City of Brass

City of Brass

the shared source

The second excerpt from the book Between Allah and Jesus is up at Beliefnet and it continues the debate between the characters Isa (a Sunni muslim), Evan (a evangelical Christian), and Father Hereema (A Jesuit priest).

The dialogue continues the debate about whether Christians and Muslims indeed revere the same God, and further explore the differences and similarities in an analogy between the Word of God in Islam (the Qur’an) and in Christianity (Jesus AS).

My blog colleague Robert flags the following exchange between Isa and Fr. Hereema (to follow this conversation, though, it’s critical that the reader read the excerpts in full):


‘Isa then intervened: “But if the God of the Christians is the God of the Jews, then the God of Muslims is the God of the Christians because he is also the God of the Jews. If two things are both equal to a common third thing, they are equal to each other. That is a basic rule of logic.”

“And not just abstract logic but concrete history,” added Fr. Heerema. “Because both Christians and Muslims learned who God was from the Jews, from the people of Abraham. Both received the truth about God from the same source. Even though they disagreed about many things later, they still have that common source. If a river forks into two or three streams downstream, it’s still the same water.”


This is an interesting exchange, especially because the use of the river analogy is more significant that I think the author intended. Two branches of a river may have a common source, but one may be tainted or dammed. The question is, which one? From the muslim perspective, the Christian branch was indeed tainted by a simple act: of translation. As the dialogue continues:

(Fr. Hereema) “I think we disagree with you about that. We believe in the primacy of the person, the power of the person, the value of the person first of all.”

(Isa) “Perhaps that is because you do not understand the power of a book,” ‘Isa retorted. “We do. We Muslims understand the power of the Word, the spoken word. It is like the power of music. And in that way, I think perhaps we understand even your book, your Bible, better than you do.”


(…) Your book, your Bible, was once very powerful in your culture, was it not? It was once much more like the Qur’an in that way. Your old King James Bible: everyone read it and loved it and knew it and believed it and memorized it and preached from it and recited it. It had power over your souls and over your culture. It used to sing in your souls. And now it no longer sings.

The point Isa is trying to make, in his blunt and arrogant way*, is that the Source of revelation in Islam remains in the original form, whereas in Christianity it has been filtered. Thus, the taint of the translator enters the Message and thus biases it. As Isa says earlier in the debate,

“It says ‘The Qur’an’ on the title page. But it is not the Qur’an. It is a translation of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is in Arabic, not English. A translation of the Qur’an is not the Qur’an. All it can do is communicate some of the meaning of the Qur’an.”


Of course, the moment the Qur’an is read by a human being, the same thing happens to the Message of Revelation as happened to the Bible – it is translated, and filtered, and biased – by the human mind. This is why two muslims, say myself and Osama bin Laden, might read the same verses of the Qur’an and come away with opposite conclusions.

The question of the Source is important, surely – it’s no small thing to emphasize that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity do indeed have the same Source. But the question of which branch you are on is more important. That’s just as true in an intra-faith context as it is in an inter-faith context!

It’s interesting that many Christians deny that there is even a shared Source at all, which is something that Isa spends a lot of wasted energy in the dialogue trying to confront and change in Evan’s mind. Robert comments,


I think the reason is that we are caught up in the differences that have arisen between our two religions that to admit a common source feels like we are conceding our differences.

To some extent I think it is important that we emphasize the differences, though – there’s no reason we can’t admit to a shared origin and still agree to disagree downstream. The thing that confuses me is why Christians are more invested in denying that Source outright. Robert, maybe you can shed some more light on that? Why the recalcitrance to say, “yes, same God – different theology” ? In that regard, I found the character of Evan far more representative than Fr. Hereema of Christian attitudes towards Islam.


One last note – Robert asks about “associators”, but to be honest Isa’s argument about that (which I won’t excerpt here) didn’t make a lot of sense to me. The term “associator” has to do more with the concept of shirk, which is idolatry. As many muslims still consider Christians to be polytheists as Christians do who deny that we have a shared God, so that’s really where that comes from- associating the non-Divine (ie, Jesus) with the Divine (God). I think we covered that though in the last excerpt.

(*note – I really find the Isa character to be unsympathetic and frankly offensive at times. I understand he exists to be a muslim archetype with which to challenge Christians, but his personality as written is so abrasive that it’s almost a stereotype. Unfortunately, I can speak from experience that it’s not an entirely inaccurate stereotype; I’ve met many such self-styled theologians in college and online.)

Related – all my posts in this series of dialogues with Robert about the book.

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posted June 8, 2010 at 10:20 am

man….Roberts is a hound on a false scent trail.
the problem isn’t the jesus godhead, it is evangelism.
no one cares if christians want to believe in the jesus-god……we just care that they want to make the rest of us believe it.

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Dean Esmay

posted June 8, 2010 at 10:53 am

He runs off the rails on the bit about the King James Bible. Which was a Protestant translation not used by any Christians before the 17th century. And only by Protestant Christians. And even then, most Christians didn’t read from it because most Christians couldn’t read. Nor is it, or any version of the Bible, something one would usually sing from, it is not, like the Koran, written in poetry (well some small parts of it, but the vast bulk is not).
It is important to understand that for both the Jews at the time of Jesus, and still to most Jews and Christians today, “the source” is not the written scriptures. The source is God and the people entrusted with keeping the sources both written and oral–in the case of the Jewish people, the keepers of the Oral Torah, and for the Christians, the Apostles and their spiritual heirs in the Holy/Sacred Tradition.
Evangelical Christians share in common with Muslims, particularly Sunni Muslims, the believe that The Book is the source you lean on. Bring that thinking to an orthodox Jew or an Orthodox or Catholic thinker and you’re already off the rails: the book alone isn’t enough to them, it’s not even close to enough. And they don’t think they missed anything, because they believe the written works were ALWAYS understood to be an indispensible PART of what was received from God. Just not ALL of it.

