From Islamophobia to Islamology
IN the enthralling story of the adventure of his conversion, Joseph Fadelle relates how under Saddam Hussein’s regime, Massoud, his brother in arms in Iraq, who was a Christian, asked him, Mohammed, a Moussaoui, a descendant of the Prophet, if he had read the Qur’an,
– Of course ! Do you think that I am a non-believer, a bad Muslim ?
– But have you really read it ? Massoud gently insisted.
– I tell you that I have read it, and I even read it in full every year during Ramadan ! There are thirty parts in the Qur’an and Ramadan lasts thirty days…
– Did you understand the meaning of every word, of every verse ?
« The question that penetrates me like a spear perturbed me. Blushing with embarrassment, I found nothing to answer. I had been struck on a raw nerve, for the Imams had always taught me that it is the reading of the Qur’an from cover to cover that would be rewarded on Judgement Day, much more than the understanding of the text. (...) At the time, this reasoning of the clerics satisfied my curiosity and, more insidiously, legitimated my very superficial practice of Islam. Thus I did not really seek further for something that could upset my cherished religious peace of mind.
« Faced with my silence, Massoud pushed his advantage and offered me a bargain :
– If you want me to bring you the Gospel, all right, but I am still going to lay down one little condition : first you are going to re-read the Qur’an by really trying to decipher its meaning with your intelligence, and be honest with yourself, do not cheat…
« I was certainly not expecting such a proposition when I brought up the subject of religion with Massoud. Here I was, driven back to my final position with the obligation – if I wanted to pursue my ambition of converting him [to Islam] – to make a new start and reexamine my own beliefs without any concession ! Never mind, I was ready to accept the challenge, cut to the quick in my pride and certain that I would be able to prove to my interlocutor the greatness of the Qur’an, Inch’allah ! » (The Price to Be Paid, ed. of l’Œuvre, 2010, p. 24-25)
We, in turn, must read the Qur’an, « really trying to decipher its meaning », and seek to explain it with the rules of the historical and critical method that has long been in use in the study of the Bible. (...)
I. THE SOURCES OF THE QUR’AN :
THE ONE BIBLICAL REVELATION
The letter with which the Qur’an begins is a b, the second letter of the alphabet, as in the Bible. This coincidence cannot be fortuitous if one reflects on the developments of the rabbinical tradition on this theme. Because the book of Genesis begins with beré’šît, « in the beginning, » the masters of this tradition teach that « the world was created by the beth. » This is because this letter is the initial of the word Bârakh, which means the « benediction. (Gn R 1.10). Our hypothesis is that this b is the abbreviation of the Hebrew bârûkh. Placed there, this initial is a benediction of the Name of God, a monotheistic affirmation, that contradicts our Sign of the Cross. « In the name (which is also one, but) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. » However, this refers to a formula of praise and thanksgiving that abounds in the Old Testament. (Gn 24.27; Jg 5.2-9; Ne 9.5; Dn 2.20).
« bârûkh Yahweh ’élohîm [...] bârûkh šem kebôdô le’ôlam, »
« Blessed be Yahweh God […]. Blessed be His glorious Name forever. »
This is also how the Arab basmala, bismi llâhi, appears by giving to ’ism, a transcription from the Hebrew, šem, « name », the function of subject. By its vocabulary and by its structure it is a blessing :
« Blessed is the Name of the God, the Merciful who is full of mercy. »
« bismi llâhi rrahmâni rrahhîmi. »
We also encounter the same vocabulary and the same structure when bismi is translated as « in the name of » in the Christian Trinitarian invocation, attested by the Ethiopian manuscripts. After the incipit « In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, » the Christian scribe continues with a statement of the action that governs this incipit as a circumstantial complement : « I do this or that. » Here, this is not the case.
Our hypothesis also receives epigraphic support from the numerous dedications in the Palmyrian language to « Him whose Name is eternally blessed, » often qualified as « good and merciful, » as here.
This blessing is found in the beginning of all the “ suras ”, a word derived from the Hebrew šîrâh « song, » which Deuteronomy places in the mouth of Moses : « Write out this song, haššîrâh hazzôt, for your own use, he says to the children of Israel. » (Dt 31.19)
Sura 1 is a prayer to the God whose name, ’ilâh, is the transcription of the Aramaic ’èlâh, preceded by the definite article ’al : ’al- ’îlâh, which has become through contraction ’allâh : « the God ». In Hebrew, ’èlôha, in the plural ’èlohîm, is a biblical name, banned by the rabbinical tradition during the first four centuries of our era as too...trinitarian ! We find it, however, in the Qur’an (III, 26; V, 114.)
When we begin to read the second sura, we come upon a mysterious sign made up of three letters, ALM, the meaning of which no one has ever penetrated. Anyone familiar with rabbinical literature, however, immediately recognises the abbreviation of an expression from Psalm 68, verse 21 :
« Our God is a God of deliverances », ’el lemôssâ’ôt, « a God for the salvations ».
A : the initial of the Name of God,« Allah »;
L : the preposition « for »;
M : the initial of môshâ’ôt ”,salvations, deliverances ”, in the pluralto emphasise the richness of the unique salvific plan of God throughout history, of which the Qur’an intends precisely to be the ultimate manifestation.
Sura 2 begins as does Psalm 1, known as the “ two ways ”, by announcing the content of this « book », kitâb, a word that evokes the third part of the Old Testament : the ketûbîm, after the Law and the Prophets.
It is « a Way », hudan, a word that is directly taken from the dogma and the language of the New Testament : « I am the Way (hodos in Greek), the Truth, and the Life », Jesus said (Jn 14.5).
