Doctrines >Dialogue with the people of the Book  (8)


Dialogue with the people of the Book (8)

part (7) < > part (1)

Now, let us explore the Quranic verses, which denounce the notion of divinity in prophecy; they lend support to the assertion that Jesus (a.s.) was a human being sent by God to His creation and gave him distinction over many of them:

Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how God does make His signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! (5: 75)

The author of al-Mizan has this commentary on this verse:

Eating and drinking, to the exclusion of all the human acts, are being singled out here. The reason being that they serve as the best evidence on the needs of physical beings, which is in conflict with divinity. It is evident that he who feels hunger and thirst naturally seeks to satisfy the need to take his fill of food and quench his thirst with drink. So, he is dependent on an outside power to satisfy his need. Consequently, does the divinity of such a person make sense? He is deficient in himself, being directed by others, and not an independent god. He is a mortal who is subservient to his Lord.

In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary. Say: “Who then hath the least power against God, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all every one that is on the earth? For to God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He creates what He pleases. For God hath power over all things.” (5: 17)

Say: “Will ye worship, besides God, something which has no power either to harm or benefit you? But God, He it is that hears and knows all things.” (5: 76)

Christ disdains not to serve and worship God, nor do the angels, those nearest (to God): those who disdain His worship and are arrogant – He will gather them all together unto Himself to (answer). (4: 172)

They do blaspheme who say: “God is Christ the son of Mary.” But said Christ: “O Children of Israel! Worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” Whoever joins other gods with God, God will forbid him the garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help. (5: 72)

The Holy Qur’an concludes in a projected dialogue between God and Christ (a.s.) on the Day of Judgement, as a means of proclaiming that these ideas are alien to the Message of Christ and his desire; and above all, they are alien to Christianity and Christ himself, thus:

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’?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knows what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knows in full all that is hidden. Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say, to wit, ‘Worship God, my Lord and your Lord’; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when Thou did take me up Thou was the Watcher over them, and Thou art a witness to all things. If Thou dost punish them, they are Thy servant: If Thou dost forgive them, Thou art the Exalted in power, the Wise.” (5: 116–18)

Protestation by way of prayer

After the debate with the Christians had reached a dead end, the Prophet (p.) adopted a new way to reason with them. It was that of calling them to offer collective prayer, i.e. both the parties. This has been the subject of this Quranic verse: “If any one disputes in this matter with thee, now after (full) knowledge hath come to thee, say: ‘Come! Let us gather together, our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves: Then let us earnestly pray, and invoke the curse of God on those who lie!’” (3: 61).

The story of this verse has been related through different sources, adhering to the main thrust of the verse, yet with slight variations. Here we are quoting the version of the traditionist Ali bin Ibrahim al-Qommi, in his Quranic Commentary, from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.):

He said: When the delegation of the Christians of Najran to the Messenger of God arrived and was received by him, their prayer time was due; so, they sounded the bells and started saying their prayer. The companions of the Prophet said to him: Do they do this in your mosque. He replied: Let them finish. Having completed their prayer, they approached the Prophet and said: To what do you call? He said: Bearing witness that there is no god but Allah and that I am His Messenger; that Jesus is an ordinary human being who goes about his affairs and needs, such as eating and drinking, like any other human. They said: Who is his father? At that moment Arch Angel Gabriel descended on the Prophet and said to him to ask them: What do you say of [the creation of] Adam. Was he a created man, who was eating, drinking, urinating and passing stool, and getting married? The Prophet asked them the question. They said: Yes. He said: Who is his father? They were dumbfounded. Then, God revealed these verses:

The similitude of Jesus before God is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be”. And he was. The Truth (comes) from God alone; so be not of those who doubt. If any one disputes in this matter with thee, now after (full) knowledge hath come to thee, say: “Come! Let us gather together, our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves: Then let us earnestly pray, and invoke the curse of God on those who lie!” (3: 59–61)

The Prophet then said: Then let us pray, and invoke the curse of God on those who lie; if I was truthful, the curse shall be your lot; and if I were a liar, the curse shall be my lot. They said: You are being fair. They agreed on an appointment. However, when they returned home, their chiefs said: If he brings with him his people, he is not a prophet. Should he bring with him his immediate family in particular, we are not going to entertain his request for a joint prayer because he is not going to come to us leading his household, unless he is truthful. Come the following morning, the Prophet (p.) came together Ali, Fatima, al-Hassan, and al-Hussain (a.s.). The Christians said: Who are these people? They were told that they were his cousin, Ali, [his daughter] Fatima and his [grand] sons, Hassan and Hussain. They said to the Messenger of God: We give in; forgive us from taking part in this contest. Then, the Prophet signed a peace pact with them that they pay the poll tax”.

