Thursday, October 22

The Influence of 7th Century Christianity on Early Islam

*This piece is an exercise in scholarly speculation, and there is nothing written here intended to disrespect Islam, the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) or the Qur’ān, nor offend those who practice Islam*

According to Islamic tradition, the prophet Muḥammad was visited by the archangel Gabriel (Jibrīl) in 610 CE, and over the following decades, Muḥammad received numerous revelations from God. These revelations were posthumously collected and written down in the Qur’ān (meaning “the Recitation”). From a historical perspective, one can begin to examine the connections or influences between Christianity and early Islam. 

By utilizing a variety of textual and historical evidences, one can examine the historical development of Christianity in Arabia at the time of Muḥammad, what possible influences Christianity had upon Muḥammad and his followers, and what influence Christianity may have had upon the Qur’ānic text. Following this, the earliest interactions between Christianity and Islam are used to elucidate the religious, political, social and historical realities in which early Islam developed, all of which will add to the mosaic-like picture scholars are beginning to construct of the early Islamic movement.

Christianity in 7th century Arabia
In order to begin to understand these possible influences on Islam, it is necessary to look at the historical and theological context in which Islam arose. There were a number of Christian heresies that were active in 7th century Arabia. In fact, Daneus, in his commentary on Augustine of Hippo’s De haresibus, wrote that Arabia abounded in heresies - “Ferax haereseon Arabia” - as did Egypt.1 The influence of these various forms of Christianity can be seen within the text of the Qur’ān itself. For example, the Qur’ān views Jesus as "the Messiah," the "Son of Mary," the "Word of God," and “prophet”. There are also passages that imply the doctrine of the virgin birth. Further, the controversial Qur’ānic passages on the Trinity and on the crucifixion - as with anything else - need to be taken contextually. For example, Sūra 5:73 says, "They are certainly faithless who say, 'Allah is the third of three,' while there is not God except the One God." Traditionally, this has been and is seen as a rejection of Trinitarianism. 

However, Tritheism (the belief in three separate gods) was known to be a heresy in 7th century Arabia. The phrase used in 5:73 - "third of three" was used by Syrian Christians, and given the context, scholars believe that the Qur’ān is addressing these Arabs. Further, Monophysite (from which Tritheism is derived) and Nestorian doctrines were present in Arabia at that time. When we read in the Qur'ān that "Allah has not acquired a son," we may understand it as, "God does not have a biological child, and he has not adopted a son." This is a rejection of Adoptionism - or even Nestorianism (“to take a son to oneself”), not orthodoxy.2 These brief examples demonstrate that there are a number of historical considerations that need to be made before one can truly begin to delve into the textual considerations. The history of Jews and Christians in 7th century Arabia can help elucidate some of the religious, political and social realities in which Islam arose. 
The Jewish presence in Arabia - or more specifically, in Mecca - goes back to antiquity. According to a tradition recorded by Diodorus of Sicily (1st century BCE), the sanctuary found in Mecca was built by the Israelites during the reign of king David. These Israelites were of the tribe of Simeon, the Bani-Zomenes (Ishmaelites). Several centuries later, the Jews who escaped the Babylonian exile also took refuge in parts of Arabia (including Mecca).3 These Jews had dealings with the Jews in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Christianity then entered into Arabia by the second century, as is evidenced by the contacts between Alexandrian and Arabian Christians by bishops, teachers, and other visitors. At this time, Arabia became a sort of religious melting pot in which three Christian branches came into the area - one from the Roman Empire, one from Ethiopia and another from Persia. The Gnostic sect of the Elkesaites was also present in this diversified religious context.4

Later on, a Christian missionary named Fimion, widely known for working miracles and his ascetic way of life, traveled to Najrān in Arabia. Fimion called the people to Christianity, and the Ghassan, Taghlib, Tai’ tribes as well as other tribes on the borders of the Roman empire and some Himyarite kings accepted Christianity.5 Many miles away in Yemen, Judaism was introduced by a man named As‘ad Abi Karb. He had gone to Yathrib (later Medina) to fight and became a Jew while there. Upon returning to Yemen, he brought two rabbis with him. After his death, in AD 523, his son, Yusuf Dhu Nawas, attacked the Christian community in Najrān and commanded the Christians to embrace Judaism. Upon their refusal, a pit of fire was dug, and all of the Christians (about 20-40 thousand) were burned.6 This incident is related in the Qur’ān (85:4-5). Despite such backlash from pagan tribesman, Mandaeism and other heretical sects of Judaism absorbed various elements of Christian heresy, which intermixed in the Arabian lands.7