Thus, all is made clear in the light of the Bible that the author imitates with regard to the form of this solemn exordium – « All this is true of the book of the Covenant of God Most High » (Si 24.23) – as well as to the sapiential content evoking the road, the way, upon which the good, the upright men, the predestined, walk in peace with God :
« This Writing contains a Way without quarrel (lâ rayba), for the predestined… Those who believe… »
Is this to say that this Writing is inspired, like the holy Scriptures to which it thus refers ? The author lets this be understood by suddenly adopting an oracular tone, that is to say by making “ the God ” himself speak and seek a “ quarrel ” with « those who have apostatised » !
Who are these “ apostates ” ?
Before stating that, the following section sketches a summary of sacred history from the creation of Adam, « viceroy » (halîfatan) over the earth (v. 30,) to « Jesus, son of Mary » (’îsâ bna maryam; v. 87), passing through the Covenant with « the children of Israel » (v. 40), i.e. the « sons » of Jacob (v. 133).
The name of Adam takes us back to the Old Testament, that of Jesus, to the New. Adam, « viceroy » of Creation, finds himself confronted by Satan who refuses to do him homage and thus becomes his adversary The parallelism with the biblical account is evident, but ends in a negation of Original Sin. The whole mainspring of sacred history, with the Promise and the expectation of a Savior, is broken.
However, the evocation of « the children of Israel », banî ’isrâ ’îl, to whom this exordium is addressed, recalls the beginning of the Gospel : « Will you speak to the people of purity while you neglect yourselves ? You who recite the Scripture, are you not tortuous ? » ta’qilûn (v. 44) is a verb transposed from the Hebrew ’âqal, like Leviathan, the tortuous serpent ’âqallâtôn (Is 27.1). Does it not sound like John the Baptist (Mt 3.7), and Jesus (Mt 23.33) : « Serpents, » « Brood of vipers » ?
The author recalls their history in following the books of Exodus and Numbers, in the manner of St. Steven in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter seven.
After having delivered them from the homicidal hands of the Egyptians, God meets with Moses « for forty nights », ’arba ’îna laylatan, as in the book of Exodus : « Moses passed into the midst of the cloud as he went up on the mountain; and there he stayed for forty days and forty nights, ’arbâ ’îm lâylah » (Ex 24.18). The author of the Qur’an retains only the nights in order to sum up the whole episode in a striking antithesis : while Moses journeys in a dark night, there “ to meet ” God, the children of Israel are in the shadows of idolatry : « Then you would celebrate the calf in his absence and you also were in the shadows. » (v. 51.)
Then Moses received « the Scripture » ’al-kitâb (v. 53), i.e. « the two tablets of the Testimony, tablets written on stone, ketubîm, by the finger of God » (Ex 31 :18), as a “ redemption ”, a “ ransom ”, and he feeds his people with manna and quail (v. 57); he gives them water to drink from the rock (v. 60) with his staff. The people, unsatisfied, call for other food and « enter into the anger of the God for having rejected His signs and killed the prophets without cause, for having become obdurate. And they have passed away » (v. 61).
What remains now ? Four religious categories :
- « Those who are faithful », that is to say, those who persevere in the traditional religion of the children of Israel,
- « those who embrace Judaism », the proselytes,
- « and the Nazoreans and Sabaeans ». Nazoreans, na°ârayâ. The term transcribes very exactly the Greek nazôraios, Nazorean (Mt 2.23). On the other hand, the singular na°rânî (III, 67) transcribes nazarénos « Nazarene » (Mk 1.24). Thus the author wished to transpose into Arabic two very disparate evangelical terms. Both are constructed on the name of the village of Nazareth, even if the etymology of nazôraios, according to St. Matthew, poses an unresolved philological problem.
Applied to Jesus, whose despised origin it characterised, (Jn 1.46,) the term nazôraios was kept by the Jews to designate the disciples of Jesus as a “ sect ”, airesis, a particular observance within Judaism (Ac 24.5,) unlike the name of « Christians » (Ac 11.26), which implies the recognition, by the « pagans » of Antioch, of the Messiahship of Jesus, « Christ ».
Thus, the « Nazoreans » are still Jews, who have become Christians.
Finally, the « Sabaeans » are Arabs, from the north and south of Syria and Yemen, in other words, they are the pagans... from the Kingdom of Saba.
And the Muslims ? We will see.
Verse 67 : « At that time, Moses told his people that God ordered him to sacrifice a cow », baqaratan. This word has given its traditional title to the sura. « A pierced and hung cow », in reparation for the idolatrous cult of the calf, as an expiatory sacrifice for « those who look upon it ». This is an allusion to the bronze serpent that Moses made at the command of God and placed on a pole, and « whenever a man who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered » (Nb 21.9). This was a transparent allusion to the Christian mystery of the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ crucified, « hung » on the Cross. (Ga 3.13)
The author thus rereads the history of Hebrew people in the desert, but in the light of the Gospel in which Jesus gave Himself as the immolated victim in remission of sins, and « was raised up like the serpent in the desert » for the salvation of those who « looked upon Him », with the eyes of faith. He substitutes, however, a « sacrificed cow » for what St. John had seen as « a Lamb that seemed to have been slain » (Ap 5.6 and 12).
This cow must be « made perfect », mussallamat (v. 71), in other words : Muslim.
This is the first mention in the Qur’an of this word, called to such a destiny. It is out of place here, but what does it mean ? It is derived from the Aramaic šelîm : « whole, upright, » the key word of the Targum for designating the required quality of the victim in any type of sacrifice : the red cow would be šelîmtâ’ (Tg Nb 19.2), and the Passover lamb, šelîm (Tg Ex 12.5), like all the victims enumerated in Leviticus
This word, however, also expresses the requirements of the Covenant with Abraham : « Render a cult in My presence and be perfect, šelîm » (Tg Gn 17.1). As for Jacob, it is his name : šelîmâ’, « the Perfect » (Tg J Lv 22.27).
