Book Review

BOOK Review ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY Author: W. Montgomery Watt Publishers: Routledge and Kegan Paul (London) A Dialogue Between Muslims and Christians ‘The good Christian is not the one who can refute other reli- gions, but one who can affirm the truth in them and go further.’ This is the guiding principle adopted in the writing of this book by the author who once stated, “I am not a Muslim in the usual sense, though I hope I am a ‘Muslim’ as “one surrendered to God”. The author has tended to emphasize the similarities between the two religions—Islam and Christianity, with a high degree of objectivity and open-mindedness. With religious plurism in the present age, improved communication, expansion of trade, coupled with a world wide increase in population, Muslim and Christian contacts have become frequent. Millions of Muslims are now residing in Western Europe alone. In this situation the author suggests, a dialogue between Muslims and Christians becomes important. This may occur in the form of seminars or in every day conversations with neighbours. The ‘defences’ constructed by the religious bigotry of presenting other religions as inferior to one’s own must be demolished. The foreword by His Excellency Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia gives credence to the sincerity and open- mindedness with which the author has attempted to compare the teachings of both religions. Sheikh Yamani has very rightly pointed out that there are areas of fundamental principles where no amount of logical discourse can bring the two sides nearer to each other and where therefore the existence of an impasse must be recognised. However as the Sheikh explains, in the expanse of human conduct and behaviour Muslims and Christians can find that they are at one. Out of the eight Chapters of the book, Chapter three, on “The names and attributes of God” and Chapter four, “Scriptures as the word of God” are the most interesting to read. Muslims believe in the absolute unity of God and the Quran regards ‘shirk’ as an unpardonable sin. The doctrine of the Trinity may be quite different and distinct from tritheism as explained by the author yet the godhead of Jesus Christ in one or the other form 57 58 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS is deeply rooted in the Christian religion. The Holy Quran refutes it in the following terms: “And when Allah will say, ‘O Jesus, son of Mary, didst thou say to men , Take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah’, he will answer, “Holy art Thou, I could never say that to which I had no right. If I had said it, Thou wouldst have surely known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind and I know not what is’in Thy mind. It is only Thou Who art the Knower of hidden things.” (5:117) In Chapter four, on “Scriptures as the Word of God” the author has discussed the nature of revelation and the manner in which God communicates to human beings, as well as the influence that both, the language and the people play to whom certain teach- ings are sent. He expresses the opinion of certain Western scholars who allege that apparent inaccuracies are to be found in the Holy Quran. However, he argues that these inconsistencies should be regarded as being expressed in terms of mistaken views present among the people of Mecca and Madina of that period. Examples he quotes are Mary, mother of Jesus being addressed as “sister of Aaron” and denial of crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The point that the writer omits is that the message of the Quran was not intended for a few bedouins living in Mecca and Madina. It was addressed to all people for all times. The fact is that Imran and Aaron were respectively the father and brother of Moses. Curiously enough, Moses had a sister called Mariam. In their ignorance of Arabic idiom and Quranic style, the critics think that the Holy Quran had confused Mary, mother of Jesus, with Mary (Mariam) sister of Moses. The Israelites used to name their children after their deceased Prophets and Saints. It should be noted that Mary had been called sister of Aaron and not sister of Moses, the reason being that priesthood was an exclusive prerogative of descendants of Aaron. In the Semitic languages the word “father”, “Mother” and “brother” are used broadly and do not necessarily imply the blood relationship. As for the denial of crucifixion as alleged by the Western scholars, the Quran refutes both, the Christians and the Jews by saying that Jesus was although put on the Cross but did not die there. ‘He was made to appear like the one crucified’, says the Quran. The learned Professor has discussed the story of Adam and Eve, the virgin birth, the resurrection and miracles of Jesus. In this regard he has come with a solution of understanding the nature of these happennings. He says that the stories are to be accepted with sophis- THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 59 ticated naivety or transcendental metahistorical or divine factors. The miracles like feeding thousands of people with a few loaves, or ending a storm with a word of command, should be taken in meta- phorical sense. The feeding of multitudes is a sign that Jesus is the bread of life, who is capable of satisfying man’s spiritual hunger. The stilling of storm also means bringing peace to storm-tossed human beings. Professor Watt’s work must be studied with positive and objective view. He has tried to remove many misunderstandings prevailing in the minds of Western scholars about Islam. The since- rity and objectiveness can be ascertained from the following expre- ssion. He writes: “Muhammad claimed to receive messages from God and convey- ed these to his contemporaries. On the basis of these messages a religious community developed, claiming to serve God, numbering some thousands in Muhammad’s lifetime and now having several million members. The quality of life in this community has been on the whole satisfactory for the members. Many men and women in this community have attained to saintliness of life, and countless ordinary people have been enabled to live decent and moderately happy lives in difficult circumstances. These points lead to the conclusion that the view of reality presented in the Quran is true and from God, and that therefore Muhammad is a genuine prophet.” M. A. SAQI oooooooooooooooo Had my claim been put forward on my own, you would have been free to reject me, but if God’s Holy Prophet bears witness for me in his prophecies and God manifests His Signs in my support, then do not wrong yourselves by rejecting me. Say not that you are Muslims and have no need of accepting any Messiah. I tell you truly that he who accepts me accepts Him who had prophesied about me thirteen hundred years in advance, and had indicated the time of my appearance, and had specified my function; and he who rejects me rejects Him who had commanded that I should be accepted. (Ayyamus Sulh, p. 93) The Promised Messiah