City of Brass

City of Brass


the Word of God

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

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.



  • hlvanburen

    Whatta load of hogwash.

  • Tim S.

    Yes the Bible is the door to the Logos (Word of God) for Christians, but don’t act as though the Quran didn’t undergo a process of development “over time” either.
    Even the Quran was compiled over time and was subject to redaction. Like the myths about Moses writing the whole Torah or the Apostles of Christ writing the whole New Testament, the Prophet Muhammad did not write the whole Quran.
    All the Holy Scriptures of the three Abrahamic faiths (Tanakh, New Testament, Quran) underwent a process of recitation, compilation and redaction… :-)

  • Leah

    In Christianity, Jesus is “the Word” but at the same time, the Bible, both old and new testament, are considered the “Word of God”
    In Islam you believe that there were many prophets, so why is that you believe that only one man – Mohamed – was trustworthy in transmitting the Word of God, rather then several eye witnesses to Jesus’s life and miracles? Not to mention other important “Words from God” like the Revelation and the 10 Commandments?
    Even in Islam 4 witnesses have more credibility than one….

  • Leah

    In Christianity, Jesus is “the Word” but at the same time, the Bible, both old and new testament, are considered the “Word of God”
    In Islam you believe that there were many prophets, so why is that you believe that only one man – Mohamed – was trustworthy in transmitting the Word of God, rather then several eye witnesses to Jesus’s life and miracles? Not to mention other important “Words from God” like the Revelation and the 10 Commandments?
    Even in Islam 4 witnesses have more credibility than one….

  • Leah

    Sorry – didn’t mean to post it twice….

  • Rod Taylor

    @Leah, Thank you for wanting to know about Islam. The Quran was developed over time as was the Bible. Literal texts are the subject I suppose you are comparing. Jesus as the physical Word of God is Trinitarian and not the belief muslims. I completely understand what you are talking about.

  • http://muslimbuddhist.blogspot.com Teed Rockwell

    Most Christians are not aware of the tremendous differences between the authoritative foundations of their scriptures and the Koran. They simply ignore the fact that the Bible was a compromise reached by a committee, and treat it as the authoritative word of God. They shouldn’t ignore this fact, for the reasons stated above, but most do.
    I don’t think, however, that these sorts of problems disappear once one accepts that the Koran is the direct word of God spoken to Muhammad. The problem is, language gets essentially all of its meaning from the context in which it is spoken, which means the only way one can understand the Koran is to recreate as best one can the historical context in which it was revealed. This is why it so important for Muslims to study both the Koran and the Hadith. When the Koran speaks of “the Jews” or “the Pagans”, does it mean all Jews and Christians, or only the Jewish and Pagan Arab tribes that were trying to slaughter Muhammad’s people? Sometimes it means one, sometimes the other, and it is very difficult to be sure which is which.
    There is also the question of applying the rules implied in the Koran to new cases. Do rules about camels apply to cars? Do rules about swords apply to missiles? Muslims scholars use their intelligence as best they can to answers questions of this sort, but they often do not come to a consensus.
    I’ve been studying the Philosophy of Language for decades, and these problems are much, much bigger than most people of any religion realize. They are the main reason that no one has succeeded in building a computer that can understand ordinary language. Philosopher John Searle calls this context “the background” and every sentence gets most of its meaning from this background, and very little from what’s actually on the page. This is as true of a sentence like “I’d like a steak with potatoes” as it is with any sentence in the Bible and the Koran. Consequently, even if God or Gabriel spoke directly to Muhammad, we are still left with the hugely challenging task of figuring out what the words meant at the time, and what they would mean today.
    I left Christianity and became a Buddhist because of this problem of interpreting Sacred Texts. In Buddhism, we have revered texts, but no texts that can be trusted absolutely, because the truth is seen as something that cannot be expressed in words. I may have moved too hastily, for I have since met many Christians and Muslims who recognize that precious as their sacred texts are, they do not absolve you from the responsibility from figuring how to apply their truths to your own life.

  • Anan E. Maus

    I am with John Coltrane, when he said, “I believe in all religions.”
    Why?
    Because, to me, there is one religion…God.
    Whether we worship Him without a name, or call Him Allah or God..it is one God that we are all worshiping.
    I think what is important is that we pray daily and lead a righteous life.
    The specifics of the differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam I do not personally think are very important.
    I think what is important is that we personally devote ourselves to the religious practices of our faith with ever stronger commitment and devotion.
    I don’t think there is time left in life to worry about what others are doing. There are too many poor who need help, too many suffering in one way or another, to worry about what someone else is doing or not doing.
    I don’t think the conflicts between Jews and Christians and Muslims are between those who devote tremendous amounts of time to prayer and spiritual practices. I think the conflicts exist between people who call themselves Jews, Christians, and Muslims in name, but…in reality…hardly ever devote themselves to deep prayer, study, and the spiritual practices.
    If anything, our spiritual work is to re-direct those people to more spiritual devotion rather than engaging in these external, worldly conflicts.

  • Leah

    Teed wrote: “I have since met many Christians and Muslims who recognize that precious as their sacred texts are, they do not absolve you from the responsibility from figuring how to apply their truths to your own life.”
    I think that is a very wise idea, and really gets to the crux of the matter. Thanks! Leah

  • http://www.ilovegodsite.com/ Word of God

    I really agree with Tim S. If you compare both the Quran and the Bible, Both have gone through lots of process and updates to fit into the modern system we are in. I dont mean they were amended but puocessed for more clarity and understanding

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