Thus, this word does not only connote the physical integrity of the beast but also the moral and spiritual perfection of the one who offers it, and of whom this very integrity is the sign. Indeed, he who does not make his offering with a perfect heart does not choose, either, the most beautiful beast from his flock for the sacrifice. This nuance is reinforced here by the passive tense : « rendered perfect », mussallamat.
Thus the author of the Qur’an takes the opposite tack from the Epistle to the Hebrews, according to which the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law were powerless to « render perfect the worshipper in his conscience » (with the verb téléin corresponding to the Aramaic selîm,) since they were only « regulations concerning the flesh » (Hb 9.9-10). He claims, on the contrary, to bring back to it the « children of Israel » in the very name of Moses, to whom « We have given Scripture in the past, » says God, and in the name of « Jesus, son of Mary, » to whom there have been given both « intelligence » and the strength of the Holy Spirit (v. 87)
He addresses himself to the Jews converted to Christianity since they answer him that : « Our hearts were veiled » (v. 88). He cites St. Paul who wrote : « To this day, in fact, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts. » (2 Co 3.15)
The author answers them by treating them as renegades, « men of little faith ! » The exclamation transcribes literally that of Jesus in the Gospel, but turned against the Jews converted to Christianity.
What does he preach, then, a return to Judaism ? No ! It is not the Jew, nor the Nazorean, but « he who makes himself perfect » (’aslama) : « It is he who will have his reward from his Master. » (v. 112)
Islam is the perfect religion. The author dismisses equally the idolatry of those who worshipped a calf and the idolatry of those who said, « God has glorified a child » (v. 116), the expression evoking the theophanies of the New Testament in which God says :
« This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. » (Mt 3.17; 17.5)
What, then ? Who is on the good “ way ” ?
« Those to whom we have given the Scripture, who recite it exactly, they are those who are faithful to it. » (v. 121).
Here is thus the exact “ preaching ”, Qur’an, which should be translated : kerygma.
II. KERYGMA OF THE PERFECT RELIGION
OF ABRAHAM AND ISHMAEL
As in the Bible (Gn 12) everything commences, or recommences, after the recital of the fall of Adam and the apostasy of the children of Israel in verse 124, with the vocation of Abraham, « which consecrates to him a multitude of peoples », ’îmâman, a word formed of ’ummâh, « people », and hâmôn « multitude », used twice in Genesis 17.4-5, the source of this pericope :
« Behold, this is My Covenant with you : you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall you be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. »
« And what will my posterity be ? » Abraham asks here, expressing the same uneasiness as in the Bible : « O Lord Yahweh, what do You intend to give me ? I go childless… » (Gn 15.2)
In the book of Genesis, « the posterity » is Isaac.
In the Qur’an, it is Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Sara, the legitimate spouse who was sterile.
In the book of Genesis, Abraham believes, in fact, that the divine promise refers to Ishmael : Abraham said to God : “ Oh ! Let Ishmael live before Your face ! ” (Gn 17.18). And God answers him : « No, your wife Sarah is to bear you a son whom you are to name Isaac. I will establish My Covenant with him, as a perpetual alliance, to be his God and the God of his descendants after him. » His descendants are Jacob, surnamed Israel, and his twelve sons, fathers of the twelve tribes. « The children of Israel », however, show themselves to be unfaithful, as the beginning of the sura recalls.
Is this to say that God’s Covenant ended as a result of that infidelity ? No : « My covenant is not at an end because of those who are in darkness » (v. 124). Jews and Nazoreans are included in the same reprobation.
Here, God solemnly renews this covenant in favour of « Abraham and Ishmael », and He summons all men to the « House », ’al-bayta, which is the transposition of the Hebrew bayit, so that they may « celebrate the “ Place of Abraham ” with prayers » (v. 125).
What is this “ Place ” ? The Arab word maqâm is the transposition of the Hebew maqôm, holy « Place » of Sichem, by the oak tree of Morea, where « Yahweh appeared to Abraham and said : “ It is to your posterity that I will give this country. ” », that is to say, the Holy Land. « So Abraham built there an altar for Yahweh who had appeared to him. » (Gn 12.6-7)
The word bayt, « House » is associated with that of maqôm in Jacob’s exclamation on awakening from a dream in which Yahweh manifested Himself to him : « How awe-inspiring this place, maqôm, is ! This is nothing less than the house – beît – of God and the gate of Heaven ! » (Gn 28 :17) « He named the place Bethel, but before that the town was called Luz. » (Gn 28 :19)
According to the Muslim legend, it is also a question of a “ city ” here, of a “ bled ”, baladan (v. 126), the city of the Mecca, where Abraham built with Ishmael’s help a sanctuary named the ka’ba, i.e. the cube. This tradition, however, is two hundred years later than the Qur’an, in the text of which it has no foundation. It is because of this legend that the verse is translated : « Abraham said : “ My Lord ! Make of this city (hâ¡â baladan) a sure refuge. ” » (v. 126). If, however, one sticks to the context, the denominative hâ¡â, transposed from the Hebrew demonstrative zèh, prefixed by the Hebrew article ha for emphasis « this one », designated Ishmael, mentioned in the preceding verse by his proper name ’ismâ’îl, transcribed from the Hebrew yismâ’él, and here by the word yaladan, transposed from the Hebrew yèlèd, « boy », by correcting the diacritism and reading the initial ya’, and not ba’ :
« Master, sanctify him as a faithful child », ’âminan, which is derived from the biblical verb ’âman, « to be faithful, confident », « to have faith ».