A turn toward the Byzantine Empire is needed at this point. The Byzantine Empire, as is well-attested, was thoroughly Christianized. The desire for a united church as well as the Byzantine’s interest in Greek philosophy resulted in a number of heresies. Two of these heresies were condemned in the 5th century, but were still influential in the time of Muḥammad. The Council of Ephesus (AD 431) had condemned Nestorianism (a form of Dyophysitism), which planted itself within the Syrian Christian world - a world which largely influenced early Islam. The second heresy is the aforementioned Monophysitism, which was the belief that after the incarnation, Christ only had one nature. This heresy was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), but lived on in a debate between Syrian Christians and the Coptic Christians in Alexandria - which spread to Abyssinia and then into Arabia, specifically, into Mecca.8

By the time these heresies spread to Arabia, they began to spawn a number of other heresies. Monophysitism, for example, had spawned Tritheism. As previously noted, it seems that the Qur’ānic command to Christians to stop saying “ third of three” in reference to God was in response to this heresy. Around AD 375, the Christian heresiologist Epihanius referred to the another heresy, the Antideco-Marianites, who worshiped Mary as a goddess. The Qur’ānic passages imply that when early Islam rejected Mary as a member of the Trinity (5:73-75, 116), it was actually a rejection of this heresy, also known as Collyridianism. Women in Thrace and Scythia also worshiped Mary as a goddess, and offered her cakes. The Collyridian heresy soon made its way into Arabia, and although it was seemingly less prominent by the time of Muḥammad, the heresy continued until the Middle Ages, and thus, it was likely known to Muḥammad and his followers.9

Epihanius and other church fathers also mention a number of different Judeo-Christian heresies active in Arabia, including the Elkesaites and the Ebionites (“the poor ones”). Manicheanism, a form of Gnosticism, was also prominent, and in fact, their founder Mani had once been an Elkesaite. He had taught that Jesus was a prophet, but denied the crucifixion as later Muslims came to. The Syriac Christians also had an influence on Arabian Christianity. There were four groups - the Chalcedonians (Melkites) who were either monothelites or dyothelites and the non-Chalcedonians who were either Nestorians or Jacobites.10 Now, these different forms of heretical (as well as orthodox) Christianity had a large influence on the religious, political, social and economic climate of Mecca where Muḥammad had grown up. In fact, within Mecca itself, the famous Ka’ba is reported to have contained pictures of both Jesus and Mary as well as many idols, demonstrating a Christian presence of some form.11

On the basis of this historical context scholars in the 19th century began looking into the development of early Islam. In 1880, Edouard Sayous, one of the Faculty of Protestant Theology in Montauban, France, formulated a thesis about the development of Islam. He held that Islam was derived from three forms of Essenism, including Elkesaism, Hanifism and Nazareism.12 However, scholars have since taken issue with some aspects of his arguments so that refinements have been made to his theories. Such ideas of 7th century Christian influence on Islam are not new, however. In the 7th and 8th century, the Christian writer John of Damascus, who was fluent in Arabic, wrote a number of Christian polemics against Islam. He claimed that the “Ishmaelites” were seduced by “a false prophet Mamed…who, having casually been exposed to the Old and the New Testament, and supposedly encountered an Arian monk, formed a heresy of his own.”13 

There was also an early story that had circulated among the Syriac writers which relates that Muḥammad visited Palestine. While there, he admired the monotheism of the Jews as well as the fertility of the land, which “had been given to them [Jews] as a result of their belief in one God.”14 Upon his return to Mecca, it is written Muḥammad declared to his tribesman, “If you listen to me, abandon these vain gods and confess the one God, then to you too will God give a land flowing with milk and honey.”15 Stories such as Muḥammad’s encounter with an Arian monk, the notion that Muḥammad traveled to Palestine and brought back Judaism, and the different heretical movements of the time begin to create a clearer picture of the context in which Islam began. At this point, then, it is possible to examine the various textual considerations of the material found with the Qur’ān - its sources, parallels, and connections with Christianity. 

Textual Considerations of Qur’ānic Material
Traditionally, the text of the Qur’ān  was revealed to the prophet Muḥammad, and the revelations were gathered by his early followers and divinely guided into what became the Qur’ān. If one is to consider possible influence of Christianity on the development of Islam, however, and recognize the human element in a religious tradition, then one must examine the Qur’ānic text as a literary text - its sources, its influences, and different ways of understanding its composition. 

It is worth noting that there are a number of literary forms in the Qur’ān. There are oracles, apocalyptic visions, psalms, hymns, prayers, historic and legendary stories, legislative texts (cult and civil laws), and archive material (proclamations of war and treaties). Within these various literary forms, one can discern certain parallels, influences and connections between the Biblical tradition and the Qur’ānic tradition. 

