To serve in the dialogue with Islam
TO SERVE IN THE DIALOGUE WITH ISLAM
The Gospel begins « at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising » (Jn 1. 28). In other words : in the Trans-Jordan, that is to say, in Arabia. Shortly after Pentecost, the “ Good News ” that came from Jerusalem then spread to the East through the Perea region, located east of the Jordan and inhabited by Jewish communities of Essenian allegiance, as the Dead Sea scrolls have shown. After his conversion on the Road to Damascus and his baptism by Ananias, it was first in “ Arabia ” that Saul of Tarsus, who had become Christian, spent several years (Ga 1. 17). Thirty years later, in 66, at the time of the first revolt of the Jews, the Christians of Jerusalem took refuge in Pella in the Trans-Jordan.
BEFORE ISLAM, CHRISTIAN ARABIA
From the first centuries of the Christian era, Arab tribes were converted through contact with Christian monks. They also assisted Roman colonisation, so that during the second and third centuries A. D., the Roman province of Arabia that was founded by Trajan, after the annexation of the Kingdom of the Nabataeans of Petra in A. D. 106, vied with the Empire’s richest provinces.
Thus, in the sixth century A. D., the Christianised province of Arabia enjoyed the favour of the emperors of Byzantium. Increasing trade contributed to a settled way of life and urbanisation process that was accompanied by the construction of magnificent churches decorated with mosaics. (cf. Bruno Bonnet-Eymard, When Arabia was “ happy ”, He is Risen n° 10, June 2003).
Nevertheless, during this same period, the Trans-Jordan territory was home to a great number of sects that strayed more or less from orthodoxy, to such an extent that Theodoret of Cyr in the fifth century wrote : « Arabia haeresium ferax ! » « Arabia is a hotbed of heresies ! » St. Epiphanius of Salamis undertook to draw up a catalogue of them and, in the eighth century, St. John Damascene entered under the name of “ heresy number 100 ” « the religion of the Ishmaelites », which he does not yet call “ Islam ”.
Literary sources of that time, however, attest to the presence of bishops, archimandrites, priests, monks and faithful, illustrating the vitality of a faith that archaeological sources represent, rather, as orthodox. Inscriptions, depicted on the mosaicpavings of churches constructed between the fifth and the eighth centuries, are professions of faith in God, the holy and consubstantial Trinity, Lord of all things, who made Heaven and earth. It is with His assistance, by His grace, according to His will and His providence that churches are built and good works carried through to their completion.
Judging by the inscriptions, the Christians of the province of Arabia had a very great devotion to the Blessed Virgin. In 431, the Council of Ephesus defined Her as Theotokos, Mother of God, holy and Immaculate Sovereign, who must be addressed « with purified soul and actions », as is recalled in the inscription of the church that was dedicated to Her in the centre of Madaba. Furthermore, we can see that the faithful vied with one another to embellish their churches, from the great urban basilicas to village churches and monastery chapels. Finally, inscriptions that allow us to identify the bishops, attest to the survival of Christian churches from the time of the Jewish persecutions, of which the Christians of Yemen were the victims in the sixth century, until the period of the Umayyads and the Abbasids, in the eight century. Thus is it that these recent archaeological discoveries have completely changed the generally accepted ideas regarding the origins and the beginnings of Islam.
This absence of a true rupture between the Byzantine period and the period known as the “ Muslim period ”, attested to by both literary sources and archaeological remains, constitutes a tremendous enigma for modern researchers still convinced of the historical truth of the Muslim conquest, which one author did not shrink from calling The Invisible Conquest.
THE MUSLIM TRADITION BROUGHT INTO QUESTION
Under the title “ Islam under Scrutiny ”, the Abbé Georges de Nantes published half a century ago an article – a plan from which any protagonist of “ Islamo-Christian dialogue ” ought to draw inspiration. He began by observing that Islam had not suffered from rationalism a shock comparable to that which put to the test the Biblical facts and history of Christian origins :
« It was improper during these last hundred years to believe still in the divinity of Jesus, but no one dreamt of combating the religion of the Prophet Muhammad in the name of Science. This exception is so noteworthy that, traditionally, our secular State refuses in the name of Reason and Science all liberty and assistance to the Church, but it venerates the Allah of the Muslims, building him mosques, paying his ministers and assisting his Qur’anic schools just like its own administrations. »
This fifty year-old remark has a surprising topicality ! The Abbé de Nantes asked himself at that time :
« Is Islam in such obvious agreement with Science and Progress ? In no way. From the beginning, its notion of revelation paralysed intellectual study of the Qur’an, while its unbridled imagination unrestrainedly multiplied a tangle of legends beneath which historical events disappeared without a trace. Catholics and unbelievers have the habit, still today, despite their hypercritical sense, of considering Islam as an old brother who has proved his worth and remains without a fissure, like an eternal edifice.
« Everyone accepts the Qur’an as a Holy Book, preserving a corpus of religious truths revealed by a true God, Allah, and on which was immediately constructed Islam, an admirable monotheist religion [...]. Such is the age-old ingenuousness of the East and the West regarding Islam. No one has for one instant dared to be incredulous, as thousands have been throughout their lives with regards to Christianity ; no one has taken the liberty of reading the Qur’an as a document of the past and of seeking to explain it by the simplest laws of the historical method, long in use even within Catholicism in the study of the Bible. » (Islam under Scrutiny, L’Ordre française n° 8, January 1957, p. 53-76)
The Abbé de Nantes then denounced « two prejudices » capable of causing irreparable damage to civilisation : « I fear that they are going to turn our present political cowardice and our spirit of abdication into a philosophical theory. »
The first prejudice anticipated « the spirit of the Council » and its declaration Dignitatis humanæ, which killed the missionary spirit : it « consists in according, out of sceptical or sentimental relativism, equal value to any religious movement whatsoever ; it would seem that a belief cannot be discussed without shamefully wounding the sincere souls who profess it and that reason has neither the right nor the real power to assess its objective worth (apart from the irrevocable condemnation, always well regarded, of our ancestral religion) ».
