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Dialogue With Other Faiths As An Aspect Of Islamic Theology

Dialogue With Other Faiths As An Aspect Of Islamic Theology
Dr. David Thomas University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
The early centuries of Islam were a period of unparalleled development in all aspects of Muslim religious thought. This was the time of the great legal thinkers, Abū Hanīfa (d. 767), Mālik Ibn Anas (d. 796), Muhammad b. Idrīs al-Shāfi'ī (d. 820) and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 855), after whom the four major schools of Jurisprudence are named; it was the time of the Hadīth collectors al- Bukhārī (d. 870), Muslim b. al- Hajjāj (d. 874) and their colleagues, who compiled the six canonical collections of Prophetic sayings and actions and it was the time when the first scholars who can be given the name theologians were discerning the principles and main issues in kalām, the Muslim theological discipline. But briefly, this was the period in which the specifically Muslim religious identity was being defined and articulated.
In these early centuries, and particularly the period from about 750 to 1000 CE, Muslims ruled an empire in which people from any faiths mixed together. The urban societies of the early centuries contained populations of considerable heterogeneity, and it seems from the available evidence that, despite the disadvantages of their dependent status, many non- Muslims were not only able to survive and make their way in society, but actually achieved positions of considerable seniority and prestige. This was due in no small part to the skills and knowledge they possessed, as physicians, financiers, bureaucrats and teachers preserving talents and learning from previous times which their Muslim masters found it necessary to acquire or desirable to possess. The single well- known example of the translation into Arabic of Greek medical, philosophical and scientific works, which Hunayn Ibn Ishaq and other bilingual Christians provided at the request of Caliph, serves to illustrate this point. The Muslim rulers, it has been argued, sought the knowledge in these texts for purposes of their own, and were prepared to pay the Christian experts the equivalent weight in gold for the fruits of their rare skills. 1
In this plural society it is unlikely that, at least in cultural and religious terms, members of the non-Muslim faiths regarded themselves as at all inferior. In intellectual terms, they quite probably felt the opposite. To take two examples from Christians under Muslim rule: the Melkite theologian John of Damascus (d. ca. 750), who had served as a senior secretary to the Umayyad Caliph in Damascus, included Islam in his book on Christian heresies, 2 and far from taking it seriously dismissed it as a pastiche of Old and New Testament teachings: in the early ninth century the Muslim intellectual and stylist Abu `Uthmān al- Jāhiz complained that, in their debates with Muslims, Christians did not act fairly, picking on inarticulate, poorly prepared representatives and proceeding to force them to conclusions that made their faith appear incoherent.3 This was hardly the activity of a beleaguered, intellectually subdued underclass.
From the earliest times, Muslims challenged and were challenged by members of other faiths over details and principles upon which they disagreed. And it may not be overstating the case to say that more speculative aspects of Islamic religious thinking (and maybe the legal and even tradition- focussed aspects as well) came into being and were in part shaped and defined through interaction with the claims presented by other faiths. The evidence of the early period is sketchy at best, and interpreting it is by no means sure. But if we look, for example, at the lists of works attributed to the great Muslim speculative thinkers of the early ‘Abbāsid decades, around the turn of the eighth and ninth centuries, we repeatedly find writings against Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians and others, either responses to attacks or presumably arguments intended to provoke in their turn.4 This fact alone demonstrates the close involvement of Muslims with the religious ideas of others, and suggests that they sought to defend the integrity of their own faith by exposing the inadequacy of others.
If we look further at the traces left from this period we also see that some authors compiled works that fit into the genre of histories of religion. There is very little evidence of this, sad to say,5 but, firstly, the fact that a number of Muslims took pains to assemble and organise information about the belief of other faiths indicates what may have been curiosity about alternative traditions of belief, and what was possibly an apologetic interest to find out about competing ways of perceiving truth.
At least one of these histories of religion exerted a considerable influence on later Muslim authors, and for this reason its general outline can be reconstructed with a degree of probability.6 This is the Kitāb maqālāt al- nās Wa- ikhtilāfihim, "The Book of People's Views and Differences", of the early ninth- century free- thinking Shī'ite Abū Isā Muhammad b. Hārūn al- Warrāq. References to this book are made in a great many later works, and brief descriptions of some of its contents together with a few quotations from it indicate that it was used by many writers. When brought together, these different items suggest that the Maqālāt comprised a series of descriptive accounts of some of the main religious forms known at the time it was written. These were: pre- Islamic Arab beliefs about ‘time’ as impersonal destiny, Judaism, Christianity, dualist beliefs such as Zoroastrianism and Mazdaism, and Shī’ite Islam. There is no mention of any of the Indian religions or of philosophical claims.
