To understand the Qurʾān
THE Holy Father went to Arabia, then to Morocco, deeming that he was following in the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi, on the occasion of the 8th centenary of the saint’s meeting with the Sultan of Egypt. Our Brother Bruno denounced the denial and the practical apostasy that the trip to the United Arab Emirates represents. There the Pope adapted his discourse to Muslim monotheism, in particular by signing the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Harmonious Coexistence, in which there is no mention of Jesus, of His redemptive Cross, of Mary. It is nonetheless written “in the name of God.” Which God? Is it the God of Abraham, Whom the Second Vatican Council would have us believe is common to Christians, Jews and Muslims (cf. Auto-da-fé), making Him the common denominator of acts aimed at “mutual understanding” and at “preserving and promoting together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom” (Decree Nostra Ætate, The Muslim religion, in Auto-da-fé.)
Since the foundation of our Community of monk-missionaries, our Father, Georges de Nantes and Brother Bruno have undertaken a “Christian reading” of the Qurʾān, i.e. a scientific reading. It consists in applying the historical and critical methods that have long been employed in the study of the Bible, in order to know the truth about Islam and its origins and, at long last, to make possible scholarly and fruitful controversy with Muslims.
The results of this work are a treasure of light that we must bring to mind today, at a time when the Holy Father is seeking to promote peace on an equal footing with Al-Azhar University “in the name of God” by forsaking Jesus, Mary and the Cross.
For, in actual fact, the invocation of the God of Abraham to overcome divisions for the sake of peace is not new. It was meditated, preached, and implemented in the 7th century a.d. with a view to reconciling Jews and Christians in the one Covenant of the One God, by a man whom Father de Nantes considered to be “a religious genius and a man of action of rare power” (The Qurʾān, Translation and Systematic Commentary. Volume I). This is the revelation made in this book, which remained ‘sealed’ for 1300 years, but it allows Brother Bruno to write today: “for the 8th centenary of the vain attempt of Saint Francis of Assisi to make the Sultan of Egypt a Christian, our Holy Father Pope Francis imitates the author of the Qurʾān rather than Saint Francis, in concert with the imam of Al-Azhar who plays the role of successor of the author of the Qurʾān in his ‘ecumenical’ plan.”
Poor Holy Father! How has this come about?
To answer this question, we must begin by briefly recalling the considerable progress that Brother Bruno’s work represents in the knowledge of the Qurʾān. In the forward to Volume I of the Qurʾān’s translation and systematic commentary an overwhelming fact is recalled: never before had the Qurʾān been subject to the rules of the historical and critical methods that have long been employed in Bible study.
MUSLIM “TRADITION” IS REFUTED.
In his forward, Brother Bruno outlines the whole genesis of this work that consists in breaking out of this vicious circle, which Father Henri Lammens, a Jesuit father of Beirut, brought to light at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact: the ‘Tradition’ (composed of both the ḥadīṯ, the founding events of Islam in the 7th century, and the Sunnah, legal maxims) as well as the traditional biography of Muḥammad, the Sīrah, are totally apocryphal. They are exclusively based on the verses of the Qurʾān that they paraphrase. Therefore they cannot be considered, even remotely, as an independent source from which elements for a better understanding of the Qurʾānic text can be drawn. Brother Bruno and Father de Nantes were thus the first to have completely rejected the use of this “Tradition.”
“THE QURʾĀN BY THE QURʾĀN”
Father de Nantes had been put on the path of a Jewish origin of the Qurʾānic text by the works of Father Théry, Dominican, who considered the Qurʾān to be the work of “a scholar come from elsewhere:” a Jewish rabbi, creator of “the religious terminology of the Arabic language.” Although Father de Nantes abandoned these works which, in the end, were unscientific, he nevertheless kept the initial inspired intuition that he entrusted Brother Bruno with developing. How? By applying the great exegetical principle of the French school, which he had learned from his Sulpician professors in the Issy-les-Moulineaux seminary, and thus, to explain the Qurʾān by the Qurʾān.
DISCOVERING THE LANGUAGE OF THE QURʾĀN.
Such a task is impossible! No one had ever ventured to undertake it since, from its very first sūrah, the Qurʾān seems to be an “aerolite” without the slightest literary antecedent. Furthermore, if one is to start from Qurʾānic text alone, it is also necessary ‘to delete’ all the diacritical signs that were added in the 9th century, according to the later interpretation that was given to the text, and which itself is totally dependent on the ‘Tradition.’ All that remains is a consonantal text that would have to be deciphered without any dictionary or grammar!
In his critical review of Volume I of Brother Bruno’s translation, Father Michel Lagarde, an Islamic scholar, ironically imagined him “as a passionate person, ardently fascinated by the discovery he thought he had made: the so-called true meaning of the Qurʾān.” our Brother Bruno replied: “No, Reverend Father, no! Let us rather say that religious obedience keeps me performing a humanly impossible task, which nonetheless is progressing, surmounting all the difficulties in which our predecessors foundered, under the guidance of a master to whom I owe everything, with the encouragement and daily help of our Communities...” (The Qurʾān, Volume III, Foreword).
Thus it is that Brother Bruno is the first to have scientifically established the Qurʾānic text of the first five sūrahs, by deriving the linguistic sources of the vocabulary and uncovering the true literary antecedents of the text, which confirms the original hypothesis: the Hebraic origin of this “religious language” of the Qurʾān. There, however, is more to come.