The second prejudice is a corollary of the first ; it stifles all missionary enthusiasm in the direction of Islam : « It claims that a Muslim does not convert, that such has never been seen and never will be. Islam would thus be something impenetrable, which no one can approach without being conquered, into which no one can be born without becoming its prisoner for life. Any effort made with a view to an evolution of individuals or groups, even, by chance, their conversion, would be doomed to the most bitter failure. Islam strengthens the bond of race with that of faith ; it is composed of a mystique and a politics. It proposes a living synthesis that leaves nothing to be desired by its beneficiary and captivates him too strongly for us to dream of detaching him from it. »
Last month, Brother Matthew showed how the French conquest and colonisation had aroused in the natives of North Africa a real, tangible grace of conversion to the Gospel, and an attraction to the lights of French civilisation, which were immediately thwarted by the administration of the Monarchy of July (King Louis-Philippe), of the Empire (Napoleon III), and of the Republic, while waiting to be disowned by the Church herself in her Conciliar and post-conciliar authorities (He is Risen n° 51, December 2006, p. 21-30) !
We must therefore perform a Catholic Counter-Reformation work through the “ dialogue ” recommended so much for our times, but not often put into practice, other than as a dialogue of the deaf ! Already St. John Damascene practiced it in the eighth century of our era. He has left us a model : Dialexis Sarakenou kai Christianou, “ Dialogue of the Saracen and the Christian ” (Greek text and its French translation in the collection Sources chrétiennes n° 383, éd. du Cerf, 1992). Let us follow in his footsteps.
THE QUR’AN BY THE QUR’AN
« The Qur’an is the authentic document of the origins of Islam, just as the Bible is that of the Jewish and Christian religions. It is in accordance with perfect historical method to study these books as closely as possible in order to find in them, rather than in any later tradition, the truth concerning the origins of these religions. It should not be such a considerable work to analyse the Qur’an since, undoubtedly, it is the work of a single author and its writing covers a span of about thirty years, while the Bible is the written expression of religious inspiration that involved an entire people during more than a millennium. » (Georges de Nantes, ibid.)
In fact, the specific difficulty with the Qur’an proved to be immense due to the fact that this document appears like a meteorite that has fallen from the sky into the field of universal literature. There exists no text prior to Sura 1 that bears witness to the use of a written and spoken Arab language. Therefore, when the author declares that he taught « writing » (kitâb ; II 129, 151), and « reading » (qur ’ân ; II 185), to the children of Ishmael, he means that he taught them how to read and write. This repeated affirmation (III 129, 164), is consistent with the date of birth of written Arabic, which we are able to determine by comparative studies of the epigraphic documents that have come down to us. Reproductions and analyses of these documents can be found in Volume II of our translation and commentary on the Qur’an, in appendix II devoted to “ Muhammad ” (pp. 245-258)
THE BIRTH OF ARABIC WRITING
ON THE PEDIMENTS OF CHURCHES
The Arabic inscription, which runs along the bottom between two rows of oval-shaped ornaments, on the bevelled surface, on either side of the cross of Christ, lists the names of the donors preceded by an initial invocation :
1. With the help of God, Sergius, son of Amat Manaf and Hannai’, son of Imru l-qays,
2. and Sergius, son of Sa‘d et Sitr (?), and Sergius.
Most of the letters have approximately the form that would characterise, a hundred years later, Qur’anic writing. The alif is reduced to a vertical bar (line 1) ; the lam-alif is purely Arabic, as well as the sin ; the beth ; and the taw ; tend to become confused.
MARTYRIUM SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST OF HARAN (568 AD)
I, Sharâhîl, son of Zâlmû. I built this martyrium,
in 463. After [the] ruin.
The Arabic part of a Greek-Arabic inscription sketched in the nineteenth century in Syria, north west of Djebel Druze, on the lintel of a : « martyrium », designated here in Arabic by the last two words of the first line : dâ l-mrtûl, « this martyrium ». These two words are on either side of the Greek cross with flared arms inscribed within a circle.
The Greek text specifies that « the martyrium », to mart (urion), is dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The Greek served as a basis for attempts to decipher the Arabic, object of an abundant bibliography. After the first word of line 2 that can be read snt, « year », come Nabataean symbols that are used in the notation of numbers, thus year 463 of Bosra, that is 568 A. D.
Thus, as Melchior de Vogüé had already understood in the last century, « the writing known as kufic, which was thought to be later than Islamism and invented in the city of Kufa, was in reality in existence in 568 A. D. » A simple comparison with a page from the manuscript “ Arabic 328 ” in the National Library of Paris (below) in fact reveals a striking resemblance between the letters engraved on the lintel of the Martyrium of Harrân and the large thick letters traced in brown ink on a sheet of parchment, after the fashion of the Egyptian papyri of the seventh century : the same slanting of the upstrokes ; the same stiff and angular writing, an ornamental appearance, corresponding to an awkward written form, on a resistant and somewhat rough medium like parchment. Its evolution, however, is not yet finished : the ‘ayn of the words b‘d (line 2) and n‘m (line 4) is still Hebraic.
The final formula is an act of faith and hope in the blessed resurrection.
Extract of a fragmentary copy of the Qur’an, “ Arabic 328 ”, on which can be read a passage of Sura III 141-151, reproduced full size (in the printed version) ; this document is recognised by the totality of critics as the most ancient manuscript that has come down to us, but it remains anonymous and undated.