It is possible to conjecture on the basis of these inclusions and possible exclusions that the work was concerned to describe and analyse the beliefs of those faiths which acknowledged a supreme deity, but diverged over the nature and activity of that deity. If so, the Maqālāt may have been an attempt to explore the form of belief that conflicted with the strict monotheism that was being asserted and vehemently defended at the time it was written by the Mu’tazilite theologians, who called themselves the Ahl al- tawhīd, the People of Divine Oneness.
These fragmentary remains from the early ‘Abbāsid era provide persuasive evidence that the explanation of non- Islamic beliefs was an integral part of normal religious discourse among proponents of kalām, the speculative theological activity of early Islam. But further investigation into some of the main polemical works that survive from this period suggests that the real purpose of Muslims’ interest in other faiths was rather more complicated than this.
A brief discussion of two works written against Christianity will explain the purpose of at least one aspect of this interest in non- Islamic faiths. They have both been given the rather general title of Al-radd’ala al- Nasārā, "The Refutation of the Christians", and although their argumentative approaches are rather different, they nevertheless bear importantly similar features.
The first of these works was written by a Zaydite Shī’ite theologian, the Imām al-Qāsim b. Ibrāhīm al- Rāssi (d. 86O).7 It consists of a long explanation as to why God must be alone and cannot have a partner in his divinity nor any being begotten from his essence, followed by an exposition of Christian doctrines held by the three main Eastern denominations of the time, and then refutations of the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. It is an elegant piece of polemic, which employs arguments from reason and Christian scripture to make any attempt at response in its own terms an uncomfortable exercise. But what is interesting about it is that it links the Muslim assertion of the oneness and radical distinctiveness of God with the negation of the Christian doctrines of the triune Godhead and the divinity of Christ. These have been carefully singled out from the whole spectrum of doctrines, which al-Qāsim describes in full including the atonement (of which his account is may be the most insightful of any surviving Muslim work from this time). And they have been chosen for the very good reason that each of them presents an alternative account of the Godhead to the one which al-Qāsim promotes, the Trinity by suggesting that God is only relatively one and that he enters into relationships, and the Incarnation by offering the possibility that another being apart from God may share in his divinity. This characteristic of the work prohibits its being called anti- Christian polemic in any simple way. It does not attack or respond to Christian beliefs in their original context, but extracts the two main doctrines that happen to challenge the fundamental Muslim doctrine of tawhīd. It shows that in al-Qāsim’s mind there is a close connection between sustaining his own belief and refuting similar beliefs that challenge it.
The second work was written by the scholar whose book Maqālātal-nās we glanced at above, Abu ‘Isā al-Warrāq ( fl. early ninth century). Entitled simply Al-radd `ala al-ihala!h flraq mm al-Nasdra "Refutation of the Three Christian Sects", by which he means the Nestorians, Jacobites and Melkites, it is the largest refutation of Christianity written by a Muslim that survives from the ‘Abbāsid period, and can claim to be the best informed and most penetrating analysis of Christian doctrines made by any Muslim author. The fact that it was singled out for a long and painstaking reply by the Christian scholar Yahya Ibn ‘Adi about a century after it was written attests to the cogency of its arguments and the irritation it may have caused among Christians.
Abu Isā’s Radd comprises three parts.8 The first is a detailed exposition of the main Christian doctrines as held by the major denominations of the Nestorians, Melkite- Chalcedonians and Jacobite- Monophysites, including intricate elements of their beliefs concerning the Trinity and Uniting of the divine and human characters in Jesus Christ, and of their creedal principles. The second is an equally detailed investigation of the doctrine of the Trinity which brings out the inconsistencies in the various expressions offered, and demonstrates the acute problems encountered in attempting to present it on the basis of reason and logic. The third part complements this by exposing the doctrine of the Incarnation (expressed in terms of the divine and human uniting) as equally impenetrable by rational explanation, and prone to undermine the beliefs it is meant to define by dissolving the unity of the divine and human at crucial moments of the Messiah's life.