THE REDISCOVERY OF THE EVENTS CONTEMPORARY WITH THE WRITING OF THE QURʾĀN
When Brother Bruno returned from French North Africa, he studied at the Institut Catholique de Paris under the direction of Father Daniélou. There, he undertook historical research on pre-Islamic Arabia and on ‘The Arab Conquest.’ These studies shed light on historical facts that the Muslim legend had erased from memory. In fact, in the 4th century a.d., the Arabian Peninsula was the scene of a vast enterprise of Judaisation – supported by Persia – which thwarted the joint endeavour of Christianisation and colonisation of the tribes by the Roman Empire, particularly in the South, in Yemen. The 5th century was still a period of Jewish preponderance in the peninsula until the end of the 6th century, particularly in the oases of the Ḥiḏjāz.
From 602 on, the Persian invasion launched against the detested Byzantines raised immense hope among the Jews of Palestine and Arabia to the borders of Yemen, and among all the Jews of the diaspora: Were a Jewish kingdom to be re-established in Jerusalem, the Ḥiḏjāz would quite naturally be englobed in a Greater Palestine equalling the Empire of Solomon itself!
THE AUTHOR OF THE LANGUAGE.
Father de Nantes and Brother Bruno, in remaining faithful to the scientific method that they had adopted were also obliged challenge the attribution of the entire Qurʾānic corpus to Muḥammad, and consequently to examine the origin of the language itself. The Muslim theory according to which Qurʾānic Arabic is derived from the Meccan dialect spoken by Muḥammad ‘when he received the revelation of the Qurʾān’ encounters such difficulties that an Islamic scholar like Régis Blachère himself abandoned it. Is it then possible to adopt the opposite hypothesis: an ‘artificial and meditated’ creation? The erudite Islamic scholar, who had considered this hypothesis, refused to consent to it, since it would inexorably lead to rejecting the entire Muslim tradition.
For Brother Bruno and Father de Nantes, on the contrary, in the light of the history of pre-Islamic Arabia, this “hypothesis of an artificial and meditated creation” is self-evident, while at the same time it allows the extraordinary personality of the author who was its creator to transpire.
In the postface that Father de Nantes wrote for Brother Bruno’s Volume I, he said: “I was anxiously awaiting for you to unearth your statue, so that we might see at last, such as science digs him out of the sands, the author of the Book as he was in actual fact, revealed by his own work. In reality, this man was a religious genius and a man of action of rare power; his work is worthy of being compared with the greatest.”
What was this work, then, and who is this man of action? This is what we must deal with now in order to understand Brother Bruno’s judgement concerning the Pope’s action that is referred to at the beginning of this article.
“BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE GOD,
THE MERCIFUL ONE, FULL OF MERCY.”
The first sūrah of the Qurʾān, as well as all the subsequent ones, begins with this verse, in Arabic bismi llāhi ʾar-raḥmāni r-raḥīmi. It is a benediction, rather than a simple invocation, which is commonly translated by “In the name of.”
Thus introduced, the first part of this short seven-verse prayer is composed of a thanksgiving the object of which is “the God,” ʾAllāh, under the title of “Master of the centuries,” replete with the desire for his coming, as “King of Judgement Day,” as well as a profession of faithfulness in adoration and praise. The second part is an entreaty to the God beseeching him to indicate to his faithful the “the narrow path of survival,” a pledge of divine “sweetness,” poured out on those who have been “chosen” and who, among the “vessels of wrath,” are objects of the God’s solicitude.
A JEWISH PRAYER.
Brother Bruno points out that the ideas and feelings expressed by this prayer and even the vocabulary used are those of Judaism.
The same is true of the formula of benediction. It concerns “the God,” ʾallāh, the contraction of the definite article ʾal and of ʾilāh, the transcription of the Aramaic ʾèlāh, in Hebrew, ʾèlōha; it is the amplified form of ʾel. It is the God of Abraham (Gn 14:18-20,) who is invoked as “the Merciful One,” ʾar-raḥmāni, derived from the Aramaic raḥmanaʾ, a Divine name, which is frequent in Rabbinic literature. It, however, refers to the divine attribute par excellence, according to biblical revelation; and the God of Moses, “full of mercy:” ʾar-raḥīmi, as He revealed His name on the summit of Sinai: ʾel raḥūm, “God of tenderness” (Ex 34:6.)
It is indeed “the” God of the Bible, Whom the author invokes; he, however, uses a strictly monotheist formula. Through its insistent redundancy of the word “mercy,” the formula is a polemical remark against the Christian Trinitarian formula and the Sign of the Cross that accompanies it.
The formula of praise that follows this benediction, ʾal-ḥamdu llāhi, “Love to the God,” is governed by the same thought. It is addressed to the God as “king,” mālik (from the Hebraic: mèlèk,) and as “master” rabbi, from the Aramaic: rab. There, however, is no equivalent for this divine name: “master” in the Old Testament nor in rabbinic literature. On the other hand, it is found in the New Testament, on the lips of the Apostles addressing Jesus: “You call Me Master and Lord, and you say well, for so I am” (Jn 13:13). Consequently, the thought that underlies this prayer is clarified. In this instance, it divests Jesus of the affirmation of His divine magisterium and divine royalty in order to attribute them to “the God” of the prophet Jeremiah for example, who announced that in the days of the New Covenant, all would be instructed by God Himself (Jr 31:33-34.)