The writing is stiff and angular, like the lapidary inscriptions of Zabad and Harrân, and it is “ defective ” : not only does it not contain short vowels, but also certain consonants, which are distinguished today by diacritical points, have identical forms. For example the letters b, t, th, n and y ; likewise q and f ; or even j and hard h, etc.
As a veritable rereading of divine revelation – the New Testament included – the Qur’an is based on the authentic « Word » of God, ’amr, (II 109, 117, 210), expressed by the « luminous verses » of Biblical revelation (II 211) recited (II 129, 151, 252), and explained by the author on behalf of God Himself (II 219, 266) who communicates to him « intelligence » (II 99), in the light of the events that become very difficult to reconstruct if the subsequent tradition is refuted – as must be done in accordance with good scientific method.
In fact, we would have to wait until the ninth century in order to see’Ibn Hisham establish the framework of the sîra, or Life of Mahomet, the basic structure of which would then remain unchanged until our time. Composed of hadît, « accounts », that « the companions of the Prophet handed down to the second generation of believers, that of the Followers, who themselves entrusted it to the Followers of the Followers », Gaudefroy-Demombynes offers a pious version of it in his Mahomet (Albin Michel, 1957 ; Rodinson republished this « comprehensive survey » in a paperback edition in 1969)
Fr. Lammens established in the last century, that « when the Islamic tradition claims to be a source of independent information, the result of a vast inquiry organised by contemporaries on the life of the Arab prophet, we can consider it as one of the biggest historical hoaxes of which literary history has conserved the memory. If the illusion has been able to last so long both within and without Islam, it must be attributed to a false critical apparatus, to the apparent ingenuousness of the narrators cited in support of it, to the ingenuity in research, to the implacable logic in the error to which this enormous compilation bears witness. » (quoted in the preface of our translation of the Qur’an, Vol. I, p. xiii)
We do not delude ourselves about the fact that we will surprise many readers by posing the question about the author of the Qur’an. Whoever judges equitably, however, will admit that it would be contrary to scientific method not to re-examine the attribution of the Qur’anic corpus to “ Muhammad ”, after the critical remarks of Fr. Lammens on the manner in which the traditional biography of the “ Arab prophet ” was composed :
« I have always sincerely admired the heroism of the translators of the Qur’an, Fr. Lammens also wrote. A good version presupposes a thorough knowledge of the Sirâ. Since the Sirâ derives as a last resort from the Qur’an, it is like going round in a vicious circle ! » (ibid., p. xv)
How can we get out of it ? How can a scientific exegesis of the source document that the Qur’an is be substituted for the fanciful exegesis of Muslim Tradition ? By dismissing this latter and by explaining the Qur’an not by subsequent legend, but by the Qur’an itself.
For example, Mecca is never mentioned in the Qur’an. This document therefore provides no attestation for the existence of this city before Islam. In desperation, orientalists modify the word bakka, present only once in the text (III 96), into makka. Yet the text only says : « Yes, the first House (bayt) that gave life to men is that of Bakka, blessing and way for the centuries. »
Traditional commentators identify the « House » (bayt ), mentioned here with the building presently situated in the court of the great mosque of Mecca, called Ka‘ba. The Arab word bayt, however is transposed from the Hebrew bayit, which means « house », and furthermore : « Temple ». Now, it is employed for the first time in Sura II where it designates « the Place of Abraham » (II 125), in other words : the Temple of Jerusalem. A continuous tradition places its construction on Mount Moriah, the place of the sacrifice of Isaac. Verse 127 announces its restoration : « Then, Abraham will re-establish the foundations of the Temple (’al-qawâ‘ida mina l-bayti) with Ishmael. » This promise was disfigured subsequently by the legend elaborated by Muslim Tradition substituting for the Temple of Jerusalem, the “ Temple of Mecca ”, the place of the present-day pilgrimage of Muslims in Saudi Arabia, in the interior of the Hedjaz. Nevertheless, the very name ofBakka, which is unchanged, unchangeable, inescapable, inexorably brings us back to Jerusalem.
The « Valley of Bâkâ », to the north of the Valley of Hinnom, was the last stage of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, situated west of the valley, at the crossroads of the roads coming from the north, the west and the south (Ps 84. 7).
Let us add that Mecca is unknown to all the geographers of antiquity. The legend that makes it the birthplace of Islam therefore does not have the slightest historical basis and constitutes an enormous anachronism.
DISCOVERING THE LANGUAGE OF THE QUR’AN
To apply the right historical and critical methodology, we must therefore start from the Qur’anic text alone. Since the oldest “ Hedjazian ” Qur’ans, as well as many “ Kufic ” Qur’ans are written without vowels and without diacritical points to distinguish the consonants, and since vowels and diacritical points were added on the basis of later interpretation, totally dependent on the “ Tradition ” that we deny, we must start from the Qur’an reduced to its most primitive form, which not only does not contain short vowels, but also presents several consonants in one identical symbol. For example, the letters b, t, th, n and y ; as well as q and f, or j and hard h, etc.
Reduced to this solely consonantal form, the Qur’an is the only literary document in the Arab language that Islam has ever possessed for knowing the history of its own origins.
It could well be said that it is quite a riddle !
An example will make us see the fruitfulness of research undertaken on these strict bases. In verse 126 of Sura 2, the word baladan – which even ordinary mortals can recognise, since “ bled ” has entered into our everyday French language – is translated “ city ” by all the specialists, with this precision in parenthesis : Mecca. Now as we have just said, this name is absent from the text, to the point that we can and must cast doubt on the existence of this city at the beginning. What then is this “ bled ” ?
Here is the key to the enigma : you only have to put two diacritical points instead of a single one under the first consonant in order to be able to read yld instead of bld.
