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Episode 110
Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: Saints and Sufi’s
Jun 19, 2024 | Runtime: | Download
Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Saints and Sufis during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents Sufism, their beliefs,… Read More

Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: Saints and Sufi’s

Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Saints and Sufis during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents Sufism, their beliefs, practices, Sufi Masters and Saints, miracles among Sufis, and opposition to Sufism. 

 

  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Saints and Sufi’s

 

Welcome back to understanding the Quran. And we’re now moving on to our final topic, saints and Sufis, which connects very closely with the topic for the previous, lecture pair of lectures, that dealt with divine imminence and transcendence. Now in this topic, we have a set of readings, and these are these readings provide a snapshot into the world of Islam’s Sufi masters and saints, as well as the, miracles that they are believed by many to have performed. Also considered in the readings for this lecture is the entrenched opposition to Islamic mystical expressions that have come from more legally minded Muslims down the centuries. Also, Christian scholar John Gilchrist contributes an article on manifestations of folk Islam.

 

Remember that all these tendencies and trends relate to the notion of different ways that Muslims have understood the Quran and Allah’s injunctions in the past and continue to do so in the present. So we must lose lose sight of the connection between what we’re doing and understanding the Quran. We’ll refer to our readings as they occur in connection with the slides. In discussing Sufism and the lives of great Sufis, one of the questions which arises very very readily, and which attracts much discussion is the the issue of possible Christian influence in the life and works of the early Sufi ascetics. Ascetics, those who withdraw to a life of contemplation.

 

We’re reminded by that of nuns and and monks living in monasteries, especially those monasteries that pursue a life contemplation. That was also a feature of some of the early Sufi ascetics. Were they influenced in any way by Christian monastics? And even the name Suf, which comes from the word for wool, were they influenced by Christians who also wore woolen garb or woolen clothing as they withdrew into their places of meditation. That’s an interesting topic in itself and would be the subject of a very good assignment.

 

John Williams in his book on Islam, points out that, after the Mongol invasions, the Sufi orders offered a vision of beauty in a cruel period. This is where it’s important in looking at theology and in looking at texts to keep one eye on history as well because history often shapes, theological developments and textual emergences, new texts that come out. In 1258 AD, the great Muslim Empire of the Abbasids, which had reigned supreme in the Middle East since 750 for about 500 years in various geysers. That empire collapsed in 1258 under the invasions of the Mongols. The capital of Baghdad was captured and sacked.

 

The caliph at the time was killed, and there was genocide on a large scale at the hands of the Mongol invaders. Life was difficult. Society was in chaos for decades afterwards. And in such a situation of social chaos, it’s little wonder that you find various trends emerging in society. Among some, there was a turn to Sufi orders, which offered, as the slide says, a vision of beauty in a cruel period.

 

Among others, there was a turn back to a literalist understanding of the text with a callback to the Quran and the Hadith among those who are who are more literalist and legalistically minded. So Sufism flourished in the 1300 and afterwards. And, interestingly, it was a period of the flourishing of mystical thought in the Christian world as well. And a potential assignment, if you are interested, would be to do a study of mystical thinking in Christianity and in Islam around the 1300 1400. Going back well beyond that, though, we’re talking about the earliest years, the 700 the 800.

 

And this was the period of emerging Sufism, emerging Sufi thought and some of the great writers, the great minds, the great names. The early ascetics, asceticism meaning the life of withdrawal and contemplation. Who were some of the greatest names in this period? Well, Al Hasan al Basri, Ibrahim ibn Adam, Rabia, Al Mohasibi, and Junaid. They’re some of the early aesthetics.

 

And notice on your website on the on the Moodle page that you have, a reference by Jaudi to the early saint Rabia. She died in 801 AD. She was a female saint, early early ascetic, well worth looking at. The early aesthetics represented a stage in the development of Sufism, but following a set the aesthetic tendency came ecstatics, an ecstatic form of Sufism, which moved from a state of withdrawal and contemplation to an involvement in practices which produce states of ecstasy and transportation. The ecstatic ecstatics represent a significant development.

 

These are the ascetic sufi thought by the concept of seeking the unitive state. That is that through attaining ecstasy, a kind of ecstasy, these Sufis were seeking to attain this unitive state with the divine, seeking communion with Allah through ecstatic practice. Now ecstatic worship and ecstatic practice has many manifestations both historically and in the contemporary period in Islam. And what I’d like you to do now is to pause this recording and to watch the film dancing dervishes in Istanbul. That’s available, through linkages on your Moodle page.

 

Watch that film. Notice how the dancers enter as, an ecstatic state. I hope you enjoyed that that that film because it does capture in the modern day the practice of the dervishes in Turkey and how they end up enter a kind of ecstatic state in their in their in their practice. Now, in terms of the historical chronology, we’re we’re looking here at the 8 100, the 9 100, that period. And we come again across the name of Al Hallaj.

 

We’ve encountered his name on several occasions. Remember, he was the the Sufi who, was, executed in 922 for blasphemy because he dared to say, I am the truth. And the truth is one of the names for Allah, one of the 99 names for Allah. Now he was executed as a result. But one an inevitable question is, was he influenced in any way by Christianity?

 

It’s reported in the literature that Al Hallaj chose Jesus as his model among the prophets. Did he draw on John 146 in making his famous statement that led to his his his execution? I am the truth. Read about Al Hallaj in the literature. Go online and Google him and read about his life.

 

He’s a very important person in the in the, history of Sufism. Following Al Hallaj, there was a a movement against the those who executed him. The movement came to be known as the antinomians. It’s a term that exists within the history of Christianity as well. And if you’re unfamiliar with it, I encourage you to go online and, Google it and just read about the antinomians within Christianity.

 

Now Al Hallaj had been executed by legally minded, literalist, Hadith based scholars, and the antinomians were hostile to that group. They were hostile to the ulema. The ulema were the scholars. The antinomians separated faith from works, and they drew on theosophical ideas that were common among the extremist Shia. For antinomianism in Islam, I’ve uploaded an article which which gives you an overview of that particular movement, And they represent a, an offshoot of the thinking of Al Hallaj, all part of the process that was leading on to more Theosophical ideas among the emerging Sufi scholars and and, and practitioners.

 

I’d like you to refer to sources in your library or online to find information on the key names that are mentioned in the preceding slides. We’ve only had a few slides, but we’ve covered some key people. It’s important that you know about Junaid, that you know about Rabiya, that you know about Ibrahim ibn Adam. Go back and read about them, compile information as you proceed. Welcome back to understanding the Quran.

 

We’re continuing on with this topic of saints and Sufis to complement our previous discussion about Sufism. I do hope you’re keeping your eye on the, Moodle page, where there are a rich collection of, relevant materials, that relate to this topic. There’s a very good link on the Moodle page under this lecture to, professor Godless’s, site that’s called a website that’s called Sufism’s Many Paths. It’s part of a much broader site that professor Godless maintains, which provides an, a vast array of very good resources, both on generally on the study of Islam, but also specifically on Sufism of relevance to this this current lecture. Also, linked on the site is the, the book, which is now a century old, but it’s still very useful, the book the book by, professor Nicholson, called the mystics of Islam.

 

I’ve provided link to, his chapter 5, which deals with saints and miracles, which is going to be the topic of this present, sub lecture. But I would also refer you to the other chapters of the book, which could be, reached by looking around that that same web address. The the link we have here is to chapter 5, but it’s very easy to locate the other chapters of his book, by following through the the links. So let’s turn our attention specifically to the idea of the of the saints of of Islam and the Sufi masters. The wali.

 

Now the term wali, is quite, prolific in in Islam, but it came to to represent different things to different people. The scholar, Yogananda Sikand, writing in the bulletin of the Henry Martin Institute of Islamic Studies, points out that popular Islam came to view the wali different from orthodox Islam. He said orthodoxy orthodoxy simply saw the wali as signifying those who obeyed God, led pious lives, and followed the Sharia. Whereas popular Islam, he said, added the notion of a saint who was especially close to God and could therefore mediate between God and ordinary people. Now an idea to hold in your minds for now is this fundamental opposition, because this is where, at different times in history, clashes have developed between orthodox Muslims who who are primarily Sharia minded and popular Muslims who follow saints right up to the present day.