What was the purpose ? It was to re-establish the foundations of the Temple,’al-qawâ’ida mina l-bayti, with Ishmael. (v. 127). Here, the word bayt, designates “ the Place of Abraham ” par excellence, which is the Temple of Jerusalem, built on Mount Moriah (2 Ch 3.1). It is situated on the northern side of the ancient city of Jerusalem, which Abraham, according to tradition, climbed with his son Isaac in order to offer him to God in sacrifice (Gn 22.2).
The Lord accepted the obedience of Abraham, but He spared the son of the Promise. One thousand years later, David bought this « threshing floor » from Araunah the Jebusite, there to build an altar and offer a sacrifice that won salvation for the city of Jerusalem (2 S 24.18-25). It was there that Solomon, David’s son, built the Temple (2 Ch 3.1). The Lord Himself consecrated this « House » (bayit) by setting His Name on it for ever (1 R 9.3).
Israel’s infidelity, however, brought down upon it the terrible chastisement of a destruction so complete that, until today, no trace could be found of this first Temple (586 B.C.). Seventy years later, on their return from exile, the Israelites would build a more modest version of it. King Herod took it upon himself to extend and embellish this second Temple shortly before Jesus’ birth (20-19 B.C.). The work was not accomplished before 66 A.D. Four years later, it was destroyed once and for all, leaving not « one stone upon another », as Jesus had prophesied (Mk 13.2).
Excluded from the new city of Aelia, built by Emperor Hadrian (117-138,) the Jews occasionally obtained the right to visit the abandoned Rock, the ’even shetyah, « the cornerstone. » It was celebrated in the rabbinical tradition as the navel of the world, and is mentioned as a pilgrimage place by the Qur’an (Sura 106, 2).
Under Julian the Apostate (361-363), the Jews even undertook to rebuild the Temple, but when a fire issued from the foundations – mina l-qawâ’ida – he stopped the construction work on the very day of their inauguration.
Two hundred fifty years later, Sura 3 still echoes this memorable event. The author of the Qur’an considers that « fire » is continually present in the hole. On that occasion, however, it spared the children of Ishmael thanks to a « kindness » on God’s part : « Just when you had reached the edge of a pit [full] of fire, He spared you. » (III, 103)
What was the goal ? It was to re-establish the foundations of the Temple « with Ishmael » (II, 127). Isaac is not even named. According to the Bible, it is he, however, who is the trustee of the promises. Islam is a radical subversion, an unprecedented revolution, that deprives « the children of Israel » of their privilege and, a fortiori, the Christians, the children of God « like Isaac » (Ga 4.28), in favour of the descendants of Ishmael, the tribes of northern Arabia descended from his twelve sons, whose names are enumerated in Genesis 25.12-16.
The foundation of this bold initiative is biblical, through circumcision, « sign of the Covenant » : « “ Now this is My Covenant that you are to maintain between Myself and you, and your descendants after you : all your males must be circumcised. ” […] Then Abraham took his son Ishmael […] Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when his foreskin was circumcised. That same day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. » (Gn 17.10; 23-26)
Sura 2 ends with a prayer addressed to God « our Master », rabbanâ, who is invoked as « our Circumciser », mawlânâ. The word comes from the Hebrew mûl,« to cut, to circumcise » (v. 286), like the form muwalli, which we found in verse 148, in the sense of the Hebrew hiphîl, « to split ».
« You, our Circumciser ! » By this divine name, without parallel in the Bible or, to my knowledge, in the rabbinical literature, the author lays out his whole plan, of an audacity fit to supplant St. Paul himself : to restore unity at the heart of the « perfect » original religion of Abraham and Ishmael, the sign of which is circumcision, received « not from human hand » (Col 2.11) but from God Himself, « our Circumciser », mawlânâ.
This why the author ceaselessly repeats that he is not bringing a new revelation. « We are not abolishing an iota. » (v. 106) The Arab word ’âyatin, « sign, » is a play on the Greek name of the smallest letter of the alphabet, iota, as in the Gospel (Mt 5.18.)
His prayer is the proof, the attestation. It addresses the God of Ishmael as He « Who hears always », ’as-samî ’u l ’alîm, the divine name that is a play on the name of Ishmael ’ismâ ’îl (v. 127,) as he who « brings back mercifully » ’at-tawwâbu ’r-rahîm, a divine name that is a play on the name Abraham (v.128,) as the « All-Powerful, full of wisdom; » ’al- ’azîz ’al-hakîm, a divine name that plays on the name of Isaac, which is finally mentioned... after that of Ishmael.
In fact, the Qur’an teaches nothing other than the religion of Abraham, to whom « His Master said : “ Be perfect ” » ’aslim (v. 131). It is the word of the Targum for Genesis 17.1 : « Walk before Me, and be perfect ! » selîm.
Abraham answers : « I am perfect »,’aslamtu. This is the Qur’an’s translation of the biblical mention of the faith of Abraham, that God really accounted to him as « perfection » :
« Abram put his faith in Yahweh, Who counted this as making him justified » (Gn 15.6). The difference is that, according to the Qur’an, Abraham calls himself « perfect », just like Jesus, who alone dared to say that He was without sin (Jn 8.46) : « I am perfect », ’aslamtu.
This is not the “ new ” (Jn 13.34) commandment but the old one of Abraham : « Abraham made it a commandment for his sons »,who were Ishmael and Isaac, the latter who has still not been named, « as well as Jacob, » ya ’aqob, son of Isaac and Rebecca, called « Israel » in Genesis 32.29, and šelîma ’, « the perfect », in the Targum of Jerusalem (Tg J Lv 22, 27). « Sons of Jacob » or « children of Israel », it is all one.
