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City of Brass

I have been asked why I am engaging in this dialogue with Robert about the book, Between Allah and Jesus, which if you think about it is really a book written by a Christian intended for a Christian audience, in order to spark an intra-Christian debate. The role of the Muslim is still as the Outsider; by participating, I am simply ensuring that the caricature of that Outsider is grounded in genuine muslim experience rather than a stereotype of muslim belief. I’m basically a consultant 🙂

For me, the value of the book was that it gave me a better understanding of Christian belief, which clarified the ways in which I disagree. Of these, perhaps the most obvious is the Trinity doctrine, but there’s also the matter of just how the Word of God itself is fundamentally revealed to mankind.

For muslims, the Word of God is the Qur’an, and the Prophet SAW was the vehicle by which that Word was delivered. For Christians, the Word of God (ie, logos) is Jesus AS himself, not the Bible. The Bible then becomes the door through which Christians must travel to access logos, but what happens if that door becomes corrupted over time? This is the dilemma that Andrew Sullivan has been writing about of late, unique to Christianity:

…the solid architecture of the faith we inherited has been exposed more thoroughly in the last few decades than ever before. There is no single authoritative text, written by one God, word for word true. There is a much more complicated series of writings designed by many men, doubtless under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that help us see some form of the figure Jesus through languages and texts and memories. I think the character and message of Jesus are searingly clear and distinctive even taking into account that daunting veil through which we are asked to see. But we can only begin to see this once we have understood the veil that both obstructs and made possible our view.

The same, I think, is true of the papacy as an alternative to Biblical literalism. This is in some ways a more durable defense against logos than Biblical literalism, but it is just another form of fundamentalism, deploying total obedience to total authority as an alternative to a living faith that can both doubt and yet also practice the love of God and one’s enemies, Jesus’s core instructions. I do not see how the limits and flaws of such total authoritarianism could have been more thoroughly illuminated than in the recent sex abuse scandal. When the man whose authority rests on being the vicar of Christ on earth consigns children to rape rather than tarnish the image of the church, he simply has no moral authority left. Yes, his position deserves respect. But its claims to absolute authority have fallen prey to the human arc of what Lord Acton called “absolute corruption”.

So we are left in search of this Jesus with a fast-burning candle in a constantly receding cave where we know that at some point, the darkness will envelop us entirely. We will catch Him at times; He will elude us at others.

I am sincerely and profoundly grateful to God that as a muslim, this issue is essentially moot for me. I do not mean this in a triumphalist sense; rather I have increased empathy for the dilemma Andrew describes above and am better able to understand the context for why Christians have a Trinity Doctrine in the first place. It’s far harder for me to dismiss their belief (as many ill-informed muslims do) as nothing more than glorified polytheism when I see more clearly how the need for tawhid drives their soul-searching.

Related: here is a link to all my posts on the dialogue with Robert about the book. Also, this thread at Talk Islam about Andrew’s post is a nice discussion on the issue.

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