 

We’ll come back to that later. How do how does a Sufi become a saint or a? Well, Nicholson, says that the only indispensable qualification is outward ecstasy and rapture, though miracles are also a yardstick, and he discusses this at length in his chapter 5 chapter 5 of his book. Nicholson also makes a very useful distinction between high Sufism and low Sufism, which I think is a much more helpful set of terms than, for example, Sufism and folk Islam or Sufism and popular Islam. Having a distinction between Sufism and popular Islam misses the connection between popular Islam or folk Islam and Sufism.

 

They both really are two sides of the same mystical quest. One is more esoteric and academic and intellectual, the other is more populist and mass based. So high high Sufism and low Sufism, I think, are better terms. Now Nicholson points out that high Sufism tends to focus on penetrating the innermost shrine of truth, whereas low Sufism responds to the popular demand for miracles. So as you can see, one is more intellectual and one is more popular.

 

Now what about these miracles of the saints? This the miracles that set saints apart from the masses around them. Well, Nicholson records, miracles which are described by the masses as including walking on water, levitation, rainmaking, appearing in various places at this at the one time, healing by the breath, resurrecting the dead, predicting future events, and turning earth into gold, and so forth. You can read more about this on the Moodle page. Think about those miracles.

 

Think about them in the context of Jesus’ miracles according to various categories. How do those miracles square with the miracles recorded of Jesus Christ in the bible? It’s noticeable that saintly miracles of, of Islam are bestowed by God on the saint, whereas prophetic miracles cannot be imitated by anyone. That’s a distinction that’s observable in Islam. Note also that the saintly miracles, which are attributed to to the saints of Islamic Sufism, are often just designed to amaze without any ethical purpose, unlike those of Jesus.

 

That’s a point of distinction. Staying with the saints, how how how is a saint distinguished? Apart from miracles, what other qualities set a Sufi person apart from the masses so that their saintly status is recognized? Well, this has been addressed by many different writers and a very famous writer is Abu Naim al Isfahani, and he writes an account about a certain saint by the name of Shaddad ibn als. And he said that what set him apart was being restrained yet forthright, prudent, self controlled, emotional, humble, devout, well versed, fallible, manifesting a concern for others, and being an advocate of repentance.

 

There’s the term that we encountered in an earlier lecture, and one associates the emphasis on repentance with Sufis. So those were the qualities of this saint Shaddad ibn Aus. Al Ghazali, another famous, classical Islamic writer, he died in 11:11. He comments that the usual subjects taken by students of orthodoxy, which are thick or that is jurisprudence, tafsir or exegesis, and kalam, which is theology, they do not necessarily engage with the inner and outer dimensions. This is taken from Al Ghazali’s treatise on the direct knowledge from God, and I’ve provided a link to that on the Moodle page for you to read.

 

It’s a translation that was undertaken by professor Godlas. So do pause the recording at this point and read that reading in full. So in the reading presented by Godlas on the, web on the middle page, Al Ghazali again draws this distinction between the inner and outer dimensions, the inner and outer dimensions. And he suggests that orthodox non sufi Muslims focus on the outer dimensions, and they study subjects such as jurisprudence and exegesis and theology, but they don’t really engage with the inner dimensions, he says, the inner dimensions which is the focus of the Sufi quest. Another very famous Muslim associated with Sufi Islam is Ibn Al Arabi.

 

I’d like you to look him up, go online, read about him as much as you can. He is an important, very important person in the history of Sufism. I’ve also provided a reading on the myrtle page about him by by Morris who is presenting Ibn Arabi’s book of the quintessence. Ibn Arabi was the father of the stream of Sufism, which we discussed in the last lecture. Now ibn Arabi writes a work that’s in called that that’s entitled instructions to a postulant instructions to a postulant, to an apprentice Sufi, really.

 

And he gives guidelines to the postulant as to what they must do in order to attain the their this their goals as a Sufi. He calls on postulants to follow the following practices, abstinence, prayer, self criticism, humility, to observe the pillars of Islam, the 5 pillars, ritual purity, nobility of action, to be forgiving, to be compassionate for animals, to shun worldly matters, to follow God, to be generous, to overcome evil, and to fear Allah. You see, this is a very different expression of Islam to some of the other expressions we’ve encountered in this course. They provide different angles on understanding the Quran, different perspectives on approaching the sacred text, different mindsets. How would you respond as a Christian to those guidelines given by Ibn al Arabi to postulants.

 

A further statement by Ibn al Adamee bears thought by Christians. How would you respond to this statement? Which is also included in his instructions to a postulant. He says, all the commandments are summed up in this, that whatever you would like the true one to do to you, that do to his creatures step by step. Another very famous writer who writes on Sufism is Al Qusayri.

 

Read about him. Search about him on the Internet. See what you can find out about his life. Now he reports some common features of the Sufi masters as follows. He says that the common features of Sufi masters are repentance, piety through suffering, responding to prayers, curing ailment ailments, denial, and renunciation of the world.

 

How would you respond to that from a Christian perspective? And further on Al Khosseidi, writing on the Sufi masters, he cites Ibrahim ibn Adam’s 6 stages of renunciation where the following are renounced, the favored life, nobility, ease, sleep, wealth, and hope. And the following are embraced and encouraged, namely distress, loneliness, strenuousness, wakefulness, poverty, and preparations for death. How would you respond to that as a Christian? Now the final issue that I would like to look at in this sub lecture is agility’s notion of the perfect man.

 

We’ve mentioned on a number of occasions in lectures up until now that for Sufism, Mohammed is somewhat elevated above the normal the normal position of a normal man, though a prophet, that is held by orthodox Muslims. For Sufis, Mohammed is elevated, and he attains a level which suggests at times an almost supernatural dimension. And the the clearest context where this is manifested is in the notion of the perfect man that was articulated by the classical writer, Awjili. In this notion, this is described in the book by FE Peters, a reader on classical Islam. In this notion of the perfect man, Mohammed becomes most excellent, and he becomes the perfect man.

 

The perfect man has various guises, but he’s a copy of God. It’s noticeable that in high sufism, Mohammed becomes the bridge between god and the world through notions such as the perfect man. Though in low Sufism, saints serve as this bridge. The issue here is how does Islam bridge a transcendent distant God and the ordinary human beings? Within Sufism, Mohammed is the bridge for high Sufis, for the more intellectual kind of Sufis.

 

But for low Sufism, the bridge is provided by the saints of Islam in their tombs. And I’d like to conclude by looking at the tomb of a Sufi saint, Abdur Ra’uuf of Sinkil, who we encountered earlier in some of his writings. These photos were taken by myself on a visit to Aceh in North Sumatra in the 19 eighties and this is a photo of Abdul Raouf’s tomb and the caretaker of the tomb. The caretaker claims that his family has cared for the tomb since the death of Abdul Raouf in 16/93. He is the 7th generation caretaker, and his ancestors are buried inside the building next to the tomb of Abdulrauf.

 

Here’s another photo of the graves of the wives and the disciples. These are the graves of Abdul Raouf’s wives and the graves of Abdul Raouf’s students. And as is so often the case at these Sufi, tombs, there are mosques and other buildings built near the tombs for studies for studies of the Quran and for studies of the works of the particular saint. So this was a very famous place of retreat for ordinary Indonesians who were mystically inclined. They would come and visit the tomb of Abdula’uuf, and some would stay on and engage in some studies.

 

Now, sadly, in December of 2004, when the great Asian tsunami hit Aceh, This location was right near the coast, right near the beach, and it was devastated by the great tsunami. And this is the this was the result after the tsunami of 2004. Now Abderail’s tomb survived, but the building surrounding it were devastated, and the process of reconstruction is underway. Now the preceding slides have identified qualities that set a Sufi master apart from other Sufis. How do these qualities reconcile with the qualities of outstanding Christian leaders?

 

How would you respond as a Christian to the discussion about Sufi masters and the qualities required to lead? Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re continuing on with the lecture topic of saints and Sufis, and this will be the final segment on this topic and indeed the final lecture in this course. In this, segment, we’re going to focus on opposition to Sufism, Opposition that has come down the ages and is expressed in classical writing, but is also expressed in the modern day. We’ll begin with, a piece of writing by Ibn Khaldun, a famous medieval historian.