The ultimate purpose of this long refutation is not quite so obvious as that of al-Qāsim’s contemporary Radd, since Abū ‘Isā does not express his own beliefs about God in a similar way nor give any direct hint that his interest goes beyond exposing the deficiencies in these two doctrinal explanations. But his own position when he wrote the work seems clear from the incidental remarks and comments he includes at transition points between arguments.9 He was obviously writing as a strong defender of monotheism. Like that of al-Qāsim, his Radd seems to be at least as much a work of defending Islamic monotheism by refuting rival versions as of attacking other faiths.
The point that emerges from this examination of some of the known Muslim works about other faiths written in the early ninth century is that amid the deep interest in the teachings they embraced there was also a concern to test the particular doctrines which came closest to similar teachings in Islam. Muslims such as al-Qāsim b. Ibrāhīm and Abū ‘Isā al-Warrāq appear to have been employing such teachings order to demonstrate, as it were, that any other forms of explanation about the nature of God and his relationship with the world than those which they themselves held were not merely unacceptable but were riddled with deficiencies. Thus they appear to have been employing doctrines from other faiths in order to support and emphasise the soundness of Islam. This is polemical argument in the service of theological exposition rather than (though not necessarily in contradiction to) devaluation of rival religions.
Just after the time when Abū `Alī al-Jubba'i was writing his refutation of Christianity, his student and later opponent Abu al-Hasan ‘Alī b. Ismā’īl al-Ash'arī (d. 935) composed a work which may have marked a new departure in Islamic religious thinking. It was called Al-fusūl, "The Chapters", and consisted of a twelve- volume work which tackled all the main subjects of religious inquiry of the time. The work itself is no longer extant, but a later description shows that together with its discussions of topics relevant to current Muslim debate it also included examinations of a number of non- Islamic faiths:
A refutation of the Mulhidūn and of those who depart from the religion of Islām, such as the Philosophers, the Naturalists, the Materialists, the Assimilators, and those who maintain the eternity of al-dahr, according to their different opinions and various doctrines; then he refuted therein the Brahmans, Jews, Christians, and Magians. It is a large book containing twelve books, of which the first is a vindication of reasoning and rational argument and a refutation of those who denied that; then he mentioned and replied to the arguments used by the Mulhidūn and the Materialists to prove the eternity of the world, and he dealt thoroughly with the assertions made by al-Raqandi in his Kitāb al-Tāj "The Crown", i.e. the work in which the latter defended the doctrine of the eternity of the world.11
This suggests that unless the work was a miscellany of unconnected pieces, it somehow integrated questions of Islamic and non- Islamic faith into a sort of related body of thoughts. If this was so, then this early tenth- century compendium typifies the natural progression in Muslim attitudes towards other faiths, away from treating them as separate phenomena and looking on them as variant forms of the same teachings found in Islām.
Since al-Ash’arī's Fusūl has not survived and little is known about it, it is best not to speculate further about its contents or structure, nor about its author's intention. But there is some reason to think that it may well have treated Islām and other faiths in some relationship with one another, because the same procedure is followed in similar works which do survive from this and slightly later times.12 Two, in particular, show graphically how non- Islamic faiths had by this time been brought into service to illustrate the truthfulness of Islām, and the dangers of departing from its teachings to favour any other claims. Al-Ash'arī is revered as the founder of one of the two main Sunnī traditions of theological thought. The other is his contemporary Abu Mansūr Muhammad al-Maturidi (d. 944), who like him fashioned a synthesis between use of the rationalist methods of the Mu'taziliate theologians and respect for the truths of revelation. His Kitāb al-tawhīd, "The Book of Divine Oneness", is the first surviving example of the kind of literature which appeared around the beginning of the tenth century: the theological compendium treating a range of topics in what appears to be systematic progression.13
At- Maturidi’s work itself contains few indications of its structure, though the arrangement of the contents makes it possible to see what this may have been.14 It begins with a discussion about the sources of knowledge (pp.3-11), and then in the second of its main divisions moves onto the existence and characteristics of God (pp. 11-176); the third main division is concerned with prophethood and the role of the Prophet Muhammad (pp. 176-215); the fourth focuses on human action in response to God, including sin and punishment (pp. 215-373); and the fifth discusses the nature of faith (pp. 373-401). Each progresses logically from the other, as a fuller discussion will show.