A SMALL REMNANT.
Brother Bruno also detected in the author, the intention to identify himself with the “small remnant,” the object of divine predilections since the return from the Babylonian exile, when he describes with a tinge of compunction, the community in which he places himself as “those [...] who are not objects of contempt.”
It is from the God and not from Jesus that the author and his community are thus expecting the indication of “the narrow way of survival,” according to the Gospel expression: “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Mt 7:14) Yet, for what horizon? A heavenly one? Rather, an earthly one, a Deuteronomic horizon “So that, you and your children may live on in the Land which Yahweh swore to your fathers He would give them.” (Dt 11:21)
A ORIGINAL WAY?
This prayer has nothing that is specifically Muslim and its language could even be described as “Talmudic” Arabic, according to Father Hruby’s definition of the Talmudic language: a “half Hebraic, half Aramaic jargon.” It testifies to this far-reaching enterprise of Judaisation of Arabia mentioned above. Yet, it seems that its author manifests a sovereign independence, both from rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, with which he is familiar and which he willingly plagiarises. His intention though is to differentiate himself from them, with a desire to establish a direct link to the eschatology of the psalms and prophecies of the Old Testament, as if Jesus Christ, sign of contradiction between Christians and Jews, does not exist.
More than a thousand years after the return from the Exile, more than six hundred years after Jesus Christ and with Jerusalem still in a state of destruction, would the author of this prayer and the group who surrounded him, be claiming to identify themselves with the small “remnant” prophesised by Isaiah? Who are they? What is their aim?
The following sūrahs are going to throw light on these questions.
“THE GOD OF DELIVERANCES”
The first verse of Sūrah II is only constituted of three small letters: “alm,” the meaning of which no one has ever been able to penetrate. Anyone familiar with rabbinical literature and its system of abbreviations, however, immediately recognises the abbreviation of an expression from Psalm 68, verse 21: “Our God is a God of deliverances,” ʾel lemōshāʿōt, literally, “a God for the salvations.”
a: the initial of the Name of God, “ʾallāh.”
l: the Hebraic preposition “for.”
m: the initial of mōshāʿōt, “salvations, deliverances,” in the plural to emphasise the richness of the unique salvific plan of God throughout history. The Qurʾān is intended to be precisely its ultimate manifestation. This will become increasingly evident to us.
A WAY “WITHOUT QUARREL.”
Sūrah II begins by announcing the content of this “book,” kitāb, according to biblical Hebrew ketûbîm, which designates the books of the third part of the Old Testament, after the Law and the Prophets. “This Writing, ḏalika l-kitāb, contains a Way, hudan, without quarrel, lā rayba fîhi, for the predestined” (II:2). hudan is directly borrowed from the language of the New Testament: “I am the Way (hodos in Greek), the Truth, and the Life,” Jesus said (Jn:14:5.)
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, in the first person plural: thus, the “predestined” are those who fulfil the obligation of prayer, and who spend what We provided to them,” but also “those who believe in what has been revealed to you before you, and it was revealed before you” (II:4.) If “this Writing” passes itself off as inspired by God, it is therefore not meant to bring a new revelation, contrary to the common interpretation, but only to convey an ancient, traditional revelation.
Yet now, the author seeks a “quarrel” with those who “have apostatised,” ʾallaḏīna kafarū (II:6), this ancient faith, who “ruin the Covenant,” “truncate prayer” and “do evil in the Land.” Who are they? What is this land? What follows will give us the answers, yet it is to settle this quarrel, which pits him, the servant of God, against the “apostates,” that the author engages in a elaboration in a rabbinical aggadic style, that is, in a very free manner, free of chronological constraints yet very dependent on the biblical accounts, that he remodels to correspond to contemporary events.
A WAY THAT IS PROMISED TO ADAM.
The author evokes the creation, then the original fall. The parallelism with the biblical account is evident, but ends in a negation of Original Sin. It is Satan who” makes” Adam and Eve “leave” Paradise. The whole mainspring of sacred History is broken, the Promise of a Redeemer towards Whom tends the whole dynamism of the Old Testament is weakened. Instead of this, the God promised to Adam “a Way” for his descendants; the way contained in “this Writing.”
THE COVENANT WITH THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL.
“The Covenant,” ʿahda that was contracted with the children of Israel, banī ʾisrāʾīl, is the first realisation of this promise and we understand that they are this small “remnant” referred to in Sūrah I. The author follows the books of Exodus and Numbers to remind them of their history, and therefore, of their constant infidelity to the covenant that “the God” asked them to honour (II:40,) notably by “celebrating the Calf” (II:51.) Now, God grants “Redemption” to this sin of idolatry at the same time as He gives “Scripture” to Moses. This is the affirmation of a mystery of redemption that is already effectively at work under the Mosaic Law, but not in virtue of the future Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, so that the children of Israel might conduct themselves “in accordance with the Way.” Instead, they “become obdurate” and our author notes: “And they have passed away,” which seems to insinuate that the entire race of Israel is henceforth the object of a definitive divine reprobation.
THE PERSITENCE OF THE DIVINE PLAN.