 

I’ve provided a link on the course website to an article about Ibn Khaldun entitled Ibn Khaldun and the rise and fall of empires. It’s a very good article, and it gives you a snapshot of this very important figure. Now Ibn Khaldun considers some aspects of the original Sufi quest as legitimate, but others as more dubious. And in an excerpt from his writing presented by FE Peters in the book, a reader on classical Islam, Ibn Khaldun approves of Sufi discussions of pious exertions, the resulting mystical and ecstatic experiences, and self scrutiny concerning concerning one’s actions, as well as activities in the various worlds and among the various created things connected with the different kinds of divine grace. However, Ibn Khaldun argues that Sufism was fine until it was corrupted by the Shiites with their preoccupation with Ali.

 

Later Sufism became pantheistic. He writes, the oneness assumed by the sufis is identical with the stated opinion of the imam Shia concerning their imams. So the latest Sufi concepts, such as the theory of poles, did not conform to the Sharia. Now here, ibn Khaldun is alluding to some of the kinds of approaches to Sufism that we encountered in our discussion of, the Achinese polymix in the 17th century in one of our earlier lectures. The idea of oneness assumed by the Sufis, oneness being where all is 1 and one is God.

 

Returning to Indonesia, Andrew Rippon and Jan Nappert, in their edited work textual sources for the study of Islam, have presented a very interesting Javanese mystical tract. Now this text identifies 3 stages on the way to god, and again we find a separation or a distinction drawn between religion for the masses and religion for the elect. This Javanese text identifies the 3 stages on the way to God as being first staying within the law of Islam, so staying at the level of the sharia. 2nd, taking the path to god. And 3rd, and very controversially, witnessing the ultimate reality.

 

Now you’re gonna hear even within this short this small summary potential for a polemic. This Javanese mystical track suggests that Haqqiqah is the highest stage on the upward path. Haqfeqha is seeing the secret close by, the secret, the divine secret close by. It is interior knowledge. And a key method of attaining this extra level, this extra awareness and consciousness and truth is through the practice of dhikr.

 

Dhikr is it comes from the Arabic word meaning to mention and it refers to mentioning the names of God, of Allah, and in the process, acquiring the qualities represented by the names. So if the name is if the if, the word in focus is merciful, one of the names of Allah, then by using this practice of, it is believed that the the individual Muslim will acquire the quality of being merciful from this practice. Now there are 6 degrees of according to this text. There’s of the mouth, which means articulating and repeating some of the names of Allah. There’s dhikr of the soul, of that process taking place in the soul, dhikr in the heart, dhikr in the interior, dhikr in the spirit, dhikr in the subtle being.

 

And even here, we get this multilayered sense of understanding on the part of Sufis. Now this Javanese text warns its readers to stay away from the modernists for they bring evil, it says, the those modernists who are anti Sufi. And it reflects a fundamental tension between text based rationalist modernizers who often targeted mystical Sufis as having strayed from the true path of Islam. Now opposition to Sufism has come various quarters down the years, and Linda Clark, writing in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, summarizes the sources of some of this opposition, different ideologies that have opposed saint veneration in the past, the Orthodox Ullama, especially ibn Taymiyyah. I’d encourage you to look up that name, ibn Taymiyyah, a very important medieval theologian.

 

He died in 1328, an important name to read to to read up on. He was very opposed to Sufism, and he wrote prolifically on this subject, and his opposition was used as the basis of opposition by a lot of later legal scholars. Also in opposition to the, Sufis were the, Wahabis, the Wahhabi, literalist revolution that took place in Arabia in the late 1700 and the school of thought that came out of them, very narrow, literalist school of thought. Also, in opposition to Sufis were modernist early 20th century modernist writers, such as Mohammed Amru and Rashid Rida. And also in opposition to the Sufis were secularists, such as Ataturk and his secularist revolution in Turkey in the 19 twenties.

 

So Sufism has been doing it tough in the 20th century and into the 21st century. And also to be added to this list are 21st century radicals, such as Al Qaeda and other groups, which have often targeted saints’ tombs and Sufi practice in different parts of the world. To get a sense as to the kind of opposition that comes from young literalists, I’d like you to listen to the film that’s linked to on your course website, the film, a message to the Sufis. It’s a lecture by a young Muslim scholar who is highly critical of Sufism. He argues that the state of decay of the Islamic community worldwide or the Ummah is due to the abandonment of the sunnah, the way of Mohammed, the model of Mohammed, as well as spreading of innovations, and Sufism is seen as spreading of innovations.

 

Give a Christian response to this. I’d also draw your attention to the, the reading by John Gilchrist on the course website. He talks about the cultic trends in popular Islam, low Sufism. This brings us to the end of this course. Thank you for staying with us.

 

I do hope that you’ve got a lot out of this course and that the various topics, that we have dealt with in the lectures have helped you to understand the Quran and have especially helped you to shape a Christian response to the various issues that have arisen. The purpose of the course, as we stated at the outset, was indeed to better understand Islam in all its manifestations and especially as it relates to the Quran, the core text of Islam, and then to take that knowledge and shape your Christian response to it and equip yourself as a Christian to engage with Muslims. So as you go about this task of Christian engagement with Islam, I do wish you every blessing in this task and hope that all goes well in the future as you apply this material in your own lives and ministries. Thank you for joining us.



Episode 109
Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: Sufism’s Concepts of Divine Immanence and Transcendence
Jun 19, 2024 | Runtime: | Download
Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Divine Immanence and Transcendence during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the important… Read More

Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: Sufism’s Concepts of Divine Immanence and Transcendence

Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Divine Immanence and Transcendence during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the important difference between divine immanence and transcendence in relation to Sufism (and the Sufi path: tariqa) compared to other forms of Islam.

 

  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Divine Immanence and Transcendence

 

Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re moving on now to a new topic and indeed the remaining lectures in this course will concern themselves with different aspects of Sufism. Now this topic is a little more comfortable than the last topic where we considered Muslim attitudes towards people of the people of the book. In the case of Sufism, there are many themes here which are controversial within Islam, but which at times hearken to to Christianity a little. There are certain resemblances which account for Norman Anderson, the great Christian scholar, the evangelical scholar of Islam, making the comment that Sufism was the most attractive face of Islam.

 

Now, initially, the first topic we’re going to look at in connection with Sufism is divine imminence and transcendence, And down the centuries, Muslims have debated the nature of Allah. Now while an orthodox view is to see Allah as a transcendent and distant judge and authority, Sufis have sought a different understanding of Allah in it’s more in in its more extreme form, Sufism has sought communion with Allah to the point of becoming aware of a union with Allah. Now the readings of this lecture, of lecture 15, provide different perspectives on the Sufi quest, and you will see some quite different and hear some quite different approaches from what we encountered in earlier lectures where we were dealing with a much more textual textually literalist approach to Islam. In the readings for this lecture, I provided you with an excerpt of writing from Anne Marie Schimmel, a great very prominent Western scholar of Sufism. William Chittick is another very prominent Western scholar of Islam, and we have a selection from him, and we also have selections from some writers who originate from Southeast Asia, and I will say more about them when we get to those slides.

 

One of the key distinguishing features of Sufi approaches to commenting on the Quran is that Sufis argue that the text of the Quran is multilayered in terms of its potential meaning. And here they are, of course, in a situation of potential conflict with more literalist hadith based approaches to Koranic interpretation. Let’s take the example of Jafar as Sadegh, a very prominent early Sufi writer. He argued that there are actually four levels of meaning of the Koranic text now just think of a Koranic verse and we read the verse we read its surface meaning and a literalist more hadith based approach would be to take the surface meaning as the only meaning. Now according to this writer, Jafar Asadegh, he says, well, there are four levels of meaning to that verse.

 

He says, at one level, there’s the level of expression, and that’s for the common person. That really is the literalist surface meaning that we described. But then he said, apart from that, each verse can be interpreted as an illusion, which is for the elect, for the specially trained Muslims, who are especially trained to interpret the deeper meaning of the verse. But even beyond that, he says, there is a subtle meaning, and that is very restricted. It is only available for the saints.