The starting point of al-Maturidi’s systematic account is the identification of reliable knowledge and the two main sources from which it can be derived, reason and revelation from this necessary epistemological origin, it moves in the second section onto arguments from the contingent nature of the world to the existence of God and his attributes, especially knowledge and creativity. The third section builds upon this by arguing that God communicates with his creation through prophets who are the key to the relationship between God and humankind as the channels of his guidance and commands. Supreme among them is, of course, the Prophet Muhammad. The fourth section examines how divine activity in the world establishes moral norms and how humankind may respond to these or not. And the last section demonstrates the elements of faith, and what belief comprises. So, in a loose, not always obvious progression, the Kitāb al- tawhīd presents a comprehensive explanation of the nature of transcendent and mundane reality, and defends the universe as a purposeful domain in which humankind are given guidance from God which enables them to live a moral life and fulfil their obligation to respond to their Creator.
An important aspect of this interrelated progression of arguments is its series of rejoinders individuals and groups whose main teachings conflict with those presented by al-Maturidi. In fact, the work is almost as much a refutation of mistaken and heterodox beliefs and views as it is a presentation of orthodox positions. These individuals and groups came from both inside Islām and elsewhere. And what is significant about al-Maturidi’s treatment is that rather than attack them in one particular section in the work, he turns to deal with them at intervals in the development of his thought. And his choice of opponents is clearly not arbitrary.
A few examples will illustrate his methods of proceeding. The first can be taken from the second section of the Kitāb al-tawhīd, at the end of which he identifies and attacks such groups as the Dahriyya, the Sceptics and various sects of dualists (pp. 121-74). Although these are all very different, they have in common distinct views about the nature of the deity: the Dahriyya held that the world was eternal and guided by the impersonal force of time; the sceptics doubted that the world had a moral origin; and the dualists believed that there were two divine powers. It will be seen that each of them denies the single purposive God as the Creator and Guide of the world. Al-Maturidi's arguments against them bring to an end his major presentation of the Islamic doctrine of God, which contrasts starkly with these contrary speculations.
A second example occurs in the third section of the Kitāb al-tawhīd where al-Maturidi takes issue with two heterodox Muslims, Ibn al-Rāwandi and Abū ‘Isā al-Warrāq (whom we have already encountered), who appear to deny the concept of prophethood and reject the evidence in support of Muhammad's Prophetic claims (pp. 186-202). It is not surprising that al-Maturidi'’s arguments against these unusual opinions form part of his presentation and defence of the function and importance of Prophets as the channels of communication from God to humanity.
It becomes apparent from these two and other examples that could be adduced that al-Maturidi links his attacks of opponents with the particular theological point of which their teachings provide a contrary or negative illustration. In this way his refutations serve the double purpose of demonstrating the error of alternative beliefs and of reinforcing the correctness of the one form of belief that he presents. He thus makes refutation an integral constituent of theological discourse, where it highlights the properly expounded teachings by instancing the outcome of inappropriate methods applied to unfounded sources of knowledge.
This application of the teachings of opposing individuals and groups as an auxiliary to theological presentation appears to be more important to al-Maturidi than accurate refutation itself His attack on Christianity makes this plain.
This attack forms the conclusion of section three of the Kitāb al-tawhīd, on prophethood. It is relatively brief, and incorporates a number of topical arguments whose appearance in earlier Muslim authors suggests they may have been part of a polemical tradition.15 But al-Maruridi shapes them all into a single rejection of the Christian claim that Jesus was divine, insisting that he was no more than a human being. This, of course, conforms to the teaching of the Our'ān about Jesus, but given the wider purpose of the section it would appear that his immediate intention in selecting this aspect of Christian doctrine is to emphasise that messengers from God can perform miracles and be especially guided by God, and still be human and created. Thus what may appear to be primarily an attack on Christianity is in essence a form of negative demonstration that prophethood entails election and support by God while not exceeding the boundaries of humanity. It is not an attack on Christianity as such, but a supporting coda to the main argument of the section about the nature of prophethood. Here, the attempt to address the range of Christian teachings has been abandoned, even though al-Maturidi refers at some length to belief in the Trinity in the introduction to his attack. Refutation has been reduced to an aspect of the discipline of theology.