The divine plan, however, remains in “those who are faithful,” ʾal-laḏīna ʾamanū, that is to say, those who persevere in the traditional religion of the children of Israel, and “those who embrace Judaism,” ʾal-laḏīna hādū: the “proselytes” who are divided into two categories, according to their origin: they are either “Sabaean,” i.e. Arabs, from the Kingdom of Sheba, or “Nazorean” (II:62-63.) They in their turn benefit from this covenant and receive the Land as an inheritance
Naṣārā, “Nazorean”, transcribes the Greek nazôraios (Mt 2:23.) Applied to Jesus, Whose despised origin it characterised, the term was kept by the Jews to designate the disciples of Jesus as a sect, a particular observance within Judaism, unlike the name “Christian,” which implies the recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus, “the Christ,” by the pagans of Antioch. Thus, the term “Nazoreans” still refers to Jews, but to those who have converted to Christianity.
How can the fact that they “embrace Judaism” be explained? This is indeed the meaning of the verb, hādū, taken from Hebrew yâhad, “to embrace Judaism” (Est 8:17). It bears witness to the author’s constantly expressed intention of bringing both groups into the first covenant, which was contracted by the God with the children of Israel.
Brother Bruno shows that these two verses (II:62-63) seem to reflect the immense hope that galvanised the Jewish population of Palestine and the Ḥiḏjāz to the borders of Sheba, and all the Jews of the diaspora, who were supported by their friends, the Nestorian Christians, and their Saracen allies, when the Persian campaign brought the troops of Chosroes to the gates of Byzantium in 610. The subsequent “haggadic” accounts of this passage must be understood in this well-attested historical context.
A REDEEMING SACRIFICE.
In fact, for the help that the Jews had contributed to the Persians in their advance in Palestine, they received the right to administer Jerusalem after the fall of the city in 614. An anonymous leader assumed the name of Nehemiah, in memory of the man who was the governor of Jerusalem and who rebuilt the walls of the city upon the return from the Babylonian exile. He even seems to have tried to restore Jewish sacrificial worship.
The coincidence with the verses 67 to 73 of Sūrah II is surprising. Perhaps this pseudo-Nehemiah is the very author of the sūrah? For he sums up the entire liturgy of the Old Testament by the sacrifice of a cow, which Moses had prescribed long ago: “In those days, Moses said to his people: ‘I beg of you, the God tells you to sacrifice a cow.’” baqaratan (II:67.) For this cow, which is sacrificed in reparation for the idolatrous cult of the calf, must be “pierced,” ṣafrāʾu, from Aramaic sebar “pierced,” “cut,” in sense of “to let blood,” and “hung” fāqiʿun, from Hebrew yâqaʿ “to dislocate the limbs of a convict by attaching him to a stake.” “His office is to be punished for those who watch” (II:69;) thus as an “expiatory sacrifice.” 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.) The allusion to the Christian mystery of the Redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ crucified, “hung” (Ga 3: 13) on the Cross is obvious.
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, “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 Him Who Saint John had seen as “a Lamb that seemed to have been slain” (Ap 5:6 and 12.)
This is only the beginning. This cow must be “rendered perfect” mussallamat (II:71,) in other words: Muslim.
This is the first mention in the Qurʾān of this word, called to such a destiny. “It is out of place here,” Brother Bruno points out, “but what does it mean?” It is derived from Aramaic šelim: “whole, upright.” It is a key word of the Targum (the ancient translations of the Bible, in Aramaic) for designating the required quality of the victim in all types of sacrifices: the red cow would be šelīmtāʾ (Tg Nb 19:2,) or the Passover lamb, šelīm (Tg Ex 12:5.) This word also expresses the requirements of the Covenant with Abraham: “Render a cult in My presence and be perfect, šelīm” (Tg Gn 17:1.) Thus, the 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, neither does he choose the most beautiful beast from his flock for the sacrifice. This nuance is reinforced here by the passive tense: “rendered perfect.”
The author of the Qurʾān takes the opposite tack from the Epistle to the Hebrews according to which the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law were powerless to “render perfect (in Greek, téléin corresponding to the Aramaic selīm,) the worshipper in his conscience” since they were only “regulations concerning the flesh” (He 9:9-10.) He, on the contrary, claims to bring those who have deviated back to them.
THE SCHISM OF THE NAZOREANS.
In fact, a faction has become “obdurate:” the Jews converted to Christianity, whom the author accuses of “trampling the covenant underfoot with disloyalty,” and who go so far as to say: “the God has glorified a child” waladan (II:116.) The author wants to bring Christians back to the covenant in the name of Moses to whom “We have given the Scripture in the past” according the word of the God himself, and of... “Jesus, son of Mary,” ʿīsā ʾibn maryam, Who received “intelligence” (II:87.)
It is a complete reversal! The author cleverly separates these Judeo-Christians from the person of Jesus, Whom he deliberately reduces to the rank of a simple commentator of the Mosaic Law. He is the antithesis of the Christian Jesus, as attested by his name, ʿīsā, which is absolutely original, being neither the transcription of the Greek Jèsous nor of the Hebrew yéšûʿa. It is an enigma that brother Bruno resolved in highlighting that the switching of the consonants “aïn” (ʿ) and “shin” (š) deforms the name of “Jesus” with the precise intention of depriving it of its etymological Hebraic meaning “Yahweh saves.” The author has in mind the theme, which he concealed under the acronym “ALM,” referred to above; God alone is “for the salvations,” Jesus is not God, the Son of God, the “saving God.” He is but a man, “son of Mary.”