Many parallels are immediately evident - names, narratives, themes, apocalypticism, and so forth. More specifically, in some of the early sūras, scholars have noted influences from the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas (the clay bird pericope), the Infancy Gospel of James (early life of Mary), the Pseudo-Gospel of Matthew (the palm tree pericope), the legend of the Seven Sleepers in Christian legend (Sūra 18), and textual influences seen in the figures, accounts, phrases and events found in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, as well as other things that will be explored further. 

Biblical figures are one major example of this, as these figures also present within the Qur’ānic text. Notably, the Qur’ān  mentions Jesus in one way or another approximately 93 times as "Jesus," "The Messiah," the "Word of God," “Son of Mary,” and so forth.16 The Qur’ān also displays a deep respect for Mary. It is interesting to note that Mary is the only woman who is named within the 114 sūras, whereas Muḥammad’s wives, daughter, friends, and mother are not mentioned by name. This may suggest a higher respect for Jesus and Mary than traditional interpretations hold. Further, it is worth briefly noting that the title of “Son of Mary” used of Jesus may reveal a possible Qur’ānic usage of the Markan gospel. 

In the Christian scriptures, the only usage of this Christological title is found in Mark 6:3, which may better be translated as “Mary’s bastard.” The Jews in the 1st century who used this title of Jesus spread a rumor that he was not, in fact, born of a virgin, but that Mary conceived Jesus out of wedlock with a Roman soldier named Pantera or Pandera.17 At the time, out of respect one would normally be called a son of one’s father. To call a man a son of his mother - “Son of Mary” - was highly disrespectful. Therefore, it is interesting that the Qur’ān uses the title “Son of Mary” the most of Christ, as this further implies an attempt to put forth the concept of the virgin birth within the Qur’ān itself.

There are a number of other figures from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament who are also mentioned in the Qur’ān, demonstrating further intertextuality.The text speaks of Zechariah, John the Baptist, Solomon, David, Adam, Satan, Job, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and many others. The “Disciples” of Jesus are mentioned in a few places, but not by name. Many of the stories relating to each of these individuals from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament are found in some form in the Qur’an, but some details are slightly altered. 

Before further exploring some of the other connections between the texts, the textual development of the Qur’ān is worth considering. According to Gunter Lüling in his 1974 publication,18 the Qur’ān contains four different textual levels of development. Lüling postulated that the first was a strophic hymnal composed by the Christians of Mecca, the second level contained passages from that hymnal that had been edited and Islamized in the time of Muḥammad, the third level included passages that were exclusively Muslim, and the fourth level included passages altered by Muslims after the death of Muḥammad.19 For example, Lüling attempted to demonstrate that Sūra 96, traditionally held to be the first revelation to Muḥammad, was actually a Christian hymn about the prayer of a righteous man to his Creator, and further, that Sūra 74 is actually a Christological hymn describing the descent of Christ into hell.20 But Lüling was not the only scholar to postulate such a theory of composition.

In 2000, a scholar under the pseudonym of Christoph Luxenberg held that the Qur’ān, in its earliest form, was a lectionary. Luxenberg believed that it included readings from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, and included liturgical prayers, psalms and hymns.21 He had proposed a re-reading of Sūra 97 (al-Qadr), which is traditionally held to refer to the descent of the Qur’ān on one night. But Luxenberg argued that although the first verse does indeed refer to the descent of the Word of God,  instead of the Qur’ān, it actually refers to the descent of Christ. He notes that specific vocabulary - “angels,” “peace,” “night,” “spirit,” “night vigil” and others all appear within this sūra, so that according to Luxenberg, with the proper understanding of Arabic, the passage comes to idiomatically mean “Christmas night is better than a thousand night vigils.”22

In 2001, Joseph Azzi based a thesis of composition on a man named Waraqa b. Nawfal, who was the cousin of Muḥammad’s first wife, Khadīja. Waraqa was portrayed by Azzi as Muḥammad’s teacher and friend. According to Muslim tradition, Waraqa, unlike Muḥammad, was literate and had become a Christian in pre-Islamic times. Waraqa had copied down pieces of Christian scriptures and according to Islamic tradition, had recognized Muḥammad as a prophet after his first revelation (Sūra 96). Azzi argued that he was a priest who had been preparing Muḥammad to succeed him as leader of the Ebionite community in Mecca, but he had given up this project when Muḥammad left for Medina (Yathrib). Thus, Azzi contended, this is why there is a difference between the original Qur’ān and the main codex of the Qur’ān, the ‘Uthman codex. According to Azzi, the original Qur’ānic text, seemingly assembled by Waraqa, was created as a lectionary for the ritual worship of the Meccan Christians. These and other theories of composition are useful in historical analysis, but there is not a unanimous scholarly opinion on the composition as of yet.