A second example from the same period corroborates this conclusion by showing a similar use for anti- Christian polemic. This comes from the tenth- century Mu'tazilite scholar 'Abd al- Jabbar al- Hamadhani (d. 1025), whose writings culminated in the encyclopaedic theological work, Al-mughnī fī abwāb al-tawhīd wa-al- adl, "The Summa comprising Chapters on Divine Oneness and Justice".16 This is a great twenty- part exposition of Islamic beliefs, structured according to the main principles of the Mu'tazilite theologians, divine unity and justice, or in other words inequity into the nature of God's being and His just actions towards the created order. The first five parts are concerned with the being of God in Himself, beginning from proofs for the existence of a Creator and moving on to discussions of his attributes, and what can and cannot be predicated of him.17 Then parts six to twenty contain extended discussions about God's actions, which are always just, human responsibility, the duties which God imposes upon humans, including those discernible by reason and those only known by revelation, God's punishment of wrong doing, and other related topics. The whole is an elaborate explanation and defence of God's being and ways, and an attempt to explain how all events and activities are part of his just dispensation.
The striking feature of this great compendium of theology is that, like al-Maturidi's Kitāb al-tawhīd, it combines refutation of opponents with its exposition of Islām according to Mu'tazilite principles. Thus, to give just one brief example, in connection with its argument in favour of God giving his guidance through the Prophet Muhammad, it attacks the Jewish rejection of him and his authority. Here, this one aspect of Jewish beliefs is chosen out as the most vivid representative of those who deny Muhammad, and 'Abd al-Jabbar's arguments against them serve almost as a reverse of his arguments in favour of the prophethood of Muhammad.
The same is true of 'Abd al-Jabbār's refutation of Christianity. This comes at the end of the first major section of the Mughnī, in Part Five which concludes the exposition of God and his characteristics. Of course, as a Muslim and Mu'tazilite 'Abd al-Jabbār has argued so far that God is one in being, with no hint of division in his essence. Then, as a conclusion he turns on the various dualist religions about which he has knowledge, on Christianity,18 and finally the Sabians and pre-Islamic Arab idol worshippers.
The reason for this procedure is immediately obvious. The dualists all assert that there is not one divine principle but two, and so they pose a threat to absolute monotheism as well as presenting examples of chaotic and unsustainable argumentation. And the Christians compound these departures from the truth and rational method by asserting that God is divided within his own being, and further that he compromises his divinity by uniting with a human being. Thus they present rival claims, and also provide an excellent opportunity for showing by logical means that any alternative to strict monotheism is confused and self- contradictory.
The very position itself in the Mughnī of `Abd al-Jabbār's attack on Christianity shows eloquently that he was at least as interested in its teachings for their contrast to his own Mu'tazilite views about God as for their own sake. And the actual structure of his arguments demonstrates that he had little interest in Christianity as a faith, and more in the particular doctrines in which it contrasted with Islam. For one thing, he hardly bothers to describe any other doctrines apart from the Trinity and Incarnation; and for another his presentations of the two doctrines in the course of his refutation are schematised and abstract, with little resemblance to anything held by contemporary Christian denominations. He certainly knows about the Nestorians, Melkites and Jacobites, but the sources of information which he acknowledge and from which he borrows anonymously'9 do not seem to include any Christians. In a word, his treatment of the doctrines he attacks is remote from real encounters with Christians, and possesses the qualities of an academic exercise. It is easier to imagine his attacks resulting from solitary reflection upon Christian doctrinal formulas than from the uncertainties of live debate.
This is evident in 'Abd al-Jabbār's very first argument against the Trinity, which runs as follows: If the Christians do not say that the divine Persons (aqanim) are equivalent to essences which possess attributes than they differ from the (Mu'tazilite) Muslims only in the form of words they use; but if they do say that God is three essences, then they are like the followers of Ibn Kullāb (an earlier opponent of the Mu'tazilites, who held that God's attributes derived from actualities in his essence) and their position can be refuted by proofs already established earlier in the Mughnī (p.86). This is extremely concise and is directed mainly at the central point of the Christian doctrine rather than at any version which Christians might themselves present in debate. Furthermore, it is articulated in the terminology and form of Muslim reflections on the divine attributes, as the easy comparison with the mulakallim Ibn Kullāb shows, and pays little regard to the concept of divine "Person" as Christians might attempt to explain it; There is no sign of this reductionist theorem having arisen from encounters with Christians themselves: the doctrine of the Trinity can either be treated as a rhetorical metaphor for true monotheistic belief, or can be refuted in terms of the logic of that belief.