 

Only the saints of Islam will understand that meaning of the particular verse in question. And, ultimately, even beyond that, there is the level of the realities where the meaning of the Quranic verse at this level is only available to prophets. So take any verse in the Quran, and it can be understood either in terms of its expression, which is surface for the masses, illusion for the specially trained or the elect, subtle meaning for the saints, and realities for the prophets. You can see it’s a very different approach to Quran interpretation. And if you can if you refer back to the reading materials from the lectures on tafsir, on exegesis, you will find that there is a link there to the commentary by Atustari Atustari Sahal Atustari, who died in 896.

 

That is a Sufi commentary, and it’s the earliest surviving complete commentary on the Quran by a Sufi. So read that as you go through verses in the context of these next few lectures. I’d like you to stop the recording now and watch the film Ghazali’s last. It’s a short film available on YouTube, and I have provided a link to the film on the Moodle page. Watch it and consider the content.

 

Moving on, the kind of meditations which are contained in the film that you’ve just seen by by the film Ghazali’s last, those kinds of meditations arise from a process of thinking and contemplation linked with certain favored Quranic verses. Now for Sufis, there are particular Quran verses that they especially favor as providing a window into the Sufi quest. 1 of the most favorite verses is surah 50 verse 16, which reads as follows. And we have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and we are closer to him than his jugular vein now this is a very important verse for Sufis because this is one of the few verses in the Quran which talks about the closeness of God generally speaking in the Quran affirms Allah as a transcendent deity, as a distant creator God who is sovereign, who has authority, who is judge, not a God who is intimate and close. But this particular verse refers to God being closer to a person than his jugular vein, and this is a favored verse among Sufis.

 

Another favored verse is the very famous light verse, and I’d like to read this now in detail. As we go through it, just think about the imagery, which is quite extensive within this short verse. Surah 24 verse 35 is the light verse. Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth. His light, in terms of a similitude, is like a niche in which there is a lamp.

 

The lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a brilliant star that is being kindled by a blessed olive tree that is neither eastern nor western. Its oil would all but light up even though no fire touched it. Light upon light. Allah guides to his light whomever he wishes, and Allah strikes similitudes for people, and Allah has knowledge of everything. Now what does that mean?

 

The reference to similitudes is interesting. Really, what’s meant there is kind a kind of parable parables. But what is meant by a lamp, a niche, a brilliant star, a blessed olive tree? What is meant by that? Well, Sufis have exercised their minds down the centuries thinking about this verse.

 

It’s one of their favorite verses. And as we go through this verse, I’d like you to take particular note of how Sufis are interpreting in a way which is not based on the surface context, the surface meaning of the verse. Because quite simply, in this verse, if you merely limit yourself to the surface meaning, you’re left in a state of confusion as to what it means. Now Al Hallaj was a very early Sufi. He died in 9/22.

 

He was actually executed for blasphemy. He left behind writing through his disciples, and in his exegesis of the light verse, he interpreted the imagery of the light as the light of inspiration, intimate prayers, certainty of faith, and glorification. So you see, this Sufi scholar is taking a keyword from the verse, light, and asking, contemplating, meditating on what the meaning might be. This is no longer surface meaning interpretation, drawing on the hadith. It’s a very different style.

 

According to Sufi commentators, possible sources of the light are God, the prophet, and the heart of the believer. So this question of what is the light that’s referred to in this verse is a cause of great discussion among Sufi commentators with different conclusions reached. Some say the light is God, some say the light is Mohammed, and some say the light is the heart of the believer. Similarly, there are various interpretations for the blessed tree. Some say that the blessed tree is the lineage of Mohammed, the spiritual experiences of Mohammed, and Mohammed him or Mohammed himself.

 

We mustn’t forget the importance of the tree symbol in tracing lines of spiritual descent in the various Sufi orders and we’ll see an example of that shortly in in another slide. But there we have another debate. Is the blessed tree the lineage of Muhammad? Or is the blessed tree the spiritual experiences of Mohammed, or is the blessed tree Mohammed himself? Sufis have debated that.

 

And this slide gives you a kind of tree, the kind of tree that’s very very popular among Muslims in general but especially Sufis. A kind of line of descent beginning with Mohammed and going down to a particularly Sufi scholar or saint at the bottom of the page. Between Mohammed and that Sufi scholar are a range of other names that forms a kind of spiritual genealogy. Now light upon lice, that phrase occurs in this verse. What does that mean?

 

Well, light upon light is interpreted by ecstatic Sufis. They’re Sufis who engage in a kind of ecstatic worship, and we’ll be seeing an example of that shortly. Light upon light is interpreted by such as the lover of Allah being extinguished in the divine realization, the lover of Allah merging and being extinguished in within God himself. You see, we’re hearing a very different kind of voice here, very different kind of preoccupation by Sufi Muslims. Now, in Sufi commentaries on this verse, the issue of Mohammed arises.

 

Where how does Muhammad feature in this verse? Well, some Sufi commentaries suggest that the reference to the lamp is to the name of Mohammed, to the word Mohammed. The niche that’s referred to refers to Mohammed’s breast. The light upon light refers to Muhammad as guide. That’s another version, another possible interpretation.

 

And you get a sense as to how Mohammed is being elevated above this simple man prophet, which he is regarded by in in orthodox Islam, obviously elevated, but nevertheless clearly human who lived and died. For Sufis, Mohammed tends to assume a greater status, especially for the more extreme versions of Sufism. And we will encounter later the perfect man notion, which is often associated with the person of Muhammad, and one can see how that could be a result from the process we’re going through at the moment. So I’d like you to digest the material we’ve just looked at and ask yourself a question, how does this Sufi engagement with differ from the methods of Koranic exegesis encountered in lesson 14 on the people of the book? When we discussed the people of the book, we were looking at interpretation of the Quran.

 

We were looking at how other texts interpreted those verses in the Quran about the Christians and the Jews. How does this kind of exegesis now by Sufis differ from the kind of exegesis we saw in the slides on people of the book? Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re continuing on with the theme of divine imminence and transcendence, which relates to the broader topic of Sufism. We’re going to be dealing with, various themes in this lecture, and we’re drawing on, our reading materials, both what is online, but also on a broader corpus of literature, which I’ll be recommending as we go through.

 

The name of Ibn Rushd or Avarus is very famous in both Islamic history and western history because he was a philosopher who really sat across the 2 great faiths in terms of his influence. In, the work which we’ve encountered several times, in our course, by Ghahalmat Gachi, the Quran and its exegesis, there is a translated section, from Ibn Rushd, in which, he makes reference to allegorical exegesis. And he’s he explains that allegorical exegesis converts the meaning of an expression from the literal to the figurative. There is both an inner and an outer meaning because the natural talents, he says, of people are different, and their abilities in regard to the affirmative function of reason deviate from one another. So this is getting to the crux of the problem.

 

That is that are Muslims going to interpret the Quran? Are they going to understand the Quran in a literal way? Do they look at the surface meaning and take that as the the meaning of the text? Or do they do they look beyond the surface meaning, and then do they move from the literal to the figurative as puts it? Do they look at the outer meaning only, or do they look for an inner meaning?

 

Now we discussed this in the last lecture with the 4 level interpretation of Jafar Asadegh, who suggested that there were 4 levels of meaning to each chronic verse. And this statement by Ibn Rushd is affirming that idea of there being different levels of meaning to each verse. Now a very famous Sufi, commentator was Abdulazak Kashani. There are excerpts of his writing in Gachi’s book, the Quran and its exegesis, and I would refer you to that. Also, you can go online and find some of his writings there.

 

I also draw your attention on our Moodle page to a link I’ve provided to an article called the famous scholars of Sufism by the one umah.net, group. And that’s quite a useful listing of the main names in the history of Sufism. So that will provide you with, a useful who’s who in a sense of, of Sufism down the ages, and Kashani’s name figures there. Now Kashani suggests that God’s throne is equal to the heart of Mohammed, that the throne on which God sat is actually the heart of Mohammed, not in a literal way, but in a figurative way. And it’s that’s interesting because for two reasons, actually.

