Doctrines >Dialogue with the people of the Book  (6)


Dialogue with the people of the Book (6)

part (5) < > part (1)

Criteria for truthfulness

Say: “O People of the Book! Ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord.” It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increases in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. But sorrow thou not over (these) people without Faith. (5: 68)

Ye People of the Book! Why do ye clothe Truth with falsehood, and conceal the Truth, while ye have knowledge? (3: 71)

In these two Quranic verses, a reference is again made to the Torah and the Bible. The followers of these two Books are simply requested to abide by their injunctions in their lives, if they are truthful in their belief in these Books. Otherwise, why do they not reveal their true identity and stop deceiving naive people in the way they disguise the truth by falsehood or conceal the truth they know full well, so that Muslims should not take it as evidence against them.

This is a new invitation to present the Torah and the Bible to the people to face up to the challenge in the same manner, if they were truthful. Yet, the Qur’an hastens to add, in order to clarify the picture, what their true position is. That is, it is driven by arrogance and blasphemy for what God has revealed to Prophet Mohammad (p.). The Qur’an then concludes that there is no benefit of reasoning with them on any subject because it will prove futile.

Say: “O ye People of the Book! Why obstruct ye those who believe, from the path of God, Seeking to make it crooked, while ye were yourselves witnesses (to God’s Covenant)? But God is not unmindful of all that ye do.” (3: 99)

The tone here is both bitter and threatening. The hope was that they should have affirmed the Prophet’s Message by being among the People of the Book, in that they were conversant with that which had been revealed in it [the Book]. The opposite happened, i.e. they had turned into misguiding elements, doing their best to turn people away from treading the right path.

The Qur’an is asking for the reasons for this position, as though it desires to engage them in dialogue with a view to arriving at the truth. Yet, the remonstrative narrative is indicative of a desire to unsettle them by exposing their improper inherent position. God then declares that He is not unaware of what they do, in that He is Omniscient and that He will call to book all those who rebelled against His Will and defied His Messages, and punish them accordingly.

False claims

Ye People of the Book! Why dispute ye about Abraham, when the Law and the Gospel were not revealed till after him? Have ye no understanding? Ye are those who fell to disputing (even) in matters of which ye had some knowledge! But why dispute ye in matters of which ye have no knowledge? It is God who knows, and ye who know not! Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith, and bowed his will to God’s (Which is Islam), and he joined not gods with God. Without doubt, among men, the nearest of kin to Abraham, are those who follow him, as are also this Apostle and those who believe: And God is the Protector of those who have faith. (3: 65–68)

What is clear from these verses is that the People of the Book were trying to misuse the name of Abraham and the high esteem in which the then Arab communities used to hold him, not least for being the builder of the Ka’ba [the Sacred House in Mecca] and the prophet recognized by all religious persuasions, including the idolaters. Each group was trying to claim him as their own patriarch, be they Jew or Christian. The verse is unequivocal in rejecting those false claims, not least for the fact that both the Torah and the Bible were revealed at much later periods than the time of Abraham (a.s.), viz. how can one attribute a concept that appeared after him, to him?

The Qur’an, then, stresses that Abraham was Muslim, pure, and had nothing to do with associating others with God, a tendency that had tinged both the camps. The Qur’an then concludes that those who are more entitled to be his followers are they who submit to God – as so did he, Prophet Mohammad (p.), and the believers. This is because their belief is based on true submission to God and is in keeping with the monotheism Abraham (a.s.) came to propagate.

The aim behind this clear-cut style is to paint a vivid picture for the matter, i.e. the authenticity and nature of Abraham’s faith and that of Islam. It is the simple truth that interweaves with reality.

This tactic of laying claim to the following of holy men, may find echo in the positions of some contemporary trends, especially socialist Marxist ones. It has been suggested that the well-known Companion of the Prophet (p.), Abu Thar al-Ghifari, contributed to a type of Marxist ideology. In a way they tried to interpret his stand against the Caliphate of Othman and the governorship of Mu’awiya as having a bearing on Marxist ideology. It is noteworthy that Abu Thar was critical of Othman and Mu’awiya as a matter of principle, guided by the ideology of the Qur’an and its injunctions. Both the rules, i.e. those of Othman and Mu’awiya, were squandering God’s [public] funds on relatives, friends and cronies. His slogan, in his revolt against deviation, was derived from Quranic verses such as:

And there are those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of God: announce unto them a most grievous penalty – On the Day when heat will be produced out of that (wealth) in the fire of Hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, their flanks, and their backs – “This is the (treasure) which ye buried for yourselves: taste ye, then, the (treasures) ye hoarded!” (9: 34–35)

Yet, they found in this, and other positions, a revolt against capitalism and a call to socialism. Thus, they set out to promote this notion on any forum where they could infiltrate the minds of the naive among people.

