frontiers and thus to envelop mankind,
mprehensible. A11 men i n the four regions o f the earth'
e

W a s

lnc

<

29

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

are citizens endowed w i t h the same rights and duties vis-a-vis


'the Lord o f the lands', 'the first-being o f all the lands'. Such
thoughts must have remained utterly opaque to Isaiah.
8

The

Christians

The early history o f Christian doctrine reveals three distinct


sources o f influence: Judaism, Hellenism and the mystery
religions.
I.

The Jewish Source

Jesus was born a Jew and his first followers were Jews. H e and
they accepted the Jewish h o l y w r i t i n g s as scripture, and
identified w i t h the religious tradition o f the Jews. Certainly, Jesus
taught t w o doctrines novel to the Judaism w h i c h prevailed i n
his time: universalism and internalism. The first, Jesus opposed
to ethnocentricism which, he thought, had corrupted the bone
and marrow o f the religion o f God. To his mixed audience o f
Jews and goyim, Jesus said: ' A l l ye are brethren . . . Call no man
your father upon the earth: for one is your father which is i n
heaven. Neither be you called masters; for one is your master'
(Matthew 23: 8-10). There is to be no discrimination between
man and man, certainly not between Jews and goyim on account
o f the Jews' descendence from Abraham. Jesus not only rejected
the idea that the Jews are the children o f G o d , but that the
descendence bond counted at all. The suggestion that Jesus' o w n
relatives were entitled to any priority over other humans even
w h e n everyday matters were concerned, angered Jesus and
elicited the reply: ' W h o is my mother and my brethren? Behold
my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the w i l l o f
God, the same is my brother and my sister, and mother' (Mattheiv
12: 48-50; Mark 3: 33-5). ' G o d is able o f these stones to raise
children unto Abraham' (Matthew 3 : 9 ) . God, he maintained, is
good to all indiscriminately (Matthew 5: 44-5); and this new
message is to be conveyed to 'all the nations' (Matthew 28: 19),
for all o f them are equally deserving o f the new revelation.

30

DIVINli TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

Jewish ethnocentrism was seen by Jesus as 'shut(ting) up the


kingdom o f heaven against men* which, together w i t h the Jews'
custom o f calling themselves the children o f God, and God 'their
father', he found odious and intolerable. N o t only was God not
their father, but that their father was the devil whose lusts they
'will do' (John 8: 44, 47). I n fact the Jews, especially their leaders
the scribes and Pharisees interpreters and guardians o f their
religious tradition, stood so condemned i n Jesus' eyes that he
counselled his followers: T say u n t o y o u , except y o u r
righteousness shall exceed the righteousness o f the scribes and
Pharisees, ye shall i n no case enter the k i n g d o m o f heaven'
(Matthew 5: 10). The first prerequisite o f divine transcendence,
namely, universalism, was affirmed by Jesus i n direct opposition
to Jewish ethnocentrism.
Since Jesus inherited his idea o f God from the Jewish tradition
which he regarded as normative but i n need o f correction, it is
reasonable to assume that for Jesus, there was but one God W h o
is the God o f all men. 'None is good save one, that is God', he
said (Matthew 19: 17; Mark 10: 18; Luke 18: 19). Indeed, Jesus
cleansed the Godhead o f any association w i t h the Jews other
than that He is their Creator, as well as the Creator o f all other
men. This was a great reform which Jesus introduced, calling the
Jews back to the (Mesopotamian) tradition o f the hamfs, to
Semitic monotheism at its best, or the affirmation o f one God as
absolute, transcendent Creator and Lord o f the world. I t stands
to reason that Jesus would care for his reform and that he would
dispel any attempt at lessening or confusing the transcendence
o f G o d . Against such reasonable precaution, the evangelists
ascribed to Jesus meanings contradicting divine transcendence.
Although such ascription reflected the ideas o f the ascriberevangelist, not o f Jesus, Christian theologians later referred to
these ideas as proofs o f the doctrine o f the trinity.
is alleged that Jesus called, or permitted himself to be called
the 'son o f man', the 'son o f God', the 'Christ' and 'Lord'. This,
supposedly, constitutes evidence that Jesus regarded himself
worthy o f worship, a second person o f the trinity. 'Son o f man'
or bar-nash/bar-Adam, never meant i n Jesus' Aramaic world any
9

3i

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

more than a well-bred, noble man, or simply a human creature.


This meaning o f the expression is still held today i n Hebrew,
Aramaic as well as Arabic. I n the O l d Testament, the term was
used i n the Book o f Daniel (7: 914) and the Similitudes of Enoch
(3771) i n the same way, meaning moral excellence. Even i n the
synoptic gospels, the term does not seem to mean anything else.
The very attribution o f the term by the Jewish contemporaries
o f Jesus to all Jews, precludes a fortiori any understanding o f it as
meaning something metaphysically different from man. Indeed,
i n the Gospel o f M a r k , since Jesus was n o t called by that
appellation except after baptism, and hence after his decision to
dedicate his life to God's service, the term must have meant the
same to M a r k . I t is only i n Johns Gospel and Paul's Episdes
that 'sonship' becomes something mysterious and metaphysical.
10

11

This fact bears evidence o f the foreign Greek source o f the new
meaning imposed upon the Hebrew/Aramaic word. A t any rate,
Jesus called himself'son o f man', never 'son o f God'. I n John's
Gospel, even that concept, namely, 'the son o f God', suffered
another transformation as radical as the first. I t became 'the only
begotten son o f God' (John 1: 14, 18; 3: 16, 18).
The t e r m Christos, or anointed, meant the k i n g or priest
expected to rehabilitate the Jews and rebuild their Davidic
kingdom. Though as man he is the agent or instrument o f God's
intervention into the processes o f history, the Christos is through
and through man. Otherwise, Isaiah would have never attributed
the title to Cyrus w h o m nobody, not even his o w n subjects,
mistook for anything else but human. I n time, as the Isaiahian
hope for rehabilitation was frustrated and the returnees failed to
rebuild the Davidic k i n g d o m , the Zoroastrian influence o f
eschatological messianism began to inject into the t e r m an
eschatological and hence mysterious reference. T h e Messiah
became a human o f any age yet to come but still all too human.
N o wonder that to Jesus, such appellation was presumptuous.
He not only never accepted i t but counselled his disciples against
its use (Mattheiv 16: 20).

A third argument the later deifiers o f Jesus bring is derived


from his statement,'! and my father are one' (John 10: 30). That

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

tement is found only i n John casts suspicion upon its


^ - At any rate, assuming its authenticity, what could Jesus
source.
Jesus had defined sonship o f God as conformr

1 S

have meant uy

w i t h His w i l l , as obedience to His commandments.


^Whosoever shall do the w i l l o f God', he held, the same is my
brother and my sister, and my mother' (Matthew 12: 48-50; Mark
33-5) Consequently, unity w i t h God must be a spiritual communion whose only base is righteousness or virtue, doing God's
will Certainly there is a sense i n w h i c h a lover can say, ' I and my
beloved are one' without any implication o f ontological unity, o f
loss o f personality or fusion o f individuality. To love or obey a
person thoroughly, or to follow his directives, so as to make one's
will totally harmonious w i t h his, is indeed possible, nay frequent,
i n human experience everywhere. T h e same is true o f the
teacher-pupil, and generally o f any master-disciple relationship.
Here knowledge o f one person by the other can reach such a
degree o f completeness as to warrant the claim o f unity. Since
the Jews had accused Jesus o f violating the commandment o f
the Father, it was natural for h i m to defend himself by insisting
that there is no discrepancy between h i m and God, that is to say,
between what he says or does, and what God wishes or commands h i m to say or to do. To understand such u n i t y
ontologically is to mistake a spiritual meaning for the literal, to
perceive a material percept in place o f a poetical - i n short, it
constitutes evidence that the poetical imagination o f the listener has not been at work.
4

The same misunderstanding is characteristic o f the Christians'


use o f the terms Kurie, O Kurios, Mar, Marl, Maran. These terms
mean master or lord, and they are attached to the demonstrative
die or the possessive pronoun 'my', or 'our'. Whether used
Jesus i n reference to himself, or by his hearers, the term expresses
his relation to a messenger sent by h i m whose commission is to
perform the w i l l o f the sender. I n this sense, any messengersender is a Kurios or master. Such is the case i n Matthew 21: 2
and Mark 11: 2-3, when Jesus sent a disciple into a village to
n g forth a colt. I n all other cases, where the term is used by
Jesus disciples, it is a vocative which implies respect and honour
r i

33

ISLAM AND OTHER EAITHS

but not divinity, since i t can be and is usually applied to any


honoured man. I f PaLil and other men w i t h Hellenized minds
misunderstood the term as meaning G o d , the fact tells about
them, not about Jesus. If, on this basis, Christianity holds that
'the cult o f the Lord Jesus was inherent i n Christianity from the
beginning' and that 'the eventual formulation o f an explicit
doctrine o f our Lord's deity as the incarnate Son o f G o d was
necessitated by the fact that i t provided the only ultimate
intellectual jtistification o f such a cultiis', the assLimption is that
what some disciples thought o f Jesus righdy or erroneously, is
constittitive o f Christianity and that i t is ipso facto truthful o f Jestis.
Another flagrant mistaking o f the material for the spiritual,
and hence o f the literal for the poetical, is the argument between
the Sanhedrin and Jestis. AnxioLis to prove h i m guilty, the
Sanhedrin summoned a witness to testify that Jesus claimed he
could destroy the temple and rebuild i t i n diree days. Certainly
Jesus could perform this feat i n the spiritual sense, just as the
statement said, ' I w i l l b u i l d another (temple) made w i t h o t i t
hands.' Obviously, there is n o t h i n g blasphemous i n such a
statement, i f the 'temple' is taken to mean man's relation o f
worship, adoration, obedience and service to God.
We may conclude from this discussion that Judaism was not a
source working against divine transcendence as far as Christianity
was concerned. T h e areas where Judaism itself compromised
transcendence namely, ' E l o h i m ' as a class o f divine beings
intermarrying w i t h men, exclusivist ethnocentrism, and racist
election did not affect Christian thinking which developed i n
a direction opposite to that o f Judaism. The Jewish tradition
merely furnished the terms w h i c h Christianity used b m n o t
before transforming their Jewish meaning and investing them
w i t h new, non-Jewish signification.
12

13

2.

The Gnostic Source

For three centuries before Jesus, Palestine and the whole Near
Eastern world was flooded by Hellenism, an ideology and w o r l d view deriving from the older roots o f Egyptian religion as well

34

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

reaction o f the provinces against Greek and R o m a n


th
*~lism. It crystallized in the hands o f Plotinus (205-70 c:
^ c T i t exercised a tremendous influence upon the peoples o f the
an
Mediterranean
among
w
h
o
m
Christianity
was
born,
Eastern
-entral
thesis
o
f
agnosticism,
common
to
all
the
schools
Th
[1 it gave rise, is that the essence o f all that is is spirit: that
out o f spirit it all came to be, to spirit it tends and w i l l eventually
return, matter and individuation being an aberration and evi
riiat at the centre o f all being is an absolute spirit w h i c h is
absolutely one and eternal. Gnosticism agrees w i t h pantheism
and is often at the base o f any cosmology affirming the unity o f
being. But the deity or absolute i t affirms is the opposite of
y t h i n g empirical, relative, or personal. I t is this that gave
gnosticism its adaptability to Judaism, Christianity and to Islam,
as well as to the other religions o f antiquity prevalent i n the
Mediterranean basin. I t is responsible for the widespread simile
of spirit to light and the association o f the two i n all that pertains
to the divine and heavenly category.
As a source o f Christian theology, gnosticism furnished the
idea that God is wholly spirit, that He is the Creator o f all that is
ex nihilo, and that creation took place through emanations, the
chief o f which is that o f the logos, the word, which is as thoroughly spiritual and divine as God. The opening verses o f Johns
gospel' bespeak pure gnosticism: and so do those o f the Nicene
Creed.
3 5

tA

15

These words of the Nicene Creed were themselves the words


used by the gnostics for w h o m Jesus was 'the W o r d ' or 'first
Logos' or intelligence emanated from God. Such a logos would
naturally be co-eternal w i t h G o d , the Absolute, since the
emanation from God is the very life and activity o f God and is
hence co-eternal w i t h H i m . The first Intelligence is also 'begotten
not made' i n the sense o f emanated, not created like worldly
things. It is spirit o f the very same spirit as God, and hence both
and God are co-substantial, i.e., o f one substance, namely,
absolute spirit or divinity. O f the Logos, it is certainly true to say
a t it i 'Light o f Light', 'true God o f true God', and ' o f one
substance w i t h the Father'. Neither the ideas nor the vocabulary
J t

th

35

IST.AM AND OTHER FAITHS

of agnosticism are i n any way opposed to transcendence. O n the


contrary, the contempt i n w h i c h gnosticism held matter and
everything material or creaturely, and its insistence on an absolute
spirit that is one and beyond all creation, make it a force working
not against but for transcendence. Indeed, the whole system o f
emanations o f the Ennead, o f logoi coming serially one after
another while keeping their common substantiality, was designed
in order to solve the problem o f matter and plurality (i.e.,
creation) proceeding out o f spirit and unity (i.e., God). The
nearest that gnosticism came to non-transcendence is its
association o f God, the spirit and the logoi w i t h light and the
lights o f heaven. But it must be borne i n m i n d that for their
earlier century, the sun was not merely a ball o f hot gases, nor
the moon a cold mass o f black rock and dust. They were heavenly
lights at w h i c h the soul o f man never stopped wondering. 'Light'
is the fascination o f human consciousness; not the waves o f
energy o f the physicist. By identifying Jesus w i t h the Logos,
Gnosticism sought to digest the novel Christian movement,
while keeping its notion o f divine transcendence intact. That is
w h y all gnostic Christians held tenaciously to the abovementioned part o f the Nicene Creed and dispelled the historical
creaturely Jesus, along w i t h his crucifixion and whole career on
earth as a 'phantasm.'
The Docetists' principle:'If he suffered, he was not God; i f he
was God, he did not suffer' is a perfect summary o f the gnostic
position vis-a-vis the threat to transcendence posed by the
Christians. So is the famous statement o f Arius (250-336 c t ) : ' G o d
always, the Son always; at the same time the Father, at the same
time the Son; the Son co-exists w i t h God, unbegotten (in the
sense o f created); he is ever-born-by-begetting (in the sense o f
emanated); neither by thought nor by any moment o f time does
God precede the Son; God always, Son always; the Son exists
f r o m G o d H i m s e l f . ' Saturninus elaborated the p o s i t i o n
beautifully. I d e n t i f y i n g the l o g o i also as angels, virtues or
attributes o f the spirit, he said: 'There is one Father, utterly
u n k n o w n (i.e., transcendent) w h o made Angels, Archangels,
Virtues and Powers . . . The Saviour . . . is unborn, incorporeal
and without form . . . He was seen as a man i n appearance only.'
16

17

,s

36

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

More clearly, Basilides said: ' M i n d (logos) was first born o f the
n b o r n Father, t h e n Reason f r o m M i n d , f r o m Reason
prudence, from Prudence - Wisdom and Power . . .The U n b o r n
and Unnamed Father sent his First-begotten M i n d and this is
he they call Christ - for the freeing o f them that believe i n h i m
from those w h o made the world . . . A n d he appeared to the
nations o f them as a man on the earth . . . wherefore he suffered
not, but a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, was impressed to bear his
cross for him; and Simon was crucified i n ignorance and error,
having been transfigured by h i m that men should suppose h i m
to be Jesus . . . I f any therefore acknowledge the crucified, he is
ft

still a slave and subject to the power o f them that made our bodies;
but he that denies h i m is freed from them, and recognizes the
ordering o f the U n b o r n Father.' I n fact, gnosticism was fighting
desperately to save transcendence from certain ruin by dedicated
forces. W h o and what were these anti-transcendence forces? By
nature, gnosticism was a view w h i c h appealed to the refined
mind. I t required an intelligence capable o f grasping its abstract
doctrine. Obviously, i t was not a religion for the masses. Its
metaphysics were too spiritual and lofty for the plebeian mind.
The latter could understand and revel i n the concrete, the
material. I f the material has a spiritual aspect to i t w h i c h
ennobled i t and made i t more respectable, all the better. But
such an ideal cannot lose touch w i t h the material world without
losing its appeal. Christian gnosticism was hence hereticated and
defeated by those incapable o f rising to the lofty spheres i t
presented. These insisted o n a real, historical, concrete human
Jesus Christ w h o m they asserted along w i t h the divine, eternal
and spiritual logos. Little did they care that the creaturely human
Jesus dealt a death blow to the transcendence o f the divine logos.
19

3-

The Mystery Religions' Source

The third source o f Christianity was the mystery religions c


E q u i t y These relig ions came on the heels o f decaying Greek
and Mesopotamian religions w h i c h i n their last years were mixed
w i t h primitive R o m a n religion and w i t h Manichaeaism an
37

ISLAM AND

OT11HR FAITHS

Mithraism, respectively. Some influence from Egypt through the


Isis and Osiris cults was also added to the scene, presenting a
vast array o f CLilts and views o f the world.
The elements common to nearly all these cults and views
were a reflection o f the general deterioration o f world order, o f
the imperial states that had hitherto controlled it. A general
moral and religioLis scepticism dorninated the atmosphere as the
public scene was shot through w i t h corruption, egotism, crass
materialism and hedonism and power politics, while the masses
were immersed i n poverty, disease and a miserable existence as
ptippets o f generals and demagogues. The cults divided the
masses, as they catered to their basic human needs i n an hour o f
dying civilizations. First, was the need for a god to assume the
burden o f ones existence w i t h w h i c h the individual could
neither bear nor cope. Such a god, it seemed to them, w o u l d
fulfil his function best by undergoing an expiatory death. Only
in this way could the overwhelrmng feeling o f guilt gnawing at

their soul be relieved. Second, the need for abundant life


expressed i n rites o f fertility aimed at reassuring man o f the
promise o f children, crops and animals. Third, was the need for
a general restoration o f society to a past felicity which was lost i n
the age o f decline. The eschatological projection filled the
imagination w i t h the desiderata o f the deprived masses and halfsatisfied their yearning for justice, for loving concern and wellbeing.
The cults o f Osiris, Adonis and Mithras seemed best suited to
answer all these needs at once. They were all sacramental, offering
the worshipper personal catharsis through participation i n the
death o f the god, effected symbolically by immolating a bull or
goat, and by drinking its blood or a SLibstitute (some jLiice, bread,
milk, honey or wine).The participation was equally in the gods
resurrection w h i c h cheered and reassured the worshipper w i t h
a good harvest i n the autumn, and w i t h plentiful animal offspring
and resurgent nature i n the spring. Initiation into the faith was
carried out by a baptism in water, performed by the priests o f
the cult called 'fathers'. A l l o f these sacraments passed to
Christianity w i t h such little change that, at the time Christianity
38

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

contended w i t h these cults for the souls o f men, it seemed to


Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220) as i f 'the devil himself had inspired a
parody o f the Christian sacraments'.
Above all, the mystery cults o f the ancient w o r l d provided
man w i t h a god on which he could have a hold. The god was
individuated enough to be a person, born hierophanically by a
real bull or goat or pig, physically slaughtered, and physically
consumed, or s y m b o l i c a l l y by means o f real substitutes,
identified w i t h the forces o f nature, the dying w i t h winter and
the resurrection w i t h spring. The sacraments, w i t h their principle
of ex opere operate, gave the worshipper a guaranteed result. The
catharsis they caused was real and felt whenever the faith was
candid and the need was i t s e l f real. T h e m y t h was n o t
demythologized, i.e., seen as myth; but believed i n literally, i.e.,

seen as really and concretely true. Because o f the elaborate rituals


(dromena) which often extended over several days and involved
bathing, shaving, eating, sleeping, strenuous exercises, as well as
orgies, the language used i n connection w i t h the rituals was
capable o f being taken literally as well as metaphorically. W h e n
the Mithraic votary was finally brought before the gods, he could
say: ' I am your fellow wanderer, your fellow star', and the Orphic:
am the child o f Earth and o f the starry Heaven. I too am
become god.' Apuleius tells o f his participation i n the rites o f
Isis: ' I approached the very gates o f death and set one foot on
Porserpine's threshold, yet was permitted to return, rapt through
all elements. A t midnight, I saw the sun shining as i f it were
noon. I entered the presence o f the gods o f the underworld and
die gods of the upper world, stood near and worshipped them.'
After shaving his head, fasting and abstaining for ten days, he was
'admitted to the nocturnal orgies o f the great god and became
his illuminate {principalis dei nocturios orgiis in
lustratus)Lucius
then reports that 'now he (i.e., the god) deigned to address me
in his own person, w i t h his own divine m o u t h ' . I n every sense,
the experience was both empirical and spiritual.
This is a far cry from the transcendent unitary God o f Semitic
religion Whose adoration and worship is a purely spiritual
exercise, carried out w i t h o u t sacrament, w i t h no operatic
20

21

22

39

1ST.AM AND OTHER FAITHS

dromena, and whose language is immediate and direct. T h e


language o f Semitic worship may carry a metaphor or simile; but
it never points to any empirical reality or thing, and allows no
more place to imagery than is needed to move the poetical
imagination on its flight. Naturally, the transcendence aspect o f
this religion had to change i f the religion was to be adopted. The
mind accustomed to sacramental religious practice is i l l adapted
to the kind o f abstraction which the worship o f the transcendent
God demands. A n d i t is precisely this consciousness presupposed
by these mystery religions which continued into Christianity as
it travelled from the Semitic East to the Hellenistic West. The
sacraments, w i t h the human needs to w h i c h they catered,
constituted the underlying substratum: Above all, baptism or the
rite o f praefatus deum veniam,
and the Eucharist, where the
worshipper participates i n the death and resurrection o f the god.
The god is wished dead and resurrected signifying a genuine
natalis sacromm or religious rebirth for h i m .
The names and personalities were a facade w h i c h changed
w i t h o u t affecting the substance o f the sacraments or their
underlying doctrine. The crucified Jesus stepped into the place
o f the i m m o l a t e d g o d , and t h e d o c t r i n e was given t h e
emendations necessary for the new religious ideology. I t was the
ethics, not the theological doctrine, that changed radically from
o v e r - i n d u l g e n t h e d o n i s m t o severe asceticism and selfrenunciation. I t was here that the revolution had taken place.
Life - and world-affirmation became life - and world-denial.
But here, i n the field o f the moral imperative, the question o f
divine transcendence was irrelevant. Indeed, what Christianity
had inherited from Judaism was twisted around to suit the
Hellenistic consciousness: T h e Hebrew scriptural descriptions
of the deity, written by and for a Semitic mind, were shorn o f
their poetry and taken literally to support the doctrinal elements
o f Christianity.
N o t h i n g is more reflective o f this fact than the use Christian
theologians have made o f Hebrew Scripture to justify the notion
o f the trinity and thus establish the divinity o f Jesus. The book,
De Trinitate, gives evidence that practically every quotation St.
21

24

40

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

Augustine (d. 604) took from Hebrew scripture i n support o f


the t r i n i t y was misunderstood by his Hellenistic m i n d . As a
Christian Hellene, Augustine was incapable o f understanding
the Semitic way o f talking about G o d . Augustine's way o f
g u i n g for the Trinity was not the unique literalism o f an un
oetic m i n d . I t has characterized the history o f C h r i s t i a n
theology to the present day. Before Augustine, Tertullian sought
to deduce the trinity from the plural 'us' o f [Genesis 3: 22] ; and
sixteen centuries later, Karl Barth (1886-1968) tells us that the
plural form o f that same passage is evidence that God is a trinity,
that one person, the Father, consulted w i t h the other two, the
Son and the H o l y Spirit and j o i n t l y decided to make man i n
Their/His image. The plural pronouns used by God (Genesis
22; 11: 7; Isaiah 6: 8, etc.) are a stumbling block for Barth s
Western m i n d w h i c h is so literalist as to affirm maleness and
femaleness i n the Godhead because o f Genesis' assertion in the
same passage 'male and female created He them' following 'And
God created man in His own image, i n the image o f God created
25

ar

26

27

He h i m ' (Genesis 1: 27).

Barth s thought moves from man to God and constitutes a


flagrant case o f anthropomorphism. 'Could anything be more
obvious', he argues i n support o f his view,'than to conclude from
this clear indication that the image and likeness o f the being
created by God signifies. . .juxtaposition and confrontation . . . o f
male and female, and then to go on to ask . . . i n what the original
and prototype o f the divine existence o f the Creator consists?'"*
is crude, to say the least, to suggest that, granted the nature o f
Cod is trinitarian, the relationship between the divine persons
of the trinity is that of'begetting' and 'bearing children'.
29

The case is not limited to those key sentences o f the O l d


Testament w h i c h Christians have adduced as evidence for the
m i t y I t extends to those o f the N e w Testament w h i c h are
cribed to Jesus and supposed to tell his idea o f himself. ' I and
y Father are one', ' I am the way', 'Whoever has seen me has
e n the Father', 'You say so' said i n response to the question,
re y
j
Messiah?,
were all interpreted literally by
ristians. The same words, taken i n their Aramaic original
t r

as

Se

o u

l e

e t c

4i

ISLAM AND OTHER

1AITHS

which JesLis spoke, and hence under the categories o f a Semitic


consciousness, w o u l d not furnish the evidence the Christian
seeks. A l l o f them impress me as ordinary statements o f common
parlance w h i c h can be heard even today i n Arabic a hundred
times a day i n any village market place. N o b o d y w o u l d take
them to mean what the Christian Hellenic theologians have
claimed. This observation applies to those N e w Testament
statements pertinent to the nature o f Jesus which are ascribed to
the disciples, such as their addressing h i m as 'Lord', and seeking
forgiveness o f their sins at his hand, etc.
Contemporary theologians, anxious to speak to moderns but
still standing w i t h i n the mainstream o f Christian thotight, continue to affirm the same thesis, though i n differing terms. Led by
Paul T i l l i c h (1886-1965), and generally affected by Immanuel
Kant (1724-1804), they want to keep both transcendence as well
as the historical (empirical, natural, human) reality o f Jesus.
Hence they arbitrarily asstune that the transcendent God, like
the 'Brahman p r i n c i p l e ' , or the 'philosophical absolute', is
forever unknown and unknowable unless He is concretized i n
some object o f nature and history. Tillich asserts that such 'concrete element i n the idea o f God cannot be destroyed', and
that, while polytheism as affirmation o f a divine concrete
w i l l always tend towards transcendence, there can be no absolute m o n o t h e i s m . Where absolute monotheism is declared,
God, as absoltite 'monarch' over hosts o f powers, angels, etc., w i l l
'always be threatened by revolution or by outside attack' like
any other 'absolute monarchy' on earth; or, as i n the case of'mystical m o n o t h e i s m ' , where 'the ultimate transcends a l l ' , God
remains as abstract (God = X ) and man's craving for the empirical divine continues. 'This most radical negation o f the concrete
element i n the idea o f God', he writes, 'is not able to stippress
the quest for concreteness'. A n d i n order to pave the road for
the apotheosis o f JesLis, Tillich went on to contradict himself by
asserting that logically 'mystical monotheism does not exclude
divine powers i n w h i c h the ultimate embodies itself temporarily'. " Obviously, Tillich here has discarded the philosophical
stance - and contradicted his earlier definitions o f absolute
31

30

12

31

34

35

42

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

monotheism. I n order to accommodate dictates o f Christian


dognia, he allowed himself to make untenable assertions about
God as well as man. For, it is not true that transcendence is incaable of suppressing the quest for the concrete, just as it is not
true that chastity and purity are incapable o f suppressing the
desire for other women. The presence o f desire for other women
does not make adultery a virtue. Neither is desire always and
necessarily present. Tillich has here followed the Hindu i l l u m i nati who tolerated the crudest paganism and polytheism 'for the
masses o f the people who are unable to grasp the ultimate in its
purity and abstraction from everything concrete, (as) history . . .
in India and i n Europe has shown'.
Having decided, therefore, like Tertullian, Irenaeus (c. 13
200) and Augustine, that C h r i s t i a n i t y must have b o t h the
transcendent God i t inherited from Judaism and Hellenism, and
the concrete God, he had to make recourse to acrobatics to
explain how the two can be kept i n consciousness and expressed
in thought. For this a new signification for myths and symbols
became necessary; as they were the only tools w i t h a sufficiendy
mercurial nature to accommodate the paradox. * M y t h , symbols
and parables, i t is claimed, are 'the proper language o f religion . . .
where God is the chief actor and where the story is symbolically
37

true, i.e., w i l l appear to be true (if the standpoint is that of) the
religion to w h i c h one subscribes.' G o d , i t is claimed, is
immanently present i n myths and symbols, as their meaning on
a secondary level. But that is not merely an ideational referent
which the mythical terms signify. I t is ontological. 'Jesus', the
Word o f God', is not merely an attribute o f the transcendent
God signifying love and mercy and concern; for 'when the Word
becomes flesh, myth becomes history'.
Evidently, Christian thought has not yet outgrown its linkage
to the mystery religions. What it digested o f Judaism is a historical
figurization, a context, as historians o f religions would say. What
t digested o f Hellenism is a cosmetic superstructure which gives
*t pomp and circumstance. In its rock-bottom essence, the core
of its religious content, it remains true to the mystery religions
t h their immanent god dispensing his mana o f holiness and
39

40

W l

43

ISLAM AND OTIILR FAITHS

salvation t h r o u g h the catharsis w h i c h p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n the


sacraments brings. Here, transcendence is a decorative notion,
inexpressed and inexpressible except w h e n i t assumes the
modality o f the concrete. Here, as Miles (190791) said, the proper
religioLis expression is 'silence qualified by parable' and myths.
Here, finally, the myth is false - taken literally, ideationally true taken figuratively, and empirically true - taken as symbol o f the
immanent God present therein - a treble-tiered paradox!
Since this was the state of'God's transcendence' i n Christianity,
the language expressing i t was equally improper. A l t h o u g h
Christians never ceased to claim that God is transcendent, they
spoke o f H i m as a real man w h o walked on earth and d i d all
things men do including the suffering o f the agonies o f death.
O f coLirse, according to them, Jesus was both man and God.
They never took a consistent position o n Jesus' humanity or
divinity without accusation o f apostasy and heresy. That is w h y
their language is always confusing, at best. W h e n pinned down,
every C h r i s t i a n w i l l have t o admit that his G o d is b o t h
transcendent and immanent. B u t his claim o f transcendence is
ipso facto devoid o f grounds. To maintain the contrary, one has to
give up the laws o f logic. B u t Christianity was prepared to go to
this length too. I t raised 'paradox' above self-evident truth and
vested i t w i t h the status o f an epistemological principle. Under
such principle, anything can be asserted and disctission becomes
idle. Finally, the Christian may not claim that the Trinity is a way
o f talking about God; because, i f the Trinity discloses the nature
of G o d better than unity, a greater plurality would do the j o b
better. A t any rate, to reduce the ' H o l y Trinity' to a status o f in
percipi is heretical as i t denies una substantia as metaphysical
doctrine.
41

Divine Transcendence in Islam


The Human Capacity to Understand

The first point to bear i n mind is that Islam does not tolerate
any discrimination between humans as far as their capacity to
44

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

understand the transcendence o f G o d is concerned. D i v i n e


transcendence is everybody's business; and i n Islam it is the
ultimate base o f all religion, and all anthropology. Unlike the
Hindus and Paul Tillich who, by their reserving o f transcendence
to the intelligentsia, open the road wide for polytheism and
pagan practices, Islam holds all humans naturally and hence
necessarily endowed w i t h a fttrah, i.e., an innate sensus communis,
by which to understand that God is, that He is One, and that He
is transcendent. ' H o l d fast, therefore, to the true religion like a hanif,
which is the natural endowment w i t h w h i c h all humans have
fa

been endowed. I n this respect, there is no variety i n God's


creation o f humans. That is the worthy religion' (al-Rum, 30: 30).
There is no excuse for denying transcendence or compromising it. Two avenues have been provided for mankind by God
through w h i c h to recognize the transcendent God. First, He i n
His mercy, has sent revelation to every people on earth to teach
them that the transcendent God is and that they owe H i m w o r ship and service. 'There is no people but We have sent them a
warner . . .' (al-Fatir 35: 24; al-Furqan 25: 51). 'We have sent no
messenger but to clarify O u r message to his people i n their own
tongue' (Ibrahim 14: 4) and 'We have sent no messenger but commanded h i m that none is to be worshipped except God and that
evil is to be shunned' (al-Nahl 16: 36).
Second, including the cases where the revelation has been
corrupted beyond recognition, there is the universal road o f the
sensus communis, open to all humans. Any exercise o f this faculty
i H , i f carried out w i t h candidness and integrity, lead to the
cognition o f the transcendent God. For, as the Qur'an has put i t ,
every human is endowed w i t h the capacity to know Allah. That is
birthright. To explain and clarify the point i n detail, Islamic
thinkers invented the story o f Hayy ibnYaqzan (The Living, Son
f the Awake) w h o grew up on a deserted island devoid o f
humans and hence o f tradition, and w h o gradually led himself
w

heer intellectual effort from ignorance, to naive realism, to


e n t i f i c truth and finally, to natural reason and the discovery o f
transcendent G o d .
s

Sa

42

45

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

The sensus communis which Islam recognizes is different from


the sense o f the holy o f R u d o l p h O t t o (1869-1937) and the
historians o f religions. The sense by which humans discern the
holy or numinotis quality o f reality is certainly acknowledged.
Islam, i n other words, agrees w i t h their definition o f man as homo
religiosus; but it adds to it the sense for divine transcendence and
holds that without it the miminoLis reality recognized in religion
w o u l d not be Liltimate. For it may w e l l be pluralistic as i n
polytheism, and/or naturalistic as i n the Egyptian and mystery
religions, but not Liltimate. U l t i m a c y requires tawlud, i.e.,
Linization and transcendence o f the deity. As the Qtir'an ptit it:
i.e., ' I f God had associates, they would have sought His throne.
Praised and glorified be He, far beyond what they claim . . . I f
there were more than one God i n heaven and earth, cosmic order
would have collapsed* (al-Isra* 17: 42-3; al-Anbiya' 21: 22).Tillich s
remark is true but only where the other beings are declared
divine. Where God alone is divine, and all other beings including
angels, demons, spirits, humans and all else, are creatures o f God,
there can be no threat to His position or authority. Therefore
only a transcendent God can fulfil the idea o f reason we call
God. The question of ultimacy cannot rest w i t h intermediate or
plural gods. Only one God can be ultimate. I f He is, He must be
transcendent, i.e., beyond all else. Otherwise, His Liltimacy cannot
be maintained.
This is the first assertion o f the Islamic creed that, 'There is no
God but God', which the Muslim understands as denial o f the
existence of any other gods. It is equally a denial of any associates
to God i n His rulership and judgeship o f the universe, as well as
a denial o f the possibility o f any creature to represent, personify
or i n any way express the divine being. The Qur'an says o f God
that, 'He is the Creator o f heaven and earth W h o creates by
commanding the creature to be and it is . . . He is the One God,
the Ultimate . . . (al-Baqarah 2: 117, 163). There is no God but
H i m , ever-living, ever-active (Al Imran 3: 2). May He be
glorified beyond any description! (al-An^am 6: 100) . . . no senses
may perceive H i m (al-An^am 6: 103) . . . praised be He, the
Transcendent W h o greatly transcends all claims and reports about
c

46

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

H i m ' (al-Isra 17: 43). I n fulfilment o f this view, the Muslims ha


been all too careful never to associate i n any manner possible,
any image or thing w i t h the presence o f the divine, or w i t h their
consciousness o f the divine and i n their speech and w r i t i n g about
the divine, never to use anything except Qur'anic language, terms
and expressions which, according to them, God had used about
Himself i n the Qur'anic revelation.
Transcendence i n language was maintained by Muslims
around the globe despite their speaking all sorts o f languages
nd
dialects
and
belonging
to
all
sorts
o
f
ethnic
and
cultural
a
backgrounds. This was the objective o f the Qur'anic dicta, 'We
(God) have revealed i t i n an Arabic Qur'an (Yusuf 12: 2; 7a Ha 20:
Vt have sent i t (the revelation) d o w n an Arabic
judgement (al-Ra^d 13: 39) . . .We have revealed it i n the Arabic
tongue (al-Zumar 39: 28; Fussilat 41: 3; al-Shtlrd 42: 7; Zukhmf 43:
We W h o sent down the Qur'an; We W h o shall safeguard
it; We W h o shall collect i t ; We W h o shall explain i t ' (al-Qiyamah
75: 16-17). A b i d i n g by these dicta, Muslims treated only the
Arabic original as the Qur'an and regarded the translations as
mere aids to understanding i t , not as text. Liturgical use o f the
Qur'an could be made only i n Arabic. Salat, the institutionalized
worship, kept the form it was given by the Prophet on divine
i n s t r u c t i o n . M o r e o v e r the Q u r ' a n gradually m o u l d e d the
consciousness o f the non-Arabic speaking converts and furnished
the categories under which religious matters could be thought
out and religious feelings could be expressed. A n y God-talk
Muslims became exclusively Qur'an-talk, adhering scrupulously
to the Arabic categories o f the Qur'an, to its Arabic terms, its
Arabic literary forms and expressions.
H o w d i d the Q u r ' a n express transcendence? I t gave 99 or
more names for G o d expressing His lordship o f the world, and
His Providence i n i t ; but i t emphasized the ' N o t h i n g is like
H i m ' (al-Shura 42: 11). Anything belonging to His realm
c i a t e d w i t h i t - like His words, His time, His light, etc.
th
Q u r ' a n described as s o m e t h i n g t o w h i c h e m p i r i c a l
categories cannot apply. ' I f all trees were pens and all seas were
k
w h i c h to record God's speech', i t asserted,'they would
9

U n t o

0 r

ass

l r i

W l t r x

47

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

be exhausted before God's speech runs out' (al-Kahf 18: 109).


' A day w i t h God is like a thotisand years o f man's' (al-Hajj 22:
47). 'The Light o f God is that o f heaven and earth. Its likeness
is the light o f a lamp whose glass is a celestial star, whose fuel is
from a blessed olive tree that is neither o f the East nor o f the
West, incandescent w i t h o t i t fire . . .' (al-Nur 24: 35). Thus,
empirical language - figures and relations from the w o r l d are used; but w i t h the unmistakable denial that they apply to
God

simpliciter.

The Human Capacity to Misunderstand

Having asserted that humans are all endowed w i t h the capacity


to recognize the transcendent God, Islam does not assert that
they all must have i n fact achieved such recognition. I n the terms
o f a hadith (tradition) o f the Prophet (peace and blessings be
upon him),'Every man is born a Muslim (in the sense o f nature,
or a Sollensnothwendigkeit for recognizing Allah). B u t i t is his
parents (or n u r t u r e , t r a d i t i o n and culture) that Judaize or
Christianize h i m . ' Departure f r o m this p r i m o r d i a l , innate
monotheism, is the work o f culture and history. Its sources are
passion and culture; the former, when vested interest i n a view
elevates it to the status o f dogma, o f an article beyond contention;
the latter, when the student disciple or seeker's nerve fails i n the
epoche requisite for grasping a truth not under the categories o f
his own culture. The first is evidenced by the reply o f Heraclitus
(fl. 500 BC) to the Prophet's emissary who called h i m to Islam.
T h e second, i n the problems early Islamic t h o u g h t had
contended w i t h relating to the divine attributes.
43

Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians have entered Islam i n its


early days and brotight w i t h them the mental categories o f their
inherited cultures. The majority did not speak Arabic. Naturally,
t h e i r m i n d s , accustomed to t h i n k i n g i n terms o f d i v i n e
immanence, particularism and concreteness, could not readily
absorb the radical idea o f divine transcendence. They understood
A l l a h i n the o n l y way they were accustomed t o , i.e.,
anthropomorphically They were called Mushabbihah: They took
u

48

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

the Qur'anic descriptions o f God literally, and fell into the


unanswerable abyss o f questions regarding divine nature. I f as
the Qur'an says, God spoke to the Prophets and angels, then He
must have a mouth and tongue! A n d i f He sees and hears, He
must have eyes and ears! A n d i f H e sat o n the throne, or
descended from i t , then He must have a body and a posture. A l Shahristanl (d. 1153
) following al-Ash an (d. 935 C E ) , tells us
that the Mushabbihah
(anthropomorphists) namely, M u d a r ,
Kuhmus, A h m a d a l - H u j a y m l , Hisham ibn al-Hakam,
Muhammad ibn Isa, Dawud al-Jawaribl and their followers held
that God could be interviewed and embraced: that H e visits
people and is visited by them; that He has organs like and unlike
those o f humans; that He has hair, etc. They even falsely ascribed
to the Prophet sayings confirming their claims. Al-Shahristanl
took care to inform his readers that most o f these claims were
adopted from the teachings o f Jews - Qara'ites - and singled
out hadiths pertinent to the creation o f Adam in God's image, to
God's regret for the Deluge, His development o f an eye-ache o f
which He was relieved by the angels, etc.
The M u ' t a z i l a h were the first to rise to the threat this
c t

anthropomorphism posed for Islam. I n their enthusiasm, they


shot at and beyond the target at the same time. The divine
attributes, they said, were o f the nature o f literary similes w h i c h
must be interpreted allegorically and their abstract meaning
extracted. That God spoke is an allegorical way o f saying that
revelation has been conveyed to man; that H e sees and hears
means that He has knowledge; that He sits on the throne means
that he has p o w e r ; etc. T h i s was sufficient to refute
anthropomorphism and cut it out from the Islamic tradition once
and for all, but it created the danger o f tatxl, i.e., o f neutralizing
the attributes or 'stopping their functioning as attributes'.
Allegorical interpretation is based on the principle that words
have a double meaning: one that is conventionally agreed upon
signifying a t h i n g , quality, event or state w i t h w h i c h the
udience is traditionally and universally familiar; and another that
not conventionally known or found i n the lexicography o f the
knguage, but is assigned to i t by the author. By so doing, the
45

a s

l s

49

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

author creates a novel meaning and makes the word i n qtiestion


its carrier. This additional charge may be quite different from
the conventional one. Indeed, i t may even be its opposite. It is
always factitive, inseparable from the context i n which it is made,
and comprehensible only to its author or to the person initiated
i n t o i t . Speaking, w r i t i n g or i n t e r p r e t i n g allegorically is
extremely dangerous because, by definition, it has no rules. Once
the words o f language are shaken loose from the meanings which
lexicography has attached to them, nothing can stop anybody
from investing them w i t h any other meanings. Exegesis, or the
reading o f meanings into words not lexicographically associated
w i t h them, ruins any text it attacks. It transvaluates its values,
transforms its categories, and transfigures its meanings. Greek
religion and civilization came to an end when the lexicographic
meanings o f the words o f Homer (8th Century B C ) were knocked
out i n favour o f allegorical interpretation. Ideological chaos
b r o k e loose and a process o f general scepticism became
impossible to avert. The same was true o f Hebrew scripture when
Pliilo (2nd Century BC) o f Alexandria imposed upon the text a
whole new layer o f meanings by the same method, forcing the
rabbis to cling to the letter w i t h the strictest conservatism i n
order to save the faith from total ruin, and opening the gates for
the Jews to grow otit o f their faith w i t h a good conscience. Philo's
exegetical interpretation was the very process which helped graft
the new Christianist ideology onto the stump o f Judaism and its
scripture. The Qur'an and especially the Islamic doctrine o f God
were open to the same dangers, and had to be safeguarded. I n
another dimension, allegorical interpretation o f the Qtir'anic
attributes o f God created the possibility o f an abstraction process
w h i c h , as i n the case o f H i n d u i s m and what T i l l i c h called
'mystical monotheism', cannot be stopped until i t reaches the =
X , or the Absolute Void o f the philosophers, and there rests i n
silence. Such = X can never satisfy the demand o f religious
consciousness for a transcendent, active, living, personal and
purposive God.

Hence, Mu tazilah doctrine was only an intermediate step i n


the development o f Islamic thought, and al-Asb/ari rose to the
c

50

DIVINE, TRANSCENDENCE AND IT'S EXPRESSION

task o f bringing their interlude to a close. He began his career as


one o f their members but soon realized the dangers o f their
osition, left their ranks and countered their claims. The divine
attributes, he said, are true as they stand i n the Qur'an, because
they are the word o f God about Himself, thus countering tatxl
with the common sense meanings o f the Qur'anic terms and the
faith that these words are from God. This need not lead to anthropomorphism automatically Al-Ash 'ari's analysis showed that
anthropomorphism derived n o t from the affirmation o f the
common sense meanings o f the Qur'anic terms, but from the
attempt to give empirical answers to questions seeking 'to explain how the attributes qualify God'. Hence, he reasoned, i f this
question pertaining to the ' h o w ' o f predication or attribution
were avoided, anthropomorphism would be ruled out. Hence
the breakthrough is to declare the question 'how' addressed to
the divine attributes uncritical and illegitimate. 'The divine attributes', he argued, 'are neither He nor not-He'. 'Neither H e '
negates anthropomorphism; and 'nor n o t - H c ' negates tatxl.
Tashbih ( a n t h r o p o m o r p h i s m ) is false; and so is
ta til
(neutralization o f the attributes through allegorical interpretation
of them). The former is contradictory to transcendence; the latter
to the fact o f the Quran's predication o f the attributes to God,
which is tantamount to denying the revelation itself.The solution
of the dilemma, al-Asb/arl reasoned, was first, i n accepting the
revealed text as i t is, i.e., as one whose meaning is anchored i n
the lexicography o f its terms; and second, i n rejecting the question,
H o w the c o m m o n sense m e a n i n g is predicable t o the
transcendent being' as illegitimate. This process, he called 'bila
kay/a' (without how).
K

Al-Asb/an's audience understood perfectly and approved, certain that a grasp o f the attribute bila kayfa was not only possible,
hut that i t was safe from the t w i n dangers o f anthropomorphism
and allegorical interpretation. The former is inevitable i f the
question o f the how o f predication o f the attribute is raised i n
xpectation o f an answer similar to that analyzing the relation o f
Predicate to subject i n the empirical world. Since the subject is
transcendent, the question is invalid. Underlying this principle
e

51

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

was the realization that the lexicographic meaning o f the attribute


was to be maintained but only i n a suggestive capacity. Affirming
the divine attribute without how achieves this much. The purpose o f lexicographic meaning, however, is to set the imagination on a certain course i n comprehending, not to predetermine
the end-object o f comprehension. Lexicographic meaning gives
us positive elements w i t h i n the course or beam o f comprehension, and i t does provide walls or banks for channelling its
progress so as not to be mixed up w i t h meaning-courses other
words set up. Both its inclusionary and exlusionary functions are
necessary and fruitful. But once on its predetermined course,
the imagination may proceed, either stopping at its end-object
i n nature, or continuing ad infinitum, under the demand o f an
idea o f reason, i n the Kantian sense o f the term. The course or
beam o f meaning does not lead to the dark abyss, or to silence,
but to something positive, though not o f nature. A n intuition o f
transcendent reality is possible precisely at the point where the
imagination is 'beamed' on to a course, runs on that course as far
as it can until it arrives at the realization that the course is infinite and that i t can sustain itself no longer. Therefore, the mind
perceives the impossibility o f empirical predication while the
understanding is still anchored to the lexicographic meaning o f
the term. For the intuition o f transcendent reality is an intuition
of infinity gained at the very moment o f conscioLisness when the
imagination declares its own impotence to produce the same.
The lexicographic meaning o f the term serves as an anchor while
the imagination soars i n search o f an applicable modality o f the
meaning i n question, a modality that is ex hypothesi impossible
to reach. Indeed, the Qur'an likens the word o f God to a 'tree
whose roots are f i r m i n the ground, but whose branches are
infinite and unreachable i n the skies above' (Ibrahim 14: 24).
The Expression of Divine Transcendence
in the Visual Arts

G r e c o - R o m a n a n t i q u i t y has k n o w n the p r i n c i p l e o f
deification through idealization. By this process, the concrete (a

52

D I V I N E T R A N S C E N D E N C E AND ITS EXPRESSION

human person or object o f nature) was separated f r o m its


d
i
v
i
d
u
a
l
instance
or
c
o
n
c
r
e
t
i
z
a
t
i
o
n
,
for
the
purpose
o
f
in
intensifying its qualities. W h e n these qualities had reached the
ultimate degree possible, the object was presented as that which
nature ought t o have produced and wished to produce, but
which i t failed to produce through its stammering and one
thousand and one attempts. I n those attempts i t may have
succeeded but only partially. A r t is abler than nature; i n that the
artist can produce but always failed to do so. The work o f art
therefore is not an imitation o f nature as Plato (c. 428-c. 348 B C )
had charged; n o r is it an empirical generalization from what is
given i n nature. It is a priori, and hence transcendent or divine,
inasmuch as i t is the product o f an idealization process carried
out to the ultimate degree.
The gods o f Ancient Greece were not transcendent realities,
utterly and o r i t o l o g i c a l l y other than nature. They were the
product o f the same idealization process carried out by human
genius. They were human, all too human, desiring, faltering,
hating, loving, plotting and counter-plotting against one another,
representing every facet o f the human personality, every force o f
nature, o f w h i c h they were the ultimate idealization. W h e n the
sculptor represented them i n marble, or the poet i n dramatic
self-disclosure, any person w h o understood the stammering
language o f nature would exclaim: Yes, that is just what nature
meant to say! This is naturalism and classical antiquity was the

best exemplar o f i t . I t is therefore misleading to speak o f


transcendence i n Greco-Roman antiquity. One had better speak
of
immanence. Immanence requires the natural, the concrete
and empirical because it is a dimension o f it. It does not shun
the concrete because i t is an idealization o f the natural; and
without the natural it cannot be reached. That is also why the art
f Greece and R o m e is figurative; and the rendition o f specific
gures i n art, o r portraiture, is at its best.
was i n t h e Renaissance that Europe rediscovered the artistic
gacy o f a n t i q u i t y and re-appropriated i t after a millennium,
d u r i n g those one thousand years, Christendom laboured under
composite, ambiguous aesthetic which combined elements o f
a

53

ISLAM AND OTHFR FAITHS

the Greek legacy w i t h some elements o f the Semitic. The result


was Byzantium whose art never rose beyond that o f illustration.
The forte o f Byzantine art, namely, the icon, was unnaturalistic i n
f o r m (hence Semitic, f o l l o w i n g its jLidaic inheritance) and
naturalistic i n content by v i r t u e o f the discursive ideas i t
expressed i n the figures or directly i n the catch-words or titles
assigned to the figures by the artist. This Semitic element was
tossed out by the Renaissance artists w h o produced images o f
Jesus, Mary, the Father and the saints conveying the Christian
meanings assigned to t h e m , d i r e c t l y t h r o u g h the figures
themselves, i n the style o f Ancient Greece.
AlthoLigh the authorities o f Christianity first condemned this
naturalism as a return to paganism, they were finally reconciled
to it by virtue o f the connection o f divinity w i t h nature implicit
i n the incarnation. Since then, Christendom's art has been i n the
main figurative and idealizational. Obviously, this was found
satisfactory because transcendence i n the Christian mind never
made demands which figurative art could not meet.

It was otherwise w i t h the M u s l i m m i n d which asserted an


absolute transcendence o f the Godhead. This could n o t be
reconciled i n any way w i t h permissive immanence w h i c h
tolerated expression o f the divine i n figures because God was
not 'other' than the natural, but its ultimate idealization. T h e
Liltimate reality w i t h which the Muslim is preoccupied, by which
he is obsessed, whose w i l l he is always seeking to discover, whose
command he is always striving to obey, and whose mention is
on his lips morning till evening w i t h almost every sentence, is a
transcendent reality whose essence and definition is that i t is
other than the whole o f creation. Standing on creation's other
side, such 'totally other' is unrepresentable by anything i n
creation. Rather than give up for this very reason the whole
attempt o f aesthetics as the Jews have done, claiming that divine
transcendence leaves no room for the visual arts, the M u s l i m
artist accepted the visual arts and assigned to them the first task
of proclaiming that nature is not an artistic medium.
Both stylization and idealization transform the natural and the
concrete. But whereas idealization transforms so as to make the
54

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

thing more natural, more representative o f its genus, stylization


transforms so as to deny the concrete as w e l l as its genus.
Stylization transforms nature i n such a way as to negate its
naturalness. The stylized figure only suggests that o f which it is
the figure. The figure has been emptied o f its content and remains
shell
whose
use
is
to
express
the
negation.
The
same
is
true
o
f
a
human and animal figures, o f the vine, leaf and flower throughout
the arts o f Islam. Their stylization is the Muslim artist's way o f
saying N o ! to nature, to its concrete instance as well as to its ideal
form. That nothing i n nature is a suitable vehicle or medium for
artistic expression, which is the evident purpose o f all figurative
Islamic art, is tantamount to the first portion o f the confession o f
faith, namely, there is no god but God. Just as Islamic theology
has told us that nothing, absolutely nothing i n nature is God, or
in any way divine all creation being creation and hence profane
so the Muslim artist, i n his aesthetic profession, is telling us
that nothing in nature may be an expression o f divinity
The more the Muslim artist indulged i n stylization, the more
it dawned on h i m that God's transcendence demanded more
than stylization i f it is to be successfully expressed i n aesthetics.
He discovered that the totality o f nature may be denied en bloc i f
he abandoned the stylization o f natural objects and reverted to
the figures o f geometry. These are the very opposite o f nature as
given to sense. Indeed they stand at the logical conclusion o f the
stylization process where stylization o f the vine, stalk, leaf and
flower reaches its ultimate end. To establish the geometrical
figure as sole medium o f the visual arts is a decision perfectly i n
accord w i t h La ilaha ilia Allah. There is i n the whole o f creation
nothing that is Allah, or partakes o f Allah or is i n any way
associated w i t h Allah.

As transcendent Being, Allah is never given to sense, and can


therefore never become the object o f a sensory intuition. To the
artist whose business is to present a sensory i n t u i t i o n o f the
j e c t , G o d is an absolutely h o p e l
The Musi
n s c i e n c e shudders at the very suggestion o f a sensory
^presentation o f God. In this very despair o f the Muslim artist
ame the breakthrough. Granted Allah's transcendence removes
D

55

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

H i m beyond aesthetic representation and expression, is the same


true o f His unrepresentableness, o f His aesthetic inexpressibility?
The answer is negative. God is indeed inexpressible, but His
inexpressibility is not. This inexpressibility became the object o f
aesthetic expression and the unconscioLis object o f the Muslim
artist. Stylization and its Liltimate, the geometrical flgLire,
constituted the media, the expression o f God s inexpressibility
constituted the goal. There remained for the M u s l i m artistic
genius to create the design which when applied to the medium
would achieve the goal.

This was accomplished before the end o f the first Islamic


century, when the craftsmen were still for the most part either
Christians or converts from Christianity, still committed to the
art forms o f Byzantium. I n the U m a w l palaces o f Jordan, i n the
D ome o f the R o c k i n Jerusalem, and the UmawT Mosque o f
Damascus, w h i c h date from the second half o f the first Hijrr
century, there is ample evidence to show that the craftsmen were
Byzantine i n their craftsmanship but Islamic i n some o f their
work. Either they, or their mattre de travail, must have been moved
by religio-aesthetic considerations other than those which moved
Byzantium.
Byzantine and R o m a n p r o v i n c i a l art had k n o w n b o t h
stylization and the geometrical figure. B u t their design was
devoid o f momentum. It was static. The Muslim artist developed
a design i n w h i c h the beholder felt compelled to move from
one flower, stalk or figure to another, because the second was i n
process o f formation (i.e., o f being beheld) at the very time that
the segments o f the first were being brought into consciousness.
I n other words, the design was such that it was impossible to
h o l d one figure i n perception without inchiding a part o f the
next, and to hold the full figure o f the second without inchiding
a part o f the third, and so forth. This gave the vision an elan or
momentum to move ever forward away from the point at which
the sight originally fell. Repetition and symmetry were then
discovered to reinforce this m o m e n t u m by enabling i t to
dispense itself i n all directions. The fractional figtire necessitated
b y the shortage o f material space provided an impetus for the
56

DIVINF. TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

itiaf ination to recreate the missing fractions beyond the material


bjet d'art.Th.e combination o f stylization, non-development, n o n rganicness, fractions enticing the imagination to produce their
p l e m e n t s , symmetry and momentum generating repetition
all compelled the imagination o f the attentive spectator to
reproduce more and more figures at the same rhythm ad infinitum.
The non-developmental, non-organic nature o f the figures
dictated that the production or continuation o f the design in the
imagination be infinite since there is no point at w h i c h it can
logically terminate. The objet d'art thus became a field o f vision
arbitrarily cut out by its material boundaries from an infinite
field; and, like the field o f vision o f a microscope, gave a precept
of the infinite realm beyond i t .
The realm beyond and the continuation o f the pattern in it
are an idea o f reason pressing upon the imagination to produce
it for consciousness. Certainly, under the impact o f the given in
the field o f vision and the m o m e n t u m i t has generated, the
imagination ably fulfils the command and begins production. I f
strong, that imagination w i l l sustain itself for a considerable time
and i n considerable space. But by nature it cannot fulfil what is
expected o f i t , namely, the infinite continuation. Sooner or later,
therefore, it must realize that its task is impossible, that its effort
is hopeless. For the infinite is that which can never become the
object o f a sensory intuition even i n the imagination. A t this
point, the effort o f the imagination collapses and consciousness
gains through the collapse an intuition o f the cause o f the collapse,
of the impossibility o f fulfilling the objective o f the effort. Such
intuition is an intuition o f infinity, and infinity is the essential
constituent o f transcendence.
The objet d'art i n Islam is esthetically, i.e., from the standpoint
f beauty, the design i t carries. The design has been called
Arabesque'. It is the design as well as the esthetic principles on
which the design is built. For arabesque is not only a decoration
n a planar surface, b u t the p r i n c i p l e e m b o d i e d i n any
Islarnicized surface, i n the facade o f an Islamic building, i n its
floor plan, i n the design and colour o f a carpet, the illuminated
page o f a manuscript, the rhythmic and tonal arrangement o f a
0

orn

57

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

piece o f Islamic music, the arrangement o f flowering and/or


floriating plants in a garden, o f the rising and cascading fountains
o f aquacultLire. T h e arabesque is called 'decoration' by the
orientalist art historians. As such, it is regarded as a hedonic flash
o f colour, a monotonous repetition, an empty design to fill
surfaces, or finally, a compensatory techniqtie to surmount the
subconscious fear o f the desert void. W h e n these 'savants' wax
theological, they argue that Muslim genius spent itself fiddling
w i t h arabesque d e c o r a t i o n because Islam p r o h i b i t e d the
reproduction o f figures. They have neither time nor energy to
ask why Islam prohibited figLirative representation. I n fact, the
arabesque is not decoration at all. It is not accidental to the objet
d'art, but its essence and core. Indeed, to cover any object w i t h
arabesque is to trans-substantiate it. So much so that the art o f
the arabesque, o f so-called 'decoration', is i n t r u t h the art o f
trans-substantiation. Under the influence o f arabesque, the objet
d'art loses its materiality, its concreteness, its opaqueness, its
individuality, the frontiers o f its very being and real-existence,
even i f i t were the heaviest, biggest and most solid building. It
becomes an air-light, transparent, flying screen o f design and
rhythm, that serves as a launching pad or mnway on which the
imagination takes off on its flight - a flight w h i c h ends i n
catastrophe for the imagination but the greatest and deepest
sensing o f the transcendent possible for man.
The Expression of Transcendence in
Belles-Lettres

The question may now be asked, Whence did the Muslims


obtain direction for such a great breakthrough i n the expression
o f transcendent reality? Was this development o f theirs i n the
visLial arts a pure accident o f genius? H o w did the discovery o f
the arabesque accord w i t h the values o f Islam i n other realms? I f
the arabesque became the dominant principle o f textile, metal,
glass, leather and w o o d w o r k , o f architecture, horticLiltLire and
aquacultLire, o f manuscript illustration and illumination, even o f
music and chanting, surely its roots must run far deeper into the
58

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND TTS EXPRESSION

tradition than its discovery i n the visual arts has suggested. Where
these roots and what is their source?
A l l these questions f i n d t h e i r u l t i m a t e answer i n the
phenomenon o f the Q u r ' a n , the revelation w h i c h rested the
whole o f its claim to divine origin on its absolute realization
the literary sublime. Conscious o f its sublime quality, the Qur'an
hallenged
its
audience
to
produce
a
match
for
it
(Yunus
10:
38;
C
al-Qasas 28: 49); conscious o f the impotence o f its audience to
j o so, it lowered the challenge to ten surahs or chapters (Hud 11:
13), then to one chapter (al-Baqarah 2: 23), then to a few verses
(al-Tur 52: 33).Towering proudly high above them it taunted them
further by declaring their impotence even i f mankind and jinn
were to mobilize themselves for the task i n one solid row (alIsra' 17: 88). Islam's enemies commissioned the ablest among
them to rise to the challenge, but they were the first to denounce
the contenders as failures when they presented their productions
for judgement.

Long before the Prophet, the Arabs had already perfected the
literary art and achieved their greatest distinctions i n i t . Their
ability to produce works o f great literary merit was tested, and
the esteem they accorded to such great works was w i t h o u t
parallel i n any other culture. History knows o f no other people
with w h o m the word and its beauty had equal importance. To
the Arabs, the word was a matter o f life and death, o f oblivion
and eternity, o f war and peace, o f virtue and vice, o f nobility and
vulgarity.
is the name given to the phenomenon o f the Qur'an s
challenge to all men at all times, but especially to the Arab
contemporaries o f the Prophet, to produce a work matching it
in beauty and excellence. I t contains two elements: The first is
the innate character o f the Qur'an which, when perceived by the
niind capable o f perceiving i t , produces the feeling o f fascination,
of being moved, o f experiencing the highest and most intense
values, i n short, o f encountering ultimate reality w i t h all the
experiences attendant upon such encounter. The second is the
realization o f the difference that separates man, the perceiver,
from God, the perceived, an index o f which is man's incapacity
Tjaz'

59

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

to produce anything like the Qur'an. The former is innate to the


Qur'an; the latter, to man. The Arabs refer to the second simply
as i'jaz, the phenomenon or event o f miractilousness; but refer
to the first as wujtlh a\-Cjaz or aspects o f miraculousness o f the
Qur'an.
That i'jaz, as event, has taken place among the believing and
non-believing Arabs dtiring the lifetime o f Muhammad, as well
as among the Muslims o f all ages, is an undeniable fact o f history
The Qur'an's challenge to the unbelievers and their faihire to
meet the challenge has been recorded i n the Qur'an w i t h relish
(taqrl). Vjaz, however, is not only an event o f history. The Qur'an's
challenge is timeless and so is its sticcess. The proof o f this is the
Qur'an's continuing power to convert men to Islam, to convince
them immediately o f its divine origin. N o man who reads what
the Muslims w r o t e c o n c e r n i n g their experience w i t h the
Q u r ' a n , or w h o observes the Qur'an's effects u p o n their
consciousness, their lives and thoughts can avoid the conclusion
that the Qur'an has such character.
T h e Q u r ' a n alone was regarded by the Arabs as w o r t h y
enough to be divine. Theirs was a connoisseLir judgement accepted by the learned, friend or foe alike - which was passed
on the Qur'anic quality deeming it worthy o f the transcendent
God and expressing His w i l l . Unlike the earlier prophets, whose
prophethood and revelations were established through breaches
o f the laws o f nature i.e., by overwhelming the epistemic powers o f human consciousness the QLir'an presented its 'miracle'
to those very powers capable o f grasping i t , and invited them to
consider and acknowledge its miraculousness, or divine origin,
deliberately Its appeal was to the faculty or intellection. Whereas
the other revelations 'coerced' consciotisness w i t h their breaches
o f natural law, the Qur'an convinced by its fulfilment o f the highest expectations o f the intellect. That is w h y the Qur'an's
miraculoLisness became the subject o f the deepest and most extensive study and analysis. A physical miracle such as Moses or
Jesus brought simply overwhelmed its spectators. Such miracle
was by nature beyond understanding, and beyond discussion.
Evidently, the QLir'an must have one or more constitutive

60

TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

- w h i c h , i f perceived by the capable are indicative o f


^
-endence. Muslims set themselves the task o f identifying
and 'analyzing these qualities.
The first element is the n o n - d e v e l o p m e n t a l nature o f
'anic prose. This is the quality w h i c h baffles all Western
eaders for the Q u r ' a n has neither beginning nor end. The
arrangement o f its surahs or chapters is neither chronological,
nor systematic. W h e n a M u s l i m wishes to recite the Qur'an, he
reads ma tayassara, i.e., that part o f the text which 'easily comes
his way'. He may begin reading w i t h any verse he wishes, and he
may stop at any other verse. Whatever his choice, the recitation is
always perfect. Whether the reader is M u s l i m , Christian, Jew,
H i n d u or Buddhist, atheist or agnostic, i f he is a man o f
knowledge i n Arabic, the recitation is always sublime. The
beginning is always as sweet and perfect as the middle or the
end. This non-developmental character makes o f the Qur'anic
text a field o f vision which God cut out from His infinite w i l l . To
know it is to perceive it as such, i.e., as a vehicle for reaching the
infinite realm o f w h i c h i t is the expression. For o n l y the
supernatural, or divine, is as good i n any or every part as it is i n
its infinite totality.
This aspect o f the literary sublime i n Islam, namely, n o n development, is b o t h ubiquitous and necessary. Drama, the
opposite o f non-development is utterly ruled out because it is,
in its ideal form, the expression o f polytheist concrete natural
divinity Non-development characterized Arabic poetry and
prose from their origins to the present century. The best Arabic
poetry is that w h i c h reads beautifully, forwards or backwards,
because every one o f its verses is complete, autonomous and
beautiful i n and by itself.
T h e second aspect o f the Q u r ' a n ' s miraculousness is
momentum. It is analyzable into a literary factor and a musical
factor, which work together and reinforce each other. The more
ne reads, the more one desires to read. Every passage recited
generates w i t h i n the reader and the audience a movement o f his
Pagination to continue the recitation ad infinitum. Every passage
launching pad or runway from which the imagination flies
i-

. m

l s

4 *

6i

^^^^^

ISLAM AND OTHER

LA1THS

into the infinite space whose perception is induced by the


passage in question. N o creation o f new verses is involved IOLU
re-creation i n the imagination aided by memory o f verses already
recited. The same process occurs when the capable gather i n
musha*arah, or poetry-recitation session, at which the participant
recites poetry o f the same metre and rhyme as the one that
preceded. Sometimes, the poetry recited is classical and known
to all; sometimes it is composed extemporaneously for that
occasion. I n either case, the recitations are so beautiful and so
moving that they arouse the appreciative audience to indulge in
extemporary poetical composition observing the same metre,
rhyme and modalities. What is phenomenal i n such events is that
they are commonplace, not only among the Arabic-speaking
peoples, but equally among the Persian, the U r d u , Turkish and
Malay-speaking
peoples whose p o e t i c a l and esthetic
consciousness has been moulded by Islam.
The third aspect is balaghah, or eloquence, at the apex o f
w h i c h comes badV or the literary sublime. This aspect is a
function o f the beauty o f composition, o f the artistry o f the flow,
o f the exact fitness o f the terms, the finesse o f the rendering. O n
one hand, the terms and phrases, the figures o f speech, the
percepts they evoke, and the composition o f all these together
into a finished sequence; and, on the other hand, the things,
events or states they designate, the meanings they convey all
these are infinite in number, variety and relation. A n d yet, there
is one and only one rendering o f them that fits muqtadd al-hal
(the reality sought). It is to the extent or degree that this ideal is
achieved in a composition, that the composition is said to have
actualized a measure of balaghah. W h e n this measure is at its
highest, the passage is recognized as badV. It is this ideal which
the Qur'an has realized i n every verse. Every change o f it is a
change for the worse. Some rare geniuses have achieved a little
measure of this superlative quality, but only i n their description
o f one kind o f reality in which their genius specialized. The
Arabs have recognized Imru'Lil-Qays as approximating that category but only when he rides to war; al-Nabighah al-Dhubyani,
bLit only when he expresses fear; Zuhayr ibn A b i Salma, but

62

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

only when he expresses desire. The Qur'an has fulfilled the


sinie sublime norms i n every subject it touched. Every word in
the verse is a jewel; and so is every verse i n the surah. The Qur'an
has no metal in which a few jewels are set to make jewellery. It is
e
wels!
a
The compositional badi o f the Qur'an is combined w i t h the
ideational badi\ i.e., the highest, noblest religious, ethical, social
and personal thought, to make one indivisible unity. I n the
Qur'an, the form is sublime; the content is sublime; and both
form and content are interlocked w i t h each other so that their
separation is impossible w i t h o u t destruction o f the sublime
nature o f the whole. I n the sublime quality peculiar to i t , none is
available without the other. The result o f their combination i n
the Q u r ' a n is irresistible fascination and terror. N o literary
composition i n human history has ever moved so deeply, so
violently, so permanently, so many generations o f men and
women as the Q u r ' a n has done. None has shattered and/or
reconstructed so many lives! Even the Presbyterian H . A . R . Gibb
said he felt the earth shaking under his feet as he recited the
surah entitled 'The Earthquake'. The sublime i n the Qur'an is
not static, but dynamic. None can resist its fascination, its terror
or its intoxication.
The whole Cjaz claim o f the Qur'an would be idle i f its power
over the minds and hearts o f men was d u l l i n g , dilating or
hypnotizing consciousness i n the sense o f overwhelming it by
reducing its power o f perception, its noetic power. The very
opposite is the case. The Qur'an heightens consciousness and
enhances it to exert the utmost perceptive, rational, intellectual,
empirical, critical power o f which it is capable. Its work is carried
nt under the full light of the sun, as i t were, at mid-day, and
t h unsurpassable realism.
We have seen that the d i v i n e attributes are n o t to be
mterpreted allegorically; that they must be affirmed as they stand,
bila kayfa^ without permitting any anthropomorphism. The same
Pplies to the Qur'an as a whole o f which the attributes are only
part. I f i t evokes i n t u i t i o n o f the transcendent w i t h o u t
nthropomorphism, and yet w i t h o u t allegorical interpretation,
W l

63

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

it does so by its Cjaz quality. The language o f the Qur'an moves


by evoking poetical figures like any poetry. But unlike human
poetry, the QLir'an moves by its form and content both o f which
bespeak transcendence together. The former does so by the
esthetic categories o f n o n - d e v e l o p m e n t , m o m e n t u m and
balaghah; the latter by c o n v e y i n g a c o n t e n t that is itself
transcendent, hence infinite, absolute, sui generis, and moving. In
its presence, man loses his ontological poise and equilibrium;
for he has, i f he understands i t , established contact w i t h the
source o f all b e i n g , o f all m o t i o n , w i t h the transcendent
tremendum et fascinosum. The intuition o f the transcendent through
belles-lettres is not merely contemplative, but dynamic. For the
transcendent reality the belles-lettres p o i n t to is normative,
appealing, moving, commanding and prohibiting. I t was under
the impact o f the transcendent expressed i n the literary stiblime
that Semitic consciousness saw itself as the carrier o f divine
mission, as the vortex o f human history, and the fulfilment of
destiny.
Safeguarding Belles-Lettres Revelation From
Changing Language and Culture

The total preservation o f the Arabic language w i t h all the


categories o f u n d e r s t a n d i n g embedded t h e r e i n and its
continuous use by millions to the present day, eliminated most
o f the hermeneutical problems confronting the modern reader
o f the fourteen-centuries-old revelation. The application of
Qur'anic directives to the ever-changing affairs o f fife w i l l always
be new; and so w o u l d the translation o f its general principles
into concrete prescriptive legislations addressing contemporary
tasks and problems. T h i s , Islamic jurisprudence has always
recognized. But the meaning o f the terms o f revelation, the
categories under w h i c h those meanings are to be understood,
are certainly realizable today exacdy as they were for the Prophet
and his contemporaries fourteen centuries ago. The latter, not
the f o r m e r , is the p r o b l e m o f expressing transcendence.
Understanding the meanings o f the Q u r ' a n as the Prophet
64

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

derstood t h e m is the assumption o f the application, or


Hon
o
f
those
meanings
to
contemporary
problen
pplica
mis a
The capacity o f any student to understand the revelation today
xactly as it was understood on the day i t was revealed, is indeed
\niracle' o f the history o f ideas. It cannot be explained by the
distinction o f 'disclosive' and 'creative* functions o f language. The
former suggests an esoteric level o f meaning w h i c h is disclosed
the initiates only, and by means o f exegesis; and the latter, a
to
fabricative role whose product is not distinguishable from the
constructs o f pure fiction. Moreover, the 'creative' function is not
immune against the charges o f relativism and subjectivism w h i c h
render impossible any claims on behalf o f Islam or any religion
as such, and treats all claims as personal and dated. The interreligious dialogue offers little reward i f all it can purport itself to
be is a dialogue between persons, not religions.