The author stigmatises the denial of Christians, by boldly turning the words of the Gospel against them: “men of little faith!” (II:88.) He, however, remarks that “the Writing” given to Moses and the “intelligence” given to Jesus only led both the Jews, disciples of Moses, and the Nazoreans, disciples of Jesus, to haughtiness. They reciprocally call themselves liars and kill each other. Here again, the author is only expressing the age-old fight between Jews and Christians, but which, in fact, was exacerbated at the beginning of the 7th century, by the Persian invasion of which the Jews had become the overzealous auxiliaries.
What is the author preaching by this “Way without quarrel” (II:2)? A return to Judaism? No! It is not the Jew, nor the Nazorean, but “he who makes himself perfect, ʾaslama, [...], it is he who will have his reward with his Master” (verse 112). It is the conclusion of this whole first part: the author dismisses equally the idolatry of those who worshipped a calf and the idolatry of those who said, “God has glorified a child,” (verse 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)
Who, then is on the good way?
THE PERFECT RELIGION OF ABRAHAM AND ISHMAEL.
The apostasy of Jews and Nazoreans did not abolish the covenant: “My covenant is not at an end because of those who are in darkness” (II:124.) For “We have made a Covenant with Abraham and Ishmael” (II:125.)
THE COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM AND ISHMAEL.
With Ishmael? The author follows the Book of Genesis and it is true that, according to the biblical account, Abraham believes that the promise of descendants refers to Ishmael, who was born to him of Hagar, the Egyptian bondwoman: “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, to be his God and the God of his descendants after him.” “His descendants” are Jacob, surnamed “Israel,” and his twelve sons, the fathers of the twelve tribes: The “children of Israel” showed themselves to be unfaithful, as the author unceasingly recalls, but also the Christians, the children of God, “like Isaac” (Ga 4:28)! The author divests them of the adoptive filiation, in favour of the descendants of Ishmael, the tribes of northern Arabia, the race of Abraham according to the flesh (Gn 21:12-18.)
It is a radical subversion, an unprecedented revolution! Brother Bruno explains this unexpected stroke of genius, whereby the author steals from Saint Paul the whole thrust of his theological argumentation, with the goal of “asserting” the permanence of the covenant of God with Abraham and Ishmael. In fact, to the Jews who prided themselves on the Law, Saint Paul opposed the promises made to Abraham 430 years before the Law was promulgated (Ga 3:17.). In the same way, the author of Sūrah II maintains that before the “covenant with the children of Israel,” which degenerated into “schism” setting the “Jews” against the “Nazoreans,” there existed the covenant with Ishmael. Now, this incredible claim is not unfounded, since the sign of the Covenant was circumcision. Now, Ishmael was circumcised before Isaac (Gn 17:23-26.)
Does this return to circumcision mean that the author has a purely legalistic and racist conception of the covenant? No, and this is perhaps what makes the superior merit of his genius shines forth, Brother Bruno points out: at the very moment when the author seems to be bringing everything back to the Old Testament in the most carnal way, he introduces a requirement for “perfection,” which seems to be borrowed from the Gospel. How can that be?
In verse 131, the author relates the episode of the covenant between God and Abraham: “When his Master told him: ‘be perfect’ ʾaslim, he said ‘I am perfect,’ ʾaslamtu, for the Master of centuries.” This answer is the Qurʾān’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 Qurʾān, Abraham calls himself “perfect:” this haggadic feature is profoundly anti-Christian, tending to equate him with Jesus, Who alone dared to say that He was without sin (Jn 8:46.) Thus the author makes this perfection not the “new” commandment (Jn 13:34,) but the old one of Abraham: “Abraham made it a commandment for his sons (Ishmael and Isaac, so) as well as Jacob: ‘My sons, I beseech you! The God has girded you with justice, therefore be perfect, muslimūn, unto death’” (II:132.) This is a reprise of the words of Jesus in the Gospel: “You must therefore be perfect, muslimūn just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5, 48.)
We see that, for the author of the Qurʾān, Jesus is a reference just like Moses. Also, “Islam,” ʾal-ʾislām, 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.
THE RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE TEMPLE WITH ISHMAEL.
In solemnly renewing the covenant in favour of Abraham and Ishmael, God summons all men “to the house,” ʾal-bayta, transposed from the Hebrew bayit, so that they may celebrate ‘the place of Abraham, maqām ʾibrāʾhīm, with prayers.” (II:125).
What is this “Place”? maqām is the transposition of the Hebew maqôm, which designates the holy “Place” of Sichem, where Yahweh appeared to Abraham (Gn 12:6-7.) It also refers to Bethel where Yahweh manifested Himself in a dream to Jacob. It is the Temple of Jerusalem, the “Place” that God Himself chose in order “to put His name there, and to dwell in it” (Dt 12:5) A continuous tradition places the construction of the Temple “on Mount Moriah” (2 Ch:3,1,) the very place of the sacrifice of Isaac.
In the 7th century, however, the expression maqām ibrāʾhīm only designates a piece of wasteland since the destruction of the Temple by Titus in 70 a.d. This terrible chastisement caused by Israel’s infidelity was announced by Jesus. Yet, the Temple would be rebuild, according to the promise audaciously placed by the author on the lips of the God foreseeing the apostasy of the Jews and the Nazoreans: “Then, Abraham will re-establish the foundations of the Temple ʾal-qawāʿida min ʾal-bayti, with Ishmael” (II:127.)