As for the actual usage of the canonical Bible within the Qur’ān, there is only one direct biblical citation, that of Psalms 36:39 “Justi autem haereditabunt terram.”23 This citation is found in Sūra 21:105, “For We have written in the Psalms, after the Remembrance, ‘The earth shall be the inheritance of My righteous servants.’” Aside from this direct citation, there is also an overabundance of Biblical allusions. There are more than thirty allusions to Matthew’s gospel and about sixty drawn from the other books of the New Testament.24 Some of these allusions also reflect a monastic tone, which is notable in relation to the call to prayer and other such Islamic practices. Scholars maintain that many of the eschatological ideas and formulas from sermons used commonly in the Syrian Church, and the form of proper names (particularly those used in Nestorian churches) are also all found in the Qur’ānic text, seemingly demonstrating a Christian influence.25

The eschatological imagery is one example of this intertextual connection, so it is worth considering several examples. The “People of the Right Hand” and the “People of the Left Hand” mentioned in Sūra 56:8-9, 27, 38, 41, 90, and 92 are similar to Christ’s account of the people on the left and right in Matthew 25:31-46. The notion of a human soul at the moment of death being taken to heaven by angels is found in Sūra 75:26-28, which can also found in Luke 16:22 and Acts of Thomas 22. The idea that Jesus will return at the end of time and defeat the Anti-Christ is an idea also found in Christian eschatological tradition. The figures of Gog and Magog in Sūra 18:95-99 are stock figures in Judeo-Christian apocalypticism.26 Sūra 27:40 and 55:50, contain the phrase “in the twinkling of an eye,” a Pauline phrase found in 1st Corinthians 14:52. Also, the eschatological phrase the “day and the hour” is found forty times in the Qur’ān, a phrase commonly found in the gospels.27

In terms of Christian theological influence, many scholars believe that the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist is found in Sūra 5:112-115. This seemingly Eucharistic passage may have Syriac or Ethiopian Christians as its source. The “Table” was the term Ethiopian Christians used for the Eucharist.28 In the sūra, the disciples ask Jesus, "Can your Lord send down to us a table from the sky... We desire to eat from it... to be a festival for us... and provide for us" (cf. Acts 9:10-13). Scholarly opinion holds that the phrase “wa-rzuqna wa-anta khayru l-raziqina” is taken to be a paraphrase of quotation from the Lord’s Prayer (cf. Luke 11:3), which was commonly used in Eucharistic liturgy in Eastern churches, including those found in Arabia.29  Further, verse 115 is likely a paraphrase from 1st Corinthians 11:27-29, a passage in which Paul discusses the Eucharist and cites the Institution Narrative. The Eucharist is a thoroughly Christian practice, so to consider that many scholars hold this to be a Eucharistic passage demonstrates a rather direct Christian connection with the Qur’ānic text.

A further point on the influence of Syriac Christian literature on the Qur’ān is Tatian’s work known as the Diatessaron (160-175 CE). This work was a composite of sections from all four gospels in an attempt to create a single, unified gospel. The gospel harmony began with the Johannine prologue concerning the Word, continued through Dr. Luke’s accounts of the annunciations to Zechariah and Mary, and proceeded to convey Matthew’s report of how Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. As noted by scholar Neal Robinson, this is in line with the Qur’ānic references to the “Gospel,” but rather than the canonical gospels, it may be a reference to the gospel harmony. This is evidenced by “the designation of Jesus as God’s Word which He cast unto Mary, and with the apparent identification of the angel Gabriel with the Holy Spirit. It should further be noted that whereas Luke tells us that Mary queried the angel’s good tidings on the grounds that she did not ‘know’ a man (Luke 1:34), in Tatian’s version she said that no man had known her. This slight change which makes the male the active partner seems to be reflected in the Qur’ān in Mary’s insistence that no man had touched her (3:47 and 19:20).”30