In this case, these three consonants can be interpreted as the transcription of the Hebraic word yèlèd, “ boy ”, which designates Ishmael who was named in the preceding verse, in which “ the God ” (Allah) recalls that he has “ made a Covenant with Abraham and Ishmael ” (II 125). While baladan translated as “ a city ” has nothing to do with this context, yaladan translated as “ a child ” perfectly suits the following verse : « In those days, Abraham said : “ Master, sanctify him as a faithful child ”. » (II 126).
This example alone reveals that the language of the Qur’an is to a great extent only a transcription of the Hebrew language. The demonstrative pronoun hâdâ, “ this one ” in itself bears witness to this since it is formed from the Hebrew demonstrative pronoun zèh, reinforced by the Hebrew prefix ha.
Continuing our investigation, we discover that the author transposes the Hebrew language into Arabic in this way with a precise aim : to transfer for Arab usage the revelation contained in the Bible, where we see, in fact, that Abraham believes that the divine promise refers to Ishmael : « Abraham said to God : “ Oh ! Let Ishmael live before Your face ! ” (Gn 17. 18). God, however, sets him straight, specifying that He would establish His Covenant with Isaac « as a perpetual Covenant » (Gn 17. 19).
According to the biblical account, God adds : « For Ishmael too I have heard you : I bless him and I will make him fruitful and greatly increased in numbers. He shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. » The author of Sura II takes advantage of this promise to transfer to Ishmael the privilege of Isaac, which God, however, immediately and unequivocally affirms according to the Bible : « Yet my Covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear you at this time next year. » (Gn 17. 21) According to the Qur’an, God says : « We have made a Covenant with Abraham and Ishmael. » (II 125)
The method is comparable to that of St. Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians (Ga 4. 21-31), except that Isaac is not even named here, and no justification is advanced to explain the robbery that deprives him of the promise in favour of his brother Ishmael. This is a radical subversion, an unprecedented revolution, that takes away a fortiori the adoptive filiation from Christians, the children of God « like Isaac » (Ga 4. 28), to the benefit of the descendants of Ishmael, the tribes of northern Arabia (Gn 21. 12-18), the race of Abraham according to the flesh.
This bold initiative, however, retains a biblical foundation through circumcision, a « 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)
In the prayer that ends Sura II, the author invokes God “ our Circumciser ”, mawlânâ. The phrase comes from the Hebrew verb mûl, « to cut, to circumcise ». Through this invocation, without any parallel in the Bible, or, to my knowledge in rabbinic literature, the author brought the revelation of his whole theological thought to completion, with a boldness fit to supplant St. Paul himself. In fact, St. Paul explained to the Romans that « the faith of Abraham was considered as justifying him » before he was circumcised so that he would become the father of all believers, the circumcised and the uncircumcised. Thus was prepared the rule of the Faith that we owe to “ Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, Jesus who was put to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification. ” (Rm 4, 24-25).
Thus the innovation that the Qur’an introduces consists in a violent step backward, in the guise of restoring the perfect religion of Abraham. Verse 131 quotes the words Yahweh said to Abraham : “ Be perfect ! ” (’aslim), that is traditionally translated “ Submit ! ” but with no reason and no regard for the source text – the Aramaic version of the account of the Covenant : haweî shelîm, “ be perfect ! ” (Tg Gn 17. 1). From the Aramaic shelîm, « whole », “ upright ”, are derived the word islâm, designating the « perfect » religion contained in the Qur’an, and the word muslim, designating the “ perfect ” believer, the religion of whom is islâm.
In the Qur’an, Abraham answers : “ I am perfect, ’aslamtu. This feature is not in the Bible, which merely mentions the faith of Abraham : « Abram put his faith in Yahweh, who counted this as making him justified. » (Gn 15. 6) On the other hand, the answer that the Qur’an attributes to Abraham tends to equate him with Jesus, who alone dared to call Himself « perfect », because He was divinely so (Jn 8. 46).
JESUS, SON OF MARY
The reference that the Qur’an makes to Jesus is well known and often proposed as the basis for a possible « rapprochement » between Islam and Christianity. The “ dialogue ”, however, immediately proves to be full of difficulties, which can be placed under two headings.
The first obstacle is that the very name of Jesus is unknown in the form that the author of the Qur’an ascribes to it : ‘îsâ is an invention that deprives it of its etymologic meaning “ Yahweh saves ”, in Hebrew, yéshû‘a, by switching the Hebrew consonants shin and aïn. This surely intentional deformation is signalled by the acronym alm, placed at the beginning of Sura II, misunderstood by the commentators until we discovered its secret in the system of abbreviations used in rabbinic literature :
“ a ”, the initial letter of the Hebrew ’el, the Arab ’ilâh “ God ” ; “ l ”, the preposition le, “ for ” ; the initial “ m ” of môshâ‘ôt, “ salvations ”, in the plural to emphasise the richness of the unique salvific plan of God throughout history : ’el lemôshâ‘ôt, « God for the salvations », an expression used in Psalm 68. 21.
God alone is « for the salvations », the Qur’an teaches, and Jesus is not God, the Son of God, « the saving God ». He is but a man, « son of Mary ».
Thus the author directly challenges the worship given in Arabia to the « Lord Jesus-Christ, only Son of the only God » and to His divine Mother, Theotokos, of Christian inscriptions : « They have apostatised, those who said : “ Here is the God, he, the Christ, son of Mary ”, whereas Jesus said “ O sons of Israel, serve the God, my Master and your Master ” » (V 72).
In and of itself, this verse reveals that the author has a profound knowledge of the fourth Gospel, which he plagiarises by deliberately altering the words of Jesus : « My Father and your Father » (Jn 20. 17).
The second obstacle encountered in our attempts at “ dialogue ” is the genealogy attributed to Jesus. He was « born » of a women (’untâ ; III, 36 ; cf. Ga 4. 4), and the name of this Woman is Mary : « Jesus, son of Mary » (‘îsâ bna maryama ; II 87, 253 ; III 45). The name “ Mary ”, maryam, is the pure and simple transposition of the Greek mariam. Considered as the « daughter of Amran » (III 35-36), the Mother of Jesus is thus confused with Miryam, sister of Moses and Aaron (Nb 26. 59).