That language changes so that i t is never the same is not


important. Arabic has not changed, though its repertory o f root
words has expanded a little to meet new developments. The
essence o f the language, w h i c h is its grammatical structure, its
conjugation o f verbs and nouns, its categories for relating facts
and ideas, and the forms o f its literary beauty - has not changed
at all. The Heraclitean claim that everything changes and is never
the same is a fallacy, because there must be something permanent
i f change is to be change at all and not the sceptic s 'stream o f the
manifold'. Far more safe and accurate i n the definition o
language were the Muslim linguists who recognized i n languag
ne and only one function, namely, the purely descripti
Characteristically, they defined eloquence as 'descriptive
precision'. The terrain o f lexicography thus became for them
sacrosanct - 'God Himself taught Adam the names o f things' (ala
([ciYah 2: 31); and they laboriously produced for the Arabic
guage o f the Q u r ' a n the most complete lexicographic
ionaries o f any language. Creativity, they relegated to the
man m i n d , where it properly belongs, as the capacity to
^ over and place under the full light o f consciousness, aspects
Reality which escape the less creative or capable, but w h i c h
nius captures. The m o r e precise the d e s c r i p t i o n o
l

ct

65

1ST AM AND OTIIFR FAT1HS

apprehended reality, the more eloquent and beautiful i t is, as


well as the more didactic and instructive. Language in this case
Arabic - thus remained an ordered and public discipline, open
to inspection, capable o f accurate judgement, and compelling
whoever has the requisite intelligence to say to the good author
or critic, 'Yes! That's just i t ! ' I t was natural that the Islamic
revelation w o u l d do all this. For w i t h o u t i t , considering the
transformations the revelations o f Moses, Zoroaster, the Buddha
and Jesus had gone through as their original languages were
lost, forgotten, or 'changed', the transcendent God Himself would
be a poor student o f the history o f religions!

Notes
H . Frankfort, Kingship and the Clods (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

1.

1962), Chapter II,pp. 24~35;Janies Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the
Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), p. 5.

H . Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York: Harper Torch Books,

2.

1961), pp. 20, 23-4.

Alan H . Gardiner/Hymns to Anton from a Leiden Papyrus', Zietschrift fur

3.

aegyptische sprache, X L 2 2 (1905), p. 25, quoted in H . Frankfort, Ancient

Egyptian

Religion, op. cit., pp. 2 6 - 7 .

4.

Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, op. cit.. pp. 6 0 - 7 2 .

5.

He Marduk 'verily is the God, the creator of everything . . . the commands

of his mouth we have exalted above the gods.. .Verily he is the lord of all the gods
of heaven and earth; the king at whose instruction the gods above and below shall
be afraid . . . shall quake and tremble in their dwellings . . . verily he is the light ot
the gods, the mighty prince . . . It is he who restored all the ruined gods as though
they were his own creation, restored the dead gods to life' (Pritchard, op. cit., pp.
69-70).

6.

Martin Buber rightly claims the Hebrew spirit of separate identity is

patriarchal and not, as Freud had contended, a product of the Exodus event. See his
Moses and Monotheism, tr. K.Jones (NewYork: A . A . Knopf, 1939).

7.

John Bright, A History of Israel (London: S C M Press, i960), p. 336.

66

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

Pritchard, op. cit., pp. 57~8A number of statements attributed to Jesus by the evangelists contradict

1 is conclusion. But it is not difficult to show that such statements run counter to
$us' personality and must therefore have been additions made by the evangelists
satisfaction of tensions to which they or their churches were exposed. Such are
-

the statements which declare Jesus' ministry directed to the Jews exclusively
(Matthew S 7 ~ 9 5
:

1 0 :

6; 5 4 )
T

: 2

i i n a <

even to the lost among them (e.g., Luke 15:4,

6)- those which make Jesus' message subservient to Jewish legalism ('Till heaven
and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all bc
fulfilled' - Matthew 5:18: those which make Jesus subscribe to Jewish ethnocentrism
such as 'this day is salvation come to this house [of Zacchacus| for as much as he
also is a son of Abraham' - Luke 19:9).
10.

F.J. Foakcs-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, The Beginnings

of

Christianity

(London: Macmillan Press, 1920), Part I,Vol. 1, p. 398.


11.

Ibid., p. 403.

12.

A . E J . Rawlinson, The New Testament Doctrine of the Christ (London

Longmans, 1926), pp. 236-7.


13.

Mark 14: 58. This need not preclude the possibility of God performing

another miracle - besides resurrecting the dead, healing the sick and restoring
sight to the blind which Jesus performed by Gods power in vindication of his
prophethood - this time to rebuild the material temple in three days.
14-

'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word

was God.The same was in the beginning with God.'


15-

'We believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God,

Begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God,
begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things
were made . . .' (Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church (London:
Oxford University Press, 1943), pp. 36-7.
l6

7-

Bettenson, op. cit., p. 50.


Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, I, v., quoted in Bettenson, op. cit., p. 55.
Ircnaeus, Against Heresies, 1, xxiv, 1,2, as quoted in Bettenson, op. cit., p. 50

9-

Irenaeus, op. cit., I, xxiv, 35, quoted in Bettenson, op. cit., pp. 51-2

Gilbert Murray, Eiue Stages of Greek Religion (New York: Doubleday, 1951),

PP. 142-3.

67

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

21.

Metamorphoses, xi, 19 if, quoted by M.J.Vcrmaseren,'Hellenistic Religions',

in C.Jones Blecker and GeorgeWidcngren, Historia Religionum (Leiden: E J . Brill,


I96Q),V61. I , pp. 522-3.
22.

Ibid.

23.

See for substantiating details Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and

Usages Upon the Christian Church (London: Williams and Norgate, 1890).

24.

'May you die as he dies; and may you live as he lives.'

25.

Genesis 1: 26,'Let us make man to our image and likeness' proves, for St.

Augustine, that in God there is plurality, and humanness. For, he argues, unless the
'us' refers to the trinity, God would have used the singular form; and, unless the
likeness of man, i.e., humanness, was in H i m , He could not have created man in
His likeness (De'Trinitate, in The Fathers of the Church Washington: The Catholic
y

University of America Press, 1963,Vol. 45, p. 20). In Proverbs 8: 25 we read: 'Before


the mountains were setded into place . . . I was brought forth'; and in Proverbs 8: 22:
'The Lord Possessed me, in the beginning of his way'.With such phrases a gnostic
Semitic mind sang the eternity of wisdom allowing it to speak in the first person
form. O u r author took them to refer to Jesus, whom he gnostically identified with
the Word, Wisdom, or logos. But in order to justify the Christian notion ofjesus as
creaturely person as well as God, he assigned to the two statements the desired
disparate meanings respectively (DeTrinitate,p.

36).Adam's reply to God following

his disobedience reported in Genesis 3: 8 should also be noted:'I heard your voice,
and I hid myself from your face since I am naked/This passage constitutes evidence
that 'God, the Father . . . appeared . . . through a changeable and visible creature
subject to Himself, and hence establishes that the divine substance can be
incarnated into a human (ibid., p. 71). T h e subjunctive form of the divine
commandment'Let there be light' (Genesis 1:3) indicates for Augustine that there
was another person whom God must have been addressing. Evidently, his mind is
incapable of conceiving a creative act of God preceded by a divine pronouncement
expressive of a divine wish. And since he has 'established' that the interlocutor is a
being with two natures, one of which is human and has a 'face', he returns to
Genesis 3:8 to assert that the 'face'Adam was hiding from was that ofjesus Christ
(ibid., pp. 7 1 - 2 ) . T h e grammatical turbulence of Genesis

18 was arbitrarily

interpreted by the rabbis as referring once to God and once to three angels sent by
H i m : ' O n e to announce the tidings of the birth of Isaac; the second to destroy
Sodom; and the third to rescue Lot. " A n angel is never sent on more than one
errand at a time" - Midrash' (Pentateuch and Haftorahs, London: Soncino Press,
1958, p. 63, note 2) is taken by Augustine as evidence for the trinity. 'Since three
men were seen, and no one of them is said to bc greater than the others in form, or
in age, or in power, why do we not believe?*, asks Augustine rhetorically,'that the

68

DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE AND ITS EXPRESSION

equality of the Trinity is intimated here by the visible creature, and the one and
same substance in the three persons? What does he mean by saying to them: " N o ,
my Lord", and not, "No, my Lords . . ."?' (ibid., pp. 75-7). Finally, Augustine
performs a repulsive tour deforce with Exodus 33: 23. In answer to Moses' request
that he be permitted to see God's face, God promises to cover Moses when He
passes so that he may not see God, and later to uncover him after He passes 'and
then you shall see my back parts.. .' the 'back parts' or *posterior^ Augustine claims,
'are commonly and not without reason understood to prefigure the person of our
Lord Jesus Christ.Thus, the back parts are taken to be His flesh, in which H e was
born of the Virgin and rose again' (ibid.,pp. 845).
26.

Against Praxeas, xii-xiii, Ante-Nicene

Fathers Vo\. I l l , pp. 607 fF.

27.

Church Dogmatics, tr. G.W. Bromley and T.F. Torrence (London: T & T.

Clark, i960), III, Part I, pp. 191 ff.


28.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, op. cit., p. 195.

29.

Ibid.

30.

Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

T95i),Vol. I, p. 226.
3*

Ibid., p. 229.

32

Ibid., pp. 225-6

33

Ibid., p. 225.

34

Ibid.

35

Ibid., p. 226.

36

Ibid.

37

Ibid.

38

Ibid., pp. 80-1; 91-2

39

Charles P. Price, The Principles of Christian Faith and Practice (New Delhi:

Isla ni and the Modern Age Society, 1977), pp. 72-3,


40.

Ibid.

T R . Miles, Religion and the Scientific Outlook (London: Allen & U n w i n ,


959), pp. 161-4, quoted in Price, op. cit., p. 74.
4i.

69

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

The most famous and complete version is that prepared by Ibn Tufayl (d.
1185 CE) in Andalus. For a translation, see M . Mahdi and M. Lerner, Sourcebook of
42.

A4edieval Political Philosophy.

Ibn Hisham reports in his Strat Rasul Allah (Life of the Prophet of God)
Heraclius's answer as follows: 'Alas, I know that your master is a prophet sent by
God . . . But I go in fear of my life from the Romans; but for that I would follow
him . . t r . by A. Guillaume (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 656.
43.

44.

Al-Shahristani, Al-J\4ilal wa al-Nihal

(Cairo: Matba'at al-Azhar, 1370/

1951), pp. 171-9.

45. Hence, their name 'al-Mu atti1ah\ 'the neutralized, Al-Shahristanl, op.
pp. 61-3.
f

CHAPTER THREE

The Role of Islam in Global

Inter-Religious

Dependence

Islam is the youngest o f the world's religions. I t is unique i n


that it has related itself to most o f the religions o f the world; that
it has done so in its formative stage; and that on this account, its
relation to other religions has a constitutive place i n its very
essence and core. Islam's relation to other religions has been
ideational, i.e., linking; the world-view o f Islam, its view o f God

(may He be Glorified and Exalted), o f reality, o f man, o f the


world and history to the other religions. It is also practical, i.e.,
providing a modus vivendi for Muslims and adherents o f other
religions to live and work together, but each group according to
the values and precepts of its own faith. In the case o f Judaism,
Christianity, and Sabaeanism, the relation was crystallized first
by G o d t h r o u g h direct r e v e l a t i o n , t h e n by the Prophet
Muhammad himself (peace and blessings be upon him) working
under divine a u t h o r i t y p r o v i d e d by revelation. I n that o f
Zoroastrianism, the same relation was extended by the Prophet s
Companions (may Allah be pleased w i t h them all) three years
after his death (13 AH/635 ) when Persia was conquered and
brought into the fold o f Islam. As for Hinduism and Buddhism,
the same extension took place following the conquest o f the
c t

This article was published in Lewis and Barrytown (eds.), 'Towards a Global
Congress of the World's Religions (New York: Unification Theological Seminary,
^ 8 0 ) , pp. 19-38.

71

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

lower region of the Indus Valley in 711 C E . I n all o f these cases,


Islam has maintained a long history of cooperative interaction w i t h
the other religions: fourteen centuries long w i t h the religions of
the Near East; and thirteen centuries long w i t h those o f India. It
has developed an ideational base for that interaction w h i c h is
constitutive of the religious experience o f Islam, and is hence as
old as Islam itself.
It is rather repugnant to Muslim ears to hear Western scholars
claim that the discipline o f comparative study o f religion is a Western innovation born out o f the European EiiKghtemnent, or out
of Europe's colonial and industrial expansion i n the nineteenth
century; or that the coming together o f the world religions was
first initiated by the Chicago Congress in 1893. Joachim Wach
(18981955) opened his The Comparative Study of Religion w i t h the
assertion, 'There can be little doubt that the modern comparative
study o f religions began w i t h Max Miiller [1823-1900], about a
century ago.' The 'little doubt in question is the result of ignorance, of a superiority complex which blinds the Western scholar
to the achievements o f non-Westerners. We are inclined, however,
to respond to such a claim w i t h a smile and invite our Western
colleagues to do their 'homework'. The contribution of Islam to
the academic study of other religions in the past has been colossal
by any standard; and its potential contribution to the forthcoming
Global Congress is certainly worthy o f its great past. It can supply
principles and ideas for the encounter o f religions, and forms and
structures for their co-existence and cooperation. The modus Vivendi which Islam provided for the world religions i n Madinah,
Damascus, Cordoba, Cairo, Delhi and Istanbul is certainly worthy
o f emulation by the whole world. Indeed, we w h o prepare for
the Global Congress would be quite happy i f the projected Congress could realize a fraction o f what Islam had done many
centuries ago.
1

I.

T h e Ideational R e l a t i o n

For the Muslim, the relation of Islam to the other religions


has been established by God in His revelation, the Qur'an. N o
72

THE ROLE OF ISLAM IN GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS DEPENDENCE

jvluslim therefore may deny it; since for h i m the Qur'an is the
ltimate religious authority. Muslims regard the Qur'an as God's
own word verbatim; the final and definitive revelation of His
wiu for all space and time, for all mankind. The only kind o f
contention possible for the M u s l i m is that o f exegetical variation.
But i n this realm, the scope o f variation is l i m i t e d i n t w o
directions: First, continuity o f M u s l i m practice throughout the
centuries constitutes an irrefutable testament to the meanings
attributed to the Qur'anic verses. Second, the methodology o f
Muslim orthodoxy in exegesis rests on the principle that Arabic
lexicography, grammar and syntax, w h i c h have remained frozen
and i n perpetual use by millions ever since their crystallization
in the Qur'an, leave no contention w i t h o u t a solution. These
facts explain the universality w i t h w h i c h the Qur'anic principles
were understood and observed, despite the widest possible
u

variety o f e t h n i c cultures, languages, races and customs


characterizing the Muslim w o r l d , from Morocco to Indonesia,
and from Russia and the Balkans to the heart o f Africa. As for
the non-Muslims, these may contest the principles o f Islam. They
must know, however, that Islam does not present its principles
dogmatically, for those who believe or wish to believe, exclusively.
does so rationally, critically. I t comes to us armed w i t h logical
and coherent arguments; and expects our acquiescence on
rational, and hence, necessary, grounds. It is not legitimate for us
to disagree on the relativist basis o f personal taste, or that o
subjective experience.
We propose to analyze Islam's ideational relation i n three
stages: that which pertains to Judaism and Christianity, that which
pertains to the other religions, and that which pertains to religion
as such, and hence to all humans whether they belong to any or
no religion.

A.

Judaism

and

Christianity

Islam accords to these two religions special status. First, each


o f them is the religion o f God. Their founders on earth, Abraham,
Moses, David, Jesus, are the Prophets o f God. What they have
73

ISLAM AMD OTI1LR FAITHS

conveyed - the To rah, the Psalms, the Evangels are revelations


from God. To believe i n these prophets, i n the revelations they
have brought, is integral to the very faith o f Islam. To disbelieve
in them nay, to discriminate between them is apostasy. ' O u r
Lord and your Lord is indeed God, the One and Only God.'
God described His Prophet Muhammad and his followers as
'believing all that has been revealed from God'; as 'believing i n
God, i n His angels, i n His revelations and Prophets'; as ' n o t
distinguishing between the Prophets o f G o d ' .
Arguing w i t h Jews and Christians w h o object to this selfidentification and claim an exclusivist monopoly on the former
prophets, the Qur'an says:'You claim that Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac,
Jacob and their tribes were Jews or Christians [and God claims
otherwise]. W o u l d y o u claim k n o w l e d g e i n these matters
superior to God's?' ' "Say", [Muhammad], "We believe i n God,
in what has been revealed by H i m to us, what has been revealed
to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, the tribes; i n what has been
conveyed to Moses, to Jesus and all the prophets from their
Lord".' 'We have revealed [Our revelation] to you [Muhammad]
as We did to N o a h and the Prophets after h i m , to Abraham,
Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, the tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron,
Solomon, and David, W h o revealed the Psalms to David.' ' I t is
God indeed, the living and eternal One, that revealed to you
[ M u h a m m a d ] the B o o k [i.e., the Q u r ' a n ] c o n f i r m i n g the
previous revelations. For it is H e W h o revealed the To rah and
the Evangels as His guidance to mankind.' 'Those w h o believe
[in you, Muhammad], the Jews, the Sabaeans or the Christians
all those w h o believe i n God and i n the Day o f Judgement, and
have done the good works. They have no cause to fear, nor w i l l
they grieve.'
T h e respect w i t h w h i c h Islam regards Judaism and
Christianity, their founders and scriptures, is not courtesy, but
acknowledgement o f religious truth. Islam sees them i n the world
not as 'other views' which i t has to tolerate, but as standing de
jure, as t r u l y revealed religions from G o d . Moreover, their
legitimate status is neither s o c i o - p o l i t i c a l , n o r cultural or
civilizational, but religious. I n this, Islam is unique. For no
3

74

THE ROLE OF ISLAM IN GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS DEPENDENCE

religion i n the world has yet made belief in the truth o f other
religions a necessary condition of its own faith and witness.
Consistently, Islam pursues this acknowledgement of religious
truth i n Judaism and Christianity to its logical conclusion, namely,
self-identification w i t h them. Identity o f God, the source o f
revelation i n the three religions, necessarily leads to identity of
the revelations and of the religions. Islam does not see itself as
coming to the religious scene ex nihilo, but as reaffirmation of
the same t r u t h presented by all the preceding prophets o f
Judaism and Christianity. It regards them all as Muslims, and
their revelations as one and the same as its o w n . Together w i t h
Hanifism, the monotheistic and ethical religion o f pre-Islamic
Arabia, Judaism, Christianity and Islam constitute crystallizations
o f one and the same religious consciousness whose essence and
core is one and the same. T h e u n i t y o f this religious
consciousness can be easily seen by the historian o f civilization
concerned w i t h the ancient Near East. It is traceable i n the
literatures o f these ancient peoples and is supported by the
unity o f their physical theatre or geography, o f their languages
(for which they are called 'Semitic'), and by the unity o f artistic
expression. This unity o f the religious consciousness o f the Near
East consists o f five dominant principles which characterize the
known literatures o f the peoples of the Near East. They are: First,
the disparate ontic reality of God, the Creator, from His creatures,
unlike the attitudes o f ancient Egyptians, Indians, or Chinese,
according to w hich God or the Absolute is immanently His own
creatures; second, the purpose of man's creation is neither God's
self-contemplation nor man's enjoyment, but unconditional
service o f God on earth, His own 'manor'; third, the relevance of
Creator to creature, or the w i l l o f God, is the content o f revelation
and i t is expressed i n terms o f law, o f oughts and moral
imperatives; fourth, man, the servant, is master o f the manor under
God, capable o f transforming it through his own efficacious
action into what God desires it to be; fifth, man's obedience to
and fulfilment o f the divine command results in happiness and
felicity, its opposite in suffering and damnation, thus coalescing
w o r l d l y and cosmic justice together. The unity o f ' S e m i t i c '
10

11

75

1ST AM AND OTHER 1AITHS

religious and cultural consciousness was not affected by intrusion


of the Egyptians i n the days o f their Empire (1465-1165 B C ) , nor by the Philistines from Caphtor (Crete?); nor by the Hittitcs,
Kassites, or 'People o f the Mountains' (the Aryan tribes?), who
were all semiticized and assimilated, despite their m i l i t a r y
conquests. ' Islam has taken all this for granted. It has called the
central religious tradition o f the Semitic peoples HanTfism and
identified itself w i t h i t . Unfortunately for the early M u s l i m
scholars w h o benefited from this insight as they laboured, the
language, histories and literatures furnished by archaeology and
the disciplines o f the ancient Near East were not yet available.
They hence scrambled after the smallest bits o f oral tradition
which they systematized for us under the title o f ' H i s t o r y o f the
Prophets'. In reading their materials, we must remember, however,
1

<

that the accurate knowledge o f Abraham (c. 2000-1650 B C ) , o f


Julius Caesar (100 or 102-44 B C ) , o f A m r i b n a l - A s and o f
Napoleon (1769-1821), about the Sphinx or the pyramids o f
Egypt, for instance, was equal - i.e. n i l .
The Islamic concept o f 'Hanif should not be compared to
Karl Rahner's 'Anonymous Christians'. 'Hanif is a Qur'anic
category, not the invention o f a modern theologian embarrassed
by his church's exclusivist claim on divine grace. I t has been
operating w i t h i n the Islamic ideational system for fourteen
centuries. Those to w h o m it is attributed are the paradigms o f
faith and greatness, the most h o n o u r e d representatives o f
religious life, not the despised though tolerated approximators
of the religious ideal. Islam's honouring o f the ancient prophets
and their follower^is to be maintained even i f the Jews and
Christians stop or diminish their loyalty to them. 'Worthier o f
Abraham are those who really follow h i m , this Prophet and those
who believe i n him.' I n the Qur'an, the Christians are exalted
for their asceticism and humility, and they are declared the closest
of all believers to the Muslims. ' [ O Muhammad], you and the
believers w i l l find closest i n love and friendship those who say
"We are Christians", for many o f them are ministers and priests
they are not arrogant.'' If, despite all this commendation o f
them, o f their prophets, o f their scriptures, Jews and Christians
c

15

76

THE ROLE OE ISLAM IN GLOBAL IN TER-RELIGlOUS DEPENDENCE

ersist in opposing and rejecting the Prophet and his followers,


P
God commanded all Muslims to call the Jews and Christians i n
these words: ' O People o f the Book, come now w i t h us to rally
und
a
fair
and
noble
principle
common
to
both
o
f
us,
that
all
aro
f
us
shall
worship
and
serve
none
but
God,
that
we
shall
associate
o
naught w i t h H i m , that we shall not take one another as lords
beside God. But i f they still persist i n their opposition, then
warn them that We shall persist i n our affirmation [You bear
witness that we are Muslims].'
Evidently, Islam has given the maximum that can ever be given
to another religion. It has acknowledged as true the other religion s
prophets and founders, its scripture and teaching. Islam has
declared its God and the God o f that religion as One and the
same. I t has declared the Muslims the assistants, friends and
supporters o f the adherents o f the other religion, under God.
after all this, differences persist, Islam holds them to be o f no
consequence. Such differences must be not SLibstantial. They can
e surmounted and resolved throLigh more knowledge, goodwill and wisdom. Islam treats them as domestic disputes w i t h i n
one and the same religious family. A n d as long as we both recognize
that God alone is Lord to each and every one o f us, no difference
and no disagreement is beyond solution. OLir religious, cultural,
social, economic and political differences may all be composed
under the principle that God alone - not any one o f us, not our
passions, our egos, or our prejLidices
is God.
17

B.

The Other Religions

Islam teaches that the phenomenon o f prophecy is universal;


that it has taken place throLighout all space and time. 'Every
human', the Qur'an affirms, 'is responsible for his own personal
deeds. O n the Day o f Judgement, We shall produce publicly the
record o f such deeds and ask everyone to examine i t as it alone
w i l l be the basis o f reckoning. Whoever is rightly guided is so to
his own credit; whoever errs does so to his own discredit. There
is no vicarious guilt; and We shall not condemn [i.e. We shall not
judge] u n t i l We had sent a prophet.' I t follows from God's
absolute justice that He would hold nobody responsible unless
t

18

77

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

His law has been conveyed, promulgated and k n o w n . Such


conveyance and/or promulgation is precisely the phenomenon
o f prophecy. The same principle was operative i n the ancient
Near East, where the states carved their laws i n stone stelae
which they erected everywhere for people to read. Ignorance o f
the divine law is indeed an argument when i t is not the effect o f
unconcern or neglect; and it is always an attenuating factor. Being
absolutely just as well as absolutely merciful and forgiving, God,
Islam holds, left no people without a prophet to teach them the
divine law.'There is no people', the Qur'an asserts,'but a warner/
prophet has been sent to them.' Some o f these prophets are
widely k n o w n ; others are not. So neither the Jewish, nor the
Christian, nor the Muslim ignorance o f them implies their n o n existence. 'We have i n d e e d sent prophets before y o u
[Muhammad]. A b o u t some o f them We have i n f o r m e d you.
About others We have n o t . ' Thus the whole o f mankind is
responsible, past and present, capable o f religious m e r i t and
felicity as well as o f demerit and damnation, because o f the
universality o f prophecy.
As Islam conceives o f i t , the divine system is one o f perfect
justice. Universalism and absolute egalitarianism are constitutive
o f i t . Hence, not only the phenomenon o f prophecy must be
universally present, its content must be absolutely the same. I f
the divine law conveyed by the prophets to their peoples were
different i n each case, the universalism o f the phenomenon
would have little effect. Therefore, Islam teaches that the prophets
o f all times and places have taught one and the same lesson; that
God has not differ?htiated between His messengers. 'We have
sent to every people a messenger', the Qur'an affirms, 'to teach
them that worship and service are due to God alone; that evil
must be avoided [and the good pursued] . . . .' 'We have sent no
messenger except to convey [the divine message] in the tongue
of his own people, to make it[s content] clearly comprehensible
to them.' '' W i t h this reassurance, no human has any excuse for
failing to acknowledge God, or to obey His law. '[We have sent
to every people] prophets to preach and to warn, that no human
may have an a r g u m e n t against God's j u d g e m e n t o f that
19

20

2I

78

THE ROLF OF ISLAM IN GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS DEPENDENCE

individuals deeds]! Islam thus lays the ground for a relation


w i t h all peoples, not only w i t h Jews and Christians whose
prophets are confirmed i n the Qur'an. As having once been the
recipients o f revelation, and o f a revelation that is identical to
that o f Islam, the whole o f mankind may be recognized by
Muslims as equally honoured, as they are, by virtue o f revelation
and also as equally responsible, as they are, to acknowledge God
as the only God and to offer H i m worship, service and obedience
to His eternal laws.
21

If, as Islam holds, all prophets have conveyed one and the same
message, whence the tremendous variety o f the historical
religions o f mankind? To this question, Islam furnishes a
theoretical answer and a practical one.
(i) Islam holds that the messages o f all prophets had but
one essence and core composed o f two elements: First is tawhid,
or the acknowledgement that God alone is God and that all
worship, service and obedience are due to H i m alone. Second is
morality, w h i c h the Qur'an defines as service to God, doing good
and avoiding evil. Each revelation had come figurized i n a code
o f behaviour particularly applicable to its people, and hence
relevant to t h e i r h i s t o r i c a l situation and c o n d i t i o n s . This
particularization does not affect the essence or core o f the
revelation. I f it did, God's justice would not be absolute and the
claims o f universalism and egalitarianism w o u l d fall to the
ground. Particularization i n the divine law must therefore affect
the 'how' o f service, not its purpose or 'what', the latter being
always die good, righteousness, justice and obedience o f God. I f
it ever affects the 'what', it must do so only i n those areas which
are non-constitutive and hence unimportant and accidental. This
principle has the special merit o f rallying humanity, whether
potentially or actually, around common principles o f religion
and morality; to remove such principles from contention, from
relativism and subjectivism. * There is therefore a legitimate
ground for the religious variety i n history. In His mercy, God has
taken due account o f the particular conditions o f each people.
He has revealed to them all a message w h i c h is the same i n
essence; but He has conveyed to each one o f them His law i n a
2

79

ISLAM AND OTHER hAITHS

prescriptive form relevant to their particular conditions, to their


own grade o f development on the human scale. A n d we may
conclude that such differences are de jure as long as they do not
affect the essence.
(2) T h e second cause o f religious diversity is n o t as
benevolent as the first. The first, we have seen, is divine; the
second, h u m a n . To acknowledge and do the w i l l o f G o d
conveyed through revelation is not always welcomed by all men.
There are those w i t h vested interests which may not agree w i t h
the divine dispensations, and there are numerous circumstances
favouring such disagreement.
First, divine revelation has practically always and everywhere
advocated charity and altruism, ministering by the rich to the
material needs o f the poor. The rich do not always acquiesce to
this moral imperative and may incline against it. Second, divine
revelation is nearly always in favour o f ordered social living. I t
w o u l d counsel obedience o f the ruled to the law and selfdiscipline. But it always does so under the assumption o f a rule
of justice, which may not always be agreeable to rulers and kings
who seek to have their own way. Their will-power may incline

them against the social ethic o f revelation. T h i r d , d i v i n e


revelation is always r e m i n d i n g man to measure himself by
reference to God and His law, not by reference to himself. But
man is vain; and self-adoration is for h i m a constant temptation.
Fourth, revelation imposes u p o n humans to discipline their
instincts and to keep their emotions under control. However,
humans are inclined to indulgence. Orgies o f instinct-satisfaction
and emotional excitement have punctuated human life. Often,
this inclination militates against revelation. Fifth, where the
contents o f revelation are not judiciously and meticulously
remembered, taught, and observed publicly and by the greatest
numbers, they tend to be forgotten. W h e n diey are transmitted
from generation to generation and are not embodied i n public
customs observed by all, the divine imperatives may suffer
dilution, shift o f emphasis, or change. Finally, when the divine
revelation is moved across linguistic, ethnic and cultural frontiers
indeed, even to generations w i t h i n the same people but far
80

THE ROLE OF ISLAM IN GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS DEPENDENCE

removed from its original recipients i n time, it may well change


through interpretation. Any or all o f these circumstances may
bring about a corruption of the original revelation.
That is why God has seen fit to repeat the phenomenon o f
prophecy, to send f o r t h prophets to re-convey the divine
message and re-establish it in the minds and hearts o f humans.
This divine injection into history is an act of sheer mercy. I t is
continual, always ad hoc, unpredictable. To those w h o inquired,
What is the rationale behind sending Muhammad at that time
and place? the Qur'an answered: 'God knows better where and
when to send prophets to convey His message/
25

C.

Islam's Relation to all Humans Uberhaupt

Islam has related itself, equally, to all other religions, whether


recognized, h i s t o r i c a l or o t h e r w i s e . I n d e e d , even the areligionists and atheists whatever their colour Islam has
related itself to them i n a constructive manner, its purpose being
to rehabilitate them as integral members o f society.

This relation constitutes Islam's humanism. A t its root stands


the reason for creation, man's raison d'etre. The first mention o f
the divine plan to create man occurs i n a conversation w i t h the
angels. ' " I plan to place on earth a vicegerent for M e . " The
angels responded: " W o u l d y o u place on earth a being w h o
would also do evil and shed blood while we always praise and
glorify and obey You?" God said: " I k n o w [another purpose]
unknown to y o u " . ' The angels, evidently, are beings created by
God to act as His messengers and/or instruments. By nature,
they are incapable o f acting otherwise than God instructs them
to act and, hence, they are incapable o f morality. Their necessary
predicament, always to do God's bidding, differentiates them
from the human creature God was about to place on earth. In
another dramatic and eloquent passage, the Qur'an reports: 'We
[God] offered the trust to heaven and earth and mountain. They
refused to carry i t out o f fear. But man did carry i t . ' I n the
heavens, on earth and i n the mountains, God's w i l l is fulfilled
w i t h the necessity o f natural law. Creation, therefore, to the
26

27

Si

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

exclusion o f man, is incapable o f fulfilling the higher part o f


Gods w i l l namely, the moral law. Only man is so empowered;
for morality requires that its fulfilment be free; that its opposite
or alternative, that which is a-moral, be possible o f fulfilment by
the same person at the same time and i n the same respect. It is of
the nature o f the moral deed that it be done when the agent
could do otherwise. W i t h o u t that option or possibility, morality
would not be morality. I f done unconsciously or under coercion,
for example, the moral deed might have utilitarian value, but
not moral.
Vicegerency o f God on earth means man's transformation o f
creation - including above all liimself into the patterns o f God.
It means obedient fulfilment o f His command which includes
all values, all ethical imperatives. The highest o f imperatives are
the moral. Since man alone is capable o f moral action, only he
could carry die 'divine trust' from which 'heaven and earth and
mountain' shied away. M a n , therefore, has cosmic significance.
He is the only creature through w h o m the higher part of the
divine w i l l could be realized in space and time. To clarify the
raison d'etre o f man, the Qur'an has rhetorically asked mankind:
'Would you then think that We have created you i n vain?' The
Qur'an further affirms:'O God! Certainly You have not created
all this [creation] i n vain!' As to the deniers o f such a purpose
for creation, the Qur'an turns to an assertive, even offensive tone:
'Indeed We have not created heaven and earth and all that is
between i n vain. That is the presumption o f unbelievers. Woe
and Fire to them.' As to the content o f the divine purpose, the
Qur'an asserts: '.^JPB I have not created men and jinn except to
worship/serve Me.' The verb ^abada means worship as well as
serve. I t has been used i n this double sense i n all Semitic
languages. I n the Qur'an, it is given further elaboration by the
more specific answers given to the same questions o f W h y
creation? W h y man? ' I t is He W h o created heavens and earth . . .
that you [mankind] may prove yourselves in His eye the worthier
in the deed.' 'And it is He W h o made you His vicegerents on
earth . . . that you may try [to prove yourselves] worthy of all that
He had bestowed upon you.'^
28

2y

31

82

THE ROLE Oh ISLAM IN GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS DEPENDENCE

In order to enable man to fulfil his raison d'etre, God has created
him capable, and ' i n the best o f forms'. He has given h i m all
the equipment necessary to achieve fiilfilment o f the divine
imperatives. Above all,'God, W h o created everything perfect . . .
created man out o f earth . . . perfected and breathed into h i m o f
His own spirit/ He has bestowed upon h i m 'hearing, and sight
and heart' [the cognitive faculties]. Above all, God has given
man his m i n d , his reason and understanding, w i t h w h i c h to
discover and usufruct the world i n which he lives. He has made
die earth and all that is on it - indeed the whole o f creation
including the human self - malleable, i.e., capable o f change
and o f transformation by man's action, o f engineering designed
to fulfil man's purposes. I n religious language, God has made
nature 'subservient' to man. He has granted mankind 'lordship'
34

35

over nature. T h i s is also the meaning o f man's khilafah or


vicegerency o f God in the world. The Qur'an is quite emphatic
in this regard: 'God has made the ships [the winds which drive
them] subject to you . . . A n d the rivers . . . the sun and moon,
day and n i g h t / 'He has made the seas subservient to you . . .
camels and catde . . . all that is on earth and in heaven/ God has
planted man o n earth precisely to reconstruct and usufruct it '
and, to this purpose, made h i m lord o f the earth. I n order to
make this engineering o f nature and its usufruct possible, God
36

37

3 s

39

has embedded i n it His 'sunan or patterns, the so-called 'laws


o f nature' w h i c h we k n o w to be permanent and immutable
solely through our faith that He is no trickster, not a malicious
but a beneficent G o d . Reading God's patterns i n nature or
creation is equally possible i n psychic or social nature, thus
opening nearly all areas o f creation to human observation and
cognition, as well as a fair portion o f the divine purpose or w i l l .
Besides all this, God has revealed His w i l l through the prophets
direcdy and immediately, and commanded them to proclaim it
to their peoples i n their own tongues. He has sent the Prophet
Muhammad w i t h a final version which he covenanted to guard
against t a m p e r i n g and c o r r u p t i o n , and w h i c h has been
preserved i n t a c t , along w i t h Arabic grammar and syntax,
lexicography, etymology and p h i l o l o g y all the linguistic
40

41

12

4 3

83

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

apparatus required to understand it exactly as i t was revealed.


Certainly this was a gratLiitous gesture, an act o f pure charity and
mercy, on the part o f the benevolent God. Its purpose is to make
man's knowledge and fulfilment o f the divine w i l l easier and
more accessible.
Every human being, Islam affirms, stands to benefit from these
divine dispensations. The road to felicity is a free and open highway which anyone may tread o f his own accord. Everybody is
innately endowed w i t h all these rights and privileges. God has
granted them to all without discrimination. 'Nature', 'the earth',
'the heavens' - all belong to each and every human. Indeed, God
has done all this and even more! He has implanted His own religion into every human at birth. The true religion is innate, a religio
naturalis, w i t h which all humans are equipped. Behind the dazzling religious diversity o f mankind stands an innate religion
inseparable from human nature. This is the primordial religion,
Ur-Religion the one and only true religion. Everyone possesses
it unless acculturation and indoctrination, misguidance, corruption or dissuasion had taught h i m otherwise. A i l men, therefore,
possess a faculty, a 'sixth sense', a 'sensus communis' w i t h w h i c h
they can perceive God as God. Rudolph Otto called it 'the sense
of the numinous' and phenomenologists o f religion have recognized it as the faculty which perceives the religious as 'religious',
as 'sacred', autonomous, and sui generis, without reductionism.
Finally, Islam entertains no idea of'the fall o f man', no concept
of'original sin'. I t holds no man to stand i n an innate, necessary
predicament out o f whic^i he cannot lift himself. Man, it holds, is
innocent. H e is b o r n w i t h his innocence. Indeed, he is b o r n
w i t h a thousand perfections, w i t h faculties o f understanding, and
an innate sense w i t h w h i c h to know God. I n this all men are
equal, since i t follows from their very existence, from their
creatureliness. T h i s is the basis for Islamic universalism.
Concerning morality and piety, man's career on earth, Islam
countenances no distinction between humans, no division o f
them into races or nations, castes or classes. A l l men, i t holds,
'issued from a single pair', their division into peoples and tribes
being a convention designed for 'mutual acquaintance'. 'Nobler
41

45

46

47

48

49

84

THE ROLE OF ISLAM IN GLOBAL IN TER-RELIGlOUS DEPENDENCE

among yon', the Qur'an asserts, 'is only the more righteotisV
^ d the Prophet added, i n his farewell sermon: ' N o Arab may
have any distinction over a non-Arab, no white over a non-white,
except i n righteousness.'
0

51

II.

T h e Practical Relation

Under these precepts, whether explicitly revealed i n the ipsissima verba o f God or implied therein, the Prophet Muhammad
worked out and proclaimed the constitution o f the first Islamic
state. He had barely arrived i n Madinah (July, 622 C E ) when he
brought together all the inhabitants o f Madinah and its environs
and promulgated w i t h them the Islamic state and its constitution.
This event was o f capital importance for the relation o f Islam to
the other religions, and o f non-Muslims to Muslims o f all times
and places. Four years after the Prophet's demise in TO AH/632
C E , U m a r i b n al-Khattab (c. 581-644), the second Caliph,
ordered that the date o f promulgation o f this constitution was so
crucial for Islam as a w o r l d m o v e m e n t that i t should be
considered the beginning o f Islamic history.
The constitution was a covenant, whose guarantor was Allah,
between the Prophet, the Muslims, and the Jews. I t abolished
the tribal system o f Arabia under w h i c h the Arab defined himself
and by which society was governed. Henceforth, the Arab was to
be defined by Islam; his personal and social life to be governed
by Islamic law, the Shari'ah.The old tribal loyalties gave way to a
new social bond w h i c h tied every Muslim to all other Muslims
across tribal lines, to form the ummah. The ummah is an organic
body whose constituents m u t u a l l y sustain and protect one
another. Their personal, reciprocal and collective responsibilities
are all defined by law. The Prophet was to be its chief political
and juristic authority; and, as long as he lived, he exercised this
power. After his death, his khulafa' (pi. o f khalTfah, 'successor')
exercised political authority, while juristic authority devolved
exclusively upon the *ulama' (the jurists), w h o had by then
developed a m e t h o d o l o g y for i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , renewal and
expansion o f the Shari ah.
(

85

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

A.

Hie Jewish

Ummah

Alongside this ummah o f Muslims stands another ummah o f


the Jews. Their old tribalist loyalties to the Arab Aws and Khazraj
tribes were to be SLipplanted by the bond o f Judaism. Instead o f
their citizenship being a function o f their clientship to this or
that Arab tribe, it was hence to be a function o f their Jewishness.
Their life was to be structured around Jewish institutions and
governed by the Torah, their revealed law. Political authority was
vested i n the chief rabbi w h o was also k n o w n as Resh Galut,
while juristic aLithority rested w i t h the system o f rabbinic courts.
Overarching both ummahs was a third organization, also called
al-ummah\ or 'al-dawlah al-Islamiy y ah (the Islamic state) whose
constituents were the two ummahs and whose raison d'etre was
the protection o f the state, the conduct o f its external affairs, and
the carrying out o f Islam's universal mission. T h e state could
conscript the ummah o f Muslims i n its services, whether for
peace or for war, but not the ummah o f Jews. However, Jews
could volunteer their services to i t i f they wished. Neither the
Muslim nor the Jewish ummah was free to conduct any relation
w i t h a foreign power, and much less to declare war or peace
w i t h any other state or foreign organization. Such remains the
exclusive jurisdiction o f the Islamic state. The Jews w h o entered
freely into this covenant w i t h the Prophet and whose status die
new constitution raised f r o m tribal clients o n sufferance t o
citizens de jure o f the stat^ later betrayed i t . The sad consequence
was first the fining o f one group o f them, followed by the
expulsion o f another group found guilty o f a greater offence,
and finally the execution o f a third group that plotted w i t h the
enemy to destroy the Islamic state and the Islamic movement.
Although these judgements were made by the Prophet himself,
or by an arbitrator agreed upon by the parties concerned, the
Muslims d i d not understand them as directed against the Jews as
SLICII, but against the gLiilty individuals only. Islam recognizes no
vicarious guilt. Hence, when the Islamic state later expanded to
include northern Arabia, Palestine, Jordan and Syria, Persia and
Egypt, where numerous Jews lived, they were aLitomatically
l

86

THE ROLE OF ISLAM IN GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS DEPENDENCE

treated as innocent constituents o f the Jewish ummah w i t h i n the


Islamic state. This explains the harmony and cooperation which
characterized M u s l i m - J e w i s h relations t h r o u g h o u t the
succeeding centuries.
For the first time i n history since the Babylonian invasion o
586 B C , and as citizens o f the Islamic state, the Jew could model
his life after the Torah and do so legitimately, supported by the
public laws o f the state where he resided. For the first time, a
non-Jewish state p u t its executive power at the service o f a
rabbinic court. For the first time, the state-institution assumed
responsibility for the maintenance o f Jewishness, and declared
itself ready to use its power to defend the Jewishness o f Jews
against the enemies o f Jewishness, be they Jews or non-Jews.
After centuries o f Greek, R o m a n and Byzantine (Christian)
oppression and persecution, the Jews o f the Near East, o f N o r t h
Africa, o f Spain and Persia, looked upon the Islamic state as
liberator. M a n y o f t h e m readily helped its armies i n their
conquests and cooperated enthusiastically w i t h the Islamic state
administration. This cooperation was followed by acculturation
i n t o Arabic and Islamic culture, and produced a dazzling
blossoming o f Jewish arts, letters, sciences and medicine.
brought affluence and prestige to the Jews, some o f w h o m
became ministers and advisors to the caliphs. Indeed, Judaism
and its Hebrew language developed their 'golden age' under the
aegis o f Islam. Hebrew acquired its first grammar, the Torah its
jurisprudence, Hebrew letters their lyrical poetry, and Hebrew
philosophy found its first A r i s t o t e l i a n , Musa i b n M a y m u n
(Maimonides) (c. 1135/8-1204), whose t h i r t e e n precepts,
couched i n Arabic first, defined the Jewish creed and identity.
Judaism developed its first mystical thinker as well, Ibn Gabirol
c. 1021-58), whose 'Sufi' thought brought reconciliation and
inner peace to Jews throughout Europe. Under Abd al-Rahman
I I I (891-961) i n Cordoba, the Jewish prime minister, Hasdai ben
Shapirut, managed to effect reconciliation between Christian
monarchs w h o m even the Catholic Church could not b r i n g
together. A l l this was possible because o f one Islamic principle
on which i t all rested, namely, the recognition o f the Torah as
c

87

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

revelation and o f Judaism as God's religion, w h i c h the Qur'an


attested and proclaimed.

B.

The Christian

Ummah*

Shordy after the conquest o f Makkah by Muslim forces i n 8


Aii/630 C E , the Christians o f Najran inYaman sent a delegation
o f chieftains to meet the Prophet i n Madinah. Their purpose
was to clarify their position vis-a-vis the Islamic state, and that o f
the state vis-a-vis them. The conquest o f Makkah had made the
Islamic state a power to reckon w i t h i n the region. The delegates
were the guests o f the Prophet, and he received them i n his
house and entertained them i n his mosque. He explained Islam
to them and called upon them to convert to his faith and cause.
Some o f them did; and instantlv became members o f the Muslim
ummah. Others did not. They chose to remain Christian, and to
join the Islamic state as Christians. The Prophet constituted them
a Christian ummah, alongside the Jewish and Muslim ummah(s),
w i t h i n the Islamic state. H e sent w i t h t h e m one o f his
Companions, M u ' a d h ibn Jabal, to represent the Islamic state i n
their midst. They converted to Islam i n the period o f the second
caliph (2-14 AH/634-46 C E ) , but the Christian ummah i n the
Islamic state continued to grow by the expansion o f its frontiers
to the north and west. Indeed, for the greater part o f a century,
the majority o f the citizens o f the Iskmic state were Christians,
enjoying respect, liberty a ^ i a new dignity which they had not
enjoyed Linder either Christian Rome or Byzantium. Both these
powers were imperialist and racist and they tyrannized their
subjects as they colonized the territories o f the Near East. A n
objective account o f the conversion o f the Christians o f the Near
East to Islam should be reading for all, especially for those still
labouring under the Crusades-old prejLidice that Islam spread
among Christians by the sword. Christians lived i n peace and
prospered under Islam for centuries, d u r i n g w h i c h time the
Islamic state has seen righteoLis as well as tyrannical sultans and
caliphs. Had it been a part o f Islamic sentiment to do away w i t h
the Christian presence, it could have been executed without a
53

88

THE ROLE OF ISLAM IN GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS DEPENDENCE

rippl
l '
history. B u t it was Islam's respect for and
knowledgement o f Jesus as the Prophet o f G o d and o f h
Evangel as revelation that safeguarded that presence. The same
is true o f Abyssinia, a n e i g h b o u r i n g Christian state w h i c h
sheltered the first Muslim emigrants from the wrath o f Makkah
and maintained w i t h the Islamic state at the time o f the Prophet
the covenant o f peace and friendship. The expansive designs o f
the Islamic state never included Abyssinia precisely o n that
account.
e

C.

w o r

Ummah(s) of Other Religions

Persia's incursion into Arabia had left behind it some Persian


and some, though very few, Arab converts to the Zoroastrian
faith. A large number o f these lived i n the buffer desert zone
between Persia and Byzantium, and i n Shatt al-'Arab, the lower
region o f the confluence o f the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where
Arabia and Persia overlapped. Notable among the Persian
Zoroastrians i n Arabia was Salman al-FarisI, w h o converted to
Islam before the H i j r a h and became one o f the illustrious
Companions o f the Prophet. According to some traditions, i t
was the Prophet himself who, i n the 'Year o f Delegations' ( 8 - 9
AH/630-31 C E ) , the year which witnessed the tribes and regions
o f Arabia sending delegations to Madinah to pledge their fealty
to the Islamic state, recognized the Zoroastrians as another
ummah w i t h i n the Islamic state. Very soon afterwards, the Islamic
state conquered Persia and included all its millions w i t h i n its
citizenry. Those w h o converted to Islam joined the ummah o f
Muslims; the millions o f others w h o chose to remain Zoroastrian
were accorded the same privileges and duties accorded by the
constitution to Jews. T h e Prophet had already extended their
application to the Christians eight years after the constitution
was enacted. They were extended to apply to the Zoroastrians
in 14 AH/636 C E ,following the conquest o f Persia by the Prophet's
Companions, i f not sooner by the Prophet himself.
Following the conquest o f India by Muhammad i b n Qasim i n
91 AH/711 C E , the Muslims faced new religions which they had
never k n o w n before, Buddhism and Hinduism. B o t h religions
89

1ST.AM AND OTHER FATTIIS

co-existed i n Sind and the Punjab, the regions conquered by


Muslims and joined to the Islamic state. Muhammad ibn Qasim
sought instruction from the Caliph i n Damascus on how to treat
Hindus and Buddhists. They appeared to worship idols, and their
doctrines were the farthest removed from Islam. Their founders
were unheard o f by the Muslims. The Caliph called a council of
ulama' and asked them to render judgement on the basis o f the
governors report. The judgement was that as long as Hindus
and Buddhists did not fight the Islamic state, as long as they paid
the jizyah or tax due, they must be free to 'worship their gods' as
they please, to maintain their temples and to determine their
lives by the precepts o f their faith. Thus, the same status as that o f
the Jews and Christians was accorded to them.
The principle governing Islam and the Islamic state's relations
w i t h o t h e r r e l i g i o n s and t h e i r adherents had thus been
established. It was implemented as the Islamic state entered into
relations w i t h those adherents, a process which took place either
during the Prophet's life-time or very soon after i t . W h e n the
Shari'ah crystallized i n prescriptive form, the status, rights and
obligations o f M u s l i m and n o n - M u s l i m citizens were already
included. For fourteen centuries i n many places, or less because
of the later arrival o f Islam or the imposition o f Western law by
colonial administrations, the Shari'ah successfully governed
Muslim-non-Muslim relations. It created a modus vivendi which
enabled the n o n - M u s l i m ^ to perpetuate themselves hence
their continuing presence i n the Muslim World and to achieve
felicity as defined by their o w n faiths. The atmosphere o f the
Islamic state was one replete w i t h respect and honour to religion,
piety and virtue, unlike the tolerance o f modern times i n the
West b o r n out o f scepticism regarding the t r u t h o f religious
claims, o f cynicism and unconcern for religious values. The
Islamic Shari'ah is otherwise k n o w n as the 'millaW or 'millet'
system (meaning 'religious communities'), or the 'Dhimmah' or
Zimmi system (meaning the covenant o f peace whose dhimmah
or guarantor is God). It cannot be denied that evil rulers existed
in the Muslim World as i n any other empire. Where they existed,
Muslims suffered as well as non-Muslims. Nowhere i n Islamic
i

54

90

THli ROLE OF ISLAM IN GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS DEPENDENCE

history, however, were non-Muslims singled out for prosecLition


or persecution. The constitution which protected them was taken
by Muslims to be God-inspired, God-protected. The Prophet had
already warned: 'Whoever oppresses any dhimmt (non-Muslim
peace-covenanter w i t h the Islamic state), I shall be his prosecutor
on the Day o f Judgement.' N o other religion or societal system
has ever regarded the religious minority i n a better light, integrated
it into the stream o f the majority w i t h as little damage to either
party, or treated it without injustice or unfairness as Islam did.
Indeed, none could. Islam succeeded i n a field where all the other
religions failed because o f its unique theology which recognized
the true, one and only religion o f God to be innate in every person,
the primordial base o f all religions, and finally, identical w i t h
Sabaeanism, Judaism and Christianity.
Evidently, far from being a national state, the Islamic state is a
world order i n which numerous religious communities, national
or transnational, co-exist i n peace. It is a universal Pax Islamica
which recognizes the legitimacy o f every religious community,
and grants i t the right to order its life i n accordance w i t h its own
religious genius. I t is superior to the League o f Nations and the
United Nations because, instead o f national sovereignty as the
principle o f membership, it has taken the principle o f religious
identity. Its constitution is divine law, valid for all, and may be
invoked i n any Muslim court by anyone, be he a simple Muslim
or n o n - M u s l i m i n d i v i d u a l , or chief o f the largest religious
community.

I I I . C o n c l u s i o n : Islam's C o n t r i b u t i o n to G l o b a l
R e l i g i o u s Interdependence
Islam's potential contribution to world order, to inter-rcligious
d i a l o g L i e , u n d e r s t a n d i n g and l i v i n g , to g l o b a l religious
*

interdependence can be very, very significant.


First, Islam has 1400 years o f experience i n inter-religious
intercoLirse between the widest variety o f ethnic and religious
entities.
Second, w i t h Judaism and Christianity, the two other surviving
9i

ISLAM AND OTHIiR 1ATTHS


:

Semitic religions, Islam has built a relation o f common origin,


o f one and the same God, o f one and the same tradition o f
prophets and revelation, tantamount to self-identification w i t h
them.
Third, this relation o f identity w i t h Judaism and Christianity
w h i c h Islam established w i t h the authority o f revelation, the
Muslims extended to cover all other religions on the basis o f
their common origin in God, and i n a necessary religio naturalis
innate to all humans.
Fourth, following theory w i t h practice and implementation,
Islam devised the millah system as an Islam-led federation o f
religious communities, guaranteeing their freedom, and girding
it w i t h rights and obligations clearly laid down i n Islamic law
and invokable in the courts by individuals as well as communities,
Muslim as well as non-Muslim.
Fifth, rather than scepticism, doubt, secularism or materialism,
which would tolerate the religions o f the world out o f contempt
and unconcern, Islam has based itself and its interaction w i t h
other religions o n respect for t h e m and concern for their
adherents.
Sixth, without falling into dogmatism, Islam has laid its claim
rationally and critically to seeking to convince the others i n
freedom and responsibility. I t d i d not dilute its claim, nor
renounce the e x c l u s i v i t y o f religious t r u t h , w h i l e ever
maintaining its esteem^jbr other religious claims.
Seventh, and finally, Islam managed to create an atmosphere
o f m u t u a l dependence and love between the adherents o f
various religions, and to secure their cooperation in the building
o f a universal Islamic c i v i l i z a t i o n , where humanism, w o r l d
affirmation and piety remained dominant.

92

ISTAM I N GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS

DEPENDENCE

Discussion
Osborne Sartf: What is the significance o f the term 'infidel' and

j function i n Islamic thought, particularly w i t h reference to your


theory and practice?
Ismail al-Faruqi:The term 'infidel' is applied to the person who
does not recognize God, not to the adherent o f another religion
who believes i n God. A n infidel is, nonetheless, a person w h o
enjoys the endowments which I have mentioned. He has been
created by G o d as His vicegerent. H e has been granted the
benefit o f revelation at some time i n the past. Therefore my
relationship to h i m may require more patience, energy and
eloquence on my part to convince h i m that he ought to j o i n the
camp, that's all.
Osborne Scott I t is not a derogatory term, then?
Ismail al-Faruqi:Ycs, i t is a derogatory term. Why should i t not
be?
Osborne Scott: It is not used i n reference to Christians or Jews
or other religious persons?
Ismail al-Faruqi: N o Jew or Christian may be called 'infidel' a
priori. However, i f he denies G o d or God's u n i t y or H i s
transcendence, he may and should be so called.
Arijin Bey: I n m y lectures on Islam and Islamic culture i n Japan,
I refer to the birth o f Islam as the first reformation. A m I correct?
Ismail al-Faruqi:Ye$, Islam was indeed the first 'reformation' o f
Judaism and Christianity, the first 'Protestantism'. Equally, Islam
gave birth to Biblical criticism. The Qur'an was the first piece o f
textual criticism.
James Deotis Roberts: I would like to know something aboLit
die nature o f religious authority. What are some o f the bases for
religious authority i n Islam?
Ismail al-Faruqi: Islam has no church. Nobody can make ex
cathedra statements about what Islam is or is not. The Pauline
principle o f the 'priesthood o f all believers' and the Lutheran
principle of'sola scrip tura' were never so true as they arc o f Islam.
or Muslims, only the Q u r ' a n has authority. This authority,
fortunately, is not beset by the kinds o f hermeneutical problems
t s

93

ISLAM AND OTHER I AIT1IS

and difficiilties w h i c h beset the O l d and N e w Testaments,


because not only the language o f the Qur'an has been preserved
but also the categories by w h i c h the language is understood.
A n y b o d y w h o learns the language can be assured o f an
understanding o f the QLir'an identical to that o f its first hearers.
So, authority i n Islam belongs to revelation, to the Qur'an as the
verbatim word o f God.
Marcus Braybrooke: I heard D r . al-Famqi saying that Islam is
true, whereas Judaism and Christianity are a corrupt f o r m o f
that truth. I think the traditional Christian view, vice versa, would
have been similar. I think some Christians would now say that
whilst the fullness o f revelation is i n Jesus, the understanding o f
that revelation is partial; and this seems to give a dynamic to
interfaith dialogue. N o w I am not quite sure, but I would rather
think that Miishms would not make a similar distinction between
God's revelation i n the Qur'an and their understanding o f i t ,
which could be partial. That is really my question. Dr. al-Faruqi
seemed to be hinting at a dynamic i n the meeting o f the different
communities. Is there any distinction between the revelation i n
the QLir'an and the Muslim's understanding o f it?
Ismail al-Famqi: Islam regards Judaism and Christianity as
religions o f God, and it differentiates them from their historical
forms present i n the faiths o f this Christian or that Jew. T h e
Muslim is very careful here. H e does not attribute any falsehood
or deficiency to Judaism^r Christianity as such, but to their
manifestations and applications. I t is legitimate to criticize actual
people: this Jew for failing to live by the revelation that came to
Moses, or that Christian for .failing to live by the revelation that
came to Jesus. T h e same k i n d o f distinction is applied to the
texts o f revelation. Although i t is a point o f the Islamic creed to
believe i n the Torah and Evangels and Psalms, the Muslim would
not voLich for the current texts as true copies o f the original
revelations. I n this, M u s l i m s may disagree w i t h the
fundamentalist adherent o f these scriptures, but there is neari d e n t i t y o f jLidgement o n this c r i t i c a l issue, a m o n g the
enlightened believer described by the Rev. Braybrooke and the
Biblical critic. I n day-to-day encounters, the Muslim usually gives
94

THE ROLE OI ISLAM IN GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS DEPENDENCE


:

he benefit o f the doubt to the Jew and the Christian as to how


far their understanding o f the revelation is true or faulty. As to
the point o f the capacity o f the Muslim to understand the QLir'an
xhaustively
and
perfectly,
it
must
bc
said
that
though
the
Muslim
e
Joes indeed understand the scripture i f he knows the Arabic
language, yet his understanding o f the Qur'an is never absolutely
complete. N o human can ever claim to put the w i l l o f God, as it
were,'in his pocket'.The w i l l o f God is infinite, like God Himself;
and the QLir'an is what God has given us o f His own w i l l . In a
sense, the Qur'an is God in percipi; that is, all that we can know o f
God. O u r understanding o f i t , therefore, is never absolutely
perfect, though it can be adequate. Otherwise, God would not
be the benevolent, purposive and merciful Creator we know
H i m to be. I f His revelations are acts o f mercy, their contents
must be comprehensible to man. That is why God affirmed i n
the Qur'an that every prophet was sent a revelation ' i n his own
tongue to clarify [the w i l l o f God] to his own people'. In the
t

case o f the Qur'an, I repeat, Arabic, the language w h i c h I speak


today, is still the language w h i c h my Prophet spoke; and the
categories o f understanding, o f grammar, o f lexicography, o f
syntax, o f literary criticism and so forth are still identically the
same as those w h i c h the Prophet and his contemporaries knew
Hence, the Muslim i n command o f Arabic can and does bring to
the Qur'an trListworthy understanding.
Paolo Soleri: Science proposes that we have about 4.5 billions
of years o f development o f life i n the solar system. We do not
know what might be outside o f the solar system. Could you,
then, give us a hint as to how the Muslim views the connection
between this immense and very harsh i n many ways tragic
but also very beautiful development, i n contrast to the historical
religions as you have been presenting them.
Ismail al-Faruqi: Islam teaches that this cosmic process is the
creation o f God; that it is the maintenance o f God; that God's
w i l l or patterns are embedded into this cosmos so that what
happens, happens i n accordance w i t h those patterns. Islam
teaches also that this cosmos was created for the sake o f man,
that man may prove himself the worthier in his deeds and thereby
95

ISLAM A N D OTHLR

FAITHS

realize the purpose o f God. The Qur'an says that God created the
stars to beautify the firmament, whose beauty no one can deny;
that God created the regular motions o f sun and moon so that
man may reckon time through their motion and find his orientation, which is exactly what humans do. In the Islamic view, this
world o f ours is the centre o f creation and man is the centre o f this
world. Hence, the importance o f man's religion and conduct.
Paul Bairoch: As an Anglican priest, I find i t very hard to tie the
theory and the practice together. I mean, this month the bishop
o f my c h u r c h i n I r a n was shot at and the finances were
confiscated. I n what sense can the religious minority be said to
have freedom when that sort o f event happens? Perhaps you may
say that that is an exceptional circumstance. So, my substantive
question relates to the situation i n Saudi Arabia. I am not sure
how you can say that Islam guarantees the freedom to convince
and to be convinced, i f i t is illegal for an inhabitant o f the city of
Makkah to renounce Islam; or i f i t is illegal for a member o f any
other r e l i g i o n to become an inhabitant o f M a k k a h or the
surrounding province.
Ismail al-Faruqi: First o f all, let us consider the case o f the bishop
who was shot at i n Iran. Iran is going through the aftermath o f a
very, very serious revolution. This revolution is the result o f a
terrible policy that has been followed by the allies from World
War I days, and i n fact before World War I days. You remember
the Tobacco Revorfftion i n the 80s and 90s o f the last century
etc. So, the Iranians are extremely angry at the Shah, their tyrant
and oppressor, as w e l l as at all his stooges, his agents and
collaborators. T h a t the bishop has been suspected o f past
collaboration w i t h the Shah stands to reason. It is understandable,
t h o u g h n o t excusable, that i n the enthusiasm r e v o l u t i o n
generates, somebody tended to take the law into his own hands.
But it is illegitimate for anyone to be dealt w i t h outside the law
process. Islam further teaches two principles: First, that the first
aggressor is more unjust than the respondent-aggressor, even
when both have committed toward each other identically the
same deeds. I t is evident that the Shah, his regime and
collaborators were the first to aggress upon the masses. Second,
96

T H E ROLE OE I S L A M I N GLOBAL I N T E R - R E L I G I O U S

DEPENDENCE

that Islamic justice does not prescribe the turning o f the other
cheek, but responding to injustice w i t h the same measure. The
principle o f an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is Islamic as
well as Biblical as well as Mesopotamian. Islam added to i t the
imperative o f mercy and forgiveness, not as a substitute for justice
but in addition to i t .
Let us now turn to the Muslims freedom to renounce Islam.
The Muslim in Makkah (or anywhere else) is free to renounce
his religion; but he is not free to renounce loyalty to the Islamic
state and remain a citizen o f Makkah. The confusion comes from
the fact that to be Muslim is both to subscribe to a religion and to
be a citizen o f the Islamic state. Therefore i f he renounces the one,
he must renounce the other and emigrate from Makkah. For h i m
to renounce religion and to keep his citizenship means, in fact, to
assert disloyalty to the state. The illegality should be ascribed to
his change o f poUtical commitment, not to his religious faith.
The situation i n Islam is radically different f r o m that o f
Christianity, where religion and the state are separate, and hence,
irrelevant to each other. This notwithstanding, i t was illegitimate
up through Cromwell's days to be a Jew i n England; illegitimate
to be a Protestant i n France or a Jew in Spain; and, up until a few
years ago, through World War I I , according to the Bishop o f Oslo,
it was illegitimate to be a Jew i n Norway. Unlike the case of
Christian countries, it was never illegitimate to be a Jew or a
Christian or a Zoroastrian or a H i n d u or a Buddhist i n the
Islamic state.
Paul Bairoch: C o u l d a R o m a n Catholic live i n the city o f
Makkah?
Ismail al-Faruqi: N o , he could not.The reason for the prohibition
that Makkah and its environs are regarded as holy; that every
person who enters it must, ten or so miles before reaching i t ,
Perform ablutions, take off all his clothing and jewellery, don
the two pieces o f white, unsewn, cotton cloth, and perform the
t u a l o f 'umrah inside the Haram (sanctuary). I f no Muslim is
Uo\ved to enter Makkah without fulfilling this rite o f respect to
the Holy, obviously no non-Muslim may reside i n or enter i t . I f
legitimate for a church to keep all but the officiating priest
l s

ri

x t

l s

97

ISLAM AND OTHER FAn'HS

from the altar area, why may the M u s l i m not keep the non^
Muslim oLit o f Makkah, the whole o f which Islam declared to
be an altar?
Kasim Gulek: I am from Turkey This is not a religious problem;
it is a political problem. D u r i n g the Second World War, i t was
also illegal for the Japanese to live i n California.
Benjamin Uffenheimer. I am from Israel, from Jerusalem. Firstly
let me congratulate Professor al-Faruqi for his message o f peace.
I am only sorry that this message came from Temple University
and not from Saudi Arabia. Anyhow, I wish to congratulate you.
The main question I have concerns not only the practice which
we experience during this generation. It also pertains to your
sharp-minded analysis o f fundamental perceptions o f Islam
which yoLi developed. But firstly, a question following the other
gentlemen. As we are experiencing these days the terrible events
which are going on i n Iran and you describe them as political
events, h o w do you explain the religious personality o f the
Ayatollah, o f his Holiness Ayatollah Khomeini?
Ismail al-Famqi: Please, sir, may I correct you? Please don't use
'holiness' when talking o f any human. O n l y God is holy. Holiness
belongs only to Allah.