This is the recommendation of Abraham and Jacob to their children :
« My sons, I beseech you ! The God has girded you with justice, », ’ad-dîn, which is officially translated by « religion, » although it is the Aramaic word dîn, « justice », transposed into Arabic in order to express the holiness of Abraham (Gn 15.6) and his « Muslim » descendants :
« Be therefore perfect until death, » literally : « Die only as perfect ones », muslimûn (v. 132). This is a reprise of the words of Jesus in the Gospel : « You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. » (Mt 5.48) Jesus is a reference for the author of the Qur’an, on the level of Moses (v. 87).
This author then evokes the last moments of the death of Jacob (Gn 49.33) : « When he says to his sons : “ Whom will you adore after me ? ” They said : “ We will adore your God and the God of your fathers Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, God alone. And we will be perfect for Him. ” » (v. 133)
« Ishmaël » is mentioned among “ the fathers ” of Jacob, before Isaac !
« Of your fathers, » ’abâ ’ika. In order to measure the incomprehension of official Islamology, one must read the note of Régis Blachère : « Of your fathers = of those before you in age » !!
The word ’âb is Hebrew, and the phrase is biblical : « I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham, your father, and the God of Isaac » (Gn 28 :13), said Yahweh to Jacob. The author of the Qur’an has merely added surreptitiously the name of Ishmael, the uncle of Jacob, to the list « of your fathers, » that is, the patriarchs.
The appropriation is audacious and fundamental. In fact, after having dismissed both « Jews » and « Nazoreans » (v. 135), the author formulates his profession of faith : « Say : “ We believe in the God and in that which has descended to us, and which descended to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes; and which has been given to Moses and to Jesus; and which has been given to the prophets on behalf of their Master. We make no distinction between one of them [and the others,] and we are perfect for Him. ” » (v. 136)
« Say » : the injunction is addressed to the « faithful » who are neither « Jews » nor « Nazoreans, » and yet are children of Abraham.
« We believe in the God », which is mentioned in verse 133, « God alone » ’ilâhan wahidan, which is the transcription of Deuteronomy 6.4 : Yahweh èhad, « only Yahweh ». The answer of Jacob-Israel’s sons confirms that « the [specific] God, » referred to by the word ’allâh, designates « the God » of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, « the God » of the Bible.
« And in that which has descended, » wa mâ ’unzila. Literally : « to that which has been distilled » like the dew; in other words, the biblical revelation. Moses used the same Hebrew word nâzal, « to flow » in his canticle : « Let my word fall, tizzal, like the dew. » (Dt 32.2; cf. Is 45.8).
First conclusion : the sources of the Qur’an are biblical. This is evident. Islam is not presented as a new revelation, but as a return to the one religion of the one God of Abraham, before the Jews and the Nazoreans, whom he accuses of having introduced “ changes ” into it.
III. THE CHRISTIAN « ARAB ERA »
BEFORE THE « MUSLIM » ERA
A Book was published in 2008 : « Who are the Christians of the Qur’an ? » Translated from the German, it was written by Joachim Gnilka, professor of exegesis at the Catholic faculties of Munster and of Munich, who does not envisage for an instant the hypothesis of a “ revelation ” received from the angel Gabriel by Muhammad. He seeks to identify the original milieu of the Qur’an, and believes he has discovered it in the mother-community of Jerusalem, labelled the « sect of the Nazoreans » by the Jews in the beginning (Ac 24.5) since « Nazoreans » is the term used by the author of the Qur’an to designate the Christians.
The major part of the work is consecrated to following the vicissitudes of this mother-community of Jerusalem, « Judeo-Christian, » that is to say, composed of Christians who came out of Judaism, Jews converted to Christ on the day of Pentecost. Its history is recounted for us in the Acts of the Apostles. After the Jewish War (66-70) that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, what became of it ? « It became lost in the desert.... Does the Qur’an bring us some indications of it ? » (p. 85)
To ask this question leads one to wonder : « What New Testament traditions can one discover in the Qur’an ? » (chap. 6). What traces of the New Testament, what influence of the Gospels, of the Epistles of Saint Paul, of the Apocalypse ? « It must already be noted that the traditions of the Old Testament are dominant, and more numerous than those of the New. By comparison with the first, these latter hold a minuscule place. » They are, however, undeniable.
Here are a few examples :
« Matthew 6.1 warns us not to perform righteous deeds before men to attract their notice […].
« A similar warning is found in Sura 2, 264 : “ Do not render your alms vain [...] as does he who gives his gift in order to be seen by men... ” »
The contact is evident.The author of the Qur’an, whoever he was, had in front of his eyes or in his memory the text of Saint Matthew when he wrote that.
Gnilka, however, did not do real research on the Arabic text of the Qur’an. He speculates on the basis of an accepted translation of it. That is why he failed to notice that the author of the Qur’an used a specific word for « Nazarene », which he read in the Gospel according to Saint Mark (Mk 1.24)
« Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Nazarene », nasrâniyan (III 67).
The author of the Qur’an thus had a direct and precise knowledge, not only of the Old Testament but also of the New. Gnilka, however, writes : « The place for Islam is Judaism. » (p. 133) Really ?
Our exegetical study shows that the reality is more complex. Two examples suffice to show this.
