30 August 2010
It is always a shock when you regard something as self-evident and then come across someone who believes the opposite. It forces you to analyse your belief — you can no longer take the mathematician’s refuge of saying “it’s obvious!”
Five years ago, I drafted the membership leaflet for the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. The content is repeated on the Forum’s website in the section “Why this Forum was created”, and amongst other things it states: “Islam and Judaism are closer to each other than any other two religions.” Accordingly, when I had lunch a couple of years ago with a senior Anglican cleric, I was astonished to find that he regarded Christianity and Judaism as very close while both being quite far away from Islam.
How the three faiths see each other
Before trying to measure their relative closeness, it is worth stepping back to summarise how the three religions see each other.
(a) What their holy books say
Here chronology dictates everything.
Written first, Judaism’s holy book (my copy is “The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic text” from the Jewish Publications Society of America) says nothing of either Christianity or Islam.
In this context, it is not necessary to consider Christian and Muslim views that Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them and upon all the other prophets mentioned in this article) respectively are both prefigured in the Jewish Holy Scriptures. What matters in this context is how the Jewish Holy Scriptures are understood by Jews.
All of the first Christians were Jews, and the Christian Bible contains the entire text of the Jewish Holy Scriptures albeit resequenced. Conversely, the Christian Bible says nothing about Islam.
To condense an immensely complex issue into one sentence, the Christian Bible regards the Old Covenant made between God and the Hebrews at Mount Sinai as being superseded by the New Covenant mediated through Jesus.
Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer.
Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”
But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.
God finds fault with them when he says: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.(Hebrews 8, New Revised Standard Version)
The last in the sequence to be revealed, the Quran acknowledges the existence of both the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures. The Quran recognises that non-Muslims can achieve salvation.
VERILY, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. (Quran 2.62.)
This and all other Quran quotations in this piece are from “The Message of the Quran” translated by Muhammad Asad.
The Quran states that the previous Scriptures have been tampered with, but without giving details of where they are now incorrect and where the text we have is still correct.
AND, INDEED, God accepted a [similar] solemn pledge from the children of Israel when We caused twelve of their leaders to be sent [to Canaan as spies]. And God said: “Behold, I shall be with you! If you are constant in prayer, and spend in charity, and believe in My apostles and aid them, and offer up unto God a goodly loan, I will surely efface your bad deeds and bring you into gardens through which running waters flow. But he from among you who, after this, denies the truth, will indeed have strayed from the right path!”
Then, for having broken their solemn pledge, We rejected them and caused their hearts to harden – [so that now] they distort the meaning of the [revealed] words, taking them out of their context; and they have forgotten much of what they had been told to bear in mind; and from all but a few of them thou wilt always experience treachery. But pardon them, and forbear: verily, God loves the doers of good.
And [likewise,] from those who say, “Behold, we are Christians.” We have accepted a solemn pledge: and they, too, have forgotten much of what they had been told to bear in mind – wherefore We have given rise among them to enmity and hatred, [to last] until Resurrection Day: and in time God will cause them to understand what they have contrived. O followers of the Bible! Now there has come unto you Our Apostle, to make clear unto you much of what you have been concealing [from yourselves] of the Bible, and to pardon much. Now there has come unto you from God a light, and a clear divine writ, through which God shows unto all that seek His goodly acceptance the paths leading to salvation and, by His grace, brings them out of the depths of darkness into the light and guides them onto a straight way. (Quran 5.12 – 5.16)
The Quran is also very critical of Trinitarianism.
Indeed, the truth deny they who say, “Behold, God is the Christ, son of Mary” – seeing that the Christ [himself] said, “O children of Israel! Worship God [alone], who is my Sustainer as well as your Sustainer.” Behold, whoever ascribes divinity to any being beside God, unto him will God deny paradise, and his goal shall be the fire: and such evildoers will have none to succour them!
Indeed, the truth deny they who say, “Behold, God is the third of a trinity” – seeing that there is no deity whatever save the One God. And unless they desist from this their assertion, grievous suffering is bound to befall such of them as are bent on denying the truth. Will they not, then, turn towards God in repentance, and ask His forgiveness? For God is much forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
The Christ, son of Mary, was but an apostle: all [other] apostles had passed away before him; and his mother was one who never deviated from the truth; and they both ate food [like other mortals]. Behold how clear We make these messages unto them: and then behold how perverted are their minds! Say: “Would you worship, beside God, aught that has no power either to harm or to benefit you – when God alone is all-hearing, all-knowing?”
Say: “O followers of the Gospel! Do not overstep the bounds [of truth] in your religious beliefs; and do not follow the errant views of people who have gone astray aforetime, and have led many [others] astray, and are still straying from the right path.” (Quran 5.72 – 5.77)
By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
Hadith, narrations of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, can be useful supplementary material, which in some circumstances can help to clarify certain matters. However, a few things should be born in mind when referencing hadiths:
1). The only sacred scripture of Islam is the Holy Qur’an, all other texts including hadith are of a supplementary nature. Hadiths are not part of the sacred scripture of Islam, even though they do make reference to the purported words and deeds of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
2). Hadiths vary in their degree of reliability, some hadith are most likely authentic, as they’re based on multiple narrations from individuals regarded as honest and trustworthy members of the community, renowned for their accurate memories; nevertheless, many hadith are no where near as reliable and some are fraudulent. The great imams of hadith themselves, threw out most of the narrations submitted to them for collation. This fact in itself indicates that fraudulent hadiths were something very common during the period in which the famous hadith collections were compiled. If this were not so, would these noble people have felt such a need to sort the wheat from the chaff, and to edit together the books which they did? Even the hadith which they did preserve have been categorised from authentic (sahih) to weak (daif). All this should make us question just how reliable these books are, and not to place too great an emphasis upon them; especially not to the extent that we end up placing more emphasis on hadith than upon the Divine revelation of Almighty God – the message of the Holy Qur’an.
3). Unlike the timeless wisdom of the Holy Qur’an, hadith are a product of their times. Through making reference to the day to day incidents during the life of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and his noble companions, they do give us tremendous incites into the lives and culture of the Prophet and his companions. However, this is precisely the very same reason why they are encoded in time and place. In order for us to be able to extrapolate meaningful wisdom and practical guidance in completely different cultural contexts, we need to understand such things as the culture of that time, what the Prophet, peace be upon him, was striving to achieve through his words i.e. his intentions, and through understanding these points, what we are meant to take from these hadiths in present day contexts and what was simply meant for the particular situations which Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was addressing at that time.
Many times I’ve witnessed hadith being referenced without any effort being made to take these points into consideration. Yet, without taking these into consideration, we will undoubtedly take the Prophet’s noble words completely out of context and perhaps even do the very opposite to that which he would have advised, were he with us today helping us work through how we should address the various challenges we face in contemporary circumstances.
How should we address the difficulties, morally, spiritually and physically, faced by the brave souls working to contain the nuclear disaster at Fukushima? How do we approach the dilemmas faced by leaders who inherit nuclear arsenals in a post atomic age? What is the guidance in the sunnah (example of the Prophet, peace be upon him) for how astronauts should dress? What do the hadith teach about living in space? Clearly, there is guidance in the Holy Qur’an and wise words of our holy Prophet, peace be upon him, which teach us how to address such matters. But we will not derive any useful solutions through a literal reading, but only through contextual interpretation and logical deduction.