Benjamin Uffenheimer: T h a n k you; sorry! T h e Ayatollah is


threatening to murder, or to allow the murder of, hostages. This
is a religious personality w h o speaks i n his religious standing.
H o w could you explajp the religious personality like the late
Hajj A m i n al-Husayni allying himself during World War I I w i t h
H i t l e r i n his e x t e r m i n a t i o n o f the Jews? Is that a political
question? Secondly, I have a theoretical question. You explained
to us the conception o f Pax Islamica. As far as I understood you,
you explained it as a cosmological concept; but as far as I know;
Pax Islamica is also an historic concept. So, what is the relationship
o f Islam towards ail people, towards all nations w h o are living
outside Pax Islamica? Would you explain to this audience what
are the main demands o f Islam from those who are living outside
Dar al-Islam? I n this connection, I would be very obliged to you
i f yoLi could explain to us the conception o f 'jihad' and its
connection w i t h the present Arab policy.
98

T H E ROLF. O F I S L A M I N " G L O B A L I N T E R - R E L I G I O U S

DEPENDENCE

Ismail al-Faruqi: Thank you for your many questions. I must


beg
audiences indulgence because this calls for quite a good
bit o f explanation. Let me start w i t h the theoretical question.
The theoretical question is, after all, the more important. The
ntleman is right when he said that the Pax Islamica was also an
historical fact. I n the Muslim view, the world was divided into
Ddr al-Isldm (literally, 'the House o f Islam') or Ddr al-Salam
(literally, 'the House o f Peace') and Ddr al-Harb (literally, 'the
House ofWar').You ask, what is the Islamic basis for that division?
When the Prophet founded the Islamic state i n Madinah, Ddr alSaldm was limited to Madinah. The Jews were included i n that
state as an ummah alongside the ummah o f Muslims. Likewise,
when some tribes o f the Arabian peninsula entered into a
covenant o f peace w i t h the Prophet without converting to Islam,
they were included w i t h i n that dominion. Abyssinia was also
regarded as falling w i t h i n Ddr al-Salam because it had entered
into a relationship o f peace w i t h the Islamic state. Ddr al-Salam,
therefore, was not a monolithic structure thoroLighly made up o f
Muslims, but o f many communities, some M u s l i m and others
non-Muslim. This became more obvious as the political and
military frontiers o f the Islamic state stretched from France to
India. Anybody could j o i n i t upon deciding to enter into a
relation o f peace w i t h the Islamic state. W h e n a state or
community refused to enter into such a relation o f peace, then
obviously i t must be said to be i n a state o f war. We should
remember that i f those countries were classified as Ddr al-Harb
t r i e

or the House o f War, i t was not because their populations were


not Muslim, but because o f the refusal to enter into an abode o f
peace, into a relationship o f peace w i t h the Islamic state. You
must also remember that n o n - M u s l i m laws were legitimate
i t h i n the Islamic state, that non-Muslims were citizens. A l l that
Muslims and the Islamic state can legitimately demand o f the
non-Muslim state is to j o i n the order o f peace. This has nothing
do w i t h Islam's call to God which continues regardless o f the
political relation. But the call to Islam, to faith, to God, can carry
no coercion, no compulsion. The decision to convert can be itself
only when it is entered into i n freedom bv a conscious, adult,
w

t o

99

ISLAM A N D OTHER

FAITHS

capable, moral individual. This is not unlike the dispensations


o f m o d e r n , c u r r e n t i n t e r n a t i o n a l law. W h e n the People's
Republic o f China was not i n a state o f peace, had not covenanted
for a relationship o f peace w i t h the United States, the United
States as well as China regarded each other as i n a state o f war.
Juristic consequences follow from such regarding, and would
have been applied, for instance, i f some Americans had fallen
into the hands o f the Republic o f China or vice versa. Either
country would have treated the citizens o f the other as prisoners
of war. Goods which fall into the hands o f the other party are
confiscated and regarded as enemy property. Why? Because the
other party has refiised to enter into a relationship o f peace. This
is the conceptual or theoretical or juristic basis for Ddr al-Isldm,
the House o f Peace, which was meant to envelop the cosmos.
Hence, my description o f i t as cosmic, not 'cosmological', as you
said. The Islamic state is hoped by all Muslims some day to
include the whole world. The Pax Islamica w h i c h the Islamic state
offers is more viable than the United Nations, an organization
dominated by the mighty, born out o f convention, offering no
recourse but to sovereign states. Per contra, the Pax Islamica is
dominated by law, b o r n out o f nature and necessity, has law
courts open to all plaintiffs, and is backed by the power o f a
standing, universal army.
The doctrine o f Jihad or H o l y War is valid i n Islam. A Holy
War could be entered i n ^ only for two reasons. The first reason
is defence. W h e n the Islamic state, its lands and people are
attacked, it is certainly its duty to defend them. The second is the
undoing o f injustice wherever it takes place. Like the Muslim
individual w i t h i n Ddr al-Isldm, the Islamic state regards itself, and
does so righdy, as vicegerent o f God in space and time, a vocation
w h i c h lays a great responsibility upon the Islamic state. The
Islamic state acknowledges w i t h enthusiasm and pride her
responsibility to redress injustice wherever men have caused it
- even i f that has been the other side o f the moon. The Muslim
regards it as his religious duty to rise up and put an end to
injustice. A war entered i n t o for the purpose o f setting the
balance o f justice is holy
TOO

T H E ROLF. O F I S L A M I N G L O B A L I N T E R - R E L I G I O U S

DEPENDENCE

Now, applying these theories to the case o f Iran, and to Arab


esistance against Zionism: the Muslim point o f view is that the
West has been the aggressor i n Iran; that to harbour the Shah,
who conTrnitted innumerable crimes against his people, and to
appropriate stolen property is theft, w h i c h i n Islam is punishable
by cutting off the hand. The billions that the Shah robbed from
the public wealth are acts o f injustice w h i c h the Iranian people
feel must be redressed. Apparently, such redressing is involving
violent measures w h i c h must not be viewed i n isolation from
the injustice they are intended to undo. We can be proud o f the
American tradition o f America as haven and refuge for the victims
of injustice. I myself am such a v i c t i m and I am grateful that
America has given me that haven. But, then, harbouring the
perpetrator o f injustice does not fall into that category.
As far as Zionism is concerned, the Muslim view is that the
Zionists are aggressors i n Palestine; that Palestine was the victim
of an armed robbery, first by British bayonets (the Mandate) and
then by Czechoslovak bayonets in 1948. It was Czechoslovakia
under direct Russian instructions that first supplied the Zionists
with arms and enabled them to carve out o f Palestine an area
one hundred times larger than what they had until then acquired,
whether by legal or illegal means. Then following that, there was
another armed robbery by French bayonets (for those o f you
w h o have forgotten 1956) and then after that by A m e r i c a n
bayonets. The principles o f Islam being what they are, the
Muslims are obliged tinder their faith to rise i n resistance to that
robbery i n order to set the balance o f justice right again.
Paolo Soleri: Before you got into the Iranian and Palestinian
questions, I felt that I was listening to a very clear definition o f
Islamic tolerance. But this is intolerance.
John Meagher: As a Roman Catholic layman who has managed
to stay loyal, you w i l l understand me when I say that I k n o w
w much silliness I have to deal w i t h , and how important it is
to keep my faith alive. But I want to know who decides who is
tolerated, and how is the decision implemented?
Ismail al-Faruqi: You ask, who decides who is to be tolerated?
In my speech I said that God has granted all the rights i n question
r

101

ISLAM A N D OTHER

FAITHS

innately to all human beings. I did not say that any Muslims
decide such matters.
Joint Meagher. He has decided i n favour o f those who have a
book religion! I think that was smart, but I think it gets us in
trouble. I n favour o f which others has He decided?
Ismail al-Faruqi: He has decided in favour o f all humans.
John Meagher: Why, under His jurisdiction, are other human
beings killed?
Ismail al-Faruqi: Because humans are sometimes silly, as you
said; because humans have passions, are obstinate and proud, do
not see the truth without having their ears boxed.
John Meagher: I am not talking about boxing o f ears; I am
talking about murder!
Ismail al-Faruqi: Unfortunately, this is the reality o f the tragic
world i n w h i c h we live.
Myrtle Langley: I profess to be a Christian, but I belong to a
particular denomination o f the Christian faith, and probably to a
groLip w i t h i n that denomination, i f I were to be honest. I would
not want to speak for all Christians i n Christianity. I want to put
this question i n a way that might help us here to understand
some o f the distinctions w i t h i n Islam when we ask questions
about Iran. I take D r . al-Faruqis statement, as it were, for a
common denominator w i t h i n Islam, but I think it would gready
help our discussiftn i f he were to distinguish for us somewhat
between Shi'ite Islandfend Sunni Islam as i t relates to Iran;
because, unless I am very wrong, this has a lot to do w i t h the
situation there and our understanding o f it.
Ismail al-Faruqi: Madam, the mass media i n the West have tried
to connect what is happening i n Iran during the last two or
three years w i t h the sectarian history i n Islam. I assure you that
they are not related. I would be happy to survey w i t h you the
whole history o f sectarianism i n Islam i n order to prove the
p o i n t , but i f my knowledge gained over fifty-nine years of
studying Islam is w o r t h a n y t h i n g , please do n o t count on
discovering a relationship between Shi'ite Islam, as you call i t ,
and what is happening i n Iran today. What is happening i n Iran
today w o u l d happen i n Algeria or Morocco or Pakistan or
102

THE ROT E OE IST.AM IN GLOBAL INTF.R-RELIGlOUS DEPENDENCE

Indonesia or Somalia or Turkey, wherever the same conditions


obtained.
Kasim Gulek: M y learned f r i e n d al-Faruqi has done an
excellent j o b in explaining Islam. The fact that this discussion is
taking place here, I think is very hopeful. Yet it looks bad that
one attacks the other and one tries to belittle the other. Still, all
these ideas and sentiments that are i n us should be expressed
and answered. It is a very good thing and I am very glad that it
has happened. A n d I hope that it shall happen again.
One important point we have to stress is this: religion and
politics should be taken up separately. D o not m i x up Islam and
Iran. D o not say i n one breath Islam and events i n Saudi Arabia.
The political aspect is distinct from the religious aspect. Religion,
the explanation o f r e l i g i o n , one's beliefs can be expounded
distinctly and easily; b u t w i t h i n p o l i t i c s , there are other
considerations. There are great misconceptions i n the West about
Islam. There have been periods o f severe conflict between Islam
and Christianity, particularly. The country to w h i c h I belong has
been an instrument i n that for centuries. The Turks have gone
into Europe, conquered Europe up to the doors o f Vienna, and
carried the banner o f Islam. I n those days, nationality did not
count for much; the Turks were coming and they were MtisUms,
whereas the other nations were Christians. So, there was a conflict
between Islam and Christianity; nationality came later. Because
of this severe historical conflict that lasted for centuries, one
considered the other an eternal enemy and brought about as
niuch evil as possible against the other. Let us not continue to be
under the influence o f these secular animosities. Let us try to be
rational. Let Islam as religion be explained, but without touching
n the negative political aspect o f it; let Christianity be explained
without necessarily bringing out its bad political history. A few
minutes ago, I very briefly answered the question why none but
Muslims can be i n Makkah by referring to the Japanese w h o
o u l d not be i n California during World War I I . It was not only
matter o f the Japanese as enemies; those who were excluded
Were Americans whose families had been here for generations.
They had served the country loyally. But a crisis came about; it
ft

103

ISLAM A N D OTHER

FAITHS

was war, i t was politics. Such things can happen during war or
during peacetime, for a short while, or for a long while. We
should not dwell upon these things; these are not important.
Islam has been tolerant all through history. One example o f it is
the Ottoman State. The Ottoman State was composed o f all kinds
o f ethnic nationalities. There were Christians, there were Jews,
there were Arabs. Sometimes there was persecution, sometimes
not, but persecution was not peculiar to Islam. Persecution was
also conducted by Christians. There is no benefit to be gained i f
we insist upon discussing these negative aspects o f what has
happened historically. Let us try to bring to light what was good
and what good can come about from now on. Let LIS not insist
on what was bad. W i t h i n the Ottoman State, all these minorities
and diverse nationalities had exactly the same rights as the Turks
and Muslims. There was an A r m e n i a n foreign minister who
headed the Turkish delegation to the Congress i n Vienna that
was to decide upon the fate o f the Ottoman State. He was loyal
to his country and he was understood to be a loyal member of
that State. It was natural. There were Arab Prime Ministers, the
Grand Vizier called Isaac the Arab; there was another Prime
Minister, an Albanian. This aspect o f that great state was good; let
us dwell upon this r^ther than on how one persecuted the other.
The discussions that are taking place here are useful. Let us speak
about these things and put them to the light; let us answer, but
let us not take them passionately, so that they do not become
points o f difference. Let us bring about unison. I am particularly
r

thankful to D r . al-Faruqi. H e has done excellently i n his


exposition and his answers. Thank you.
Warren Lewis: We Christians have killed more Jews than the
Muslims have. I am sure. I f I wanted to, from my Anabaptist
position, I could work us into a white-hot heat against the bloody
Catholics and Lutherans who 'baptized' LIS Dunkards i n the ponds
of Europe and sent us straight to heaven because they did not let
us come up again into European hell. It was intended as some
sort o f poetic irony, was it not, to take the Baptists and make
martyrs o f them by their own sacrament, to baptize them so
thoroughly, they would not pop up again? I do not choose to
104

THE ROLE OF 1STAM IN GLOBAL INTER-RELIGIOUS DEPENDENCE

rind my axe on this subject, though frankly, I , too, have a bit


!
undigested church history stuck i n m y craw
I f we are to have a Global Congress, i t seems to me there is a
certain level o f emotional maturity required o f us all as we deal
with one another. We all have our historic pain, we all have been
niistreated. We have all killed and we have been killed. We have
been persecuted and we have been persecutors. I t is that
pervasive sinfulness innate to religion itself o f w h i c h we must
repent as we come together. I repent o f it. That is my position as
a follower ofjesus. I say, Lord have mercy on us all and help us to
forgive one another, as we have been forgiven. For the sake o f
the Global Congress, let us strive for that emotional maturity
which allows the kind o f conversation to take place which has
taken place today. Thank you, Dr. al-Faruqi, and. all o f you w h o
have spoken and w h o have listened.

Notes
i. E d . Joseph M . Kitagawa (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958),
p. 3. Wach here referred his readers to other Western authors such as Louis Henry
Jordan, Comparative Religion in Genesis and Growth: Pinard de la Bouilaye, L'Etude
comparee des religions; Mensehing, Geschichte der Religionswissenschaft; Haydon, Hardy
and others, in support of his claim,The same idea is held by Wach s colleague and
editor, J.M. Kitagawa,'The Life and Thought ofJoachim Wach', and'The History
of Religions in America' in Mircea Eliade and J.M. Kitagawa, The History c
Religions: Essays in Methodology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959); in
the same opus, by Friedrich Heiler/The History of Religions as a Preparation for
the Cooperation of Religions', pp. 132 fF; by A . C . Bouquet in his Comparative
Religion (Penguin Books, 1962), pp. 19-20; by Jan deVries, The Study of Religion: A
Historical Approach (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967), pp. ix ft", whose
treatment of the subject gives not one indication that he is aware of any
contribution to the subiect bv anvone outside the Graeco-Western tradition.
Suffice it here to warn that the situation of hermeneutical desp
of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and
has absolutely no parallel

s
3-

Qur'an, al- 'Ankahut 29: 46; al-Shurd 42:15.

4-

Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 285.

105

1ST J V M A N D O T H E R

5.

al-Baqarah

6.

AI Tmran 3: 84.

7.

al-Nisa'

8.

/4/

9.

al-Ma'idah

10.

FAITHS

2: 140.

4: 163.

7mraw3:

2-4.

5: 69.

Qur'an, Al Tmran 3:67; al-Anbiya'

21: 71-94.

I T . An analysis of ancient Near Eastern religious consciousness may he read


in this author s Historical Atlas of the Religions of the World (New York: The Macmillan
Co., 1974), pp. 3-34.

12. The evidence of Tall al-'Amarnah (Akhetaten) is the very contrary. The
Egyptian colonial governors in Palestine and Jordan communicated with the
Pharaoh not in the language of Egypt, but in Akkadian.
13. Regarding the latter, Sabadno Moscati wrote:'In the course of establishing
themselves, the new peoples thoroughly absorbed the great cultural tradition
already existing. In this process of absorption, Mesopotamia seems to prevail. . .
Like R o m e in the Middle Ages, despite its political decadence, Mesopotamia
. , . celebrates the triumph of its culture [over its enemies].' The Face of the Ancient
Orient (NewYork: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1962), p. 164.
14.

Leader of the Muslim conquest of Egypt, 19 Aii/641 ci=.

15.

Qur'an, Al 'inndn 3:68.

16.

al-Ma'idah

17.

Qur'an, Al 7wra 3:64.

18.

al-isra

19.

al-Fatir 35: 24.

20.

Ghaftr 40: 78; al-Nisa* 4: 163.

21.

al-Nahl T6: 36.

22.

Ibrahim 14: 4.

23.

al-Nisa"

5: 82.

17: 13-15.

4: T65.

24. It should be added here that Islam holds its revelation to be mainlv a
revelation of'what' that can become a'how'befitting the historical situation.Thus,
in Islam, the prescriptive form of the law may and docs change, but not its spirit,
purpose or'what'. Islamic jurisprudence has devised and institutionalized a system
to govern the process of evolution of the law.
25.

al-An 'am 6: 124.

106

T H E ROLE OF ISLAM I N GLOBAL

INTER-RELIG1(/
/

26
7

al-Baqarah 2: 30
al-Ahzab

33:72.

28

al-Mu'minun

23:

115.

29

/!/ Tmran 3: 19T

30

Sdrf 38: 27.

31

al-Dhariyat 51:56.
h
h

f/wrf 11: 7 / A l l that is on earth and all the worldly cx


made thereof, are to die purpose of men proving themselves worth*.
32

(al-KahfiX:

7).

33

al-An'am

6: 165.

34

al-Ttn 95: 4.

35

al-Sajdah 32: 7, 9.

36

Ibrahim 14: 323.

37

ai-Nahl 16: 14; al-Hajj 22: 367, 65; Ijuqman 31: 20; al-Jathiyah 45: 12

Hwrf 11: 61.


39

al-Mulk

67: 15.

40.

Qur'an. al-Rum 30: 30; al-Fath 48: 23.

O n the philosophical uncertainty of the laws of nature, see C . I . Lewis,


Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation (Lasallc, 111.: Open Publishing Co., 1946) and
George Santayana, Skepticism and Animal Faith (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,
! 9 3 ) - T h e i r position, which is that of contemporary science, is epistemologically
identical to that held by al-GhazalT (d. 1111 CE) in his controversy with the
philosophers (sec his Tahafut al-Falasifah or Refutation of the Philosophers, tr. by Sablh
Kamall (Lahore: Pakistan Philosophical Congress, T963).
41.

42.

Qur'an, al-Dhariyat 51: 20-1; al-Ahzab

43.

Q ur' an, al - Hijr

44.

Qur'an, al-Rum 30: 30.

45.

Qur'an, A Tmran 3:19.

33:62; al-Fatir 35:43.

15:9.

This is the substance of the hadtth^Evcry


parents that make him Jew or Christian.'
46.

47-

man is born a Muslim. It is his

In his 'The Idea of the Holy.

Mircea Eliade, Patterns of Comparative Religion (London: Sheed & Ward


Ltd., n.d.), and The Sacred and the Profane (NewYork: Harper & Row, 1961).
48.

107

ISLAM A N D OTHER

49.

Qur'an, al-Hujurdt 49: 13.

50.

Ibid.

FAITHS

Ishaq ibn Hisham, Sirat Rasul Allah (The Life of Muhammad,


Guillaumc. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946).
51.

tr. A.

52. Neither the Christian Roman Empire nor Christian Byzantium was
interested in evangelizing Arabia and spreading Christianity among the Arabs.The
Arabs were known to the Christian Empire which dealt with them as shippers and
traders; for, the monopoly of marine traffic in the R e d Sea, the Arabian Sea, the
Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, and of land traffic from Arabia to Byzantium
and from Persia to Egypt belonged to the Arabs. When Persia made an incursion
into South Arabia seeking to interfere in the R e d Sea and south-north flow- of
trade, Byzantium instructed its proxy, Christian Abyssinia, to send an expeditionaryforce to Yemen. T h e Abyssinians succeeded in establishing themselves in Yemen,
sought to conquer Makkah in 'TheYear of the Elephant' (the first time the Makkans
ever saw the animal), and were defeated.That was in 571 CE, the year of the birth
of Muhammad, remembered because of its ominous events and Makkan victorv
(al-Ftl 105:1-5). A few decades later, the Abyssinians withdrew,They had, however,
built a cathedral in San \ i ' and converted some Arabs to Christianity.The delegates
they sent to meet the Prophet were second-generation Christians.
Thomas Arnold, The Preaching of Islam (London, 1906,2nd Edition, 1913;
also Lahore: M . Ashraf Publications, 1961).
53.

Al-Kufi s Shdh-Ndmah, as translated and reported by H . M . Elliott, in his Tlie


History of India as Told by its Own Historians (London: Triibner and Co., i867,V61.1,
54.

pp. 184-7).

108

CHAPTER

FOUR

A Comparison of the Islamic


and Christian Approaches to
Hebrew Scripture
This article endeavours to compare the Islamic and Christian
approaches to Hebrew Scripture; that is to say, to describe the
processes o f thought implied i n the transformation o f Hebrew
Scripture into the O l d Testament and to compare them w i t h
those i m p l i e d i n the transformation o f some narratives o f
Hebrew Scripture into the Qur'an. I t does not seek to analyze
the problem o f literary or textual transmission, o f how and when
Hebrew Scripture became the O l d Testament, or o f where the
Prophet M u h a m m a d (peace and blessings be u p o n h i m )
received his foreknowledge o f A b r a h a m , Jacob and Moses
without w h i c h the Qur'anic revelations delivered by the angel
w o u l d have been incomprehensible to h i m . T a k i n g these
questions for granted, it attempts to establish the significance o f
the Christianization and Islamization o f Hebrew Scripture.
I

I f we were to l o o k upon H e b r e w Scripture n o t as O l d


Testament or as Qur'an, but as Hebrew Scripture, and i f we were
This article was published in The Journal of Bible and lie I igi o n ,Vo\. XXXI,
(October 1963), pp. 283-93.

109

No. 4

1ST.AM A N D O T H E R

FAITHS

to read i t not i nVictorian English or twentieth-century American,


but i n the original Hebrew; i f we were to allow Hebrew Scripture
alone to speak for itself, to transport us to its o w n ancient world
in Abrahams Ur, Jacobs Padan Aram, Moses* Egypt and Sinai, i n
Palestine and Persia and Assyria, i f we were to allow Hebrew
Scripture to place us, as it were, i n the Sitz-im-Leben i n which its
poems, oracles and narratives were received as expressing the
Hebrews inner thoughts and feelings, fears and aspirations - i f
i n d e e d , we d i d all this and t o o k f u l l advantage o f the
achievements o f Biblical archaeology and ancient history, what
would Hebrew Scripture appear i n fact to be?
Read f r o m this presupposition-free standpoint, HebrewScripture presents us w i t h the story o f the life o f the Hebrew.
Every theological and moral idea, historical or geographical
account is subordinated to the overall theme o f the growth and
decay o f a people, and derives its significance from its pertinence
to the history o f that people. Hebrew Scripture is the record o f
Hebrew national history, written and preserved for the sake o f
the Hebrews, i n order to mirror or to inculcate their faith i n
themselves as a people or to edify them i n that faith. I t is often
held that the most characteristic feature o f this national history is
their religion and that the most central concept o f their religion
is that o f the Godhead. B u t the fact is that r e l i g i o n is a
characteristic not o f the Hebrews, but o f their later descendants,
the Jews. As we understand it today, religion was impossible to
the Hebrews. Their religion was their nationalism; and it was
this nationalism o f the ancestors that became w i t h its literature,
its laws and customs the religion o f later times, o f the Exile
and post-Exile Jews d o w n to the present day. T h e Ancient
Hebrew worshipped himself; he sang his o w n praise. His god,
Jahweh, was a reflection o f his o w n person, a genuine dens ex
machina designed to play the role o f other-self i n the Hebrews'
favourite intellectual game, namely, biographical painting or selfportraiture i n words.
1

<

>

The god o f the Hebrews is not what Christians and Muslims


understand by the w o r d ' G o d ' (may He be Glorified and Exalted),
or what modern Jews understand by that term after centuries o f
n o

A COMPARISON

01

THE ISLAMIC A N D CHRISTIAN

APPROACHES

exposure to Christian and Islamic inflLiences. Rather, the 'God'


of the Hebrews is a deity which belonged to the Hebrews alone.
They worshipped it as 'their God', always calling it by its o w n
proper names, o f w h i c h it had many. To be sure that it is not
confused w i t h any other gods - the possibility and existence o f
which was never denied, though they were always denigrated
the Hebrews were fond o f calling their god by the urmiistakably
relational names o f ' G o d o f Abraham,. . . o f Jacob,. . . o f Isaac,...
of Israel,.. . o f Z i o n ' , etc. This deity could not even conceive o f
itself as capable o f being worshipped outside the limits o f their
geographic domain. Their mind was so obsessed w i t h 'the God
of the Hebrews' that it was incapable o f developing the concept
'God' as a connotative category o f thought rather than a class
name with denotative meaning only. Theirs was certainly not
monotheism, but monolatry, since there is. not a single time
where such a connotative concept o f God occurs i n Hebrew
Scripture. Wherever 'God' is mentioned, it is always the particular
deity that is i n question. True, at a late stage o f their history and
only at that stage, they did regard their god as l o r d o f the
universe, but their doing so was always an attempt at extending
its jurisdiction so as to requite their own national enemies. Their
god was never the god o f the goyim in the sense in w h i c h he was
said to be the god o f the Hebrews; the former always falling
under his power i n sufferance, as patients o f his might, especially
of his revenge o f his people, never equally as subjects o f his own
creation or care. Significantly, such extension o f his jurisdiction
did not take place except under the dream o f Isaiah o f a masterrace, vanquishing the nations and entering them into a relation
of servile servitude to the Hebrews/
1

II
This Hebrew Scripture was Christianized. Its Christianization
appears to have been predetermined by four notions which are
t

implications o f the Christian belief that Jesus is God. These


pertain to the nature o f revelation, the nature o f divine action,
the nature o f man and the nature o f God.
i n

ISLAM A N DOTHER

1AITT1S

First, the Christian believes that Jesus is 'the Word o f God'.


This fact determines for h i m the nature o f revelation. Since Jesus
was also man, and therefore an event i n history, divine revelation
must be an error, not something that God says, but something
that He does. A n d Jesus is the revealed word inasmuch as he is a
doing o f G o d , a historical event, whose every part or deed is
divine because Jesus himself is wholly God. From this i t follows
that revelation is n o t ideational but personal and historical.
Jestis, the perfect personality, the perfect event, the perfect history,
is according to this belief, Gods perfect revelation.
6

From this Christian point o f view, Hebrew Scripture is not


the conceptual word o f G o d , but that o f the Jahwist, Elohist,
Deuteronomist and Priestly editors. Its divine status does not
pertain to its ideas and laws. These constitute the human tools
which the editors have used i n order to record the revelation.
The word o f God i n Hebrew Scripture is the events, the doing
and living o f Hebrew Scriptural personalities. These events are
revelation. Pointing to the dramas o f Hebrew Scripture, the
Christian exclaims, Voila God s acts i n history! Acts all designed
and predetermined by H i m t o the end that H e may reveal
Himself and achieve His purpose. God's method being that o f
revelation through personality, G o d chose a people, the Hebrews,
and took them by the hand, as i t were, on a long journey. A t the
end o f this journey, when the time was fulfilled, H e sent His
Word, Jesus, and through his personality, i.e. his living and dying,
G o d achieved man's r e d e m p t i o n . H e b r e w h i s t o r y is
Heilsgeschichte or salvation-history.
This position has advantages: I t provides what is for Christians

the greatest event o f history, namely, the advent ofjesus, w i t h the


necessary anticipatory set o f historical events, the antecedent links
i n a determined nexus o f historical events. I t gives a theological
sense to Hebrew national life, to the Jews' self-centredness and
separatism; for under its pLirview, their self-centredness is not
racialist nationalism but something w h i c h stibserves a divine
purpose. Finally, the words and, indeed, even the individual
deeds o f scriptural personalities can be as banal or as sublime as
they may. The divine element that is here involved is the broad112

A COMPARISON Or THE ISLAMIC AND CHRISTIAN APPROACHES

stepping movement o f history, the constituents o f which are the


more significant events o f election, migration, exodus, invasion
and conquest, political growth and decay, defeat and exile as well
as the response o f faith and trust, the handing down o f the law,
the dawning o f the Messiah-expectancy, etc.
This position o f the Christian presents a few difficulties,
however. It runs cotinter to the textual evidence o f ' T h u s saith
the Lord.' The prophets had a sincere and arresting consciousness
that the word they spoke was dictated to them by their God.
U n d e r the C h r i s t i a n view, 'Thus saith the L o r d ' must be
explained psychologically; for God acts, rather than speaks. A n d
i f on the other hand, God were to reveal Himself once by acting
and once by speaking, the question then becomes one o f
assigning p r i m a c y to either f o r m o f c o m m u n i c a t i o n . T h e
Christian, i f he is to speak as a Christian, must uphold the preeminence o f event above all else. Indeed he must hold all speechrevelation as subservient to and determined by event-revelation.
Thus, Koh amar Yahweh may have been sincerely uttered by the
prophets, but it was not really true. They were under an illusion.
The truth is that God merely caused them to see it that way; but
it was not really, absolutely, so.

Secondly, the notion o f a deterministic history, though the kind


of determination that is here i n question does not have to be the
efficient, the material or the formal, but the finalistic, is not easily
reconciled w i t h the ethical facts, the phenomena o f freedom, o f
responsibility and o f conscience. There is little evidence to
support the thesis that Jacob's migration to Egypt was an act o f
God and not the free responsible act o f Jacob; that the sticcessful
escape o f the Hebrews from Egypt and their victory over the
Canaanites were not o f their own doing. Historical determinism,
ven though the determiner is God, is groundless speculative
construction. A t best, it is a theory; a theory contradicted by moral
phenomena, the facts o f ethical living and acting. It is an instance
f the logical fallacy known under the name of simplex sigillum
eriy i n this case, the acceptance o f a finalistic explanation o f an
event becatise i t is the simplest; because the finalistic explanation
satisfies a l o n g i n g engendered by the primacy o f finalistic
e

113

ISLAM A N D OTHER

FAITHS

considerations for man; because, lastly, man tends to explain


everything i n his own image, as i f that thing were human. This,
however, is the fallacy o f groundless extrapolation. For historical
determinism extrapolates the finalistic explanation from the
realm o f human biography where it properly belongs, to that o f
cosmic history w h e n human purposiveness is ruled otit by
definition. It rejriains a fact, however and we acknowledge it
readily - that nature and cosmos appear as if purposiveness is
true o f their unfolding i n history. B u t this feature is never
constitutive and may never be critically established. It remains a
mere als ob\
I n Islam, revelation is ideational and only ideational. 'Thus
saith the Lord' is the only form revelation can take. Islam upholds
the prophetic notion o f immediate and direct revelation as given
in Hebrew Scripture. 'Tluis saith the Lord' means precisely what
it says. For, i n Islam, God does n o t reveal Himself. Being
transcendent, He can never become the object o f knowledge.
But He can and does reveal His w i l l ; and this is w h o l l y the
ethically-imperative, the commandment, the law. This He reveals
i n the only way possible for revealing the law, namely, the
discursive word. The moral law is a conceptually-communicable,
ideational schema o f a value-content endowed w i t h moving
appeal. Certainly, it is not an event. The event may or may not
realize the moral law; but it is not itself the law.
6

This Islamic view o f revelation, which is also that o f Hebrew


Scripture, does not conflict w i t h the phenomena o f responsibility,
freedom and conscience. For an idea does not coerce. It 'moves':
and man may very well be, as not-be, 'moved' by the idea. A n
event, on the contrary is one necessarily caused by necessary
causes and issuing i n necessary effects. Islam therefore is safe
against ever having to rely upon a deterministic theory o f history
in order to justify itself. It does hold, though, that God may act i n
history. But such a divine act it always interprets as the reward of
virtue or the punishment o f vice; and it explains such divine
intervention i n history as the necessary real connection, or causal
bond, that relates the real-existential materiaux o f moral value or
disvahic, w i t h those o f happiness or suffering. The so-called
114

A COMPARISON

OF

Tllli

ISLAMIC A N D CHRISTIAN

APPROACHES

'saving acts o f God' i n Hebrew Scripture, Islam regards as the


natural conseqtiences o f virtue and good deeds.
The notion that revelation is by event, which follows from the
notions that Jesus, the 'God-man i n history' is both 'the Word of
God' and himself the revelation o f God, further determines the
Christian understanding o f Hebrew election and covenant. For
the Christian, Abraham's election is God's call to faith and his
response is the predetermined response o f faith. The patriarchal
Chosen-People complex he understands as the fact that the
Hebrews suffered themselves to be the tools of God's acts. Their
insistence that they are a race chosen by God absolutely, i.e., for
its own sake and for all time - a race chosen to be the favourite
not as a reward for some virtue or w o r t h but for its own sake is
understood by the Christian as God's faithfulness in keeping
His term o f the covenant, and the elect's faithfulness i n being
the recipient of God's election; as his insistence 'on maintaining
his part o f the Covenant', as one of the foremost Biblical scholars
puts i t , 'even when Israel had broken that Covenant'. I f you,
Hosea, cannot put away your wife, though unfaithful and guilty,
how can I , Jahweh, put away my people, t h o u g h they are
unrighteous and a stiff-necked people? Indeed, they are and
shall remain my chosen favourites no matter what they do. This
Hebrew callousness to the moral t r u t h that only the more
virtuous may be said to be the worthier, is offensive to moral
sense. Hence, the Christian does try to 'ethicize' i t , as when he
holds it to be an election to the onerous burden o f being the
messengers o f God. But this rationalization falls to the ground
when we consider the doctrine o f the remnant eqtially Biblical
- which asserts that the Hebrews would remain the elect even
when they have stopped 'messengering', when they have stopped
being and acting as God's ambassadors to men. But just as we
may not hold election to be a matter o f merit when the sLibject
has become unworthy, we may not hold that election is a matter
of embassy when the subject no more acts i n that capacity.
7

The covenant is a perfectly ethical notion i f only all it purports


to say is the truth that i f man obeys God and does the good, he
"Would be blessed. As such, it is the Semitic way o f saying that
115

ISLAM A N D

OTHER

FAITHS

virtue equals happiness. It lays upon man an obligation - that o f


obeying God, o f doing the good, and upon God an expectation,
i f not an equally-binding obligation, that whoever obeys God
and does the good w i l l be blessed and happy. Although there is
plenty o f talk o f ' t h e Covenant', yet the Hebrew Scripture
covenant is nothing o f the sort. It is, more properly, a promise, a
one-directional favour-proffering by God upon 'His people'.
This transformation o f the covenant into 'the Promise' is the
other side o f the racialization o f election.
The Q u r ' a n admits that G o d had sent His w o r d to the
Hebrews, and that many a prophet and many a man believed
and did rightly, and were consequendy 'blessed' and 'raised above
the rest'. But the rest rejected God's w o r d and were hence
subject to His dire punishment. For the covenant is a purely
ethical contract, unequivocally binding upon man and G o d . It
is not denied. 'Allah made a covenant o f old w i t h the Children
o f Israel . . . and said: Lo! I am w i t h you: I f ye worship Me, live
charitably, believe i n M y messengers and do their bidding i f
(in short) you vest yotir trust i n God and live according to His
commandments, surely I shall remit your sins, and surely I shall
b r i n g you into gardens underneath w h i c h rivers flow.' The
Qur'an also awards the status o f elect to the Muslims, but on
the firm basis that the Hebrews had rejected the prophets, the
messengers o f God, including Jesus; and w i t h the unequivocal
understanding that God's word is a command to be realized, that
i f the Muslims should ever fail to fulfil that command, God w i l l
not only withdraw the trust and the election, but would destroy
them and give their property as inheritance to another people
more prepared to carry it o u t .
10

11

14

15

16

It is true that i n extending election from Israel to the N e w


Israel, the Christian divests i t o f its Hebraic racialism and
transforms it into an election by faith, and this transformation
stands at the root o f his doctrine o f jListification by faith (Romans
4, Galatians 3). I n Islam, election and justification are not at all
by faith, but by works. Faith i n Islam is only a condition, valuable
and often necessary, but not indispensable. The QLir'an counts
among the saved not only the hamfs, or the pre-Islamic righteous,
116

A COMPARISON Oh THE ISLAMIC AND CHRISTIAN APPROACHES

but many post-Islamic Christians and Jews and gives as the


reason for their salvation their devoted worship o f God, their
humility, their charity and their good deeds. Islam may be said
to have recaptured the pure Semitic vision, beclouded by the
old Hebrew racialism as well as by the new Christianism\ o f a
moral order o f the universe i n w h i c h every human being,
regardless o f his race or colour indeed o f his religion i n the
institutionalized sense - gets exactly what he deserves, only what
his works and deeds earn for h i m on an absolute moral scale o f
justice. Certainly God may award His compassion, love and
mercy to whomsoever He pleases; but it is not for man to go
about the w o r l d carrying his title to paradise, as it were, i n his
pocket. The desperate attempt o f Christian doctrine to save ethics
from the sure death to w h i c h justification by faith leads it by
requiring man to live the life o f gratitude, i.e., o f one w h o m
God has irrevocably saved, exposes morality to the fanaticism
implicit i n a monistic axiology, where the value o f gratitude is
the only value, or to the implicit vacuity where gratitude can
mean all, any member or none o f the whole realm o f valties, as
each i n d i v i d u a l decides for himself i n Protagorean relativist
fashion, or the community decides for l i i m by convention. O n
the other hand, the denial that God's salvation is irrevocable
opens the Christian faith to the charge that salvation is not a
c o m p l e t e d historical event, b u t an ideational c o m m a n d
whether carried by the discursive w o r d or the exemplary deed
which is granted or denied as each person fulfils or fails to fulfil
the morally imperative.
17

<

Islam, therefore, approaches H e b r e w Scripture w i t h the


absolute moral law as the only presupposition; and it starts right
at the beginning o f the Hebrew and Christian tale o f election
and promise. Against the arbitrary, uncaused, unjustified 'Get thee
out' o f Genesis 12, w h i c h marks the beginning o f Hebrew racialist
election, i t explains the departure o f Abraham from his people
and land as the regrettable result o f his dispute over their idolatry.
Even so, the separation was temporary and Abraham is described
as praying for his father and people that God may rightly guide
them. The so-called 'Legends o f Abraham' - his destruction o f

117

ISLAM AND

OTHLR

LAlTllS

the idols, his being visited by angels, his redemption from the
burning fire o f N i m r o d all these come only from the Qur'an,
the earliest appearance o f them outside Islam being the Codex
Sylvester o f the Maase Abraham which a Russian monk picked
up i n a thirteenth-century bazaar i n Constantinople, and the
more recent Midrash Hagadol, written in the seventeenth century
and discovered i n Yemen i n the nineteenth. *
1

Ill

I f there is to be a redeeming, evidently there must be


something from w h i c h man is to be redeemed; and secondly,
this something must be such that man cannot redeem himself
from it by his own agency. This something must be universal and
necessary; and this is precisely what Christian 'sin' is. Looking
into Hebrew Scripture, the Christian discerns this universal and
necessary sin i n Adam.
The Christian takes Adam's disobedience to be the real and
actual sin o f mankind. Adam's tasting o f the tree o f knowledge o f
good and evil is declared to be man's necessary w i l l to assert
himself, to have his own way; man's knowing, to be his pride and
confidence i n his own capacity. The Hebrews did not tinderstand
Adam's story i n this manner; and the Christian has therefore
found it necessary to transfigure Adam's disobedience into 'sin'.
The obligation to w o r k and to suffer pain is hedonistically
u n d e r s t o o d to mean d o o m and death e t e r n a l . Adam's
misdemeanour is universalized as that o f the whole human race.
T h e C h r i s t i a n respect for personality, w i t h its i m p l i e d
personalist theory o f truth, should have prescribed that the sin
of Adam bc the sin o f Adam alone. If, on the other hand, Adam is
only a symbolic figure, it is nothing but the barest assertion to
claim that sin is the necessary and universal phenomenon, that it
is the starting point o f man's career on earth. Virtue is no less a
Liniversal phenomenon; and i f it were to provide that starting
point, an outlook totally different from that o f Christianity would
follow. Nonetheless, this Christian emphasis on sin is not without
merit. Undoubtedly, sin is more often the rule than virtue. I n the
118

A COMPARISON OE THE ISLAMIC AND CHRISTIAN APPROACHES

rrvatter o f man's career on earth, the career o f ever transcending


n s e l f i n emulation o f the divine, his shortcoming is far more
relevant than his advantage. I n battle, the enemy should occupy
peculiar category in the consciousness o f general and soldier,
^he Christians obsession w i t h sin is not altogether unhealthy
n d has the merit o f focusing attention on that which is to be
overcome. But this advantage immediately turns sour i f attention
to sin is exaggerated, as is the case w i t h Christian doctrine, where
it becomes the first principle o f creation as well as o f man's moral
being. However, the Christian asserts sin i n order to deny it; for
the Jesus-event had no rationale save the destruction o f sin as a
universal and primordial phenomenon, as human essence. But
having denied it i n the assertion that Liniversal salvation is a fait
accompli, the Christian has ipso facto forfeited his moral enthusiasm
and laid wide open the gates o f moral complacency. Gratitude,
or the recognition that God has i n fact saved h i m , gives man no
ethic other than the obligation to give thanks and proclaim the
salvation-news. That is precisely how many Christians (e.g. Karl
Barth, 1886-1968) understand the moral imperative. Faced w i t h
such difficulties, the Christians interpret Adam's act i n a variety
of ways: Some insist that it is his knowledge of good and e\>
others, that it is his desire to be like God; others, that it is his selfassertion and egotism; others more philosophic but w i t h no little
Buddhistic sensitivity and existential boredom w i t h life, that it is
his very actuality and existence. A l l these views evidendy imply
either that man's creation was faulty or that it was undesirable.
They transform man's noblest endowments - namely his
knowledge and w i l l to knowledge, his cosmic uniqtieness, his
will to be and to persist, his w i l l to become like unto God, into
nU

19

instruments o f doom.
In Islam, far from being the father o f sin, Adam is the father o f
the prophets. He received his learning directly from God, and i n
this he was superior to the angels to w h o m he taught the 'names'
-> essences, definitions) o f the creatures. God commanded
m to pursue the good as well as to avoid evil, the latter being
the nature of the tree whose fruit he was forbidden to eat. The
identification o f the tree as 'the tree of life and knowledge' is
20

21

119

ISLAM A N D OTHER

FAITHS

neither God's nor Adam's; but, i f a M u s l i m may here make a


guess o n the basis o f Christian O l d Testament scholarship, the
work o f the priestly editors o f 'J' w h o branded knowledge o f
good and evil as evil i n pursuit o f their w i l l to power and i n
perpetration o f their monopoly over man's reaching toward God.
The Qur'an calls this wrong identification a He told by Satan i n
order to lure Adam, prone as he was to know and pursue the
good, to transgress God's command and do evil. 'Satan', the
Qur'an says, 'enticed Adam saying, O Adam, shall I show you the
tree o f life and power eternal? A d a m ate o f the tree and
committed a transgression and an evil deed. But God corrected
h i m and he atoned and was rightly guided.' Adam, therefore,
did commit a misdeed, namely that o f thinking evil to be good,
o f ethical misjudgement. He was the author o f the first human
mistake i n ethical perception, committed, w i t h good intention,
under enthusiasm for the good. I t was not a 'fall' but a discovery
that i t is possible to confuse the good w i t h the evil, that its pursuit
is neither unilateral nor straightforward.
22

23

The fact that Jesus has redeemed man n o t only implies a


theory o f man which we have just discussed - but equally a
theory o f God. Jesus, for the Christian, is God; and redemption
not only implies a certain k i n d o f man, but equally a certain
k i n d o f God; a God w h o is so concerned about man that H e
would redeem h i m by doing what Jesus did, or by doing what
He did ' i n ' Jesus.
Thus, the Christian looks upon the declaration o f Genesis, 'Let
us make man according to our image' and sees therein the
confirmation he needs o f man's fellowship w i t h God. Man, an
image o f God, was created to be God's fellow i n paradise. B u t
man has sinned. God would not acquiesce i n this estrangement,
in this self-waste to which man has committed himself. Hence,
He punished h i m at first; then He chased h i m out o f paradise
and inflicted Lipon h i m all sorts o f afflictions. Nonetheless man
continued to sin. God then decided that all creation was a mistake
except for one man, Noah, and his family, and destroyed all life
in a Deluge. Thereafter, touched by the 'sweet savour' o f Noah's
sacrifice, God vowed never to destroy life again as H e had just

120

A COMPARISON

OF T H E ISLAMIC

A N D CHRISTIAN

APPROACHES

done. But man continued to sin. Whereupon God decided upon


another course o f action, the election o f the Hebrews and their
divinely-operated history to the end that H e may H i m s e l f
assume man's sin and redeem h i m , acting through the God-man
Jesus. A l l this points to the fact that G o d is man's partner and
fellow, and man is God's partner and fellow, each o f w h o m is
indispensable for the other.
This Christian fellowship o f man w i t h God, though drawn
from a Hebrew Scriptural account, puts G o d i n a position
i r r e c o n c i l a b l e w i t h H i s omniscience and o m n i p o t e n c e .
Nonetheless, i t contains a great deal o f truth. For despite the
context i n which the Christian understands i t , man's 'fellowship'
w i t h God is an expression o f the rapport which exists between
God's commandment, the ethically imperative, or value, and man.
This rapport consists i n that the ought-to-be, the modality o f
the ideally-existent value w h i c h possesses genuine m o v i n g
power and being, is beamed towards man. I t also consists i n the
capacity o f the latter alone i n creation to grasp that ought-beam
and fall under its determination. Man's capacity to know and to
do the good, or God's w i l l , is his 'divinity'. God's moving power,
directed to man, is his 'humanity'. BLit i t should not be forgotten
that this 'human divinity' and 'divine humanity' are not real facts,
but mere modalities o f real facts. The ought-to-be is a necessary
modality o f value; i t may not be called a 'need' unless value, or
divinity, is hopelessly anthropomorphic, and i t is crude to speak
o f i t as a 'fellowship', or to ascribe to i t the assumption o f man's
'guilt', to 'crucify' i t , etc. which the Christian does.
I n Islam, God created man for the specific purpose o f carrying
out a trust i n this world, a trust so great that the angels, to w h o m
it was first offered, turned away i n terror. This trust is the
perfecting o f an imperfect world deliberately created imperfect
so that i n the process o f a human perfecting o f i t , ethical values
w o u l d be realized w h i c h otherwise ( i . e . i n a necessarily
perfectable or created-perfect world) w o u l d be ruled out ex
hypothesi. God,therefore, is not man's fellow, bLit his Transcendent
Creator and First Mover whose m o v i n g does stand en rapport
w i t h man's capacity for being moved. T h e nearness o f a First
24

121

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

Mover, o f value as a genuine entelechy, is beyond question. But


it is not the nearness o f a 'fellow* who is willing to do his partner's
SLipreme duty, as i n Christianity. Rather, it is the nearness o f a
modality o f our knowledge o f the being o f the Godhead, the
nearness o f the ethically imperative.

IV
I n conclusion, we may therefore say that the Christian
approach to Hebrew Scripture is dogmatic; i.e. governed by the
desire to confirm articles o f the Christian creed; whereas the
Islamic approach is ethical, i.e., governed by absolute and
immutable ethical laws, without regard to dogma. I n consequence
o f his approach being dogmatic, the Christian is compelled to
resort to a deterministic view o f man and history, to an allegorical
interpretation o f unequivocal texts and to glossing over accounts
and narratives o f human conduct w h i c h no worthy morality can
accept. Per contra, i n consequence o f his approach being ethical,
the Muslim is compelled to separate the ethically valid from the
perverse i n Hebrew Scripture, for only the former he can call
the Word o f God. BLit Hebrew Scripture does not lose by having
any of its parts demoted, as it were, from the status o f revelation
to that o f human editing. Unlike revelation, human w r i t i n g is
capable o f having both the good and the evil. O n the contrary,
rather than losing, Hebrew Scripture gains through such an
attitude. Such discipline known as O l d Testament criticism which
has saved Hebrew Scripture from the slow but sure process o f
repudiation by Christians o f the last two centuries, by correcting
its claims, reconciling its contradictions, and reconstructing its
history on a sounder foundation. The first principle o f this
discipline has been the Qur'anic principle that not all the O l d
Testament is God's w o r d , but only some; that nuich o f i t Christian scholars go to the extreme o f claiming that all o f it - is
the work o f editors and redactors o f all sorts o f affiliation.

Furthermore, because o f his approach, the Christian is faced


w i t h the insurmountable problem o f the Vergegenwartigung (i.e.,
the representation or making contemporary and relevant) o f
122

A COMPARISON OF THli ISLAMIC AND CHRISTIAN APPROACHES

{Hebrew Scripture, o f the O l d Testament. For being a revelation


events, the relevance o f past events for the present may always
be questioned. The Islamic approach, w h i c h reads i n Hebrew
Scripture immutable thotigh often violated ethical principles,
and i n Hebrew history some violation as well as some fulfilment
of these principles, stands i n no need o f such Vergegenwartigung.
Ethical principles are always contemporary. But for the Christian,
die problem is so great that nobody has so far given a satisfactory
answer, while the Christian masses become ever more alienated
from Hebrew Scripture. Indeed, Vergegenwartigung is such an
insoluble problem that men o f the calibre o f G. von Rad, Karl
B a r t h and M a r t i n N o t h
have spoken o f a solution by
proclamation. We may 'vergegenwartigan' the O l d Testament, they
tell us, by proclaiming its news, its events, jtvst as we would read
a sheaf o f news reports and pass them o n just as they are'. 'Proclaim the O l d Testament as you please', a friendly warner
may say i n this connection, 'the masses o f Christendom w i l l
continue to give you an unsilenceable retort: So what?'
x n

25

26

2 7

Notes
1. W.F.Albright has noted that the Hebrews conceived of chcir god as if he
were their relative, and they were his brothers, uncles, nephews and kinsmen; that
no such relationship was possible for any person that did not already belong to
their order (Prom the Stone Age to Christianity, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press,
1940, pp. 185 fF.).
2.

I Samuel 26: 19; // Kings

5:17.

3.

See the informative discussion in Encyclopaedia Bihlica, s.v. Names, Divine

Names.
4. Against this it is often contended that the Old Testament does contain
evidence of a universalist divine providence in the Booh of Jonah, in Amos 9, Isaiah 15
and 19. However, a careful reading of the Book ofJonah reveals that the significance
of the story does not lie in what God did to Nineveh but in the Jewish attitude to
Nineveh represented not only by the man-in-the-street but by no less a man than
the 'prophet*Jonah himself. In Amos 9: 7 it is claimed that God has done as much
for Israel as He did for the Philistines and the Syrians a wrong and perverse
opinion. It is wrong because rather than emphasize what God did to the non-Jews,
the whole purport of verse 7 as well as the first half of chapter 9, is to show that

123

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS


Jahweh is mighty enough to destroy Israel. As evidence of this divine might the
Old Testament cites what Jahweh did to the non-Jews. Finally, Isaiahs 'Blessed be
Egypt, My people, and Assyria, the work of My hands', cannot be taken seriously.
The Egypt and Assyria which are here blessed had been totally destroyed (Isaiah
19: T fF.), lost their spirit and purpose (ibid., 19: 3, 10), changed their spirit for a
'perverse' one (ibid., 19: 14) and become the city of destruction unto whom 'the
land of Judah shall be a terror' (ibid., 19:17). Furthermore they had been repopulated
by Israelites (ibid., 19: 4 - 1 0 ) , changed their language for that of Canaan, and now
cooperate together in the service of an imperial Israel (ibid., 19: 23-4). It takes a
logic quite unique to make white out of this Isaiahian jet-black.
5.

Isaiah 49: 22-3. For the Jews, Hebrew Scripture is the yet-unfinished

record of Hebrew historv.


6. 'God . . . can only reveal Himself perfectly in perfect personality . . . (and)
. . . T h e word of God is mediated to us through the instrument of their (the
redactors of Hebrew Scripture) personality.' H . H . Rowley, The Relevance of the.
Bible (London: J. Clarke & Co., 1941), p. 25.
S.B. Frost, The Beginning of the Promise (London: S P C K , i960), p. 46;
Norman Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament (London: T h e Epworth
Press, 1944, eighth impression, i960), p. 140.
7.

8.

Hosea 1: 10; 11: 8 - 9 ; 13:14.The Jews understand by Deuteronomy 14: T, that

even when the children's conduct is unfilial, the filial relation remains (and) 'sinful
offspring are still children (of God)' (UniversalJewish
Encyclopaedia^NcwYoxk'.KvjLv
Publishing House, i 9 4 i , V b L I I I , p. 167, quoting R . Mcir, c. 1220-93). Also
Johanan commented thus on Hosea's inability to rcpuditc his prostitute-wife
despite her misconduct:'If you [God must have argued with Hosea] cannot put
away your wife of whose fidelity you are uncertain . . . how can I reject Israel who
are my children? . . .' (ibid., p. 168). In an argument of unparalleled intellectual
bravado,Th. C.Vriezen distinguishes an'empirical Israel'from what he presumably
takes to be an absolute or transcendental Israel.'Even if God rejects the empirical
Israel in its entirety for some time', he writes,'that does not mean that Israel is
rejected altogether . . . Israel was never rejected absolutely . . .This implies the
continuous faithfulness of the electing God rather than the possibility of definite
rejection by God of what He has once elected . . . As far as Israel is concerned
rejection only exists partially and temporarily as punishment. Cf.my Die Erwahlung
Israels, pp. 98 fF.' (An Outline of Old Testament Theology, Oxford: B. Black well, 1958,
p. 142). waiter Eichrodt is so convinced of the absoluteness of Israel's election that
he takes the Hoscan passage in question as evidence that the Old Testament God
is no capricious despot 'striking out in blind rage', as if for H i m to reject Israel
when she broke the covenant, would have been tantamount to 'acting in blind
rage' (Theology of the Old lestament,Vo\. I, London: S C M Press, i960, p. 265).
For a further discussion of this view see this author's review of S.B. Frost,
op. cit., in Christian Outlook (Montreal), No. 1960.
9.

124

A COMPARISON OF THE ISLAMIC AND CHRISTIAN APPROACHES


10.

al-Baqarah 2: 47; al-A'raf

7: 168.

11.

al-A 'rafj:

12.

at-Baqarah 2: 40.

13.

al-Baqarah 2: 63, 84; Al Tmran 3:187; al-Md'idah

14.

al-Ma'idah

15.

Al Tmran 3: 104, n o .

16.

Muhammad 47: 8; al-Tawbah 9: 39.

100-2.

5: 70; al-A raf 7: 172, etc.


K

5: 12.

17. 'And Lo! of the People of the Book there arc some who believe in God
and that which is revealed unto you and that which was revealed unto them,
humbling themselves before God.They purchase not a trifling gain at the price of
God's rcvelation.Vcrily, their reward is with their Lord' (Al Tmran 3:199; see also
al-Baqarah 2: 162).

18. It was in the eleventh century that Hebrew literature acquired a great
mass of material from Arabic sources. Nissim of Kairawan, author of the famous
Sefer Ma^asoth, combined stories from the Haggadah, the Bidpai Fables which he
took over complete in their Arabic title of 'Kalllah wa Dimnah' with Qur'anic
narratives, A Thousand and One Nights stories, etc. Nonetheless, the Sefer Ma'asoth
does not even have a Ma^ase Abraham, which must have been a later addition.
An example of the last instance is the case of Paul Tillich (1886-7965)
who understands the fall as 'transition from essence to existence' but upholds the
Christian prejudice that such transition is unworthy and condemnablc in order to
make room for salvation (SystematicTheology,Vol. II, Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1957, pp. 29-31). When finally salvation did come through Jesus, it did not
transform man back into essence, but merely taught him to regard existence no
more as condemnablc.True, existence as 'estrangement' had its marks (sin, hubris,
concupiscence) which, Jesus had shown, could be surmounted (ibid., pp. 125-6).
Nonetheless, the saved man is not one standing outside existence, but in existence
surmounting its antinomies and dis values (ibid., pp. 6 fF.). But in this case, the
definition of the fall as transition from essence to existence has availed nothing.
19.

Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 30-3.The Qur'an does not read in Hebrew history


any history-determinism. The so-called saving acts of God, and above all, the
Exodus with all its surrounding mystery, are all there. But they are acts of God
only inasmuch as they are the natural consequences of virtue and good deeds. All
these arc metaphorically called the rewards of those who remained steadfast in
their worship and service of God and were persecuted and exploited by a tyrant
Pharaoh. T h e blessing of Abraham with children and land, the Exodus and
subsequent guidance and blessing of the Hebrews in Sinai and their entry into
possession of Palestine were, according to the Qur'an, not part of an operated
history, but God s part of the covenant, the blessing or happiness which is the
20.

125

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

necessary consequence of virtue.The same justification is applied by the Qur'an to


David's victory over Goliath, as well as to the glories of Solomon's reign. In no
case does the Qur'an compromise the freedom or responsibility of these men by
implying a divine operation of the historical nexus (al-Muzzammil 73: iS',al-Qasas
28:3 fF.; Ta I la 20:77-83; etc.). What is forgotten here is that while an idea may be
caused to appear, as the notion of Kofi amar Jahweh' proves, it is of its very nature
not to determine the addressee, whose doings remain his own choice and
responsibility.'Thus saith the Lord' can never imply a historical determinism such
as Hebrew history is here claimed to bc. Once more, the difference between
Christianity and Islam is precisely this, that in the former, revelation is an event,
in the latter, it is an idea.The former sees in Hebrew historv a series of revelationevents which could not have not-happened (a God-authored event is by definition
something necessarily causing necessary effects and is necessarily caused by
necessary causes) and the latter, a series of revelation ideas which were freely
accepted by some and freely rejected by othcrs.The 'Promise' of Hebrew Scripture,
or the unearned blessing of any man or people, the Qur'an utterly rejects as
inconsonant with God's nature and His justice; the Muslims being no more unfit
for such favouritism than any other people.
1

21.

Qur'an, Ta Ha 20: 116-T9.

22.

Ta Ha 20: 120-2.

23. Hence, God's admonition to Adam:'You (Satan and Adam) shall leave
paradise, enemies one to the other, until guidance (i.e., the guarantee against
perceptual errors in matters ethical) comes to you from Me' (la Ha 20:123-4).
24.

Qur'an, al-Ahzab 33:72.

G . von R a d , Das Formgeschichtliche Problem des Hexateuchs


B.W.A,N.T., 1938), pp. 18 fF.
25.

(Stuttgart:

Karl Barth,'Das ChristlicheVerstandnis der OfFcnbarung',in Theologische


Hxistenz Heute, 12 (1948), pp. 9, 13 fF., quoted by Martin Noth, below, n. 27.
26.

27. Martin N o t h , 'Interpretation of the O l d Testament, I. T h e " R e presentation" of the OldTestament in Proclamation', Interpretation (January 1961),
pp. 50-60. In this article Noth reviews the history of the problem and discusses the
views of Karl Barth as well as G . von Rad.
28.

The words arc Karl Barth's, cited by Noth, op. cit.

126

PART II

C H A P T E R FIVE

Islam and Other Faiths


I.

The World's Need for Humane Universalism

This century, the f o u r t e e n t h All and t w e n t i e t h C E , has


witnessed the g r o w t h among humans o f a new awareness,
namely, that m a n k i n d must live together, every group o f i t
interdependent w i t h all the others. The o l d cliches o f interhuman relationships which dominated the last half millennium
- master-subject, faithful-heathen, colon-indigene, home-overseas,
we natives-they foreigners - have broken d o w n and are being
constantly elbowed out by the new. The u n i t y o f mankind is
being felt, w i t h ever-growing intensity, around the globe. The
almost universal self-identification o f the w o r l d w i t h the
Algerians and Vietnamese i n their past struggle, and w i t h the
Palestinians i n their continuing struggle, for human dignity, is
positive evidence o f this new awareness. Violation o f the human
rights o f the Algerians, Vietnamese and Palestinians has itself
stirred up as well as confirmed these rights i n the consciousness
of mankind.
This new awareness is practical, oriented toward cases o f v i o lation and fulfilment; but i t has no clear ideational base, no
system of first principles which everybody can call his own. The
lack is i n our contemporary human consciousness. Once upon a
time, the Western world recognized such a base i n the EnlightThis article was published in A. Gauhar (ed.), The Challenge of Islam (London:
Islamic Council of Europe, 1978), pp. 82-111.

129

ISLAM AND OTUHR IAITHS

enment. Nineteenth-century Romanticism, and Western failure


o f nerve i n defending the rationalist Liniversal ideal against its
attackers allowed the gains to be dissipated. A temporary revival
was brought about by the world's fight against fascism in World
War I I . It gave us the forgotten Atlantic Charter, the United Nations Charter and the B i l l o f Human Rights, to w h i c h many
nations o f the w o r l d still pay little more than lip-service.
Colonialism's last battles, neo-colonialism, the Cold War and the
epidemic spread o f nationalist particularism combined to neutralize the recent gains; and the voices calling for one humane
world-order were muted by the strongest wave o f scepticism
and cynicism since the last days o f Athens and Rome. Fortunately, all these forces, including the mightiest, namely modern
scepticism, have not dissuaded modern man from recognizing
humanity i n all men, and defending its rights on behalf o f them;
this i n spite o f the fact that scepticism denied all principles on
the basis o f w h i c h this humane universalism was based in the
past and affirmed no new idea instead. Analytical philosophizing and positivism stood ready to destroy any system o f ideas
capable o f supporting any humane universalism. A n d while existentialism hesitates between nihilism and another round o f
Germanic idealism, Christian theologians continue to expend
their energies on accommodating Christian dogma to the intellectual vicissitudes or fashions o f the various schools o f the day.
There is i n consequence an emptiness i n the w o r l d calling for
the highest intellectLial vision. Mankind's practical awareness
needs to be articulated and given a permanent place i n man's
system o f evident truths. I f we are to appropriate the new trLith,
teach it i n our schools and prevent our children from having to
acquire the vision through tragic experience as OLir generation
did, and i f we are to convince the billions o f its validity and
timeliness, we have to give it some creative thinking. Fortunately,
Islam presents us w i t h an excellent base, rational and critical, as
well as tested by fourteen centuries o f history. Wherever the
Muslims followed and applied its principles, their success has
been spectacular. N o t h i n g i n mankind's religious history is
comparable to i t . O u r need for a sure and promising foundation
130

ISLAM AND OT1ILR LAITHS

on which to build a world-order o f human relations, at once


humane and universalist, imposes Lipon us to listen, to consider
and to l e a r n from Islam.

II.

The Lesson of Islam

A.

The Essence

Islam's view o f other faiths flows from the essence o f its religioLis
experience. This essence is critically knowable. It is not the subject
of'paradox', nor o f ' c o n t i n u i n g revelation', nor the object o f
c o n s t m c t i o n or reconstruction by Muslims. I t is as clearly
comprehensible to the man o f today as it was to those o f Arabia o f
the Prophets day (570-632 C E ) because the categories o f grammar,
lexicography, syntax and redaction o f the Qur anic text, and those
o f Arabic consciousness embedded i n the Arabic language, have
not changed throLigh the centuries. This phenomenon is indeed
unique; for Arabic is the only langtiage which has remained the
same for nearly two millennia, the last fourteen centtiries o f which
being certainly due to the Holy Qur'an. Nobody has denied that
Islam has a recognizable essence, readable i n the H o l y Qur'an.
For Muslims, this essence has been on every lip and in every
mind, every hour o f every day.
1

The essence o f Islam is tawhid or La ilaha ilia llah, the


witnessing that there is no god but God (may He be Glorified
and Exalted). B r i e f as it is, this witness packs into itself four
principles w h i c h constitute the whole essence and Liltimate
fotindation o f the religion.
First, that there is no g o d bLit God means that reality is dual,
consisting o f a natural realm, the realm o f creation, a n d a transcendent realm, the Creator. This principle distingLiishes Islam
from Ancient Egypt and Greece where reality was taken to be
monophysite, consisting o f one realm, nature or creation, parts
or all o f w h i c h were apotheosized. Greek and Egyptian gods
were projections of various components o f nature idealized bey o n d their created empirical creatLirely naturalness. Tawhid
distinguishes Islam from the religions of India where reality is
}

131

ISLAM AND OTIIIiR FAITHS

also monophysite, but where the natural realm is taken to be


the transcendent realm itself bLit in a state o f ephemeral objectification or individuation. Finally, tawhid distinguishes Islam from
trinitarian Christianity where the dualism o f Creator and creature is maintained but where i t is combined w i t h a divine
irmnanentism in human nature i n justification o f the incarnation. For tawhid reqLiires that neither nature be apotheosized nor
transcendent God be objectified, the two realities ever remaining ontologically disparate.
Second, that the one and only God is God means that He is
related to what is not God as its God; that is, as its Creator or
ultimate cause, its master or Liltimate end. Creator and creatLire,
therefore, tawhid asserts, are relevant to each other regardless of
their ontological disparateness, which is not affected by the relation.
The transcendent Creator, being cause and final end o f the natural
creature, is the ultimate Master Whose w i l l is the religious and
moral imperative. The divine w i l l is commandment and law, the
OLight o f all that is, knowable by the direct means o f revelation, or
the indirect means o f rational and/or empirical analysis o f what is.
W i t h o u t a knowable content, the divine w i l l w o u l d not be
normative or imperative, and hence would not be the final end of
the natural; for i f the transcendent Creator is not the final end of
His own creature, creation must be not the pLirposive event
consonant w i t h divine nature but a meaningless happening to H i m ,
a threat to His own ultimacy and transcendence.
Third, tawhid or, as we have seen, that God is the final end o f
the creature, means that man is capable o f action, that creation is
malleable or capable of r e c e i v i n g man's action, and human action
on malleable natLire, resLilting in a transformed creation is the
moral end o f religion. Contrary to the claims o f other religions,
nature is not fallen, evil, a sort o f Untergang o f the absolute; nor is
the absolute an apotheosis o f it. Both are real and both are good;
the Creator being the summum honum or supreme good and the
creature being intrinsically good and potentially better as i t is
transformed by human action into the pattern the Creator has
willed for i t . We have already seen that knowledge o f the divine
w i l l is possible for man; and through revelation and science SLich
132

ISLAM AND OT11LR FAITHS

knowledge is actual. The prerequisites o f the transformation o f


creation into the likeness o f the divine pattern are hence all, but
for human resolve and execution, fulfilled and complete.
Fourth, tawhid means that man, alone among all the creatures,
is capable o f action as well as free to act or not to act. This freedom
vests h i m w i t h a distinguishing quality, namely responsibility. It
casts upon his action its moral character; for the moral is precisely
that action which is done i n freedom, i.e., done by an agent
who is capable o f doing, as well as o f not doing, it. This kind o f
action, moral action, is the greater portion o f the divine w i l l .
Being alone capable o f i t , man is a higher creature, endowed
w i t h the cosmic significance o f that through whose agency alone
is the greater part o f the divine w i l l to be actualized i n spacetime. Man's life on earth, therefore, is especially meaningful and
cosmicalry significant. As Allah has put it i n the H o l y Qur'an,
man is God's khalTfah, or vicegerent on earth.* It is o f the nature
of moral action that its fulfilment be not equivalent to its n o n fLilfilment, that man's exercise o f his freedom in actualizing the
divine imperative be not w i t h o u t difference. Hence, another
principle is necessary, whereby successful moral action would
meet w i t h happiness and its opposite w i t h unhappiness.
Otherwise it would be all one for man whether he acts, or does
not act, morally. Indeed, this consideration makes judgement
necessary, in which the total effect o f one's lifetime activity is
assessed and its contribution to the total vahie o f the cosmos is
acknowledged, imbalances i n the individual's life are redressed
and his achievement is distinguished from the non-achievement
of others. This is what 'The Day o f Judgement' and 'Paradise and
Hell' are meant to express i n religious language.

B.

Implications for Other Faiths

Tawhid, the essence o f religious experience i n Islam, carries a


number o f implications for the theory o f God, the theory o f
revelation, the theory o f man, the theory o f society. Every one o f
these carries in turn implications for the place o f other faiths i n
Islam's consideration.