So we see in 'Abd al-Jabbār! even more emphatically than in al-Maturidi that debates with other faiths, and especially with Christianity, are more important for the manner in which they relate to the positive Islāmic doctrine that is being presented than for their relevance to actual encounters themselves. Both of these theologians nineteenth century, together with others who could also be cited, appear to be continuing the tradition which can be detected in preliminary form in the earlier Muslim scholars discussed above. They refer to non- Islamic faiths as instances of teachings which depart from their own in that very movement of departure exhibiting the features of error and illogicality. Thus the practice of refuting them contributes in a subsidiary way to the presentation and defence of Islāmic thought as cogent, coherent and the only logical construction of truth.
The distinctive feature of this traditions is that it reduces non- Islāmic faiths to bare representative principles. These are presented in the form of schematic propositions which may be clearly addressed and conveniently refuted. So, its primary purpose cannot be to find any direct confrontation between Muslims and others, but as we have pointed out above to assist in establishing the truths of Islāmic thought itself. In order for this function to be fulfilled, an alien faith will typically not be represented in the form in which its adherents recognise it, but through selected doctrines that reflect the particular Islāmic dogma they are supposed to subvert. And the activity of refuting them according to principles of logic established at the outset of the treatise, or following internal contradictions they bear in themselves, both vindicates the relevant Islāmic belief, and, more seriously, demonstrates that within the system no alternative to the belief itself carries rational conviction.
The assumption upon which this approach is based is, of course, that the teachings of Islām conform to the dictates of objective reason to such an extent that they actually embody them. This is already discernible at the beginning of the history of inter- religious polemic in the short work of al-Qasim Ibn Ibrāhīm, where in his introductory argument the Imam first demonstrates on logical grounds that God must be one and unrelated to other beings, and then quotes a number of verses from the Qur'ān which attest to this very truth. And it is also evident in al-Maturidi and `Abd al-Jabbār's systematic works, where they first establish the sources of knowledge (the former admitting revelation, and the latter preferring reason alone), and then proceed to establish the structure of Islāmic teachings upon them. They each build up their theologies as natural and almost inevitable elaborations, and make them appear to be the only acceptable expression of understanding that reason will allow.
And here is to be found the explanation for the manner in which non- Islāmic faiths are treated in this theological tradition. For since the Islāmic structures of theology are based upon and embody reason they must demonstrably be correct, from which it follows that alternatives can be shown to be incorrect and flawed in terms of their own claimed internal coherence. Thus, for al-Maturidi the Christian claim that Jesus is somehow divine can be proved wrong both in terms of what Christians agree about the nature of God and according to a right reading of Christian scripture itself. And for `Abd al-Jabbār the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation can be repeatedly shown from many angles to contradict the dictates of reason, and can be adduced as object lessons which simultaneously prove that Islamic theology is right and that aberrant forms of its constituent doctrines are wrong. If the teachings of other faiths are attempts to present the truth of God and creation, in the same way that Islām does, and they arrive at different conclusions, they can have no major value than to exemplify what is wrong and highlight what is right. In themselves they are distorted and misguided, and their purpose can only be to show the logical pitfalls in the path of those who err from the truth.
The whole attitude embodied in this theological tradition of incorporating non- Islāmic doctrines into the structure of Islāmic teaching is, of course, based upon the Qur'ānic principle that Islām is sent as the fulfillment of previous revelations, the full form of which they were originally a partial expression and the corrective to the errors that have crept into other faiths in the process of time. It might be seen as a dialectical expression of this principle, in that it examines past experimental forms of theology and brings them into relationship with the true and full expression. In doing so, it identifies the precise points at which they have gone wrong, and at the same time employs them to highlight the true version which it sets out alongside them. As we have discovered, the relationship between the presentation of positive doctrine and refutation of non- Islāmic teachings in the systematic works discussed above affect each other by their simple juxtaposition.