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posted June 8, 2010 at 11:29 am

This is a very interesting interview. Re;: Islam

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Dean Esmay

posted June 8, 2010 at 1:36 pm

I might also mention, in re: a previous comment, you can’t ask Christians not to evangelize at all because it’s an absolute requirement of the faith, quite plain in the scriptures. What you can ask is that they examine how they do it, and what the right ways to do it are. There’s nothing supporting forcible evangelization for example, or harassing people about it. But you can’t just blanket say “no evangelization,” you might as well say that Muslims have to stop saying “there is no God but God and Muhammed is his prophet.” You can’t tell them not to do that–well you can but it won’t do much good–and you can’t tell Christians not to evangelize. So if you want constructive dialog, and some forms of evangelization are offensive, then one should discuss THAT.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 4:56 am

I find the idea of the the common source very interesting. I’ve been studying spirituality and mithology for the past 20 years, Christianity for the past three and I’m studying the Egiptians right now. When studying the origens of the Christian church, I was surprised to find that many Church Fathers admited to Pagans that Jesus had many things in common with was later called mythological figures and that the Fathers refered as “sons of Jove” such as Mithras, Apollos, etc, including the Virgin Birth, the miracles and the reusrrection.
Hundred of years before the apostles and the Jewish communities such as the one in Quram, some greek schools, such as Pytagora’s, lived in communities where people shared all their possessions, practiced charity and brotherly love, saw the Divine in creation and view the different daities basically as representations of the differents aspects of God, like facets cut into a diamond.
But it was reading the Egyptian Book of the Dead and finding what has been called the negative commandments that really left me speechless. Long before Israel came to be, the ancient Egyptians believed that a good person does not lie, kill, envy, gives false witness, complains or insults the Divine. The Pharos used to be called the “good-sheperds” and many people believed that their dutie was to feed the hungry, clothed the naked and protect the vulnerable, such as the elderly, the orphans and the widows.
The so called golden rule of doing good to others (or refrain from doing evil) as you would like to recieve goodness in your life appears in Easter religions anad philosophies, such as the Tao, Confusius and the Hindu religons centuries before Christianity appeared.
So I do believe there is one source not only to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but probably to every religion and spiritual philosophy since the beginning of time. May be if people focused in the commonality instead of fighting to proved that only “they” are right, we could start living the life of peace, compassion and love that is described, in different manners, in all religions.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 11:48 am

Seems like Aziz deleted my comments.
Well, that’s typical of Aziz since he’s actively trying to cover up his antisemitism regarding one of Israel’s “research programs”

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Aziz Poonawalla

posted June 9, 2010 at 10:53 pm

yes, irrelevant and disrespectful flame war between Scorpius and shams is being actively removed.
UPDATE: i dont see the relevance of evangelism here. This series of posts is about a genuine dialog, not recriminations.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 11:50 pm

It is not surprising that such racist loathing creates a siege mentality in Israel. Worse is the fact that Israelis know it’s not just ‘the black Islamic banners’ with which they have to contend, but also the irrational hatred of much of the rest of the world.
The realities of Gaza, Israel and the West Bank–where, with Israel’s assistance, the Palestinian economy is booming–are deemed irrelevant to the conventional narrative. Israel is a cartoon villain, beyond sympathy, beyond even redemption.
What is deeply shocking–and frightening–is that the narrative the world accepts is always that of Israel the evildoer… The hatred that Israel arouses is absurd, even obscene… The Muslim world and the Western Left are in an unholy alliance; they do not want to improve the Jewish state, they want to remove it.

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posted June 10, 2010 at 11:18 am

A dialog?
with a stereotypical cardboard muslim that is totally fake?
Isa is about as muslim as robert spencer.

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posted June 10, 2010 at 11:31 am

You and Robert are both wrong at a profoundly basic level.
The dichotomy among the big three is not the divinity of Issa… is evangelism and proselytization.
Jews and Muslims are both universalists of some degree.
Christians are not.

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Eric k

posted June 10, 2010 at 11:58 am

If your interested in more info this book is a great start.
“Al-Yahud: Eternal Islamic Enmity & The Jews” by Sam Solomon
“Lamentably but realistically, the authors conclude that there is no Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but instead, a Muslim-Jewish conflict that dates from the time of Mohammed. They demonstrate through well-researched and extensive citations of passages from Islamic doctrine how the policies of enmity and supremacy have their origin in the Koran and Sunnah, and not in the present-day situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories. They clearly illustrate that throughout Islamic history, treaties with infidels have been employed as temporary deceptive measures to be broken at an advantageous time, in accordance with Allah’s instructions and commandments. Al-Maqdisi and Solomon discouragingly surmise that any Israeli attempts to forge land or peace treaties with Muslims are destined for failure, as has been repeatedly illustrated since Israeli statehood.”

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Fahad F Ansari

posted June 11, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I don’t like your columnist Aziz Poonawala and his and your representation of Islam is totally fake

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posted June 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm

brother Fahad…the construct of Isa in the book Aziz is discussing is a literary device, and entirely fake.
Isa resembles no muslim you or i or Aziz have ever met….Isa is a characture of dumb western perceptions of al-Islam stuffed into a muslim suit.

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Fahad F A

posted June 12, 2010 at 8:34 am

Exactly Shams!

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