133

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

1. Tlieory of God. Islam's insistence on the absolute Linity and


transcendence of God is an affirmation o f God's lordship over all
men.To hold God as Creator means that all men are His creatures.
The measLire o f His absohiteness as Creator is at once the measLire
of the creature-likeness of all creatures. I n being creaturely, they
are all one though they may be distinguished among one another.
But vis-a-vis God, they are all one and the same.
As human creatures, therefore, all men are God's vicegerents
on earth. A l l men stand absolutely on a par under the obligation
to mini the divine w i l l and are judged on a scale o f justice that is
absohite for one and all. God's transcendence does not allow
discrimination between the creatures as SLich. Therefore, God
could not have given any special status to any person or group.
His love, providence, care for and judgement o f all men must be
one i f His transcendence is not to be compromised. Certainly,
men receive differing jLidgements because their individual merit
and demerit are different, and these i n turn are different because
its endeavours, capacities, and achievements are different. But
God w i l l not have w i t h any human being a relationship to which
every other human being does not stand equally entitled. Thus
Islam knows no theory o f election, not even an election o f
Muslims, such as Judaism teaches for the Jews, under which the
Jew remains God's elect even i f he goes astray, indeed even i f he
apostacizes. I n Islam, all men, MLISLUTIS and non-Muslims, stand
to God i n identically the same relation, i.e., they fall under the
same imperative and are jLidged indiscriminately by the same
law.- God s covenant is one and the same w i t h all men. It is not a
'Promise' but a two-way contract in which man obeys and God
rewards or man disobeys and God punishes. Because Allah is
absolutely One and Transcendent, the n o n - M u s l i m is not a
'gentile', a goy\ an 'estranged' or 'lesser' human being i n any way,
bLit a being who is as much the object o f divine concern as the
Muslim, as much mukallaf or stibject o f moral responsibility as
the Muslim.
4

2. Tlieory of Revelation. I n Islam the divine w i l l , the ought or


content o f the religious and moral imperative, is knowable
134

ISLAM AND QTHF.R FAITHS

directly t h r o u g h revelation or i n d i r e c t l y t h r o u g h science.


Revelation is not a privilege peculiar to the Muslims, but a
blessing granted to all mankind. This is not to argue that the
content o f prophecy is aimed at mankind w h i c h is especially
true i n the case o f Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon
him) but that the phenomenon o f prophecy is common to and
present i n every people and nation. Allah has said: 'There was
no people without a [prophet] warner', and that 'We have sent
no Prophet but that We have revealed to h i m that men should
worship and serve Allah and avoid all evil ways/ Revelation,
therefore, is a common prerogative o f mankind; and so is its
content, the divine w i l l , the ought or religious and moral
imperative; though this does not preclude Allah's revelation o f
messages addressed to some people alone, i n their own language
and for their o w n peculiar benefit.* The non-Muslim is hence
not underprivileged by comparison to the Muslim i n this regard.
He has been as much the object and subject o f revelation as the
M u s l i m , though, unlike the M u s l i m , he may have dissipated,
lost, tampered w i t h or confused what has been revealed to h i m .
Universalism o f prophecy follows from God's transcendence.
R e v e l a t i o n b e i n g an act o f mercy, necessary for certain
knowledge o f the divine w i l l , it would not be consonant w i t h
divine transcendence to give i t to some and to deny it to others.
Instead o f being the forsaken who benefits from what has been
gifted to others, the non-Muslim is the proud partner who is as
much the benefactor o f this divine gift as the Muslim.
As to science, the indirect way o f learning the divine w i l l , its
prerequisites are the senses, intellectual curiosity and the w i l l to
research and discover, the a v a i l a b i l i t y o f data and c o m municability o f experience, memory and the preservation o f
knowledge, reason and understanding or the capacity to grasp,
synthesize and develop knowledge. A l l these prerequisites are
indiscriminately gifted to all mankind. N o people or group may
lay exclusive claim to them. Great i n God's eyes are those who
seek, promote, keep and distribute knowledge o f the t r u t h .
Education is one o f the greatest Islamic duties, and knowledge
of the truth is one o f the greatest virtues. Every Muslim stands
6

10

135

ISLAM

AND OTHER LAITHS

under the obligation to develop his own faculties as well as those


of humanity, to gather all existent knowledge regardless o f source
and to disseminate such knowledge to all mankind. Every piece
o f knowledge achieved and established becomes the property
o f mankind. N o one has exclusive title to it.
The content o f science is the pattern God has implanted in
creation. It is His w i l l insofar as it is relevant to the creature in
question. The divine w i l l i n nature is natural law. I t is the pattern
of being peculiar to each creature, w h i c h realizes itself necessarily,
thus c o n s t i t u t i n g natural law. T h e human psyche, Imman
consciousness and personality, the human group and the patterns
of its political, economic, sociological and cultural behaviour are
all equally subject to this comprehensive 'science'. So is moral
knowledge also discernible, knowledgeable through a 'scientific'
(that is, rational) analysis of moral phenomena. Stich knowledge
is w i s d o m . Its a c q u i s i t i o n is especially m e r i t o r i o u s ; its
dissemination as free counsel and advice for the sake o f God
earns for its author no less than Paradise.
Here, as i n the science o f nature, the n o n - M u s l i m stands
absolutely on a par w i t h the Muslim. Each is by nature equally
capable o f i t , equally obliged to honour it and eqtially deserving
i f he offered it to all men. The only differences allowed are those
which pertain to personal aptitudes w h i c h may vary from subject
to subject as widely among Muslims as among non-Muslims.
Also l e g i t i m a t e are differences i n the personal zeal and
application o f the pursuer o f wisdom, the personal purity o f
motive and intention in its acquisition and dissemination; but of
these, the M u s l i m is, again by nature, as capable as the n o n Muslim. I n themselves, these differences have nothing to do w i t h
adherence or otherwise to the Islamic faith, t h o u g h such
adherence may consolidate the wisdom and add to the merit of
the subject. Universal egalitarianism i n man's capacity to discover
and recognize God's w i l l i n creation is a conscqLiencc o f God's
w i l l itself. For a divine w i l l that is beyond human grasp and
understanding w i l l either remain ignored or be followed in
11

p L i p p e t - l i k e fashion. I n either case, the requirements o f morality

woLild not be met and, i n consequence, the divine w i l l woLild


136

ISLAM AND OTHliK 1A1T11S

o t be adequately realized. Indeed, the most important part o f


it, namely the moral, would remain unrealized. A frustrated God
would not be G o d .
A n atheist may ask: May not the good whether as moral
norm, or as natural law be discovered, pursued and observed
for its own sake, rather than as divine will? Certainly, we may
answer; for man's innate capacity for science and wisdom may
be developed and sLiccessfully exercised without the realization
that the truth and the good being discovered are the w i l l o f God.
That is why God has implanted i n all men yet another faculty,
one especially designed to recognize G o d as transcendent
Creator o f all that is. This is the sensus numinis, the factilty by
which man apprehends the sacred quality or dimension o f reality.
Its insights are the raw material, the data sui generis, on which the
m i n d can b u i l d the system o f ideas k n o w n as r e l i g i o t i s
knowledge. It is an innate faculty, a natural endowment by which
man knows or comes to know God. The H o l y Qur'an asserts
that there is no creature but that which i n its own peculiar way,
recognizes its Creator and serves H i m . *
n

12

Recognition o f God and awareness o f His existence, o f His


transcendent creatorship, is therefore the prerogative o f all men.
It is a Liniversal birthright, guaranteeing man's consciousness o f
God to all. Here too, the Muslim stands at no advantage when
compared w i t h the non-Muslim. Both are eqLially endowed and
eqLially capable since religion itself is rooted i n their innate
capacity to sense the holy.
C.

The Theory of Man

(a) Man's Innate 'Perfections'.


Tawhid, or the essence o f
religiotis experience i n Islam, means that man is a creatLire
upon w h o m falls the obligation to worship or serve God, i.e.,
to actualize the divine w i l l . This is man's raison d'etre. * He was
created for no other purpose than to serve God. I t follows from
this that God w o u l d create a capable servant i f He is not to be
frustrated, or to work i n vain. That is w h y God had implanted
in man a sensus numinis, a moral faculty and placed h i m i n a
1

137

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

theatre the cosmos capable o f receiving His action, o f being


remoulded i n accordance w i t h His plan.
From this it follows that man is not fallen, bLit innocent; that
far from creating h i m hopelessly impotent to fulfil His w i l l and
thus to achieve salvation, God has created h i m i n the best of
forms and endowed h i m w i t h all the favourable prerogatives
mentioned above. Man stands i n no predicament except that of
serving God; and this demands o f h i m positive, affirmative action
designed to remould himself and creation. Far from beginning
his life on earth w i t h a minus, man starts his life w i t h a definite
and significant phis. Islam entertains no ideal of fall, o f original
sin, or o f a predicament from w h i c h man may not extricate
himself by his own effort. Allah says i n His H o l y Book: 'We
have created man i n perfect form and breathed into h i m of Our
spirit/ The M u s l i m , therefore, does not look upon the n o n Muslim as a 'massa peceata, a fallen, hopeless creature, but as a
perfect man capable by h i m s e l f o f achieving the highest
righteousness. He recognizes i n h i m , as n o n - M u s l i m , not an
incomplete human being, bLit a perfect one, possessing high
dignity which belongs to h i m as man.
IS

16

17

(b) Ur-Religion or Religio Naturalis. CoLipled w i t h this dignity


is another o f even greater importance, namely, that the n o n M u s l i m possesses what Islam calls din al-fitrah or natural
religion. * This consists of the unerring discoveries o f the sensus
numinis by which man recognizes God as transcendent and holy,
and hence worthy of adoration. This is not a repetition o f man's
natural capacity to know through science. It is a new knowledge,
a knowledge o f the Holy, o f the numinous, o f God. This natural
vision o f God, or din al-fitrah, stands to be enriched by man's
other natural knowledge, i.e., the discoveries o f his theoretical
and axiological consciousness. Man's reason and sense o f value
stand ready to enlighten his sendee to God. B o t h faculties, the
numinous and the theoretical-axiological, belong to man by
virtue o f his humanity. As he grows older, the cumulative products
o f science and morals are his as shortcuts to certainty o f what the
divine imperative is. Islam reminds h i m , however, that dm al1

19

138

ISLAM AND OT11LR IA1T11S

fit rah, or religio naturalis, w h i c h Muslims and n o n - M u s l i m s


possess by birth, is always to be kept distinct from the religious
traditions of history. This distinction makes i t possible for h i m to
approach his or any religious tradition critically, yet religiously;
and i t constitutes a permanent source o f reform and creative
dynamism for the historical religion. What God has implanted
in human nature, namely the recognition o f His transcendence,
unity, holiness and Liltimate goodness is prior to any tradition.
Hence, din al-fitrah is, properly speaking, Ur-Religion, or original
religion. Its possession by every man, regardless o f the rehgious
tradition or culture i n which he was born or nursed, defines his
humanity and casts upon h i m a very special dignity. I t entitles
h i m to full membership i n the religious community o f man, the
universal brotherhood under G o d .
Islam calls this din al-fitrah or Ur-Religion, 'Islam'. It identifies
itself completely w i t h i t , subjects itself totally to its principles
and dictates. I n Islam's view, the h i s t o r i c a l religions are
outgrowths o f din al-fitrah, containing w i t h i n them differing
amounts or degrees o f i t . It explains their differences from din
al-fitrah as the accumulations, figurizations, interpretations or
transformations o f history, i.e., o f place, time, cLilture, leadership
and other particular conditions. Islam therefore agrees that all
religions are religions o f God, issuing from and based upon din
al-fitrah, and representing varying degrees o f acculturation or
attunement w i t h h i s t o r y I n a moment o f high vision, the
Prophet Muhammad said: ' A l l men are b o r n Muslims (in the
sense i n which Islam is equated w i t h dm al-fitrah): it is his parents
that christianize or judaizc h i m . ' I n the same sense, the H o l y
Q L i r ' a n named the adherents o f din al-fitrah hantfs and declared
the ancient prophets o f God to be hunafd' (pi. o f hanif), i.e.,
recipient o f revelation f r o m G o d c o n f i r m i n g their natural
religion or dm al-fitrah.
I n addition to the dignity conferred L i p o n h i m by his reason,
moral sense, and the sensus numinis, all o f which he shares equally
w i t h the Muslim, the non-Muslim enjoys the MLislim's respect
as carrier o f din al-fitrah, the religion o f God, as well as carrier of
his o w n religious tradition as one based on din al-fitrah. His
20

2 1

22

23

24

1$

139

>

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism is hence to


the Muslim, de jure, i.e., legitimate religion despite its divergence
from traditional Islam. Indeed, the Muslim welcomes the nonMuslim as his brother in faith, i n din al-fitrah, which is the more
basic and the more important. The Muslim as well as the nonM u s l i m are hence members o f one family, and their religious
differences are domestic, i.e., referrable to, and corrigible in
terms o f a common parental origin which is din al-fitrah.
(c) Innate World Ecumenism. Islam's discovery o f din al-fitrah
and its vision o f i t as the base of all historical religion is a breakthrough o f tremendous importance i n inter-religious relations.
For the first time it has become possible for an adherent o f one
religion to tell an adherent o f another religion: 'We are both
equal members o f a universal religious brotherhood. Both of
our traditional religions are de jure, for they have both issued
from and are based upon a common source, the religion o f God
which He has implanted equally i n both o f LIS, upon din al-fitrah *
Rather than seek to find OLit how much your religion agrees
w i t h mine, i f at all, let us both see how far both our religioLis
traditions agree w i t h din al-fitrah, the original and first religion.
Rather than assLime that each o f our religions is divine as it stands
today, let us both, cooperatively wherever possible, try to trace

the historical development o f OLir religions and determine precisely how and when and where each has followed and fiilfilled
or transcended and deviated from, din al-fitrah. Let us look into
otir holy w r i t and other religious texts and try to discover what
change has befallen them, or been reflected in them, i n history'
Islam's breakthrough is thus the first call to scholarship in religion, to critical analysis of religious texts, o f the claim o f such
texts to revelation status. It is the first call to the discipline o f
'history o f religion' because it was the first to assLime that relig i o n had a history, that each r e l i g i o n has undergone a
development w h i c h constitutes that history.
Islam pLits the lowest premium on the 'act o f faith', or selfidentification w i t h a religious tradition. Unlike Augustinian and
Lutheran Christianity which makes salvation a fiinction of faith
140

ISLAM AND OTHER I AITHS

n a assigns little or no value to works, Islam assigns to the


f e s s i o n o f faith the value o f a condition, only a condition.
Tjnlike the act o f faith i n Christianity, w h i c h is personal and
secret, works are public. Islam not only acclaims good works
wherever and by whomever they are done, i t regards them as
die only justification in the eye o f God and warns that not an
iota o f good work or o f mischief w i l l be lost on the Day o
Reckoning. The non-Muslim therefore has the public record o f
works he has done to justify h i m i n M u s l i m eyes; indeed, to
establish h i m as a man o f great piety and saintliness. For, i n Islam,
works earn merit w i t h God regardless o f the religious adherence
of their authors/ Moreover, salvation consists o f nothing more
than SLich merit as the good works earn. The act o f faith is itself
a work which is added and whose inclusion affects the whole.
B u t the hanif w h o has never heard o f the revelation o f
Muhammad, but who has observed din al-fitrah and done good
works, is as much saved and the occupant o f paradise as the one
who did, who believed and achieved identically the same record
of'good works'. Finally, i t must be remarked that the nature o f
'meritorious work' i n Islam has nothing to do w i t h sacraments
since Islam has none, or w i t h secret personal acts o f devotion
since all o f Islam's devotions are public and communal. Islam's
ethic being totally world-affirming, positive, of-the-world and
governed by public law, the non-Muslim has as much potential
and room for meritorious works as the M u s l i m . N o religion
allows its adherent to call the non-adherent a better adherent to
itself than the professed adherent, and do so religiously, except
Islam and, perhaps philosophical Buddhism, which has relatively
few adherents and no religious community anyway.
a

con

27

29

30

Theory of Society. Islam has defined the w i l l o f God, the


norms o f human conduct and ends o f human desire, i n terms o f
values w h i c h are societal. The ummah, or Islamic society, is
therefore a conditio sine qua non, necessary and indispensable
the Muslim is to achieve the divine imperative. This necessity
of society derives partly from Islam's world affirmation, and partly
f r o m its insistence that ethics is one o f action rather than
4.

31

141

ISLAM AND OTT1LR FAITHS

intention. Both o f these considerations reqLiire the MLislim to


engage himself i n the very fabric o f society and discourage nay, c o n d e m n i n d i v i d u a l i s m and i s o l a t i o n i s m . Islam
condemned monasticism as an Linfortunate invention o f some
Christians, not commanded by G o d . Islam demanded that
Islamic life take place i n the midst o f the roLigh and tumble of
village, city, state and community. The ummah, mrthermore, is
not a mystical body, but a concrete real and political body,
membership o f w h i c h cannot be exercised except i n the open
and under the vigilant eye o f public laws and institutions. This
being the case, one woLild t h i n k that the n o n - M u s l i m is a
'gentile' or 'goy w h o has no shadow o f a chance for admission
and w i t h w h o m no cooperation w i t h the ummah is possible.
In fact, the opposite is the case. We have already seen that
divine transcendence implies that all men are equally creaturely,
and hence, that nothing differentiates them from one another
except personal achievement. A l l men are thus equally the object
o f the Muslim's attention, care and actual salvific w o r k . The
Muslim cannot rest until all men have achieved the divine w i l l
to the full extent o f their personal abilities; until every inch o f
ground i n creation has been transformed by his effort into the
fullest possible actualization o f the divine pattern. The Muslim
is thus a world-missionary, a world-scoLit, a world-guardian and
a world-worker. H e not only calls men to God but carries them
there i f they are lethargic, for his life-purpose is to get them
there. O n l y strategy decides the priorities o f his conduct, the
nearer being always first entitled to his energies; but the most
distant being finally just as entitled to those energies as the
nearest. 'Umar ibn al-Khattab (c. 581-644) used to worry that
he, personally, woLild have no excuse before God on the Day o f
Jtidgement that an unrepaired pot-hole i n the pavement o f the
farthest village road may have caused a beast o f burden to fall
and injure itself. K n o w i n g human nattire for what i t is, Islam
stressed the importance o f the relative, the neighbour, the
compatriot, and commanded the M u s l i m never to forsake h i m
but to give h i m the first and most tender loving care. It even
legislated that care by fixing inheritance and alimony rights to
32

33

34

142

ISLAM AND OTIir.R FAITHS

the proven relative regardless o f real distance i n space or o f


biological descendence as long as he establishes absence o f a
p p o r t e r nearer to h i m i n either respect than the defendant.
The reality o f the forces o f nepotism, tribalism, ethnocentrism,
and nationalism i n human conduct is recognized, and a place i n
the general scheme is given them. Thus they are brought under
the law and are not allowed to dominate. Their w o r t h is a
deduction from the general relevance o f all men i n the Muslim's
scheme o f action. Indeed, Allah has condemned to eternal fire
the person who stops his concern and work at the frontier o f
n e i g h b o u r , relative, t r i b e s m a n , or c o m p a t r i o t . God's
transcendence implies the eqLiality o f all men; His divine mastery
sU

or lordship implies that all men should be the object o f t h


Muslim's love, concern and action.
While it is morally proper that nature everywhere should
the object o f the Muslim's remoulding and transformation, it is
morally insufficient that all men shotild be the object o f that
care. Certainly, a vast proportion o f humanity would benefit most
no more involvement i n the cosmic process than by being
the object o f the loving energies o f the Muslim cosmic worker.
But the moral sense o f man and the divine w i l l never be satisfied
by such involvement alone. Man is a moral subject. As such,
whatever happens to h i m is o f no moral w o r t h , despite its
utilitarian worth, unless i t happens by his own personal and free
decision. Ddr al-Islam (The House o f Islam) w i l l therefore seek
to envelop the world and to transform i t and mankind into a
perfect actualization o f the divine pattern or w i l l . But it w i l l be
morally o f little value unless mankind is called to the task and
35

convinced o f its moral and utilitarian value; unless mankind


freely decides to have the j o b done and participate i n i t , each
man to the full extent o f his capacities. This reqLiirement implies
that the non-Muslim shotild become an active participant i n the
engagement o f the Muslim in cosmic work.
The first condition Islam lays for such participation is that it
involve no coercion or compLilsion. To be itself, it ought to be
free. ' N o coercion in religion. VirtLie and wisdom are manifestly
different from vice and misguidance. Whoever rejects Evil and
143

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

believes i n God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold . . ! >


A responsible decision from every non-Muslim i n favoLir o f SLich
participation i n cosmic engagement and cooperation w i t h the
Muslim i n the work, is an absolute requirement. Its violation is
capital sin, besides being Islamically worthless, and earns for its
perpetrator eternal punishment. - N o M u s l i m , therefore, may
spread his faith or bring non-MLislims to j o i n i n his enterprise
by force.
Knowing the trickery o f interhuman relations and the wide
possibilities o f brainwashing, o f influencing decisions, and
pressuring htiman condtict, the H o l y Qur'an specified the means
o f persuasion to be used by the Muslims. ' A n d call men forth
unto the path o f our Lord by wisdom and argument yet more
soLind. Argue the caLise w i t h them (the non-Muslim) but w i t h
the more comely arguments.' * I f they are not convinced by these
methods, A l l a h commanded the M u s l i m to leave the n o n Muslims alone. Certainly, the Muslim is to try again and never
give up that Allah may guide the non-Muslim to the truth. I f he
is to change his tactics at all, i t is for the better, the better in
wisdom, i n truthfulness. The example o f his own life, his personal
e m b o d i m e n t o f the trLiths and values he professes should
constitute his final argument. I f the n o n - M u s l i m is still not
convinced, the M u s l i m is to strive after better embodiment of
Islamic truth and vahie i n his own life and leave the rest to God.
By God's commandment and under His sanctioning aLithority,
the M u s l i m is to b r i n g about world-order throLigh the free,
responsible and comely interchange o f ideas. The world is to be
turned into a seminar o f global scale, and the best idea, the
soundest argument, the noblest exemplification are to w i n the
hearts and minds o f men. This new world-order is not to be a
monolithic unity, even i f Islam, as the best idea, did w i n over the
majority. The majority; no matter how large or overwhemiing,
has no right to coerce even a single deviationist i n religion. If
that single non-Muslim adamantly refuses to accept the position
o f the majority, the latter is bound by Islamic law to honour his
judgement and to enable h i m to exercise his convictions, to
practise his faith, i n freedom and dignity.
y

39

144

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

M u c h as the M u s l i m hopes to w i n mankind for Islam, he


knows that many non-Muslims w i l l continue to resist. As long as
this resistance is ideational, the MLislim is bound to respect i t .
Once the resistance puts obstacles in the way of preaching, that
is, once it interfers in the free and responsible interchange o f
ideas to obstruct, SLibvert or stop it, then Islam prescribes that the
obstacle be removed by force. I f religious resistance picks up the
sword, then Islam prescribes that it be fought w i t h the same.
Armed resistance, it should be noted, is not merely resistance
to religious proposing w h i c h should not be countered except
by counter-proposing and, i f possible, a better argument. Here,
armed resistance means forceful opposition to the proposal that
religious differences be solved by argument, through persuasion
and discussion. I t is the sword drawn i n answer to a proposal o f
'let the best argument w i n ' . Certainly, i t deserves to be stopped
and broken by the sword. But the action should never have for
its purpose the coercion o f the resistance into Islam. Its aim is
no more and no less than stopping the violent action taken by
the non-Muslims. It should stop immediately upon the cessation
of their violence. The recourse to violence is justified only to
pLit an end to the violent obstruction, never to coerce the n o n Muslim into conversion to Islam. N o power may convert h i m to
Islam except himself. '
40

Islam prescribes the most tolerant modus vivendi for the


Muslims and non-MLislims l i v i n g under its aegis. Where the
MLislims are the dominant majority, or where the state is an
Islamic state, the non-Mtislims w h o agree to live w i t h the
Muslims in peace constitute an ummah, alongside the Muslims.
This t e r m 'ummah' used by the Prophet Muhammad, i n the
covenant o f M a d i n a h w i t h regard to its Jewish m i n o r i t y
population, means a society governed by its own law, carrying its
o w n p o l i t i c a l , economic, educational, j u d i c i a l , cultural and
religious institutions. Allah, the Prophet, the Islamic state and
the whole w o r l d - u m m a h o f Islam are their guarantors and
protectors. Their defence against external attack as well as any
internal encroachment whether by Muslims, non-Muslims, or
by their own members, is a duty imposed by God upon the
42

13

145

ISLAM AND

OTHER I AITLIS

Muslims. They are supposed to render the jizyah, a poll-tax that


is a far lesser economic and financial burden than the zakat
imposed upon Muslims, and are to live in virtual i n d e p e n d e n c e
from the Muslims except in matters o f security and prosperity
o f Ddr al-Isldm as a whole. Most important, however, is the
recognition not only that the non-Muslim is not to be coerced
or SLibversively influenced to convert, but that he is fully entitled
to pursue his non-MLislimness and pass it on to his descendants.
From the view o f any religion or -ism whose stand is not one of
scepticism, this is indeed the supreme and ultimate demand that
the foreigner can make. Islam fulfils it beautifully.
D.

The History

The above-mentioned lesson we learn from the essence of


Islam is not a fanciful projection o f a day-dreamer, o f a man
wishing for a felicitOLis inter-religious relationship. It is, rather,
the vision o f an actual movement i n history. It is a vision which
has been translated into directives for daily living and action,
crystallized p e r m a n e n t l y i n t o law (the Shari'ah), actually
observed by millions o f people, across fourteen centuries, i n
areas covering a wide and long belt o f the surface o f the earth.

In Makkah, before the existence o f the Islamic state, indeed


before the formation o f the MLislims into an organic ummah,
Islam declared itself a confirmation o f all previous revelations
and identified itself w i t h Judaism and Christianity/ ' But noticing
the baffling array o f doctrines, creeds and practices o f Jews and
1 1

Christians, Islam distingtiished between these phenomena of


history and the original Judaism and Christianity w h i c h God
gave to His prophets.* By its criticism o f the discrepancies and
contradictions, it incepted objective study of the history o f the
two religions, critical study of their scriptLires, the Torah and the
N e w Testament. I t recognized the divine base o f b o t h and
ascribed the historical growth to human effort, whether well or
ill-meaning. I t identified itself w i t h the religion o f Abraham,
Moses and Jesus and, before them, w i t h the religion o f Adam
and Noah. It rehabilitated the whole o f mankind religiously by
s

146

IST.AM AND OTHER FAITHS

2 a relwio naturalis innate i n all men; and related to

cogn-iz
j erri ail without exception by declaring itself as a claim to no
more than the content o f that primal, original, Ur-Religion, or gift
f God to every human being.
When Makkan persecution became unbearable for many o f
his followers, the Prophet ordered t h e m to seek refuge i n
Ethiopia, the Christian Kingdom, confident that the followers o f
Jesus Christ are moral, charitable and friendly, promoters o f the
worship o f G o d . His high regard for them was well placed. For
their C h r i s t i a n emperor rejected Makkah's demand f o r
extradition o f the Muslim refugees and acclaimed the Qur'anic
recognition o f the prophethood ofjesus, the innocence o f his
mother and the oneness o f God.
U p o n arrival i n Madinah, where the Prophet founded the
first Islamic state, the Jews were recognized as an autonomous
ummah w i t h i n the Islamic state. H e n c e f o r t h , Jewish law,
religion and institutions became a sacrosanct trust whose
protection, safe-keeping and perpetuation became a M u s l i m
responsibility imposed by the religion o f Islam itself. O n l y
questions o f external war and peace fell outside the jurisdiction
of the sovereign Jewish ummah and even on this level, the Islamic
state was n o t to act w i t h o u t shiird consulation w i t h all its
constituents, including the non-Muslims. Likewise, the Christian
Arabs o f Najran came to Madinah f o l l o w i n g the Prophet's
launching o f the new Islamic state to negotiate their o w n place
in the emerging society.The Prophet himself called them to Islam
and argued w i t h them at length w i t h all the eloquence at his
disposal. Some o f them converted; but the majority d i d n o t .
Muhammad nonetheless granted them the same autonomous
status accorded to the Jews, loaded them w i t h gifts, and sent them
home under the p r o t e c t i o n o f a M u s l i m bodyguard and a
Muslim statesman, M u a d h ibn Jabal, to organize their affairs,
solve their problems and serve their interests.
As the Muslims fanned out o f Arabia into Byzantium, Persia,
and India, large numbers o f Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians,
Hindus and Buddhists came under their dominion. The same
recognition granted to the Jews and Christians by the Prophet
in

re

16

47

18

49

147

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

personally was granted to every n o n - M u s l i m religious


community on the one condition o f their keeping the peace.
The case o f Jerusalem was the typos o f this M u s l i m tolerance
and good-will on the religious level as well as on the social and
cultural. The brief but illustrious charter reads:

50

I n the name o f God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. This


charter is granted by Umar, Servant o f Allah and Prince of
the Believers, to the people o f Aelia. He grants them security
for their persons and their properties, for their ctmrches
and their crosses, the little and the great, and for adherents
o f the Christian religion. Neither shall their churches be
dispossessed n o r w i l l they be destroyed, n o r t h e i r
substances or areas, nor t h e i r crosses or any o f their
properties, be reduced i n any manner. They shall not be
coerced i n any matter pertaining to their religion, and they
shall not be harmed. N o r w i l l any Jews be permitted to
live w i t h them in Aelia.
(

U p o n the people o f Aelia falls the obligation to pay the


jizyah; just as the people o f Mada'in (Persia) do, as well as
to evict from their midst the Byzantine army and the thieves.
Whoever o f these leaves Aelia w i l l be granted security o f
person and property u n t i l he reaches his destination.
Whoever decides to stay i n Aelia w i l l also be granted the
same and share w i t h the people o f Aelia, i n their rights and
the jizyah. The same applies to the people of Aelia as well
as to any other person. A n y o n e can march w i t h the
Byzantines, stay i n Aelia or return to his home country, and
has Lintil the harvesting o f the crops to decide. Allah attests
to the contents o f this treaty, and so do His Prophet, his
successors and the believers.
Signed: Umar ibn al-Khattab
c

Witnessed by: Khalid ibn al-Walid, A m r ibn al-'As, *Abd


al-Rahman ibn *Awf and M u 'awiyah ibn A b i Sufyan.
ExecLited i n the year 15 A H
c

51

148

IST.AM AND OTIILR hAlllIS

N o t h i n g is farther f r o m the t r u t h a n d m o r e i n i m i c a l to
jVluslini-non-Muslim relations than the claim that Islam spread
the sword. N o t h i n g c o u l d have been and still is more
by
condemnable to the Muslim than to coerce a non-Muslim into
Islam. As noted earlier, the Muslims have been the first to
condemn such action as mortal sin. O n this p o i n t , Thomas
Arnold, an English missionary i n the I n d i a n C i v i l Service o f
colonial days and no friend of Islam wrote:
. . . o f any organised attempt to force the acceptance o f Islam on the non-Muslim population, or o f any systematic
prosecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion,
we hear nothing. Had the caliphs chosen to adopt either
course o f action, they might have swept away Christianity
as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out o f Spain,
or Louis X I V made Protestantism penal i n France, or the
Jews were kept out o f England for 350 years. The Eastern
Churches in Asia were entirely cut o f f from communion
w i t h the rest o f Christendom throughout w h i c h no one
would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as
heretical communions. So that the very survival o f these
Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude o f the Muhammadan governments t o wards t h e m .
52

Compared w i t h the histories o f other religions, the history o f


Islam is categorically white as far as toleration o f other religions
is concerned. Fortunately, we have on record many witnesses
from those days o f M u s l i m conquest to w h o m we should be
very grateful for clearing up this matter once and for all. Michael
the Elder, Jacobite Patriarch o f Antioch, wrote in the second half
of the twelfth century: 'This is why the G o d o f vengeance . . .
beholding the wickedness o f the Romans w h o , throughout their
dominions, cruelly plundered our churches and our monasteries
and condemned us without pity brought from the region o f
the south the sons o f Ishmael, to deliver us through them from
the hands o f the Romans.' Barhebraeus (1226-86) is author of
an equally powerful witness i n favour o f Islam. Ricoldus de
53

54

149

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

Monte Crucis, a Dominican monk from Florence who visited the


Muslim East about 1300 C E , gave an equally eloquent witness of
tolerance - nay, friendship - to the Christians. A n d yet, i f the
Muslims were so tolerant, the Christian persistently asks, why did
his co-religionists flock to Islam by the millions? O f these co~
religionists, the Arabs were the smallest minority. The rest were
Hellenes, Persians, Egyptians, Cyrenaicans, Berbers, Cypriots, and
Caucasians. Canon Taylor once explained i t beaLitiftilly at a
Church Congress held at Wolverhampton. He said:
55

It is easy to understand why this reformed Judaism (sid)


spread so swiftly over Africa and Asia. The African and
Syrian doctors (sic) had substittited abstruse metaphysical
dogmas for the religion o f Christ: they tried to combat the
licentiousness o f the age by setting forth the celestial merit
o f celibacy and the angelic excellence o f v i r g i n i t y seclusion from the world was the road o f holiness, dirt was
the characteristic o f monkish sanctity the people were
practically polytheists, worshipping a crowd o f martyrs, saints
and angels; the upper classes were effeminate and corrupt,
the middle classes oppressed by taxation, the slaves without
hope for the present or the future. As w i t h the bosom of
G o d , Islam swept away this mass o f c o r r u p t i o n and
SLiperstition. I t was a revolt against empty theological
polemics; it was a masculine protest against the exaltation
o f celibacy as a c r o w n o f piety. I t b r o u g h t o u t the
fundamental dogmas o f religion the unity and greatness
of God, that He is merciful and righteous, that He claims
obedience to His w i l l , resignation and faith. It proclaimed
the responsibility o f man, a future life, a day o f judgement,
and stern retribution to fall upon the wicked; and enforced
the duties of prayer, almsgiving, fasting and benevolence. It
thrust aside the artificial virtues, the religious frauds and
follies, the perverted moral sentiments, and the verbal
subtleties o f theological disputants. It replaced monkishness
by manliness. I t gave hope to the slave, brotherhood to
m a n k i n d , and recognition to the fundamental facts of
human nature.
50

150

ISLAM AND OTHLR FAITHS

T h e Basis for Inter-Religious Cooperation:


Islamic Humanism
JJJ

This brilliant theory o f the other faiths presented by Islam is


unmatched and unmatchable. W h i l e Vatican I I has i n a
ndescending
and
p
a
t
e
r
n
a
l
i
z
i
n
g
m
a
n
n
e
r
decreed
t
w
e
n
t
y
co
centuries after Jesus, that Judaism is religiously acceptable as a
aratio
f
o
r
C
h
r
i
s
t
i
a
n
i
t
y
,
and
f
o
u
r
t
e
e
n
centtiries
after
prep
M u h a m m a d , that Islam is a t o l e r a b l e a p p r o x i m a t i o n o f
Christianity, i t asserted that outside the R o m a n Catholic Church
no salvation is possible, thus withdrawing w i t h one hand what it
ranted
w
i
t
h
the
other.
That
no
one
w
i
l
l
be
saved
unless
he
is
a
g
member o f the Catholic Church o f R o m e consigns to eternal
damnation n o t only the Muslims a n d the Jews b u t all the
Protestant Christians as well. As to Protestantism, we have still
heard nothing regarding Islam except rumours and hearsay from
individuals. T h e W o r l d C o u n c i l o f Churches has so far n o t
spoken on these issues. Indeed, i t even turned d o w n Libya's
invitation to j o i n the Islamic-Christian dialogue ofTripoli (1976).
Apparently, i t participates only i n dialogues held under itso w n
auspices. Previously, the W C C did hold its o w n dialogue sessions
with Islam (Bhamdun, Brummana, H o n g Kong, etc.) but under
its o w n terms and w i t h M u s l i m representatives o f its o w n
choosing.
Judaism and Hinduism are ethnocentric religions by nature.
In modern times, they have become more ethnocentric than
ever. Their rehgious exclusivism is incompatible w i t h dialogue
with the other world religions. But their traditions are not devoid
of strands favourable to ecumenism and encouraging to dialogue.
An ethical monotheistic Judaism, b o r n i n the Middle Ages under
the aegis o f Islamic philosophy, culture, and mysticism has gained
strength since the Emancipation, under the influence o f the
Enlightenment and o f Western h u m a n i s m . B u t i t has been
severely weakened i n recent times b y Z i o n i s m , w h i c h is the
archetype o f ethnocentric exclusivism. Likewise, Hindus have
^course to an established tradition o f philosophical Hinduism
h i c h provides ample r o o m for inter-religious dialogue and

151

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

human fellowship. Both these tendencies in jLidaisrn


and Hinduism deserve encouragement.
Islam's theory o f other faiths, backed by the experience of
fourteen centuries, still commands the loyalty and support of a
billion Muslims around the world. I t provides us w i t h the best
foLindation for a religioLis world-ecumene i n which the religions
honour one another's claims w i t h o u t denying their own. I t also
provides LIS w i t h the only legitimate foundation for seeking the
rehgious unity o f mankind. I f inter-religioLis dialogue is to move
beyond the exchange o f information and courtesies, it has to
have a religious n o r m in terms o f w h i c h it can compose the
differences between the religions. This religioLis n o r m must be
common to die dialoguing parties. Islam finds this n o r m i n din
al-fitrah. I t is also essential that the dialoguing parties feel a
Liniversalist

measure o f freedom vis-a-vis their historical religious traditions.


N o idea is more conducive to SLich freedom than Islam's
stiggestion that the religious tradition is a hLtman outgrowth from
primal din al-fitrah. I t was this Islamic idea w h i c h incepted in
history the academic study o f r e l i g i o n i n v o l v i n g a critical
assessment of the historical authenticity of the rehgious traditions
o f m a n k i n d , o f their h o l y texts, traditions and practices.
Scholarship i n religion, i.e., critical analysis o f texts and history,
has begun i n the West i n the Enlightenment. Islamic scholarship
i n religion is a whole millennium older, and has an advantage
over the most advanced scholarship o f today, namely, that its stand
is not one o f scepticism. T h e sceptic may ask questions in
religion; btit he may not answer them.
The Islamic theory is particLilarly strong as regards Judaism
and Christianity w h i c h it treats not as 'other religions' bLit as
itself. Its recognition o f the God o f Judaism and o f Christianity
as its God, o f their prophets as its prophets, and its commitment
to the divine invitation to the People o f the Book to cooperate
and live together under God constitute the first and only real
step towards religioLis Linity o f two world religions ever made.
An Abrahamic unity o f Judaism, Christianity and Islam based on
the Hanifi religion o f Abraham, the dm al-fitrah, is a real possibility.
It did i n fact exist in the Muslim world until Western imperialism,
152

ISLAM AND O l l l L K FAITHS

l o n i a l i and Zionism came to subvert it. Their effort, however,


has been i n vain. The Muslim w i l l continue to believe i n and
-ork
f

*
y
>
confident
that
his
God
W
h
o
m
he
knows
to
wor^ ^
.
he one as truth is one and the moral law is one, cannot but
desire one religion, to be entered into by all men freely and
deliberately, because it is itself when it is the resLilt of personal
onviction,
not
o
f
a
blind
wager
a
la
Pascal,
but
a
certainty
reached
c
after a critical weighing of all the options, o f all the evidence. I n
following up this ideal, nothing could be more worthwhile to
the Muslim to subsidize and to promote whether i n the M u s l i m
world, or the non-Muslim world, than the comparative study o f
s m

tLl

u r a t

religion.
The Islamic stand toward the other faiths thus combines three
crucial distinctions: Firstly, i t is not only tolerant, but assumes
the Holy o f the other religions to be Holy, their prophets to
prophets o f God and their revelations to come f r o m G o d .
Tolerance implies dualism and a basic difference between the
subject and object o f tolerance. Islam does away w i t h the basic
difference as it eliminates the dualism itself. It identifies itself
with Judaism and Christianity and enjoins upon its adherents at
least as much, i f not more, religious respect and devotion to the
Prophets and revelations o f Judaism and Christianity. N o religion
preserved the shrines o f another i n its o w n base, and indeed
enabled them to prosper i n its midst, except Islam. A n d no
tolerance whatever has ever reached the point o f enforcing the
other religions' laws i n its own territory, except in Islam. Nay
m o r e , no r e l i g i o n has ever c o u n t e n a n c e d , or can ever
countenance, teaching its own adherents as well as having them
enforce the idea that it is part o f their religion, and hence their
religious obligation, to enforce the observance o f the other
religions' laws as long as their adherents live i n their midst. A n d
only i n the Muslim w o r l d and under an Islamic government
woLild it be true to say that neither Jew nor Christian is free to
de-Judaize or de-Christianize himself in rebellion against or i n
defiance o f his own religious authority.
Secondly, the Islamic stand toward the other faiths, having
broLight all faiths under a single r o o f or din al-fitrah, satisfies the
153

ISLAM AND OTIIIiR FAITHS

c o n d i t i o n for constructive dialogLie and inter-relation.


Under i t , all differences between the religions are domestic
family squabbles. C r i t i c i s m , argument and counter-argument
nuitLially affect all the members on a c c o L i n t o f this organic
relationship in w h i c h Islam has bound them to one another. Such
criticism across the lines of varioLis religions is broLight forth by
constituent members concerned aboLit the total system w h i c h
hoLises, includes and Linites them. Unless the religions become
conscious o f and emphasize this common bond, they may never
be able to meet and surmount their present difficulties. Besides
this advantage, the Islamic stand furnishes the religions w i t h the
g r o u n d w o r k necessary for an effective purge, a creatively
constructive reform o f their own traditions. Given din al-fitrah or
the first prestippositions o f human religiosity, any religious
tradition should be able to face the strongest criticism without
fear. For its ultimate concerns, namely God, the purposiveness
o f existence, the real possibility o f salvation and the final
redressing o f the balance o f happiness all these are safeguarded.
Scepticism i n epistemology and metaphysics or cynicism in
ethics, value-theory and religion, cannot be silenced by the
religioLis authoritarianism o f an ex cathedra pronouncement, or
o f a dogmatic assertion. Only reason and experience can do so.
That is what the Islamic stand offers us. Islamic rationalism has
indeed achieved what the Enlightenment and its followers in
the West have failed to do; namely, to absorb the criticism o f the
sceptics the empiricists and romantics o f the nineteenth c e n t u r y
- and so press f o r t h creatively and critically for a rational
atithentication o f the religious traditions, a rational validation ot
their diverse claims. SLICII scholarship is not an idle wish. It is a
genuine hope stemming from a religious conviction which l o o k s
upon creation w i t h the eyes o f the most fastidious and critical
science and exclaims: O Lord, You have not created all this in
vain, i n sport!
only

57

Thirdly and finally, the Islamic stand toward the other faiths
constitutes a new humanism because it is founded on a n e w
faith i n man. Mans nature is being badly abused i n the w o r l d
today. Having lost the battle o f establishing man as a lump of s i n ,
154

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

tttassa peccata, Christianity has practically given Lip contending


in the matter o f the nature o f man. Scepticism, ethnocentric
particularism and materialism divide the field o f the theory o f
nian. W h i l e materialism defines man as little more than teeth,
hands and stomach, nationalist madness declares h i m a Jew, or a
German to the exclusion o f all other men. I n the meantime,
scepticism stands by and mocks at man and his crucifiers. I t is no
wonder that the serious among Westerners are all sceptics. For
scepticism is the most rational o f the three stands prevalent i n
a

the West.
Islam's din al-fitrah is the only idea capable o f pulling Western
man out o f his predicament and launching h i m on a dynamic
and creative road to self-fulfilment. As i t d i d for the ancient
Mesopotamian, din al-fitrah can do for man today: i t gives h i m
the w o r l d to reknead and remould i n the service o f God. To
serve God is hence to create culture and civilization. B u t this is
none other than to attain the highest possible self-fulfilment.

Notes
I.

Controversies have arisen, as chey certainly may, in the interpretation of

the Qur'anic text.What is being affirmed here is the fact that the Qur'anic text is
not bedevilled by a herrneneutical problem. Differences of interpretation are
apodictically soluble in terms of the very same categories of understanding in
force at the time of revelation of the text (611-3

of

because of the freezing of the language and the daily intercourse of


millions of people with it and with the text of the Holy Qur'an.
Except Wilfred C . Smith ('The Meaning and End of Religion, New York:Thc

M acmillan C o . , T962) who did so on the basis of a Heraclitean metaphysic of


change. His theorv has been analyzed bv this author in T h e Essence of Religious
Experience in Islam*, !\hiinen,Vo\. X X , Fasc. 3, pp. 186-201. [See Chapter One of
tr
"s book.
68

3-

al-Baqarah 2: 30; Al-An'am

6:165; Yunus TO: 14,73; al-Fdtir 35: 39; al-A *raf 7:

> 73; al-Naml 27: 62.


45

1 3.

Deuteronomy 6: 6 - 8 ; 9: 5-6. Hosea I , 2.

Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 285; al-'/Alal 9 9 : 6 - 8 ; al-Qdri'ah

155

101:6-11: al-\4sr

TO^

ISLAM A N D OTHTiR FAITHS

6.

Qur'an, al-Tdtir 35: 24. See also al-Nahl 16: 84, 89.

7.

Qur'an, al-Nahl 16: 36.

'To every people We sent a prophet-guide' (Qur'an, al-R 'ad 13:7);'We sent
every prophet that guidance may be conveyed in his people's own tongue . . ;
8.

(Ibrahim 14: 4).

9 'We would pronounce no judgement until after We had sent a prophet'


(Qur'an, al-lsra" 17: T5).
'Those who know and those who do not, are they ever equal?' (Qur'an, alZumar 39: 9). 'Nor are they equal, the blind and the man of vision, darkness and
enlightenment, that which is shaded and that which is in full light' (al-Tdtir 35:19).
'Read! For your Lord is the more generous. He it is Who taught man use of the
pen; Who taught man that of which man had no knowledge' (al-'Alaq 96: 3-5).
10.

'Every thing We have created, We gave it its pattern' (Qur'an, al-Qamar 54:
4 9 ) ; ' H e created everything and gave it its measure' (al-Furqdn 25: 2);'To every
creature God has assigned a pattern' (al-Taldq 65: 3).
11.

12. ' T h e power to determine everything on earth and in heaven is His'


(Qur'an, al-Shurd 42: 12);'God is He Whose will is always fulfilled' (Iliid 11:
107; al-Buruj 85: 16);'Doer of all that H e intends' (al-Buruj 85; 16);'God's will
or commandment will always be fulfilled' (al-Nisd' 4: 47; al-Ahzab 33: 37; alAnjal 8: 42).

13. 'All that is on earth and in heaven praises God; He is the Almighty, the
Wise' (al-Hadid 57: i);'To God give praise the seven heavens and the earth, all that
is in them and all that exists.You do not perceive their praise" (al-lsra' 17:44). See
also al-Nur 24; 41; al-Hashr 59: 24; al-Jumu*ah 62: 1; al-'laghabiin 64: 1).
14. 'We have created neither mankind nor the jinn except to serve Me*
(Qur'an, al-Dhariyat 51: 56).'O men, serve Allah. For it is He Who created yon' (alBaqarah 2: 21);'We have sent no prophet but we have revealed to him that there is
no God but Me.Therefore, Serve Me' (al-Anbiya' 21:25). Sec also al-An'dm 6:102;
Yunus 10: y,Al

Tmran 3: 79; al-Mu'minun

23: 32.

15. 'Praise the name of your Lord on high, Who created everything in the best
of forms' (Qur'an, al-A 'la 87: 1-2);'Would you not believe in Him W h o created
you from dust, then made you flesh, then perfected you into a man?' (al-Kahf iS:
37);'0 man, what confuses you about your generous Lord? Who created you,Who
endowed you completely W h o made you straight and perfect? He could have
created you in different form . . . ' (al-Injltar 82: 68).
16. Unlike the Bible, the Qur'an tells us that Adam did indeed commit a
misdemeanour by eating of the tree which God forbade. But it also tells us that

156

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS


y\.dam repented, and his repentance was accepted (al-Baqarah 2: 35-7; Ta Ha 20:
j 15-22). Furthermore, Islam upholds the principle of personal responsibility
absolutely, and rejects every shade of vicarious guilt or merit. 'No soul may
carry the burden of another; nobody may assume the guilt of another however
closely related he may be' (al-Fatir 35: 18).'Whoever does a good deed, that will
be reckoned only unto him; and whoever does a bad deed, against him' (alJathiyah 45-15)
17.

at-Hijr 15: 29; Sad 38: 72; al-Anbiya'

21: 91; al-Tahrhn 66: 12.

18.

'Lift up your face toward the religion, like a hanTf. That is the natural

igion
with
which
Allah
has
endowed
all
men
at
their
creation.
N
o
exception
or
re
hange
befalls.
Allah's
creation'
(Qur'an,
al-Rum
30:
30).
c
19.

'As far as religion is concerned, God has instituted for you the same

religion which He had instituted for Noah, this and what has been revealed to you
Muhammad being one. It is the same which We have revealed to Ibrahim, to
Moses, to Jesus. Observe therefore the religion: and do not divide yourselves'
(Qur'an, al-Shurd 42: 13). 'Felicitous are those who believe in God and all His
prophets without distinguishing between them' (al-Nisd'

4: 152). 'How many

prophets did We send to those that went before y o u ! , . .We sent no prophet before
you (Muhammad) but We have revealed to him that there is no God but Allah;
that service is due H i m ' (Zukhruf43:

6; al-Anbiya'

21: 25).'God has revealed this

Book to you Muhammad, in truth, in confirmation of previous revelations; for it


is He Who revealed the Torah and the Evangel' (Al Tmran 3:3).
20.

'WithAllah, the religion is Islam' (Qur'an, Al Tmran 3: T9).

21.

'With Allah, the relig

Those to whom revelation was sent

before you did not disagree with the religion except after some of them claimed
their own illusions to be genuine knowledge of religion' (Qur'an, Al Tmran 3:19).
2.2.

'Allah has sent the prophets to proclaim (the religion) and to warn. He

revealed to them the Book in truth to put an end to their disputes in religion,
disputes which did not arise until their false claims had intermingled among them'
(Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 213). See also al-Ma'idah
2

3-

5: 14.

Those who were given the Book did not disagree among themselves

concerning religion except after their introduction to what they thought to bc


c

vident information (which was far from being the case). For they were never

asked to worship but Allah and to serve H i m sincerely in (id/iff spirit (in the spirit
f natural religion); that is to observe the prayer, and to pay the zakdt.That
tr

" e religion' (Qur'an, al-Bayyinah 98: 4 - 5 ) .


2

4-

A popular tradition reported by all traditionalists.

157

is the

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS


25.

Qur'an, al-Baqarah

2:135; Al Tmran 3:67,95; al-Nisa'

79, T6I; Yunus 10: 105; al-Nahl

16: 120, 123; al-Hajj

4: 123; al-An'am

6:

22: 31.

26. 'Say, O People of the Book! Come now to agreement with us, based on a
fair principle common to both, namely, that we shall all worship none but Allah;
that they shall never associate any other with Him; that we shall never take one
another as lords beside Allah' (Qur'an, AI Tmran 3:64).
27. 'Those who have believed, the Jews, the Christians, the Sabaeans - all
those who believe in Allah and in the Day ofJudgement, and do the good works,
their reward is surely with their Lord. No fear shall befall them; nor shall thcv
grieve' (Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 62).
28. 'Religious goodness does not consist in your ritual worship, turning your
faces towards the East or towards the West. Rather, it consists in believing in Allah,
in the Day ofJudgement, in His Angels, Books and Prophets, as well as in sharing
one's wealth, for His sake, with the relative, the orphan, the destitute, the wayfarer;
in spending it for the ransom of those who are not free; as well as in observing the
prayers, paying the zakat, fulfilling one s contracts and promises, in holding firm in
good times and ill times, or under constraint; in being always truthful. Those arc
the truly felicitous' (Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 177).
29.

See notes 27, 28 above.

Wing-tsit Chan, et al., The Great Asian Religions (NcwYork:The Macmillan


Co., T969), pp. 348-58. For specific social values of Islamic rituals, see Qur'an, al'Ankahut 29: 45 for prayer, and al-Hajj 22: 28 for pilgrimage.
30.

31.

'Let there bc of you an ummah which calls men to the good, enjoins the

good deeds, forbids die evil. Such would be die felicitous' (Qur'an, Al Tmran 3 : 1 0 4 ) .

32. 'Those who have done injustice to themselves; when they are asked
" W h y is your condition so miserable?" they answer:"Our weakness was exploited
by our enemies/'Then will they be told: "Isn't the earth of Allah large enough?
Why then didn't you emigrate and get out from under your yoke?" Such people
will have the eternal fire as their abode. Theirs will be a sad fate, except the

impotent among men, women and children, who are utterly incapable of means ot
action' (Qur'an, al-Nisd' 4: 9 7 - 8 ) .
33. 'We have sent to them O u r prophets. We sent Jesus, Son of Mary, and
revealed to him the Evangel. We endowed the hearts of his followers with
compassion and mercy. But monkery We did not prescribe to them. They
invented i t . . . ' (Qur'an, al-Hadid 57:27).
34.

Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 82, 177; al-Nisa' 4: 7, 36; al-Anfdl 8: 41; al-Nahl

90; al-Isrd' 17: 26; al-Nur 24: 22; al-Rum 30: 38; al-Shurd 42: 23.

158

ISLAM AND O T H E R FAITHS

3 5

Nisd" 4

Qur'an, Saba' 34: 28; Al Tmran 3:110; al-Baqarah 2: 143; al-Hajj 22:78; al35-

36.

Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 256.

37.

Qur'an, Yum** 10:99.

38.

Qur'an, al-Nahl 16: T25.

39.

Qur'an, / ! / Tmran 3:176-7; Muhammad 47: 32.

40.

Qur'an, Muhammad 47: 4; al-Anfdl 8: 62;

41.

Qur'an, al-Ra^d 13: 12; al-Anfdl 8: 54.

42.

The 'Covenant of Madinah' was the constitution of the first Islamic state.

VH/W* * O : 99; al-Baqarah

2: 256

It was dictated and enacted by the Prophet in the fast week following his
emigration from Makkah to Madinah. For the full text, see Ibn Hisham, Sirat Rastll
Allah, tr. by Alfred Guillaume under the title Vie Life of Muhammad

(London:

Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 231-4.


43.

Ibid.

44.

Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 97; Al Tmran 3: 3; al-Md'i^h

45-

Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 79, 101; Al Tmran 3: 23, ^4~5 70-1, 78, 9 8 - 9 ; al-

Nisd' 4: 50,78; al-Md'idah

5: 15, 51; al-A'raf

46,

A. Guillaumc, op. cit., pp. 146-54.

47-

Ibid.,pp.

5- 4&; al-Anam

6: 92

7:169.

150-T.The event has been confirmed by revelation of

al-Md'idah

5: 83-5.

48.

A. Guillaume, op. cit., pp. T46 ff.

49^

Ibid., pp. 270-7. Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, tr. by

al-Faruqi (IndianapolisiThe North American Islamic Trust, 1976), pp. 477 ff.
Muhammad AU bin Hamid ibn Abi Bakr al-Kufi\ Shah

50.

Namah:Tarlkh-i-

Hind wa Sind, tr. A . M . Elliott, in The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians

(Allahabad: Kitab Mahal Private Ltd., n.d.),Vol. I, pp. 184-7.


Quoted in Alistair Duncan, The Noble Sanctuary

51Gr

(London: Longman

o u p Limited, 1972), p. 22. Also Thomas W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam: A

history

f the Propagation of the Muslim

P - 1896), pp.
ub

Faith (Lahore: S h . M . Ashraf, 1961, first

6-7-

159

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS


52.

Thomas Arnold, op. cit., p. 80.

Michael die Elder, Chronique de Michel le Syrien, Patri arch eJacobite d'Amiochc
(1166-99), ed. J.13. Chabot (Paris, 1899-1901), Vol. I I , pp. 412-13. Quoted in
53.

Arnold, op. cit., p. 55.


54.

Gregorii Barhebraei, Chronicoti Ecclesiasticum, cd. J.B. Abbeloos and T.J.

Lamy (Louvain, T872-77), p. 474.


55.
Neslorini

Et ego invent per antiquas historias el autenticas aput Saracenos, quod ipsi
amici fuerunt

Mochometi

et confederate cum eo, et quod ipsi

mandauit suis posteris, quod Nestorinos

maxime

conseruarent. Quod

Machometus
unique

diligenter observant ipsi Saraceni (Laurent,J.CM,, Peregrinatores MediiAevi

Lipsiae, 1864, p. 128).


56.

Quoted by Arnold, op. cit., pp. 71-2.

57.

Qur'an, Al Tmran 3: 191; al-Mu'minun

23: 115.

hodie

Quatuor,

C H A P T E R SIX

History of Religions: Its Nature


and Significance for Christian

Education and the Muslim


Christian
.

Dialogue

T h e Nature of History of Religions

History o f religions is an academic pursuit composed o f three


disciplines: Reportage, or the collection o f data; Construction o f
meaning-wholes, or the systematization o f data; and Judgement,
or Evaluation, o f meaning-wholes.
1

i.

Reportage or the Collection of Data

History o f religions has known two influences w h i c h sought


to reduce its jurisdiction by limiting the data which constitute
its subject matter: One was the attempt to re-define the religious
A lecture delivered to the faculty of the Divinity School of the University of
Chicago, on 30 April, 1964, during the author's residence as guest-researcher at the
Institution. Professor Bernard E . Meland, Professor of Constructive Theology, and
Professor Charles H . L0112;, Professor of History of Religions, read critical res
ponses.The response of the former appears at the end of this article. That of the
latter, consisting largely of notes, appears in endnotes appended to the article
where relevant.
Published in NumenMoL

X I I (1965), pp. 35-65, and continued in the next issue

f Numeti, pp. 8T95.


I6l

TSLAM AND OTHER LAITHS

datum in a restricted and narrow manner; and the other was an


isolationist policy observed vi$-c\-vis Judaism, Christianity and
Islam.
A. The attempt to limit the jurisdiction o f history o f religions
by giving the religious datum a narrow definition developed
theories which have tried to isolate the religioLis element and to
identify it in terms of 'the religioLis','the holy*, 'the sacred'. The
problem these theories faced was primarily the reductionist's
analysis o f the religioLis phenomenon into something else that
lends itself more readily to his kind o f investigation. O n the history
o f religions, this well-intended movement had the effect o f limiting
the scope o f the investigation. I f the religious is a unique,
irreducible and identifiable element i n human life, the rehgious
discipline shoLild aim at it first and last. The other elements of
which human life is stipposedly composed may be the objects o f
other disciplines and they may be studied by the history o f
religions only as re lata affecting or affected by the uniquely religious
element. Among historians o f religions i n the West, where the act
o f faith has been held to consist in die confrontation o f the person
w i t h God i n his most personal moment when everything o r
almost everything that is non-self has been detached from
conscioLisness, the discovery of'the religious' as a unique element
fell on fertile ears and was taken as a matter of course, Today,
fortunately, the relevance o f God (may He be Glorified and
Exalted) to every aspect and element o f space-time is being
rediscovered by Western Christendom, and the repudiation of an
isolated Linique rehgious holy or sacred is being prepared for. I n
its place, the religioLisness o f everything is being discovered, a
religiousness which does not consist i n the tilings being a mere
relation. For a century the Christian theologian has been talking
of the whole act of the person as social and not merely o f his
personal act, as constitLitive o f the rehgious; and more recendy, of
a Christian 'style of living i n an attempt to sacralize the whole of
life. Islam has for centuries been teaching the religioLisness o f all
space-time, of all life.
N o t only the personal act o f faith, nor the social act, nor the
whole o f space-time and life as relata, but the whole of life and
2

162

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: TTS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

space-time as such constitute the data o f history o f religions.


History o f religions studies every human act because every act is
an integral part o f the religious complexLis. R e l i g i o n itself,
however, is not an act (the act o f faith, or encounter w i t h God, or
of participation), but a dimension o f every act. It is not a thing;
but a perspective w i t h w h i c h everything is invested. I t is the
highest and most i m p o r t a n t dimension; for i t alone takes
cognizance o f the act as personal, as standing within the religiocultural context i n which it has taken place, as well as within the
total context o f space-time.- For i t , the act inchides all the inner
determinations o f the person as well as all its effects i n spacetime. A n d it is this relation o f the whole act to the whole spacetime that constitutes the religious dimension. Everything then is
subject matter for the history o f rehgions.The cultic and dogmatic
have too long monopolized without challenge the definition o f
the religious; and the addition o f the scriptural, o f the theory o f
origin and destiny o f man and cosmos, o f the moral and o f the
aesthetic, and finally, o f ' t h e sacred' or 'the holy' is certainly not
enough. Every human act is rehgious i n that i t involves the inner
person, the member o f society, and the whole cosmos all at once,
and all being, whether the so-called 'sacred' or the so-called
'profane', is the 'religious'. I t was an impoverishment o f the realm
of the religious to limit i t , as it were, to a Linique act o f man, to a
unique a s p e c t o f his life, or to the sacred as opposed to the
profane. The first two views are not compatible w i t h otir modern
field theory o f meaning, o f value or o f caLisation, where the
p a r t i c L i l a r is not a unique element, b L i t a point in s p a c e - t i m e at
which they converge and from which diverge an infinite number
of elements i n all directions. The tliird denies half and more o f
the realities o f the religioLis experience o f mankind.
This restoration to the religious o f its universal scope and
relevance widens the horizons o f the history o f religions.
Henceforth, it should include every branch o f human knowledge
and pursuit. For its purposes, mankind may still bc divided into
Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and others, b L i t the
whole history, cultLire and civilization o f the Christians, the
Buddhists, the Hindus, the Muslims, etc. should bc its object.
1

163

ISLAM AND OTHliR FAITHS

B. T h e history o f religions had its j u r i s d i c t i o n further


curtailed i n another d i r e c t i o n . W h i l e , theoretically, i t was
supposed to be a history o f all rehgions, it turned out to be in
reality, a history o f 'Asiatic' and 'prinutive' religions on the one
hand, and o f the extinct religions o f antiquity on the other. By
far the overwhelming majority o f the literature o f the library o f
h i s t o r y o f religions has been devoted to t h e m . Judaism,
Christianity and Islam always managed somehow to escape. This
is not to plead that one group o f materials is better, richer or
more important than another. Primitive and ancient religions
may very well hold for us many great lessons. Btit they are far
more impenetrable than the other groLip because o f obstacles of
language, o f remoteness o f time, o f wide difference between
their categories and ours. The trLith that cannot be denied here
is that the comparativist has so far found the remoteness of
primitive and ancient religions far more reassuring than the
explosive character o f the living world religions. Hence, he has
been far bolder to collect the data o f the former, to systematize,
generalize aboLit and judge them than the latter. He seems to
have shied away, whether i n awe or i n panic, from handling the
data o f the living religions.
5

i.

The Case of Islam

Islam had for a long time been engaged w i t h the West i n a hot
colonialist war. T h e Islamic states bore the b r u n t o f most
European expansion i n the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Islam was too 'hot' to handle w i t h a cool presence o f mind and
was allowed to become a sLibject for the missionaries to sttidy in
reconnoitreing the infidels' field. W i t h the development o f the
discipline, Islamics, a fair portion o f this reconnaissance work
passed on to secular hands. BLit these were more interested i n
helping the colonial office at home than i n the discovery and
establishment o f truth. W i t h the decline o f the age o f colonialism,
an autonomous Islamics discipline came to life and, Lising the
pioneering works o f the previous generations o f Islamists and
the popularized mastery o f the Islamic languages, Western
164

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

k n o w l e d g e o f Islam developed very rapidly. A l l these


considerations discouraged the serious student o f comparative
religion f r o m studying Islam. W h i l e i n the earlier stages the
Western comparativist was a missionary and as such disqualified
from the study o f the Islamic religio-culture, i n the later stage
(namely the stage o f the secular Islamics discipline), he has been
totally eclipsed by Goldziher (1850-1921), Schacht (1877-1970),
Gibb (1895-1971), Arberry (1905-69) and men o f like stature. So
little is the Western historian o f religions nowadays equipped i n
Islamics that that discipline, to which he has hardly contributed
anything, does not seem to need h i m . Even today, no historian
of religions proper has had anytliing to say that would catch the
attention o f the men o f knowledge i n the Islamics field. A t the
root o f this shortcoming stands the fact that Islam was never
regarded as an integral part o f the subject matter o f history o f
religions.
ii.

The Case

offudaism

While the persistent witness o f jLidaism against Christ aroused


fierce hatred and anti-Semitism, its close parental relation to
Christianity accounted not only for the warmest admiration, but
for Christianity's self-identification w i t h the Hebrews o f antiqLiity.
As a result, the Christian mind was always confused regarding
the phenomenon o f Judaism as a whole. I t soLight clarity by
dividing that phenomenon into two halves, 'Before Christ* and
* After Christ*. Intellectually, and hence doctrinally, the latter half
was a constant source o f embarrassment and the ready solution
that presented itself was to obliterate i t , i f not from the world,
then from one s own mind. The former half became the object
of O l d Testament criticism; but this was never regarded as a
branch o f the comparative study o f religion; that is to say, it was
never treated independently o f the categories o f Christianity.
Even where, as i n Sigmund Mowinckels The Psalms in Israels
Worship (tr. R.A.P. Thomas, Oxford, Blackwell, 1962), the whole
p u r p o r t o f the study is, rather than 'Gattungsgeschichte\ the
discovery of the Sitz-im-Leben i n which the psalms 'the fons et
165

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

origo o f Christian hymnody' developed and crystallized as the


only way to the understanding o f what they could have meant to
the Hebrew standing in the sodh o f the temple, listening to or
reciting them, the study is shot through w i t h Christian meanings
and categories which were obviously introduced i n order to show
the ripeness o f Hebrew consciousness to receive the Incarnation,
its certain though hazy anticipation o f the Christian dispensation,
of 'He that Cometh' w h i c h is the title o f another work by that
author. Except where it was pursued as a Semitic discipline,
O l d Testament study was never an autonomous science, but has
remained to this day the handmaid o f Christian theology. Where
O l d Testament studies developed as Semitic disciplines, they did
achieve such autonomy; but they equally removed themselves
from theology, history o f religions and indeed the 'Divinity Halls'
of the universities i n every case. Where the study remained within
the 'Divinity Halls', its highest objective, its raison d'etre, never
w e n t beyond the c o n f i r m a t i o n o f C h r i s t i a n dogma. T h e
Christianist strategy o f thought coLild ill-afford to put the O l d
Testament under the light o f the comparative discipline. Hebrewscripture is, i n this view, equally Christian scripture; Hebrew
history, Christian history; and Hebrew theology, Christian
theology. Hence, O l d Testament c r i t i c i s m was confined to
showing how Hebrew scripture is a scripture which as the saying
goes, was written 'from faith to faith' that is to say, written by
people w h o believed i n the divine scheme as Christianism
understands i t , for people who eqLially believe therein. Actually
another book, i.e., a whole complexus o f Christianist ideas, was
pasted onto Hebrew scripture and O l d Testament criticism was
assigned the duty o f keeping the paste moist and sticky. To this
author's knowledge, no Christian theologian yet has dared to
call O l d Testament criticism by the only name it really deserves,
namely, a part o f the history o f religions; and no historian of
religions has yet attempted to rehabilitate the data o f O l d
Testament criticism as integral to a reconstructed history ot
Hebrew and Jewish religion, rather than a Heilsgeschichte, or a
history o f the Father's manipulation o f history as a prelude to
the Incarnation.
6

166

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS! ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

iii.

The Case of Christianity

Lastly, Christianity managed to escape from the history o f


l i g i o n s because the greatest n u m b e r o f historians or
comparativists held it above all the religions; indeed, as the
standard-bearer and judge o f them. The limitation o f the rehgious
to the unique and personal act o f faith confirmed this standardbearing character o f Christianity as the only one w h i c h fully
realizes the meaning advocated.
History o f religions is certainly fortunate i n having at its
disposal a very great amount o f information collected over a
whole century w i t h great patience and labour.The great explorers
and compilers o f primitive religions have left an impressive legacy.
The Orientalists, Islaniicists and students o f Asiatic rehgions, the
Old Testament critics, the Semiticists who developed out o f O l d
Testament criticism autonomous Semitic and Ancient Near East
disciplines, and the historians o f the Christian C h u r c h , o f
Christian doctrine and o f Christian c i v i l i z a t i o n - all have
contributed to present to history o f rehgions its future subject
matter. Undoubtedly, this subject matter is the greatest mass o f
human knowledge ever assembled. It would seem as i f the work
of history o f religions we called reportage is all done and
r e

complete; but the truth is that a great deal more is required.


Surely, SLifficient knowledge has been accumulated to enable the
history o f religions to make a start i n the second stage o f
systematization. But the future systematization o f this knowledge
needs a continuous activity o f data-collection, the more fastidiotis
and scmpulous the more exacting the w o r k o f systematization
ecomes. One systematization cannot refute and replace another
unless i t can marshal new data for its support or reveal new
relations o f old data which the first systematization had omitted.
Invariably, this rcqLiires a mastery o f the language or languages
involved and a complete familiarity w i t h the whole range o f
niaterials. The j o b w h i c h we called collection o f data is really
m

interminable.