We see then, that at least in the early centuries the relationship between Islām and other faiths served in part to assist the development of Islāmic theological thought. Muslim theologians appear to have been as keen to learn from the mistakes of others as to identify and denounce them. And in this respect their attitude towards other faiths cannot be termed purely negative. It was through other faiths that they seem to have reached a deeper understanding of their own, and of the need to maintain the purity of logical exposition. Without the requirement constantly to maintain its distinctiveness from Judaism, Christianity, dualism and other forms of religious expression, Islāmic theology might never have attained the precision and comprehensiveness that make it the impressive and sometimes awesome achievement it so clearly is.
1- D. Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture, London and New York: Routledge, 1998, cbs 3 and 4.
2- 5ee D.J. Sahas, John of Damascus on Islam, the Heresy of the Ishmaelites, Leiden: Brill, 1972, pp. 132-41, for a reprint of the original text from Migne, Patrologia Graeca vol.94, cols 761-73; and see also R.G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, a Survey and Evaluation of Christian. Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam, Princeton: the Darwin Press, 1997, pp.480-9, for a careful evaluation of the facts concerning his biography, and a short discussion of John's account of Islam.
3- Abu `Uthmān al-Jāhiz, Al-radd'ala al-Nasārā, in J.Finkel, ed., Thalath rasa `il li-Abu `Uthman al-Jahiz, Cairo, 1926, pp. 19f.; trans. J. Finakel, "A Risāla of Al-Jāhiz", Journal of the American Oriental Society 57, 1927, pp. 331 f.
4- See the tenth-century bio-bibliographical compendium, the Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadīm, trans. B. Dodge, The Fibrist of al-Nadim.
5- See G.Monnot, Islām et Religions, Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1986, ch.2, particularly pp.50-9, for a list of titles of the known works from the ninth and tenth centuries.
6- See D. Thomas, "Abū 'Isā al-Warrāq and the History of Religions", Journal of Semitic Studies 41, 1996, pp.275-90.
7- Ed. and trans I, di Matteo, "Confutazione contro i Cristiani dello zaydita al-Qasim b. Ibrahim", Rivista degli Studi Orientali 9, 1921-2, pp.301-64.
8- The first two are edited and translated in D. Thomas, Anti-Christian Polemic in Early Islām, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992; the third is edited in the same author's, Early Muslim Anti-Christian Polemic, Abū 'Isā al-Warrāq's "Against the Incarnation", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
9- See Themas, Anti-Christian Polemic, pp.61-S.
10- From Abū 'Alī lost refutation, quoted in `Abd al-Jabbār, Al-mughnī fī abwāb al-tahwīd wa-al-'adl, vol. V, ed. M. al-Khudayri, Cairo, 1960,p.80.
11- See R. McCarthy, The Theology of a-Ash'ari, Beirut: Imprimerie catholique, 1953, pp 211f., translating Ibn `Asakir, Tabyin kadhib al-muftari.
l2- Further, alAsh'arī's relatively brief exposition of orthodox beliefs, the Risala ila ahi thaghr bīi-bab al-abwāb, ed Qiwameddin, Ilahiyat fakultes; meomuasi 8, 1928, pp.80-108, al-contains expositions of Islāmic teachings as proofs against other faiths in an integrated structure that may represent the general outline of his understanding of the relationship between the two.
13- Ed. K. Kholeif, Beirut: Dar al-Machreq, Editeurs, 1970.
14- See U. Rudolph, Al-Maturidi & die sunnitische Theologie in Samarkand, Leiden: Brill, 1997, pp.223-35; the discussion below disagrees with the structure presented by Rudolph in several particulars.
15- See D. Thomas, "Abū Mansūr al-Maturidi on the Divinity of Jesus Christ", Islamochristiana 23, 1997, pp.43-64
16- Various editors, Cairo: Dar al-Misriyya li-tala'lif wa-al-nashr, 1960-65.
17- Since the extant work is incomplete, the contents of the first volumes have to be inferred from references elsewhere in the Mughnī and from other shorter works by `Abd al-Jabbār which bear the same structure. See J.R.T.M. Peters, God's Created Speech, Leiden, Brill 1976, pp. 25-35.
18- Mughnī vol., V., pp.80-151
l9- Thomas, Anti-Christian Polemic, pp.46-50




 
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