(BEING CONTINUED FROM 31/05/14)
Revelation and History
Eintönig, mit nur geringfügigen Abwandlungen, würde auf die Bühne der Geschichte immer wieder dasselbe Stück gespielt (Paret 1957:90-91).
[Translation: Monotonous, with only minor variations, the same piece (drama?) was played again and again on the stage of history.]
There were in Muhammad’s life three periods or moments of crisis. The first was when he became dissatisfied with the religious and moral situation of his people in Mecca. He had heard about other people worshiping one God, having prophets and holy writings. He had gained some knowledge about Jews and Christians. He was aware of other dissatisfied people like
himself, the hunafa, God-seekers, who tried to find new ways in religious life. The main question Muhammad struggled with was the question of why his people did not worship the one supreme God, why no prophet had been sent to the Arab people to bring God’s message to them in the Arab language.
In his search for new directions, for a new faith, Muhammad did not become a hanif. If he would have gone in that direction, he would not have played a role in the religious history of humankind. Neither did he become a Christian. Christianity was a foreign religion in Arabia, not really part of the Arab world. His religious crisis was resolved when Muhammad became
convinced within himself that he was called by God to bring to the Arab people the message of God in their language. The aim was not to create a new religion. The aim was to be for the Arabs what other prophets, like Moses and Jesus, had been to their people—a warner, a prophet. He saw the role of other prophets in the light of the role he felt he was called to play among the Arabs. This role was to proclaim the message of the goodness and the unity of God, the creator and sustainer of heaven and earth, the God of justice, who would call people to account on the day of judgment.
This message was, in his view, the message all the other prophets had proclaimed to their people. That is why, when he started to preach, he could advise people who were in doubt about his message to ask Jews and Christians. “If you doubt what We have revealed to you, ask those who have read the Scriptures before you. The truth has come to you from your Lord:
therefore do not doubt it” (Sura 10:94).
The second period of crisis came when his message was not accepted.
There was a growing opposition and resistance to his message, especially because of the emphasis on the day of resurrection and the day of judgment.
Again, the past was used in the service of the present. The past was used to help and to strengthen Muhammad in his struggle and to give a warning to his opponents. Muhammad pointed to the prophets before him. They also had experienced opposition from their people, but with the help of God they had gained the victory, and their opponents had been punished. Muhammad
looked at the past in the light of his own experiences. He interpreted the past from the perspective of his own experiences. What he experienced was,in his view, experienced by the other prophets in the same way. History repeated itself again and again—”Immer wieder dasselbe Stück auf der Bühne der Geschichte” (Paret 1957).
[Translation: Again and again the same act performed on the stage of history.]
One God—one message—different nations with different languages—different prophets preaching the same
message in different languages—these prophets have the same experiences.
Jesus is part of this history of salvation (Sura 3:56), a history told to strengthen Muhammad’s claim to be the prophet for the Arabs. In this history, Jesus plays a role like the other prophets: proclaiming the one message of God,
he affirms the message of previous prophets and points to the prophet who will come after him.
The third religious crisis occurred in Medina, when Muhammad discovered that neither Jews nor Christians could accept him as a prophet for the Arabs. Not the resistance of Arabs, but the resistance of Jews and Christians was now his problem. The resistance of those to whom the divine revelation had been given was difficult for him to understand. He explained this resistance as a resistance against the core of the prophetic message, the unity of God. This message on the unity of God, proclaimed by Jesus, had been abandoned by Christians. At the end of his life, he summarized once again how and why Christians had gone astray, leaving the path shown to them by their prophet, Jesus:
The Jews say Ezra is the Son of God, while the Christians say the Messiah is the Son of God. Such are their assertions, by which they imitate the infidels of old. God confound them! How perverse they are! They worship their rabbis and their monks, and the Messiah, the son of Mary, as gods beside God; though they were ordered to serve one God only. There is no God but Him. Exalted
be He above those whom they deify beside Him. (Sura 9:29-30) The history of God’s dealings with the nations is a history of prophets. One of these prophets is Jesus, the last prophet before Muhammad, the seal of the prophets. His role and his message are not different from the role and the message of the other prophets.
In what is regarded as the oldest sura by most scholars, we read:
Recite in the name of the Lord who created,
created man from clots of blood.
Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One,
who by the pen taught man what he did not know. (Sura 96:1-5)
God is the Creator and God is the one “who taught man by the pen what he did not know.” The revelation of God comes to humankind in God’s Work, God’s Creation, and in God’s Word, God’s written Word. The message proclaimed by prophets is written down in Sacred Scriptures. The “special” revelation is the one message in written form. And the prophets are the
instruments chosen by God to bring this revelation to their nations. In the Qur’an only five books are mentioned, the Suhuf of Abraham, the Torah brought by Moses, the Zabur (Psalms) of David, the Injil (Gospel) brought by Jesus, and the Qur’an brought by Muhammad. According to Muslim theologians, there have been many more sacred writings containing the message of God. Only four have been preserved, and of these four, only the Qur’an contains the divine message in an uncorrupted form.
The transcendence and sovereignty of God are emphasized in the Qur’an. God and God’s creatures cannot meet on the same level. The distance, the gap between Creator and creature, is unbridgeable. Yet, that does not mean that there is no relation. There is a relation established by God in his revelation. The revelation is not a coming of God into the world.
That would be impossible. The revelation is a “revelation by the pen.”