167

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS


2.

Construction of Meaning-Wlwles
Systematization of Data

or the

This great mass o f data must be systematized; i.e., ordered in


three different operations:
A. Firsdy, i t should be classified i n a way which answers the
organizational needs o f a modern enquiry. Under each heading
the relevant data should be so analyzed and related to one
another as to reveal the nexus o f ideas o f w h i c h they are the
embodiment. The organization o f the material must enable the
modern researcher to put under the lucid light o f consciousness,
quickly and certainly, the w h o l e field o f ideas and all the
particular items therein w h i c h , i n any religion or aspect o f a
rehgion, constitute a single network or system o f meanings. It
should be topical as well as historical, and should endeavour to
lay, at the disposal o f the understanding, a comprehensive picture
o f all the facts pertinent to all topics, periods or groups within
the religio-culture under examination. I n turn, these complexi
of data should be analyzed and related among themselves so as
to disclose the essence o f the religio-culture as a whole.
B. Secondly, the relations o f each datum w i t h the whole
complexus o f history to which it belongs should be shown and
established for thought. Its origin must be discovered, and its
growth and development, its crystallization, and where necessary,
its decay, misunderstanding and final repudiation must be
accurately traced. Developments o f ideas, i n s t i t u t i o n s , o f
evahiations and discoveries, o f human attitudes and deeds have
to be projected against the background o f historical facts. For
they did not develop i n the abstract but in a given milieu, and a
need for precisely that development must have been felt. The
datum i n question must have been meant either to serve or to
combat that d e v e l o p m e n t . Equally, every one o f these
developments must have had a whole range o f effects w h i c h
must be brought w i t h i n the field o f vision to be systematized if
the understanding o f the given data, the given movement, or the
given system o f ideas is to be complete.
9

168

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: US NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE.

C. Thirdly, the rehgious data thtis classified and systematized


ought to be distilled for their meanings, and these meanings
should be ehicidated and systematized i n t u r n . That is to say,
they should be related as meanings, and not as facts as i n the first
two steps o f systematization, to the historical complexus so that
the civilization as such becomes both a structured whole o f
meanings and a whole w i t h a meaning. Every religious datum,
whether it is an expression o f an idea, an attituide or feelingstate, a personal or social act, whether its object is the subject,
society or the cosmos, whether i t is a conceptual, disctirsive
statement o f the rehgious idea or act, or it is the religious idea or
act itself, refers to something which is the content expressed, the
meaning intuited or felt, the purpose realized or violated, or the
object o f inaction i f no action whatever has taken place other
than inaction. This something is a value. I t is the meaning to
w h i c h the religious datum is the human response, noetic,
attitudinal or actional. As the human response could not become
intelligible w i t h o u t its relation to the complexi o f history, i t
cannot be meaningful withotit its relation to vahie. The former
is a planar relation; the latter is a relation in depth. Unless the
plane o f historical relations is seen against the background o f
and is related to values i n a depth relation, the religious datum
may never be grasped for what it really is.
In the discernment, analysis, and establishment o f this depth
relation - the relation of'categorial existent' to 'axiological being'
or value history o f religions meets serious perils and grave
pitfalls. A n d it is true that a great number o f comparative accoLints
o f religions have failed i n this reqLiirement o f constructing
nieaning-wholes otit o f the given religious data. BLit this failure
is the failure o f the investigator's own effort. I t is not an argument
against the history o f religions or its methodology, but against
the investigator and his research. Against the pitfalls o f exegesis, o f
reading into a religious datum something that is not there, or
perceiving therein no value, or a value other than that which the
adherent himself perceives, there is, in most cases, the religious
wisdom o f the adherents themselves. I f a reconstruction meets
the reqLiisites o f scholarship while at the same time the adherents
10

169

ISLAM AND OTHF.R FAITHS

of the religion i n question find it meaningful and accept it as


saying something to them about their o w n faith, surely, it has
passed all that can be reasonably required o f the comparativist.
This was essentially the insight o f W.C. Smith. Certainly, the
application o f the p r i n c i p l e presents a number o f serious
practical difficulties: The consent o f which adherents o f the faith
may be taken as proof, and how may such consent be expressed?
Moreover, i t must be at least theoretically possible that the
adherents o f a religion may have gone so far i n interpreting their
religion that they have missed its primeval essence, that they do
not find it any longer meaningful. This is o f course tantamount
to their acquiring a new religion, despite the fact that the new
may still be called by the name o f the old; and Smith's criterion
cannot therefore be taken as a test o f validity i n the strict sense.
Nonetheless, i f we take it as a pedagogic principle, and ask the
historian o f religions to check his work, as i t progresses, against
the perspective o f the adherents o f the r e l i g i o n under
investigation, we w o u l d have a check and balance technique to
safeguard the work against aberration.
11

A stricter c r i t e r i o n o f validity than an enlightened and


scholarly application o f Smith's pedagogic principle cannot be
reasonably demanded.The adherents naive argument,'Either you
study my religion and therefore take into consideration what /
think, / cognize, J intuit and / feel, or you study somebody else's,'
cannot be refuted. A n d as long as the reportage is a reportage on
him, and the construction o f meaning-whole is a systematization
of meanings w h i c h he apprehends and relates i n his own peculiar
way, there is no escape from the recognition that the adherent's
considered and scholarly judgement is final. I f the historian o f

religion persists i n his dissatisfaction, the only alternative open


to h i m is to start a new investigation, a new reportage and a new
systematization w h i c h he should distinguish f r o m the first
enquiry as he would two different religio-cultures.
T h e p r i n c i p l e governing the w o r k o f systematization is
therefore that the categories under w h i c h the systematizing
works should proceed must be innate to the pertinent religioculture investigated, not imposed thereon from the outside. The
170

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

divisions constituting the various religio-cultures must not be


interchanged, the data o f each must be classified, analyzed and
systematized not under categories alien to that religio-culture,
t under categories d e r i v e d f r o m i t . Those C h r i s t i a n
investigations o f non-Christian religions w h i c h systematize their
materials under such categories as mans predicament; under
ritual, law or sacrifice as atonement or salvation, etc., and speak
of purity as morality, o f the contrast o f destiny to history, o f
redemption as the end and purpose o f religion, betray an obvious
governance by Christian principles w h i c h vitiates them. T h e
suspicion that the investigation i n question was carried out i n
order to show the deficiency o f the non-Christian religion i n
the same areas where Christianity is claimed to be superior, can
never be removed. It is particularly here that history o f rehgions
shows its purely scientific character. W i t h i n the one rehgion, the
task o f organizing the data into a systematic whole, o f relating
doctrinal, cultic, institutional, moral and artistic facts to the history
of the civilization concerned as a whole, is a pLirely scientific
affair, despite the fact that the materials w i t h which the historian
of religions works are unlike those o f the natural or social
scientist. The scientific character o f an enquiry is not a function
of the materials, but o f what is done w i t h t h e m . The materials
may be chemical facts or religious meanings. As enquiry into
either is scientific i f i t starts from what is historically given and
seeks to uncover the relations that govern the existence and
actuality o f these facts. I t is immaterial that i n one case the facts
are laboratory materials i n test tubes and i n the other, ideas an
facts recorded i n books i n a l i b r a r y or l i v e d by a l i v i n g
community o f m e n . Certainly the 'whats' i n the two cases are
different; but the presuppositions o f methodology are the same.
Just as the economist, the sociologist, the psychologist, the
anthropologist apply the term 'social science' to their scientific
treatment o f data other than those w h i c h can go into a test tube,
we shall invent the t e r m 'humanitic science' to describe the
history o f religions' scientific treatment o f materials other than
those o f the natural and social sciences. I t is granted that religious
as well as moral and aesthetic meanings are always instantiated
p U

12

13

11

171

ISLAM

AND OTHER FAITHS

i n some overt social or personal behaviour and that, except


t h r o u g h abstraction, they are really inseparable f r o m their
instances.
3.

Judgement or Evaluation of Meaning-wholes

A.

The Necessity of Judgement

However scientific and reliable these two operations may be, a


history o f religions which has accunrulated as many scientific and
reliable articulations and systematizations as there are religions is
a mere boodle bag in which rehgio-CLiltural wholes have just been
put one beside the other i n eternal and cold juxtaposition. The
first two steps o f history o f religions, therefore, justify the
specialized disciplines o f Islamic, Christian, H i n d u , Btiddhist
studies, and so forth; bLit not the history o f religions as an
autonomous discipline. For this, a t h i r d branch o f study is
necessary, namely, judgement or evaluation. Out o f the meaningwholes constructed by the first two branches o f history o f rehgions,
one meaning-whole should be arrived at, which would belong to
man as such. Like the second, the t h i r d operation is also a
systematization, not so much o f particular data as o f meaningwholes. Its task is that o f relating the given meaning-wholes to the
universal, the human, and the divine as such. For this, metareligion, or principles belonging to such order o f generality as
would serve as bases o f comparison and evaluation o f the meaningwholes, is necessary. Such relating does involve a judgement of
the individual meaning-wholes, an evaluation o f their large claims.
That this is itself a very large claim is not denied. Indeed, it soLinds
quite presumptuous to want to jLidge the religio-cultures o f
mankind. But the point is that the significance o f the whole
discipline o f history o f religions w i l l stand or fall w i t h the
establishment or repudiation o f this third branch.

i . We have seen that the first two branches can succeed in


putting i n front o f us a series o f internally coherent wholes o f
meanings, the constituents o f each o f which are related to one
another as well as to their respective categorical existents manifest
172

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS! ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

the
history,
life
and
culture
o
f
that
rehgion
as
well
as
to
their
in
pective axiological grounds. I f the first two operations have
been successful, and the religion i n question is neither the
Advaita School o f Sankara or the Deuta School o f Ramanuja
Hinduism where all opinions, perspectives and judgements have
absolutely the same truth-value, every meaning-whole w i l l
contain w i t h i n i t the claim not only that it is true, but that i t is the
truth. This claim is i n a sense essential to religion. For the
religious assertion is not merely one among a multitude o f
propositions, but necessarily Linique and exclusive. It is o f its
nature to be imperative in addition to being propositive, and no
command can issue therefrom i f it did not mean to assert that its
content is better or truer than the alternative content o f another
assertion i f not the only true and good content uberhaupt.
Imperativeness is always a preference o f something to something
else; and this always implies that what is commanded i n any
instance is the best thing commandable i n that instance. Where
alternative commandments are o f identical value, none may be
said to be, by itself, commandable. Religious exclusiveness,
when it is asserted not on the level o f accidentals but on that o f
the essentials o f a rehgion, can be dispensed w i t h only at the
cost o f axiological relativism. For me to understand Christianity,
for example, according to its o w n standards, and Christian
thought as an autonomous expression o f Christian experience
is ail well and good. But, i f I ever omit from this understanding
the claim that Christianity is a valid religion for all men, that the
Christian faith is not only a true expression o f what God may
have done for some people but o f what He has done or ever
w i l l do for the redemption o f all men, o f man as such, I am
certain I would miss the essence and core. The same is o f course
true o f all religions tinless the rehgion is itself a sacralization o f
relativism, i n w h i c h case it may not contend our assertion o f
exclusiveness without contradicting itself. What we then have i n
the boodle bag o f the historian o f religions is not a series o f
meaning-wholes, simpliciter, but a j u x t a p o s i t i o n o f several
m e a n i n g - w h o l e s each o f w h i c h claims to be the o n l y
autonomotis expression o f the truth. These wholes do not only
173

ISLAM A XL) OTHER FAITHS

vary i n detail, nor do they merely vary i n the important issues.


They diametrically contradict one another i n most o f the
principles which constitute the framework and structure o f their
house o f ideas. H o w then can the historian o f religions, who is
above all an academician, stop after the presentation o f these
wholes? As academician, the historian o f religions is above all
concerned w i t h the truth. But to present the meaning-wholes
of the religions and acquiesce to their pluralism is nothing short
of cynicism. There is no alternative to this cynicism except in
j u d g i n g and evakiating the claimant meaning-wholes. The
historian o f rehgions must therefore do much more than steps i
and 2.
15

ii.
'Knowledge' i n history o f religions does not consist
merely o f the apprehension o f data. I n science, a datLim is
gnoseologically valuable by itself, inasmuch as the natural fact
h e l d i n consciousness is i t s e l f the end o f the scientific
investigation. I n history o f religions a datum has little history-ofreligions-significance unless it is related to the feeling, propensity,
aspiration or value-apprehension o f w h i c h it is the expression,
the affirmation or negation, the satisfaction or denial, the
approbation or condemnation, the exaltation or denigration and
so forth. But feelings, propensities, aspirations are human, not
o n l y C h r i s t i a n or M u s l i m , and value-apprehension is
apprehension o f a real value i n experience. It is not therefore
enoLigh to know that for a certain rehgion, such and such are
h e l d to be facts. M o v e m e n t f r o m the Christianness or
Muslimness o f a factum to its humanness or Liniversal reality is
indispensible. Likewise, no meaning-whole is complete unless
its insights, claims, desiderata and damnata are related to their
human and therefore real roots, and thence to the real values
and disvalues they seek to make real or to eliminate. Knowledge
itself demands this relating to man as such, to existential and
axiological reality. But to relate the data and meaning-wholes in
this manner is certainly to judge them. MLitually-contradictory
as they are, to relate the data o f religions or their meaningwholes to the same reality, whether human or valuational, is
really to present an incomplete picture w i t h which the human
174

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

understanding can do nothing. Indeed, such relating o f them


cannot be maintained i n consciousness without coercion. But
data w h i c h cannot be treated except coercively, i.e., cannot be
related to the universal and the real withotit dislodging or being
dislodged by other data, cannot be true. Either the dislodging or
the dislodged data are wrong, or their place i n the meaningwhole has been wrongly assigned. The consequence, therefore,
is that either the construction o f the meaning-whole has been
faulty or the meaning-whole as a whole has laid a false claim to
the truth.

B.

The Desirability of Judgement

Since the data w h i c h the historian o f religions collects are


universally related to meanings or values, they are, i n
contradistinction from the dead facts o f natural science, life-facts.
In order to perceive them as life-facts, an epoche is necessary i n
which, as the phenomenologists have argued, the investigator
would put his own presuppositions, rehgion and perspective i n
brackets while he beholds the given religiotis datum. This is
necessary bLit insufficient. That the life-fact is endowed w i t h
energizing and stirring power implies for epistemology that to
apprehend i t is to apprehend its moving power i n experience.
Hence, life-fact cognition is life-fact determination, and to
perceive a religious meaning is to suffer determination by that
meaning. The historian o f religions must therefore be capable o f
moving freely from one context to another while enabling his
ethos to be determined by the data beheld alone. Only thtis can
he construct the historically given data i n t o self-coherent
meaning-wholes, which is his objective as historian o f religions.
But what does this peregrination mean for h i m as a human being,
as a searcher for wisdom? A n d consequently, what does it mean
for h i m to present to his fellow-men these niLitually-repulsive,
severally appealing and determining meaning-wholes?
It may be argLied that the historian o f religions should do no
more than present these meaning-wholes from the highest level
o f detachment possible. Ivory-tower detachment is not only
175

ISLAM AND O T 1 1 L R FAITHS

impressive but necessary when the subject matter investigated


and presented to man belongs to the realm o f nature which we
call 'dead facts'. To apply it i n the realm o f hfe-facts, where to
cognize is to be determined i n discLirsive thoLight as well as in
feeling and action is to expose men to their energizing power
and moving appeal. Now, i f the historian o f religions takes no
more than steps I and 2, he is exposing man to galaxies o f
meaning-wholes w h i c h pull h i m apart i n different directions.
There can be no doubt that every human being must reach his
own personal decision regarding what is finally-meaningful, that
the historian o f religions is an academician w h o must remain
absolutely aloof from all attempts to influence mans decisionmaking. But has he, by presenting to man merely the meaningwholes i n cold juxtaposition, i.e., without relating them to the
necessarily-universal, the necessarily-real, the human, presented
h i m w i t h the whole trtith? I n this age o f ours, when the world
community has become conscious o f a universal, human identity
and is repeatedly calling for a discipline that w i l l think out its
spiritual problems as a human world community, has the ivorytower historian o f religions, whose training has equipped h i m
best for the j o b , the right to shy away? Does his shying away cast
no doubt on his whole enterprise? By willing to preserve the
religions of man frozen as they are, this ivory-tower scholarship
detaches itself from the world o f man and life that is constantly
being made and remade and degenerates into superficiality
These three considerations the first two being theoretical,
affecting knowledge o f religions, and the t h i r d practical,
questioning the wisdom o f avoiding judgement - lead us to think
that judgement is both necessary and desirable. There is hence
no escape for history o f rehgions from developing a system of
principles o f meta-religion Linder w h i c h the jLidgement and
evaluation o f meaning-wholes may take place. Although there
have been many Christian theologies o f history o f religions, there
is, as yet, u n f o r t u n a t e l y , no c r i t i c a l m e t a - r e l i g i o n . T h i s
shortcoming points further to the unpreparedness o f modern
Christendom to meet the world-community w h i c h is rapidly
coming into being.
176

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

It is not the purview o f this paper to elaborate a system of


meta-religion. But i t w o u l d indeed be incomplete if, having
striven to establish its necessity and desirability, we omit to discuss
its possibility.
C.

The Possibility of Judgement

Perhaps the most c o m m o n genre o f meta-religion is that


which looks upon the differences among religions as belonging
to the surface, and upon their common agreements as belonging
to the essence. This view does not always have to assume the
superficial f o r m it usually takes i n inter-religious conventions
where the 'lowest c o m m o n denominator* agreements are
emphasized at the cost o f all the difference. I t can be
sophisticated, as when it claims that underlying all differences,
there is a real substratum c o m m o n to all w h i c h is easily
discoverable upon closer analysis. B u t i t is nonetheless false
because it seeks that substratum on the level o f the figurizations
and conceptualizations o f the different religions where no such
unity can be found except through selection o f the materials
investigated or a coercive interpretation o f them. The profound
differences that separate the religions on the level o f teachings
here all disappear i n order to clear the road for generalization.
W h e n hindrances are found to be obstinate, they are subjected
to an interpretation capable o f bearing the required meaning.
Such is the case of the analysis o f Friedrich Heiler (1892-1967),
w h o goes to great lengths to prove that all rehgions teach the
same God and the same ethic, and whose conclusions are not
even true to the theory of empirical generalization, not to speak
o f meta-religion whose principles must be apodictically certain.
For h i m , Jahweh, Ahura Mazdah, Allah, Buddha, Kali, and presumably, though his enumeration carefully omits him! - Jesus,
all are 'imagery* i n which the one and same 'reality is constandy
personified'. Moreover, 'this reality o f the Divine' is identified
as 'ultimate love which reveals itself to men and i n men';' and
'the way o f man to God is universally the way o f sacrifice'.
O b v i o u s l y this is to see the n o n - C h r i s t i a n religions w i t h
16

18

177

1ST AM AND OTHER FAITHS

hopelessly Christian eyes, to bend the historically-given so as to


accord w i t h a predetermined Christian order.
Despite the fact that this sort of'scholarship' may serve to instil
among the rank and file a little sympathy for 'the others' who,
hitherto, have been regarded as 'infidels','natives', etc., i t remains
at bottom a gratuitous condescension. As methodology o f the
history o f rehgions, it is utterly worthless.
A far more profound and philosophical theory o f history of
religions has been briefly laid out i n an article by Professor B.E.
Meland/ I t too regards the religions as fundamentally one, not
on the level o f doctrine or figurization, but on that o f a deeper
lying substratum w h i c h is true and seeks to reach, reconcile
or judge the pronouncements o f the different religions on the
figurization level by reference to that deeper reality w h i c h is
common to all. I t is i n the latter aspect that the theory runs
aground. Whereas the unpliilosophical theories fail because they
do not seek humanity on the deeper level where i t really is but
o n the f i g u r i z a t i o n a l level where i t certainly is n o t , the
philosophical theory o f Professor Meland runs short because it
seeks that reality on the level which properly belongs to it but
identifies i t i n such a way as to make any knowledge and
hence any methodological use - o f i t impossible. Let us see
how this is so.
ig

Professor Meland analyzes the nature o f man as consisting of


three elements: First, 'the primordial ground o f the individual
person as actualized event', i.e., the primordial substratum of
reality in w h i c h he has his being, his createdness. This deepl y i n g substrate is o n t o l o g i c a l and hence i t transcends all
particularisms; but ' i n its actuality . . . it is concrete'. It is 'man's life
in God'. It is 'universal'; hence,'all concretion is ultimately due'
to it. A l l perspectives, judgements, formulations o f or w i t h i n a
religion 'partake o f this concreteness' and are, hence, 'relative to
it' in the 'decisive' sense 'that i n this time and place reality has
spoken'. I t 'defines the base o f our humanity' and gives man the
capacity to understand the humanity o f another/ Second, 'the
individuated selfhood o f each person', and third, 'the cultural
history i n which the drama of corporate existence is enacted'.'"
1

i 8
7

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

In contrast to the first element which is universal, the second


nd
third
are
specific
and
particular,
and
belong
to
the
level
o
f
a
history and culture. It is true that neither the Liniversal nor the
particular is found without the other; but whereas the particLilar
is readily and directly available for knowledge, the universal is
never reached except through the particular. Thus the particular,
which is a concretization o f the universal, is relative thereto i n
the ontic sense; for i t owes to the universal its very being. This
may be granted. As to the availability o f the universal for
knowledge, Professor Meland rules out all hope for the historian
o f religions ever to attain i t outside his o w n cultLire and
concretization on the grounds that 'the structure o f faith [i.e.,
the particular] is so deeply organic to the individuation o f the
person i n any culture . . . [or so] much o f this is below the level
of conscious awareness . . .
[that man's] processes o f thoLight
cannot escape or transcend its conditioning, however disciplined
they may be'.
This reduction o f all human knowledge to relativity, to the
particLilar cultural strLicture o f the subject (which Professor
Meland calls the 'fiduciary framework', borrowing the expression
o f Michael Polanyi (i891-1976)), stems from a mistaking o f
relationality for relativity. The aforementioned ontic relation
between p r i m o r d i a l reality and its concrete actualization i n
space-time, w h i c h is the one-directional dependence o f the
particular to the universal, is here interpreted as epistemological
and is turned arotind so as to become the absolute dependence
of the universal to the particular. For this twist, however, no reason
is given, and its net purport is the resohition to recognize only
the particular as given, thus closing the gate o f any reliable
knowledge o f the universal. But knowledge o f the universal, of
primordial reality, must be possible i f the particular culture or
rehgion, the 'fiduciary framework', is not to be final. Passage from
the particular to the universal, that is to say, the search for a metareligion w i t h which the particular may be properly understood
as well as evaluated, is possible becaLise, to parody the words o f
Kant (17241804), although all history o f religions begins w i t h
the historically given data of the rehgions, the concrete religious
23

2+

25

179

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

experience o f men i n history, the given o f the particular rehgions,


it is not necessary that it all arise therefrom. Professor Meland
too is keen to save this possibility, though he is opposed to any
facile dogmatique o f the universal. W i t h this i n m i n d , he
suggested the method of negotiation o f meaning i n personal
i n t e r - r e l i g i o u s encounter, asserting that the impenetrable
opaqueness o f meaning which the alien religion presents to the
investigator could be dissipated by the encounter between h i m
and the adherent o f that religion, provided both are aware o f
their fiduciary frameworks, as well as o f the fact that they are, as
living concretizations o f primordial reality, anchored i n that one
and the same reality. I n such an encounter, Professor Meland
holds, it would not be their particLilaristic dogmatique that carries
the religious meaning sought, but the persons' saying such words
as they do.
One may ask, however, what does the adherent affirming and
denying what he does affirm and deny, mean besides what is
affirmed and denied which belongs to the level o f the fiduciary
framework? That the statement, 'Pete S m i t h , the A m e r i c a n
Christian, affirms that all men are sinful', means more than the
affirmation 'all men are sinful' is obvious. But what is not obvious
is the meaning or relevance o f the addition. Again, that the
addition has a new meaning and relevance for the sociologist,
the social psychologist, the demographist, the historians o f all
varieties (politics, economics, Christianity, civilization, etc.)
studying American society, is obvious. But i n all these cases, there
is no implication that the fiduciary framework is going to be
transcended, not to say that the primordial reality, or the universal,
is going to be reached. For an encoLinter to serve the purpose
Professor Meland has assigned to i t , the new addition should
have a meaning and a relevance to history o f rehgions, that is to
say, to the interest transcending the particular religions o f the
26

adherents, under w h i c h the latter c o u l d be i l l u m i n a t e d ,


understood, evaluated and judged. But what is that meaning and
relevance w h i c h must be other than what the psychologist,
economist, historian and other social scientists are interested in?
Professor Meland gave us no indication o f i t . H o w then can the
180

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS! ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

desired 'negotiation o f meaning' be possible? H o w may that o f


which the religioLis figurization or fiduciary framework is the
figurization be critically established for knowledge? Indeed,
Professor Meland had already laid down that primordial reality
is utterly unknowable. I n this case, what reliance could be placed
on any person's claim that i n affirming and denying what he
does, he is expressing ' p r i m o r d i a l reality'? H o w can the
encounterer differentiate between the person communicating a
particLilarized ' p r i m o r d i a l reality' and one communicating a
particularized hallucination? Does any fiduciary framework
express, take account o f and constitute a concretization o f
'primordial reality' as well as any other? Are men absolutely free
to develop any fiduciary framework they wish? Has not all
human wisdom attained anything final at all concerning that
primordial reality besides its DaseirP. I f these questions yield only
negative results, then negotiated meaning is impossible and
encounter is futile. If, on the other hand, the yield is positive,
then certainly meta-religion is possible, and the historian o f
rehgions should apply himself to the task o f elaborating i t . I n
doing so, the historian o f religions may not take the stand o f
scepticism. For to assert God and not to allow H i m to be
differentiated from a halkicination is idle, as it is for a Muslim to
assert the unity o f God and not that o f truth, or for any rational
being to assert reality and then to declare it many or Litterly
unknowable. To assert w i t h Professors Polanyi and Meland that
all we can ever have is a M u s l i m i z e d or C h r i s t i a n i z e d ,
Germanized or Russified version o f the truth is scepticism the
denial o f t m t h itself, including that o f the sceptic's thesis, h la
Epimenides.
T h e r o c k - b o t t o m a x i o m o f this relativism i n religious
knowledge is the principle that 'the roots o f man are i n the
region; or, more precisely, i n that matrix o f concrete experience,
however niLich he may succeed i n v e n t t i r i n g beyond these
psychic barriers through various efforts at shared experience'.
Firstly, this is not self-evident. The contrary, namely, that the root
o f man is i n the Imman universal rationality i n which he partakes
by nature, is quite conceivable. N o r can it be made to accord,
27

181

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

secondly, w i t h the wisdom of Biblical 'J' which expressed men's


universal b r o t h e r h o o d i n their c o m m o n descendence from
A d a m , and a t t r i b u t e d t h e i r cultLiral peculiarities to
environment. Thirdly, it stems from an unfortunate fixation in
the Western m i n d that whatever is, is first of all either French or
German or English or Christian or Jewish, and is human,
universal, real only i n second place. This fixation is so chronic
that the Western m i n d not only cannot see reality except as
geographically, nationally, culturally or sectarianly determined,
but goes on to assume that God created it so. 'Each [concrete
occasion o f reality] i n its own circumstances, bodies forth its
distinctive disclostire as an event o f actuality, prehending the
creative act o f God w i t h its own degree o f relevance'. Evidently,
that is the end o f the road. I t is relativism claiming for itself divine
sanction.
28

2y

A n d yet, i f we can purge Professor Meland's theory o f this


relativist trait, we have left a genuine insight into the problem
and a breakthrough to its solution. Certainly, what unites men of
different fiduciary frameworks is, as Professor Meland says, their
standing as actualizations o f primordial reality, their createdness
by one and the same Creator. Religiously speaking, the Creator
has not only b u i l t i n man His o w n image, i.e., a capacity to
transcend his creatureliness and recognize the Creator w h o is
his source, but has taken several measures to bring to man a
k n o w l e d g e o f H i m s e l f . M a n therefore k n o w s G o d , the
primordial reality, i f not natLirally, then by means o f revelation.
O n the other hand, i.e., metaphysically speaking, the level o f
being at which man stands is differentiated from the lower levels
of tilings, plants and animals, not only by that instrument o f the
w i l l to live called the Linderstanding, but by spirit, which enables
man to cognize and evaluate his standing i n Being's m u l t i levelled stricture. This is none other than Being's attainment o f

consciotisness itself. I n man, Being judges itself. That it has often


misjudged i t s e l f is the p r o o f that i t can j u d g e itself, and
consequently that it must, can and i n fact does know itself. For it
is as inconceivable that Being wotild enable the emergence o f a
creature that is a jLidge o f Being without endowing it w i t h the
182

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

faculty to know the object o f judgement, which is itself, as it is to


find a being on any level that is not accompanied by the
development o f such cognitive factilties as enable the higher
concretization o f Being to fulfil that w h i c h distingtiishes it from
the lower and hence constitutes its raison d'etre. That is what
ather from Professor Meland's profound insight; and it is a
precious harvest indeed.

II. T h e Significance of History of Religions


for Christian Education
Pursued i n its three branches, history o f religions is the
sovereign queen o f the humanities. For, i n a sense, all the
humanities' disciplines including the comparative ones are her
front-line soldiers whose duties are the collection o f data, their
analysis, systematization and reconstruction i n t o meaningwholes. The subject matter o f these disciplines is mens ideas
and actions i n all fields o f human endeavour; and all these are, as
we have seen, constituents in the religio-cultural wholes which
history o f religions proper studies as wholes, compares and relates
to man and divinity i n her attempt to reach the t m t h o f both.
The qtieen's concern is for every battlefield and hence for every
individual soldier. But her real care is the headquarters kind o f
work which tells how and where the ship o f humanity is going.
History o f religions, then, is not a course o f study; it is not a
department i n a divinity school. It is, rather, by itself a college o f
liberal arts, each department o f w h i c h is organically related to
the centre whose j o b is to make sense out o f the infinite diversity
o f the religio-cLiltural experience, and then contribute to the
r e c o n s t r u c t i o n o f man's k n o w l e d g e o f himself, to his
rehabilitation in an apparently alien cosmos, to his realization o
value. Inasmuch therefore as history o f religions is a collection
and systematization o f facts about human acts, life and relations,
it is a college. Inasmuch as history o f religions is an evaluation or
judgement o f meaning-wholes w i t h the aid o f a body o f critical
meta-religioLis principles, it is the queen o f the humanities.
The fact is, however, that on any university or college campus
183

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

these disciplines operate on their own i n an autonomous manner


withoLit recognizing their organic relation to history o f religions.
This is not undesirable. Firstly, a measure o f evaluation and
judgement relative to the data under immediate examination is
necessary for collection and systematization work which is their
duty, as we have seen earlier. Secondly, and i n a deeper sense,
their attempts at evaluation are desirable inasmuch as intellectual
curiosity, or the w i l l to know, is dependent upon the recognition
o f the unity o f truth; i.e., upon the realization that the discovery
o f truth is a discovery o f a reality w h i c h is not divisible into
unrelated segments but constitutes a unique and integral whole.
Such realization is always a reqtiisite for venturing into the
u n k n o w n fields o f reality. T h i r d l y , t h e i r evaluations and
jtidgements are o f inestimable value to the historian o f religions,
even though they may be biased or erroneotis. They serve as a
check and balance to the historian o f religions whenever he is
inclined to set the facts aside i n favour o f abstract construxtionism.
Such evaluation and judgement as the specialist data-reporter
and systematizer are hkely to make w i l l at least be truer to the
facts i n question; and this is a need which history o f religions can
never overemphasize and no historian o f religions can oversatisfy.
Fourthly, history o f religions herself shotild keep aware o f these
developments and be ready to evahiate the discoveries attained
by these disciplines. Indeed, the task o f evaluation is a necessary
one and w i l l be made by the discipline i n question or by another
at any rate. A n d the real issue is that o f the need for and
desirability o f evaluation on the level o f history o f rehgions, that
is to say, on the highest, the most comprehensive and critical
level o f all.
This is the place o f history o f religions i n the university. What
is its place i n a school o f divinity?
We have said earlier that the final purpose o f history o f
religions is the putting Linder the light o f consciousness the
progress or movement o f the ship o f humanity towards truth,
goodness and beauty. For this purpose, it works on its materials
as i t finds them historically fallen into the several religio-cultures
o f m a n , first by analyzing and systematizing t h e m i n t o
184

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

autonomous meaning-wholes and then by evaluating their


respective contrilrution to the progress o f the ship o f humanity
towards those ideals. Obviously Christianity is only one o f the
rehgio-CLiltures o f humanity. Its history, w i t h all that it contains,
is the history o f one o f the religio-cultures o f man, and, therefore,
does not stand on the same level of generality as the history o f
religions. N o r can it i n any way determine the work o f the history
o f rehgions. The Christian may certainly hope that at the end o f
the road, Christianity's claims for embodying all truth, goodness
and beauty w i l l be confirmed; but he w i l l have to allow it to
stand i n line w i t h the other religio-cultures o f man, i n wilful
submission to the authority o f judgement, that such a final
vindication o f his claim may be arrived at i n a critical manner
acceptable to all. A history o f religions that is dominated or in
any way influenced by Christianity, a history o f religions which
surreptitiously or openly seeks to vindicate Christian doctrine
may be a handmaid o f Christian theology, but not history o f
religions at all. This is so regardless o f whether the materials
studied are those o f an extinct antiquarian rehgion, o f a primitive
religion w i t h a handful o f isolated adherents, or o f a living world
rehgion. Intellectual honesty is here most crucial, and must be
satisfied before our loyalty to our religious traditions - indeed
even at the cost of this loyalty i f such sacrifice is necessary. A n d
unless historians of rehgions agree on the priority o f truth to
Christian, M u s l i m , Jewish, H i n d u and Buddhist claims to the
t r u t h , then history o f religions is doomed. The rules o f the
academic game, o f the btisiness o f discovering and arriving at
the truth, wotild be violated, and like the sceptics of latter-day
value theory, the historians o f religions may only seek to
influence, to convert or subvert, but never to convince anybody
of the truth. Therefore, the role o f history o f religions i n a faculty
o f divinity cannot be i n the least different from her role i n a
faculty of Islamic or H i n d u studies. What is that role?

The material which history o f religion studies is the history


o f religion; and in a divinity school, o f Christianity. The history
of Christianity covers a very long span of time and many peoples,
and everything is important. B u t the purpose o f history o f
185

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

religions' study o f the history o f Christianity is to trace the


development o f ideas, to lay bare for the ready use of reason, the
genesis, g r o w t h and decay o f C h r i s t i a n ideas against the
background o f social as well as ideological realities i n the midst
of which the ideational movement had taken place. The divine
providential element cannot enter in this tracing as a factor, as a
principle of explanation. This is not because history o f religions
is an atheistic science which does not believe in the presence of
such element. O n the contrary, the discovery of this element and
its establishment for reason is the final purpose o f the discipline
as a whole. Rather, it is because divine providence never operates
i n the abstract, but always implies a p l e n u m o f real determinations. It is precisely the j o b o f history o f rehgions to discover
this plenum, to analyze and expose its contents and relations, to
admit the providential element here is ipso facto to pLit an end to
the investigation. A n d since C h r i s t i a n i t y has not been an
immutable and eternal pattern, frozen for all times and places,
which the historian o f rehgions can study once and for all, but a
continuing development - that is to say, Christian history is not
the development o f a pattern, but the pattern itself is this
development - the history o f religions should find in the history
o f Christianity the richest field o f ideational development.
To illustrate what I mean, let LIS take a closer look at the O l d
Testament. W h e n the R e f o r m a t i o n repudiated the religioLis
authority o f the Church, it vested that authority i n the Scripture.
W h e n , later, the Christian m i n d rebelled against all authority
except that o f reason, sought enlightenment and observed a
stricter moralism and a wider social liberalism, the O l d Testament
appeared unacceptable because o f its running coLinter to these
ideals. A n d w i t h the Western Christian's discovery of'the world',
the O l d Testament's particularism, election, promise, remnant,
and overdrawn political, social, and ideological history o f the
Hebrews lost its appeal and became something alien, whose
acceptance depends upon fresh Vergegenwartigung, or a makingmeaningfLil-in-the-present, o f its data. I t was a great challenge
which Christian scholars met by developing a critical science of
the O l d Testament. O u t o f this criticism a nuimber o f Semitic
186

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

disciplines developed which added great contributions to human


knowledge. And yet, there is hardly a Christian book on the O l d
Testament w h i c h does n o t t r y all sorts o f Heilsgeschichte and
allegorical interpretation acrobatics to re-establish the O l d
Testament as holy scripture in toto, though not verbatim; i.e., to
read into i t by means o f all kinds o f exegeses a confirmation o f
die articles o f Christian dogma.
True, the O l d Testament as a record o f the history and
ideologies w h i c h s u r r o u n d e d , preceded, gave b i r t h t o or
furnished the space-time human circtimstance o f revelation, is
necessary. B u t Christian scholars do not read the O l d Testament
in this fashion. For them, i t is all one consistent puppet-drama,
operated by G o d to the end that the Incarnation, CrLicifixion
and Resurrection - i n short, Redemption as Church dogmatics
knows i t - may result. To this author's knowledge, no Christian
scholar and no historian o f religions has as yet applied the
techniques as well as the dogma-free perspective o f history o f
religions to the O l d Testament as a whole. As a result, no Christian
thinker fully appreciates the revolution i n religio-culture which
Jesus initiated, for Christian dogma binds h i m to the notion that
the Church is a new Israel, new to be stire, but nonetheless an
Israel. The sanctity o f the new Israel is thus extended to the old;
and this bars any condemnation o f old Israel, thus making i t
impossible to treat the breakthrough ofjesus as a revolution.
For, a revolution is always against something. That something
may be the circLimstance o f revohition, but i t can never be good
and desirable unless the revolution is bad and undesirable, and
never divinely instituted unless the whole o f history is equally
manipulated by the divine hand. N o r was the revolution o f Jesus
directed only against one or t w o features o f Hebrew religioculture. I t called for n o t h i n g less than a total radical selftransformation. A study o f the O l d Testament that is true to the
discipline o f the history o f religions shoLild show the genesis
and development o f that against which the revolution came, as
well as the genesis and development o f the stream o f ideas o f
which the revohition came as an apex, as a consummation and
crystallization. That the twostreams are present i n the later parts
50

187

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

o f the O l d Testament is granted. But the sifting o f the two streams


has never been done. DLilled by the constant a t t r i b u t i o n o f
sanctity to the whole history o f Israel, the Christian mind has so
far been unable to put the facts o f this history Linder the proper
perspective, and hence to distinguish the t w o streams. The
nationalist particularist stream incepted by David, classicized and
frozen by Ezra and Nehemiah; and the monotheic universalist
stream o f the non-Judah and other tribes the Schechemites
w i t h i n Palestine, the Aramaean kingdoms bordering on Palestine
to the South and East, and generally, o f the Semitic peoples
migrating from the Arabian Peninsular - a tradition classicized
by the prophets and brought to the apex o f revolution by Jesus.
It takes the dogma-free history o f religions to undertake a yet
higher kind o f O l d Testament criticism, namely, to sift the O l d
Testament materials into that w h i c h is Hebraic or Jtidahic which can never be Christian i n any sense - and that which is
universal, monotheic, ethical and Christian.
To take another example: W i t h o u t a doubt the tradition o f
ideas which became the orthodox doctrine o f Christianity is at
least as o l d as St. Paul and probably as o l d as the Disciples.
Equally, there must be no doLibt that there were other traditions
o f ideas which were not as fortunate as to become Orthodoxy's
dogma, b L i t which were equally as old. Indeed, some o f these
other traditions were even prior. Firstly, they were essentially
contimiations o f the Semitic t r a d i t i o n , whereas O r t h o d o x
Christianity built her ideational edifice primarily as a Hellenic
structLire. Secondly, i f the advocates o f the O l d Testament have
any point at all it is certainly this, that the divine revelation of
Jesus has come w i t h i n the space-time circumstance o f the
Hebrews, i.e., w i t h i n the Semitic ideological context o f the O l d
Testament, n o t w i t h i n that o f H o m e r i c Hellas, or o f the
Hellenized Near East and Roman Empire. The truth, therefore,
camiot be controverted that the Semitic character o f Ebionite
Christianity, o f the Arian, Marcionite and Paulician traditions,
for example, stands far beyond question as prior to the Hellenictradition which became the Orthodox doctrine. Hence the latter
must be a 'change' or 'transformation' o f the former. T h e
188

H I S T O R Y or R E L I G I O N S : ITS N A T U R E A N D S I G N I F I C A N C E

Orthodoxy has coloured all Christian histories, and the most


scholarly treatises still look upon the history o f Christianity from
the standpoint o f the Orthodox dogma. Whereas we grant to the
Orthodox historians the liberty to reconstruct their Orthodox
tradition according to the categories o f that tradition, what is
needed is a history o f Christianity which w i l l present the various
Christian traditions as autonomous meaning-wholes and then
relate them to the Orthodox tradition in a way revealing as well
as explaining the differences. Only such a history would be truly
instructive concerning the formative period o f Christianity
the first seven centuries. Only it w i l l be concerned to tell the
w h o l e story o f this development against the h i s t o r i c a l
background o f the social and ideological realities o f the Near
East and R o m a n Empire. The O r t h o d o x evaluation o f these
traditions is valuable for the light it sheds on itself, not on the
traditions it condemns. It is unfortunate but challenging that no
scholar has yet used the source materials o f the history o
Christian ideas i n the first seven centuries in order to bring to
light the genesis and development o f these diverse Christian
traditions connecting them w i t h the Semitic consciousness, the
Hellenic consciousness or the mixed-Lip Semitico-Hellenic
consciousness o f the Near East (which all Christian historians
confusedly call 'Eastern Christianity', 'Eastern Churches' and
like). That remains the task o f the historian o f religions i n the
field o f Christian history. For it is he who, while righdy expected
to read the Orthodox tradition under categories furnished by
that tradition alone, is equally righdy expected to read the history
of the other Christian traditions under their own categories, and
then judge them all under the principles o f meta-religion.

HI. The Significance of History of Religions


for the Christian-Muslim Dialogue
These two illustrations have not been picked at random.
Together, they constitute not only the common groLinds between
the three world religions o f jLidaism, Christianity and Islam, but
equally the most important fields o f contention between them.
189

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

A n d o f the three religions, Christianity and Islam are here


perhaps the most involved. The work that awaits the historian of
religions i n these two areas w i l l contribute decisively towards
constructive dialogue between these religions in addition to re~
estabhshing a very important segment o f the religious history of
the majority o f mankind.
The O l d Testament is not only Hebrew scripture (or the
divine law revealed to Moses and the nationalist history o f an
extremely particularist people) nor only Christian scripture (or,
according to the dominant Heilsgeschichte school, the inspired
record o f God's saving acts i n h i s t o r y c u l m i n a t i n g i n the
Incarnation). I t is also Islamic scripture, inasmuch as i t is the
partial record o f the history o f prophecy, and hence o f divine
revelation. Indubitably, every one o f these religions can point
to something i n the O l d Testament substantiating its claim. But
the whole truth cannot be on the side o f any Furthermore, no
r e l i g i o n is, by d e f i n i t i o n , equipped to transcend its o w n
categories so as to establish the historical truth o f the whole
which, as a religion, i t interprets i n its own way i n order to suit
its o w n purpose. O n l y the historian o f religions measures to the
task w h o w o u l d relate the ideas o f the O l d Testament to the
history o f the Hebrews as ancient history has been able to
reconstruct i t , holding i n epoche both the Christian and the Islamic
understanding o f Hebrew scripture. But we may not make total
abstraction o f the H e b r e w understanding because the O l d
Testament is, after all, a Hebrew scripture written in Hebrew by
the Hebrews and for the Hebrews. The contents, however, are
not strictly speaking all Hebrew materials. The ideological
overtones o f the scripture, namely, those set i n the books o f
Genesis and Exodus, are Hebrew versions o f Semitic themes
which belong to all Semites. Islam is a Semitic rehgion whose
formative years were spent i n Arabia, the cradle o f all things
Semitic. It is natural that the Islamic version o f these themes is
another version o f ideas w h i c h are much older than 'J'. The
Islamic claim may not, therefore, be brushed aside as external to
the matter i n question. For just as Christianity is 'a new Israel',
Islam is 'an other Israel' legitimately giving a version o f Semitic
31

190

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

i g i n s which are as much, i f not more, its o w n as that o f the


Hebrews.
Secondly, the examination by history o f religions o f the
formative centuries o f Christianity is eqLially involving for Islam.
Islam is not a foreigner here. Islam is Christianity inasmuch as it
is a moment i n the developing Semitic consciousness o f which
the Hebrew, Judaic and Christian religions were other moments.
That is w h y Islam rejected neither the Hebrew Prophets nor
Jesus but, recognizing the divine status o f their missions, reacted
to the assertions o f Jews and Christians regarding t h e m .
A l t h o u g h the Prophet M u h a m m a d (peace and blessings be
upon him) and his first Muslim followers were personally neither
Jews nor Christians, yet their ideas were i n every respect internal
to the Jewish and Christian traditions, affirming, denying and i n
some cases transcending what Jews and Christians have held to
be or not to be the faith o f Adam, o f Abraham, o f Noah, o f Jacob,
of Moses and of Jesus. The 'Christianity' which Islam is, therefore,
is an alternative to O r t h o d o x Christianity; but i t is as much
Christianity as O r t h o d o x Christianity is. N e i t h e r is Islam's
Christianity an alternative posed in abstracto, as a discursive
contradiction or variation, btit in concrete*, a historical alternative.
Islam too did not come about except ' i n the fullness o f time' but
this fullness consisted i n the attempt by Orthodox Christianity
to wipe out the Christian alternatives to itself. I n the first century
of Islam, the greatest majority o f its adherents had been Christians
in disagreement w i t h Orthodox Christianity concerning what is
and what is not the revelation and religion o f JesLis Christ. Islam
is certainly a Christian revolution w i t h as much connection to
Jesus as O r t h o d o x Christianity can claim. We shoLild not be
misled by the fact that the Islamic revolution w i t h i n Christianity
reached farther than what i t had originally set out to accomplish.
The fact is that Islam was no more new than the religion ofjesus
was i n respect to the religion o f the Jews. The continuity ofjesus'
prophetic thought w i t h the spiritualizing and internalizing
thought o f Jeremiah and the pietism o f Amos and M i c a h is
recognized and confirmed by Islam. JesLis' ethic o f intent is, i n
Islam, the sine qua non o f morality. Jesus' notions o f the unity o f
or

191

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

the Father, of His fatherhood to all men, and o f his love-ofneighbour - i n short, his ethical universalism, is not only
honoured by Islam but rediscovered as essence o f that Semitic
consciousness which chose to migrate from U r as well as from
Egypt. O n the other hand, the opposition ofjesus to Judaic
particularism is universalized i n Islam as the opposition o f the
universal brotherhood under the moral law to all particularisms
except the Arabic Q u r ' a n w h i c h is the expression o f this
opposition. Therefore, there can be no doubt that Semitic
Christianity had itself developed into Islam, and that the latter's
contention w i t h Orthodox Christianity is only a backward look
within the same stream from a point further down its course - in
short, a domestic recoupment w i t h i n the one and same Semitic
consciousness itself.
32

Despite this domestic nature o f the contention between Islam


and Christianity, neither Christianity nor Islam is really capable
of going over its categories in the examination o f the historical
facts involved. Only a complete suspension o f the categories of
both, such as history o f rehgions is capable of, holds any promise.
The historical truth involved must be discovered and established.
If, when that is done, either Christianity or Islam continues to
h o l d to its o l d versions and views, i t w o u l d do so o n l y
dogmatically, not critically. A n d we may hope that under the
impact o f such re-establishment o f the formative history o f
Semitic consciousness i n its Judaic, C h r i s t i a n and Islamic
moments, the road would be paved for some dogma-free spirits,
loyal to that consciousness, to prepare the larger segment o f
mankind for meeting the challenge of the world-community So,
too, such re-establishment o f the history o f Semitic consciousness
makes possible a new reconstruction o f Christian religious
t h o u g h t w h i c h does n o t suffer f r o m dependence u p o n
epistemology. From the days o f Albert the Great (120080 C E ) ,
attempts at reconstruction have been made on the basis o f the
philosophy that is currently i n vogue. That is why every systematic
theology, or reconstruction, fell d o w n w i t h the fall o f the
epistemological theory on which it was based. That is why the
CLirrent systematic theologies w i l l also fall as soon as a new
192

HISTORY OI RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE


:

epistemology rises and establishes a reputation for itself. What is


needed is a reconstruction 'supra-philosophies' w h i c h does its
work w i t h i n the Orthodox doctrine w i t h o u t external aids, by
re-investigating its formative p e r i o d . This doctrine, as the
Orthodoxy itself holds, is largely the work o f men, of Christians,
o f majority-resolutions or otherwise o f synods and councils,
whose 'inspired* status ought to be once more investigated. A
reconstruction that does not re-open the questions resolved at
the Pre-Nicene Synods, at Nicaea (325 C E ) , at Constantinople
(381 C E ) , at Ephesus (431 C E ) , and at Chalcedon (451 C E ) w i l l not
answer the demands that have been made by Muslim converts
from Christianity and are now beginning to be heard from the
more recent Christian converts i n Asia and Africa. I t is not
surprising that voices like that o f the Rev. U . Ba H m y i n made
itself heard at the last Assembly o f the W o r l d C o u n c i l o f
Churches at N e w Delhi calling for a reconstruction o f Christian
doctrine as radical as the Hellenic trans valuation was o f Semitic
Palestinian Christianity. What is surprising is the fact that the
World Council never responded to this formidable challenge.
The greater difHculty, however, is not the impending doctrinal
separation o f Afro-Asian Christianity from Western Christianity,
but the increasing impatience w i t h or lethargy to this Western
doctrine on the part o f lay Western Christians. The soul o f the
modern Christian is unmoved by the doctrinaire assertions o f
Heilsgeschichte,
o f the fallenness o f man, o f the t r i n i t a r i a n
c o n c e p t i o n o f d i v i n i t y , o f vicarious suffering, o f o n t i c
Redemption, o f the elected and exclusivist status o f the Church.
What is needed is a genuinely new rebirth. A n d it is a rebirth
which must begin by saying a resolute ' N o ! ' to Irenaeus's (c. 13033

34

c. 200 C E ) claim t h a t , ' . . .Those who wish to discern the truth . . .


[must do so in] the tradition and creed of the greatest, the most
ancient c h u r c h , the chtirch k n o w n to all m e n , w h i c h was
founded and set up at R o m e by the two most glorious apostles,
Peter and Paul. For w i t h this church, because of its position o f
leadership and authority, must needs agree every chLirch, that is,
the faithful everywhere . .
What the Christian participant i n
the Semitic stream o f consciousness needs is to outgrow the
193

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

un-Christian fixation of Irenaetis which asserts: 'There is now no


need to seek among others the truth which we can easily obtain
from the church [of Rome]. For the Apostles have lodged all that
there is o f the truth w i t h her, as with a rich bank, holding back
nothing . . . A l l the rest are thieves and robbers . . . The rest . . . we
must regard w i t h suspicion, either as heretics and evil-minded; or
as schismatics, puffed up and complacent; or again as hypocrites,
acting thus for the sake o f gain and vain glory.' For this, history of
religions must teach the Christian anew, against the wisdom of
Tertullian, that Apostolic Succession even i f its historicity is
granted can be an argument only i f the heirloom is biological or
a thing that can be given and taken without suffering change; that
since the 'heirloom' is ideational, and i n the absence o f a JesusQur'an frozen verbatim w i t h die categories under which i t can be
understood as it must have been by its mouthpiece, die decisions
o f the Church o f Rome stand on a par w i t h the pronouncements
of a PrisciUa-Mixiiiiilla team, and those o f Irenaeus on a par with
those o f a Cerinthus (c. 100).
36

37

In Response to D r . al-Faruqi
Bernard E. Meland

Let me say at the outset that I share the concern which I detect
behind the statements i n Dr. al-Faruqi's paper. One senses here
a c r y i n g out for t r u t h and i n t e g r i t y i n religious faith, for
instruments o f scholarship that w i l l enable discerning men of
faith to attain such integrity, and the hope that all religions, but
particularly those o f the Semitic strand, Judaism, Christianity and
Islam, might be brought into a closer bond on the basis o f such
scholarly inqLiiry.
A t times it seems that all Dr. al-Faruqi means to plead for is an
overarching fund o f tested historical facts about the history of
each o f the several religions which w i l l stand over against every
194

HISTORY 01 RELIGIONS: IT'S NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE


:

biased, dogmatic tradition that would coloLir, distort or ignore


these facts i n order to concur w i t h its vested interests. This was
precisely the aim o f the religionsgeschichtliche Schule o f Christian
historians in w h i c h the early Chicago School participated, or
emulated, and to w h i c h they made significant contributions.
Many o f the facts w h i c h D r . al-Faruqi mentions i n his two
illustrations toward the end o f his paper are explicitly noted i n
these writings, e.g.,'The genesis and development o f that against
which the revolution (of Jesus) came, as well as the genesis and
development o f the stream o f ideas o f which the revolution came
as an apex, as a consummation and crystallization'; 'the sifting o f
the t w o streams', distinguishing between the nationalistic
particularistic and universal stream; 'the relation o f Jestis' personal
outlook and faith to Jewish antecedents', particularly that o f the
Hebrew prophets.
The citing and tracing o f these origins and developments,
antecedents and relationships was the burden o f some o f those
early handbooks such as J.M.P. Smith's The Prophet and His Problem,
The Prophets and Their Times, and S.J. Case's several works,
especially his Jesus A New Biography, Social Origins of Christianity
and The Evolution of Early Christianity, to mention some early
studies o f this school. Cf. also H.J. Cadbury, 'Jesus and the
Prophets', Journal of Religion (November 1925).
Since their time, however, the problem o f faith and history has
become more acute and troublesome. O n the one hand, it is not
clear just how this fund o f historical fact is to be used i n correcting
the vision o f faith, and whether it reaches the level o f the faith
response at all. F u r t h e r m o r e , and perhaps more i m p o r t a n t
critically, it is not clear to contemporary Christian scholars that
facts, such as these earlier historians presumed to be disclosing,
re really facts o f history, and whether i n fact, explicit sources or
resources exist that w i l l enable the scholar to get at such facts.
a

istory, so i t seems, strangely and ironically rests back upon


documents which turn out to be the reports o f faith. A n d what
^s taken to be historical data, pure and simple, thus looms as a
mirage that may not be taken at face value. This is the haunting
pectre which has dominated the horizon o f Biblical scholarship

195

ISLAM AND O T H E R FAITHS

since Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus, and the Form


Criticism of subsequent years. Some present-day scholars appear
to be wriggling out o f the dilemmas w h i c h these issues have
created; but I , for one, have yet to be convinced that this roadblock to historical data has actually been cleared away.
Thus, while I yearn to have the clear-sighted view of historical
data that would yield access to the undisputed facts of history which
could then serve as a guide or norm forjudging the accuracy of all
claims o f faith, I am by no means as assured as Dr. al-Faruqi seems
to be that such undisputed facts are available to us.
Even so, I would press for pursuing such historical inquiry
despite its uphill nature. This I think, is the spirit o f disciplined
inquiry - a pursuit o f truth and fact against all odds; but I would
have to do so w i t h more modest aims than the ones to which Dr.
al-Faruqi aspires - not w i t h the messianic hope o f a metareligion, btit w i t h a dogged and dedicated concern to wrest from
this complexity, some clarity o f vision that w i l l enlighten the
witness o f faith.
But there are indications to suggest that, in saying that 'the
historian o f religions is above all concerned w i t h truth', Dr. alFaruqi is pressing for something deeper and more basic than a
n o r m provided by historical facts. Here he does me the honour
o f suggesting that what I have set forth as man's primordial
ground, opens the way for providing a meta-religion, capable or
summoning all religions to the truth that underlies and unites
them. But at the very point that I appear helpful, I fail the historian
of religion because, while I 'seek that reality on the level which
properly belongs to i t ' , I 'identify it i n such a way as to make any
k n o w l e d g e and hence any m e t h o d o l o g i c a l use o f i t impossible.' W h a t is that way o f identifying this underlying
reality, w h i c h leads me to failure? I t is my reversal o f the
conventional statement o f the ontic relation between primordial
reality and its concrete actualization, thus 'becoming the absolute
dependence o f the universal to the particular. For this twist', says
D r . al-Famqi, 'no reason is given; and its net purport is the
resohition to recognize only the particular as given, thus closing
the gate to any reliable knowledge o f the universal' (pp. 178-9)-

196

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

Let me try to offer some explanation for this twist:


W h y is the primordial universal dependent on the particular?
Because the primordial as given i n our life i n God conveys the
relational ground o f all that exists, but i t assumes concrete
existence only through the cultural and individuated structures
available to creative events in any time or place. What I have
called primordial, as being the universal ground i n w h i c h all
men share, and O L U o f w h i c h all men have come, as created events,
is a depth o f reality i n w h i c h h i s t o r y is l i v e d , i n w h i c
individuated and culturally shaped human lives f i n d their
ultimacy as a referent beyond each particularization o f their
cultural history. I n this sense, all men have a primordial sense o f
their unity and oneness as children o f the living God, w h i c h
stands i n judgement o f their particularizations, as reality stands
over against reason, ultimacy over immediacies; but this universal
ground is not i n itself available to our calculations, or judgements,
which can be lifted up and formulated as a universal measure o f
all concrete faiths.
Knowledge of this universal measure we do have as lived
experience. Knowledge about it we can have only i n the form o f
an ontological vision o f all mens existence, insofar as we can
attribute each such concrete existence to the creative act of God.
This v i s i o n , o f all men's existence t h e n f o l l o w s f r o m a
presLipposition that all men, regardless o f faith or culture, have
their lives i n God, and w i t h varying degrees o f prehension, i n
relation w i t h other men.
N o w i f D r . al-Faruqi means by 'meta-religion', simply this
kind o f ontological vision issuing from an understanding o f the
creative act by which all men came to be, which w i l l serve to
express i n a s t r u c t u r e d and c o g n i t i v e way w h a t is daily
experienced i n the history that is lived w i t h i n any culture,
should gladly concur. M y own abstract understanding o f man as
man in relation to his communal ground, affords me such a
cognitive reminder in giving universality to my understanding
f the Christian image o f man, and o f its relation to all other
historic images o f man.
But i f by meta-religion, Dr. al-Faruqi means to establish on
197

ISLAM AND

OTHER LAITHS

this basis a universal religious n o r m , presumably speaking out


of a more authentic and comprehensive grasp o f what is implied
in all religions, thereby enabling the comparative historian of
religions to distil f r o m each concrete f a i t h , its universal
component, I must demur. For this seems but to relapse into
Enlightenment habits o f thought wherein universal judgements
were sought i n a rational abstraction, leaving concrete and
historical realities but pale accidents o f contingent conditions.
But however this is to be understood, let me see i f I can grasp
what Dr. al-Faruqi means to convey in his suggestive statements
where he undertakes to purge my theory o f its 'relativist trait'.
This reduction o f all human knowledge to relativity, to the
particular cultural structure o f the subject, says Dr. al-Faruqi,
stems from a 'mistaking o f relationality for relativity'.
would qualify this statement i n certain respects: I have not
meant to imply that all human knowledge is relative i n the sense
that no universal judgements on any subject can be achieved. A l l
knowledge does initially arise w i t h i n a cultural orbit o f meaning;
and for some human beings, this cultural enclosure is never
dispelled. Insofar as data w i t h which the mind concerns itself is
sufficiendy public and communicable, a high degree o f universal
exchange o f experience and judgement is possible. The physical
sciences have achieved almost universality i n their areas of
inquiry and communication. Scientific thinking as a mode o
inquiry has not been universally accepted East and West still
differ i n their responses to i t ; bLit wherever scientific thinking
occurs and is accepted, universal judgements are achievable.
However, to the degree that data and the human response to
data involves internal awareness, feeling tone, as well as bodily
feelings that reach to a level o f response that escapes conscious
awareness, discourse about it as well as inquiry into it confronts
an almost impenetrable barrier. Thus the data o f art and religion
have been less amenable to universal judgements than the
sciences.
N o w to speak o f a science o f religion or o f art is to speak o f a
special mode o f response to these human creativities. A t the
outset it must mean a selective response, concerned only w i t h
198

NATURE AND SIC-NIHCANCE

ublicly available data. I t is quite possible to achieve a high


degree o f reliable scientific opinion in this area o f inquiry that
can serve limited goals - e.g., strategy o f dealing w i t h various
cultures during war time, or even i n times o f peace. This provides
a kind o f functional truth about religions that is useful for ulterior
purposes. A n d it can be quite useful - both for good and for evil
ends.
Insofar as the historian o f r e l i g i o n aspires, as scientific
historian, to go beyond the attainment o f such functional truth
(i.e., knowledge about the public concerns and behavi
specific religious people w h i c h is demonstrably true)
encounters difficulties that stem from the ambiguities that go
deep into the texture o f existence itself, not to speak o f cultural
relationships and the relativities they impose
N o w I would be willing to argue for a considerable amount
of refinement and discipline i n the approach o f one human being
to another, and o f one religious group to another. A n d I would
w i l l i n g to h o l d out for considerable i m p r o v e m e n t i n
sensitivity and rapport between discerning, i n q u i r i n g minds from
various religious cultures as they probe the m e a n i n g o f the
religious response i n these various concrete situations. A n d the
degree o f mutual understanding, sympathetic insight and possible
inter-relationship between peoples o f different faiths mad
possible by such explorations would in itself justify the effort to
make i t . Thus my statements are not to be taken to i m p l y a
cynicism about pursuing such a task, or a dogmatic rejection
the effort at the outset. M y concern is to avoid the k i n d o f
p l i f i c a t i o n , and self-deception, w h i c h l a y back o
Enlightenment efforts at universality i n religion, and the kind o f
universalist dogmatism that characterized m e n l i k e Voltaire
(1694-1774), d which have continued to characterize devotees
of a w o r l d faith ever since, leaving the mystery and depth o
concrete religious faiths wholly uncalculated.
does not follow that one is forever limited to the fixations
of one s cultural nurture, once one is committed to enter upon a
negotiation o f meanings w i t h a person o f a n o t h e r c u l t u r e .
Despite the opaqueness o f meaning which each one shares, and
a n

199

ISLAM AND O T H E R PAITHS

the persisting occasions of impasse that periodically arise, any


interrelation o f various orbits o f meaning must give rise to transcLiltural understanding o f a sort - that is, a fund of negotiated
meanings which stand sinrultaneously i n a relation o f fLilfilnient
and judgement toward each of the participating faiths - fulfilment
in the sense that the revelatory insight o f affirmation o f one's
faith, seen i n another context o f historic experiences, or i n
relation to comparable revelatory insights under different
circtimstances, takes o n new p r o p o r t i o n s o f meaning and
applicability; judgement, in the sense that candid confrontation
w i t h the witness o f faith from other historical experiences
conceivably can shock one i n t o realizing the l i m i t e d or
d o c t r i n a i r e resolutions or i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s given to such
revelations w i t h i n experience and history
The conviction that the realities o f faith, consonant w i t h our
life i n God, underlie, and continually stand i n judgement o f the
meanings we ascribe to such revelatory experiences, implies that
truth is always marginally apprehended i n any witness o f faith.
A m o n g d i s c i p l i n e d minds p a r t i c i p a t i n g i n such marginal
apprehensions a c r i t i c a l exchange o f apprehensions and
meanings can hopefully yield some degree o f clarification or
understanding that w i l l stand i n judgement o f both witnesses of
faith. I f it is a true negotiation o f meaning bent on as fiill a degree
of the t r u t h o f actuality as possible, (and not just a grudging
compromise o f understanding) that w h i c h arises out o f the
exchange w i l l be a new emergent, a new occasion o f human
understanding transcending the cultural orbits o f meaning. I
woLild still recoil from calling i t the truth, as i f to equate this
human knowledge w i t h reality itself; but it would be an advance
upon culturally and individually hmited knowledge, such as each
one in his separate enclosures is bound to exemplify.
But now, can we say that our primordial unity is conveyed to
us through the structure o f our humanity i.e., through the
structLiral character o f ourselves as human beings? This can be
conveyed w i t h or w i t h o u t i n t r u d i n g any specific cultural or
individuated characteristics. I thought Karl Barth was getting at
this i n designating our h u m a n i t y under four aspects: ( i )

200

HISTORY 01 RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE


:

'Openness to another as a human being. (2) Talking and listening


to another. (3) Being there for another. (4) D o i n g all this joyfully.'
N o w this borders on being a poetic way o f speaking o f a kind
o f responsiveness that is peculiarly human and is i n contrast to
the responsiveness o f other structures i n nature. Each o f these
aspects is expressive o f the notion o f encounter, and presupposes
an underlying communal ground or, i f this is too ontological, a
propensity toward acting i n communal ways.
There may be various ways o f presenting this p r i m o r d i a l ,
structural dimension o f our humanity. A Christian way o f saying
it is to speak o f our life i n God. Perhaps this is suitable for JudaicChristian-Muslim imagery - for it arises out o f the notion o f
the Creation o f man as it appears i n the Hebraic myth.
Scientifically speaking, this would point up the specific level
o f mutations that formed our particular species, and w o u l d
simply designate 'our k i n d ' among the many varieties o f mammals]
e.g., there is a basis here for stressing common ground, common
possibilities, common obligations and opportunities - by way o f
fulfilling or actualizing the evolutionary occasion visited upon
us. I n Havelock Ellis' (1859-1939) words, ' O u r supreme business

in life not as we made it, but as it was made for us when the
world began is to carry and to pass on as we received i t , or
better, the sacred lamp o f organic being that we bear w i t h i n LIS.'
This is an affirmation o f universalism resting back upon our
primordial beginnings i n nature that has motivated much o f
scientific idealism since the beginning o f the modern era and
continues to speak f o r t h t h r o u g h m o d e r n scientists and
publicists like Jtilian Huxley (1887-1975).
M e t a p h y s i c a l l y , this p r i m o r d i a l u n i v e r s a l i t y o f man is
presented i n terms o f the process o f creativity as it relates to the
human structure. W h i l e metaphysics is less bound to the cultural
idiom than religion, it is more expressive o f it than science. For
example, Whitehead, i n canvassing the possibilities o f imagery
capable o f c o n v e y i n g the metaphysical p o r t r a y a l o f o u r
p r i m o r d i a l beginnings, toys w i t h the idea o f adopting the
Hebraic m y t h o f creation, but rejects i t on the grounds that it is
too primitive for conveying sophisticated notions o f metaphysics,
201

1ST AM AND O T H E R EAITHS

and instead chooses to b u i l d u p o n the Platonic m y t h .


Incidentally, my own variation from Whitehead stems from die
fact that I have taken his basic notions and related them to
(perhaps should say translated them i n terms of) the Hebraic
myth o f Creation.
Despite this involvement i n the cultural idiom, metaphysics
generally provides an opening beyond its chosen i d i o m , thus
enabling its structural meaning to be given a different or varied
rendering i n terms o f other idioms, yet conveying much the same
basic vision o f intelhgibility.
The language o f religion, especially o f theology, is least fitted
to speak universally, except i n terms that are available or
meaningful to the cult or culture i n which its particular witness
of faith has taken form. This is because its initial focus has always
been u p o n concrete occasions, d e m a n d i n g release f r o m
suffering, frustration or failure; or giving expression to wonder,
gratitude, ecstasy, or vital joy. The universal reference has taken
the form o f a projection beyond the particularizations o f these
occasions; i t has not arisen out o f a universal judgement or
proposition. For example, the myths o f Creation i n Hebraichistory follow upon the redemptive experiences o f the Exodus.
God acted i n the particular events o f Hebraic history, and from
these mighty acts, generalizations presuming to be o f a universal

character were deduced.