In fact, when examining the Qur’ānic representation of Mary, the Diatesseron, the apocryphal infancy gospels and Nestorian anti-orthodox polemic all help to elucidate the portrayal. The annunciation and birth of Jesus is found in Luke 1-2, the Protoevangelium of James 11, and some sections from the Diatessaron. Other passages are found in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, particularly the details relating to Mary’s delivering Jesus by a palm tree and the miracle that followed. The Latin Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew says that during the flight into Egypt, Mary sat under a palm tree and wished for some of its fruit. Young Jesus told the tree to bend and give its fruit, then to rise up and give some of the water beneath its roots, and a spring came forth. The Arabic Infancy Gospel says that they rested under a sycamore tree at Matarieh, and there Jesus made a spring gush out. Now, as for the account of Jesus speaking as a baby in the cradle - according to the Life of Muhammad, the Christians from Najrān who had come to see Muḥammad argued that Jesus “spoke from the cradle and this is something that no child of Adam has ever done.” Of note, the only early apocryphal mention in Christian tradition is a scribal note at the start of the Arabic Infancy Gospel, “Jesus spoke, being in a cradle, and said to his mother...”. It seems that the story was current among Arab Christians.31

In relation to Jesus, the story of the clay birds is an interesting parallel.32 It appears in the Jewish Toledoth Jeshu and the Arabic Infancy Gospel. But the story as it is found in the Qur’an may be derived from the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas 2:2-5 (140-170 CE). However, when examining the clay birds incident, the parallel is not exact. In the Qur’ān, Jesus creates birds, but in Thomas he creates twelve sparrows. In the Qur’ān he blows on them, but in Thomas he claps his hands and gives an oral command. It is interesting, however, that just as in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Qur’ān sees two stages in the account - Jesus creating the birds, and Jesus bringing the birds to life. The aforementioned Christians from Najrān also argued that Jesus “is God because he used to raise the dead, and heal the sick, and declare it unseen; and make clay birds and then breathe into them that they flew away; and all this was by the command of God Almighty.”33 One may also wonder if Jesus blowing life into the clay birds in the Qur’ān is analogous to God blowing life into the clay man - Adam - in Genesis 2, hence suggesting a possible role of Jesus as Creator, which would lend itself to this theory of Christian-Islamic development. 

The legend of the Companions of the Cave or Sleepers of the Cave found in Sūra 18:9-26 is a prime example cited by scholars as a piece of Christian Syriac lore present in the homiletic and liturgical tradition both before and during the time of Muḥammad. One account comes from Bishop Steven of Ephesus, 448-521 CE, as well as the Ecclesiastical History of Zacharias of Mytilene (465-536 CE), the Ecclesiastical History from John of Ephesus (507-586 CE), wand as and was mentioned in later Christian texts in 845, 1126-1199 and 1226-1286 CE. The essential story is that seven Christian youths took refuge in a cave during the Decian persecutions against Christians in the 250s CE. Emperor Decius had decreed a festival for Zeus, Apollo and Artemis. But these youths - princes of Ephesus - refused to partake. Decius had called them into court, and when he was away, they fled and took refuge to the cave. There, according to the Christian tradition, these youths slept for about 200 years.34 After finally awaking, one of the youths, Yamlîkâ, went into Ephesus. He had outdated coins, and the Ephesians revealed that they had been “asleep” for years. Due to the miraculous nature of this event, the Ephesians sought to revere them. Emperor Theodosius II (401-450 CE) came and wanted to build a shrine, finally built in 550 CE.35 Many of the details are not as specific in the Qur’ān, but scholars contend that this Qur’ānic narrative is directly derived from the Christian legend of the Seven Sleepers. 

Now, there is an odd passage in Sūra 2:138 which refers to the sacrament of baptism. This is another debated passage, but interestingly, this passage may demonstrate a possible Christian influence. The word for baptism in Arabic is sibghah. The root of the word implies a dye or a color. Historically, it is known that the Arab Christians mixed a dye or color in their baptismal water, symbolizing the idea that the newly baptized individual had received a new color in life. This symbol may demonstrate possible Christian influence, but at that point, however, it begins to enter into the realm of speculative history.

Aside from these various considerations into the textual composition, parallels and sources of the Qur’ān, the question of intertextual parallels between the canonical Biblical text and Qur’ānic text still stands. A number of examples can be given of these various parallels or influences. For example, Sūra 6:76-78 is similar to the pericope in 1st Kings 19:11-13, where Elijah attempts to discern the Lord in the elements, but in the end hears only a still, small voice. The encounter in which God passes by Moses in Exodus 33:20-23 is echoed in Sūra 7:143. Sūra 12 is similar to the Joseph narrative in Genesis 37-50. Sura 26 contains narratives of Moses and Aaron, Abraham, Noah, Lot, and others. In Sūra 29:14 we read, “Certainly We sent Noah to his people, and he remained with them for a thousand-less-fifty years.” The age of Noah is given Genesis 9-10 as 950 years, just as it is here. 