 

It’s interesting because it shows the allegorical side of Sufi interpretation. So when they encounter the reference to God’s throne in the Quran, their thoughts can go to the heart of Mohammed. But it’s also significant because it points to the ever rising significance of Mohammed beyond human proportions, and this was part of of the Sufi project, the Sufi experience, that Mohammed for whom orthodox hadith based Muslims is a a man, a prophet, but nevertheless, a man who lived and died. For some Sufis, he was elevated to greater proportions. Kashani encounters the expression take off thy sandals in surah 20 verse 12, And he suggests that thy sandals is taken to mean your soul and your body or your 2 temporal forms of existence.

 

Since when one is free from soul and body, one is free from both forms of existence. Now again, allegory reigns supreme here. The Quran verse, the surface meaning is take off thy sandals. The literal meaning is take off sandals. The allegorical mean meaning is take off your soul and your body or your two forms of existence.

 

Coming back to Anne Marie Schimmel, who appears on your middle page, with, her piece of writing entitled what is Sufism. She writes in another one of her books, the triumphal sun, she writes, if man loves god’s creation in patience and gratitude, he acts as a true monotheist because he sees in the world nothing but an expression and manifestation of god’s creative power. But if he loves creation for its own sake, he becomes an infidel, an idolatrist. So you can see again how Sufi thinking is moving beyond the literal, moving beyond the here and now to a greater level of meditation and contemplation and allegory. Another key name in Sufism is Jalaluddin Arumi, and I would encourage you to pause and do some research into the life of Rumi.

 

No study of Sufism is complete without reading about Jalaluddin Rumi. Now he proposed a theology of opposites. He suggested that things can only be known through their opposites. So god is the merciful and the wrathful. He is grace and wrath.

 

And when you read, Rumi’s writing, you often get this sense of of opposites. I’d like to move from general discussions of Sufism, which we’ve had so far, to focus on Southeast Asia, a particular context, a particular time, a particular group of people. Because this provides us with a small window into the big tapestry of Sufism. We’re moving to northern Sumatra to the region of the north of Sumatra, present day Aceh. In the late, 16th, early 17th century, the period when the sultanate of Aceh was at its greatest extent.

 

Now one of the greatest writers and very earliest Sufi writers to emerge from that period was a man by the name of Hamza Fonsuri, and I’ve provided you on the Moodle page a translation of one of his poems. Hamza was a very prolific poet and writer. He wielded a great influence on in the 16th century within the area of Aceh, and his followers continued on to write about him. One was Shamsudin Asamatrayi. He wrote a commentary on, one of Hamza’s poems.

 

So the poem I’ve given you is poem 31, and Shamsuddin wrote a commentary on that poem. So pause the recording now and go to your Moodle page and read Hamza’s palm number 31. Now in commenting on Hamza’s poem 31, shamsudin as Samatrayi writes, the essence of man is God most high. Essentially, man is the only lord. There is no question of return to him nor in fact of coming from him for coming and return presupposed 2 entities.

 

How could there be any question of return and coming since we and God most high are of one being. Now you can imagine how potentially inflammatory such a statement was. We and god most high are of one being. That cut right across this standard orthodox dualistic notions of the clear separation between creator and created, and it provided full fuel for a great polemic, which took place in Aceh in the 7th century. Shamsudin Shamsudin, promoted in his writing the notion of 7 grades of being.

 

He wasn’t the first to develop this. He had taken this from earlier Muslim writers from India and from the Middle East, but he promoted it in the area of Southeast Asia. The grades of being were ahadia, the essence of god that was uncreated and eternal, wahda, the attributes of god that were uncreated and eternal, multiplicity and unity, still unity but multiple within unity, wahidea, the names of God that were similarly uncreated and eternal. So so far the first three grades were uncreated and eternal. Then we move on to grades 4 to 7, the world of the spirits, alam al arwa.

 

They are created in particular. God’s being is manifested at this stage. Alim Al Metha, the world of ideas, they are created in particular with God’s being manifested at this stage. Alem Al Auj Sam, the world of bodies, similarly created in particular with God’s being manifested. And finally, Radem Al Insan, the world of man, the most outward grade that is created in particular, gods being manifested.

 

Now between the 1st grade, the ahadid, the essence of god, and the 7th grade, alim alinsan, the world of man, there are these various grades of being. And the question became, were these grades of being considered as manifestations of God? Were they God or were they separate levels of existence? And there was the debate. That was the debate among Sufis.

 

Some Sufis saw all as being 1, all as simply being part of God. God was all. So man was part of God. Man was God, in other words. And this was a key cause of great debate and great polemic among Muslims in Indonesia, but also in the Middle East as well.

 

I’ve given you an excerpt on the middle page of a piece of writing by Nuruddin Araniri called the proof of the truthful in refuting the index. And in this piece of writing, this man Araniri, he reacts quite violently against what we have just read because he saw it as blasphemy. I’d like you to pause your recording and read the the excerpt from Ranieri entitled the proof of the truth truthful, and at the same time, read the other excerpt by him called Jawahir. Now this whole debate between Shamsuddin on the one side and Araniri on the other side is well discussed by Vakili in Studia Islamica, and I will give you now a summary of Vakili’s discussion. Now he summarized Ranieri’s opposition to Hamza and Shamsuddin.

 

He suggested Ranieri, the later scholar who was reacting to the earlier writers, he suggested that they were pantheistic, suggesting that God’s essence is completely imminent in the world. He accused them, Hamza and Shamsudin, of believing God to be a simple being. He accused them of believing the Quran to have been created. That goes back to an earlier debate in Islam. And he accused them of believing in the eternity of the world because the world, in their view, he said, was simply part of god.

 

You get a sense as to the great polemic that took was taking place over this. And although we’re focusing on Indonesia, 17th century at the moment, This debate went on at different points in different parts of the Muslim world as well. De Graaf, who is a another scholar, he noted that Hamza had declared that prayers and fasting were unnecessary, but that ritual prayer or salat was a useful device to practice unification with god. This was another point of tension between the two schools of of of thought here. In that Hamza and Shamsuddin were accused of downgrading Sharia law and the public, the the the legal requirements of the faith in in favor of a more esoteric meditative approach.

 

Now in his article, Wakili studies various angles on this on this, debate. He studies the writings of, Sayed Nagibul Atas, who is a very famous scholar who writes on this question. And Vakili clears Hamza of Araniri’s accusations. So Vakili’s conclusions are that Hamza was in fact not, guilty of pantheism as he had been accused of by Ranieri. I’d like you to read the materials yourself and to read your own conclusions.

 

You have the poem by Hamza, poem 31. You have the 2 pieces of writing by Ranieri. You’ve read both of those. What do you think? What do you think of Ranieri’s accusation of Hamza?

 

Do you believe that Hamza was guilty of pantheism, of collapsing all into the godhead, or not? Relevant to this whole debate is the doctrine of Wahdatas shuhud, And I’ve given you an article by William Chittick on the website there about the. There are 2 kinds of wahdat, which were in opposition here, and this represents again part of the debate within Sufism. Al Hallaj, the Sufi scholar who had been executed in 9/22, had developed a doctrine of wahdatashuhud called unity of witness. That was based on the idea of signifying the identification of and witness to god within the heart of the believer.

 

A later doctrine was which you have addressed in the writing by William Chittick. He addresses this doctrine, the, which refers to a monistic view of the creation whereby all creation was seen as an inevitable manifestation and component part of the deity, and the mystical experience merely accentuated the individual’s realization of this fact and his discovery of his own godly attributes. So the difference here relates really to monism and dualism. Did this Sufi quest allow for all to become God, or did the Sufi quest allow for god to be active in his creation and part of his creation, but nevertheless still separate from his creation. And this was the debate within the Sufis.

 

Some Sufis were more extreme, arguing along the lines of extreme that all was God and God was all, whereas others issuing a doctrine of, a unity of witness, still maintained a measure of dualism in their perspective on the relationship between God and his creation. I referred earlier to the late Christian scholar of Islam and law, sir Norman Anderson, who described Sufism as the most attractive face of Islam. Do you agree? Why? Why not?