The projected universalisms that thus arise from the various
religions cannot be expected to yield a common vision o f man;
for they presuppose i n each instance particularizations that may
not be universally shared. N o r is it likely that the confrontation
o f one religion by another i n terms o f its rehgious witness will
give rise to generalizations that can be readily shared. You w i l l
note that I said 'readily' shared. I am not ruling out the possibility
that they may i n time come to be shared after other kinds of
exchanges have occurred; but the point I am making is that the
generalizations drawn from specific occurrences w i t h i n a cultural
history are not prima facie universal judgements that can be
recognized as such outside the cultural imagery. When they are
202

HISTORY Oh RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

projected within any religious faith, they bear the imprint o f the
cultural history
It is possible, however, that the act o f bearing witness to
experiences o f religious i m p o r t to a people, or o f relating
accounts o f such religious acts o f witness that have occurred
within one's culttiral history, can be heard and assimilated within
another cultural history. M u c h w i l l depend here upon the degree
to w h i c h the bare human structure o f response is conveyed bare i n the sense o f being primordial, i.e., a response expressive
of the structural capacities o f any human being, i n contrast to a
witness o f faith that is laden w i t h doctrinal interpretation and
implications. I f human capacities and their structural responses
can be laid bare in such acts o f witnessing, a genuine encounter
at the primordial level o f humanity can be supposed. Except as
this takes place, however, one can only assume, that a barrage and
clash o f symbols has occurred.
N o w i f one asks, how may some measure o f this genuine
encounter between human beings be assured? I can only say
that i t can be facilitated by every effort to think beyond the
cultural or cultic imagery in the very act o f thinking and speaking
within this idiom. This is a way o f saying that the more a cultic
faith and its theology is informed by, or conversant w i t h , the
sciences and metaphysics, the more likely i t is to be open to
dimensions o f meaning that carry the cultic speech beyond its
cultural orbit into considerations that can recall or re-vivify its
universal import as given i n its primordial ground.
Science and metaphysics are not so m u c h resources to be
integrated w i t h cultic speech, as counter irritants, or better still,
reflectors, casting a beam o f l i g h t u p o n p a r t i c u l a r i z e d
mythologies, or exposing its cultic claims that are sheer
idiosyncrasies and thus releasing (or compelling) its mythos to
look ilhmitably far.
To the extent, then, that theologies or religiotis witnesses
partake o f the criticism and challenge o f the cLiltural disciplines,
one can expect them to be summoned to a vision o f the human
reality i n experience that is sharable by all religions w i t h o u t
sacrificing what is definitive and decisive in its own faith.
203

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

Notes
1. Professor Long's note: 'Dr. al-Faruqi s portrayal of the history of the
discipline of history of religions presupposes that the history of this discipline was
carried out along lines which were quite rational. Such was not the case. The
history of religions is a child of the Enlightenment. This is to recognize that the
history of religions had its beginnings in a period in which the Western world was
seeking some rational (as against a religious) understanding of the history of man s
religious life. The history of religions during the Enlightenment was for the most
part rationalistically and moralistically oriented. Prior to this time, the
understanding of religion from a religious point of view yielded even less on the
level of scientific understanding, for while the medieval theologians were able to
see Islam, for example, as a religion and not as an instance of a truncation of reason,
it was nevertheless relegated to the level of paganism since it did not meet the
standards of the one true revelation.The rationalistic interpretation of history had
the value of establishing a criterion other than revelation as the basis of religion.
This meant that to a greater degree the data of the non-Christian religions could
be taken a bit more seriously. This, along with universalism of the Enlightenment
and the reports from colonizers and missionaries established a broader if inadequate
basis for the understanding of other rehgions and cultures, though in several
instances the final revelation of God in Jesus Christ was transformed into the final
apotheosis of reason in the Enlightenment civilization of the Western world/
2. Professor Longs note: 'The definition of religion as "the H o l y " or the
sacred was an attempt to save the religious life of mankind from a reduction to
dimensions of life which were inadequate as interpretative schema for the data
which had been unearthed.The development of methodologies in this direction
was directed against not only the understanding of non-Western religion, but
equally at the rationalistic and moralistic understanding of Western religion. It is
not, therefore, strange diat among the leading historians of religion arc to be found
a Lutheran archbishop and a German theologian. Participation in the religious life
itself sensitized one to the availability of the religious reality for all men in all times
and places. Rudolph Otto [18691937J advised those who thought the religious
experience impossible to lay aside their books, and Nathan Soderblom [1866
1931] stated that he knew there was a living God, not because he was a Christian,
but because all rehgions testified to this fact.To bc sure, as Dr. al-Faruqi implies, the
work of Otto and Soderblom restricted the meaning of religion, but only to save
it and they were aware always of the relationship of the holy to the totality of
mans life; witness for example, Otto's schematization which attempted to place
all of the important dimensions of human life as originating in and deriving their
sense of importance from the obligation of the holy in religious experience.
'This specificity of the holy was paralleled with a specificity of the historical religious object - the recognition of the individual, ineffable and unique in history.
This de-rationalizing or in some cases, irrationalizing of history, grew out of their
methodological approaches and constituted a critique of the rationalizing tendency
of some of the prevailing philosophies of history - philosophies stemming from
Kant [1724-1804] and Hegel [17701831]. In transforming the data of religion,
historically defined, into rational notions, the rational notions prevailed as the

204

HISTORY Oh RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE


criteria of supreme validity; the religious basis of evaluation, i.e., revelation, was at
most a provisional step towards a rational view. I submit that what Dr. al-Faruqi
describes as the Christianizing and misunderstanding of Judaism and Islam derives
from this tendency and not from the main-line historians of religions. It should
also be noted that the same rationalizing tendency operated in the case of primitive
Hindus and Buddhists.
'The notions of the ineffability, irrationality, and irreducibility of the religious
were designed to make a place for, or to hold open the criterion of validity which
arises out of, the historical-religious data itself.The relationship or re-introduction
to the validity of religion to all of life become the perennial problem of the
discipline:
3. T h e sense in which it does so will become clear as we discuss the
systematization and judgement functions of history of religions, p. T68 ff; p. 174 fT.
Andrew Paul Ushenko, Tlie Field Tlieory of Meaning (Ann Arbor: University
of Michigan Press, 1958), p. TH ff.
4.

Consider, for a case in point, Professor Mircea Eliadc, whose works (Images
et Symboles (Paris: Gallimard, T952); Mythes, reves et my s tires (Paris: Gallimard,
1957); Patterns in Comparative Religion (London: Sheed & Ward, 1958); Birth and
Rebirth (New York: Harper & Row, 1958); The Sacred and the Profane (New York:
Harper 8c Row, 1959); Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return (New
York: Harper & Row, 1959); etc.) constitute the worthiest attempt of the discipline
to'vergegenwdrtigen the archaic religions. 'Wc hold*, Professor Eliade writes in the
Foreword to his interpretive work, Cosmos and History, 'that philosophical
anthropology would have something to learn - accorded to the universe. Better
yet: that the cardinal problems of meta-physics could be renewed through a
knowledge of archaic ontology: Regardless of whether or not the book
substantiates it, the claim by itself has grave significance not only for the discipline
of history of religions in whose name it is made, but for 'the philosopher, and . . . the
cultivated man in general... for our knowledge of man and for man s history itself.'
5.

Another recent case in point is Charles H . Long s able argument for the claim
that 'as a religious norm, it [monotheism] has always been there - an enduring
1
structure of the religious experience itself'. ('The West African High God , History
of Religions,VcA. I l l , No. 2 (Winter 1 9 6 4 ) ^ . 342).
6.

Mowinckel, op. cit., Preface, p. xxii.

We should not mistake the advocates of Religionsgeschichteschule


for
historians of religions. Those who were not secularists were O l d Testament
theologians who, having faith in the dogma, interpreted the findings of Ancient
Near Eastern history and accommodated them in what they called Heilsgeschichte.
Herman Gunkel, perhaps the most famous name in that school, is a committed
Old Testament theologian who asserts explicidy, in criticism of Frantz Delitzsch's
(1813-90) famous lectures Babel and Bible (tr. C . H . W.Johns, N e w York: G.R
Putnam s Sons, T903) that 'in the depth of this development [Israels history] the
eye of faith sees God,Who speaks to the soul, and Who reveals Himself to him who
seeks H i m with a whole heart'. It would be utterly misleading to call him a
historian of religions or to identify his methodology as'history of rehgions'. Indeed,
Gunkel is so committed to his theological ideas that, in the same 'critique', (it
7.

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

reads more like a sermon) - he bursts into exclamations: What sort of a religion is
it (the religion of Israel)? A true miracle of God's among the religions of the ancient orient!
. . . He who looks upon this religion with believing eyes will confess with us:To
this people God hath disclosed Himself] Here God'was more closely and clearly
known than anywhere else . . . until the time ofjesus Christ, our Lord! This is the
religion on which we depend, from which we have ever to learn, on whose
foundation our whole civilization is built; we are Israelites in religion even as we
are Greeks in a r t . . . etc., etc' (Israel and Babylon:A Reply to Delitzsch, Philadelphia:
John Jos. McVey, 1904, p. 48). Evidently, we must be very careful in calling men
'historians of religions', when 'historian of O l d Testament' or 'historian of
Christianity' would be far more appropriate.
4

8. 'ChristianistrT is the movement which, though older than Nicaea (325 CF.),
emerged from that council as orthodox Christianity, upholding a specific dogma
- the Nicene Creed - as exclusively definitive of the faith ofjesus.
9. This has been well pointed out by Joseph M . Kitagawa in the opening
essay on'The History of Religions in America'in The History of Religions: Essays in
Methodology, ed. J.M. Kitagawa and M . Eliade (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1959), where he says:'. . . One must study the historical development of a
religion, in itself and in interaction with the culture and society. One must try to
understand the emotional make-up of the religious community and its reaction or
relation to the outside world . . . There must be added a rcligio-sociological
analysis, in our sense of the term, the aims of which is to analyze the social
background, to describe the structure and to ascertain the sociologically relevant
implications of the religious movement and institutions' (p. 26).
10. To take an example from this authors forthcoming study of Christianity:
'The Fall' or 'Original Sin' is a datum of the Christian religion. We must first
understand what it means discursively, by reading the definition and analyses of
Hebraic and Jewish thinkers for the Old Testament precursors, and of Christian
thinkers from the N e w Testament to P. Tillich. Having grasped the doctrinal
development of the idea, we then relate it to the historical development of
Christendom, showing how, in every stage, the Fall developed in answer to certain
sociological and doctrinal developments. Thus systematized into a developing
stream of complexi of ideas, each member of which is a network of a number of
closely-related facts, this complex religious datum is then related in depth to the
values which at each stage of the development, the datum was meant to and
actually did, serve to realize. This last relation is usually more evident in the
general literature of the civilization than in the strictly doctrinal statements.
11.
'No statement about a religion is valid unless it can bc acknowledged by
that religions believers' ( W C Smith, 'Comparative Religion: Whither - and
Why?', Tlie History of Religions: Essays in Methodology, op. cit., p. 42).
T2.

See Fazlur Rahman's and this author s reviews of Kenneth Cragg's Call of

the Minaret and Sandals at the Mosque, in Kairos, 3-4 (1961), pp. 225-33.

T3. Professor Longs note: 'I cannot deny that the discipline consists of
reportage and collection of data, construction of meaning-wholes and judgement
and evaluation, but these areas of the discipline cannot be separated so neatly; each

206

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE

one implies the other. It is on this basis that I take exception to Dr. al-Faruqi s
statement that 'The scientific character of an enquiry is not a function of the
materials, but of what is done with them: I should rather emphasize the fact that
the scale determines the phenomenon. It is the method which gives us our data
and this method represents a complex relationship between the objectivity and
the rclatedness of the data to the interpreter. This is what lay behind the
Methodenstreit in Germany in the last century Arc there real differences between
the constitution of the data of the human sciences and the natural sciences? Does
the scale really determine the data? While I am not satisfied with the bifurcation
which represented a resolution of the problem, I appreciate the problem. I would
rather restate the problem in a different way.'Is it possible for us to understand the
human mode of awareness which presents reality to us as a totality?'Some forms
of process philosophy take this question quite seriously but within the history of
religions the analyses of primitive and traditional religions tend to describe the
human awareness in these terms. Again, the sacred or the holy becomes an
appropriate way of dealing with this issue.'
14. It was this consideration that misled Professor Kitagawa to assign to the
history of religions a position intermediate between descriptive and normative
(op. cit., p. 19). H e clearly saw the descriptive nature of the discipline when it
studies the history of a religion, or when it appropriates the analyses of psychology,
anthropology, sociology, philology, etc., and of scriptures, doctrines, cults and
social groupings. But when he came to differentiate history of religions from the
normative disciplines, he wrote: 'While Religiotisivissenschaft has to be faithful to
descriptive principles, its inquiry must nevertheless be directed to the meaning
(sic) or rehgious phenomena' (ibid., p. 21).This concern with meanings is, in his
view, sufficient to remove history of religions from the ranks of descriptive science.
Evidendy, he precludes the possibility of a descriptive treatment of normative
content such as value-realist philosophy has been suggesting for a generation (cf.
the tradition of Max Scheler [1874-1928], Nikolai Hartmann [18S2-1950J, etc.).
15. Professor Long's note:'This point o f Dr. al-Faruqi is well taken. It has to
do with the inter-relationship of meaning-wholes. From a study of rehgions, we
now ask, what is religion. I also concur in his criticism of Professor W.C. Smith's
criterion for valid interpretation. I must, however, question the presuppositions
underlying the very constitution of die meaning-wholes. For the historian of religion,
such meaning-wholes exist but not simply as geographically and culturally defined
units. The historian of religions should not begin his study by setting aside a certain
number of religions and taking them in order to study them one after another. He
should rather begin with forms of the religious life and an exhaustive study of these
forms already leads him out of simply geographically and culturally defined units.
The very fact that he supposes that he can understand that which is other leads him
to a wide range of religious data. The meaning-wholes arc for him already interrelated and thus the problem of their relationship is of a different kind, I am one of
those historians of religions who does not like to hear the question put as the
relationship of Christianity to the non-Christian rehgions. For me the issue is put
more precisely when we ask the meaning of religious forms as valid understanding
of man's nature and destiny. Any discussion of this issue leads us to empirical data, but

207

I S L A M A N D O T H E R FAITHS

it also implicates us in a discussion which enables us not only to talk about the
resources of our peculiar traditions, but also the resources of a common humanity a common humanity which all living religionists may claim.'
T6. 'The History of Religions as a Preparation for the Co-Operation of
Religions', The History of Religions: Essays in Methodology, op. cit., p. 142.
17.

Ibid., p. 143.

18.

Ibid., pp. 143-4.

Other examples betraying the same shortcomings are Albert Schweitzer's


Christianity and the Religions of the World (London: Allen & Unwin, 1923); Hendrik
Kraemer, Why Christianity of all Religions? (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962);
Stephen Neill, Christian Faith and Other Faiths: The Christian Dialogue with Other
Religions (Oxford University Press, 1961); A . C . Bouquet, Tlie Christian Faith and
Non-Christian
Religions (London: James Nisbet & C o . , 1958); Jacques-Albert
Cuttat, La Rencontre des Religions (Paris: Aubicr, Editions Montaigne, 1957); R . C ,
Zaehner, The Convergent Spirit'/Towards a Dialectics of Religion (London: Roudedge
& Kcgan Paul, 1963), etc.
19.

'Theology and the Historian of Religion', The Journal of Religion,VoL X L L


No. 4 (October 1961), pp. 263-76.
20.

21.

Ibid., p. 265.

22.

Ibid., pp. 265-6.

23.

Ibid., p. 272.

24.

Ibid., p. 261.

25.

Ibid> p. 275. Here Professor Meland finds himself in agreement with


t

Michael Polanyi (Personal Knowledge, University of Chicago Press, 1958, p. 266)


who identifies the particular for knowledge as 'fiduciary framework' outside of
which 'no intelligence, however critical or original, can operate' (Meland, op. cit.,
p. 271).
26.

Ibid., pp. 274-5.

27.

Ibid., p. 264.

28.

Genesis, 11: T9.

29.

Meland, op. cit., p. 265.

30. B y distinguishing 'the earthly Jesus' of history from 'the heaven-exalted


Christ' of dogma and 'the Pre-existent Logos' of doctrine, Shirley Jackson Case
had an edge on the problem (Jesus: A New Biography, Chicago:The University of
Chicago Press, 1927, pp. 25) which he lost in the presentation of the earthly Jesus.
Discarding the evidence of the Gospels as projection onto the past of animosities
and oppositions pertinent to the Church of the first and second centuries CE, Case
regarded Jesus' task as being merely one of'summon [ing] the Jewish people to a
life in more perfect accord with the will of their God' (ibid.,p. 264), of delivering]
.. .a message of warning designed to augment righteousness in Israel' (ibid.,p. 342).
This task, anticipated and fulfilled by John 'calling upon the people of Palestine to
reconsecrate themselves to God in preparation for the Day of Judgement' (ibid., p.
242),'had first aroused the interest ofjesus' at his baptism and was adopted by him

208

HISTORY OF RELIGIONS! ITS NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE


incidentally on account of'a heightening of emotion [attending his experience of
baptism] that impelled him to assume the responsibilities of a new life-work' (ibid.,
p. 257). Indeed, Jesus did not even envisage any global mission at all; for'the range
of his activities widened [only| when Jesus paid a visit to "the borders of Tyre and
Sidon", which provided a setting for the story of his generous attitude toward the
Syro-Phoenician woman* (/W.,p.269).The task ofjesus is thus diluted into one of
simple reform. It was not a revolution against the moral decadence, tribalism and
vacuitous legalism of Judaism evidenced in both the Gospels and the Talmud
because, for Case, there was no need for one - 'Jesus,.. [having] more in common
with them [Scribes and Pharisees] . . . in his sympathies and aims...' (ibid., pp. 304
5), and 'fundamentally the difference between Jesus and the contemporary religious
leaders ofJudaism . . . [being] one of personal and social experience . . . [merely] a
neglect of legal niceties . . . [and his being a plebeian or] 'Amine ha-aretz'
unhabituated to the more meticulous demands of the scribal system' (ibid.,p. 315).
Where the Gospel evidence to the contrary is not due to the personal character of
Jesus and his being untutored in the Law; Case regards it as 'occasional instances of
conflict due to personal pique' (ibid., p. 316). Obviously all this theorizing is due to
Case's commitment to that aspect of Christian dogma which asserts the holiness
of the Jewish people, as well as of their religious principles and practices as given
and recorded in the Old Testament - a holiness which precludes all significantly
original changes, even if God Himself is the author, and Jesus the instrument of the
change. Case's 'Life of Jesus' is 'a new biography' as far as the 'heaven-exalted
Christ and Pre-Existcnt Logos' are absent from it. But it is not historical and
hence not strictly speaking a work of the history of religions.
31. L R . al-Faruqi,'A Comparison of the Islamic and Christian Approaches
to Hebrew Scripture', Hie Journal of Bible and Religionydl. X X X I , No. 4 (October
1963), pp. 283-93. [See Chapter Four of this book.]
32. For a detailed analysis of the circumstances of these two migrations, see
this author's On Arabism: Vol. I, 'Urubah and Religion (Amsterdam: Djambatan,
1962), pp. 18-28,

33. 'When Christian witnesses moved out of the world of Jewish thought
and understanding into the wider world of Greek language, thought and life, it was
one of the most profound changes and crises of the Church. Greek thought, forms,
language and modes of apprehension were taken over, and have since become part
of the very life of the Church.These have become such a part of Christian theology,
that it is easy to see why some Asian people think that the Christian Gospel is
intimately related to Western man. But now die Gospel has taken root in Asia.The
question before us is: Is it possible to make the radical break from purely Western
ways of thought, to do in Asia what first-century Christians did in the Greek
world? Is it possible to utilize structures, ways of thought and life which are Asian
even as Greek expressions have been used?This is not a simple question. It is often
asked, if this was not a corruption of the Christian message as expressed in its
Hebrew forms. But some such use was both possible and necessary for the Church
to go about its missionary task. Such an effort seems both possible and necessary
today. And it might well prove to be the greatest challenge that the Church has
faced since the transition from Jewish soil to Greek soil was made. If theology is to

209

ISTAM AND OTHER FAITHS


be ecumenical it must be able to utilize and confront systems and ways of thought
and life other than those known as Western. No theology will deserve to be called
ecumenical in the coming days which ignores Asian structures. It may use the
term ecumenical, but it will really be parochial and Western only* (AssemblyDocuments, No. I , November 19, 1961, New Delhi). It is noteworthy that this
Christian Asian leader regards the Roman-Hellenic interpretation of Palestinian
Christianity as 'a profound change' as well as 'a corruption of the [original]
Christian message'.
34. As far as this author could gather, whether from the papers of the World
Council of Churches Third Assembly at Delhi or from his interviews with a
number of delegates to the Assembly, Rev. Hmyin s message passed 'like water on
the back of a duck'. And in the report of the East Asian Section of the Theological
Commission to the Fourth World Conference on Faith and Order (Montreal,
1963) the formidable issue of Rev. Hmyin was neither discussed nor given
statement in the findings. Indeed, the whole field of 'Christian Thought and
Theology' was merely listed as one of the 'areas calling for a greater effort towards
indigenization', as well as put under the express condition that such indigenization
1
would not involve 'diminution of Catholic truth . A statement of this 'Catholic
truth' (obviously written by the secretary of the East Asian Section, Rev. J R .
Fleming, a Western Christian, for his East Asian colleagues) was entered in the
Findings of the Montreal, 1963 meeting, in which we read:'Christian worship is
the glad response of the people of God to the gracious redemptive activity of God
the Father, and Christ the Son, through the Holy Spirit. Christian worship,
therefore, is both Christological and Trinitarian.To say it is Christological means
that the central act in Christian worship is the proclamation of the good news of
God's redemption and re-creation of humanity in Christ . . .This Christological
worship is both individual and corporate, but the primary emphasis is on the
corporate, since God's purpose in Christ is to create a new body of people, Christ's
body. In Christian worship, therefore, man .. .becomes a part of the new humanity
in whom God s purposes in creation are being fulfilled. His life is defined now in
relation to God in Christ, and in terms o( leitouroia and latreia .. .To sav Christian
worship is Trinitarian means that it is offered to God in the light of this revelation
of [H]imself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because God is known in Christ, He
is known as creator, for whose gracious purposes in creation men are now reclaimed
and redeemed . . . ' etc. (Faith and Order Findings, Montreal, 1963, S C M Press Ltd.:
London, 1963, Report of the Theological Commission, pp. 32,39). Obviously this
is a report of 1963 Western Christian thought which the Asian representatives have
been 'buffaloed' into countersigning. O r , if the voice of Rev. Hmyin is
representative, however little, of Asian-African thought, the foregoing is a report
of what the parent Western churches of 1963 had wished the Asian churches ro
regard as 'Catholic truth'.
35.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, iii, 1.

36.

Ibid., I l l , iii, 1; IV, xxvi, 2.

37.

Tertullian, De Fraescriptione tlaeretkomm, pp. xx-xxi.

C H A P T E R SEVEN

Common Bases Between the


Two Religions in Regard

Convictions and Points

of Agreement in the
Spheres of Life
First.

The C o m m o n Base

Islam and Christianity hold that God (may He be Glorified


and Exalted) is transcendent and eternal; that He created the
universe; that He created man and placed h i m on earth to fulfil
His w i l l ; that the content o f the divine w i l l for man is faith and
the moral law. Both religions hold man's fulfilment of the divine
w i l l , or obedience to the moral law. to be universal i n essence
and application. Finally, both rehgions hold that man's fulfilment
of this destiny is salvation, felicity and happiness in this world
and the next.
T h i s r e l i g i o u s c o n t e n t is c l a i m e d by b o t h Islam and
Christianity as constituting its very core. Each of them holds its
possession o f that core as God-given through revelation. Each o f
This article was published in Seminar of the Islamic-Christian Dialogue (Tripoli:
Popular Office of Foreign Relations, Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jainahiriya,
! 9 8 i ) , pp. 229-64.

ISLAM AND OTHER 1AJTIIS

them regards past history in the light o f that revelation, and future
history as indicative o f it, culminating in a Judgement Day on
which all imbalances o f history w i l l be redressed under God's
all-encompassing knowledge, justice and mercy.
O f course, there are differences; and these are natural. W i t h i n
one and the same religious tradition, conceptualizations and
figurizations o f the core made at different periods o f history
may well differ. But whereas religious traditions develop and
change, the religion is no more the same; another religion has
taken its place. Had the core o f Islam or o f Christianity not
remained discernibly the same throughout its long history, i t
w o u l d be impossible to separate its own from other traditions.
Indeed, i t would not even be possible to identify that tradition.
A l l traditions w o u l d then make one amorphous heap o f
religious data. Islam and C h r i s t i a n i t y are distinct religious
traditions whose comparison, on the level o f core or essence is
indeed possible and j u s t i f i e d . However interesting to the
historian o f religions, to study the differences between the two
religions, i t is justifiable to ignore these differences to the
measure that one may wish to focus attention on the original
core, to emphasize or build upon i t .
Since the purpose o f the present seminar is dialogue, removal
o f m i s t r u s t and m i s u n d e r s t a n d i n g , r e c o n c i l i a t i o n and
c o o p e r a t i o n , the strategy is j u s t i f i e d . I n fact, Islam and
C h r i s t i a n i t y demand i t ; for b o t h are equally religions o f
repentance and forgiveness, o f mercy and compassion, o f
tolerance and good-will to all men. Both religions hold love o f
neighbour as conditio sine qua non o f piety and righteousness. I t
is o f their essence to seek man's reconciliation and cooperation.
There is another more compelling argument. Besides change
and the vicissitudes o f application and observance, there is
another aspect to Christian-MLislim history w h i c h is equally
true, and yet reassuring, reconciling and indeed uniting. That is
Muslim-Christian history viewed against the background o f a
millennia o f Near Eastern religiosity, beginning w i t h history's
dawn i n Mesopotamia.
This longer history is the history o f Arab (or 'Semitic')
212

COMMON BASES BETWEEN THE TWO RELIGIONS

religiosity. Its theatre is the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian


Peninsula. Its subjects are Arabs, the settled Arabs o f the South o f
the Peninsula (al-*arab al-'dribah), and the migrant Arabs o f the
N o r t h (al-^arab al-musta^ribah) who emigrated to and settled i n
the Fertile Crescent i n continuous smaller waves throughout
history and continual tidal sweeps about once every millennium
and a half. I n the smaller waves, the Arabs penetrated the regions
o f the Fertile Crescent and prepared the g r o u n d for the
succeeding t i d a l wave, or consolidated the effects o f the
preceding wave. These waves o f humans transformed the ethnic
nature o f the inhabitants o f the Fertile Crescent through intermarriage; and their repetition through the ages made the Fertile
Crescent as Arab as the Peninsula. Arab migrations enriched the
native languages w i t h Arabic vocabulary and literary forms, after
separation o f these languages f r o m t h e Peninsula a n d
estrangement o f t h e i r dialects by the relativities o f t h e i r
individual histories. They produced a re-crystallization o f local
culture and rehgion by re-affirming and clarifying the essential
core o f Arabian (Semitic) religiosity, by p r o d u c i n g a new
c o m m i t m e n t to its dictates w h i c h w o u l d then lead to new
expressions i n nearly all fields o f endeavour, from liturgy and
constitLitional law to mores and art.
1

Throughout the millennia, the spirit o f this whole theatre


remained essentially the same. I t cannot be denied that history
did produce variations. But these variations were repeatedly
drowned i n the re-affirmations o f a new wave o f immigration.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam were the three latest moments
o f this Arab (Semitic) consciousness. They were preceded by
countless other moments responsible for the f l o w e r i n g o f
Sumerian City States (3000 BC) o f the Akkadian Empire (2400
2150 B C ) , o f Babylon (1950-1500 B C ) , Nineveh (1450-1150 B C ) ,
etc., etc. I n each o f these moments, the new vision came i n the
form o f a law, or o f a law-reform, whose principal advocate
presented to his peers as revelation o f the w i l l o f God. Sargon o f
Agade (2334-2279 B C ) , Dipit-Ishtar and Hammurabi (r. 1792
1750 B C ) faced different situations w i t h differing prescriptions
from those o f the known prophets Noah, Moses, David, Jesus
213

ISLAM AND OTHER 1A1T1IS

and Muhammad (peace be tipon them all). But the spirit which
moved them and transformed the situations they presented was
one. The essence or core o f the movements these prophets
initiated i n history was the same. As the Prophet (peace and
blessings be upon him) said: 'The Prophets mothers are many;
their religion is one.'
Underlying and undergirding all manifestations o f culture and
religion i n the Fertile Crescent and Arabia was a core o f first
principles. BecaLise they determined all culture and religion,
these principles may properly be regarded as the base from
which emerged all manifestations o f the religious phenomenon
in the Arab theatre. These first principles are four: First: Reality
is dual and consists o f two utterly distinct and separate beings,
Creator or God, and creature or nature. The former is absolute
and transcendent; the latter relative and phenomenal. Ancient
Egypt and Ancient Greece on one side, and H i n d u i s m and
Taoism on the other, identified God w i t h nature and properly
deserved description as idolatrous. W h i l e recognizing God as
Creator and transcendent, ancient Arabs (Semites) associated
w i t h H i m many o f His creatures and they were rightly called
'Associationists' (mushrikun). B u t many others resisted stich
aberration and stood f i r m l y behind the absolute unity and
transcendence o f the divine Being. These were the ancient hanifs
who served as a springboard for the religioLis reform (revelation)

o f the succeeding cycle.


Second: God, the Creator, communicates w i t h His creatures
through revelation. The content o f revelation is the Law, or His
w i l l , which is the ought-to-be and ought-to-do o f the creature.
I f the creature was created, it must have been so for a purpose
entertained by its Creator. This purpose cannot be anything but
the fulfilment o f His w i l l and this must be built into the creature
precisely because it is creature. Discovery o f any creature's oughtto-be and o u g h t - t o - d o can therefore take place by reason
through analysis o f this innate pattern i n nature. The other way
of discovering the w i l l o f God is through direct revelation; that
is, the immediate communication o f the divine w i l l by words.
The w i l l o f God, i.e., theoretical and axiological truth, is therefore
3

214

COMMON BASES BETWEEN THE TWO RELIGIONS

knowable by one means or the other, or both. Otherwise creation


itself, the nature o f the creatLire and its distinction from the
Creator would be incomprehensible.
Third: The creatLire would not be a creation o f the purposive
Creator i f it were impossible for it to fulfil the Creator s purpose
from its creation. Since it is His creature, He must have built into
it the capacity to realize His purpose and placed it i n a theatre the universe w h i c h is equally His creation and where such
f u l f i l m e n t is i n d e e d possible. B o t h the creature and its
environment must i n themselves be good, for the Creator cannot
be conceived to have started the world i n deficiency, weakness
or w i t h an ulterior motive which assumes H i m to be in debt or
a liability to any other being.
Fourth: Since all creatures have the w i l l o f their Creator w h i c h
is His purpose and their raison d'etre embedded w i t h i n them,
they must be equipped w i t h the ontological efficacy required
for its fulfilment. This efficacy constitutes the laws o f nature,
whose validity is universal but whose necessity cannot go beyond
or override the divine w i l l . It stops at that w i l l because i t is its
very instrument. This applies to man as m u c h as i t applies to
stone, plant or animal. However, man is equipped w i t h an
additional faculty effective enough to reflect ontological efficacy
towards new ends, the moral. This is i n realization o f a different
* higher' purpose o f the Creator, namely, fulfilment by man o f
the distincdy moral values. This faculty is free because it is o f its
very nature to be so, a predetermined realization o f any good
being not moral at all. It follows that man is responsible for his
exercise o f this additional higher power. I t also follows from the
nature o f responsibility that it must end in jLidgement, i n reward
or punishment. O t h e r w i s e , m o r a l responsibility w o u l d be
meaningless vanity and a denial o f the premise o f the Creator's
purposiveness. M o r a l responsibility also assigns to man his
destiny, namely, to be a servant o f the w i l l o f His Master and
Creator in the World, His manor.
These four principles are the core and essence o f Arab
(Semitic) religiosity, o f Arab (Semitic) Ur-Religion,clearly
discernible in every moment i n the Arab (Semitic) Stream and
4

215

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

every great movement that sprang from i t . It is what united all


these m o m e n t s and movements i n t o one stream, and
distinguished the stream as a whole from other streams, notably
the Ancient Egyptian, the Indian and the Chinese. It is the base
which tinites Judaism, Christianity and Islam and makes o f them
one great movement i n human (global) history, despite all their
differences. For these are indeed the w o r k o f history, o f
provincial and particularistic determinants w h i c h the core can
and should overarch, and i n terms o f which all o f them may and
shoLild be composed.
Each religion must be credited w i t h sublime achievement in
the upholding and fulfilment o f these principles i n history. Islam
6

has called this core din al-fitrah and defined man i n terms o f it.
Every human creature, i t proclaimed, is endowed w i t h this core
at birth, equally w i t h all other humans, w i t h o u t the slightest
discrimination. A n d , recognizing its permanence, Islam declared
this Ur-Religion to be the sensus communis o f mankind, and based
it on a built-in sensus numinis by which the creature recognizes
its Holy, transcendent (and thus numinous) creator. Equally, this
is the avowed base o f Islam's universalism, w h i c h Muslims
everywhere have always assumed i n all hLimans
indeed even
i n non-humans, as Gods creatures/ N o wonder that Islam's
consistent adherence to i t reinforced its universalist claim and
was responsible for Islam's exemplary respect for and tolerance
o f other religions. This great privilege o f recognizing Ur-Religion
for what it is, namely, the universal characteristic o f all men, Islam
declares, belongs equally to Judaism and Christianity. Islam
does not therefore claim for itself superiority i n this matter, but
assigns to Judaism and Christianity a position on a par w i t h its
o w n . A l l being God's, all representing God's w i l l revealed
throLigh His prophets, they are all true, all crystallizing the one
and same t r u t h .
N o other base for inter-religious rapprochement compares w i t h
this. Conventions dictated by courtesy and diplomacy are the
weakest. Those dictated by utility, whether designed to meet a
special danger or c i r c L i m s t a n c e , or to contribute steadily to
material security and welfare, cannot stand i n the face o f any
7

10

11

12

216

c o m m o n bases b e t w e e n T H E t w o r e l i g i o n s

storm; nor before any serious cause which sees itself sub specie
aeternitatis. O n the other hand, rapprochement based on innate and
natural endowment is universal, eternal and constitutes the
firmest foundation for the future. Ur-Religion is the strongest and
worthiest foLindation on which inter-religious rapprochement may
be achieved and understanding and cooperation based. Because
it is itself o f a religious character indeed i t is itself religion,
both Christian and Islamic i t needs no special effort to
empathize w i t h i t to achieve understanding and insight. The
investigator is guarded against reductionism; for
Ur-Religion
provides the one religious loyalty to command and to guide
cooperation between the religions. The rehgions may be proud
of the results o f rapprochement, understanding and cooperation
achieved on this base, because the base is their own. I t is precisely
what, i n an insight o f great moment, Muammar Gaddafi has called
'Godly Islam', meaning an essential core o f Islamic doctrine
purged o f all elaborations, figurizations and prescriptivizations
of history, and constituting the religion o f God (religio naturalis)
in the best sense o f the term, w h i c h is at the centre o f all religions
and constitutes the core o f all h u m a n r e l i g i o s i t y . T h e
developments o f history w h i c h distinguish the religions and
separate them may, when this common base is acknowledged,
be repudiated as departures from the essential core. Or, they
13

may be sublimated in case they are cherished as individuating


c u l t u r a l d e t e r m i n a n t s . O r , they may be composed, i.e.,
harmonized and relatively synthesized w i t h the essence into a
new crystallization, adulterating but refigurizing the essence into
a new historical expression.

I.

The Fields of Cooperative Endeavour

i.

In the Realm of Christian Awareness

T h e r e can be no cooperative endeavour


without
consciousness o f the common base and shared purpose. This
should not be restricted to the elite, i f it is to bear fruit for history,
but must become common heritage to all ranks o f Christians
217

ISLAM AND O T H E R FAITHS

and Muslims. Accordingly, the general awareness o f Muslims


and Christians oLight to be developed, until the truthfulness o f
the c o m m o n base and the m o r a l d e s i r a b i l i t y nay,
imperativeness imperative endeavour are recognized. The
themes o f c o m m o n essence should extend and neccssarv
cooperation ought to be promoted, defended and elaborated
on all mass media, as well as in learned publications. Vatican I I
has paved the road for some rehabilitation o f the truth about
Islam w i t h i n the m i n d o f C h r i s t i a n s . Its s p i r i t must be
continued in the communications o f the Christian Church to its
members and to the world, which ought henceforth to carry this
message o f good-will. Above all, the voices w i t h i n Christendom^
which, as the allies o f Zionism, continuously pour out a steady
stream o f anti-Islam, anti-Muslim and pro-Zionist propaganda
14

that entices Christians to side w i t h the Zionist-settler state, to


reform Christian beliefs and attitudes so as to produce sympathy
w i t h that state, to reinterpret Christianity itself so as to make it
better accord w i t h the Z i o n i s t interpretation o f Palestine's
history, - must be stopped forthwith. N o t h i n g is more offensive
to our ears, whether Christian or Muslim, as well as to common
sense and our sense o f history, than the attempt by these voices
and agencies to literalize (and thus to en-landize and materialize)
the d i v i n e covenant ceding real estate to a race, the
irrevocability o f a covenant lifting a race above mankind, the
blasphemous straight-jacketing o f God by His own promise and
His implied 'doggedness' in face o f the immoral conduct o f His
'elected people'. N o t h i n g is more inimical to Christianity and
to Islam than the tampering by these agents w i t h Christian and
Muslim understanding that Jesus was indeed the word o f God,
given to his virgin mother, Mary, to fulfil a divinely-ordained
mission on earth, namely, to liberate man from the chains of
literalism, legalism, and particularism which Jewish leaders had
imposed upon their people, and to open anew the gates of
salvation and felicity; that he was indeed the Messiah promised
by the earlier prophets. Those naive Christians w h o concede
points to their Zionist neighbours, u n w i t t i n g l y undermine
Christianity itself. For, i f the Zionist understanding o f God's
16

17

19

20

218

COMMON BASES B E T W E E N T H E T W O RELIGIONS

relation to the Jews is correct, the Messiahship o f JesLis falls into


question; and the Church cannot be the new Israel. A n d if, as
the Geschichlich-mindcd scholars allege, every significant idea that
Jesus came w i t h was already claimed by the rabbis, his mission
w o u l d n o t appear as divine as Christian t r a d i t i o n had l e d
Christians to believe.
Fortunately, among Muslims, conviction and certitude i n all
these matters are beyond attack or doubt. For the messiahship o f
Jesus is a Qur'anic point o f faith and the falsity o f Zionism and
o f all its claims is a l i v i n g reality w h i c h the Arab M u s l i m
experiences every day i n the continued aggression and injustice
of its settler state.

This shoLild not, and i n fact does not, belittle the need for
sympathy on the part o f Christians and Muslims for the Jew
persecuted on accotint o f his faith. Religious persecution is an
abomination, equally condemnable by b o t h Christianity and
Islam. T h e w r o n g e d Jew is c e r t a i n l y e n t i t l e d t o redress,
rehabilitation and compensation wherever his human rights have
been violated. Assuredly, i t is the greatest blunder to indict the
Jew o f today for a crime allegedly coimiiitted by his ancestors
two thousand years ago. But i t is no less great a blunder for the
Jew o f today to claim compensation for injustices committed by
Christians through the centuries. Vicarious merit is not possible
withoLit vicarious guilt; and, as principles o f human conduct and
inter-human relations, both are repulsive to moral sense. N o r
should the Christian tolerate the Jew's romantic attempt to
reinterpret the whole o f Christian history and theology i n light
of that unfortunate event, the 'Holocaust'. Indeed, the Jew is
entitled to stich romanticism only among his peers, the European
Jews. The Jews o f the rest o f the world, o f the Muslim World i n
particular, are entitled to a different view based on their o w n
experience. I t is as much tolerance and spiritual cruelty to force
a European-Jewish view upon Christian Europeans as upon
oriental Jews.
21

In brief, i t should be said that Christians may not settle their


relations w i t h theJews alone i n isolation from the Muslims. The
MLislim's view is relevant and must be taken into accoLint. I n
219

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

i960, the Vatican found fit to alter the Catholic liturgy by deleting
the words 'perfidious Jew' from the Good Friday liturgy. By itself
this is a noble gesture designed to ease the strain i n Christian-
Jewish relations. B L U did the Vatican require the Jews to alter
their l i t u r g y (reading the Torah) by deleting all hate-arousing
epithets ascribed to the gentiles who i n any Jew s understanding,
include Christians, Muslims, and indeed the whole human race?
In fact, any reader o f the Torah w i t h m i n i m u m standards o f moral
judgement could make a much better case o f the need to censor
and re-edit its text than that o f any Christian litLirgy whatever.
2.

In the Realm of Muslim Awareness

Christianity is not Christendom. The MLislim imist learn to


distinguish the one from the other. I t is a great intellectLial
achievement to do so, and i t is a spiritual necessity i f the
Christian-MLishm dialogue is to conthuie and to SLicceed. Even
when the 'villain* in any event is the Church itself, the MLislim
must remember that the Church is not necessarily Christianity.
Whereas the Church is made o f fallible humans, Christianity is
Gods religion w h i c h cannot be indicted under any condition.
The QLir'an has indicted some Christians, and poured lavish
praise on others, because all Christians are human, capable of
good and evil, o f truth and error. As the religion w h i c h God
taught Jesus and Jesus conveyed, however, Christianity is always
innocent and infallible.

a. The Question of Christian Colonialism. It was Christendom,


not Christianity, that was gLiilty o f the two arch-enemies o f the
contemporary M u s l i m ; colonialism and mission. Colonialism
attacked the personal integrity o f every man i n the colonized
t e r r i t o r y . T h r o u g h c o l o n i a l i s m , C h r i s t e n d o m , and n o t
Christianity, robbed the M u s l i m o f his liberty to express his
thought, to assemble w i t h his peers, to act i n any field, including
the education o f himself and his own children. I n many cases, it
physically u p r o o t e d man f r o m his land and d w e l l i n g and
broLight aliens to settle i n his place. N o r t h Africa is littered w i t h
the remains o f such colonial settlements, bLit the notorious
220

COMMON BASES BETWEEN THE TWO RELIGIONS

example of the millennium is Palestine, where the human person


has been trodden upon, his personal dignity and integrity torn
into shreds and he continues to be victimized before our eyes
to this very day Even his right to complain o f the injustice and
aggression w h i c h befell h i m has been denied the Palestinian,
until he chose to wrest that right w i t h blood. Christianity is
opposed to all this by nature. I n perpetrating such crimes, the
Christian was un-Christian, even i f a Crmrch prelate had blessed
h i m or encouraged his venture.
It is morally and religiously imperative for Christians and
Muslims to w o r k together to lift this Satanic burden from its
victims. Christianity is here the Muslim's true ally and friend.
Against colonialism, Christianity teaches that man's personal
freedom and integrity are inviolable and ought to be restored. It
teaches that the works o f colonialism, whether i n its settler form
(Palestine, the Arabian Gulf, Rhodesia, South Africa, Singapore
and Malaysia, Indonesia, Cyprus), or in its neo-colonialist form
where it acts from behind its quislings and puppets, must be
stopped, pulled d o w n and reversed. T h e C h r i s t i a n - M u s l i m
dialogue ought to mobilize Christians and Muslims around the
world to condemn and, where possible, to resist the colonialist
acts o f their governments or fellow-Christians i n the name o f
Christianity. A n unequivocal call to this effect from His Holiness
the Pope w o t i l d have great effect toward stirring Christian
conscience to resist the Machiavellian, Satanic operations o f
Christendom's governments, to p o o l resources and concert
efforts o f all truthful Christians to help the victims re-assert their
rights and regain their lost dignity as humans. The individual
Christian cannot absolve himself o f responsibility on the groLinds
that his rehgion is personal and politics and governments are the
realms o f Caesar. Fortunately, Christian thought freed itself from
its old extremist individualism after the Industrial Revolution.
Pacem in Terris and Popularum Progresso, the Pontifical statements o f
1962 and 1970, stand as great momiments o f Christianity's
i n v o l v e m e n t i n the processes o f society and h i s t o r y . I f
Christianity successfully moves man to seek jListice for and
safegLiard the personal i n t e g r i t y o f C h r i s t i a n persons i n
22

221

ISLAM AND O T H E R EAITHS

European factories and cities, that niind would function as well


vis-a-vis Muslims i n Asia and Africa. Otherwise, the Christian
would deserve i n addition to the indictment o f racism that of
insincerity, indeed o f blasphemy.

b. The Question of Christian Mission.The second front on which


Christendom, and not Christianity, sinned against human integrity
is that o f mission. I n itself mission is morally and religiously
imperative because it is the effort by man to enable other men to
benefit f r o m the supreme w i s d o m , the religious t r u t h ,
appropriated by the missionary. It follows from the very nature of
truth and rehgion and hence of Christianity as much as of Islam
- that it seeks to be known, to be believed in and observed by the
greatest number. Mission is integral to Ur-Religion. Christianity
and Islam are missionary par excellence to spiritual possessions
because it knows them to be valid and good absolutely The truth
is always missionary; i.e., it wants to bc known.
As directed to Muslims, Christendoms mission has betrayed
this noble ideal. The betrayal, however, is not the w o r k o f
C h r i s t i a n i t y but o f its h u m a n , fallible and often g u l l i b l e
representatives. I n many instances, Christian missionaries were
caught i n the workings o f the colonial power, and used by the
latter to advantage. Where they deliberately cooperated w i t h the
colonialist and helped h i m achieve colonial objectives, they made
themselves guilty in the eyes o f Christianity as much as o f Islam.
After the colonial territory w o n its independence and repulsed
the colonialist, such insincere missionary changed his garb, and
returned as an expert in medicine, education, agriculture, social
work, or development planning. He exploited the acute need of
the emergent w o r l d for such services, as well as the internal
strains, dislocations and dissensions preceding and/or following
national independence. I n these cases, the missionary was not
'seeking the Face of God'.The Divine cause for h i m was a front,
instrumental to the national politico-economic or cultural good
which he deemed superior.
Unfortunately for Christianity, Christendom's missionary
effort i n the Muslim World did not succeed i n establishing any
222

COMMON BASES B E T W E E N T H E T W O RELIGIONS

good intention. The inevitable connection w i t h colonialism in


the past, the persistent subversive machinations o f n e o colonialism at present, the fact that parts o f the Muslim World,
such as Palestine and the Gulf, are still subject to settlercolonialism, make Christian missions in our generation utterly
suspect and repugnant. This, together w i t h the fact that the
M u s l i m W o r l d is still largely underdeveloped, w a n t i n g i n
organization, national consciousness and integration, economic
and political development, and is hence prone to subversion, the
present missions are utterly out o f tune w i t h the realities o f
history and must be closed down and liquidated throughout the
Muslim World. Their continued existence and activity constitute
a t e r r i b l e sore i n C h r i s t i a n - M u s l i m u n d e r s t a n d i n g and
cooperation. Christian mission, to be itself, w i l l just have to
postpone itself till another time. The overwhelming result o f
today's Christian missions i n the Muslim World is what has been
aptly called 'the rice-Christian', a real offence against God. Those
w h o speak for Christianity and r u n her missions ought to do
this in order to dissociate Christianity, the religion o f God, from
Christendom's exploitation, abuse and blasphemy
-

c. The Question of Christian Orientalism. Christianity is also


innocent o f Orientalism, Christendom's effort to understand
Islam and at the same time to undermine i t . W i t h the rise o f
European universities i n the nineteenth century, many Jews,
atheists and free-thinkers, men at the farthest removed from
Christianity, j o i n e d ranks w i t h Christians i n the study o f the
religion and culture o f Islam. Orientalism is responsible for
many scholarly accomplishments, especially i n the discovery,
establishment and e d i t i n g o f classical Islamic texts. B u t as
interpreter o f Islam, Orientalism has only helped destroy the
Muslim's confidence i n Christendom. Barring rare exceptions,
Orientalists had the double purpose o f undermining Islam i n
the minds o f its people and blackening its face in the minds of
Christians. To achieve the first objective, Orientalism attacked
the integrity o f the Qur'an, the personal character o f the H o l y
Prophet, the authenticity o f the Hadith. I t i m p u t e d to the
23

ISLAM AND O T H E R FAITHS

Prophet s Companions (may Allah be pleased w i t h them all) the


vile motives o f vengeance, conquest for gain and power. I t
glorified factionalism among MLislims by defending the heresies
and overemphasizing mysticism i n w h i c h Islam lost its essence
and became indistinguishable from other religions. Orientalists
repudiated the greatness of Islamic civilization by explaining it
away as a syncretistic copy o f Byzantium and Persia; and, though
they spared no effort to acqtiire, date, classify and exhibit the
works o f Islamic art i n the m L i s e u m s o f the West, they explained
t h e m v i n d i c t i v e l y as works produced i n spite o f Islam, or
contemptuously as Linoriginal adaptations from the pre-Islamic
arts o f the M u s l i m W o r l d . Whereas all these disservices and
misdeeds are undeniably true, it is not correct to ascribe them
to Christianity. But Christianity, and its honest and sincere
adherents must come forward to denounce them. They must
cooperate w i t h the Muslims in their repudiation.
Whereas missions being financed and carried out by the
Vatican State can be ordered stopped and liquidated, the works
o f Orientalists, being individual i n nature and often financed by
autonomous colleges and institutes, cannot be commanded to
stop. What can be done, however, is to elbow such works out of
circulation by the production and wide dissemination o f honest
works i n t e r p r e t i n g Islam correctly and produced j o i n t l y by
Muslim and Christian scholars. Such works would be a service
to scholarship, to world-learning as humanitas, enriching to any
culture and enhancing Muslim-Christian understanding, respect
and cooperation. This w o u l d also help remove the prejudice
against Islam planted and nursed by centuries o f i l l - w i l l , war
and the misrepresentations o f missionaries and Orientalists.
3.

In the Realm of Public Human Affairs

Unfortunately for mankind, there is as yet no authority which


speaks and works for the c o m m o n man populating the six
continents o f the globe. M o d e r n times have seen many a
movement which claimed to speak for h i m but which soured or
withered away withoLit much accomplishment. The European
Enlightenment soon dissolved into romanticism, extolling and
224

COMMON BASES B E T W E E N T H E T W O RELIGIONS

niystifying blood, race, feeling, land and die obscure medieval


origins o f nation and national culture. The French Revolution
soured by becoming '1'Empire . T h e socialist and utopianist
thoughts o f the Industrial R e v o l u t i o n came to n o u g h t as
machines exploited the common humans at home and dictated
the acquisition o f colonial markets and raw materials abroad.
T h e A m e r i c a n R e v o l u t i o n denied i t s e l f as i t sought t o
monopolize the N e w World and establish for itself colonies i n
Asia. The Communist Revolution denied its claimed idealism,
universalism and representation o f the interest o f the common
man when its two world powers gave priority to consumerism at
home, to 'Mother Russia' and 'Mother China' calls, and to playing
'the game o f nations' i n the world. For a brief moment, N e h r u
(1889-1964), Sukarno (1902-70), T i t o (1892-1980) and A b d u l
Nasir (1918-70) represented the interests o f the common man i n
the world; but only for a brief moment.
9

It is certainly time that some body or authority picks up the


banner o f the common man o f the world. A n d it is most proper
that this conference, representing the religious and m o r a l
conscience o f Christendom and Islamdom do so. I t should
proclaim its spiritual base to the w o r l d and call men to rally
themselves around i t so as to constitute that authority. Such
authority, based upon Islam and Christianity, and drawing its
inspiration f r o m their unique and single G o d , f r o m t h e i r
common pietism, their common ethics and humanism, w o u l d
speak in the world for the ethico-spiritual base o f all existence.
It would defend the common man everywhere against injustice
in all its forms, above all against aggression and colonialism,
against the e x p l o i t a t i o n s , subversions, b r a i n - w a s h i n g ,
puppetization or clientization o f the common man. It w o u l d
encourage the common man to respect himself, to take pride i n
and cultivate his legacy, to appreciate the role o f both Islam and
Christianity as civilizing forces. The work o f such authority w o u l d
naturally fall into departments answering the human need to
solve ominous problems o f modern times: Knowledge, Personal
Ethics, the Family, Race, Materialism, Colonialism and National
Competition and Nihilism.
22

ISLAM A N D O T H E R EAITHS

a.
The Problem of Knowledge. T h e present s i t u a t i o n in
philosophy is very similar to that o f Athens at the time o f the
sophists. M o d e r n Western scepticism had its roots i n the
liberation o f the Western mind from the clutches o f a dogmatic
ecclesiastical authority and from scholasticism. Inspired by its
fantastic gains in the natural sciences, reason waged a tremendous
battle i n the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the cause of
man's right to think outside o f the alleged 'religious authority'
and the categories o f Aristotle. I n face o f persistent attack by
British empiricism, reason i n the West took to speculation, mixed
itself w i t h the shibboleths o f romanticism and thus made itself
even weaker and more vulnerable. Final collapse came w i t h
W o r l d War I , w h i c h pricked the balloon o f idealism i n the
European universities hitherto dominated by Hegelian thought.
Since W o r l d War I , Western philosophic t h o u g h t has been
dominated by scepticism, an exaggerated empiricism w h i c h
recognized no truth except that given to sense. BLit sense could
give only probabilities and these could furnish no base or anchor
to metaphysics, ethics and aesthetics. Philosophy then lost its
great concerns and degenerated into logic and semantics.
Problems dissolved i n t o questions o f forms o f speech and
convention. Instead o f ' w i s d o m ' , philosophy pruned itself down
to giving only 'analysis'; and 'the schools o f Athens', or their
caricatures, reappeared to cater to an intellectual whimsy no
longer determined by rational principle.
In the West, this scepticism has pervaded all fields. The worst
to suffer were ethics and vahie-theory which became variations
on the theme o f utilitarianism, whether egotistic or democratic
History soon followed, spurred by earlier romanticism, to deny
itself as a quest o f past and continuing reality and stood on a par
w i t h fiction w r i t i n g and propaganda. The turn o f religion was
not far behind. I t , too, degenerated into a personal feeling which
amounted to little more than arbitrary w h i m and/or 'folkishness'.
The arts, for their part, m i r r o r e d this decline; and, finding
themselves free from all standards, began to scoop up the netherdisvahies o f human life i n the name o f the autonomy o f the
artwork or o f that o f the artist's person.
226

C O M M O N BASES B E T W E E N T H E TWO RELIGIONS

Islam and Christianity must rebel against this sad development.


3 o t h o f them make exclusivist claims to the truth, and therefore
ssunie that theoretical and axiological reality is knowable.
]Sfeither is consistent w i t h scepticism; and neither can do without
certainty o f the veracity o f what they claim. The Middle Ages
work o f Christian and Islamic rationalism to interpret religion
and life ought to be reassessed and continued. Islam i n particular
has not only approved o f reason, but declared i t a perfection
God had endowed upon man that he may discover therewith
God's w i l l i n creation; indeed, to assist h i m i n ascertaining the
veracity o f the content o f revelation. The discovery by man o f
God Himself would not have taken place without reason. In the
Qur'an, God has presented the case o f religion itself not as a
m y t h , n o t as a s t u m b l i n g b l o c k , b u t as r a t i o n a l , c r i t i c a l ,
apodictically certain t r u t h .
a

24

The Problem of Personal Ethics. The European Renaissance

was a victory for Greek humanism and naturalism as well as a


setback for Christianity. Instead o f God, the Renaissance set up
man as the measure o f all things. This trait never left the European
soul. I t grew and asserted itself w i t h ever-growing vigour and
pervasiveness. I n m o d e r n times, this Greek humanism was
reinforced by the exclusive emphasis on facts o f human desire.
As thinkers competed w i t h one another to make their ethical
theories more and more descriptive, the Western Christian
learned not to go beyond those facts i n his search for the moral
imperative. The 'ought' and even 'normativeness' itself became
functions o f human desire.
At the turn of the century, European speculation followed the
natural sciences in basing morality on the facta of matter, life and
power. These were soon to lose their universality and become
national as romanticism took possession o f consciousness. To
2S

assert as grounds o f the good instincts and desires which are all
equally real, is to invite their fulfilment while denying that any
other principle could overarch any conflicting ones among them.
In default of such an instinct-transcending principle, no instinct

227

ISLAM AND OTHER 1All I IS

or desire may be preferred to another except arbitrarily Jkist as


the gods o f Greece, the apotheoses o f natural instincts and
desires, plotted and counterplotted against one another, subject
to no power H i t blind fate (which is really no controller at all
but the assertion o f each individual god's ultimacy), so in the
person, the instincts tear h i m up into mutually-competing pieces
without supplying a means o f solving the conflict.
Whereas ancient Greece relied on Padeia to refine and
beautify as well as to sublimate the conflicts which man lived in
emulation o f the gods, and whereas the Renaissance man was
still subject to the precepts o f the Christian Church, Western
man today lives the conflicts w i t h o u t either refinement or
discipline. Nietzsche (1844-1900) had even taught h i m to claim
the right to 'fabricate* his own ethics; that is to say, to place the
instincts i n such order as they themselves seem to dictate, and to
call honesty to them moral uprightness and resistance moral
disease. W i t h the particularist arbitrariness o f romanticism,
nations could assert the 'national w i l l ' as moral even though it
sought to kill, to rob, to cheat and to exploit its victims.
Christian morals and their Jesus-ideal were pLished into the
recesses o f the sotil o f Western man, whence they influenced
conscience but not action. Western man thus became divided
against himself. Having removed Gods commandment from
the field, as well as any a priori or categorical imperative by which
he can resolve conflict, he wallowed between the languor and
ennui o f satisfaction and the misery and suffering of desire. He
has no high catise; his noblest thought could be only a calculus
of pleasures. Western man is a humanist; bLit his humanism is of
a base, lowly type.
26

Fortunately, the ethic o f Islam has not undergone such radical


change. B u t the disease o f Western man is spreading among
Muslim youth eager to imitate their Western counterparts. The
desire to modernize and progress being often unenlightened
and overhasty, the MLislim imitates the West without realization
of the underlying postLilates. This process has reached large, but
not yet alarming proportions. I t must be arrested. ChristianM u s l i m cooperation faces a double task o n two fronts, the
228

C O M M O N BASES B E T W E E N T H E T W O RELIGIONS

Christian and the Muslim. Both need i t to express the futility o f


Western development, redirect the youth o f the world to God
n d His law, and reactivate our God-bound conscience so as to
become efficiently determinant o f all our deeds, o f life itself. I n
this task, the ethics o f Islam is the great teacher which can help
pull the Christian and the Muslim out o f their predicaments.
Islam never denied nature per se, w i t h all its instincts and desires,
nor did it ever tolerate any apotheosis o f it. It even blessed i t ;
called privation the work o f Satan; * and conceived o f rehgious
and ethical felicity as always containing two happinesses, that o f
earth and that o f the Hereafter/ Its pursuit o f earthly happiness
was however to be always subject to the moral law, to be carried
out i n consciousness o f the divine presence for the sake o f God.
This refined, enlightened, ethicalized and spiritualized the
Muslim s quest i n the past. MLislim-Christian cooperation would
aim at reviving this ethic w h i c h is not unknown to Christianity,
and thus to rehabilitate modern man morally w i t h the creative
and civilizing force o f the two religions.
a

27

c.
Tlie Problem of the Family. I n the West, developments i n
personal ethics adversely affected the family. Satisfaction o f nature
and instincts can only be personal, and personal relativism was
indeed the outcome. The family is by nature built on altruism,
on feelings o f giving more than on those o f taking. It cannot
survive i n an atmosphere where the moral ought rests ultimately
on the material satisfaction o f nature s instincts and interests. Such
satisfaction being always personal, and hence relativist, its pursuit
would necessarily become egotistic, and thus run counter to the
foundations o f family life.
Scepticism and the general reptidiation o f authority i n the
West have shaken t r a d i t i o n and its values. U r b a n i s m and
industrialism have uprooted millions o f humans and landed them
in cities where 'society' provides no support for upholding o f
traditional values now dependent upon personal conscience
alone. Dogged pursuit o f material gain pulled both parents away
from the children, as it separated the young adults from the older
ones, trms giving rise to generation gaps w h i c h are becoming
229

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

ever wider. Undisciplined by nature-transcending principles,


pursuit o f personal natural happiness conflicted w i t h family
values and i n consequence, the institution o f the family began to
crumble. Women's liberation, the loosening o f social conscience
as regards adultery, b i r t h control, abortion and divorce, the
pressure on women to have careers o f their own and the general
denigration o f m o t h e r h o o d , o f in-laws, grandparents and
relatives all these undermined the foundations o f the family
and brought about the present disastrous state i n which it stands
i n the West.
As i t moves rapidly forward towards industrialization, the
M u s l i m W o r l d is becoming infected w i t h the same k i n d o f
disease. The first sign o f decay is the break-up o f the extended
family. The extended family has been the guardian o f family
morals; the provider o f the family's manpower needs i n child
care, i n education, i n leisure and recreation; its primary source
o f consolation i n tragedy and distress, as well as its linkage w ith
the past and future. The M u s l i m extended family is today in a
state o f crisis. Should i t crumble, the storms o f decay and
degeneration blowing on LIS from the West may be impossible
T

to resist.
Christian-Muslim cooperation should aim at arresting the
disaster and freezing its march over the M u s l i m World. Islam's
c o n t r i b u t i o n to the cause o f the family, namely, woman's
innocence, the civility o f the marriage contract, the hallowing
respect for the elder, the sane divorce law, the btittressing o f the
extended family w i t h inheritance laws, the far-reaching control
of the Sharl'ah and ever-presence o f God - all these ought to be
mobilized so as to save the Muslim family. A n d they should be
presented to our Christian brothers and sisters that they may
find i n them help against the corrosive influences o f modern
times.

d. The Problem of Race. R o m a n t i c i s m and its i m p l i e d


relativism i n ethics were the consequence o f a failure o f nerve
on the part o f the Enlightenment to reach and establish a
rationally viable ideal o f the universal community. Previously,
230

C O M M O N BASES B E T W E E N T H E TWO RELIGIONS

e Church had persistently taught such an ideal. The break-up


f Church authority achieved by the R e f o r m a t i o n let loose
particularistic forces w h i c h grew, under R o m a n t i c i s m , into
nationalist movements founded ultimately on race. It was racism
that silenced Christian conscience when it condemned the slave
trade, the wanton destmction o f Amerindians, the conquest and
exploitation o f Asians and Africans and colonization o f their o w n
land, the opium war. I t was racism that produced the Holocaust
of Hider (1889-1945), the persecution o f the non-white citizens
of America despite L i n c o l n and the Civil War. Unfortunately, for
all o f us, Muslims and Christians, racism is still very much the
order o f things i n the w o r l d today and the source o f most o f its
political ills. I t is the Liltimate ground for the decisions the
developed c o u n t r i e s make i n t h e i r relations w i t h the
underdeveloped T h i r d W o r l d .
tn

H o w m u c h does t h e w o r l d need the universalism o f


Christianity and Islam! H o w timely is their universalist call that
all men are equal creatures before God, that all men issue from
dust and w i l l return to dust, that there is no distinction between
them except in righteousness and virtue! Islam and Christianity
have here a sublime role to play, and they are the only rehgions
capable o f playing i t .
30

3 1

e.
The Problem of Materialism.
M o d e r n man follows an
exaggerated view o f the importance o f the material world. True,
rehgion is sane and has never denied the value o f material life.
Some schools o f H i n d u i s m and BLiddhism do; and Christianity
and Islam have been falsely accused o f doing so by their scorning
the value o f this world. Christianity and Islam arc strongest i n
their denial o f the material world when it seeks to determine
human life and destiny. B o t h religions rightly assert: There is a
higher order than the material the spiritual; and i t is to the
spiritual that ultimate control belongs.
I n the Christian West, exaggeration on b o t h sides the
religionist and the lay - led to conflict and to the layman's
breakaway o f his material quest from spiritLial control and his
going to extremes i n his attachment to and pursuit o f the world.
231

ISLAM AND O T H E R FAITHS

W i t h an empiricist philosophy to give h i m cover, a positivist


ideology to encourage him, and a flowering natural science and
technology to satisfy his every desire, his quest reached the moon.
Blinded by his materialistic pursuits, he even thought matter was
the first and last determinant o f being and history This disease,
in mild or extremist form, has infected both Christendom and
Islamdom.
T h e correct diagnosis o f the disease does n o t lie i n
condemning the material w o r l d as such; nor i n seeking to
alienate man from his materialist pursuits. Such attempts are vain
and w i l l never succeed. The right prognosis is that which seeks
to re-establish the link between man's material quest and the
moral law. For spirituality is not the denial o f that quest, bLit its
subjection to the moral law. The problems o f the rape of nature,
of world pollution, o f the dehumanization o f man by machines,
o f the maldistribution o f food, wealth and resources, all these
are i n final analysis cases of quests o f material good uncontrolled
by any moral principle. A l l these ills of the modern world derive
from man's artificial separation o f spirit from matter, from his
prejudgement that the quest o f spirit and quest o f matter are
irrelevant to each other. There is no solution except i n their
junction i n the gtiidance o f the material by the moral.
Christianity and Islam should rise to this modern challenge.
The resources at their disposal to fight it are enormous. The
problem has become so acute that materialism now produces
revulsion i n the mind o f Western man, though he is unable to
check its drive even i n his own person. He is desperately groping
for I n d i a n and Chinese s p i r i t u a l i t y to relieve h i m o f the
existential nausea materialism causes h i m at home, office, factory,
and in the public realm. Indian religiosity, however, w i l l not satisfy
For any acquaintance w i t h i t beyond the superficial level reveals
the condemnation o f the w o r l d and life, the pessimism and
despair o n w h i c h i t is b u i l t as f o u n d a t i o n . A l l m e n are
ontologically committed to some materialism; and, because of
his past experience, Western man is pre-eminently so. Western
man is ready to receive a fresh, new wisdom w i t h which to order
his life; but he w i l l turn away from any exaggerated spiritualism
232

C O M M O N BASES B E T W E E N T H E T W O RELIGIONS

which reminds h i m o f that false religiosity against w h i c h he


revolted in the first place.
Islam, too, has been misinterpreted by the Sufis as life- and
w o r l d - d e n y i n g , as e x t o l l i n g poverty, the ascetic life, and
withdrawal from public affairs. Even the great Qur'anic value o f
sabr, which means patient and determined perseverance i n this
#

world and life, was misinterpreted by the Sufis into its very
opposite, namely, resignation, surrender and expectation o f an
eschatological solution to the problem at hand. The result was
the lethargy o f Muslims to take their fate into their own hands.
Islam and Christianity must combat the disease of materialism
itself, as well as the interpretation o f religion as a defeatist escape
from the world. They must re-establish themselves i n the minds
o f m o d e r n men and w o m e n as religions w h i c h seek man's
material welfare and happiness and his spiritual well-being and
felicity. They must convince modern men and women that i f
their own, personal material quest is not to sour and t u r n itself
against them, it has to be refined, disciplined, guided and inspired
by moral and spiritual values which only rehgion can give.

f. Colonialism and National Competition. The mad scramble for


material benefit at home, undisciplined by any moral principle
or value, led to the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog competition which
debased and tore tip the moral fibre o f man. Although social
welfare and economic control legislation has done m u c h to
alleviate the burden o f the victims, human society still suffers.
O n the foreign front, the w o r l d has not recovered from two
centuries o f colonialism and exploitation i n which the peoples
of Africa, Asia and Latin America toiled for the benefit o f Europe
and the United States o f America. Many areas in the world today
still fall under the hateful colonial yoke o f the West or its stooges.
Palestine is a tragedy unique i n the history o f man's disrespect
for man, o f man's indulgence in persistently robbing his fellow
man o f his home and land, his livelihood and future, followed
by Rhodesia, South Africa and the M u s l i m lands of the Soviet
U n i o n and India, o f Thailand and the Philippines.
Many lands which succeeded i n removing the yoke o f direct
233

ISLAM AND OTI1HR FATTIIS

c o l o n i a l i s t r u l e fell under the m o r e subtle one o f n e o colonialism. Their fall under the new yoke was assisted, i f not
actually engineered, by the colonial power which did everything
to hinder the colony's political and economic growth in order to
keep i t forever dependent Lipon the colonizing country. The
colonial masters were replaced by experts, advisers and agents of
the international corporations w h i c h continued the former
exploitation. Most pitiful o f all is African and Asian pursuit of
Westernization i n language, education, i n the arts and style of
living w h i c h the colonized peoples, alienated by colonialism
from their own heritage and culttire, now purstie w i t h greater
avidity than i n the days of colonialism.
In this century, colonialism contributed significantly to two
world wars, and to countless smaller wars as well. Raw materials
and markets, and the strategic points w h i c h facilitate their
control, are the main bone o f contention between the world
powers. Nationalism, which is only a species o f ethical relativism
and unbridled materialism, must lead to national conflict. Finally
instead o f being a force for genuine peace among the nations,
the U n i t e d Nations has for a quarter o f a century been a
manipulatable tool i n the hands o f the big powers. A n d now that
the T h i r d W o r l d nations have assumed a measure o f the
organization's control, voices i n the big powers, notably the
U n i t e d States, are complaining that the U n i t e d Nations has
outgrown its usefulness.
Islam and Christianity are indeed relevant to the order o f
nations. Islam's contribution to international law and order is
enormous. I n some aspects even this century has not yet risen to
its level o f contribution. This relevance ought to be reactivated.
For the world, i n the atomic age, is doomed unless the moral
law is brought to bear upon international strategy and politics;
unless, as Islam directed, individuals as well as states could be
brought to an effective international court o f law and made
accountable for their conduct. Muslim-Christian cooperation
shoLild therefore enhance the voice o f religion and conscience
i n international affairs. That voice should cool off the victim of
aggression Lintil his claim is recognized; and it should reverberate
234

COMMON BASES BETWEEN THE TWO RELIGIONS

against the author o f injustice Lintil his aggression is stopped and


redressed.

g. Nihilism. The persistence, deepening and aggravation o f


the aforementioned ills have produced the worst evil o f all nihilism. Under their tremendous pressure man's morale has
been warped and his spirit broken. Everywhere, but especially
in the West, he stands given to despair and suicide. He has
become painfully aware o f the overwhelming power o f the social,
political, economic and military machines surrounding h i m . He
has forgotten that it is his very resignation and lethargy that are
the real sources o f power o f these establishments; that they, like
Abraham's idols, have no power other than that w h i c h he has
invested i n them. He stands alone without comforter, unaware
that i t was he w h o walked out on his relatives, friends and
neighbours, i n preference for the insularity and 'privacy' o f the
nuclear family, o f urban dwelling and anonymity. He has lost the
meaning o f life, as everything around h i m has lost its glowthrough commercialization. Even procreation and death, the
ultimate mysteries o f existence, have lost their meaning and
interest. Adultery, the pill and so-called 'sex education' robbed
the former o f its innocence and beauty; war-bred callousness,
toleration and recurrence o f violence, and individualistic selfestrangement o f man from man dissolved the shock and pathos
of the latter. Since World War I I even the young, who are usLially
the fountain o f youthful hope and idealism, arc deflowered,
disenchanted and brutalized by their 'experience' o f life, whether
in real life or through the mass media, the schoolroom or the
street corner. Samuel Beckett's (1906-89) Waiting for Godot is not
just a play. It is an empiricist's representation o f human reality.
Christianity and Islam are par excellence religions o f hope, o f
o p t i m i s m and good cheer. God d i d n o t create man to be
miserable, to suffer i n abjectness and despair. Even to the chronic
sufferer and v i c t i m , each o f them counselled endurance and
perseverance as i t announced 'glad tidings', divine help and
victory. H o w they allowed modern man to fall into despair w i l l
always remain a mystery. But the challenge has touched both
235

ISLAM A N D O T H E R FAITHS

religions i n the raw. That is why this conference has been called.
T h a t is w h y C h r i s t i a n i t y and Islam w i l l emerge f r o m i t
quickened, energized and re-invigorated.

