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The Entanglement of Islam and Christianity: Inclusion, Diversity, and Justice

Session II-15, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, December 1 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
This panel discusses various expressions of the relationship between the religions of Christianity and Islam. A theological relationship between the two is found in the Quran itself, and in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. This entangling relationship manifested itself in multiple forms throughout the past 1,400 years. The first paper discusses the primary Shia work of hadith, Usul Al-Kafi, and how it engages in Jesus and Christianity. Al-Kulayni, the author of this hadith work, utilizes Jesus partially to respond to Christian arguments against Islam, yet primarily to Sunni arguments against Shia Islam. Jesus’s young age is referenced to defend the young age of many of the Twelve Imams. The second paper discusses Shia Fiqh and the ways it engages the Ahl al-Kitab, especially Christians. Focusing on Nahj al-Balagha, the letters and speeches of Ali Ibn Abu Talib, this paper shows Imām ʿAlī’s approach to the Ahl al-Kitab and examines his conducts, orders, and advice, especially to his officers regarding the treatment of the People of the Book living in Islamic governments. The third paper discusses the comparative roles of the theology of presence in Shia Islam and Roman Catholicism. This paper will use the methodology of contemporary Catholic theologian Robert Orsi, who focuses on the notion of theological presence of Roman Catholicism, to analyze similar concepts and patterns in the study of Shia Islam. The fourth paper is about the relationship between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in local history of Egypt. The author focuses on Muslims’ historians’ construction of an Islamic identity. The fifth paper discusses Al-Farabi’s theories of poetics and representation as it applies to Christopher Marlowe’s work, Tamburlaine the Great, and Hatifi's Masnavi, the Zafarnameh. This paper discusses both Christian and Islamic modes of engaging Aristotle's poetics in order to elucidate points of tension and harmony in the written and visual representation of divine kingship.
Religious Studies/Theology
  • The primary Shia hadith book, al-Kulayni's Usul Al-Kafi, utilizes Jesus in several essential ways. One is to extend the Quran's own presentation of Jesus as a human prophet of God and a forerunner of the Prophet Muhammad. Jesus in the Quran and Al-Kafi specifically repudiates Christian theology, condemning the trinity as a polytheistic deviation from his true teachings. Al-Kulayni displays clear knowledge of the Bible, citing Biblical stories of Jesus that do not appear anywhere in the Quran. Al-Kulayni clearly includes these stories as a polemical attempt to convert Christians to Shia Islam, and to defend his faith from Christian criticisms. Furthermore, Jesus is also utilized to defend specifically Shia theories against Sunni criticism. Namely, Jesus's ascension to prophethood at a young age and speaking from the cradle were likened to the Twelve Imams. Many Sunni critics of Shia Islam claimed that the Shia Imams could not be the rightful leaders of the Muslim world based on their youth. Shia theologians responded by emphasizing the youthful nature of Jesus.