How, in practice, can this authentic religion of Abraham be restored? The first resolution that arises in the heart of Abraham’s true sons is to “turn” resolutely towards Jerusalem, towards its “devastated Temple,” ʾal-masjidi l-ḥarām, under the leadership of a new Moses, who enjoins them “to gather into bands,” jāhada, in order to lead them “in the path of the God,” fi sabīli llāhi.
The objective is to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the “gates of the God” (II:158,) indicated by two ‘outposts,’ ʾas-safā, the name of a small hill situated to the north of Jerusalem, ha-sôphîm, in Hebrew, and ʾal-marwat, from the name of a locality of Mount Juda.
The rule that governs this undertaking is first and foremost a religious one: “Your God, the only God! No God except for Him, the Merciful One, full of mercy,” ʾilāhukum, ʾilāhun waḥidun ! lā ʾilāha ʾillā huwa r-raḥmānu r-raḥīmu (II:163.) It is directed against the idolaters: “those who celebrate horrors in the place of the God” (II:165,) i.e. “those who give God a Son” (II:116;) the Christians.
It is indeed a conquest and this conquest is bellicose, according to the unequivocal verses 190 to 195, which are drawn from the conquest of the Promised Land by the chosen People under the leadership of Joshua. For example, this order not to attack first: “Combat on the path of the God, those who combat you. No, the God does not love those who attack.” (190) Also, this order to cast anathema on one’s enemies: “And kill them everywhere you corner them, and drive them out from where they drove you. For it is worse to let yourself be charmed than to kill.” (191) This was precisely the raison d’être for the extermination of every living being, men and animals, which was formerly decreed by God Himself (Dt 7:1-2.)
It is Holy War, the “jiḥad,” that the author proclaims: “As for those who have remained faithful, those who have assembled and gathered into bands, jāhadu, on the path of the God, they will arouse the mercy of the God, for the God mercifully absolves.” (II:218.)
The injunction of verse 195 is but a series of biblical reminiscences, with a powerful eschatological echo, appealing for a new return from exile: “Go forth!” (Is 48:20) “Escape out of Babylon, flee from the land of the Chaldeans” (Jr 50:8; Ap 18:4) so as to enter Jerusalem. This is indicated by the reference to the “procession,” ʾat-tahlukat, which evokes the dedication of the Ramparts by Nehemiah (12:31,) and announces the new dedication when the children of Ishmael gain possession of the Holy City.
A “LARGE-TENTED HIMYARITE.”
The indications provided in these first two sūrahs allowed Father de Nantes to depict this mysterious author. He conceived of him as a “large-tented Himyarite,” a native of Southern Arabia, educated at the best Jewish and Christian schools. He was thus “heir to an immemorial religious tradition, Judaic in its essence and certainly Christian in its immediately previous form.” He felt ‘illuminated,’ pressed to seek a new Covenant that would unite all believers, from whatever race or sect they belonged to. This was his profound and coherent thought that he would seek to implement.
THE FAILURE OF THE RETURN TO JERUSALEM
The author had exhorted the “people of Scripture,” ʾahla l-kitāb, the Jews and Nazoreans, to “ascend,” according to the traditional biblical expression, as “perfect men,” muslimūn. This was by virtue of a common vocation in Abraham that existed well before the “descent” of the Torah and the Gospel (III:64.) The author thus reversed the whole of Saint Paul’s teaching according to which the Gospel, having fulfilled the promise made prior to the Torah, rendered the later obsolete.
The destination of this “ascent” is the House of “Bakka” (III:96,) i.e., the Temple of Jerusalem, which is so named in reference to the Valley of Bākkāʾ, the last stage of the pilgrims going to Jerusalem.
Yet, it was a failure, which is related in Sūrah III. We find it reflected in perfectly dated historical events when, from 617 on, the Persians turned against their Jewish and Arab allies. The Jews were deported, yet the Saracens seem to have been sufficiently spared to retain their hope of victory after this “providential” ordeal. Father de Nantes then hypothesised that, shaken by the ordeal, the author, remembering the catechetics of the monks, his first masters, dared to identify himself with Jesus, the prophet humiliated by God Himself, scorned, crucified, died and risen.
THE “SIGN” OF JESUS, “SON OF MARY.”
The author then relates the entire history of Jesus (III:33-59,) but he reduces it to a prefigurative myth. In fact, he presents Mary as the sister of Moses; Jesus is therefore his “nephew.” By this telescoping effect that abolishes an interval of forty generations, the author deliberately breaks the momentum of Sacred History, which is entirely oriented towards the coming of the King-Messiah, the Son of David of royal lineage. If the author professes belief in the virginal conception of Jesus (III:47,) He nonetheless remains a mortal who is “‘formed’ from ‘broods’;” (III:59;) the people of Israel.
“The angels” announce to Mary that Jesus will be “among the victims,” mina l-muqarrabīna, that he will “call to the Way” and, in the end, “will be placed among those who prosper.” These are evanescent and mysterious announcements, but what do they announce?
The entire evocation of Jesus’ public life tends to deny His divine power as manifested in miracles.
In the account of the Passion of Jesus, the author deliberately extends Judas’ betrayal to all those who follow Jesus, the Nazoreans, in order to draw a lesson: the Nazoreans have always betrayed ʾislām.