Notes
I.

T h e term 'Semitic' was invented by O l d Testament scholars in the

eighteenth century to denote languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Ethiopic. Syriac, Aramaic,


etc.) which presented a striking familiarity to Arabic and Hebrew. They were
inspired by O l d Testament genealogy tracing descendence of the peoples of the
Fertile Crescent from Sam, son of Noah, and thus distinguishing them from other
peoples of the world. This appellation was given faute de mieux; for there was no
other name which these scholars could give to those peoples and their languages.
Today, we know that all 'Semitic' languages are related to Arabic as daughters arc
to their mother; that Arabic contains all or most of the grammatical syntactical
and literary forms of these languages.The 'Semitic' languages differ from Arabic by
adoption of some local, and discarding through non-use of some older, vocabulary
and forms, and liberalizing the grammatical strictures of Arabic. We also know
today that the peoples who spoke the 'Semitic' languages were ethnically the
same; that they lived in one geographic theatre; that they drew from a common
fund of tradition and experience without which the parallelism of their legends
and representations of themselves and their history would not be possible; that
they, finally, shared one and die same culture as expressed in their literatures and
arts, as well as the same religiosity as expressed in the sequel in this paper. None of
them represented itself as 'Semite', not even the Hebrews.These did so only in
modern times. The others, and they are the majority, better deserve to be called
'Arab' rather than 'Semite' - the questionable genealogical appellation - because
the Arabian Peninsula was certainly their fountain and source, the repository of
their mother-tongue, literary forms, common experience and wisdom, the
conceiver of their relationship to the Deity expressed and preserved in their
'Semitic' languages, the mirrors of their consciousness and being. Being
genealogical, the name 'Semite' is purely denotative.The name 'Arab', on the other
hand, being cultural, is connotative and informative.
This is true despite the fact that native Mesopotamians regarded the
inhabitants of the desert, but not themselves, as AribT, Anbu or UrbT, a distinction
which survives to this day as is indicated by the terms al-'Arab and al-A'rab. See
Rene Dussaud's La Penetration desArabes en Syrie avant VIslam (Paris: Paul Geuthnei,
1955); P-K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (London: Macmillan and Co., 1956), pp. 3'~
48; James Pritchard, Ancient

Near Eastern Texts Relating

to the Old Testament

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), pp. 265-301; M . A . Baraniq (ed.)>


Muhammad Arabi (Sayda: Al-Maktabah al-'Asriyyah, 1376 AH); Jawad Ali, TanM*

236

COMMON BASES BETWEEN THE TWO RELIGIONS


al-'Arab

Qabla al-Islam (Baghdad: Maktabah al-Muthanna, 1370

AH); James A.

Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1969).
3.

For elaboration of this view, see I . R . al-Faruqi (ed.), Historical Atlas of the

Religions of the World (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1975), 'The Ancient Near

East', pp. 1-34


4.

'And God implanted in every heaven its own pattern to follow' (Qur'an,

Fussilat 41:12).'He created everything and gave it its exact pattern . . ( a l - F u r q d n

25: 2; 'Abasa 80: 19).'Everything We created, We did so in accordance with a

pattern . . ( a l - Q a m a r 54: 49).


5.

For a detailed elaboration of this view, see L R . al-Faruqi, On Arabism:

Volume 1, Urubah and Religion (Amsterdam: Djambatan, 1961), Introduction and


Chapter 1.
6.

'Say, O People of the Book! Come now to a fair principle common to both

of us, that we shall not worship anyone except God; that we shall never associate
aught with H i m ; and that we shall not take one another for Lord beside God'
(Qur'an, Al Tmran 3: 64).
7.

'Hold firm to the religion, as a hantf would.This rehgion is the religion of

nature, the religion built-in by God within all men. There is no alteration to the
way God had disposed of this matter. His religion is the worthy one. But most
men are ignorant of this fact' (Qur'an, al-Rum 30: 30). The Prophet said:'Every
man is born a Muslim; his parents make of him a Christian or a Jew.'That is to say,
every person is born with this sensus numinis by which he 'naturally' comes to
recognition of the existence and unity of God and of His relevance to his own life.
It is history, i.e., nurture, not nature, that differentiates him religiously from other
men.
8.

'The seven heavens and the earth and all that therein stands, all praise God.

Only you do not comprehend their praise' (Qur'an, al-lsra' 17: 44).
9-

'We sent no prophet before you (Muhammad) but that We revealed to him

that there is no God but M c . . .Those who . . . distinguish between God and His
prophets, who accept some and reject others, seeking thereby to differentiate
between their revelations, are truly unbelievers . . . But those who believe in God
a n

d His prophets and who do not discriminate between their revelations shall

have their just reward' (Qur'an, al-Anbiya'

2T:

25; al-Nisd* 4: 150-2).

to. 'We revealed the Torah, a light and a guidance. By its precepts, the prophets
who submitted to God judged the Jews, as did the rabbis and the priests who
learned the Book of God and were commissioned to witness thereunto' (Qur'an,
al

-Ma'idahy. ),
44

'Those who believed, the Jews, Christians and Sabaeans whoever believes
God, in the Day ofJudgement and leads a life of virtue have their reward with
1 1

l n

237

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS


their God. Neither do they fear nor do they have reason to grieve' (Qur'an, alBaqarah 2: 6 2 ) , ' G o d taught Jesus the scripture and wisdom . . . and sent him a

prophet to the sons of Israel' (At Tmran 3: 47).'The Christians arc upright, recite
the revelations of God during the night hours and prostrate themselves in worship.
They believe in God and in the Day of Judgement. They enjoy the good, forbid
evil, and they compete in performance of good works.These are certainly righteous'
(Al Tmran 3: IT3-14).

12.

'Say: We (the Muslims) believe in that which has been revealed to us as

well as in that which has been revealed to you (People of the Book, i.e., Christians
and Jews). O u r God and your God is One and the same: It is to H i m that wc all
submit' (Qur'an, al-Ankabtlt
13.

29: 46).

'Al-Tasawwur al-ILihi lil-Islam', Report on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's

Paris Conference in al-IIiwdr

al-IsldmJ al-MasthT, 8 Muharram, 1396 (9 January

T976), pp. 4-h5.


14.

Walter M . Abbott, S.J. (ed.), The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild

Press, T966), p. 663.


15.

It is realized that these voices speak as individual scholars and laity, not as

official voice of the Church.


16.

In this connection, the works of Friar Edward H . Flannery (Secretariat

for Catholic-Jewish Relations, Seton Hall University) arc examples of pro-Zionist


Christian prejudice.
17.

Consider the torrent of literature flooding the Christian in the last two

decades, which is calculated to win sympathy for Zionism by diluting the


Christian's traditional understanding of his religion and its history. The main
contention is the Christian charge that the Jews are guilty of deicide. Absurd as it
may seem, the Christians have held their present Jewish neighbours personally
guilty of a deed their ancestors had committed twenty centuries ago. To remove
the absurdity, all they need to do is to assert the principle of personal responsibility
for deeds committed by the person, to deny vicarious guilt. But they choose,
instead, to deny what they for twenty centuries have regarded as Christian truth,
namely, that the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion, and to pass the blame to
the Romans, or to mankind as a whole. See S.J. Gerard Sloyan, The Trial of Jesus
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973); and Paul Winter, On the Trial ofjesus (Berlin:
Walter de Gruytcr, 1961).
18.

Consider, for example, the writings of Protestant James Parkcs, 'The Conflict

of the Church and the Synagogue (New York: Atheneum, 1969) and A . R o y Eckhardt,
Elder and Younger Brothers :The Encounter of Jews and Christians (New York: Schocken

Books, 1973) and of Catholic John M . Ocsterreichcr, whose recently founded


Institute of Judco-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University is dedicated to this
task. Christian concern for their relations with the Jews is understandable, indeed,

238

COMMON BASES BETWEEN THE 1 W O RELIGIONS


laudable. The Muslim rejoices at every reconciliation. But he may justly oppose
any reconciliation which in any way helps the Zionist state, a state which faces him
every morning with Phantoms and napalm, seizure of Arab land, building of newsettler fortresses, and defacement of the Arab character of Palestine.
19.

In his The Beginning of the Promise (London: S P C K , i960), Stanley Brice

Frost, an Old Testament theologian, argued that'since Laban and Jacob worked the
frontier to their grazing grounds at Galeed, this (the Israelites held) had clearly
settled the Syrian-Israelite border for all time' and added a word of advice to
modern-day Syrians and Israelis. 'We could only wish', he wrote, 'that modern
Syrians and Israelis could agree on this same point' (p. 52).'The state of Israel',
wrote John M . Oestcrreicher, 'is the visible expression of the God-willed
permanence of the Jewish people. As is Judaism, so is the State of Israel, a banner
of God's fidelity... .The promise of the Land antedates the existence of the people.
The Christian must not ignore that the foundations of the State arc thus even
deeper than an act of the world community and a decision of the settlers of the
Land

When will Christians come to say the right word about EretzYisraeP. (The

Rediscovery of Judaism, South Orange, N . H . : Institute ofJudeo-Christian Studies of

Seton Hall University, pp. 37-8).


20.

Practically every Christian theologian who addressed himself to the

question is ambiguous on the matter of continued elect status of the Jews, in


loyalty to the words of Paul (Romans, Chapters 9-11) regarding them. With the
emergence of Israel as a nation in 1948 and the enormous pressures Zionism has
exerted on Western intellectuals of all types, one arm of the antinomy, namely, the
replacement of Israel by the Church, seems to be slowly going into eclipse and the
eternal election of Israel seems to gain ground. Consider in this light Jakib Jocz's A
Theology of Election: Israel and the Church (London: S P C K , 1958) where the author,

a convert from Judaism, argued for'the permanent significance of the existence of


the Jewish people as a people that cannot escape the marks of election' (front
cover). Sec also Otto Piper et i\.,The Church Meets Judaism (Minncapolis:Augsburg
Publishing House, i960). Clemens Thoma wrote of the Conciliar Statement that
it 'confirms the biblical profession that God's calling and gracious gift are
irrevocable . . . that the Jewish people is, therefore, still God's special possession . . .
and that the particular distinction of Christians, as God's people, is to be joint
heirs, joint members, joint partners with the Jews' (Kirche ausjuden

und Heiden,

Vienna: Herder, 1970, p. 16, quoted in John M . Ocsterreicher, The Rediscovery of


Judaism, p. 18).

21.

Consider, for example, the works of Elie Wiezel (a Jewish dramatist and

playwright), Emil Fackenheim (a Jewish philosopher), J. Coert Rylaarsdam (a


Protestant Old Testament theologian) and John M . Oestcrreicher and Edward
Hannery (Catholic theologians who made their speciality Jewish-Christian
relations).

239

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS


22.

For an analysis of societism in Christian ethics, see I . R . al-Faruqi, Christian

Ethics: A Historical and Systematic Analysis of Its Dominant Ideas (Montreal: McGill

University Press, 1967), p. 248 fF


23.

The sad history of this interpretation may be read in the works of Norman

Daniel, Islam and the West:The Making of an Image and Islam, Europe and Empire (both
published by the University Press at Edinburgh, i960 [revised edition, Oxford:
Oneworld Publications, 1993] and 1966 respectively). See also A.L.Tibawi/EnglishSpcaking Orientalists: A Critique ofTheir Approach to Islam and Arab Nationalism ,
1

Hie Muslim World,Vo\. LIII, Nos. 3-4 (1963), pp. 185-204, 298-313.

24.

This position has been elaborated in a thousand and one treatises, and is

classical to Islam and Islamic culture. For example, see Ibn Abd Rabbihi's Jdmi*
l

Baydn al-Tlm

wa Tadlih and Franz Rosenthal's Knowledge Triumphant (Leiden: E.J.

Brill, 1973). A brief selection of Qur'anic verses extolling reason and enjoining the
quest of rational knowledge to Muslims can be found in I . R . al-Faruqis 'Islam' in
W.T. Chan et al., The Great Asian Religiotts (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1969),
pp. 319-20.

25.

See this author's comparative analysis, ' T h e Problem of the

Metaphysical Status of Values in the Western and Islamic Traditions', Studia


Islamica, X X V I I I , pp. 2 9 - 6 2 .

26.

See this author's analysis of Western man in ' O n the Significance of

Niebuhr's Ideas of Society', Canadian Journal ofTlteology,VoLVll,

No. 2 (i96T),pp.

99-107.
27.

Qur'an, al-A'rdf

28.

Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 268.

29.

Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 201; al-A rdf 7: 156; al-Nahl 16: 41, 122.

30.

' O men,We created you all from a single male and fcmale.We constituted

7: 32.

you into nations and tribes that you may enrich and cooperate with one another.
Noblest among yon in God's eyes is the most virtuous' (Qur'an, al-Hujurdt 49:13).
At his farewell pilgrimage, the Prophet Muhammad, said: 'All men issue from
Adam and Adam issues from dust. N o Arab is superior to any non-Arab unless it
be in righteousness and virtue.' 'God desires all men to be saved and to come to the
knowledge of the truth' (I Timothy 2: 4). This author has presented the ethical
message of Christianity as a repudiation of Jewish particularism, in his Christian
Ethics, Chapters I I , III, pp. 75-T36.

31. Excellent statements of the potential of Christianity for such a role may
be found in the works of PaulVI, then Cardinal G.B. Montini, The Mind of Paul VI
on the Church and the World (Milwaukee: Bruce Pub. Co., 1964); The Christian in the
Material World (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1964) and Dialogues: Inflections on Cod
and Man (New York: Trident Press, 1965).

240

CHAPTER EIGHT

Islam and Christianity:

Diatribe or Dialogue
Precis
The Q u r ' a n set the doctrinal basis o f M u s l i m - C h r i s t i a n
relations w h i c h have varied i n the past from very poor to
excellent. The contemporary Christian missionaries fail to realize
the strength o f Jesus' influence upon the Muslims. Christian
missionaries have been influenced by many un-Christian ideas.
Thus Western Christian missions to Muslims were not a mission
ofjesus b u t only o f a Western understanding o f Jesus. T h e
mission w o r k has been a failure i n almost every respect and
should be called off.

Isolation o f the two faiths is impossible. Exclusivism, so often


a mark o f religion, is as bad as proselytism. Both religions assert
that they have the truth, w h i c h is logically impossible. Christianity
and Islam must be interested i n each other's claims by means o f
dialogue, which is the altruistic extension o f both rehgions. Only
through dialogue w i l l the two religions ever be united i n the
religion o f God (may He be Glorified and Exalted) and truth.
Conversion to the truth is the aim o f dialogue. This dialogue w i l l
enable understanding o f values and sets o f meanings i n both
religions.

This article was published in Journal of Ecumenical


PP- 45-77-

241

Studies

(Winter 1968),

ISLAM AND O T H E R 1A1T11S

The dialogue must follow these ground rules: ( i ) no religioLis


pronouncement is beyond the reach o f criticism, (2) internal
coherence must exist, (3) proper historical perspective must be
maintained, (4) correspondence w i t h reality must exist, (5)
freedom from absolutized scriptural f i g u r i z a t i o n , and (6)
dialogue should be carried on i n areas where there is a greater
possibility o f success, e.g., the field o f ethical duties.
Three themes for dialogtie are discernible:

1. Contemporary Muslims and Christians are life-affirming


in regard to God's creation and hold that man has a unique task
to perfect this world. The theological useftilness o f the notion o f
original, hereditary, collective, and vicarious sin are gone. Sin is
personal and based o n f r e e - w i l l ; i t is p r i m a r i l y located i n
misperception and its solution is i n education rather than
forgiveness. Sin is not necessary nor is it predominant i n human
affairs. For modern Muslims and Christians the way out o f the
predicament o f sin is i n human rather than divine hands.
Salvation is achieved by continuous education and each person
must educate himself.
2. A n awareness o f the imperative o f doing the w i l l o f God
exists. Former notions o f justification are insufficient. Justification
is a continuous process which does not consist o f confession to
God, btit o f recognition o f real values and the following o f the
long, hard road i n reaching these values. Knowledge is virtue.
Neither great sin nor serious repentance is typical o f most
people, hence the confession o f faith has but mediocre value.
Justification is a psychic release which may enable a man w i th
determination to reach his goal, but is not a value in itself.
Every man has an cqLial imperative to fulfil his moral
mission w h i c h is yet u n f u l f i l l e d on a w o r l d - w i d e basis.
Redemption is only being accomplished by man rather than
already having taken place. Justification and redemption are but
a prelude to the perception and pursuit o f value (God's will)This is possible to all people and has to take place all the time.
3.

These reconstructions o f religious thought are compatible w i t h


both Islam and Christianity but it is unlikely that the latter will
242

ISLAM A N D C H R I S T I A N I T Y : D I A T R I B E OR D I A L O G U E

be w i l l i n g to accept these tenets. Roman Catholics through


Vatican I I have made too few advances i n that respect and are
still too condescending toward Muslims. Protestants, w h o may
be represented by Paul T i l l i c h (1886-1965), also consider the
Christian figurization o f G o d i n Jesus as normative w h i c h
prevents fruitful dialogue w i t h MLislims. Protestant acceptance
o f the above ground rules could lead to Lisefi.il dialogue.

This is notthe place to review the history o f Christian-Muslim


relations. This history may now be read i n the erudite works o f
N o r m a n D a n i e l . T h e reading is sad and a g o n i z i n g . T h e
conclusion w h i c h may be safely drawn from this history is that
Christianity s involvement w i t h the Muslim world was so full o f
misLinderstanding, prejudice, and hostility that i t has warped the
Western Christians w i l l and conscioLisness. W o u l d to G o d
Christianity had never met Islam!' w i l l reverberate i n the m i n d
of any student patient enough to peruse that history. O n the
other side, Muslim-Christian relations have been determined
by the Qur'an. DoctrinaUy, therefore, these relations have seen
no change. ThroughoLit their history, and despite the political
hostilities, the MLislims revered Jesus as a great prophet and his
faith as divine rehgion. As for the Christians, the Muslims argued
with them i n the manner o f the Qur'an. But when it came to
political action, they gave them the benefit o f the doubt as to
whether they followed the Christianity ofjesus or o f the Church.
Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and 'Umar's
wager for a Christian victory over the Zoroastrians, the Makkan
Muslims' choice of, welcome and p r o t e c t i o n by C h r i s t i a n
Abyssinia and Muhammad's personal waiting Lip on the Christian
Abyssinian delegates to Madinah, the Prophet's covenant w i t h
the Christians o f Najran, 'Umar's covenant w i t h the Archbishop
f Jerusalem and his refusal to hold prayer on the premises o f
the Church o f the H o l y Sepulchre lest later Muslims might claim
the pi ace, the total cooperation o f the Umawis and Abbiisids
w i t h their Christian stibjects, and o f the Umawis o f Cordova
1

M3

ISLAM AND OTHLR FAITHS

w i t h Christians w h o were n o t their subjects - all these are


landmarks i n a record o f cooperation and mutLial esteem hardly
paralleled i n any other history. Some persecution, some
conversion under influences o f all sorts, some aggression, some
doctrinal attacks going beyond the limits defined by the Qur'an,
there were, without a doubt. The Muslims i n all places and times
were not all angels! But such were scattered cases whose value
falls to the ground when compared w i t h the overwhelming
spread o f history w h i c h has remained true to this Qur'anic
position.

The Present Problem


Perhaps nothing is more anachronistic indeed absurd - than
the spectacle o f the Western Christian missionary preaching to
Muslims the Western figurization o f the rehgion o f Jesus. The
absurdity is twofold. First, the West, whence the missionary comes
and w h i c h sustains h i m i n his effort, has for decades stopped
finding meaning i n that figurization w h i c h is the content o f
mission. Indeed, i n the missionary himself, that figurization
determines bLit one little p o r t i o n o f his consciousness, the
remainder f a l l i n g under the same c o r r o d i n g secularism,
materialism and sceptical empiricism so c o m m o n i n Western
thought and culture. Second, the missionary preaches this
figurization to Muslims who, i n N o r t h Africa and the Near East,
were thrice Christians. They were Christians i n the sense o f
preparing, t h r o L i g h the spiritualization and interiorization o f the
Semitic religion, for the advent ofjesus. I t was their consciousness
and spirit w h i c h served G o d as human substrate and historical
circumstance for that advent. Naturally, they were the first to
'acknowledge' Jesus and to believe i n h i m as crystallization o f a
reality w h i c h is themselves. They were Christians i n the second
sense o f the Western figurization o f Christianity when, having
fallen under the dominion o f Byzantium, they flirted w i t h that
f i g u r i z a t i o n and i n fact adopted all its d o c t r i n a l elements
regardless o f whether or n o t they officially joined the churches
ofWestern Christianity. After living w i t h this figurization a while,
244

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY: DIATRIBE OR DIALOGUE

thev welcomed and embraced Islam. But they remained, even as


Muslims, Christians i n the sense o f h o l d i n g the realization o f
the ethic ofjesus as the conditio sine qua non o f Islamicity and o f
realizing a fair part o f the Jesus-ethic i n their personal lives. The
comedy i n evidence today is that the missionary is utterly
unaware o f this l o n g experience o f the M u s l i m w i t h Jesus
Christ.
This Western missionary, w h e t h e r monastes or other, has
associated himself w i t h , and often played the role o f colonial
governor, trader, settler, military, physician and educator. I n the
last t w o decades, after the M u s l i m c o u n t r i e s achieved
independence, he found for himself the role o f development
expert. Expertise i n poultry-breeding, neurological surgery or
industrial management, and the crying need o f the M u s l i m s as
yet underdeveloped country were callously taken as God-sent
occasions to evangelize, thus stirring w i t h i n the M u s l i m a sense
of being exploited and prodticing still more bitterness. Besides,
such an expert-missionary is often sponsored by, i f not the direct
employee of, the aiding agency o f the Western government; and
a fair harmonization o f his tactics and purposes w i t h those o f
that government were safely presupposed. The Western World
knows o f no Christian who, moved by the Sermon o n the M o t m t ,
came to live among Muslims as a native, w h o made their burden
his burden, their hopes and yearnings his hopes and yearnings.
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), the idol o f the modern West i n
Christian self-giving to the natives o f Africa, was as un-Christian
as to condemn all the Africans' search for liberty; indeed publicly
to reqLiest President Eisenhower to prevent a U n i t e d Nations
debate on Algeria. The Africans otight to be helped and their
suffering relieved, this saint o f the twentieth century commanded
his fellow Christian whites
bLit as our c o l o n i a l subjects!
Moreover, where i t dissociated itself from imperialism and was
purely rehgious, Western Christian mission to the M u s l i m World
was never a mission ofjesus, b u t a mission o f the Western
figurization o f Christianity arrogantly asserted in words, hardly
ever exemplified i n deeds. M o d e r n Christendom has produced
a Mrs.Vester who really gave and, fortunately, is still giving o f her
4

245

ISLAM AND O T H E R FAITHS

life to the orphans o f Jerusalem. There probably were and still


arc other isolated individuals o f this calibre. Nonetheless, the
persistent effort needed to establish an ethically respectable
relation w i t h MLislim society has been neglected. Since it has
brought hardly any significant conversions and aggravated the
alienation o f the two world communities, and since the Muslims,
as w e l l as M u s l i m W o r l d Christians, regard i t as p o u r i n g
ideological salt into political woLinds inflicted by the Crusades
and a century o f colonization, the mission chapter o f Christian
history, as we have so far known i t , had better be closed, the hunt
called off, the missionaries withdrawn and the mission-arm o f
the Catholic Chtirch and o f the W o r l d Council o f Churches
liquidated.
To say all this is not to advocate isolation. I n fact, isolation is
impossible. The world is simply too small, and our lives are utterly
interdependent. N o t only our survival, but even our well-being
and happiness depend on our cooperation. Mere diplomatic
courtesy or casual coalescence o f political interests w i l l not
suffice. N o genuine and effective cooperation can proceed
w i t h o u t mutual esteem and respect, w i t h o u t agreement on
purposes, final objectives and standards. I f it is to last through
the generations and withstand the excruciating travails that it must
and w i l l face i n the constrLiction o f a viable world-ectunene,
cooperation must be firmly based on a communion o f faith i n
ultimate principles, on communion i n religion.
5

There is yet a m o r e i m p o r t a n t and l o g i c a l l y p r i o r


consideration w h y isolation is neither possible nor desirable. In
Islam as well as i n Christianity, and probably i n all other religions,
the man o f religion does not, in his religious claim, assert a
tentative hypothesis, nor a truth among other trLiths, or a version
o f the truth among other possible versions, but the truth. This is
so much part o f religioLis experience and o f the claim resting on
such experience that to deny it is to caricature the religion as a
whole. Neither Islam nor Christianity can or w i l l ever give it up.
Certainly this is exclusivism; btit the truth is exclusive. I t cannot
r u n counter to the laws o f identity, o f contradiction, of the
excluded middle. Unlike science which works w i t h probabilities,
246

ISLAM AND C H R I S T I A N I T Y ! D I A T R I B E OR D I A L O G U E

religion works w i t h certainties. Religious diversity is not merely


a rehgious problem. I f the religion i n qLiestion lays claim to the
truth, contrary or diverse claims are intellectual problems which
cannot be ignored. In the absence o f evidence to the contrary,
the exclusivist claim is as much de jure as it is de facto.
I n our day and age, exclusivism has a bad smell. Having
worked w i t h probabilities for three hundred years, as scientists
or the audience o f scientists, and as philosophers or the
audience of philosophers w i t h sceptical notions o f the truth
for over half a century, we contract otir noses whenever an
exclusive claim to the truth is made. As men o f rehgion, I hope
we all have the strength o f our convictions, and feel neither
offended nor shamed by what our faiths claim. O n the other
hand, there is something shameftil about exclusivism, just as there
is about mission.That is to lay one s claim w i t h authority, to refuse
to listen to or silence criticism, and to hold tenaciously to one s
claim i n face of evidence to the contrarv.We regard the exclusivist
i n science as sttipid, even insane, for r u n n i n g i n the face o f
evidence. Such o p p r o b r i u m equally belongs to the man o f
rehgion guilty o f the same offence against the t m t h . Resistance
to evidence, however, is not a necessary qLiality o f religion, nor
o f the man o f religion. It falls w i t h i n the realm o f ethics o f
knowledge. True, religious theses are not as easily demonstrable
as those o f science; and the man o f religion appears often to
floLit the evidence w hen it woLild be more just to say that he is
not yet convinced thereby. But where the evidence is significant
or conclusive, to flout it is a deficiency o f the man. Though its
object is religioLis or moral, exclusivism is epistemological and
hence not subject to moral considerations. O n the other hand,
althoLigh its object is epistemological, fanaticism is moral.
Islam and Christianity cannot therefore be impervious to each
other s claims; for just as it is irrefutably true that each lays claim
to the truth and does so candidly, it is irrefutably true that the
truth is one, that unless the standpoint is one o f scepticism, o f
two diverse claims to the truth, one or both must be false! I n the
awareness that the standpoint o f religion is that o f a claim to the
truth, none but the most egotistic tribalism or cynicism w o L i l d
r

247

TSLAJV1 AND

O T H E R FAITHS

sit content w i t h its grasp o f the truth while diverse claims to the
one and the same truth are being made just as candidly by others.
The man o f rehgion, however, is moral; and i n Christianity and
Islam, he is so par excellence. He must therefore go out into the
world, teach the truth which his religious experience has taught
h i m and i n the process refute the contrary claims. I n Islam as
well as i n Christianity, the man o f rehgion is not a tribalist nor a
cynic; and his personal relation to other men, i f not the fate itself
o f other men, weighs heavily i n the outcome o f his own fate.
Hence, both the Muslim and the Christian are intellectually and
morally bound to concern themselves w i t h the religious views
of each other, indeed o f all other men. To concern oneself w i t h
the convictions o f another man is to understand and to learn
these convictions, to analyze and criticize them and to share w i t h
their adherents ones o w n knowledge o f the t r u t h . I f this is
mission, then Islam and Christianity must missionize to the ends
o f the earth. I realize the equivocation o f the term, and I suggest
that the word 'mission' itself be dropped from our vocabulary
and the term 'dialogue' be used to express the man o f religion's
concern for men's convictions.
d i a l o g u e ' then is a dimension o f human consciousness (as
long as that consciousness is not sceptical), a category o f the
ethical sense (as long as that sense is not cynical). I t is the altruistic
arm o f Islam and o f Christianity, their reach beyond themselves.
Dialogue is education at its widest and noblest. It is the fulfilment
of the command o f reality to become known, to be compared
and contrasted w i t h other claims, to be acquiesced i n i f true,
amended i f inadequate, and rejected i f false. Dialogue is the
removal o f all barriers between men for a free intercourse o f
ideas where the categorical imperative is to let the sounder claim
to the t r u t h w i n . Dialogue disciplines our consciousness to
recognize the truth inherent i n realities and figurizations o

realities beyond our usual ken and reach. I f we are not fanatics,
the consequence cannot be anything but enrichment to all
concerned. Dialogue, i n short, is the only kind o f inter-human
relationship worthy o f man! Vouching for Islam and, unless my
248

ISLAM

AND C H R I S T I A N I T Y : D I A T R I B E OR D I A L O G U E

reading o f C h r i s t i a n i t y has c o m p l e t e l y deceived me, for


Christianity as well, dialogue is o f the essence o f the two faiths,
the theatre of their eventual unity as the religion o f God, the
religion o f truth.
6

We lmist say i t boldly that the end of dialogue is conversion;


not conversion to my, your or his religion, culture, mores or
political regime, but to the truth. The conversion that is hateful to
Islam or to Christianity is a conversion forced, bought or cheated
out o f its unconscious subject. Conversion as conviction o f the
truth is not only legitimate but obligatory - indeed, the only
alternative consistent w i t h sanity, seriousness and dignity.
M o r e o v e r , the m t i t u a l u n d e r s t a n d i n g b e t w e e n Islam and
Christianity which we yearn for is not merely the conceptual,
descriptive knowledge of Islamic texts and manuscripts achieved
by the Orientalistik discipline, nor o f the Christian tradition
achieved by the Muslim and older discipline oi'Al-Milal wa alNihal where the elements constitutive o f Christianity are simply
listed as i n a series. It is primarily an understanding o f the rehgion
i n the sense o f faith and ethos, o f apprehending the m o v i n g
appeal o f its categories and values, o f their determining power.
Religious facts may be studied scientifically like any specimens
o f geology. But to understand them religioLisly is to apprehend
them as life-facts whose content is this power to move, to stir and
to disturb, to command and to determine. But to apprehend this
power is to be determined by i t , and to do so is precisely to
attain religious conviction - i n short, conversion, however limited
or temporary. To w i n all mankind to the truth is the highest and
noblest ideal man has ever entertained. That history has k n o w n
many travesties o f this ideal, that man has inflicted tremendous
sufferings upon his fellow men i n the pursuit o f it are arguments
against man, not against the ideal. They are the reasons w h y
dialogue must have rules. Dialogue according to rule is the only
alternative becoming of man in an age where isolation were i t
ever possible implies being by-passed by history, and n o n cooperation spells general disaster. Granted, the rules must be
critical and their presuppositions the fewest and simplest.
9

249

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

Methodology of Dialogue
Granted then that dialogue is necessary and desirable, that its
final effect shotild be the establishment o f truth and its serious,
free, candid and conscious acceptance by all men, we may now
move o n to the specific principles o f methodology w h i c h
guarantee its meaningfulness and guard against its degeneration
into propaganda, brainwashing or soul-purchasing. These are the
following:
1. N o communication o f any sort may be made ex cathedra,
beyond critique. N o man may speak w i t h silencing aiithority. As
for God, He may have spoken w i t h silencing authority when
man was an infant, and infant man may have accepted and submitted. To mature man, however, His command is not whimsical
and peremptory. H e argues for, explains and justifies His command, and is not offended i f man asks for such justification.
Divine revelation is authoritative, but not authoritarian; for God
knows that the fulfilment o f His command w h i c h issues from
rational conviction o f its intrinsic worth is superior to that which
is blind. Fully aware o f his moral freedom, modern man cannot
be subjected; nor can he subject himself to any being without
cause; nor can such cause be incomprehensible, irrational, esoteric or secret.
7

2. N o c o m m u n i c a t i o n may violate the laws o f internal


coherence mentioned earlier. Paradox is legitimate only when it
is not final, and the principle overarching thesis and antithesis is
given. Otherwise, discourse w i l l issue i n Linintelligible riddles.
3. N o communication mav violate the laws o f external co
herence; that is to say, man's religious history The past may not
be regarded as unknowable, and historiography assumed to stand
on a par w i t h either poetry or fiction. Historical reality is discoverable by empirical evidence, and it is man's duty and greatness
to press ever forward toward the genuine understanding and
reconstruction o f his actual past. The limits o f evidence are the
only limits o f historical knowledge.

N o communication may violate the law o f correspondence w i t h reality, but should be open to corroboration or
4.

250

ISLAM AND C H R I S T I A N I T Y : D I A T R I B E OR D I A L O G U E

refutation by reality. I f the laws o f nattire are not today what they
were before Albert Einstein (1879-1955) or Copernicus (1473
1543), it is not because there are no laws to nature, nor because
reality is unknowable, but because there is a knowable reality
which corroborates the new insights. The physic, ethical and religious sensitivities o f the people, o f the age, are part o f this
reality; and man's knowledge o f them is most relevant for the
Muslim-Christian dialogue we are about to begin.

5. Dialogue presLipposes an attitude o f freedom vis-a-vis the


canonical figurization. Jesus is a point at which the Christian has
contact w i t h God. Through h i m , God has sent down a revelation.
Just as this revelation had to have its carrier i n Jesus, i t had to
have a space-time circumstance i n the historical development o f
Israel. Equally, Muhammad, the Prophet, is a point at which the
M u s l i m has contact w i t h God W h o sent a revelation through
h i m . Mtihammad was the carrier o f that revelation, and Arab
consciousness and history provided the space-time circumstance
for its advent. Once the advent o f these revelations was complete,
and m e n began to p u t t h e i r faith there i n numbers and
confronted new problems calling for new solutions, there arose
the need to put the revelation i n concepts for the ready use o f
the understanding, i n percepts for that o f the intuitive faculties,
and i n legal notions and provisions for the guidance o f behaviotir.
The revelations were 'figurized'. Simultaneously, as is natural i n
such cases, different minds created different figurizations because
they had different perceptions o f the same reality. This latter
pluralism is not a variety o f the object o f faith, the content
revealed an sich, but o f that object or content in percipi, i.e., as i t
became the object o f a perception that is intellectual, discursive,
intuitive and emotional all at once. W i t h i n each religion, the
object o f faith which is also the content o f the revelation was, i n
itself, all one and the same. Although the figurizations o f the
revelation were many, that o f which they were the figurization
was one. Jesus is one; the God w h o sent h i m , and the divine
revelation w i t h which he was sent, each and every one o f these
was one, not many. W h e n , as objects o f human knowledge, they
were conceptualized and perceptualized, they became many.
251

ISLAM AND OTHLR FAITHS

The same is o f course true i n the case o f the figurization o f Islam.


The pluralistic variety o f men, o f their endowments and talents,
their needs and aspirations, and the peculiarities o f their varying
environments and historical circumstances produced a great
array o f figurizations i n both religions. Undoubtedly, some o f
them were, some others were not, and still others were more or
less i n s p i r e d . There were differences i n the accuracy o f
f i g u r i z a t i o n , i n the adequacy o f c o n c e p t t i a l i z a t i o n and
perceptualization, and outrightly i n the truthfulness and veracity
o f the representation. That is all too natural. Disputation and
contention arose and lasted for many centuries; they continue to
OLir present day. I n the case o f Christianity, i t became evident
that one o f the figurizations surpassed i n the m i n d o f the
majority all other figurizations. I t must then be, the community
concluded, an identical copy o f the content revealed. Since this
content is holy and is the truth, the thinkers o f the community
reasoned, all other figurizations are 'heresies' inasmuch as any
departure from the H o l y is anathema, and any variance from the
Truth is falsehood. Slowly but surely, the 'other' figurizations were
suppressed, and the chosen figLirization stood as 'the dogma',
'the catholic Truth'. I n the case o f Islam, the general religious
and ethical principles revealed i n the Qur'an were subjected to
varying interpretations, and a large array o f schools produced
differing figurizations o f law and ethics. As i n the case o f Jesus,
the life o f the Prophet was the subject o f numerous figurizations.
In order to bolster its authority and add to its faith i n its o w n
genuineness, each school projected its o w n thought onto his o w n
person. Consensus finally eliminated the radical figurizations and
preserved those w h i c h , i n the judgement o f the community,
contained all the essentials. Later MLislims sanctified this
figurization o f the fathers, solemnly closed the gates o f any
creative interpretation however orthodox, and practically, though
not theoretically, hereticated every departure from what they had
made canonical.

Being human conceptualizations and perceptualizations of


reality, the figurizations o f Islam and Christianity are necessarily
tinged w i t h the particularism o f space-time. I t is qLiite possible,
252

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY: DIATRIBE OR DIALOGUE

therefore, that some later generation might find some aspect o f


the holy content i n the old figurization dimmed by time or
distance; that the said content might need to be rediscovered
therein; that some other generation might find new figurizational
items which express to them that content or some part thereof
more v i v i d l y . C e r t a i n l y this is w h a t happened i n the
Reformation, which brought i n its wake revivification o f many
an aspect o f the divine revelation o f Jesus and released new as
well as dormant energies i n the service o f the holy. This is also
what happened i n the Taymiyan (fourteenth century) and
WahhabI (eighteenth centLiry) reforms in Islam.
Would such a re-presentation or rediscovery necessitate the
Christian's and the Muslim's going out, as it were, o f their own
figurization, out o f their 'catholic' truths? N o t simpliciter. For there
is no a priori or wholesale condemnation o f any figurization. But
we should never forget that, as a piece o f human work, every
figurization is capable o f growing dim i n its conveyance o f the
holy, not because the holy has changed, btit because man changes
perspectives. Truth, goodness and value, God and the divine w i l l ,
for man as such are always the same. But His w i l l i n the change
and flux o f individLial situations, o f the vicissitudes o f history
and that is precisely what the figurization had been relational to
- must be changing i n order that the divine w i l l for man be
always the same. To question the figurization is identically to ask
the popular question: What is God's w i l l i n the context o f our
generation, o f our historical sittiation, indeed, in the context o f
our personal individuation? The dimness o f the figurization must
be removed at all costs; its meanings must be rediscovered and
its relevance recaptured.
There are those w h o argue that the figurization can and should
never be transcended. Some o f these do not recognize the
humanity of the figurization. Others insist that piety and morality
are rediscoverable only i n the figurization itself. To seek the evernew relevance o f the divine imperative is for them to relate the
figurization o f the fathers to the new situations o f human life
and existence. That that is not a barren alternative is proved for
them by numerous movements w i t h i n the Christian tradition,
253

ISLAM AND OTI1LR FAITHS

and by a number of juristic interpretations o f the Shari'ah, in


the Islamic tradition. Whether or not the present needs can be
met by such means cannot bc decided beforehand, and must be
answered only after the needs themselves have been elaborated
and the relating attempted. We can say at this stage, however, that
a considerable degree o f freedom vis-a-vis the figurization is
necessary to ensure the greatest possible tolerance for the issues
o f the present to voice their claim.

I n the circumstances i n w h i c h Muslims and Christians


find themselves today, primacy belongs to the ethical questions,
n o t the t h e o l o g i c a l . W h e n one compares the canonical
figurization o f Christianity w i t h that of Islam, one is struck by
the wide disparateness o f the two traditions. W h i l e Christianity
regards the Bible as endowed w i t h supreme authority, especially
as it is interpreted w i t h 'right reason' - that is to say, i n loyalty to
the central tenets o f the figurization according to the Protestant
school, or i n loyalty to the tradition o f the Church as understood
by its present authorities, according to the Catholic - Islam
regards the Bible as a record o f the divine word but a record
w i t h which the human hand had tampered, w i t h holy as well as
unholy designs. Secondly, while Christianity regards God as
man's fellow, a person so moved by man's failure that He goes to
the length o f sacrifice for his redemption, Islam regards God
primarily as the Just Being whose absolute justice - w i t h all the
reward and doom for man that it enjoins is not only stifficient
mercy, but the only mercy coherent w i t h divine natLire. Whereas
the God o f Christianity acts in man's salvation, the God of Islam
commands h i m to do that w h i c h brings that salvation about.
Thirdly, while Christianity regards Jesus as the second person o f
a triune God, Islam regards l i i m as God's human prophet and
messenger. Fourthly, while Christianity regards space-time and
history as hopelessly incapable o f embodying God's kingdom,
Islam regards God's k i n g d o m as truly realizable indeed as
meaningful at all - only w i t h i n the contexts o f space-time and
history. Fifthly, while Christianity regards the Church as the body
o f Christ endowed w i t h ontic significance for ever and ever, Islam
regards the community of faith as an instrument mobilized for
6.

254

ISLAM AND C H R I S T I A N I T Y : D I A T R I B E OR D I A L O G U E

the realization of the divine pattern i n the world, an instrtiment


whose total value is dependent upon its fulfilment or otherwise
of that task.
This list is far from complete. BLit i t does show that the pursuit
of dialogue on the level o f theological doctrine is marred by
such radical differences that no progress may be here expected
without preliminary work i n other areas. Since it is at any rate
impossible for this generation o f Muslims and Christians to
confront one another regarding all facets o f their ideologies at
once, a choice o f area for a meagre start stich as this is imperative.
Priority certainly belongs to those aspects w h i c h are directly
concerned w i t h our lives as we live them i n a world that has
grown very small and is growing smaller still. The M u s l i m Christian dialogue should seek at first to establish a mutual
understanding, i f not a community o f conviction, o f the Muslim
and Christian answers to the fundamental ethical question, What
ought I to do? I f Muslims and Christians may not reach ready
appreciation o f each other's ideas or figurizations o f divine
nature, they may yet attempt to do the w i l l o f that nature, w h i c h
they both hold to be one.To seek 'Gods way', i.e., to understand,
to know, to grasp its relevance for every occasion, to anticipate its
judgement o f every moral deed that is the prerequisite whose
satisfaction may put the parties to the dialogue closer to mutual
self-understanding. Even i f theories o f God's nature, o f His
revelation, o f His kingdom, and o f His plans for man's destiny
were to be regarded as objects of faith beyond critique, certainly
the ethical duties o f man are SLibject to a rational approach.
Neither Christianity nor Islam precludes a critical investigation
of the ethical issues confronting modern man in the world. The
proximity o f these issues to his life, his direct awareness o f them
as affecting his o w n life as w e l l as that o f m a n k i n d give
immediacy to the investigation, and they assign the prerogatives
f competence and jurisdiction to his personal and communal
Judgement i n the matter. The relevance o f the issues involved to
w o r l d problems pressing h i m for an answer furnishes the
uwestigation w i t h a ready testing ground.

Moreover, ethical perceptions arc different from the percep255

ISLAM AND OTHER PAITHS

tions o f theoretical consciousness where to miss is to perceive


unreality. Difference i n ethical perception is that o f the brother
who does not see as much, as far or as deep as the other. This is
a situation w h i c h calls for the involved midwifery o f ethical perception. Here, there is no question o f error and falsehood, as
every perception is one o f value and difference consists i n perceiving more or less o f the same. Neither is the question one of
an acquiescent profession o f a propositional fact. It is rather one
o f determination o f the perceiving subject by the value that is
beheld; and for such perception to be itself, it must be the perception o f the man, just as for his realization o f the w i l l o f God
to be itself, i.e., moral, that realization has to be his own free and
deliberate act. O n the purely theological level, when the i m pulse to make others heretical is at work, tolerance can mean
either contemptuous condescension, conversion, or compromise
w i t h the truth. I n ethical perception, on the other hand, disagreement is never banished or excommLinicated; and heretication
defeats its own purpose. Tolerance and midwifery - which are
precisely what our small world needs are the only answer. Their
efforts are i n the long run always successful; and, at any rate, they
are i n the Muslim's opinion the better as well as the 'Christian'
view

Themes for Dialogue


Looking upon the contemporary ethical reality o f Muslims
and Christians, three dominant facts are discernible:

Firstly, the modern Muslim and Christian regard themselves as standing in a state of innocence. Whatever their past ideas and attitudes
may have been, both o f them agree that man's individuation is
good, that his life o f person and i n society is good, that nature
and cosmos are good. Fortunately, modern Christian theologians
too have been rejoicing i n their rediscovery o f God's judgement
o f creation 'that it was good'. The ideological import o f this rediscovery is tremendous. M a n has rehabilitated himself i n
creation. He has found his place i n it and re-presented his destiny to himself as one o f engagement i n its web of history. He is
s

256

IST.AM AND C H R I S T I A N I T Y : D I A T R I B E OR D I A L O G U E

in God's image, the only creature w i t h consciousness and spirit,


unto w h o m the command o f God has come, and upon w h o m
the w i l l o f God on earth depends for realization as that w i l l is, i n
itself, a w i l l to a morally-perfected world. Certainly, God could
have created the world already perfect, or necessarily-perfectible by the workings o f natural law. But H e created this world,
'where rust and moth consume and where thieves break through
and steal', i.e., a world where His w i l l , or vahie, is not yet realized, that i n the free realization o f i t by man, the moral values
may be realized which could not be realized otherwise. Hence,
this w o r l d is good, despite its imperfection; and man occupies
therein the especially significant - indeed cosmic - station o f
the bridge through w h i c h the ethical elements o f divine w i l l
enter the realm o f creation. It is not surprising that a rediscovery
of such momentum causes a great deal o f joy, a feeling o f selfconfidence i n the great task ahead. Gone are the sordid
obsessions w i t h the innate depravity, the intrinsic futility, the necessary fallenness and cynical vacuity o f man and o f the world.
M o d e r n man affirms his life and his w o r l d . Recognizing the
imperativeness as well as the moving appeal o f Gods command,
he accepts his destiny joyfully and presses forth upright into the
thick o f space-time where he is to make that w i l l real and actual.
9

Secondly, the modern Muslim and Christian are acutely awareof the
necessity and importance of recognizing Gods will, of recognizing His
command. This acknowledgement is the stibstance, the content or
'meat' o f their acknowledgement o f God. 'Recognition o f Gods
command', 'ethical perception' and 'the act o f faith' are mutually
convertible and equivalent terms. Such acknowledgement is
indubitably the first condition; for i t is abstird to seek to realize
the divine w i l l i n the world without a prior acknowledgement
of its content, just as i t is absurd to seek to realize what oLight to
be done without the prior recognition o f what is valuable. H o w
is one to recognize that which otight to be done i n any given
situation w h i c h must be one among a mimber o f possible
alternatives w i t h o u t the standard or n o r m w i t h w h i c h the
realizability i n the alternatives o f that which ought to be can be
measured and ascertained? I n d e e d , i f an a x i o l o g y - f r e e

257

ISLAM AND OTILER LAITIIS

programme o f action COLIIC! ever be envisaged, the agent thereof


woLild not be a moral subject, but an automaton o f duties. To be
moral at all, the act must imply a free choice; and this is a choice
in which consciousness o f the value, or o f its materiel as the spatiotemporal concretization thereof, plays the cmcial part. A l l this
notwithstanding, and however absolutely indispensable and
necessary the acknowledgement o f God's command and w i l l may
be, i t is only a condition, a conditio sine qua non to be sure, but still
a condition. Philosophically stated, this principle is that o f the
p r i o r i t y o f the stLidy o f values to duties, o f axiology to
deontology. The act o f faith, o f acknowledgement, recognition
and acquiescence, is the first condition o f piety, o f virtue and
felicity. But woe to man i f he mistakes the condition o f a thing
for the thing itself! The act o f faith neither justifies nor makes
just. It is only an entrance ticket into the realm o f ethical striving
and doing. I t does no more than let LIS into the realm o f the
moral life. There, to realize the divine imperative i n the vahieshort w o r l d , to transfigure and to fill i t w i t h vahie, is man's
prerogative as well as duty.

Thirdly, the modern Muslim or Christian recognizes that the moral


vocation or mission of man in this world has yet to he fulfilled, and by
him; that the measure of his fulfilment thereof is the sole measure of his
ethical worth; that in respect to this mission or vocation all men start out
in this world with a carte blanche on which nothing is entered except
what each individual earns with his own doing or not-doing. I n the
discharge of his mission i n space-time, no man is privileged and
every man is an equal conscript. For the command o f the one
God is also one, for all men without discrimination or election;
and His jListice is absolute.
10

Dialectic of the Themes with the Figurizations


A.

Modern Man and the State of Innocence

The notion o f original sin, o f the fallenness o f man, appears


from the perspective o f contemporary ethical reality to have
OLitlived its meaningfulness.
258

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY: DIATRIBE OR DIALOGUE

1. Sin is, above all, a moral category; it is not ontological.


For modern man, there is no stich thing as sin o f creation, o f
nature, of man as such, no sin as entry into existence or spacetime. Physical death is perhaps the deepest mystery o f the process
of space-time; it is certainly a disvalue, but it is not moral, and
therefore not sin, nor the consequence o f sin.
2. M o r a l sin is not hereditary; neither is i t vicarious, or
communal, but always personal, always implying a free choice
and a deliberate deed on the part o f a moral agent i n full
possession and mastery o f his powers. The actual involvement, or
the 'attraction', or 'preparation', to w h i c h the free moral agent
may be subject by merely being a member o f his family, o f his
community, of his religio-CLiltural group, is not denied. M o d e r n
man is also aware that sin is an evil act the ontic conseqLiences o f
which whether material or psychological diverge i n spacetime ad infinitum, affecting in some measure the being and lives
o f other people. He is equally aware that such consequences are
not moral precisely because they are o n t i c , i.e., necessary,
involving no choice on the part o f the person w h o m they affect.
Moreover, m o d e r n i t y has removed the h i t h e r t o necessary
connection between existence and membership i n the family,
community or religio-ctiltural group. It was this strict necessity
o f the connection, characteristic o f ancient societies, w h i c h ,
though partially, had induced the fathers to represent sin as a
necessary and universal category. T h e m o d e r n M u s l i m and
Christian no more hold a man as member o f a grotip and as
subject to the fixations operative i n that group except as the result
of a decision that man makes for himself. This is particLilarly true
of those societies which have achieved a high degree o f internal
mobility, especially true o f Western society. But the fact is that
the whole world is moving in that direction and the day is not
far away when, from the perspective o f the now-forming w o r l d
comniLinity, the universalization o f education and the termination
of the age of societal isolation, it w i l l be relatively easy to move
from one culture to another.
Sin is not only a doing, whether introverted, as when the
doing is strictly w i t h i n the person's soul directly affecting neither
3.

259

ISLAM A N D O T H E R FAITHS

his body nor anything else outside his soul, or extroverted, as


when the doing is spatial involving his body, the souls and bodies
o f others, or nature. Such doing is only the spatio-temporal
consequence o f sin. Sin is primarily a perceiving. Here lies its
locus and genesis, i.e., i n perception. Its effect is i n intent and
doing. Accordingly, it can be counteracted only in the faculties of
perception and its solution must therefore be i n education. It is
obvious that retaliation and r e t r i b u t i o n are by themselves
inadequate to meet sin wherever i t may take place. T h a t
forgiveness is equally inadequate becomes clear w h e n we
consider that by releasing the ethical energies o f the sinner from
frustration at his o w n misdeed, the spiritual power o f forgiveness
can cure only the sinner w i t h strong ethical sensitivities. For it
takes a sinner genuinely frustrated by his own moral failure to
respond to its moving appeal. The rest - and the rest is surely the
great m a j o r i t y - r e m a i n u n t o u c h e d by its power, i f n o t
encouraged and confirmed i n their sinfulness. Education, on the
other hand, ministers to everybody's need. I t is universal i n its
application as all men stand to benefit from its fruits. Admittedly,
forgiveness does have an intrinsic power w h i c h acts on all
perceiving subjects moving them to emulate the forgiver. Like
love, courtesy and respect, i t is 'contagious'. B u t it is forever
personal, its activity and effect are always erratic; whereas

education is always SLibject to deliberation, to critique and to


planning.

I t is w i t h i n the realm o f perception that the modern Musl i m and C h r i s t i a n can make sense o u t o f the C h r i s t i a n
figurizations notion o f sin. From this perspective, sin is man's
propensity to ethical misperception. I t is an empirical datum
whose Libiquitousness is very grave and disturbing. Nonetheless,
i t is n o t necessary. T h e general p r o p e n s i t y to ethical
misperception is counterbalanced by the propensity to sound
ethical perception which is at least as universal as its opposite.
Indeed, there is far more value i n the world than there is disvalue,
far more virtue than sin. I f by nature man falls i n error in his
cognition o f the ethical, of value, i t is eqLially by nature, i f not by
4.

260

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY: DIATRIBE OR DIALOGUE

a stronger nature, that he is driven to keep on looking and trying despite the faltering. ' M a n by nature desires to k n o w the
true, the good and the beautiful (said Aristotle); and 'man is
doomed to love the good' and pLirsLie the true and the beaLitiful
(said Plato). While his soul yearns for, seeks and pLirsues value,
man's natural ' w i l l to live' keeps h i m on his feet, and his ' w i l l to
do* propels h i m forward despite the setbacks o f sin. True, man is
by nature inclined to moral complacency, but he is equally i n clined to the life o f danger. A n d while modern man is certainly
resolved i n favour o f the latter, our reason tells us that we should
encourage h i m all the more because the life o f danger holds the
greater promise. M a n may and certainly w i l l err i n ethical perception. But he is not hopeless; nor are his misperceptions his
sins incorrigible. His fate, blest or unblest, devolves i n the first
place upon h i m alone.
1

I f this is convincing to b o t h , the dialogue nmst move on


towards revivifying the figurization recapturing whatever truth
there is i n it. We may hence expect it to bring out the following
point. Ethical misperception, in all its varieties, is that which we
ought to guard against, to avoid and to combat i n ourselves, i n
others and i n all men. Indubitably, we must become fully aware
o f the enemy, o f his tactics and defences, o f his nature and
constitution, i f we are to fight h i m successfully. I n the mind o f
the general, a very prominent place is occupied by 'the enemy'.
It was such genuine awareness on the part o f the fathers that
induced them to put sin i n man's flesh, i n the passions for the
lower vahies o f pleasure and comfort, of life and power, in the
overhasty realization o f value, the surmoLinting o f man's cosmic
station, i n the arrogant pride that the ethical job o f man on earth
has already been done and finished. I n this sense everyone is
susceptible to sin as every man has his temptations, his weak
moments when his ethical perception is dimmed and his moral
vigour is dull and slow to act. To be always conscioLis o f this
disposition, i.e., to keep i t constantly i n m i n d as the negative
object o f the moral struggle, is the pecLiliar merit o f the fathers'
emphasis on sin.
261

ISLAM AND O T H E R FAITHS

U n l i k e the fathers, therefore, the m o d e r n Christian and


Muslim cannot think o f sin as the predicament OLit o f which
there can be no hope o f deliverance save by a non-human, divine
act. Even if, i n the interest of final victory in man's moral struggle,
we overestimate the enemy, victory must certainly be possible i f
it is to be an objective and the struggle is to be sustained despite
the eventual setbacks. Were we to grant that sin is necessary but
keep i n mind its meaning as ethical misperception, we would be
contradicted by the fact that man has i n fact perceived rightly
w h e n he perceived God's past revelations as genuine. This
inconsequence may not be removed except by adding another
fantastic assumption nihilating man's responsibility for genuine
perception, namely, predestination to right perception. But that
is a pure fabrication; that perception w h i c h is not the persons
perception is not perception.
Finally, the dialogue must move towards a clear answer to the
ethical question. I f we keep our balance, we w i l l recognize that
the right mental and emotional attitude to sin is to keep it in
conscioLisness i n order to avoid and to surmount i t . The road
hitherto is and can only be education, the axiological anamnesis
w h i c h causes man to see for himself, to perceive value and
expose his o w n ethos to determination by i t . The teacher in
general, whether mother, father or elder, teacher by concepts, or
by example, is precisely the helper w h o helps man perceive
r i g h t l y and thereby s u r m o u n t the sinful misperceptions.

Education is the unique processus o f salvation. N o ritual o f water,


therefore, or ablutions or baptism, o f initiation or confirmation,
no acknowledgement o f symbols or authority, no confession or
contrition, can by themselves do this j o b for man. Every person
must do i t for himself, though he may be assisted by the more
experienced; and everybody can.
B.

Justification as Declaring or Making Good

Looking at the figurization created by the fathers, the contemporary M u s l i m and Christian observe that its n o t i o n o f
justification as a declaring or making good the person who has
262

ISLAM AMD C H R I S T I A N I T Y : D I A T R I B E OR D I A L O G U E

acknowledged the figurization does not accord w i t h contemporary reality Here three considerations are in order. First, where
ethical misperception has been the fact or the rule, no confession of any item in the figurization w i l l transform misperception
into perception. Even the confession o f God as conceived o f in
the figtirization does not constitute the 'entrance ticket' we mentioned earlier, the sine qua non o f salvation. What w i l l do so is the
confession of the content o f divine w i l l , o f value itself. For i t is
the materiel values themselves, not the concepts and theories o f
' G o d ' or ' d i v i n e w i l l ' as enunciated or elaborated by the
figurization, that move the human soul, that can be realized once
they are known, and that must be known in order to be realized.
Second, education, as we have defined i t , is a l o n g and
continuous growth w h i c h has no divisions admitting o f the
representation of its processes as a before and an after. Neither is
t

the realm o f values (the w i l l o f God) divided into two parts such
that only the attainment o f one, rather than the other, may be
said to constitute, or begin, ethical living. Genuine perception,
therefore, as well as genuine value-realization, is w i t h the child
as well as w i t h the mature elder, thotigh the objects (values and
their relations) discerned may belong to different orders o f rank.
Salvation or, rather, an amount o f it may be the w o r k o f the
'faithful' o f any religion as that o f the 'faithless' the goyim or
barbaroi o f any faith without regard to the figurization to which
they subscribe. The child must then be 'justified' as much as the
adult, the 'sinner' as much as the 'saved', provided he perceives
that w h i c h his yet-undeveloped, or little developed, faculties
enable h i m to perceive.Value-perception is a contimiOLis growthprocess. It does not admit o f a moment o f justification before
which there was no growth at all and then, by divine fiat, it has
come to be. T h i r d , perception o f genuine value is only the
beginning o f the process o f felicitous achievement. Beyond i t
yet lies the longest and hardest part o f the road, the realization i n
space-time of that which had been correctly perceived.
Another meaning o f confession is conversion. It consists o f a
new openness o f mind and heart to the determining power o f
the divine, o f value. It is the state o f mlfilment o f the admirably263

ISLAM AND O T I I L R FAITHS

stated first conimand ofjesus, namely, to love God w i t h all one's


mind, all one's heart and all one's power." This is certainly a
radical transformation, for it entails a deliberate willingness to
the good and to submit to its determination rather than to
evil's. As the first step o f faith, however, i t nrust stand below the
act o f confession as perception o f value at all. A l l it recognizes is
the value o f submission to value which is also a prerequisite but
more fundamental, more elemental, than the first. It can also refer
to an attitude that comes after perception o f the whole, or a large
part o f the realm o f value. I n this case, i t is o f momentous
significance i f we regard the ethical phenomenon as necessarily
broken into perception and action, as separate sLiccessive stages
between w h i c h the devil and his temptations may intervene. This
v i e w rests u p o n the groundless assumption that ethical
perception is formalistic and, hence, discursive and intellectual
(Kant's [17241804] 'practical reason' trying to subdLie and to
discipline an erratic ' Willkuf). The establishment o f ethical
perception as emotional a priori intuition (Scheler [1874-1928],
Hartmann) has recaptured the unity o f the ethical phenomenon
as perception and action at the same time, and proved the Socratic
formula 'knowledge = virtue' once again true.
There is yet another sense, recognized and well-emphasized
the f i g u r i z a t i o n o f Christianity, i n w h i c h faith and its
confession can constitute a real achievement. This is the sense in
which the confession o f faith, i.e., the subject's conviction that he
is now reconciled to God and accepted by the community, means
the liberation o f his ethical energies for self-exertion i n God s
cause. Since the state o f sin is by definition the Lindesirable state
of being, and faith is the consciousness o f this undesirability at
all levels, the solemn confession o f faith becomes the resolution
not to relapse into that which has so far been rightly perceive
as undesirable. Psychologically speaking, assurance o f the
acceptance by God and the community o f this resolution as

something serious and significant, has the g o o d effect ot


removing whatever fixity misperception may have developed in
the moral subject and releasing his energies towards valuerealization, as if a new page had been turned in his book-of-hie264

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY: DIATRIBE OR DIALOGUE

Though this must remain a mere 'as-if, i t is a powerful moment


psychologically. I n a person o f ethically sensitive nature, the
consciousness o f sin may possess that person to the point o f
frustrating his determination by the good, his w i l l to r i g h t
perception and right action. I n such a person, the phenomena o f
repentance, confession, reconciliation and acceptance can not
only release pent-Lip energies bLit create new ones and orient
them towards the good to which they can then rush w i t h a great
surge. B u t , as we have said earlier i n connection w i t h the
psychological effect o f salvation upon the stibject, we must
remember that such responses and effects are the prerogative o f
the few, jList as great sin equally belongs to the few. The majority,
however, remains as little determined by the one as by the other.
In the mediocre measure that the majority can have either the
cause (sin) or the effect (justification), the advantage o f the
confession o f faith must perforce be eqLially mediocre.

There is a sense, therefore, though a tinique one indeed, i n


which the act o f faith carries an ontic relation to man and cosmos,
w h i c h is its capacity to infuse into the psychic threads o f the
subject n e w determinants and thus b r i n g about a n e w
momentum as it deflects the causal threads from the courses they
would have taken had these new determinants not entered the
scene. This 'plus' o f determination is as ontically real as any natural
determination since b o t h o f them eqLially prodLice the same
result, namely, the deflection o f causal threads to ends other than
those to which they would lead otherwise. Btit we shotild guard
against ever confusing the nattire o f this 'plus'. It is certainly not
zjustifacti, a making just, for, ontologically speaking, the deflection
of causal threads which constitutes the moral deeds have not yet
taken place thoLigh it has become a real possibility. N o r is it a
declaring jList i n the forensic sense that, whereas the same person
remains the same, the scales o f jListice that pronounced h i m sinful
have just been tipped i n his favoLir by the fact o f solemn
confession. Such w o u l d be literally a case of'cheating'. N o r ,
finally is justification a considering o f the sinful as innocent,
ethically speaking. For it is neither a category o f God's thought,
nor one o f man's deeds which belong to history and can never
265

1ST.AM

AND OTHER FAITHS

be undone. It is only a psychic release i n the justified sinner,


whose real value is not intrinsic but derivative o f that o f the
values w h i c h the newly-released energies may, or may not,
realize.
C.

Redemption as Ontic Fait Accompli

Thirdly, looking at the figurizations o f the fathers, the modern


Muslim and Christian recognize that redemption is not a fait
accompli inasmuch as the filling o f space-time w i t h realized value
is not yet, but has still to be done by man; that i t is man s works,
his actualization o f divine w i l l on earth as it is i n heaven, that
constitutes redemption. Were redemption a fait accompli i n this
sense, i.e., were the ethical j o b or duty o f man towards God
done and finished, his cosmic status, and hence his dignity,
would be impaired. In tha t case, morality itself falls to the ground.
Salvation must flow out o f morality, not vice versa. The only
morality that can flow out o f accomplished salvation necessarily
robs man's life and struggle i n space-time o f its gravity, its
seriousness and significance. True, the already-saved man is not
free to lead any life and must live like a person unto w h o m God
had accomplished salvation. Such a man w i l l therefore be under
the obligation o f gratitude for the salvation done. Far from
underrating the order o f rank o f the ethical value o f gratitude,
the m o d e r n M u s l i m and Christian find any ethic i n w h i c h
gratitude is the determining corner-stone inadequate to confront
space-time, to govern the plunging o f oneself into the thick of
tragedy-laden existence, to guide mans efforts for transformation
o f the universe i n t o one fully realizing the w i l l o f God.
Historically speaking, and i n the figurizations o f Christianity and
Islam, the ethic o f gratitude that emerged out o f the notion ot
r e d e m p t i o n as a fait accompli devaluated space-time as an
unfortunate, insignificant interlude, the end o f w h i c h was
eagerly awaited. I n the perspective o f such an ethic, the fulcrum
o f life and existence is clearly shifted outside o f space-time, which
becomes no longer the 'body' and theatre i n which the w i l l ot
God is constantly prayed to be and should be done. That is all in
266

IST.AM AND C H R I S T I A N I T Y : D I A T R I B E OR D I A L O G U E

addition to the superciliousness and complacency w h i c h the


carrying around o f one's tide to paradise generates. I f on the
other hand, redemption is remembered and affirmed - to be
the doing o f man's cosmic vocation, the realization o f value in
space-time, then the assumption o f redemption as accomplished
salvation must be the greatest sin.
This consideration need not blind us to the fact, hinted at i n
the foregoing section, that redemption does achieve an ontically
real accomplishment: namely, the release o f energies and the
infusion o f determinants w h i c h w o L i l d not have become real
otherwise, and the actualization o f ends other than those to which

the un-increased determinants and energies would have led. But


the 'phis' o f determination, the pent-up energies released by the
redemptive act o f faith are not botind to produce any given ends.
As a rule, they w i l l go to reinforce those applications o f energies,
or those causal nexus at w h i c h the moral subject has already
been working; and the act o f faith presupposes that what has
been discerned is the gentiine truth, goodness and beauty. But
the application o f the new energy to the pursuit o f what has
been r i g h t l y discerned is not necessary. That is w h y sin is
possible even after redemption a fact w h i c h the figurization
which understands redemption as a being-done o f man's ethical
v o c a t i o n cannot recognize or a f f i r m except t h r o u g h the
inconsequence o f paradox. Thus, it takes something more than
redemption i n the sense o f forgiveness and release o f ethical
energies to achieve salvation i n the sense o f ethical felicity, o f
realizing value i n space-time, o f deflecting its threads towards
value-realization, the bringing about o f the materiaux o f value
and o f filling the world therewith.