In the chapter on food taboos and the laws of ritual slaughter, for example, the dependence on Judaism is certain. The distinction between impure and pure animals is again put into effect :
« The God (Allah) only forbids you dead animals, blood, pork meat, as well as that which is for the praise of another than the God. » (II 173)
- « The dead animal », ’al-maytat, literally « the dead, » the animal that has not been ritually killed as the victim of a sacrifice. To eat it is a source of impurity, according to the prescription of Leviticus : « Everyone, whether a native or an alien, who eats of an animal that died of itself or was killed by a wild beast, shall wash his garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening, and then he will be clean. » (Lv 17.15)
- « blood », ’ad-dama; according to this other prescription of Leviticus : « No one among you, not even a resident alien, may partake of blood. » (Lv 11.7)
- « pork », according to Leviticus : « The pig must be held unclean. » (Lv 11.7)
- « that which is for the praise of another than the God » designates the victims sacrificed to idols, called idolothytes in the ancient world.
All this makes us think irresistibly of the decree of the Assembly of Jerusalem (Acts 15.20). There is the same conciseness, emphasised by an introduction with the same wording : « Tell them by letter ONLY to avoid what has been polluted by idols, lewdness, the meat of strangled animals, and blood. » Here, « the God forbids you ONLY... » There is the same sequence of « strangled meats » first, and of « blood » next, although the order is reversed in the Book of Leviticus (Lv 17.10-15).
And the idolothytes are relegated here to the third place with the aim of placing after them a merciful clause in imitation of St. Paul. In the first Epistle to the Corinthians, in fact, St. Paul calms the consciences of Christians invited by pagans who serve them meat that has been sacrificed to idols :
« If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience. » (1 Co 10.27)
This is what the author of the Qur’an means when he adds : « But for whoever is required to do so, there is neither fear nor transgression ». He thus associates the teaching of St. Paul with the decree of Jerusalem, but he introduces a clause calculated to annul both and bring everything back to the Old Testament : the prohibition of pork meat. There is, however, something more serious.
« Combat, qâtilû, on the path of the God, those who combat you, yuqâtilûnakum. » (II, 190) In Aramaic qâµal, « to kill ». Father Fleisch has well explained the shift of the meaning from « to kill » to « to combat » by an « internal vocal lengthening ». Explanation : « Since one generally does not kill someone with the first blow, a struggle immediately follows; hence the current meaning of “ to fight with someone ”. » (Henri Fleisch, Les Verbes à allongement vocalique interne en sémitique, Paris, 1944, p. 421)
« The path of the God » is the road to Jerusalem, where war must be waged to open the passage and reach « the gates of the God », which are called ’a-afâ and ’al-marwat, in verse 158.
’a-afâ is the name of a hill situated to the north of Jerusalem, a continuation of the Mount of Olives, from which one has a view of the Holy City as from an observatory. “ Scopos ” is the Hellenised name for this hill in rabbinical literature. The Arab name ’as-safâ, however, is transposed from the Hebrew name ha-sôphîm, « the sentry », the root of which is sâphâh, « to watch, to observe ».
’al-marwat is the transcription of a name that we find in Micah 1.12, mârôt, a town on the mountain of Judah (Jos 15.59), situated « at the gate of Jerusalem, leša ’ar yerûšâlâm » (Mi 1.12). The word, which designates « the gates of the God », is the same in Hebrew and in Arabic. Or rather : the Arabic word is a transposition from the Hebrew.
The name of Jerusalem is written in full in verse 208 of Sura 2 : « O you who are faithful, enter into Salem,fî s-silmi ». This is the transposition of the abbreviated name of Jerusalem, as in the psalm : « His tent is pitched in Salem, be-sâlèm » (Ps 76.3; cf. Gn 14.18; Jdt 4.4), the city of « peace » sâlôm, (Ps 122.6-8), with the article, in the manner of St. Paul opposing « the heavenly Jerusalem » to « the present Jerusalem », assimilated by the Apostle precisely to « Arabia » ! (IV 90, 91, 94; V 16)
A Hebrew manuscript containing a fragment of an apocalypse described as « judeo-arabic » by its editor and translator, Israel Levi, attributes to Mu’âwiya (660-680) the « restoration of the walls of the Temple ». Furthermore, this manuscript confirms that the Koubbat-el- Sakhra, or Dome of the Rock, called « Mosque of Omar » by the Franks, is really the work of Abd el-Malik (685-705.) To our great astonishment, however, the Jewish author of the manuscript celebrates it as if it were the re-establishment of the Temple.
Verse 127 of Sura 2 announces precisely this restoration of the Temple, a promise disfigured later on by the legend elaborated by Iraqi « exegetes, » substituting the « Temple (of Mecca) » for that of Jerusalem.
According to Christopher Luxenberg, an Iraqi Christian teaching in Germany, the Dome of the Rock was, in the beginning, a Christian sanctuary. According to Joachim Gnilka, it forms, with the Al-Aqsa mosque, an ensemble that imitates the Constantinian Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre :
« In fact, it also included two buildings, a rotunda over the tomb of Christ and the great basilica. Both edifices were separated from one another by a court surrounded with porticos. It is confirmed that the Dome of the Rock took the rotunda of the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre as a model. » (p. 142)
With what intention ? In honour of Christ, or against Him ? Gnilka examines the inscriptions that decorate the cupola of the Dome of the Rock, giving it « its Muslim character ». More than one hundred were applied in the course of the centuries. Four among them, dating from the time of Abd el-Malik, the builder, in the last decade of the seventh century, proclaim the oneness of God in terms that we read in the Qur’an, but that come from the Bible ! Thus the inscription on the arcades of the north gate which cites verse 255 of Sura 2, called the verse of the throne :
« The God ! No God except for Him, the Living, the Subsistent ».