However, what is rather surprising is that some hypocritical clerics who were used to flattering the rulers had given legitimacy to this notion when they issued a statement, attacking Abu Thar in reply to using his name, with a view to protecting some famous and inviolable public figures against whom Abu Thar directed his revolt.6 The authors of the edict also sought to cajole the then ruler, who was averse to any bright revolutionary idea shining in peoples’ lives. This is even more so when such a notion draws on Islamic ideology and is deep-rooted in the history of some personages who invigorate peoples’ faith and struggle against devious rulers. It is true that such an idea is surrounded by an aura of sanctity, and might give confidence to the masses to revolt against corrupt regimes that desire to grant themselves unwarranted inviolability and unnecessary security.

Had it not been for this gratuitous sycophancy shown to the ruler, they would have exposed the exploitation [of the name of Abu Thar] they were talking about, not least by revealing the fundamental differences between socialism in its ideological premises and Abu Thar’s movement, which draws on Islamic ideology, which may concur, in some aspects, with socialism. That said, the two ideologies are dissimilar in more than one department, be it in form, content, or spirit. Those clerics could have at least made an attempt to deny the so-called relationship between this great figure and socialism, not least by pointing out the time gap between the two, so how could socialism be attributed to Abu Thar’s thought?

There is a similarity between this contention and the debate between the Prophet (p.) on the one hand, and the Jews and Christians, on the other, about their claim that Prophet Abraham’s thought belonged to them. Prophet Mohammad (p.) first started by giving due attention to the time lag between the two eras, that of Abraham (a.s.) and that of the Jews and Christians, and resting his case by stressing the true personal qualities of Abraham (a.s.), with a view to highlighting the differences between him and those who lay claim to his heritage, on the one hand and who Abraham’s true followers are, on the other.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity

The Qur’an has raised with the Christians the question of Jesus Christ (a.s.) and his position vis-à-vis the divine doctrine. It has chosen to discuss the question from the standpoint of true monotheism, which all the divine messages had proclaimed, including that of Christ. The Qur’an has desired to discuss the notion “Jesus is the Son of God” that they propound. It has taken issue with the Jews for claiming that Ezra is the Son of God: “The Jews call Ezra a son of God, and the Christians call Christ the son of God. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. God’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!” (9: 30).

The Qur’an did not dwell long on Ezra’s issue, as it was not as widespread. It made do with making reference to the fact that the claim was akin to that made by the unbelievers, and that it was not in keeping with the true faith that those people allege to relate to, not least by upholding the Book of God and His Law. The idolaters in the East and in the West were contributing to that school of thought. Turning to the argument with the Christians, who say, “Jesus is the Son of God”, the Qur’an has relied on it as a basis for demolishing their claim, because it is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of monotheism, without going into the details.

Perhaps the research into the annals of history is not going to yield any credible and clear evidence as to the nature of the notion, which the Qur’an attributed to the Jews in their claim that “Ezra was the son of God”. Does it follow the same Christian connotation of the phrase, which gives Jesus (a.s.) a divine quality or an extension of the Divine, or is there something of the essence of God in him? Or is it a metaphorical meaning, as in the phrase, “We are the sons of God and His beloved ones”, as a way of basking in the glory of being closer to God than others?

The author of al-Mizan fi Tafseeril Qur’an [a Quranic commentary], As-Sayyed Mohammad Hussain at-Tabatabaie, who raised this question, “quotes some exegetes that the phrase, ‘Ezra is the Son of God’ was uttered by some Jews, not all of them, at the time of the Prophet (p.); and that it is similar to other statements, such as, ‘Truly, Allah is indigent and we are rich!’ and ‘Allah’s hand is tied up’. Although some of them said these words, God has attributed them to the entire people, in that the others condoned what some of them had claimed; they were all of the same opinion and vision.”7

However, it suffices to say that in its approach to refuting untrustworthy notions, the Qur’an sets forth from the premise of debating the issue, albeit an idea circulating among the people who advocate it without it forming a trend in their life. This is with the aim of warning people not to come too close for comfort, in its campaign to guide them to the right path.