Die absolute Transzendenz verbietet unüberhörbar, dasz Allah selbst in die Welt käme um den Menschen zu lehren. Der unüberbrückbare Abstand bleibt gewahrleistet, aber in dem Zwischenraum bewegen sich die Engel, die die
Propheten beauftragen die göttliche Mitteilung zu predigen. Wir finden hier alsoein Ineinander von zwei Begriffen: Allah belehrt indem er belehren läszt.
[Translation: Absolute transcendence forbids as unheard of that Allah would himself come into the world to teach the people. The unbridgeable abyss remains, but angels move in this abyss, instructing the prophets to preach the divine message. Thus we find here a combination of two concepts: Allah instructs by telling (the prophets) to instruct.]
Jesus does not play a unique role in the story of salvation, as told in the Qur’an, in spite of the special things told about him (birth, miracles,crucifixion-ascension). He is one of the many prophets, “a man with a mission from God and therefore entitled to honour” (Abdullah Yusuf Ali 1968:234). Therefore, it is difficult to accept the view of Zaehner and others that in his Christology Muhammad nowhere denies and sometimes affirms specifically Christian beliefs.
What does the message of the Qur’an in respect to Christ mean for the Muslim-Christian encounter, in witness and dialogue?
The emphasis on the deity of Christ in certain Christian groups in Muhammad’s time led Muhammad to the conclusion that Christians are giving partners to God, that Christians are not true and pure monotheists.
The way in which Christians in later centuries witnessed to Muslims often reinforced Qur’anic ideas about Christians worshiping a second God. The emphasis was more on Christ as God than on God in Christ. The encounter with Muslims challenges the church to reflect again on the relation between God and Christ Have the final words been spoken at Nicaea and Chalcedon?
Many modern Muslims who try to come to a better understanding of the tenets of the Christian faith are struck by the fact that there are among present-day Christians so many different views in regard to Christ. Does this affirm the Qur’anic statements that the People of the Book are a disunited people?
It has to be acknowledged that the Qur’an (and Muslims) speak in a respectful way of Jesus, the prophet. In mystical circles, Jesus is even seen as the perfect human being, who in his life attained a very close relation with God. Many times Christians have not tried in a similar way to come to a respectful understanding of what Muhammad did and said. Many Muslims have been (are) deeply offended by the negative way in which Christians, in the past and at present, have spoken and written about their prophet.
Kenneth Cragg (1979:31) has more than once spoken about “the Christian potential of the Qur’an.” There is a danger that Christian ideas or concepts are projected into the Qur’an when the Qur’an uses words like “Messiah,” “Word of God,” and “Spirit of God” in relation to Jesus. These words are used in a context different from the biblical context. They do not carry the same meaning in both contexts. In dealing with Jesus’ “crucifixion” in the Qur’an, Cragg emphasizes that the Qur’an acknowledges that there is the intention and will to crucify the preacher/healer Jesus, and that there is on Jesus’ side the readiness and preparedness to go the way of suffering.
Important aspects of the gospel find a resonance in the Qur’an. Here is,according to Cragg, a starting point for a dialogue in depth on the impact of sin in human life and on the meaning of suffering.
The Qur’an speaks about Jesus, the prophet, the healer. The Qur’an does not tell much about the life of Jesus. Snaring the gospel is telling the story of Jesus’ life. His life is the gospel, the good news. Not only what he did or said was (is) significant, but also significant was the way he was present among his contemporaries, as one who embodied God’s affirming, unconditional
love toward his creatures. This love was not merely taught, but manifested in a life of vulnerable availability to the neighbor, poor and rich,friend and enemy, sinner and victim. In embodying this divine love, Jesus was more than a prophet. The cross is not an isolated event, as in the Qur’an,but the supreme disclosure of this sacrificial, unconditional, divine love. In the resurrection, this way of life of Jesus, a way of life in which there is no place for vengeance and hate, was affirmed as the true way of life, intended
by God for human beings created in his image. In going this way, disciples of Christ will come to a deeper understanding of Christ and a greater empathy for their Muslim neighbor.
Roelf S. Kuitse is Professor of Missions and World Religions at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana. He has worked in theological education in Indonesia and lived in Ghana where he participated in the Islam in Africa Project.
1. The Qur’an quotations are taken from Dawood’s translation (1979).
2. Th. O’Shaughnessy (1953:60) writes: “The comparison between Adam and Jesus, probably based on a misinterpretation of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15,existed in precisely that form in Nestorian teaching, as Cassian notes in attacking Nestorius: ‘You (Nestorius) assert the Lord Jesus to have been like in all and equal to Adam: Adam indeed (created) without seed and Jesus too without seed; the first only a man and the second, too, a man and nothing more.’ “
3. Throughout this article, the English translations are by the author.
4. A similar doctrine like tahrif was also used by Jewish-Christians in regard to Jews, by Marcion and by Manichaeism.
5. Paret (1971:201) quotes Speyer: “Ezra wird von den Juden besonders verehrt,wie Sanhédrin 21b und Jebamot 86b zeigen. Die Kur’anstelle zeigt aber mehr Ähnlichkeit mit 4 Ezra 14:9, wonach Ezra den Menschen entrückt werden und bei Gottes Sohn sitzen soll. Auch Apok. des Ezra 1:7 läszt Ezra in den Himmel aufgenommen werden—” [Translation: Ezra is especially honored by the Jews, as Sanhédrin 21b and Jebamot 86b show. But the Qur’an reference shows greater similarity to 4 Ezra 14:9 where Ezra is taken up from the people and seated next to the Son of God. Apoc. of Ezra 1:7 also has Ezra assumed into heaven ]
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