The first words are the transcription of the Jewish profession of faith called the shema Israel :
- « Hear, Israel : Yahweh our God is the only God. » (Dt 6.4)
- « the Living » is the God of Elijah :
- « He is Living, Yahweh, the God of Israel whom I serve » (1 K 17.1)
- « the Subsistent » is the God of Daniel : « God living and subsistent forever. » (Dn 6.27)
He is the God of Hagar, according to the Targum. After her encounter with the angel of Yahweh, the servant of Abraham, mother of Ishmael, « gave thanks before Yahweh who kept His Word with her and she spoke as follows : “ You are the Living and the Subsistent, who sees and is not seen. “ »
« The Living, the Subsistent. » This double term truly constitutes, according to the Targum, the proper name of God who appeared to Hagar, mother of the Arabs.
What about muhammadun ? This term is repeated ten times in the four inscriptions « which the archaeologists tell us come from the same period and form a group. »
Let us begin by observing that the biography of Muhammad, written centuries after the “ events ”, offers no contact with the Qur’an. For example, he was supposedly born in the « year of the Elephant, » to which Sura 105 allegedly alludes. A scientific study of the vocabulary of this sura clears away this pachyderm :
« 1. Have you not seen what your Master did to the Nephilim, », bi- ’ashâbi l-fîli The word ’al-fîl, which is officially translated by “ the Elephant ”, designates « the heroes of old, the men of renown » (Gn 6.4) the mention of which precedes the account of the Deluge in the Book of Genesis.
« 2. Did he not accomplish their destruction in a deluge ?
« 3. And make the Tower of Babel fall upon them ? µayran ’abâbîl. »
It is translated by Régis Blachère as : « flight of birds ». He agrees that « birds ’abâbîl are perhaps only one popular explanation of a misunderstood term. » He could not have said it better ! (Histoire de la littérature arabe, t. 3, p. 742)
« 4 Built by them with sealed fixed bricks ? sijjil. »
It is translated by Blachère as : « in clay, » with this note added : « This word is found only once and seems to be a borrowing from the Iranian. » Or it could simply be from the Latin sigillo (cf. Gn 11.3).
In the Qur’an, the word muhammadun is repeated four times. Morphologically, it is a passive participle derived from the root ’md, “ to desire, to covet ”. In verse 144 of Sura 3, muhammadun describes an « oracle », rasûlun, who is mediator between God and His people (II 129), as in the Book of Daniel ’îsh hamudôt, “ man of predilection ”, designates Daniel the prophet (Dn 9.23; 10.11; 19). We have translated it as « Beloved » : Object of divine favours. We did so twenty years ago (v. 2, 1990, p. 120-121).
Today, Luxenberg in turn understands the word Muhammad not as a proper name, but as a verbal form that describes the « Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary, the servant of God and His messenger », whose name is plainly written and invoked on the inner side of the arcades of the cupola on the Dome of the Rock, in the same terms as it is in Sura 4, verses 171-172 (Christoph Luxenberg, A New Interpretation of the Arabic Inscription in Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, The Hidden Origins of Islam, editions Prometheus Books, New York, 2010, p. 131).
Gnilka writes : « This interpretation of the inscription, following that which refers to Jesus, begins with the fact that at the time of the construction of the Dome of the Rock, at the end of the seventh century, Islam did not yet exist. » (p. 147)
In fact, St. John of Damascus, who died about 750, is unaware of the terms “ Islam ” and “ Muslim ” in his Book of Heresies, the last chapter of which is devoted to the hundredth : “ The religion of the Ishmaelites ”.
The word islâm, however, « is found in the last section of the inscription and is habitually taken here as a technical term. » It is a question of the phrase that we find again in the Qur’an, Sura 3, verse 19, of which Gnilka recopies the accepted translation : « The (only true) religion for God is Islam. » Note well that this translation requires a gloss, here in parentheses, that is not in the text.
We have seen that the biblical parallel with the vocation of Abraham indicates a completely different meaning : it is from the root šlm, which is common to the Hebrew and Aramaic, that the word ’islam, « perfection » is derived. It designates the « justice », ’ad-dîn, with which Abraham is invested : « Justice, in the eyes of God, is perfection. »
Such is the translation of the inscription of the Dome of Rock and of verse 19 of Sura 3.
Sura 30, ’ar-Rum, « the Romans », concerns a Byzantine defeat and announces that it will be followed by a victory. In the war against the Persians, the Byzantines were in fact beaten at Antioch in 613 and at Jerusalem in 614. The victory of the Persians was concluded with the conquest of Egypt in 617.
In 622, however, the Byzantines took a striking revenge, under the effective command of Heraclius who led them as far as Egypt. This date opens a reckoning of time under the name of “ Era of the Arabs ” in the inscriptions, such as that of the baths of Gadara, which were built by Mu’âwiya in Palestine, bearing the date of « 726 from the founding of the city, in the year 42 according to the Arabs », namely in 662-663 A.D. This inscription bears the sign of the cross at the beginning of its first line, and begins as follows : « In the days of Mu’âwiya, the servant of God,... » Thus, this Arab era is a Christian era. And abd ’allâh... is a Christian name.
Furthermore, his successor, ’Abd al-Malik, presented Mu’âwiya as a “ Saul ”, while presenting himself as a “ new David ”, indeed, naming his own son Sulaymân...
The Arab era thus begins with the taking of power in Iran by the Arabs, following the collapse of the Sassanides in 622. Mu’âwiya personifies the Christian Arabs of Mesopotamia, for whom Greek was not an unknown language since the School of Athens, closed by Justinian I in 529, had emigrated to the Persian Empire.
By establishing his capital in Damascus, Mu’âwiya put himself under the protection of a prophet, John the Baptist, whose basilica sheltered his grave. The crypt that contained the head of the Baptist rivalled the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Mu’âwiya had coins struck with the effigy of St. John the Baptist with a dove or a lamb.