The author thus places the figure of Jesus in the centre of Sūrah III. He assumes the role of “victim,” but not as mediator: he is only “among” the victims and having, in the end, been placed “among those who prosper,” the way that he indicates to the author himself and to those who follow him, victims in their turn of a “calvary,” is one of success, of a victorious revenge, of a definitive return.
In Arabic: qarḥun. The author conceives of this “ordeal” of the defeat as a calvary. We see therefore that far from abandoning the project that he believed directly inspired by the “God of deliverances,” our author brilliantly draws from the sources of the New Testament, from the Gospel deriving from the calvary experienced by Jesus, son of Mary, the unfailing hope in a forthcoming “deliverance” (!) for him and his faithful. For this is how, the author adds, that “the God” discerns “those who are faithful to him” and his “witnesses,” šuhadāʾakum. These, like “martyrs” are “crushed” by this purifying ordeal, while the “apostates” are annihilated. The distinction is very similar to the one made in the Gospel: the Father “prunes” the branches that bear fruit to make them bear even more, and “cuts out” those that bear no fruit (Jn 15:2.) The resolve to make the situations correspond is surprising.
A paramount illustration of this can be found in the qualifying adjective muḥammadun, “beloved” that the author applies to himself (III:144.) In fact, he explains to his faithful, who are tempted to abandon, that death is the fate of everyone even of “a beloved one” who is only an “oracle” wa ma muḥammadun illā rasūlun. “The oracle who had preceded him was already weak,” he adds, referring to Jesus, son of Mary. Then, he poses to his faithful the same question that Jesus had asked to His Apostles after the discourse on the Bread of Life (Jn 6:67) : “even if he were to die, or if he were killed, would you retrace your steps?” (III:144) This passage shows how much the author likens himself to Jesus, even to the point of announcing his death. We understand now: it is because Jesus is only his precursor. In fact, he knows that he is “the object of the predilections,” muḥammadun, as was “Jesus, son of Mary,” in his own time. This is the meaning of this mysterious word that is not a proper noun, but the transcription from the Hebrew ʾîš ḥamudôt, “the man of the predilections,” which described the prophet Daniel (Dn 9:23.)
In this verse, the author thus joins the glorious assurance of being the object of divine favours, muḥammadun, to a justification of his weakness, his vulnerability, revealed by the failure of the first “ascent” to Jerusalem. What cleverness!
“IT IS THE GOD WHO IS KING”
It is at Petra, in Nabataea, according to the indications provided in Sūrahs IV and V, that the author assembles his faithful. Like a new Moses at Kadesh, making this “rabble” a people united in the faith of Abraham, in the cult of the Law and ready for the conquest of the Promised Land. He strives to restore and increase this new people “destined for a great deliverance,” (IV:19) by enacting theological rather than legal regulations: orphans, widows and families, inheritances... All of this is done with insistence on the fragile and contingent nature of human life, opposed to the absolute existence of the God “who is,” ʾallāha kāna (IV:13). He also endows them with a ‘tradition’ through a “teaching,” sunana, which is not new. It is rather the fruit of a “call”, the very voice of God (Dt 4:12) “Most High,” ʿalīyan, “Magnificent,” kabīran, which must be understood – in order not “to roast in the fire” and to see a “door of grace”– Jerusalem!
In order to understand the substance of these last two sūrahs, which finish unveiling to us the intimate thought of the author, we must follow Father de Nantes who underscored their two main features in the postface that he devoted in 1997 to Volume III of Brother Bruno’s translation.
THE PAN-ARABIC AMBITION
When the author is about to embark his faithful on the road to Jerusalem, he pronounces a most germane “oracle.” As is his constant practice since the first verses of Sūrah II, he draws it from ancient accounts as prophecies of contemporary events. “Good news” bašīrun, and “warning” naḏīrun! It is the account of Abel’s murder by Cain, which is repeated throughout the history of humanity, every time that an innocent is put to death. According to the biblical account, God granted Seth to Eve to replace Abel (Gn 4:25.) Here, however, “the God” “creates”... “an Arab!” ġurāban (V:31,) according to biblical Hebrew ʿarabî. He is destined to model on Abel in order to teach Cain to resemble him. He is the author in person! Like Yahweh in days of old Who inquired after Abel’s blood, he must “investigate” in the Holy Land where Jews and Christians are killing each other, in order to call “those who are faithful” to “gather into bands,” jāhidū, to “judge” them, to lead them, like a new Samuel, each according to his own law, Torah, ʿat-tawrātu, or Gospel, ʿal-ʾinjīl, but in accordance with the “addition” and the “custom” that was inspired to each from on high (V:45-50.)
“THE GOD IS.”
Establishing a link between the works of the ancient Semite scholars and the discoveries of Brother Bruno, Father de Nantes also saw in the redundancy of the formula “the God is” kāna llāhu or ʾallāha kāna, repeated throughout Sūrah IV, the author’s resolve to revive the notion of the unique divinity common to the Semites: ʿIl, particularly present in southern Arabia. He would do this, however, via the God of Moses, Yahweh, “He Is,” in Arabic kāna. (surah I)
There is still more to come.