Orientalists hasten to explain this confusion by “ the ignorance of Muhammad ”. This is an unacceptable solution, not only to Muslims but also in the light of the knowledge of the Old and New Testament manifested by the author.
For instance, a reminiscence of the Gospel according to St. Luke is obvious in this verse : « Do not be misled into idolising (a woman) “ among women ” » (IV 129 ; Lk 1, 42)
In fact, the intention of the author is clear here as well : by this violent anachronism, he wants to “ reduce to nothing ”, as St. Paul would say (1 Co 1. 17), not only the divinity of Christ but His messiahship. Thus it is that “ son of Mary ” (’ibn maryam) also effaces « Son of the Most High » (Lk 1. 32) and « Son of David » (Mt 1. 1 ; Lk 1. 32).
The deliberate confusion between Mary, Mother of Jesus, and Myriam, sister of Moses, by abolishing the gap of thirty generations, all turned towards the future, waiting for the King-Messiah, breaks the orthodromic line of sacred history.
Certainly the name « messiah » (masîhu) is associated once with that of « Jesus » in order to form a compound name preceded by the article, « the Christ Jesus » (’al-masîhu‘îsâ ; III 45). Here, however, this expression is but a transposition into Arabic, and from Hebrew, of the Greek proper name deprived of its whole messianic meaning. « The Christ-Jesus, son of Mary » is never called “ son of David ”.
Far from being greater than Moses, as the « Nazoreans », that is to say, Christians, mistakenly thought because of a « deceitful interpretation », He is similar to him. This assertion, moreover, finds an apparent basis in the New Testament, where Jesus is a new Moses, accomplishing what Yahweh had foretold to the founder of the chosen people : « I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them, from among their own brethren » (Dt 18, 18 ; cf. Jn 6, 14 ; 7, 40 ; Ac 3, 22-23 ; 7, 37)
Having reached this point, the “ Islamo-Christian dialogue ” abruptly ends because the Qur’an rejects any divinisation of Jesus. The accusation of idolatry is made against the devotion that Christians have for the crucifix, for Jesus « the risen » (’al-jibt ; IV 51). This term, used only once in the Qur’an, was derived from the Hebrew gâbah, “ to be raised ”, to designate Christ, « raised » on the Cross (Jn 12. 32-33), then into Heaven on the day of the Resurrection (Jn 20. 17), the object of the Christian Faith. Following St. John Damascene, we can give the author of the Qur’an the name of “ antichrist ” insofar as he eliminates the Cross of Christ to such an extent that he denies the very fact when he writes : « They did not kill or crucify him, but he did indeed come back to them. » (IV 157) If he « came back to them », as he himself predicted (Jn 14. 28), and as it is related in the Gospels of the Resurrection, it is because he had not really died...
A FIGURATIVE MYTH
The Qur’an contains neither the account of the nativity of Jesus nor of His life – hidden or public – nor of His death, nor of His resurrection, but only of the « announcements of the mystery » (’anbâ’i ll-gaybi ; III, 44), as well as the betrayal whereby « those who were following [ him] » (’al-hawâriyyûn ; III, 52) « handed [him] over » (makarû ; III 54).
The lack of any account of the nativity of « Jesus, son of Mary », between that of the annunciation to Mary by « the angels » and that of the announcement of His coming that Jesus makes to the children of Israel, « reduces to nothing », to use the expression of St. Paul, not only « the Cross of Christ », but even His historical existence. Would the author of the Qur’an be a modernist before the word had been invented ? By omitting to relate the birth of Jesus, he merely contents himself with announcing that, like the first creation, he will be a pure « word » (’amran) decreed by God, thus virginal, in accordance with the vow of Mary saying : « Master, will there be a child for me even when no flesh will touch me ? » (III 47)
It makes you wonder whether this « word » really became « flesh ». Nevertheless, « the angels » announce that « he will be great in this world and in the other », and he will be « among the victims » (mina l-muqarrabîn ; III, 45). This allusion to the prophecy of the old man Simeon (Lk 2. 33-35), misunderstood by the commentators, is the key to the enigma.
The whole public life is also « announced » by Jesus Himself promising to accomplish brilliant miracles, not by His own power, but « the God fulfilling » (bi-’idni llâhi ; III 49). The first of these miracles will consist in giving life to the clay model of a turtledove. Here, this puerile legend, invented by authors of apocryphal Gospels, is marked by the sobriety and dignity proper to the author of the Qur’an. It reveals a precise and manifestly reductive intention : to interpret the apparition of a dove coming down from Heaven upon Jesus, after His baptism, as a miracle of His thaumaturgical power, and not as a manifestation of the Holy-Spirit. Thus, are eliminated both the divinity of the Holy-Spirit and the messianic anointing of the « Christ Jesus » (’al-masîhu ‘îsâ) whose enthronement was marked by the evangelical scene of His baptism.
No nativity, therefore no life, hidden or public, no death or resurrection. Only « announcements », like prophecies of the “ Old Testament ”.
ISLAM, « ACCOMPLISHMENT »
Suddenly, verbs change to the past tense. The tone of the style becomes more dramatic to relate « the denial » (’al-kafra) of « those who followed » (’al-hawâriyyûn) Jesus. « We are the Nazoreans ? of the God » they maintained, declaring themselves « perfect » (muslimûn) and taking Jesus as their witness (III 52). Nevertheless, they « handed [him] over » (makarû ; III, 54) in spite of their profession of islâm. The « Nazoreans » always betray islâm. This is the lesson of the story of Jesus « handed over », and « victim » of his own.