Copper coins found in Palestine and bearing the legend “ Zion ” are a sign of the self-conception of Arab Christians at the time of the reign of Mu’âwiya. They saw themselves as heirs of the tradition of Israel. (Volker Popp, The Early History of Islam, following Inscriptional and Numismatic Testimony, op. cit., p. 44-45).
No one knows precisely who began the construaction of the Dome of the Rock, Mu’âwiya or his successor, Abd-el-Malik. What is certain, however, is that the inscription on it, from the year 72 of “ the era of the Arabs ” (691-692 A.D.,) is addressed to Christians :
« Ya ’ahla l-Kitâb, O you, people of the Book. »
The “ Book ” is the Bible.
FROM ONE JERUSALEM TO THE OTHER
This archeological research converges with the results of our scientific exegesis of the Qur’an, in order to arrive at surprising but solid conclusions calling into question events that have been considered as marking the beginning of Islam (the Hegira, 622.)
On the other hand, as we have just seen, numismatic discoveries and the most ancient inscriptions that ornament the Dome of the Rock attest to the presence of an Arab Christianity, “ the era ” of which began in 622 A.D.
That year 622 « was only later “ converted ” to a Muslim meaning. Until approximately the end of the eighth century, so it seems, Arab-Christian tribal leaders governed the regions of the Near East and of North Africa – indeed, the Umayyad leaders and even the early Abbasids were Christians. » (Karl-Heinz Ohlig, Islam’s “ Hidden ” Origins, foreword of the book quoted above, p. 10)
« The central historical event of the first half of the seventh century » is, according to Volker Popp, « the surprising victory of the Byzantines in 622 » over the Persians. « The massive political changes that followed were later described by the traditional Islamic literature as the results of the Hijra (“ emigration ”) of the Prophet of the Arabs. This Hijra supposedly took place in 622, and with it supposedly began the Islamic reckoning of time. This is not historical. In reality, though, a new era did begin : the period of self-government of the Christian Arabs. » (op. cit., p. 18)
An inscription in Greek, discovered on the baths of Gadara, in Palestine, provides the apodictic proof of this. It bears the date of « the year 42 according to the Arabs (kata araba) », corresponding to « the year 726 from the founding of the city ». It results from this that the year 622 A.D. marks the year 1 of the “ Arab era ”. Now, this inscription bears the sign of the cross at the beginning of its first line (here below) where we can read these words :
« In the days of Mu’âwiya, the servant of God, emir. »
This Cross is part of the inscription. It implies which God it is of whom the emir Mu’âwiya declares himself the “ servant ” (reproduced by Volker Popp, op. cit., p. 36).
« The discovery of Mu’âwiya’s inscription on the baths of Gadara, dated to the year 42 of the Arab era, makes it possible to pass by the commonly accepted chronology and to understand the data on the coins as datings according to the era of the Arabs [...]. Mu’âwiya’s betrays the fact that the prophet of the Arabs, as well as the “ era of the Hijra ” are not yet known to him. » (Volker Popp, op. cit., p. 39-40)
What happened before 622 ?
Archaeological discoveries and scientific exegesis of the Qur’an also converge in establishing the history of the years preceding this pivotal date of 622.
We know, in fact, that in the fourth century, the victory of Christianity in the West and the conquest of the East by Constantine gave back to Jerusalem her character of a Holy City for three hundred years.
The three centuries of the Byzantine period were a golden age. In 451, Jerusalem was raised to the same rank of patriarchate as Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople. Pilgrims from every country flocked to the holy City; many of them remained there as monks and cloistered nuns. Monasteries and churches abounded, thanks to the generosity of Empress Eudocia, who resided at Jerusalem from 444 until her death in 460. The most important of these constructions was the “ new church of the Mother of God ”, commonly called the Néa, built by Emperor Justinian in 544. A two-hundred bed hospital was attached to it. It was the last great Christian edifice built in Jerusalem before the Arab invasion.
Multiple geographical and historical convergences suggest that the invasion took place in 614, as part of a group of military operations known as “ the capture of Jerusalem by the Persians ” in 614.
According to our hypothesis, Sura 2 is only the expression, in scriptural terms, of the events of 610-614, when the Persian invasion brought the troops of Chosroes to Chalcedon (610) and then to Jerusalem (614), raising immense hope among the Jews of Palestine and Arabia, from the Hedjaz to the borders of the land of Saba. Supported by their friends, the Nestorian Christians, and their Saracen allies, they obtained for a while, from the Persian authorities, the administration of the Holy City.
Sura 3, interpreted in the light of the same critical and scientific methods, confirms the goal of the “ going up ” (III 61, 64, 139, 167), according to the expression consecrated by the whole biblical tradition to designate the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to which the author invites his “ faithful" : the goal is the House, bayt, of which the name is « Bakka » because one « weeps » there over the ruins of the Temple of Jerusalem (III 96). Bakka designates the valley located to the southwest of Jerusalem, the « valley of bâkâ ’ » of which the psalmist sings (Ps 84.7 : “ in valle lacrymarum ”). Unless this term designates the Wailing Wall.
The Persians, however, were unable to maintain themselves for long in Jerusalem; the Jews of Arabia and their allies had to retire. Suras 4 and 5 describe the aftermath of this defeat in 614 : the flight into the desert outside Palestine, in Arabia Petraea, where the “ faithful ”, regrouped around their “ oracle ”, rasûl, prepared a second attempt... which will be the subject of our fourth volume... if it please God !
Brother Bruno of Jesus
He is risen ! n° 105, June 2011