Further, there is a parable given by the prophet Nathan to King David found in 2nd Samuel 12 that is found in Sūra 38:23-24, “Indeed this brother of mine has ninety-nine ewes, while I have only a single ewe...”. On another note, according to Sūra 51:38, God created everything in six days, as is seen in the Genesis narrative (cf. Exodus 20:11). In another connection to Genesis, Sūra 38:72 says that the Lord “breathed into him of my Spirit” (see Genesis 2:6). Regarding apocryphal texts, in Sūra 27:17, “Solomon’s hosts were marched out for him, comprising jinns, humans, and birds, and they were held in check.” The Jewish text, The Testament of Solomon, records that Solomon enslaved demons (jinn) to build the Temple. Similarly, in regard to angels, the Qur’ān speaks of guardian angels (86:4), as does Judeo-Christian tradition (Psalm 91:11-12; Matthew 18:10, etc). Also, the notion of angelic intercession may be found in Sūra 53:26. This notion is present in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the book of Tobit, for example, the archangel Raphael refers to his intercession before the throne of God (cf. Job 33:22-26). 

The Qur’ān also seems to demonstrate thematic connections to the Bible, creedal influences and influence from the church fathers. In Sūra 24:35, the phrase “Light upon Light” is taken by some to be derived from the phrase “God from God, Light from Light” found within the 4th century Nicene Creed. This familiarity would not have been unheard of in 7th century Arabia, particularly given interactions between Alexandrian, Syriac and Abyssinian Christians. In relation to common Biblical motifs, one can found in the Qur’ān can be seen in Sūra 24:43, “Allah drives the clouds.”36 There is also another important Biblical type scene present in the Qur’ān. A type scene (or literary motif) is a scene that is repeated in different forms - Isaac's wife is found by a well, Moses saves the women by the well, Saul is searching by the well, and Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman by the well. In Sūra 20:23, one reads “When he arrived at the well of Midian...” The well type-scene was a very common Biblical motif, as noted, so its presence in the Qur’ān, particularly in relation to Biblical narratives, may show influence on the text. As a final consideration, when describing paradise, you read in the Qur’ān, “We shall wed them to black-eyed houris” (Sūra 44:54, 52:20), or, “We will make them comfortable under white, crystal [clear] grape clusters.” This is very similar to a hymn (De Paradiso 7:18) by the Christian writer Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 CE). 

The different considerations of how the text was composed, what sources one may discern in the present Qur’ānic text, what Biblical parallels may be present, and how different Christian imagery is utilized - taken together - create a larger mosaic by which one sees the textual realities that lie behind the Qur’ān. At this point, then, having both the religious situation and the textual situation in mind, one can briefly explore the interactions between the early Islamic movement and Christianity - both orthodox and heretical. 

Early Interactions between Christianity and Islam
Today, there are a growing number of interreligious movements which have sought to form relationships between Christianity and Islam and mend some of the wounds between the two traditions throughout the centuries. But even within Muḥammad's life, we also see a few examples of dialogue and interaction. According to Islamic tradition, Muḥammad had encountered a Christian monk named Bahīrā in Syria when traveling with his uncle. Although this was at a time when Muḥammad was younger, it is thought to have been formative in his religious ideology.37 In 615 CE, the Christian king of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) welcomed Muslim refugees when they were being persecuted. Muḥammad had encouraged his followers to flee to this kingdom, as he felt that they would be safer in a Monophysite Christian country than in Mecca at that time.38 Later in life, as has been mentioned, in 631 CE the Najrān Christians came to visit Muḥammad at Medina.39 This was at a time when Christians were being persecuted, and Muḥammad opened his mosques and allowed Christians to pray in them. In the Qur’ān, the Christian martyrs of Najrān (Sūra 85:1-9) are looked on in a positive light. 

Two other major incidents connected to the life of Muḥammad are worth mentioning. According to many early writers, Muḥammad was held to have written to the Emperor Heraclius, and interestingly, Heraclius is portrayed in early Islamic writings and tradition as a man worthy of respect and admiration,40 which is important as he was the Christian Byzantine emperor from 610-641 CE. Having reigned during the rise of Islam, the fact that he is portrayed in a positive light and that Muḥammad likely wrote to him is helpful in creating a clearer picture of early Christian-Islamic interactions. 

The second of these examples is found in the account of Muḥammad and ‘Addas. At the time, Muḥammad was in a difficult economic situation, and in order to aid him, moved by compassion, two Meccans sent to him their Christian servant ‘Addas with a tray of grapes. Muḥammad accepted him in the name of God, and ‘Addas was impressed by his greeting, as most Meccans did not use such a greeting. ‘Addas went on to say that he had come from Nineveh, and Muḥammad noted that the prophet Jonah had visited Nineveh, and introduced himself as a brother of Jonah - a prophet.41 This early interaction between Muḥammad and the Christian servant, while Muḥammad was still in Mecca, is significant in its demonstration of peaceful dialogue. 