THE IMMENSE PRIDE OF A DISSIDENT
Being a knowledgeable theologian, Father de Nantes perceived more deeply that the intention of the author was to take the opposite tack of Jesus’ so impressive affirmation in the fourth Gospel, marked out, as is Sūrah IV, with the repeated and unequivocal (!) affirmation of His divinity: “I am” egô eimi. It is the manifestation of what Brother Bruno’s exegesis reveals about the author: his systematic resolve to contradict Christ, to blaspheme Him and finally, to substitute himself for Him.
TO CONTRADICT CHRIST.
Instances of this antichrist reaction abound: the author restores the lex talionis with an addition that abolishes the Gospel beatitude of the meek: “life for life, eye for eye, wrath for wrath” (V:45.) By prescribing to the faithful to wash their hands “to the elbow” before prayer (V:6,) the author does not only return to Jewish ritualism; he contradicts Jesus’ teaching on the positive purity of the heart, acquired by the grace that flows from His pierced Heart on the Cross. The author is so well aware of this that he attacks the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the wellspring of this grace in the Precious Blood of the Lamb of God, by restoring animal sacrifices (V:3,) by forbidding this divine drink to his faithful through a ban on “wine and strong drink” (V:90) and by casting suspicion on the Eucharistic meal (V:43.)
TO BLASPHEM CHRIST.
The author denies Jesus’ divine Sonship “Christ Jesus, son of Mary is only an oracle.” (IV:171) and cleverly deforms the authentic words of Jesus Who invokes His Father and our Father, His God and our God under the name of “Elohim our Master” (V:114,) “the God, my Master and your Master” (V:72, 117.) The author makes Jesus deny the whole mystery of the mutual inhabitation of the Father and the Son, which is revealed by the fourth Gospel: by falsifying his words. “You know what is in me and I do not know what is in You” (V:116.)
Father de Nantes remarks that this spirit of blasphemy attacks Mary, venerated by Christians “amongst women,” (IV:129) just as much as Her Son, and to the same extent, as “two [purported] gods” (V:116.) Who ever professed such a Mariolatry? No one! The author only pushes the point in order to give himself good reasons to reject it, and not for Jesus’ benefit, but for his own!
TO SUPERSEDE CHRIST.
The author does not conceal his intention of uncrowning Christ, apparently to the benefit of God, but in reality for his own benefit. Father de Nantes thus points out that the author is so steeped in the Gospel according to Saint John that he knows full well where this royal power of Jesus, this “exaltation” comes from: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to Myself.” (Jn 12:32.) The Cross is His throne where Jesus appears in the eyes of all as the Saviour of the world. To bring down Jesus Who is “raised up,” ʿal-jibt, (IV:51,) the author does not hesitate to deny the historical fact: “They did not kill or crucify him, and that is why he came back to them.” (IV:157.) Because all eyes are on “Him Whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37,) the author insists: “They did not kill him by piercing him” (IV:157.) By this single negation, he dries up the source of the sacraments. Sūrahs IV and V abolish them one after another: marriage, baptism, the Eucharist, perhaps even the priesthood: “do not take them for leaders!” (III:51)
By this detail, Father de Nantes observes, “we see how much the immemorial jealousy that the author is claiming to quell between the Jews and the Nazoreans is now a fire that is burning him himself.”
In fact, the author ends up stating it clearly: “Whoever takes for leaders the God and his oracle and those who are faithful, that is the sword of the God” (V:56.) The two edged sword of the exterminating Word, which comes out of the mouth of the “Son of man” in the vision of Saint John on Patmos (Ap 1:16) becomes the attribute of the author, for he is “the oracle” of the God. Thus he appears in the place of Christ Jesus in His capacity of judge (V:42, 48-49,) after already having presented himself as “the man of the predilections” in Sūrah III.
Brother Bruno’s translation and systematic commentary on only the first five sūrahs of the Qurʾān are sufficient enough to see how much the constant, meditated intention of the author of the Qurʾān runs contrary to God’s plan that can be summed up in Saint Pius X’s motto: Omnia instaurare in Christo. Brother Bruno was guided and encouraged in this work by Father de Nantes who drew the conclusions from it that are covered in this article.
The immense merit of our Brother Bruno’s unremitting work is to have shown how much the Qurʾān does not constitute a derision or a bad plagiary of the Bible, but rather another “holy Book” alongside the Torah and the Gospel, posing as the authentic revelation, by “the God,” of the same prophetic movement.
Islam has undeniable foundational events that have not been sufficiently discussed in this article, and its founder, who considered himself the ‘muḥammadun’ “of the God,” took care to relate them by a significant link to the events and oracles of the religions that preceded it, only toning down or effacing to a large extent their prophetic nature, in order to interpret them in a mythical manner, as symbolic illustrations and prophetical announcements of the Muslim religion, ʿal-ʾislam, or as we would say in English: “the perfection.”
“What you have discovered is prodigious,” Father de Nantes wrote to Brother Bruno, “and it leads me, in these times of terrorism, racism, and hatred, to praise, above all your irenicism, and even your benevolence towards these millions of Muslims to whom you dream of giving the initial matrix of their religion, with a view to scholarly and fruitful controversy.”
For, God did not promise a “Way” to Adam and Eve, but a Redeemer, born of the lineage of the Woman, Who is Her Son, our Saviour, “Jesus, son of Mary.” Today, God wishes to establish in the world a “perfect religion:” devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is by embarking on this “Way without quarrel” that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will obtain from God peace for the world and will reconcile Christians, Jews and Muslims in the One Catholic Church.
Brother Michel-Marie of the Cabeço.