 

And in particular regard to our own faith, in what distinctive ways should Christians engage with Sufi Muslims in contrast with non Sufi Muslims. We’ve spent a lot of this course talking about non Sufi approaches to understanding the Quran and to the primary texts based on a more literalist or sometimes philosophical approach. But with Sufis, it’s a whole different ball game. How would you respond to Sufis, to what we’ve seen so far, in a way which would be different from your response to other kinds of Muslims? We will pick up the Sufi question again in the next lecture.



Episode 108
Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: People of the Book
Jun 19, 2024 | Runtime: | Download
Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on the people of the book (Jews and Christians) during a CIU course. Here,… Read More

Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: People of the Book

Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on the people of the book (Jews and Christians) during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents a range of material found about people of the book within Islam. The dichotomy between Islamic texts, the wide range of views among Muslims on the people of the book, and the relation between the Islamic textual materials that foster such attitudes.

 

  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: People of the Book: 

 

Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re going to turn our attention now to a new topic, and that is the topic of the people of the book, which for our purposes will refer specifically to Jews and Christians. Now in thinking about this topic, it’s important to remind ourselves of the, sort of dichotomy, in a sense, between Islam as a religion, a religion of texts, and Muslims as people. Now, of course, there is interaction between those 2. Texts shape people, people engage with texts.

 

But the themes that are in texts don’t necessarily reflect themselves in the attitudes of all people. And on this particular topic, the people of the book, I think it’s fair to state from the outset that Muslims Muslim people certainly have a wide range of views towards Christians and Jews. Some views are positive, some views are negative. So the people have a whole range of views, but as far as the sacred texts are concerned and the associated commentaries that go with those texts, I think it’s important to note that the that the texts include many statements that foster negative stereotypes of people of the book, of Jews and Christians, among Muslims. Now, the readings for this lecture, and we have a whole range of readings there, the readings for this lecture show how negative statements in primary Islamic texts can produce negative attitudes among some Muslim people.

 

Now this topic is at times uncomfortable, and it really calls for public recognition and discussion of a significant issue and a significant problem at times. If you look at the Moodle page, you will see that there are a whole range of reading materials there. There is a an excerpt from the book by Helman Gatchi in which he draws on commentators from the classical period, people like Zamasu al Sha’i and Baydawi, on what they have to say about people of the book. There is an excerpt from the very early commentary by Muhammad Ali bin Soleiman commenting on the very first Surah in the Quran. There are writings by other Muslim scholars and writers, and, there are a number of films that I will ask you to look at as well, supplemented by writings by by Christians on this theme.

 

Now, look, we’re often reminded by human rights reports about persecution of Christians. For example, this report dated January 8, 2013 stated that about 100,000,000 Christians are persecuted around the world according to an annual report by a group supporting oppressed Christians worldwide. Open Doors, a nondenominational Christian group, listed North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan as the 3 toughest countries for Christians last year. They topped the 50 country ranking for 2,011 as well. Now, 2 of those 3 countries are, of course, majority Muslim nations, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

 

And it’s important to observe that stories of persecution of Christians seem to come in a disproportionate measure from Muslim majority locations. Now, what’s going on here? Why is this? Why does Christian suffering and persecution of Christians happen especially in the Muslim world? Well, the answer lies in part to materials contained within the primary texts of Islam.

 

I’d like you to stop the recording now and to watch a couple of films. The first film is by Ahmed Diddat, a very well known the late Ahmed Diddat, well known Muslim polemicist. He has a film on YouTube available, and we have a link on the Moodle page. And the film is entitled how to treat the Jews and the Christians according to Islam. And, also, there are 2 short clips, which show in interviews with young Arab girls, young Arab children, in which they are asked a range of questions which give an insight into attitudes towards people of the book.

 

Now, these of course are real recent films and they show modern attitudes among some Muslim people. I’d like you to stop the recording and watch those, and then we will ask the question, why do these attitudes exist? Okay. So let’s move from those films which include comments by Ahmed Diddat and a couple of young Arab girls about Jews and Christians to ask questions of the Islamic sacred texts themselves. What do they have to say in terms of attitudes towards people of the book?

 

Well, we’re gonna go on a bit of a journey through the Quran here. This is surah 2 verse 122 and it states the children of Israel were especially favored by God that their words were, O children of Israel, call to mind the special favor which I bestowed upon you and that I preferred you to all my others to all others for my message. So there is this sense of special favor recorded in the Quran directed towards the children of Israel used as a vehicle by God to transfer God’s message. Continuing on verse 2 verse 83 of Sura 2, and remember when we made a covenant with the children of Israel saying, worship none, save Allah only, and be good to parents and to kindred and to orphans and the needy, and speak kindly to mankind, and establish worship and pay the poor due. Then after that, ye slid back save a few of you being averse.

 

Now, this verse says that the children of Israel, after having been given a special favor, some of them slid back. Going on. They distorted God’s teaching for monetary gain. Then woe to those who write the book with their own hands and then say, this is from Allah to traffic with it for a miserable crisis. And this is the greatest calumny, of course.

 

The Quran says, who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah? So let’s take stock. These verses suggest that the children of Israel were given special favor by God to transfer his message. Some of them slid back. Some of them changed the message with their own hands for monetary gain.

 

And they concealed the testimony that they had from Allah. Now what was that testimony that they apparently concealed according to the Quran? Well, Muslim scholars claim, and we’ve mentioned this in earlier lectures, there is evidence of Jewish distortion through certain verses remaining in the Bible. This verse from Deuteronomy 18. The Lord said to Moses, I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers.

 

I will put my words in his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him. Deuteronomy 18. Now, Muslim polemicists say that this verse remained in the Quran and it points to Mohammed because Mohammed is a prophet like you, they suggest. And at the same time, they say there weren’t many other verses in the in the Bible originally, which Christian and Jewish scholars erased, many verses which foretold the coming of Mohammed, which were erased by Christian and Jewish scholars. Now, a price is to be paid according to this Koranic story.

 

In that, as the pea children of Israel changed the message of a Quran, which foretold the coming of Mohammed, their fate will be sealed on judgment day. The Quran warns of the fate awaiting the Jews on judgment day. Hast thou not turned thy vision to those who have been given a portion of the book? But a party of them turn back. But how will they fare when we gather them together against a day about which there is no doubt?

 

Now that day is judgment day, the day of judgment. This comes from surah 3 verses 23 to 25. And one finds graphic scenes we saw in our earlier lectures about eschatology that the whole day of judgment discourse in Islam is one of great tribulation and trial and fear. So what will happen to the people of the book on judgment day? Well, the famous Kashiorkommer commentator Al Baydawi records what is destined for the Jews on judgement day according to the Islamic accounts.

 

He writes, it’s recorded that the first standard of the infidels that shall be raised on the day of judgment is the standard of the Jews. Then God shall upbraid them in the presence of the witnesses and then order them to hell. And this theme is also picked up in the hadith accounts. For example, in, Sahih Muslim, book 41 number 6985, it reads as follows. Abu Huraira reported Allah’s messenger as saying the last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews, and the Muslims would kill themselves would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree, and a stone or a tree would say, Muslim, oh, this or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me.

 

Come and kill him. But the tree, Garkhad, would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews. So this is the fate that awaits the Jews according to this Islamic account for having distorted the message that they were originally given by Allah, a message which foretold the coming of Mohammed, that message they concealed. Now, this kind of negative portrayal of Jews, especially, but Christians to some extent as well, which is found in certain verses of the Quran and the Hadith, is carried through to other literature as well. The Mishkat Al Mas’abih is a collection of Hadith, and it includes this this account, this Hadith account, which says, when Safia heard that Hafsa had called her a Jew’s daughter, she wept.

 

Now that’s a window into culture, and it’s a window into context. Obviously, in that context, to call someone a Jew’s daughter was a term of abuse. And that suggests the continuing negative stereotyping of Jews in the day, in the period of those texts. And as we’ll see, this negative stereotyping has carried on down the centuries. Another hadith account in Sahih Muslim, account number 284, He who amongst the community of Jews or Christians hears about me, but does not affirm his belief in that which with which I have been sent and dies in this state of disbelief, he shall be but one of the denizens of hell fire.