Manifestly, the intention is to propose Jesus as the figure of the one to come, « taken from among » the children of Ishmael : the author himself, the new Moses, the fulfilment, realisation, historical incarnation of the veritable « beloved », prophet and salutary victim, « handed over » in turn by the perfidious betrayal of false brethren (III 64-83 ; 122-123) to a true « calvary » (qarhun ; III 140).
Ever since then, « Torah and Gospel » are only « the prophecy » of what is accomplished by the hands of the children of Ishmael, under the leadership of the author himself, true object of divine favours and by the same token of the expectation of men, themuhammadun, the « beloved », the « desired » (III 144).
Thus is explained the sequence « Moses and Jesus » ; the « prophets » come after them (II 136 ; III 84). Jesus immediately succeeds Moses as a nephew succeeds his uncle.
By his genealogy of « Jesus, son of Mary » that goes back to « Adam » through « Noah », through « those of Abraham », and through « those of Amram (III 33), the author abolishes all distance, going so far as to make no longer any « distinction » (II 136 ; III 84) between Moses and Jesus.
Born of Mary ever Virgin, on « a word » from God (III 47), Jesus is « like » a new « Adam », for the author of the Sura III as for St. Paul (1 Co 15. 45), with this exception : here it is not a « new creation » since it is identical to the first one in every respect.
The author is a great connoisseur and imitator of St. Paul. The list of connections with the Apostle is impressive and leaves no doubt in this regard :
1° Both give Jesus the messianic name avoided by Jesus Himself before His Resurrection, but become His second denomination since Pentecost, on the lips of the Apostles : « the Christ » (’al-masîh ; III 45 ; cf. Ac 5. 42 ; Ga 5. 24 and passim), even if the Qur’an makes it meaningless.
2° According to the Epistle to the Galatians, Jesus was « born of a woman » (Ga 4. 4). Likewise, we have seen that the author never misses an occasion to recall that that Jesus is the « son of Mary » (II 87, 253 ; III 45), who is designated by the term ’untâ, « woman », from Her birth (III 36).
3° In the same Epistle, St. Paul declares that there are no longer « Jews, Greeks, slave, free man, man or woman », because all are but one « in Christ Jesus », belonging through Him to « the posterity of Abraham, heirs according to the promise » (Ga 3. 28). In the same way, the author of the Qur’an declares that he makes no distinction between « Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes », no more than between « Moses, Jesus and the prophets » (III 85).
Now, to make no « distinction » between Ishmael and Isaac, to begin with, amounts to appropriating the whole of Judaism on behalf of Arabs, children of Ishmael. Secondly, to make no distinction between Moses and Jesus by means of a truncated genealogy, which abolishes the distances between generations, amounts to abolishing the « distinction » between the Old and the New Testament, between the Judaism that was transferred to the children of Ishmael, and Christianity.
The author holds « in his hands » the Gospel (’injîl) not only as a « Way », but also as a « Redemption » (furqân) descended from heaven, just like the « Torah » (tawrât). There is no distinction, much less opposition, between the « verses of God » coming from one or the other (III 3-4).
Thus the whole Bible finds itself reduced to a single « Covenant », the one that God made with Abraham and his son Ishmael (II 125). The stroke of genius is to have stolen from St. Paul the whole thrust of his theological argumentation, with the only goal of asserting the permanence of the covenant of God with Abraham and Ishmael, the eponymous ancestor of the Arabs.
4° St. Paul is conscious of being the apostle of God and the successor of the prophets. The author likewise is conscious of being the oracle of God. The successor of Moses and Jesus (II 67-73, 136, 151-153 ; III 84), he has been chosen, « object of predilection » (III 144), to announce the « good news » (II 97, 119 ; III 126) of the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham (II 127). He announces it with a confidence that comes from God, like St. Paul (1 Th 2, 2 ; III, 159).
Moreover, the contacts with the Gospel are so close and numerous that Georges de Nantes does not hesitate to discern in the thought of the author, beyond the clear will to imitate St. Paul, the thinly veiled intention of taking the place of Jesus Himself.
In fact, here are words in the style of the fourth Gospel : « It is for the God that I myself am perfect, with him who seeks me » (III 20 ; cf. Jn 17) Also : « If you love the God, seek me. The God will love you. » (III 31 ; cf. Jn 14, 23) Nevertheless, it is to himself that the author draws attention, substituting himself for Christ and attributing to himself His words and His power of intercession.
Verse 144 of Sura III, in which the author lays claim to the divine name muhammadun, misunderstood by the commentators and unduly interpreted as a proper noun, brings the revelation of this ambition to completion and already marks the summit of the Qur’an.
« BELOVED » (muhammadun)
We will encounter this word three times (XXXIII 40 ; XLVII 2 ; XLVIII 29). Morphologically, muhammad is a passive participle derived from the biblical root hmd, the Arabic transcription of the biblical root hâmad, « to desire, to covet ». Its substantive derivatives mean : « splendour, wealth » (Is 2, 16 ; Jr 3, 19 and passim). In the first Sura, it designates « the love » owed « to the God Master of the ages » (I 2).
A southern Arabian inscription applies the term mhmd to the name of the « God of the Jews » with the meaning of « object of praise ». In the Qur’an, muhammadun describes a man, « oracle » (rasûlun) of the God, as in the Book of Daniel ’îsh hamudôt, « man of the predilections », designates Daniel, the prophet (Dn 9. 23 ; 10. 11 ; 19). The prefix m of the Arabic word muhammadun replaces the substantive ’îsh, « man », of the Hebrew expression, so that Verse 144 of the Sura III can be translated as : « A “ beloved ” is only an oracle. »
The traditional interpretation on which depend all translations : « Mahomet is only an Apostle » (Régis Blachère), « Muhammad is only a prophet » (Denise Masson) puts the commentators in an awkward position, forcing them to provide the most contradictory explanations, taken from the data of the Muslim “ Tradition ”, conveying their complete lack of unders tanding. According to our interpretation, based entirely on the Qur’anic text and context, the word muhammadun undoubtedly designates the author of Sura III. Object of divine favours, « beloved », muhammadun, upon whom « have descended Scripture, Wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel », he is also the object of the expectation of men, « desired », muhammadun, ever since « Christ-Jesus, son of Mary », « announced » him.