In giving us the notions o f justification and redemption, therefore, the canonical figurizations gave us merely a prolegomenon
to ethical salvation. These notions provide a cure for those w h o
need it and these are o f two kinds: the hypersensitive person,
whose consciousness o f his past ethical shortcomings and
rnisperceptions has prevented h i m from trying again; and the
hypochondriac, w h o dwells on his sad state o f affairs so strongly
and so long that he forgets that there is a task yet to be per267

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

formed, however bad his past may have been, and that his com
plaining w i l l not perform that task. Just like the man who has
been so sick that he has lost the sense o f life and can think onlv
of death, and who w i l l lead a superficial fife i f he were to come
to a sudden cure, so the moral hypochondriac, upon redemption, would hardly exert himself morally, or know what to exert
himself for, as his ethical vision has been warped by the long
illness. Such a man w i l l never recover from the event o f his cure,
of his redemption. He w i l l never pass to the sanity, sobriety and
gravity o f facing space-time w i t h its crying need for God, for
value.
B o t h diese types are rare: mankind is neither made o f ethical
geniuses and heroes, nor o f hypochondriacs. For the majority of
men, redemption remains an event o f expected significance only
inasmLich as it is the perception o f that which ought to be and, in
this capacity, it is an actual embarkation on the ethical road, a
prolegomenon to real felicity. Valuable and necessary as it may
be, i t constitutes no salutary merit and those w h o have achieved
it have achieved only the beginning. They are not the elect in
any sense, and neither is their salvation guaranteed. What they
achieve is not only possible, but actual for every man; all men
must come to i t sooner or later by nature as they begin
consciously to live under the human predicaments o f desiring
knowledge and o f loving the good. Far from furnishing ground
for a new 'election', a new particularism, and a new exclusivism,
redemption i n the only sense i n which it makes sense, namely
value-perception and value-realization, is truly universalist in
that it expresses modalities o f ethical living w h i c h are actual in
all human beings. Ethical salvation, on the other hand, i.e., the
actualization o f divine w i l l or moral value, is a progressive
achievement open to all men by b i r t h ; and i t is judged and
measured on the scale o f an absolute j L i s t i c e that knows no
alternative to or attenuation o f the principle 'Better among you
is the more righteoLis', for 'whoso doeth good an atoms weight
w i l l see it then, and whoso doeth i l l an atom s weight w i l l see it
then'.
12

268

1ST AM AND C H R I S T I A N I T Y : D I A T R I B E OR D I A L O G U E

Prospects
T h i s has been a sample d i a l o g L i e b e t w e e n Islam and
Christianity. It has anchored itself i n a common reality and paid
the tribtite due to the canonical figurizations. Beyond the latter,
however, it has moved towards reconstructing religious thought
consonantly w i t h its o w n experience o f reality and, w i t h o u t
violating any o f the necessary conditions o f dialogue. However
hard the results may have been on the Islamic and Christian
figurizations, they can be claimed and asserted by the modern
Christian as a continuation o f that same loyalty to Jesus which
produced the Christian figurization, and mutatis mutandis i n the
case o f the modern Muslim. The novelty is that i n asserting them
the Christian is j o i n e d by the M u s l i m , and their communion
w i l l undoLibtedly open limidess vistas o f common religious and
moral ideas for further exploration. As to whether the Christian
is likely to enter into dialogue and follow this course i n our
generation, I am pessimistic.
A.

The Catholic Church

O n the Catholic side, we can safely take the record o f Vatican


I I not only as representative, but as determining the future for at
least this generation. As regards the issties taken up by the
foregoing dialogue, Catholic Christianity is still to be heard from.
As far as I know,Vatican I I has not even attempted to discuss such
issLies, let alone re-present them as objects o f a critical ChristianM u s l i m dialogue. I t has stopped the calling o f non-Christians
by bad names. But that is too modest a contribution. M o d e r n
man takes the prerequisites o f politeness, courtesy and mutual
respect for granted, and he is not moved to admiring trance by
an assertion or defence o f t h e m . As far as the M u s l i m is
concerned, such defence is fourteen centuries late. *
1

As a matter o f fact, Vatican I I left much to be desired that is o f


far greater importance. Besides j o i n i n g the Muslims to the
devotees o f most archaic religions, the statement 'the plan o f
salvation also includes those w h o acknowledge the Creator . . .
the Moslems . . . [and] those w h o i n shadows and images seek
269

ISLAM AND O T H E R LAITHS

the unknown God' - merely subsumes them under the call o f


God. The universality of the call is not an actual but an oughts
Liniversality, and hence it does not yield the desired Liniversalism
at all. I f God called all men, it goes without saying that the Muslims
are included. To exclude them is tantamount to counting them
among the trees. I f this is an advance over the former position
where the Muslim was regarded as a sub-human, i t is an advance
w h i c h stinks by virtue o f this relation. Moreover, the same
document has stressed that o f the pious among those who 'do not
know the gospel o f Christ or His Church' only those may 'attain
to everlasting salvation'who do so 'through no fault of their o w n ' .
The Muslim who has been thrice Christian is therefore exchided.
The judgement 'whatever goodness or truth is found among
them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the
Gospel' - may be as old and classical as ELisebius (c. 264-340) to
which the text proudly refers. Condescending? Indeed! D o I see
progressivism at the apex o f w h i c h stands Christianity as the
archetype o f r e l i g i o n and the other religions as faltering
approximations? Yes; but wait for the explanation o f this religioLis
diversity and imperfect approximations otitside o f Christianity!
'Often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become caLight up in
futile reasoning and have exchanged the truth o f God for a lie,
serving the creature rather than the Creator'! The non-Christians
do not even know God; neither do they serve H i m ! This is utterly
OLit o f tune w i t h the twentieth century. Name-calling w i l l not do.
It is amazing that despite this low esteem o f those who are not
Christians, Vatican I I agrees w i t h my plea to seek nmtual
Linderstanding and cooperation on the ethical level, 'to make
common cause . . . on behalf o f all mankind . . . o f safeguarding
and fostering social justice, moral values, peace and freedom'. '
As a MLislim who has been thrice Christian, I applaud and stretch
forth my hand i n the hope that my Sermon-on-the-MoLint ethic
may prove contagioLis.
14

ls

16

17

B.

The Protestants

Unlike the case of Catholics, no pronouncement is vested w i t h


decisive authority for Protestants. Their position would have to

270

ISLAM A N D C H R I S T I A N I T Y : D I A T R I B E OR D I A L O G U E

be surmised from the writings o f those w h o regard themselves


as the spiritual thinkers o f their community. I therefore propose
to do no more than plumb one thinker on this matter who, many
Protestants w i l l probably agree, stands on the frontier o f Christian
theology. That is the late Paul Tillich.
In his Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions, Tillich
repudiated the neo-orthodox approach w h i c h refuses even to
acknowledge the existence o f sLich a problem as man's rehgions
pose for Christianity. H e criticized the progressivist explanation
of the religions o f the world and refuted the circular arguments
of those theologians who, assuming Christianity to be the typos
o f rehgion, measure man's religions w i t h its rod.- H e spoke o f
an original Liniversalism o f the early ChLirch meaning thereby
Christianity's adoption o f elements from other rehgions and their
SLibjection to the particularist idea o f Jesus as the Christ.
Though commendable, this idea is hardly adequate to meet
the issue o f inter-religious confrontation. The problem is not
one o f approving o f or adopting that which agrees or can be
made to agree w i t h us b u t o f what to do w i t h that w h i c h
contradicts us, that w h i c h stands on the other side o f us. O n
this issue T i l l i c h suggests the possibility o f self-criticism i n light
of the difference w i t h other religions. Appropriately, he entitled
his concluding lecture 'Christianity j L i d g i n g Itself i n the Light
o f its E n c o u n t e r s w i t h the W o r l d R e l i g i o n s ' . N o more
promising title can be found than this. But before he let his
audience rise to cheer, T i l l i c h dissolved the whole promise as
he defined t h e basis o f any f L i t u r e s e l f - j u d g e m e n t o f
Christianity. 'There is only one point', he said, 'from which the
criteria can be derived and only one way to approach this point.
The point is the event on w h i c h Christianity is based, and the
way is the participation i n the continuing spiritual power o f
this event, w h i c h is the appearance and reception o f Jesus o f
19

21

Nazareth as the Christ, a svmbol w h i c h stands for the decisive


self-manifestation i n human history o f the source and aim o f
all b e i n g ' . Evidently, the basis is n o t G o d , nor the w i l l o f
God, bLit the Christian figtirization o f G o d . B u t loyalty to
f i g u r i z a t i o n produces footnotes and c o m m e n t a r i e s , n o t
22

271

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

knowledge; and Christianity, i f based upon SLich a principle,


w i l l learn nothing at all.
Here Tillich has failed i n our fifth methodological principle,
namely, freedom vis-a-vis the canonical figurization. It seems as
i f Tillich, despite the depth and breadth o f his vision, is telling
the Muslim: Assuming the CoLincil o f Nicaea consisted o f God
as chairman, His angels and prophets as members, and that i t did
unanimously and Linder express divine command decide for all
eternity what i t did decide, what use can we make o f what you
or any other religion has to offer? The MLislim retort is that it is
precisely here i n the Nicene Council that the dialogue w i l l have
to start, i f at all, assuming that the C o u n c i l is still on and
deliberating. Consisting o f men w i t h holy as well as unholy
motives and presided over by a pagan emperor interested i n the
political unity o f the Empire more than i n the t m t h , the Council
is either closed and hence only o f didactic vahie to modern man,
or open and modern man may participate therein as constituent

member. * I t was precisely at Nicaea that the split o f Christianity


into Eastern and Western formally began, not i n the meaning
Lisually attached to these terms as denoting the Roman Catholic
Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, or the Churches o f
the West as distinguished from those o f the East, but i n the older
sense o f a Semitic Christianity o f so-called 'heretic' churches o f
the East and a Christianity figurized Linder terms supplied by
Hellenistic consciousness. Only at 'Nicaea' can the dialogue w i t h
Islam, the heir o f that Eastern Christianity w h i c h was hereticated
2

at Nicaea, be r e s L i m e d .
In the last lecture o f his career,'The Significance o f the History
o f Religions for the Systematic Theologian', T i l l i c h did not
progress beyond the foregoing position. He called 'Religion o f
the Concrete Spirit' the 'telos' or the 'inner aim' which the history
o f religions 'is to become'. This is composed o f three elements:
'the sacramental basis' w h i c h is 'the universal . . . experience o f
the H o l y w i t h i n the finite'; the 'critical movement against the
demonization o f the sacramental'; and the 'ought-to-be . . . the
ethical or prophetic element [which] becomes moralistic and
finally secLilar' without the other t w o . One can hardly miss the
24

25

272

ISLAM

A N D CHRISTIANITY:

DIATRIBE OR

DIALOGUE

parochial representation o f Western Christianity i n this scheme


where the first element is the Jesus-event, the second the
Reformation, and the third, the secular moralistic htimanism o f
modern times. A n d we must, in addition, overlook Tillich's lack
o f i n f o r m a t i o n , at least regarding Islam, evident i n his
generalization that 'the universal religious basis is the experience
o f the H o l y w i t h i n the finite'.
Having defined these elements, Tillich then tells us that they
always struggle against one another; but that when integrated
within the Religion o f the Concrete Spirit, they struggle as one
organic whole against the d o m i n a t i o n o f each. ' K a i r o i ' or
'moments . . . i n which the Religion o f the Concrete Spirit is
actualized fragmentarily can happen here and there'. But 'the
whole history o f religions' is 'a fight for the R e l i g i o n o f the
Concrete Spirit, a fight o f God against religion w i t h i n rehgion'.
In this continuing w o r l d struggle o f God against the demonic
forces, 'the decisive victory' was 'the appearance ofjesus as the
Christ'. 'The criterion' o f victory, or o f the presence o f the
Religion o f the Concrete Spirit is 'the event o f the cross. That
which has happened there i n a symbolic way, which gives us the
criterion, also happens fragmentarily i n other places, i n other
moments, has happened and w i l l happen even though they are
not historically or empirically connected w i t h the cross'. ' Tillich
even suggests the re-use o f the symbol 'Christus Victor' i n this
view o f the history o f religions. H o w do we know that what
happened i n the kairos o f Muhammad or o f the Reformation
was 'a fragmentary event o f the cross' unless it is assumed that all
religious moments are kairoi o f the same? But i f this is assumed
beforehand, w h a t n o v e l t y d i d the m i n o r premise bring?
Obviously, this is the same circular reasoning Tillich had criticized
i n Ernest Troeltsch and R u d o l p h Otto, however disguised the
terms.
2(5

27

28

29

30

32

Tillich's 'last w o r d ' was his answer to the question o f the


meaning o f the history o f rehgions 'to the religion o f which one
is the theologian'. 'Theology', he claimed, 'remains rooted i n its
experiential basis. W i t h o u t this, no theology at all is possible'.
Thtis, in loyalty to the canonical figurization, Tillich persistendy
273

ISLAM A N D OTHER

FAITHS

refused to recognize any sacrament-free consciousness as religious.


Straight-jacketed by his o w n self-imposed l i m i t a t i o n to the
experience o f the Christian figurization, the Christian theologian
is to spend the rest of time 'formulating] the basic experiences
which are universally valid [sic, the experience o f the holy i n die
finite is any tiling but universal] i n universally valid statements'.-**
H o w can such an attempt see anything i n the religions o f man
but fragmentary realizations o f the Christian experience? Can it
be said that such an attitude enables the Christian to understand
the other faiths o f other men, let alone produce a fruitful dialogLie
w i t h the men o f other faiths?
As for his systematic theology, its pages run counter to every
one o f the ethical insights we have attributed to modern man.
One might conclude that i f Tillich were still alive, he would not
carry the dialogue a single step forward. Surprisingly, however,
this conclusion is not true. For just before he died, he read the
sections o f this paper entitled ' M e t h o d o l o g y o f DialogLie',
'Themes for Dialogue' and 'Dialectic o f the Themes w i t h the
Figurizations' and wrote i n a letter to the author: ' I . . . read your
manuscript and t h o u g h t i t was an excellent basis for any
discussion between Christianity and Islam. You bring out the
points o f difference w i t h great clarity and sharpness. N o t i n
order to let them stay where they are, but i n order to show that
behind the different figurizations there is, especially i n the
present moment, a common ground and a common emergency.
I believe that w i t h this presupposition i n m i n d , a discussion
could be very fruitful.'
This was a surprise. I t recaptures my lost optimism.

Notes
1.

Islam and the WestiThe Making of an Image (Edinburgh:The University Press,

i 9 6 0 [revised edition, Oxford: Oneworld, 1993]; Islam, Europe and

Empire

(Edinburgh:The University Press, 1966).


2. In considering that history one must take account of the following facts:
The first missionaries which Islam sent to Christendom were met with swords
drawn and were massacred at Dhat al-Talh in 629 c;n. From that moment, however.

274

ISLAM

A N D CHRISTIANITY: DIATRIBE OR

DIALOGUE

a section of Christendom which might be called'Semitic Christianity'welcomed


the Muslims, gave them protection, listened to and were converted by, or simply
tolerated them.These Christians were for the most part Arab or Semitic, though
not necessarily Arabic-speaking, and a fair number were Copts, whether Abyssinian
or Egyptian. T h e Abyssinian state, Christian and theocratic, had previously
welcomed and protected the Muslim refugees from Makkah and was regarded as
a friend by the Muslims ever since. With the rise of the Islamic state and the entry
of Islam onto the stage of history, a much older division began to resume its shape;
the division of Christianity itself into Eastern and western, Semitic and Hellenic.
Though they had abandoned most of the so-called'heretical' doctrines of their
ancestors, submitted themselves to the main pronouncements of the synods and
councils and acquiesced to the theological, Christological and ecclesiological tenets
of Catholic Christianity, the Semitic Christians cooperated with the Muslims.
Despite the fact that the innate appeal of Islam, its exemplars in life and action, and
the continuous exposure to its civilizing and cultural power had taken their toll of
converts from their ranks, these Christians have survived in considerable numbers
fourteen centuries of living under the political rule of Islam. Islamically acculturated
they certainly are; but not converted. They constitute a living monument of
Christian-Muslim co-existence, of mutual tolerance and affection, of cooperation
in civilization and culture building. Their inter-religions modus vivendi is an
achievement in which the whole human race may take rightful pride.
O n the other hand. Western Christians, embittered by a military defeat initially
brought about by their own intolerance to allow the Islamic call to be heard,
nursed their resentment and laid in wait. For three centuries, sporadic Lighting
erupted between the two camps without decisive advantage to either party. In the
eleventh century, the Western Christians thought the time had come to turn the
tables of history. The Crusades were launched with disastrous consequences to
Christian-Muslim and Muslim-Christian religions. Christian executions, forced
conversions or expulsion of the Muslims from Spain followed the political defeat
of the Muslim state. For eight centuries, Islam had been the faith not only of
immigrant Arabs and Berbers but of native Spaniards who were always the
majority.The 'inquisition' made no differentiation; and it brought to an end one of
the most glorious chapters in the history of inter-religious living and cooperation.
Modern times brought a story of continuous aggression and tragic suffering
beginning with the pursuit and obliteration of Islam from Eastern Europe where
the Ottomans had planted it, to the conquest, fragmentation, occupation and
colonization of the whole Muslim World except the impenetrable interior of the
Arabian Peninsula. Muslims remember with bitterness that this is the period when
Christendom changed the script of Muslim languages in order to cut off their
peoples from the Islamic tradition and sever their contact with the heartland of
Islam; when it cultivated and nursed Hindu and Buddhist reaction against the
progress of Islam in the Indian subcontinent; when it invited the Chinese to dw ell
r

and to oppose Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia; when it encouraged the Greeks in

275

ISLAM AND OTHER EAITHS


Cyprus and the Nile Valley, the Zionists in Palestine and the French in Algeria;
when, as the holder of political and economic power within the Muslim World,
Christendom discouraged, retarded or impeded by every means possible the
awakenings, renaissance and self-enlightenment processes of Muslim societies;
when, controlling the education of Muslims, it prescribed for it little beyond the
purpose of producing clerks for the colonialist administration.
Equally, modern times witnessed the strongest movement of Christian
proselytization among Muslims. Public education, public health and welfare
services were laid wide open to the missionary who was accorded the prestige of
a colonial governor, and who entered the field with pockets full of'rice' for the
greedy, of intercession with the colonialist governor for the enterprising, and of the
necessities of survival for the sick and the needy.
Throughout this long history of some fourteen centuries of Christian-Muslim
relations, the researcher can hardly find one good word written or spoken about
Islam by Christians. One must admit that a number of Semitic Christians, of
Western Christian Crusade-annalists or of merchants and travellers may and did
say a few good words about Islam and its adherents. Samplings of this were given
by Thomas Arnold in his The Preaching of Islam (reprinted by Sh. Muhammad
Ashraf, Lahore, 1961), especially the conclusion. Modern times have seen a number
of scholars who conceded that Muhammad's claims were candid, that Islamic
religious experience was genuine, and that underlying the phenomenon of Islam,
the true and living God had been and still is active. But these arc isolated statements
even in the life of those who made diem, not to speak of the deluge of vituperation
and attack upon Islam, Muhammad and the Muslims which fill practically all
Christian writings about the world of Islam. Moreover, whatever little may bc
found belongs to Christians as individual persons. Christianity as such, i.e., the
bodies which speak in its name, be they Catholic, Protestant or Greek Orthodox,
has never recognized Islam as a genuine religious experience. The history of
academic Western Christian writing on the subject of Islam is a history of service
to the world of scholarship, though one of misunderstanding and falsification. As a
librarian seeking to collate manuscripts, establish texts and analyze historical
claims, the Christian scholar has done marvellous work which earned him the
permanent gratitude of scholars everywhere. But as an interpreter of the religion,
thought, culture and civilization of Islam, he has been - except in the rarest of cases
nothing more than a misinterpreter and his work a misrepresentation of its
object. (See the scathing analysis of A. L.Tibawi, 'English-Speaking Orientalists: A
Critique ofTheir Approach to Islam and Arab Nationalism', The Muslim World,Vo\.
L I I I , Nos. 3, 4 (J ly> October 1963), pp. 185-204, 298-313.) Vatican II conceded
ll

that 'the Moslems . . . adore one God, living and enduring, merciful and allpowerful, Maker of heaven and earth and Speaker to men . . . they prize the moral
life and give worship to God . . . ' though it carefully equated these characteristics
not with actual salvation but with the mere inclusion within'the plan of salvation
(The Documents of Vatican //, ed.Walter M.Abbott, SJ., New York: Guild Press [An

276

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY: DIATRIBE OR DIALOGUE


Angelus Book], 1966, p. 663). Little rewarding as this concession becomes when
conjoined with the earlier statement that 'whosoever . . . knowing that the Catholic
Church was made necessary by God through Jesus Christ, would refuse to enter
her or to remain in her could not be saved' (ibid., pp. 32-3), anything similar to it
has yet to come from the World Council of Churches - indeed from any Protestant
church, synod, or council of churches.
3.

Before the Hijrah to Madinah and the establishment of the first Islamic

polity, the revelation of Muhammad, i.e., the Qur'an, defined the religious relation
of Islam and Christianity. To the Jews, it asserted, God sent Jesus, a prophet and
apostle bom of Mary by divine command. He was given the Evangel, taught to
relieve the hardships of Jewish legalism and to exemplify the ethic of love,
humility and mercy.Those of his followers who remained true to his teaching are
blessed. Those who associated him with God, invented trinitarianism and
monkery and falsified the Evangel, are not.The former the Qur'an described in
terms reserved for the friends of God: 'The Christians are upright; they recite
the revelations of G o d during the night hours and prostrate themselves in
t

worship. They believe in God and in the Day of Judgement. They enjoin the
good, forbid evil and compete in the performance of good works. Those are
certainly righteous' (Al Tmran 3: 113).'And you will find among the People of
the Book the closer to you those who said that they were Christians; for many
of them are priests and ascetics and arc humble' (al-Md'idah
hearts, We planned compassion and mercy' (al-Hadid

5: 82). 'In their

57: 27). Parallel to this

lavish praise of some Christians, stands the Qur'an's castigation of others.'Some


Christians said:The Messiah is the Son of God, thereby surpassing in unbelief the
unbelievers of o l d . . . .They have taken their priests and monks for gods, as well
as the Messiah, son of Mary, whereas they were commanded never to worship
but one God beside W h o m there is none else' (al-Tatvbah 9: 31). ' O People of the
Book! D o not go to extremes in your religion and never say anything on behalf
of God except the truth.Jesus, the Messiah, the son of Mary, is only a prophet of
God, a fulfilment of His command addressed to M a r v . . . . So believe in God and
in His prophets and do not hold the trinitarian view:... God is the one God. May
He be exalted above having a son. To H i m belongs everything in heaven and
earth' (al-Nisd'

4: T71). As for what the Muslim attitude towards Christians

should be, the Qur'an prescribed:'Say: O People of the Book! Let us now come
to agreement upon a noble principle common to both of us, namely, that we
shall not worship anyone but God, that we shall never associate aught with Him,
and that we shall not take one another for lords beside God. A n d if they turn
away, then say: Remember, as for us, we do submit to G o d . . . .We believe in that
which has been revealed to us and that which has been revealed to you and our
God and your God is One. It is to H i m that we submit' (Al Tmran 3: 64; al'Ankabiit

29: 46). From this we may conclude that Islam does not condemn

Christianity but reproaches some devotees of it whom it accused of deviating


from the true path ofjesus. Every sect in Christianity has accused the other sects

277

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS


of the same. Yet, Christianity has never recognized Islam as a legitimate and
salutary movement. It has never regarded Islam as part of its own tradition
except to call Muhammad a cardinal in rebellion against the Pope because of his
jealousy for not being elected to the office, and Islam a 'derclicta fide catholica'
(Islam and the West, pp. 83-4).

4.

Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought, tr. C . T . Campion (New-

York: Mentor Books, 1955), pp. 147-8.


5.

See Bertha Spaffbrd Vester s article 'Jerusalem, My Home' in National

Geographic Magazine

6.

(December 1964), pp. 826-47.

Christian abuse, the Crusades and the last two centuries of Christian

mission have spoilt the chances of the Muslim masses entering trustfully into such
common endeavour. For the time being, the grand dialogue between Muslims and
Christians will have to be limited to the intelligentsia where, in the main,
propaganda does not convince and material influences produce no quibbling.This
limitation is tolerable only so long as the Muslim World is underdeveloped and
hence unable to match measure for measure - and thus neutralize - the kilowatts
of broadcasters, the ink and paper of publishers and the material bribes of affluent
Christendom.
7.

The Qur'an tells us that Abraham, the paragon of faith in the one true God,

asked God to show him evidence of His power to resurrect the dead. When God
asked,'Have you not believed?'Abraham retorted,'Indeed, but I still need to see
evidence so as to put my heart at rest' (al-Baqarah 2: 260). Likewise, the Qur'anic
discourse with the Makkans concerning their religion and Islam was a rational one,
replete with 'evidence' and with the retort,'Say, Bring forth your evidence [against
God's] if you are truthful' (al-Baqarah 2: m; al-Anbiyd' 21:24.; al-Naml 27:64.; etc.).
O n a number of occasions, the Qur'an speaks o f the evidence of God','the proof of
God' which it goes on to interpret in rational terms (see for example, al-Nisd' 4:
T74; Yusuf 12: 24; al-Mu'minun
8.

Genesis 1: 18, 21.

9.

Matthew 6: 19.

10.

23: 117; al-Qasas 28: 32).

Certainly God may and does grant His grace to whomsoever He chooses;

but such grace is never a category of the moral life, a credit which can be taken for
granted or'counted upon' by any man. It remains a category of God's disposition
of human destinies, never an attribute of men's lives. The gratuitous gift is not a
thing earned, by definition; and that which is not earned cannot figure on God's
scale ofjustice - equally by definition.
There is yet another divine grace which is not quite gratuitous. It is called
'grace' by equivocation; for it is a good thing which God grants freely but not
whimsically, and which He does only in deserving cases. Such grace is really 'a lift'
on the road of ethical perceiving and living, accorded to those who are really

278

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY: DIATRIBE OR DIALOGUE


persevering and hard-pressing forward towards the goal. Specifically, it is the gift
of a sharper cognition of, or of a more total determination by the goal and no more.
It is earned.
11.

Matthew 22: 37; Mark T2: 30; Luke 10: 27.

12.

Qur'an, al-Zilal

13.

'Call men unto the path of your Lord through wisdom and becoming

99: 7-8.

preaching. Argue with men gently . . * (al-Nahl

T6: 125);'Tell My worshippers to

limit themselves to the comelier words...' (al-Isrd'

t7: 53);'Do not contend with

the People of the Book except with arguments yet more considerate and gentle .. .*
(al-'Ankabut

29: 46);'Those are the servants of God who . . . when the ignorant

dispute with them respond with "Peace" ' (al-Furqan 2y. 63).
14.

The Documents of Vatican II, p. 35.

15.

Ibid.

16.

Ibid.

17.

Ibid.

18.

Ibid., p. 663.

19.

New York: Columbia University Press, 1963, p. 45.

20.

Such as Ernst Troeltsch, Rudolph Otto, Adolph Harnack, etc. Ibid, p. 43.

21.

Ibid., pp. 34-7. There is historical spuriousness in Tillich's claim that

Christianity turned 'radically exclusive and particularistic as the result of the first
encounter . . . with a new world religion', namely, Islam (ibid., pp. 38-9). In fact,
Christianity was radically exclusive at Nicaea and at every other post-Nicene
Council. This characteristic was probably developed much earlier than Nicaea.
Even if Tillich's claim were true, it constitutes a poor apology. The astounding
novelty however is Tillich s claim that Christianity's self-consciousness with respect
to the Jews and hence, Christian anti-Semitism, was the result o f the shock of the
encounter with Islam'.
22.

Ibid., p. 79.

23. The accounts of the tactics used in the Council or thereafter in order to
T
implement or defeat its decision by the parties involved w ere far from inspiring
any awe or silencing authority.'Intrigues and slanders of the lowest kind', wrote
Harnack,'now began to come into play, and the conflict was carried on sometimes
by means of moral charges of the worst kind, and sometimes by means of political
calumnies.The easily excited masses were made fanatical by the coarse abuse and
execrations of the opponents, and the language of hate which hitherto had been
bestowed on heathen Jews and heretics, filled the churches.The catchwords of the
doctrinal formulae, which were unintelligible to the laity and indeed even to most

279

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS


of the bishops themselves, were set up as standards, and the more successful the
were in keeping up the agitation the more surely did the pious-minded turn awa
from them and sought satisfaction in asceticism and polytheism in Christian garb
etc., etc. (A. Harnack, History of Dogma, tr. Neil Buchanan. New York: Dovt
Publications, Inc., IQ6I,VO1. I V , p. 61).
24.

Published together with a number of other lectures by Tillich, and

statements of friends at a memorial service dedicated to him, under the title. The
Future of Religions (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), pp. 80-94.
25-

Ibid., p. 86.

26.

Ibid.
Ibid., pp. 8 6 - 8 .

28.

Ibid., p. 89.

29.

Ibid., p. 88.

30.

Ibid.

3i

Ibid., p. 89.

32.

Ibid., p. 88.

33-

Ibid., p. 94.

CHAPTER NINE

Rights of Non-Muslims
Under Islam: Social and
Cultural Aspects
Introduction
In most ancient civilizations, contact w i t h the non-believer
could be made only i n times o f war, as conqueror or conquered.
In either case, he was an enemy by definition. This enmity was
the other side o f the enmity o f his god o f the land. His fate was
either slavery or death; and more often the latter even after
capture. I n a few later cases, as i n the days o f Egypt's Empire
(Eighteenth Dynasty) contact w i t h the non-believer took place
under terms o f trade. Here, the non-believer was tolerated for
an ad hoc purpose and only for the duration o f the trading
encounter. As such, that is, as other or non-believer, he was
regarded as a barbarian or inhuman. The alienation was at once
r e l i g i o u s , l i n g u i s t i c , c u l t u r a l as w e l l as racial. E g y p t i a n
descriptions o f the Semites to the East, the Libyans to the West,
and the Africans to the South, and Mesopotamian descriptions
of Mitannis or Persians, o f the ' M e n o f the Mountains' or Aryans
of the N o r t h , amply illustrate the point.
1

This article was published in Journal of Institute of Muslim Minority A [fairs,Vo\. I,


No.

T ( 1 9 7 9 ) , pp.

90-102.

28l

ISLAM A N D O T H E R FAITHS

As regards the non-believer, world religions may be divided


into two main classes: the Liniversalist religions (Christianity
Buddhism) and the ethnic religions (Hinduism, Judaism).

The Universalist Religions


Both Christianity and Buddhism condemn the non-believer,
religiously. Christianity condemns h i m to eternal doom in hell
because he has n e i t h e r believed n o r received any o f its
sacraments. The condemnation is by God (may He be Glorified
and Exalted); and the occasion for it is the rejection by the nonbeliever of His church on earth, the sole dispenser o f His grace.
The Church is not of the world, though it may be in the world.
Its jurisdiction is limited to its own realm which Christianity has
clearly separated from the realm o f Caesar, the secular realm.
Pauls statement,'whatsoever is not o f faith is sin* (Romans 14: 23)
has been understood for nineteen centuries as meaning that
everything other than the religioLis - in short, the world - is evil.
The non-believer is condemned on the strength o f his n o n participation in the things o f faith. The other things, the things of
the world, are condemned, a priori, and therefore what he does
or does not do o f them is irrelevant. It was only i n the previous
century that Christian theologians began to discover a relevance
for the secular as secular, and they have not yet succeeded i n
accommodating their discovery w i t h the central tenets o f the
faith. 4

W i t h o u t God and w i t h o u t the division o f life into religious


and secular, Buddhism equally condemns the non-believer
religioLisly, i.e., as one who rejects the dogmatic truth i t teaches,
namely, that all existence is stiffering and that one OLight to bring
about its cessation. The whole of existence, Buddhism holds, is
a unity. It is secular; and all o f i t is one lump o f suffering. So, i f
the non-believer stands condemned, he is so by himself, by
virtue o f his o w n deeds, his personal un-wisdom. jList as i n
Christianity, Buddhism holds that outside the religion, there is
not, nor can be, any salvation.
282

RIGHTS O F N O N - M U S L I M S U N D E R ISLAM

Gnostic Christianity, notably Justin Martyr, suggested a theory


of salvation otitside Christianity when it understood Christ as a
logos present i n every human i n varying degrees, and called
Socrates (469-399 B C ) the most, or highest, Christian. But the
fury o f the doctrinal war in early Christianity stamped out the
attempt when Cyprian (c. 200-58 C E ) pronounced the principle
that outside the Church o f Rome there is not, nor can be, any
salvation. Cyprian's principle has remained dominant in Catholic
as well as Protestant Christianity until today. Modern ecumenism
is pressing the Catholic Church to loosen its declared monopoly
on God's grace. I n response thereto, Karl Rahner (1904-84)
wrote an essay entitled 'Anonymous Christians', i n w h i c h he
sought to extend the gift o f grace to persons outside the Catholic
Church. But his motive was certainly to accommodate the interChristian ecumenical dialogue, not the inter-religious. Orthodox
and Protestant churches have remained true to this Catholic
p o s i t i o n , w h i l e B u d d h i s m has, as yet, n o t confronted SLICII
presstires.

T h e Ethnic Religions
The ethnic religions are far more comprehensive i n their
condemnation o f the non-believer, which is both religious and
secular. Being ethnic, they Linderstand themselves i n terms o f
theology as well as history; theory as well as practice; personal as
well as social ethics.
I n Hinduism, the non-believer is condemned on two levels.
Religiously, he is alienated from the t r u t h , and he lives i n
darkness as opposed to the e n l i g h t e n m e n t o f the adherent. His
belonging to any religion other than Hindtiism is understood as
the restilt o f ignorance and aberration. The Law o f Karma w i l l ,
in rebirth, punish h i m accordingly. I n this life, moreover, he is a
'mleecha. His fate is worse than that o f a sudra or 'untOLichable' the lowest caste. Both are abominations, unclean, polkitants o f
everything w ith w h i c h they come into contact. However, the
T

283

I S L A M A N D O T H E R LA IT H S

sudra has a place i n the Hindu social system though the lowest;
but the mleecha has none and must be ejected from society or
killed.
I n Judaism as i n Christianity, the Linbeliever is the enemy of
God; and as i n Hinduism, he is the pariah o f society. I n addition
to this doLible condemnation, the unbeliever is the enemy o f
God's 'Chosen People'; an enemy w h o m the believers should
pursue, attack and subjugate or destroy even i n his homeland.
' T h y seed shall i n h e r i t the gentiles' (Isaiah 53: 3).
. . The
gentiles shall b r i n g thy sons i n their arms, and thy daughters
shall be carried by their shoulders. A n d kings shall be thy
nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee w i t h their face
towards the earth, and lick the dust o f thy feet . . .' (ibid., 49:
2 2 - 3 ) / . . .To proclaim the vengeance o f our Lord . . . Strangers
shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons o f the alien shall
be yoLir ploughmen and your vinedressers . . .Ye shall eat the
riches o f the gentiles. T h o u shalt also suck the m i l k o f the
gentiles. For the nation and kingdom that w i l l not serve thee
shall perish . . . I w i l l tread them i n my anger, and trample
them i n my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my
garments . . . For the day o f vengeance is in my heart' (ibid., 61:
2, 5-6; 60: 16, 12; 63: 3-4).
6

The Position of Islam


Islam has acknowledged the non-believer on three distinct
levels: The first is that o f humanism. Islam introduced the concept
of din al-fitrah to express its jLidgement that all men are endowed
at birth by God w i t h a religion that is true, genLiine and valid for
all time.
Insofar as they are humans, this claim would be true o f them
that they all have a sensus communis by the free exercise o f which
they can arrive at the essence o f all religious truth. Without this
natural e n d o w m e n t , man w o u l d n o t be man at a l l . T h e
universalism o f this aspect o f Islamic d o c t r i n e knows no
exception whatever. O n this basis o f religio naturalis Islam has
284

RIGHTS O F N O N - M U S L I M S U N D E R ISLAM

based its universal humanism. A l l men are ontologically the


creatures of God, and all o f them are equal i n their creatureliness
as well as in their natural ability to recognize God and His law.
N o b o d y may even be excused from n o t - k n o w i n g G o d , his
Creator, for each and every one has been equipped at birth w i t h
the means required for such knowledge.
By this concept Islam differentiates between natural religion
and the religions o f history. The latter are either derivations from
this most basic endowment; or they come from other sources
such as revelation or human passion, illusion and prejudice. I f
this k i n d o f religion divides mankind, natural religion unites
them all, and puts all their adherents on one level. As the Prophet
(peace and blessings be upon him) said: ' A l l men are b o r n
Muslims (in the sense o f being endowed w i t h religio naturalis).
is their parents (tradition, history, culture, nurture as opposed to
nature) that turn them into Christians and Jews/ O n this level o f
nature, Islam holds the believer and non-believer as equal
partakers o f the religion o f God.
The second is the level o f revelational universalism. Islam
holds that 'there is no people but that God has sent them a
prophet or warner'; and that 'no prophet was sent but to convey
the same divine message, namely, to teach that God is God an

that man ought to serve H i m ' (Qur'an, al-Fatir 35: 24; al-Nahl
16: 36).
As i f what man has been given by nature is not enough, Islam
now adds the contribution o f history. I n history, every people
has been sent a messenger, 'To teach them i n their own language'
(Qur'an, Ibrahim 14: 4); and 'none has been sent in vain' (al-Nisa'
4: 64). Every messenger conveyed and made u n d e r s t o o d
identically one and the same message from God whose essence
is the recognition o f H i m as God, i.e., as Creator, Lord, Master
and Judge, and the service o f H i m through adoration and
obedience. A l l men, therefore, are recognized as possessors o f
divine revelations, each fitting its context o f history and language,
b L i t all i d e n t i c a l i n t h e i r essential religious c o n t e n t . M u s l i m s a n d

n o n - M L i s l i m s are e q u a l i n t h e i r h a v i n g o n c e b e e n o b j e c t s

285

I S L A M AJMD O T H E R F A I T H S

divine communication. This concept adds to religio naturalis the


further universal base o f revelation i n history. Men's religious
differences, therefore, cannot be attributed either to their innate
human nature, or to God. Islam tliLis made possible a distinction
between the revealed essence o f a religion which it shares with
all other rehgions, and the figurizations, conceptualizations and
prescriptivizations o f that religion i n history. A critique o f the
historical by the essential, and o f the understanding o f both by
the natural, has become possible for the first time w i t h this
breakthrough o f Islam.
O n a third level, Islam identified itself w i t h much o f the
historical revelation o f Judaism and Christianity. I t acknowledged
the prophets o f the two religions as genuine prophets o f God,
and accepted them as Islam's o w n . I t taught its adherents to
honour their names and memories. True, this does not affect the
relationship o f Islam w i t h adherents o f non-Semitic religions.
But w i t h these and they constitute a significant segment of
mankind - Islam erected further bridges o f rapprochement. W i t h
its acceptance o f the Jewish prophets and ofjesus Christ, it
reduced every difference between itself and these religions to a
domestic variation, which may be due to human understanding,
rather than to God or the religion o f God. I t thus narrowed the
gap between the Muslims and Jews and Christians to the barest
m i n i m u m by m a k i n g the difference i n t e r n a l to the three
religions - Judaism, C h r i s t i a n i t y and Islam all at once.
F o l l o w i n g the QLir'an, the M u s l i m declares: ' W o r t h i e r of
affiliation w i t h Ibrahim (and by extension, all Hebrew prophets
and Jesus Christ) are, rather, those w h o follow his religion, this
Prophet and the believers' (Al 'Imran 3: 68). He contends i n the
details o f either religion as an 'intern', rather than as an extern,
of the faith. This is the nearest religiotis standpoint to conversion
and absolute identification o f the non-believer w i t h the faith in
question.
That there still remain many differences between Muslims
and non-Muslims is granted, yet i t must be borne i n mind that

286

RIGHTS Ol NON-MUSLIMS UNDHR ISLAM


:

Islam relegates these differences to personal understanding, not


to the religions concerned as such. Even so, Islam took care to
give all non-believers the benefit o f doubt, by w i t h h o l d i n g
judgement until incriminating evidence is at hand. The M u s l i m
is required to begin by assuming that any Jew and Christian
adheres to the same faith as that o f Islam on the three levels. O n
this basis God commanded His Prophet to address them i n these
words: ' O People o f the Books, let us now rally together, around
a noble principle common to both o f us, namely, that we shall
serve none but God; that we shall associate naught w i t h H i m ,
and shall not take one another as Lords besides God' (Al 'Imran
3: 64). Islam has reassured the non-Muslims amply: 'Those who
believe (the Muslims) and those w h o are Jews, Christians and
Sabaeans - all those who believe i n God and i n the Day o f Judgement and work righteousness, shall have their reward w i t h God.
They shall have no cause for fear, nor for g r i e f (al-Baqarah 2: 62).
Evidently, Islam acknowledges the non-believer religiously.
O n the religious plane, it grants every non-Muslim i n the w o r l d
a double religious privilege and rehgious dignity by virtue o f
his sharing o f natural religions and divine revelation i n history.
I f he happens to be a Jew or a Christian, he is granted a third
privilege and dignity, namely, that o f sharing i n the tradition o f
Islam itself. This third privilege, granted by God i n the Qur'an

to the Jews, Christians and Sabaeans was extended by the


Muslim to the Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists and adherents
of other rehgions as they came into contact w i t h t h e m . A l l three
religious privileges, therefore, Islam grants today to adherents
of all the religions o f the world.
7

Inviting the Non-Believer to Share in the


Summum

Bonum

Tlie Necessity of Calling the Non-Believer to Islam


It is one o f the basic axioms o f value t h e o r y that the
actualization o f a value is a value. It would be self-contradictory
287

ISLAM A N D O T H E R FAITHS

to assume something to be good or valuable, and that it ought


not to be actualized.
Observable human consciousness and behaviour confirm this
initial axiom. H u m a n beings do desire to share the good they
perceive and, i n the interest o f attaining the greatest possible
actualization of i t , they do desire to share their perception with
others. The order o f rank o f the value i n question determines
the degree o f obligation or desire to make it known to others.
To have a religion is to have access to a whole hierarchy of
values. These values are ultimate, they concern the ultimate
dimensions o f existence and life. N o t h i n g is more valuable than
what religion teaches about, namely, God, and His disposal of
the lives o f humans, knowledge, adoration and love o f H i m ,
obedience to H i m , fulfilment o f His w i l l , the life o f hi day ah or
grace, o f vicegerency o f God, and the reward o f eternal happiness
i n Paradise these are ultimate values. They make valuable
everything else that is valuable. Hence, they are the axiological
bases, the ultimate, or first principles o f all good. They are never
pursued, as instruments, for some other good. O n the contrary,
all other goods are sought for their sake. They are final, the
highest or most conditioned ends o f any moral endeavour.
H o w could a person who possesses such values, i.e., who is
aware o f them and actively seeks to realize them, withhold the
knowledge o f them from his fellow humans. His consciousness
and w i l l w o u l d rebel against h i m were he to pass any
opportunity to present 'his' values to others and to invite these
persons to actualize the values as he does. This requirement ot
consciousness is what we often call 'conscience' or the voice of
conscience. It is the 'hard datum' o f the primary consciousness
o f value, autonomous, sui generis and incontrovertible.
Religion does not only give us access to Liltimate values, it
also introduces us to Liltimate truth about our life and existence,
about heaven and earth. It convinces LIS o f these truths, for it
presents them not as one opinion among others, but as the truth.
Some religions hold a relativist theory o f truth, maintaining that
288

RIGHTS O l NON-MUSLIMS UNDER ISLAM

their trtith is theirs and need not necessarily be the view o f others.
Such position is held by tribalist or ethnic rehgions which hardly
ever spread beyond the c o n f i n e s o f the tribe or ethnic entity.
Other religions - and they are the majority - are exclusivist.
Their claim is not merely that their thesis is true but that all
other theses are false. Religiotis exclusivism, however, is o f two
kinds: dogmatic and rational. The former variety, i n c l u d i n g
Christianity and Btiddhism, present us w i t h a version o f truth
their version - and ask us to acquiesce to it uncritically. Their
thesis is that while rehgious truth is absolute, valid for all time
and space, it cannot be contended. It must be either taken or
rejected, but not subjected to critical analysis, to argument and
the rigours o f cotinter-evidence.

Islam shares w i t h C h r i s t i a n i t y and B u d d h i s m t h e i r


exclusivism. It presents its claim as the only true one; but it does
not do so dogmatically. Its claim is stibject to critique. I t is
absolute as well as rational or critical, open to counter-evidence,
to counter-argument. I t is the nature o f all rational claims to
present themselves w i t h defiance. Argument makes them clearer
and strengthens their foundation. Obviously, the rational claim
wants to be known, and cannot be ignored except at the risk o f
proving one either incompetent or inane.

I n seeking to convince the Makkans o f the veracity o f his


divine call, the Prophet M u h a m m a d t o l d t h e m : 'Were I ,
Muhammad, Son o f ' A b d L i l l a h , to tell yoLi that having gone up
this mountain, I have seen an enemy army marching on to
Makkah, w o u l d yoLi believe me?' 'Yes, indeed', answered the
Makkans, 'for we know you never to have lied to us before'.
'Know then', rejoined the Prophet, 'that I have received a call
from God to warn you o f a great pLinishment that God w i l l inflict
upon you i f you persist i n your evil ways. H o w can you not
listen, w h e n what is at stake is your very life and destiny.'
Obviously, the rational claim to the trLith cannot go unheeded
except by the insane. There is an inner compulsion on the part
of the subject to proclaim it to others, and an innate compLilsion
289

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

on the part o f the others to rise to its challenge, to accept o


refute i t .

The Freedom to Believe or Not to Believe

The Non-Muslim's Right to be Convinced


The Muslim is obliged by his faith, by the rational, as well as
by the axiological nature o f his claim, to present Islam to the
non-believer. The latter has already accepted the offer o f Pax
Islamica, or the new World Order under w h i c h men w o u l d
renoLince war and settle t h e i r differences i n peace, and
communicate w i t h one another. Intellectually and spiritually, the
Pax Islamica is the guarantee o f the freedom to convince as well

as to be convinced, o f the truth. It implies that the covenanter


non-Muslim is to make Lip his own mind regarding the merit or
demerit o f what is presented to h i m . The Q u r ' a n forbids i n
unequivocal terms any tampering whatever w i t h the process.
Repeatedly, God warned His Prophet not to press the matter
once he had made his presentation, absolving h i m o f all
responsibility for the decision for or against, or indecision, o f his
audience. Above all:

There shall be no coercion i n religion. The truth is now


manifest; and so is falsehood. Whoever rejects evil and
believes i n God has attached himself to the most solid o
bonds (al-Baqarah 2: 256).
God commanded the Prophet:

Call t h e m u n t o the path o f your L o r d t h r o u g h wise


argument and fair preaching; and argue w i t h them (the nonbelievers) w i t h arguments yet more fair, yet more becoming

(al-Nahl 16: 125).


We have revealed to you the QLir'an that you may convey it
to the people. It is the truth. W h o ever accepts it does so to
290

RIGHTS Ol NON-MUSLIMS UNDER ISLAM


:

his own credit. Whoever rejects it does so to his discredit.


You are not responsible for their decisions . . . (in case
people reject the revelation). Say, I am only a warner to
warn you (al-Zumar 39:41, Yiinus T O : 108. Also al-Naml 27:92;
a\-Anam 6: 104; Saba' 34: 50).

Like the presentation o f any theoretical thesis, the presentation


of Islam to the non-believer can marshal all the evidence i t can;
but i t can do no more than lay it down. To the over-zealous
enthusiast who takes men's rejection too much to heart, or who
is tempted to go beyond presentation o f the truth, the Qur'an
warned:
Had your Lord willed i t , all the people o f the earth would
be believers (But He did not). Would you then compel the
people to believe:
O M e n , the truth has come to you from your Lord. Whoever
wills, may be guided by i t ; whoever does not w i l l , may not
(Yiinus 10: 99,108).

This position o f Islam is all too natLiral.To tamper w i t h the


process o f i n t e l l e c t i o n by b r i n g i n g t o bear a n y t h i n g
extraneous to the argument, w o t i l d be to vitiate the process.
Such interference constitutes a threat to man's integrity and
authenticity. Moreover, a decision arrived at through coercion,
bribery or any other k i n d o f interference, w o u l d not be the
decision sought. For i t w o u l d be not for-its-own-sake; and
ence, immoral. B o t h the subject o f such decision and the
caller w h o 'helped' h i m to it i n an illegitimate manner are to
suffer p u n i s h m e n t i n h e l l . F r o m the s t a n d p o i n t o f the
SharT ah, the decision to convert to Islam is n u l l and void to
the sLibject, and a prosecutable c r i m e for the da'iyah, its
instrument.
c

291

ISLAM A N D O T H E R FAITHS

The Right to be Non-Convinced


Should the non-believer not be convinced o f the truth l$k

has presented, he is entitled to an undiminished degree f


respect. It should be remembered that when the Christians of
Najran heard the presentation made by the Prophet himself and
some converted and others did not, he continued to give them
the hospitality due, accepted their offer to j o i n the Pax Islamica
and sent them back to their homes protected by his own guards
and accompanied by a trusted Companion (may Allah be pleased
w i t h him) to advise them i n their affairs. The free conscience of
a man confers u p o n h i m unequalled d i g n i t y w h i c h all the
prophets o f God knew how to respect. Those o f them who took
0

the decision to accept Islam did so o f their o w n free-will,


convinced o f the veracity o f the Islamic claim.
Just as the M u s l i m may not tamper w i t h the process of
conviction w i t h extraneous matters, Islam commands h i m not to
give up i n case the non-believer persists i n this rejection.
DaSvah, or calling men to the truth, is an eternal process. For it

to be stopped at any time constitutes evidence o f despair.


However, despairing o f any man's ever seeing the light, of
recognizing the truth, is not only an instilt to h i m and his natural
capacity but a terrible indictment o f the whole human race,
implies a denial o f din al-fitrah, the natural capacity w i t h which
God has endowed all men at b i r t h . Granted din al-fitrah, the
Muslim must renew his call and entrust the rest to God. Indeed,
he must take the non-believer's rejection as a new opportunity
God has granted h i m to think out 'arguments yet more fair, yet
more becoming', w i t h w h i c h to repeat the presentation. The
evidence w h i c h can be marshalled being infinite, there is no
point at which he can give up the hope or effort to convince. It
is this constant pre-occupation w i t h the search, establishment
and clarification o f the truth, the search for ever-new evidence
which makes the U m m a h a class-room and laboratory for the
truth on a grand scale.
Considering that the Islamic truth is to be appropriated by

292

RIGHTS OF N O N - M U S L I M S U N D E R ISLAM

jvluslirtis
e l l as non-Muslims, and considering the infinity o
levant evidence, the infinite variety and depth o f intellectual
curiosity and spiritual temperament, the dialectical search for
the truth is constitutive o f the world order o f Islam. That is why
Islam has praised knowledge and scholarship and regarded the
i e n o f knowledge, the scholars, w i t h the highest possible
teem. N o religion and no ideology or social system has ever
honoured knowledge as much as Islam has. Every page o f the
Qur'an pays tribute to knowledge and wisdom, to those w h o
are fortunate enough to have it or cultivate it.
'Those w h o know and those w h o have no knowledge, are
they equal?' the Qur'an asks most rhetorically (al-Zumar 39:
After all, God is author o f all knowledge. He is the Teacher:
a s

re

eS

He taught by the pen . . . He taught man that which he did


not know (al-^Alaq 96: 4
and He commended:

D o not pursue prejudice and capricious opinion that you


may do justly. For i f you twist the truth or refrain from
acknowledging i t , God w i l l know it (al-Nisa' 4: T35).

Tlie Right to Convince Others


The non-believer enjoys this third right, the right to convince
the Muslim o f his views whatever they are. Two reasons justify
and strengthen this right of the non-believer under Islam. First,
convincing is a two-way affair; it is a process o f argument and
counter-argument. I t cannot take place except in a free dialogue
between two conscientious persons or parties. That conviction
which has not issued from such dialectical process is not the
goal o f Islam. Such conviction assumes the bearer to be a tabula
rasa on which the teacher inscribes his data which is false. The
k i n d o f knowledge i n question here is one w h i c h is n o t
Ppropriate unless it has elicited some reaction, produced some
change i n the orientation of the subject.
a

293

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

Second, it is only natLiral that i f the M u s l i m is entitled


to
present his case, that the n o n - M u s l i m be equally entitled
to
do so. This reciprocal right is not affected by either party'S
abuse, since i t belongs to each o f them by virtue o f their
humanity. I t cannot be argued that the n o n - M u s l i m may not
present his case to the Muslims. The MLislims are presumed
knowledgeable about the most precious t r u t h they have,
they are unable to refute the n o n - M u s l i m ' s presentation,
their duty is to instruct themselves i n their faith, or at least to
seek such instruction from their men o f knowledge. I f they
are l i a b l e to be c o n v e r t e d o u t o f I s l a m t h r o u g h such
presentation, their o w n weakness i n knowledge and faith is
alone to blame. Islam does not require the MLislims to shield
the ignorant, but to instruct and enlighten them. A t any rate,
w i t h t h e advances o f m o d e r n i t y i n c o m m u n i c a t i o n s
technology, no such shielding or isolationism w i l l be possible.
The counter-argument is going to reach them anyway; and
the only p r o t e c t i o n against an argument is another better,
sounder, truer argument.

What may be feared from the exercise o f this right by n o n believers is sedition or treason against the Islamic state, or
against the U m m a h as a whole. Such w o u l d be illegal under
the Pax Islamica w h i c h the non-believer has agreed to, and is
prosecutable under the law o f the state. I f no sedition is
involved, there can be no prosecution and no restriction ot
the exercise o f the right to convince others. I n case the n o n believer recourses to i m m o r a l practices such as b r i b e r y or
any means o f c o e r c i o n and a t t r a c t i o n extraneous to the
intellectual or spiritual nature o f the argument, the M u s l i m
auditor ought first to reject the presentation and denounce
its author. Moreover, the Islamic state then has the right
nay, the duty to interfere and stop the public intercourse.
The state is obliged to protect its citizens against such means.
But the honest-to-God presentation, from whichever side it
comes, must be allowed to proceed w i t h o u t let or hindrance
from any source.
294

RIGHTS OF NON-MUSLIMS UNDER ISLAM

The Freedom to be Different


We have seen that as far as religion is concerned, the dhimmT,
r non-believer i n the Islamic state, or covenanter i n the Pax
Islamica, is acknowledged religiotisly in his unbelief and granted
the rights to convince and be convinced o f the truth. It remains
for LIS to ask, concerning the non-believer w h o persists i n his
unbelief, how far does Islam tolerate his expression o f unbelief
in his own life and that o f his co-religionists:
0

The answer was supplied by the Prophet s treatment o f the


Christians o f Najran, and 'Umar ibn al-Khattab's (c. 581-644 C E )

treatment o f the Jews and Christians o f Byzantium after its


conquest. The text o f the treaty o f surrender o f Jerusalem was
written by M u awiyah (c. 602-80 C E ) , and signed by the Caliph
and by Sophronius (c. 560-638 C E ) , Patriarch o f the city on behalf
of the Christians. I t read:

In the name o f Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. This is


the guarantee granted to the inhabitants o f Aelia by Umar,
Servant o f God, Commander o f the Believers.
c

H e guarantees for them the safety o f their persons, o f their


goods, o f their churches and crosses whether i n good
state o f repair or otherwise - and generally o f their
religion.
Their churches w i l l not be changed into dwellings, nor
destroyed. Neither they nor their other properties w i l l SLiffer
any damage whatever.
In matters rehgious, no coercion w i l l be exercised against
them; nor w i l l any o f them be hurt.

N o Jew shall be authorized to dwell i n Aelia w i t h them.


The inhabitants o f Aelia shall pay the jizyah like those o f
other cities. It w i l l be their duty to eject the Byzantines
(i.e., the troops o f the Byzantine Empire) and their clients
295

ISLAM A N D O T H E R F A I T H S

from the city. Those that leave voluntarily w i l l be granted


safe passage. Those who choose to remain in the city may
do so p r o v i d e d they pay the jizyah l i k e the o t h er
inhabitants.
T h e citizens o f A e l i a w h o w i s h to leave w i t h th e
Byzantines may do so, and may carry w i t h them their
goods, properties and crosses. Safety is hereby granted to
them as well.
The farmers w h o happen to be i n the city, may also dwell
therein and pay the jizyah like the other citizens. I n case
they prefer to exit w i t h the Byzantines, or merely return to
their families on the land, they may do so. N o collection
w i l l be made from them until after the harvest.

This treaty is given under the guarantee o f God and the


honour o f the Prophet, o f the Caliphs and the Believers
on condition that the people o f Aelia pay the jizyah due
on them.
Witnesses: Khalid ibn al-Walld, A m r ibn a l - A s , Abd
Rahman i b n Awf, Mu'awiyah i b n A b l Sufyan w h o wrote
it w i t h his o w n hand i n the year 15 A H .
(

The same terms were granted by M u s l i m conquerors to the


inhabitants o f other cities throughout the provinces brought
under the flag o f Islam. Notably, Damascus, al-Hirah and 'Anat
by Khalid i b n al-Walld; Ba'alback, Hims and Hamat by Abu
' U b a y d a h i b n al-Jarrah; Ragga by *Iyad i b n G h u n m , as

reported by al-Baladhuri i n Futiih al-buldan. A b u 'Ubaydah


granted similar terms to the Samaritans o f Nablus. These terms
constitute the content o f the dhimmah governing the future
relations o f Muslims and n o n - M u s l i m s . I n the m a i n , they
guaranteed personal and property safety, the right to practice
their non-Islamic religions, and to preserve whatever public
institutions they had, such as churches and schools, w h i c h were
296

R I G H T S O F N O N - M U S L I M S U N D E R ISLAM

ually
attached
to
the
churches.
The
treaties
were
all
drawn
US
p i n terms which were general and w h i c h accorded w i t h the
normal vocabulary and expectations o f their time. Their spirit
k
remained n o r m a t i v e for all M u s l i m s t h r o u g h o u t the
centuries, t h o u g h there may have been some v a r i a t i o n i n
application. It must be noted, however, that Muslims have been
remarkably true to these covenants their ancestors made w i t h
the non-Muslims. Today, we may make our o w n translation o f
these treaties into modern parlance, w h i l e keeping ourselves
true to their spirit. Such translation wotild include the following
u

a S

rights.

The Right to Perpetuate Themselves


Since the Islamic position tolerated the dhimmi i n his unbelief,
it follows that he should enjoy the right to bring up his children
in his o w n faith. Besides the right connected w i t h the actual
exercise o f ritual worship, this implies the right to educate, to
assemble, to organize activities. The dhimmVs right to educate
his children concerns religion only, not the civil or public life
of the Islamic state as a whole o f w h i c h he is a member. Hence,
the Islamic state should grant his children the right to lessons
in their religion at school, but not the right to run their o w n
schools, unless such schools conform i n curricula and general
s p i r i t to the p u b l i c schools. T h e demands o f n a t i o n a
i n t e g r a t i o n do n o t p e r m i t small systems c o n t r i b u t i n g to
fragmentation or dissolution o f the unity o f the state. I f the
non-Muslim wishes to impart more religioLis education to his
children, he shoLild be able to do so i n the privacy o f his home,
after school hours. T h e n o n - M u s l i m may not object to his
children receiving a lesson i n Islam i n the public school
because, i n so doing, they are instructed i n the ideology o f the
state w h i c h is Islamic, and thus fulfilling a requirement o f
p o l i t i c a l i n t e g r a t i o n and p a t r i o t i s m . C h i l d r e n o f M u s l i m
nnnorities i n secular countries should be, likewise, entitled to
receive Islamic instruction while other children are receiving
297

ISLAM A N D O T H E R FAITHS

instruction i n their religion. I f they are subjected to instruction


in the secular ideology of the state, they have no recoLirse but
to receive i t . I f i t is to be coLintered i t should be through
parental i n s t r u c t i o n at home. T h e p r i n c i p l e is that just as
dhimmis have to submit to and support the Islamic state o f which
they have covenanted to be members, the M u s l i m m i n o r i t y
ought to SLibmit to and stipport the alien state in w h i c h they
have taken residence.
The rights o f assembly, or organizing grotip activities, are
also guaranteed by the spirit o f the treaties as l o n g as the
exercise o f these rights does not adversely affect the security,
stability, unity, or prosperity o f the Islamic state. The dhimmis
may organize a conference on Biblical exegesis, systematic
theology, Christian ethics, church history or iconography, as

they please. But they may not organize a conference on the


merits o f war and peace w i t h Israel, or on the fitness o f the
Arabic language for modern development Linless the general
p u r p o r t o f such conference agrees w i t h the position o f the
Islamic state.

The Right to Work


I n its long history, the Islamic state has fortunately never
k n o w n any discrimination between its citizens, Mtislims or
dhimmis, i n the field o f economic activity. The dhimmis have always enjoyed u n r e s t r i c t e d freedom to p e r f o r m all the
professions. I n practically all cases, they have faired better than
the Muslims in that their share o f the gross national product was
always larger than that o f the Muslims. This is Lisually an indication that their contribution to the GNP is proportionately larger
than that o f the Muslims. The result o f their superior effort and
self-exertion is certainly theirs to enjoy. They may not, therefore,
be curtailed in any way i f the effects o f their earnings show in
their houses and buildings, their garments, their horses, automobiles, planes, furniture or other effects o f living. I f they at
one time were prohibited from owning or riding horses, it was
298

R I G H T S OF N O N - M U S L I M S UNDHR ISLAM

on account o f the military vakie o f the horse. This would be


comparable to prohibition today to fly Phantom or Mirage airplanes.
May the dhimmis work as government and army officers, and
how far up the hierarchy may they aspire to climb? The answer
is that they certainly may work i n any government service to
w h i c h their personal training has prepared them, i n c l u d i n g
defence o f the Islamic state. O n l y those positions where the
decisions to be made require personal commitment to Islam,
may be unavailable to them. Such are the positions i n that arm
of the judiciary entrusted w i t h the administration o f the Sharl'ah;
or o f the executive entrusted w i t h the making o f general policy
of the Islamic state. Naturally, neither the head o f state - the
caiiph nor his viziers may be dhimmis, because o f the crucial
importance o f the judgements they make for the security and
welfare o f the state as a whole.

The Right to Joy and Beauty


Generally, the dhimmis do have the right to joy, as well as that
o f expressing themselves i n w o r k s o f art for t h e i r o w n
consLimption, w i t h i n the l i m i t o f corruption o f public morals
or undermining o f public morale. I n the privacy o f their own
homes, the dhimmis are entitled to enjoy themselves as they
please, to contemplate such works o f art as they please. The
moment such enjoyment poses a threat to public morals, the
Islamic state has the right nay, the dLity to interfere and put
an end to the activity. A test case o f this right o f the dhimmis
may be found i n the tendency o f modern women's fashions
toward greater nudity. Islamic morality has a definite stand on
nudity. N u d i t y i n public is an offence against that morality and
threatens its establishment i n the minds and hearts o f the
U m m a h . Accordingly, no dhimnus exercise o f his right to j o y
and beauty may infringe u p o n the moral sentiment o f the
public. The same has been literally true o f the dhimmVs right to
tise alcohol and pork, and generally to eat or drink during the

299

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

fast o f Ramadan. Such acts are offences against ptiblic morality. I f


carried otit i n private, they fall w i t h i n the prerogatives o f the
dhimmi granted by the Islamic state. Equally, the same provision
applies to the dhimmTs right to play and hear music or to enjoy
himself w i t h sound. I t is generally recognized that sound
pollution may not be tolerated and that the state has the right,
and indeed the duty, to intervene to stop i t . So far, however, this
has been interpreted only i n physical terms. Certainly, the
Islamic state is obliged to stop physical sound pollution. BLit it is
also obliged to intervene i n cases where the p o l l u t i o n is
aesthetic, not merely physical. Decadence has many ways; and
certainly one o f them is through sound. Again, the dhimmt may
indulge i n the privacy o f his home but he may not offend by his
music or other sounds the aesthetic sentiment o f the public.
I n this vein, the question may be raised o f whether or n o t
the dhimmis may r i n g their church bells. The answer is that
since this is an o l d , traditional activity intimately connected
w i t h religious worship, i t ought to be permitted. I t was the
subject o f express a u t h o r i z a t i o n i n some o f the abovementioned treaties. However, the times at w h i c h church bells
are supposed to r i n g are well k n o w n . A n y increase i n their
frequency may rightly be subjected to the scrutiny o f the state
for candidness o f motive.
Generally, the dhimmt is entitled to actualize all the social and
cultural values pertaining to his identity; and he is the sole judge
o f the circumstances o f actualization, as long as the theatre or
field o f such actualization is his personal home or domain, and
the object is his o w n person or the persons o f his o w n household.
T h e m o m e n t that this d o m a i n is transcended and the
actualization becomes public, or begins to affect other persons,
it falls under the restrictive power o f the Islamic state. Should
the theatre or field be entirely dhimmi, as i n the case o f a village
or district whose entire population is non-Muslim, i t is legitimate
for the actLialization to be carried out i n public. Such actualization
mtist, however, be careful so as not to infringe at any time on the
public sentiments o f M L i s l i m s .
300

RIGHTS 01 NON-MUSLIMS UNDLR ISLAM


:

Conclusion
In brief, it can be said that i n the Islamic state, 'religion' i n the
Western Christian sense o f the term (i.e., i n the sense o f worship,
ritual, personal ethics, personal stattis) is free, without restriction
whatever. I n the political and economic realm, the dhimmt is also
as free as the Muslim, the only limitation being the security and
prosperity o f the Islamic state. H e can hold public office or
engage i n economic enterprise as l o n g as the security and

welfare o f the Ummah do not depend on his decisions. I n the


cultural domain, the dhimmi is free only i n the privacy o f his
home, or o f his village i f it is entirely non-Muslim. Once his
action involves others not o f his faith, his freedom becomes
restricted by the cultural norms o f the Islamic state.
It may be questioned why, i n this age o f cultural chaos and
licence, the Islamic state should have any cultural stance at all?
Should not ctilture fall w i t h i n the domain o f the personal?

Islam's answer is i n the negative. A cultural stance is necessary


precisely becatise o f the present nihilistic chaos engulfing the
world. The connection o f culture w i t h morals, and ultimately
w i t h metaphysics and religion, is intimate though not readily
visible. N o system can survive unless it permeates the levels o f
culttire as i t does those o f politics and economics. Islam certainly
has a distinctive culture o f its own. A l l citizens o f the Islamic state
must partake o f it and exemplify i t , whether M u s l i m or n o n M u s l i m . Otherwise, there w o t i l d be no justification for the
Islamic state. A consumers' cooperative society, or an alliance for
defence purposes, would suffice in its stead between the various
milal (comniLinities) o f w h i c h i t is composed. I t is an Islamic
state precisely because, i n addition to these desirable 'services'
of the cooperative society and defence alliance, it has a special
spiritual message to offer mankind and a special role i n history.
The cultural stance is the embodiment o f its message and role.
This gives the Islamic state a positive function beyond the
negative ideal o f cessation o f hostilities around w h i c h the League
o f Nations was built. Indeed, the United Nations Organization
301

ISLAM AND OTHER FAITHS

has hardly transcended this negative ideal, by its numerous


projects under U N E S C O and other sub-organs. Islam has much
more to offer m a n k i n d ; and the Islamic state is the organ
entrusted w i t h carrying out this spiritual, cultural thrust i n
history.

Notes
T.

James Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating

to the Old Testament

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), pp. 22-3.


2.

Ibid., pp. 25-9.

3.

Ibid., pp. 72 fF., 217 fF., 227 fF., 268 fF., 274 fF., 301 fF., etc.

4.

Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches (Glencoe:Thc

5.

For an analysis of this shortcoming, see this authors Christian

Free Press, T949).


Ethics

(Montreal: McGill University Press, 1967), p. 248 fF.


6.

The category 'Nastika does not apply to the non-believer but to the
1

member of Hindu society and believer in the Hindu religious system. Hence, he is
always a member in good standing of a Hindu caste, who, for one reason or
another, has rejected the authority of the Vedas. A Christian in Paris, a Muslim in
Cairo, a Jew in N e w York are all mleechas. Gautama, the Buddha, is a nastika.
7.

I. al-Faruqi,Tslam' in Great Asian Religions (New York: Macmillan, 1975),

p. 329
8.

Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari, Tdnkh

al-Rusul

wa al-Muluk

(1879-1901), in 13

volumes, paragraph 2405/1. [Sec in the new edition, Cairo: Dar ai-Maaref, i979>
Vol. I l l , p. 609, paragraph 2406.]

302

PART III

CHAPTER TEN

On the Nature of

Islamic Da^wah
Allah (may He be Glorified and Exalted) has commanded
the Muslim: 'Call men unto the path o f your Lord by wisdom
and goodly counsel. Present the cause to them through argument
yet more sound' ( Q u r ' a n , al-Nahl 16: 125). Da*wah is the
fulfilment o f this commandment 'to call men unto the path o f
Allah'. Besides, i t is the effort by the M u s l i m to enable other
men to share and benefit from the supreme vision, the rehgious
truth, which he has appropriated. I n this respect it is rationally
necessary, for truth wants to be known. I t exerts pressure on the
knower to share his vision o f it w i t h his peers. Since rehgious
truth is not only theoretical, but also axiological and practical,
the man o f rehgion is doubly urged to take his discovery to other
men. His piety, his virtue and charity impose upon h i m the
obligation to make common the good winch has befallen him.

I.

Da'wah

Methodology

A.

Da\vah is not Coercive

'Calling' is certainly not coercing. Allah has commanded ' N o


coercion in religion' (Qur'an, al-Baqarah 2: 256). It is an invitation
This article was published in International Review of Missioned.
L X V , No. 260
(October 1976), pp. 391-406. Sec also Christian Mission and Islamic Da*wah (Leicester:
The Islamic Foundation, T982), pp. 33-42.

305

1ST AM A N D O T H E R F A I T H S

whose objective can be fulfilled only w i t h the free consent of


the called. Si