  • The treatment of Ahl al-Kitāb (People of the Book) by Alī ibn Abū Tālib, the first Shīʿī Imām, as portrayed in the Nahj al-Balagha (The Peak of Eloquence), shows a remarkable record of protecting minority rights and has been little noted even in Shi'ite works on the subject. In Islamic terminology, the Ahl al-Kitāb, refers to the followers of the scripture-possessing religions that predate the Qur’an, most often Christians and Jews, and according to some Shi’i scholars, Zoroastrians. Their treatment in Islamic societies in general, even under Shīʿī governments, has varied greatly over time and has raised considerable controversy. Numerous works have been composed on the Ahl al-Kitāb and their rights within a Shīʿī government. However, only a few of them have focused on Imām Alī’s approach and manner toward them. Specifically, he is reported to have allowed religious minorities to practice their religion in peace. Nahj al-Balāgha, which is the most famous collection of Imām Alī’s sermons and letters, is one of the sources illustrating his legacy of tolerance towards other religions. Focusing on the Nahj al-Balāgha, this paper analyses Imām ʿAlī’s approach to the Ahl al-Kitāb and examines his conducts, orders, and advice especially to his officers regarding the treatment of the People of the Book living under Islamic governments. In the Nahj al-Balāgha, there are abundant quotes about human rights that are addressed to all people, regardless of their religion. The statements that directly address the concept of Ahl al-Kitāb can be categorized into six groups; The first group are Imām ʿAlī’s commands to the rulers of Islamic governments about how to treat non-Muslims. The second and third groups are his statements about the importance of kharāj payers and their rights. The fourth group are his commands to kharāj and jizya collectors. The fifth group are his commands to the rulers about keeping the oath and promises in any contracts or agreements made with the enemy, and the sixth group are various statements indicating Imām ʿAlī’s respect to the followers of other religions or the Prophets of the other religions. Key words: Ahl al-Kitāb, Nahj al-Balāgha, Imām ʿAlī, Kharāj, Jizya
  • The Philosopher and Historian, Ibn Khaldun writes on his encounter with Timur that he is “one of the greatest and mightiest of kings. Some attribute to him knowledge, others attribute to him heresy […] but in all this there is nothing; it is simply that he is highly intelligent and very perspicacious […] He is one favored by Allah – the power is Allah’s, and he grants it to whom he chooses of his creatures.” Timur’s conquests and his historiographical and literary persona were at the center of numerous literary, historical, and encyclopedic works from Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia in the ninth/fifteenth and tenth/sixteenth centuries. Poetic works on his life mirror Ibn Khaldun’s impression of Timur by depicting him as a perspicacious king but also as a man endowed with divine providence. Timur’s literary persona became an embodied image of power in its rhetorical, cosmic, and political dimensions. These depictions offer a metapoetic reflection on the role of poetry in depicting the relationships between divine, discursive, and political power. In this paper, I will be turning to two retellings of Timur’s life. One of them is Abd-Allah Hatifi’s illustrated Masnavi, the Zafarnameh, written in the Timurid Empire on the ninth/fifteenth century. The other work is Christopher Marlowe’s epic tragedy, Tamburlaine the Great, from the tenth/sixteenth century. I argue that in both works, Timur becomes a mirror image which reflects the relationship between political and divine power in Islamic and Christian understandings of poetic and visual discourse. The simultaneous engagement of poetic and visual discourse is theorized by both Aristotle and Al-Farabi’s Poetics as products of mimesis and/or the excitement of the imaginative faculty (al-khayal), respectively. Therefore, the paper suggests that by engaging particular forms of visual and poetic discourse, both poets showcase the religious role of Epic poetry through the depiction of kingship in relation to the cosmos, including the divine and the world.
  • Robert Orsi’s History and Presence identifies a major lacuna in the modern understanding of religion. If secularism is characteristic of the modern era, Orsi argues that it is not the absence of the faith. Instead, it is the approval of a certain kind of religion in which the "real presence", an interaction of sacred, metaphysical realm in the everyday life of the faithful, is ignored. While considering Orsi’s critique, this paper investigates the notion of presence in Shīʻī Islam along with a brief study of similar notions in Catholicism and Judaism. This paper argues that the notion of presence or ḥuḍūr plays a significant role in everyday life of Shīʻī Muslims and attempts to define it according to the context of visitation prayers and the narrations of the Shīʻī Imams. It moreover suggests that this overlooked aspect in the modern study of religion could provide grounds for a more empathetic dialogue of religions.
  • My paper focuses on Jews, Christians, and Muslims in local history of Egypt. Living during the reign of the Tulunids (868-905), who were the first to rule Egypt independently from the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258), Ibn Abd al-Hakam (d. 870) composed his local history of Egypt entitled Futuh Misr to construct an Egyptian-Muslim identity that is distinct from the rest of the Islamic Empire yet was part of the global Umma. In several parts of his work, Ibn Abd al-Hakam addressed the relationship between Islam and the Judeo-Christian heritage. While scholars argue that Ibn Abd al-Hakam simply links Islam to the Judeo-Christian heritage, I attempt to read Ibn Abd al-Hakam’s work in the context of the Tulunids and Abbasids conflicts. I argue that the Judeo-Christian heritage was critical for Ibn Abd al-Hakam’s construction of an identity.