Is it his proper name ? It is difficult to maintain, knowing that muhammadun is transformed once in the Qur’an into ’ahmd, without any satisfactory onomastic explanation (LXI 6).
THE LEGEND OF MUHAMMAD
Through the « chain of narrators » of whom Fr. Lamenens established the absence of any historical worth, we arrive at the first collections of « Traditions », according to which Muhammad is born at Mecca of a father called ’abd Allah and of a mother named Amîna. At his birth, the child had on his back between the two shoulders the mark of prophecy, like a big wart...
Put in the care of a nurse among the desert Bedouins, the child experienced a purification : two angels opened his breast, took out the heart, carefully cleaned it and put it back in its place, etc.
One day, in the area around the cavern of Mount Hîra close to Mecca where Muhammad went into retreat every year, a voice made itself heard, pronouncing three Arabic words : « You are the messenger of God ! » The event is traditionally dated around 610 A. D. It was the voice of the angel Gabriel who would reveal the Qur’an to him in a single night in the month of Ramadan. This revelation was then repeated in various circumstances during which uncontrollable shivers sometimes ran through Muhammad and he asked to be wrapped in wool. Other times, on the contrary, his brow streamed with sweat even in a very bitter cold, etc.
One night, the angel Gabriel awakened Muhammad at the Ka ’ba, and led him to the door where there stood « a white animal, taking after a mule and an ass, which bore wings on its flanks that served to activate its legs ; and each of its strides covered the distance that the eye is capable of embracing ». This extract from the Life of the founder of Islam, composed in the eighth century by Ibn Ishâq, gives an idea of the sources drawn on by scholarly orientalists who dedicate thick books to this legend without regard for the rules of criticism concerning testimony.
For our part, after applying ourselves to a linguistic study, of which the present article gives a few examples, we are entitled to propose a rigorous translation of the Qur’an, suggesting a new hypothesis on the historical origins of Islam.
A SINGLE REVELATION
We have first of all established that the author was the editor but not the writer of Sura I, an already ancient prayer, strictly Jewish, lacking any specifically “ Muslim ” character (our Volume I, pp. 283-290).
« The God » (Allah) whom it addresses is the God of Moses. The very name “ Allah ” is not a proper name but a common noun : ’ilâh, transcription of the Aramaean ’élâh, preceded by the definitive article ’al. Through contraction, ’al-’ilâh becomes ’allâh : « the God ». Which God ? The answer is conveyed in the immediately following expression : ’ar-rahmâni r-rahîmi, « the Merciful full of mercy », in apposition to the « name of God » that was just invoked, as in the book of Exodus, rihamti ’ èt-’ashèr ’arahèm : « I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom I please. », defines the « Name of Yahweh » uttered by God before Moses (Ex 33. 19), and ’èl-rahûm, « the Merciful » is the Name of God « proclaimed » twice by Yahweh before Moses. (Ex 34. 6). ’ar-rahmâni r-rahîmi, which is then invoked at the beginning of each of the Suras, thus explicitly designates the God of Horeb in the very act of His revelation to Moses. If we are still in doubt, the biblical name Elohim, used twice, suffices to convince us (III 26 ; V 114).
A testimony to the first effort to judaise Arabia, Sura I is also the first known document of Arabic literature. The coincidence is so remarkable that one might well see a relationship of cause and effect, as though the Qur’anic language had been created by the needs of this cause : the judaisation of Arabia, an enterprise running counter to a previous Christian influence well-attested by epigraphic documents (supra). All the data that we have gathered confirm once again this truth formulated in the last century by François Nau : « It is Christians above all who created alphabets for the peoples whom they converted and who taught them to read and write. The Arabic known as classic is not an exception. Its alphabet is due to Christians ; for it is among the Christian Arabs of Syria that we find the most ancient specimens of this writing. » (Les Arabes chrétiens de Mésopotamie et de Syrie du septième au huitième siècle, Paris, 1933, p. 96)
The two inscriptions from Zabad (supra) and from Haran (supra) show in fact that in the sixth century the Arabic language and writing were fixed and used in the Christian communities of Syria, together with Greek and Syriac. « It does not seem, however, that Arabic was used much for it was in fact unreadable. » (ibid., p. 98)
This is what was going to change with the sudden emergence of the Qur’an, the work of an incomparable genius.
Unlike Sura I, the prayer to « Our Master », which concluded Sura II, is his own composition. This sura in itself is but the account, in “ scriptural ” terms, of the events of 610-614, interpreted as a new Exodus. This return to the Old Testament has as its first corollary the holy war (djihâd) for the conquest of Jerusalem (II 208) and the restoration of the « House » (bayt), the « Place of Abraham » (maqâmu ’ibrâhima), in order to make a « pilgrimage » (hijju) there, and to restore the « Kingdom » (mulk), of « Elohim » ’al-llahum ; III 26).
Ever since the Romans destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A. D., leaving not one stone standing on another, according to the prophecy of Our Lord (Mk 13. 1-2), all that remained in place were « the foundations » (in Arabic : ’al-qawâ‘ida) of the immense esplanade built by Herod on the site of the Temple of Salomon, this « House » (bayit) that the Lord Himself consecrated by placing his Name there forever (1 K 9. 3).