 

Mohammed is speaking in this hadith account, and he is saying that if any Jew or Christian does not accept his prophetic claims, and he dies in a state of disbelief in Mohammed’s prophetic claims, he will go to hellfire. This is the message of the text. We also find in another hadith account, volume 7 of Bukhari, book 72 number 786, Abu Huraira said, the prophet said, Jews and Christians do not dye their hair, so you should do the opposite of what they do. So you see the issue here. There is this textual negative betrayal and negative stereotyping of Jews especially, but Jews and Christians also.

 

So this is the starting point. With such a textual context, with the primary text of Islam, Quran and the Hadith, carrying such negative baggage in their references to Judaism, especially, but also Christianity, how does that translate to attitudes among Muslim people? As we’ll think about that more as we go through these lectures on this particular topic. But at the same time, I’d be like I’d like you to be thinking about biblical context as well. Does the Bible include references to people of other faiths that are demeaning or derogatory, as we’ve seen in the case of the Quran and the Hadith?

 

To what extent do you think that statements in the Islamic texts, which are negative about Jews and Christians, might inform attitudes today among Muslims? Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re continuing on with this lecture on people of the book as portrayed in Islamic materials. We saw in the last part in the first part of this lecture that the issue of persecution of Christians is widespread and widely re reported, and comes especially from areas where Muslims are in the majority. We asked ourselves the question, to what extent does do Islamic textual materials foster negative attitudes to Jews and to Christians?

 

And we saw that within the Quran and the Hadith, there certainly are ingredients there for promoting negative attitudes towards Jews and towards Christians. We’re continuing on with this theme now by moving to commentaries on the Quran. And we’ll begin with the very old the the earliest surviving commentary on the Quran by Muqhatil ibn Sulayman. If you turn to your Moodle page, you will see that the Muqaddil’s commentary on Surat al Fatiha, on the verse 1st Surah of the Quran, is available to you on that page. I’d like you to read that commentary, stop the recording, read the commentary, it’s fairly short, and then we’ll discuss it.

 

As you read Mokateil’s commentary on Suratul Fatiha, there are a number of features that are striking. Firstly, the commentary is quite exclusivist. There’s no doubt, as you would expect, where he believes the truth to lie, and that’s very clearly in the message of Islam, which is not surprising, of course. He addresses the qira’as, the variant readings of ibn Masood. That’s interesting.

 

Very early commentary dating from 767, and that was the year of death of Muqhatil. He died in 7 67. So his commentary appeared within barely 100 years of Mohammed’s life, and he’s talking there about the variant readings. However, you can tell from some of the features, especially his commentary on verse 7 of this Surah, that there is an element of anti Jewishness, and there is an element of anti Christian feeling as well. And this is very early, so he’s taken those elements that we saw in the last lecture from the Quran and the Hadith, and he’s transferred it into tafsir, into commentary writing.

 

And that as a tendency goes on down the down the centuries. Note also that his approach is Hadith based. His commentary style is hadith based. He uses the hadith to explain the Quran. Moving on to other commentators, Al Baydawi, another famous commentator who we encountered earlier in this course, he died in 12/86.

 

If, you refer to Helmut Gachi’s book, Quran and its exegesis, it in it includes English translation of Beidawi’s commentary on Sura 2 verses 142 to 143. Interestingly, he makes the observation or the comment that Jerusalem was initially identified as the direction for prayer but that was a test by God to determine who would follow Mohammed by facing Jerusalem and who would follow their ancestors by facing Mecca. Also, in Helmand Ghatshi’s translate translation of the various commentators, we find comment by Zamaq Shari on sura 5 verse 82, in which he suggests the Jews are stubborn, but Christians are gentle and more inclined towards Islam. So, again, you’re getting a negative stereotype of Jews, but a somewhat softer view of Christians is portrayed. Al Baydawi’s comment on Sura 113, also presented in GACI, makes reference to a Jew who practiced the sorcery of the knots.

 

And it’s this association of Jews with negative themes, sorcery, that reinforces the negative stereotype that comes through so much in the textual materials of Islam. Moving from the past to the recent past and the distant past to the recent past, we look at the comment by Muldudi, the 20th century Pakistani commentator, very famous Islamic scholar who wielded quite an influence, especially with the more militant, radicalized Muslims. He comments on Surah 3 verses 64 and following. In his note on those verses, he says, any doctrine which teaches the worship of anyone and anything other than God and exhausts any creature to the position of god can never be the teaching of a prophet. Now implied, of course, is a clear rejection of Christianity’s divinity of Jesus.

 

And so, again, we’re finding in the textual materials this recurring theme of negativity towards Christians, in this case, and towards Jews. Muldudi, further on, comments that the prophet’s pledge he makes reference to this prop prophet’s pledge, which affirms preceding prophets and anticipates late prophets. And he points out that Mohammed was the only one who was not asked to take this pledge, affirming the uniqueness of Mohammed and demonstrating the transgressions of the Jews and the Christians. Muldudi’s commentary is available online, and I do encourage you to refer to that. I’ve provided a link on the Moodle page to his commentary.

 

In this proceeding slides, we’ve looked at Gatchi’s book, the Quran and its exegesis, in its chapter, which deals with Quranic commentary on Jews and Christians. And I would like you now to turn to the Moodle page, stop the recording, and have a look on the Moodle page on the link to that chapter from Gucci, which is available in PDF form. This negative stereotyping of Jews and Christians, which is found in primary texts, is also found in associated literature, such as the legal texts. Consider Arezala, which is a legal text from the Maliki school. It says, the blood wit for a woman shall be half that of a man.

 

The blood wit, of course, being the blood price paid for recouping a crime against a woman. So the blood wit for a woman shall be half that of a man. Similarly, the blood wit for a male Christian or a Jew is half that of a male Muslim, and the blood wit for their women is half that of their men. And so if a crime is committed against a Muslim man, the amount to be paid as penalty is twice that that needs to be paid if a crime is committed against a Muslim woman. And similarly, the amount of money to be play paid for a crime committed against a male Christian or a Jew or a female Christian or a Jew is less.

 

So built within the legal texts is this idea that Muslims and Muslim males more deserving than non Muslims, and indeed Muslim females. A very important source in understanding the textual basis of Islam, in understanding the Quran and how the associated literature explains the Quran. An important work is F. E. Peter’s reader on Islam.

 

And I’ve provided you with a number of excerpts from that on the Moodle page. Now, F. E. Peters cites and translates part of a work by Juwaini, by the classical Islamic writer, Juwaini, called the Noble Healing. And in this excerpt, Duane claims that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the pre exilic tour Torah records, and so Ezra reconstructed the surviving fragments, altering the originals in the process.

 

Now this gives further detail to the Islamic claim that the Jews distorted the message they’ve been given from from Allah. Here, he’s unpacking it and explaining that the method of distortion was by Ezra who, after the exile to Babylon, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem, Ezra reconstructed the Torah but changed it in the process. Now, Giovanni also claims that there was too great a time lapse between the life of Jesus and the composition of the gospels, again implying a process of distortion. Giving further details to the standard Islamic claim that the Christians and the Jews have distorted the message that they received from Allah. How would you respond to that?

 

In making a response to such polemical Islamic claims against the Christians and the Jews, A key source for finding your answers is the extensive Answering Islam website, which is available on the Internet. I’ve provided a number of links to that site on your Moodle page. For a different kind of voice, I turn to the writing by T. M. Hashbi Asiedefi.

 

He’s a 20th century Indonesian scholar who we had not encountered before. I’ve provided a translation of part one of his part of part of one of his works on the Moodle page. And in this translation, in this excerpt, Ashadegh offers a principle of equivalence between Muslims and people of the book. Non Muslims should only be subject to Sharia punishments, he says, for breaches of their own faith’s injunctions, such as drunkenness, not for breaches of Sharia, which are allowed by them by the non Muslim faith, such as drinking alcohol in moderation. How would you respond to that?