It is noteworthy that the Holy Qur’an does not give any leeway whatsoever when it comes to matters relating to belief in God. Thus, it does not ignore any aspect thereof, regardless of whether the matter was widespread or of a limited influence in society, or whether it was big or small. If this proves anything, it proves that a great importance is attached to true belief, i.e. that which does not have any hint of deviation in it. This is so, because any misguided impression will reflect on the practice and consequently cause the progress of the Message towards its big goals in life to stagger.

This tendency should guide us through a showdown with contemporary ideological trends that try to play down the significance of all religious issues that are put forward in the context of belief. These trends try to dismiss such issues as irrelevant or insignificant, not worthy of dwelling on or discussing. They are trying to suggest that they should not be put on a par with other important issues of life.

In this regard, we are resolute in our position in recognizing the indivisibility of the doctrinal and practical aspects, on the basis of treating the doctrine as the foundation of what we practise, and the latter as an expression of the activity of the creed in life.

The Holy Qur’an has discussed the doctrine of Trinity, which Christianity considers as fundamental to its core belief, i.e. “Jesus is the Son of God”, besides “the Father” and “the Holy Ghost”.

On a different note, i.e. considering Jesus and his mother (a.s.) as gods worthy of worship, the Qur’an has this to say: “And behold! God will say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God?’” (5: 116).

These thoughts cross-germinate, for prophecy, from this standpoint, does not contradict divinity. Rather, it gels well with the notion of Trinity, which considers the Son as though it were God. It maintains that God is inseparable from the Son on the basis of one God with [three] different forms, in a philosophical analysis that leaves you groping after a meaningful idea.

As is customary, Islam has been very clear in putting its case against this doctrine [Trinity]. It has done it in a way that is different from that advocated by the proponents of other doctrines, especially when they choose to wrap them in ambiguous semantics. This is in a deliberate bid to confuse the issues, so much so that they do not mind theorizing their doctrines on a base that is above human comprehension. They make it appear as though matters of belief should be dealt with outside the domain of the intellect, as some Christian philosophers and intellectuals wish to argue, when they talk about the doctrine of Trinity and how it relates to God’s unity. They say that believing in this doctrine is paramount, i.e. believing comes first. The individual can then exert an effort to figure out what they believe in. Habib Sa’eed, the author of Muqarantul Adyaan, says in this regard, “The person is not going to get to that stage of belief by way of theoretical debate; rather, by way of inspiration from God and a declaration from Him.” ,However, the Qur’an does not condone this method of attaining belief. In its reasoning it has relied on the rational way of thinking, which leaves room for examining the details of doctrine in critical judgment, such as the limitlessness of God or the clear impression of God’s spirit. However, it goes hand in hand with man in these realms until he arrives at a conviction of a sort, be it belief or lack of it. Then, it declares a halt where the evidence has been found, not more and not less. Consequently, the Qur’an does not require man to believe before understanding what he is going to believe in, for belief becomes nonsensical if you are unable to discern its meaning – belief is light and ignorance is darkness.

For all this, the Qur’an has wanted the whole issue to be left to the intellect to critically examine the idea, and then come up with the verdict, for or against, according to circumstances and reasons.

Quranic arguments have focused on the comparison between these ideas and the humanness of Jesus (a.s.) in all his facets, on the one hand, and the reality of the divine doctrine and the fundamental qualities of the Divine it represents, on the other hand. This is bound to leave man with a natural conclusion that the concept does not fit in with those doctrines.

It is the dialogue that moves in more than one field and takes more than one image, only to provide evidence of the fallacy of these notions, appealing to others to invoke in them a fighting spirit at some times, and a serene one at others. Sometimes it uses the reportorial style, which gives food for independent and straight thinking, away from preconceived ideas and influences.

Here and now, we are trying to look at the Quranic verses that have discussed Trinity in different shades:

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of God aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a Messenger of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in God and His Messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for God is One God: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is God as a Disposer of affairs. (4: 171)

They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. Why turn they not to God, and seek His forgiveness? For God is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful. (5: 73–74)