Less than six centuries later, a « large-tented Himyarite » as the Abbé de Nantes identifies the author of the Qur’an, conceived the idea of restoring « the House of Abraham » on its « foundations » ’al-qawâ‘ida. To the Jews who prided themselves on the Law, St. Paul opposed the promises made to Abraham before the Law was promulgated (Ga 3. 17). In the same way, the author of the Qur’an maintains that before the covenant with the children of Israel, which degenerated into « schism » setting the « Jews » against the « Nazoreans », as he calls the Christians, there existed the faith of the sons of Abraham, particularly those in servitude, the Ishmaelites, the ancestors of the Arabs. (III 64-68). Therefore, let the « House » (bayit), the « Place of Abraham » (maqâm ’ibrâhim), once again shine forth, according to the promise audaciously placed by the author on the lips of God foreseeing the « apostasy » of the Jews and the Nazoreans !
« Then, Abraham will re-establish the foundations (’al-qawâ‘ida) of the Temple with Ishmael. » (II 127)
Then the world will finally know peace.
If this claim were a pure fabrication without any biblical foundation, it would have sunk into ridicule, and would certainly not have succeeded in imposing itself as a divine revelation on billions of human beings. It must be recognised, however, that there is some truth in it, since the sign of the Covenant was circumcision. Now, Ishmael was circumcised before Isaac (Gn 17. 23-26). Moreover, did not St. Paul himself write that the first covenant was attached to Sinai and that « it is Hagar, since Sinai is in Arabia » (Ga 4. 24-25) ?
The first covenant is Hagar, mother of Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabs... Such is the central, fundamental and deeply Anti-Christic assertion of the Qur’an. To the benefit of Ishmael and his race, it nullifies the exclusive election, the singular privilege of Isaac, by claiming that the separation and rivalry that arose between the Jewish and Christian religions represent a « schism posterior » to the first covenant of a God who does not change.
It was not the intention of the author, therefore, to found a third religion, but to abolish the other two by restoring what he regarded as the one true Abrahamic tradition.
A “ PILGRIMAGE ” THAT TURNS INTO HOLY WAR
To this end, like Abraham, he « left his tent » and « stationed the faithful for combat » (III 121).
If the subsequent Muslim legend is rejected in order to confine ourselves to the text of the Qur’an in relationship to the data attested to by positive history, a hypothesis imposes itself : as the leader of a Saracen expedition that joined the Judeo-Persian coalition of 614, the author, like a new Joshua, led the children of Ishmael to the conquest of the « Country » (II 11, 168), to the « gates of the God » a name that designates respectively Mount Scopus, a hill situated north of Jerusalem, from which one has a view of the Holy City as from an observatory, on the one hand, and a locality on Mount Juda, on the other They « swept down from Arabia » (II 198), and entered into Jerusalem (II 208). Like a new David, the author, at first victorious, thwarted the desire for universal domination of both the Jews and the Christians (III 151-152), not, however, without reviving the great theocratic politics of Isaiah and its universalism, but in order to subjugate the world to the children of Ishmael.
The first advance of this victorious conquest was stopped and transformed into a veritable « calvary » (qarhun ; III 140, 172), as a result of the traps set, the betrayals fomented by the perfidy of false brethren, the children of Israel. Furthermore, murmurs rose in the ranks of the children of Ishmael themselves.
Finally, the latter were « dispersed » (III 123), and « expelled » (III 195).
This is when the author, far from abandoning his great design, wrote Sura III to strengthen the courage of the « hesitants » by means of this « Writing », drawing from the very failure a promise of a « restoration », of a definitive « return », in the same way that Jesus always placed after the announcement of His Passion and death, that of His resurrection ; or else in the manner of St. Paul who drew all his strength from his very « weakness ».
This first historical stage, situated between the years 614 and 638 A. D., unfolds between the defeat and the victory of a party of Arabs for whom the author of the Qur’an indeed seems to have been the oracle and the leader. We will learn more about him in upcoming articles.
Nevertheless, we may draw a first conclusion from the abundance of borrowings that the author makes from the Bible. They lead us to consider him, not as the beneficiary of a hypothetical private revelation, but as a « separated brother » still living off the initial sap that rose up from the vigorous trunk of the mother religion. For there exists in the world only one Book that can be considered, without the abdication of one’s critical faculties, as divine revelation – it is the Bible, the witness of unprecedented events on which is rightly founded the Faith of countless Christians.
Georges de Nantes wrote, in the article – a plan quoted at the beginning of this article, a truth of which it seems to us that the author of the Qur’an himself was convinced.
« In a rudimentary language, in which the incredible weakness of inspired men, the primitive poverty of the witnesses manifests itself, there appears the unforgettable revelation of the Deeds and the Word of the God of Jews and Christians. Whoever still refuses it finds himself before a series of events, unique in history, bereft of sufficient natural explanation and of profound religious truths bereft of any known prior or exterior source. It is therefore necessary to recognise therein a venerable anteriority to the Jewish people who received the revelation ; it is also necessary that our civilisation, based on this unique heritage, must keep a sentiment of just pride and not abdicate its mission of leadership. »
In this respect, it is indisputably good, it is even urgent to destroy the pretence to religious and political supremacy based by Islam on its belief in an exclusively and specifically Arab revelation. « It is to such a belief that our world owes one of its most constant motives for inexpiable war », the Abbé de Nantes also observed. He then set forth the objective of the « authentic dialogue between Christians and Muslims », that Benedict XVI advocated the other day at Ankara :
« To make Islam enter into the community of the faithful of the Bible, of the sons of Abraham, would be a magnificent work [...]. Just when will all the little children of the world learn these magnificent accounts of Abraham, Moses and Elijah ! Then, this patrimony common to humanity will help the community of one same spiritual civilisation. »
Brother Bruno of Jesus-Mary.
He is risen ! n° 52, January 2007