A View of Islam in the Eighth Century
|Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd and Professor Tarif
The prolific Egyptian scholar Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd presented on November
20 a lecture, entitled "The Christian Reading of the Quran in the
Eighth Century." Organized by the Anis Makdisi Program in Literature,
the lecture shed light on the Christian interpretation of Islam and its
impact on the current clash between the religions.
Abu Zayd explained that one of the earliest figures who provided an interpretation
of Islam was St. John of Damascus, a Syrian priest living in the seventh
century, whose book, The Fountain of Knowledge, criticized Islam, and
considered Islam as heretical, rejecting it as a religion. It was a common
view at the time that reaching an understanding of the Quran would help
better defend Christianity from Islam.
Abu Zayd said, however, that the clergymen were reluctant to accept Islam,
because they wanted to maintain their power, and this led to tension between
the two religions. One of the Christian interpretations emerging from
this debate was that of John of Damascus refuting the fact that the Quran
was created by claiming that those who had actually written it had died.
He condemned Islam's rejection of the Christian trinity and its views
of Jesus as a prophet and not as the Son of God.
Abu Zayd noted, however, that the Quran actually defends Christianity
from the criticism it has incurred from the Jews throughout history. John
of Damascus presented a narrative of the rise of Islam and the creation
of the Quran in which he said it was "worthy of ridicule." According
to Abu Zayd, the main cause for this harsh criticism was Islam's opposition
to the holy trinity. John of Damascus also criticized Muslims for readily
accepting the Prophet Mohammad, saying Muslims should have questioned
his prophecy, demanding proof of his preaching.
Despite the criticism, Abu Zayd said the debate between Christianity and
Islam helped garner understanding between them. He also commented that
the debate is useful for our time, because it highlights differences while
Abu Zayd is a controversial figure in Islamic studies for his views on
the Quran as a religious, literary work. He has a BA in Arabic Studies
from Cairo University and an MA and PhD in Islamic Studies. He has been
persecuted for his views on Islam and has been exiled from Egypt.