On the subject we have been discussing, the importance of this story is that it serves as a very good example of the Islamic approach to dialogue. While it spares no effort in vigorously and robustly putting its case, it stands up to challenge the counter-argument. The verses demonstrate very clearly the extent of Islam’s tolerance, which it wants its followers to practise with others, following in the footsteps of the Prophet , and from a position of strength not weakness.

Those Christians came to the Prophet to discuss the new religion, only to find how tolerant it was, so much so that they were allowed to say their prayer openly in the Prophet’s mosque. The Prophet (p.) ignored the objections of some of his followers as to why he let them go about their worship in his mosque and asked them to leave them alone. He wanted to demonstrate to them in practice how Islam respects the feelings of others and their freedoms in the context of public order. He further wanted to assure and attest to them that he did not believe in force as a means to converting others to Islam against their will.

That was the way the dialogue was calmly conducted between the Prophet and the Christian delegation. Their questions were answered, and then counter-questions were put to them, just to perfect the proof of them and make them see the strength of his case.

The holy verses suggest that the debate was not limited to this aspect alone; rather, it was extended to cover all the areas of disagreement between Muslims and Christians in how each party regards Jesus (a.s.) and views the belief in him. That is so, because the verses discuss the disputation about him in a comprehensive manner. The verses and the general atmosphere of the story imply that those people did not want to budge, having engaged in a futile argument that led to nowhere. This had made the Prophet use another way with them, i.e. by challenging them to be adjudicated by God, who would eventually send His curse on the party who proved to be a liar. That was the Prophet’s strategy of proving to them that he did not have anything to fear and that he was confident of the Islamic doctrine and the conceptions of the new religion. It is evident that the Prophet did not worry about putting himself in a difficult situation, in that he put members of his family before God in a dispute with others, calling down God’s anger on the lying party.

However, he wanted to raise the tempo of the contest and induce confidence in others. That is why he did not put himself to the test alone; rather, he brought in members of his family to take part in the showdown. This was, as we have already mentioned, intended to instil confidence in the other party that he was truthful in his assertion. It is natural that any human being may take a risk with his own life, but not with those of members of his family.

The other party realized the implications of the issue. The situation filled their hearts with trepidation about going ahead with the competition, which might have led to unsavoury results for their side. That is, they would have ended up reeling under the curse of God, which would, in turn, have led to incurring His punishment and chastisement; thus, they opted for reconciliation.

The lesson we draw from the approach

This incident should serve as a good lesson, in that the spiritual aspect of the faith, besides scientific and intellectual persuasive powers, should be used when Islam decides to conduct dialogue with its adversaries. This is based on the assertion that Muslim activists should take into account any factor that could contribute to influencing others in order to win them over to the side of the truth. Not only this, they should be given the confidence to see the strong side of this truth. This is a way of enduring in adverse and challenging situations and growing in confidence to face up to any confrontation no matter how intractable it may prove.

The Qur’an provides us with examples of this approach to dialogue. One such example is that of Prophet Mohammad’s debate with the People of the Book when he called upon them to meet on a common ground, i.e., that which is shared between all divine messages, thus:

Say: “O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than God.” If then they turn back, say ye: “Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (submitting to God’s Will).” (3: 64)

The last segment of the verse, “If then they turn back” had come to sort out the position, after they turned down the invitation to come together and co-operate on matters of mutual interest. Among those is entertaining the Muslims’ request to bear witness that there is no god but God, which should be the common thread that ran through their life and their relations with others. Showing preparedness that they respond to God’s injunctions in word and practice is also called for. In short, no submission to anyone, save God. Others should prove the strength of their argument with evidence.

The importance of the psychological factor is that it creates the right conditions for others to see the strong undercurrent, which governs the ideology and calling in the context of dialogue