The developing practices of early Islam may also demonstrate some Christian influence. One example of this is prayer beads. In a variety of religious traditions, prayer beads play a crucial role. Hinduism made use of prayer beads, as did Buddhism and Christianity. When Islam came into being, Muslims felt that they also had the need for prayer beads. These prayer beads, unlike Christian rosaries, did not have a symbol such as a cross or icon attached, but was simply a string of beads. Islamic prayer beads are called tasbih or misbaha and are used to recite the 99 names of Allah. Muhammad also allegedly used the fingers on his right hand to pray, so this practice may have developed both from Christian influence and the practice of Muḥammad.42

Another example of early Islamic practices is the call to prayer. In early Christian monasticism, one finds what is now called the Liturgy of the Hours. Various historical and textual evidences lend credence to the notion that Muḥammad had interaction with Christian monks, so one wonders if the Islamic call to prayer is in part inspired from monastic prayer in the Christian tradition. Further, during prayer, Muslims are famous for their postures. It is worth noting that according to the 3rd century Christian work, the Didascalia, Christians are to pray facing the East - the direction of Jerusalem - and to pray in a particular posture. These postures fell out of common laity usage, it seems, however, this posturing survived within monasticism - most prominently in the Eastern tradition. This prostration toward Jerusalem is also seen in early Judaism. It seems that Islam also made use of this, and in fact, there is an account of Muḥammad and his followers prostrating toward Jerusalem, but this developed into praying toward Mecca.

A third example of possible Christian influence is seen in pilgrimage. In early Judaism, Jews were required (as seen in Hebrew Bible texts) to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least three times a year, and there were a number of optional pilgrimages. When the Christian movement began, within the first few centuries, we find examples of pilgrims such as the Spanish nun Egeria going to the Holy Land. Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena was also instrumental in the development of Christian pilgrimage, and other famous pilgrimages continued from here (the Way of St. James, for example). Although Mecca had already been a place of pilgrimage for the Ka’ba, it is possible that this was also a practice influenced by Christian ideas of pilgrimage.43

These various interactions between early Muslims and Christians helpfully add to the mosaic of historical, political, religious and textual realities of the 7th century Arabian lands within which Islam developed and grew. In order to weave these connections together, then, it is pertinent to review and reflect. 

Conclusion and Implications
There are a number of conclusions and implications that can be drawn based on the evidence provided and examined. To be sure, the field of Qur’ānic studies which is the primary driving force in historical research about the early Islamic movement is still relatively young, and has not been focused on as much as Biblical studies by scholars and historians. For this reason, there is still a largely speculative historical investigation that goes on and must continue to go on while scholars and researchers explore and examine the development of this Abrahamic tradition. 

Having laid out the foundations for a way of understanding the early Islamic movement, including the Qur’ān, one can discern a possible development. 7th century Arabia was highly active with Christian heresies, including Nestorianism, Monophysitism (including Tritheism), Collyridianism, Ebionites, Elkesaites and others - as well as Christian orthodoxy present in Abyssinian/Ethiopian Christianity, Coptic Christianity (found in Alexandria), and Syriac Christianity. All of these different forms of the Christian tradition came together in the religious melting pot of Arabia, and more specifically, Mecca, during the time of Muḥammad. In one way or another, whether by interactions with Christian monks, an Ebionite priest, time in the Holy Land or by travelers talking around a campfire, it seems that the early Islamic movement was heavily influenced by Christianity. This is also evidenced in the Qur’ān by various motifs, parallels, paraphrases, narratives from canonical and apocryphal literature, and a number of other historical considerations. 

What does this mean for Islam? One must not be too quick to say. It is not within the purview of this paper to declare Islam to be directly formulated out of a Christian mindset, nor is it within the purview of this paper to confirm or deny the traditional Islamic belief that the Qur’ān was given through revelations to the prophet Muḥammad. What one can say is that there are a number of connections between Christianity of the time and the development of Islam. A Muslim believer is within their tradition to hold that these different historical, religious and textual considerations simply illustrate that God had given Muḥammad revelations addressed to a particular context that the followers would have known and been familiar with. But regardless, one would contend that these influences on early Islam are present from the beginning, and have enabled and will continue to enable scholars to create a larger mosaic of our knowledge and understanding of the connections between two of the world’s most important religious traditions; traditions which hold that they are connected through the sons of Abraham, and thus, whether by influence or association, must consciously recognize a brotherly connection as they learn more about their past and use this knowledge to elucidate their future. 

Al-Mubarakpuri, Saifur Rahman. Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar). 1st ed. Darussalam, 2002. Print.

Basetti-Sani OFM, Giulio. The Koran in the Light of Christ. 1st ed. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977. Print.

Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. 2nd ed. 1. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print.

Kennedy, Hugh. "The Mediterranean frontier: Christianity face to face with Islam, 600–1050." Trans. Array The Cambridge History of Christianity, Volume 3: Early Medieval Christianities c.600-c.1100. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Print.

Klausner, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925. Print. 

Parrinder, Geoffrey. Jesus in the Qur'ān. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. A History of the Development of Doctrine: The Emergence of the Catholic 
Tradition, 100-600 A.D. 1st ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971. Print.

Reynolds, Gabriel Said. The Qu'rān in its Historical Context. 1st ed. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2008. Print.

Robinson, Chase F. The New Cambridge History of Islam: The Formation of the Islamic World Sixth to Eleventh Centuries. 1st ed. I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.

Robinson, Neal. Christ in Islam and Christianity. 1st ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. Print.

The Qur’an. Elmhurst, New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an Inc., 2011. 2nd ed. Print.   

The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Zafrulla Khan, Muhammad. Gardens of the Righteous. 5th ed. Abingdon: Routledge, 2007. Print. 

[1] Basetti-Sani OFM, Giulio. The Koran in the Light of Christ. 1st ed. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977. 138. Print.
[2] Ibid., 29.
[3] Ibid 107.
[4] Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. 256. Print.
[5] Al-Mubarakpuri, Saifur Rahman. Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar). 1st ed. Darussalam, 2002. 18. Print.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Pelikan, Jaroslav. A History of the Development of Doctrine: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, 100-600 A.D. 1st ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971. 25. Print.
[8] Robinson, Neal. Christ in Islam and Christianity. 1st ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. 15. Print.
[9] Cameron, Averil. "The Cult of the Virgin in Late Antiquity: Religious Development and Myth-Making." Studies in Church History. 39 (2004): 1-21. Print.
[10] Reynolds, Gabriel Said. The Qu'rān in its Historical Context. 1st ed. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2008. 218. Print.
[11] Robinson 17.
[12] Basetti-Sani 56.
[13] Nirenberg, David. "Christendom and Islam." Trans. Array The Cambridge History of Christianity: Christianity in Western Europe c. 1100-c. 1500. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 151. Print.
[14] Reynolds 18.
[15] Ibid.
[16] There may also be a reference to Jesus as the “Spirit of God” in 4:171 and elsewhere.
[17] Klausner, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925. Print.
[18] Uber den Ur-Qur’an: Ansatze Rekonstruktion vorislamischer christlicher Strophenlieder im Qur’ān.
[19] Reynolds 10.
[20] Robinson 33-34.
[21] Reynolds 78.
[22] Ibid., 17.
[23] Basetti-Sani 53.
[24] Reynolds 17.
[25] Basetti-Sani 53.
[26] Cf. Ezekiel 38 , 39:9-20; Revelation 20:7.
[27] Reynolds 157.
[28] Ibid., 148-150.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Robinson 19.
[31] Reynolds 166-172.
[32] See Sura 3:43/49; 2:262/260; 67:18-19.
[33] Robinson 144.
[34] There was a disagreement due to the dating of the Greeks. Zacharias of Mitylene said about 200 years, which works with the 250-450 CE timeline well-known for the story. But the Qur’an seems to suggest that it was 309 years, or rather, 300 years, but in order to reduce lunar to solar years, every 100 years 3 more must be added, thus, 309.
[35] Reynolds 120-131.
[36] This motif is featured prominently in Deuteronomy 33:26; Psalm 18:9-10, 68:4, 104:3; Isaiah 19:1; Daniel 7:13-14; Mark 13:26-27; Matthew 24:30, 26:64; Revelation 1:7.
[37] Robinson 25.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Ibid., 26.
[40] Kennedy, Hugh. "The Mediterranean frontier: Christianity face to face with Islam, 600–1050." Trans. Array The Cambridge History of Christianity, Volume 3: Early Medieval Christianities c.600-c.1100. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 181. Print.
[41] Al-Mubarakpuri 64.
[42] Rasoulipour, Rasoul. Personal Interview. 26 Aug 2014.
[43] It must be noted, however, that other religious traditions are known to make use of pilgrimages as well. Hindus, for example, tend to make a pilgrimage to the Ganges River, and Buddhists make a pilgrimage to Bodh Gayah. 

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