 

Read his translated excerpt on the Moodle page and consider a response. Another reading that you have available on the Moodle page is taken from the 20th century Egyptian radical writer Saeed Khutb. Now, as I’ve explained before, he is a key icon for radical Islam, for radical Muslims. And in his writing, he is especially vitriolic at times against the people of the book, especially the Jews. I would refer you to the reading, which is available on your on your Moodle page by Sayed Khutb called Our Struggle with the Jews that was translated by professor Ron Netler in 1987.

 

Now, in this reading, Sayed Khutb admonishes the Muslim community to reaffirm Quranic truth, which is the hallmark of Islamic radicalism. Get back to the Quran. Get back to a literal reading in the Quran. He also calls on Muslims to repudiate suspicions and doubts of people of the book to respond to the challenges of the people of the book. He warns the Muslim community against conspiracy.

 

He encourages the Muslim community to reaffirm the reality of power. He points out to the Muslim community the weakness of its enemies. He’s trying to galvanize the Muslim community. And he shows the Muslim community that Allah is with the Muslims. Read his passage that’s available on the Moodle page.

 

Think about it and ask yourself how you would respond to some of his statements. Now, in this reading, Sayid Khutb is quite polemical against Judaism. He accuses the Jews of the Madinan dissension, the assassination of a caliph caliph Uthman in 656, corrupting the Hadith records. He accuses the Jews also of Islamic law reforms in the last 100 years, which watered down the basis of Islamic law. He accused the Jews of being the sources of Marxism and of communism.

 

He accused them of moral decay, and he accused them of a decline of family value values. In short, he accused the Jews of a whole range of calumnies going right back to the time of Mohammed right up to the modern day.



Episode 107
Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: Islamic Doctrines and Debates
Jun 19, 2024 | Runtime: | Download
Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Islamic doctrine and debates during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the different… Read More

Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: Islamic Doctrines and Debates

Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Islamic doctrine and debates during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the different debates that arise from Islamic doctrines, both outside and inside the ummah (reason vs. revelation, works vs. faith, who is a Muslim, attributes of Allah, nature of the Qur’an, eternal heaven and hell, and predestination). 

 

  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Islamic Doctrines and Debates 

 

Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re moving on to a new lecture topic, doctrines and debates. But actually, it’s not so new because we have engaged with some of the the debates within the Islamic community in earlier lectures on a number of occasions. So this is a return to some of the topics that we’ve encountered before. Now, of course, the Islamic community has been, characterized by internal division and discussion and debate no less than the, history of Christianity.

 

And Muslim debates have focused in some cases on some of the same questions that have exercised Christian minds. What are some of those questions that have challenged Muslims down the ages and continue to challenge Muslims? Well, it’s worth noting that the kinds of questions that are debated relate to both outside and inward issues, and you need to note that distinct distinction. Firstly, there are political issues. The question of whether Muslims have the right to challenge earthly rulers or not.

 

That’s been a cause of a great debate down the centuries. And, of course, in some cases, earthly rulers, the caliphs, have argued that, in fact, Muslims should not by their religion challenge earthly rule, but it’s been a matter of great discussion and debate. And I think we no doubt he records this in Christian history as well. Should Christians challenge earthly rulers? If so, how?

 

Another, topic of great debate has been the question of reason and revelation, and I’ll say more about those shortly. Another topic of debate has been the issue of works versus faith. And, again, we’ll discuss that in more detail later. Part of that is the question of who is a Muslim and who is a or who is an unbeliever. The first part of that question, who is a Muslim, has tended to be more an intellectual discussion among scholars.

 

Whereas who is a disbeliever, a cafe has been somewhat more addressed to the masses. The Islamic community down the ages has also debated the attributes of Allah, and we discussed the attributes of Allah in some detail in an earlier lecture. And we saw there that there were debates that surrounded that. The question of the nature of the Quran, whether the Quran is a created thing or not, has been a matter of great debate. Of course, the predestination versus free will debate has carried on down the centuries through Islam.

 

We addressed that in an earlier lecture, and we will return to that shortly. And the question of eternal heaven and hell is one that has been a matter of some considerable debate among Muslims as well. Now in the remaining part of this lecture, I would like to turn our attention to several of those debate issues that you have on that list there. First, we’re going to consider the issue of reason and revelation. The issue is not so much reason versus revelation, but it’s rather how one interprets the primary texts.

 

Does one do so through reason or through revelation? The methods of engagement with the Quran that we saw in our earlier discussions about interpretation included literal interpretation, allegorical interpretation, Sufi interpretation. And these are the debates. How should Muslims understand the Quran Quranic verses? Should they understand them as a literal interpretation?

 

Or should they understand them in terms of a more philosophical kind of interpretation? How should revelation, as Muslims understand it, how should the Quran, the Quranic revelation, be understood? Should it be through the use of the hadith or should it be through the use of reason? This was the big debate and within a 100 or so years of the death of Mohammed, this debate erupted in Islam and still goes on today. The reason I focus on these kinds of issues is not because I’m specifically interested in history, but it’s more because these are issues which come from history but live on today among today’s Muslims.

 

Now back in the early centuries of Islam, there was a fundamental divide between reason based scholars and more literalist hadith based scholars. For the revelation based, Ahlil Hadith, as the literalists were called, they leaned towards Islamic law over theology and faith. Whereas for the reason based school, theology and faith had a higher place. An important source for you to refer to is this work that was edited by Andrew Rippon and Jan Nappert called Textual Sources for the Study of Islam. And we’ll look at some of their some of the writings in that shortly.

 

But I wanna return to the early liberal theologians, the the Mu’tazilites, who we talked about in earlier lectures. They were reason based. They were very much rationalist, philosophical kinds of thinkers, and they united around 5 key principles. They argued that Allah was 1 in Islam. Allah was unitary.

 

There was 1 God. There were not multiple gods. And because there was one God, they said the Quran could not be a created thing. I’m sorry. The Quran could not be an uncreated thing because that would imply an eternal element alongside God, God and the Quran.

 

Therefore, they said the Quran had to be a created thing. Similarly, they argued that God had to be just. If God was unjust, he would not be divine. Therefore, humans had to have free will because a just god could not predetermine people to sin and then punish them for it. So because Allah had to be just, humans had to have free will.

 

That was their argument. They also argued that Allah as a just God must reward the good and punish evil. Therefore, a grave sinner had to remain forever in hell. Otherwise, his punishment would not be complete. They also argued that mortals that people could not pronounce judgment on a grave sinner.

 

That was up to god to do, and that was reserved until judgement day. And they also argued that the task of the believer was to command the right and to forbid the wrong. Now these early Mu’tazila thinkers were very much based on reason, and they they argued that in interpreting the Quran, the primary instrument for doing so should be reason, should be rational thinking. Now their opponents were the strict literalists, the ahlil hadith, and there was a polemic for a century in the early centuries of Islam. And it was ultimately resolved by a man and his school.

 

His name was Al Ashari. And he was the one who really determined Muslim orthodoxy as a kind of compromise between the 2 poles. He said he drew on the Quran and the Hadith to address and resolve the agenda established by the Mu’tazila who had drawn greatly on reason. So Al-‘Shari reinstated the place of scripture as the primary instruments for interpreting scripture, but allowed for reason to be part of the toolkit in the interpretation process. I’d encourage you to read up about Al Ashari in your reference works.

 

This is another important source for you to obtain and be familiar with, Islamic creeds, a selection by W Montgomery Water was published in Edinburgh in 1994. Now what made an important distinction? He focused the discussion in his introduction on the issue of author orthopraxia versus orthodoxy. And in the case of Islam, he prefers to use the term orthopraxia rather than orthodoxy, claiming that Muslims are more concerned with right conduct than with right belief. In other words, with works than with faith.

 

Conduct Trump’s belief. The mainstream, in his view, thus refers to that group which prioritizes right conduct, I e, the Sunnis. That’s what Sunni means, the conduct of Mohammed. So a religion of works is core to his claim. So then how are faith and works balanced within the Islamic scheme of things?

 

Well, this was a cause of debate, and these are the debates that exercised Muslim minds in the early centuries and continue to exercise Muslim minds today. Take the group of the Hanafites. They’re one of the 4 surviving Sunni law schools centered very much on Turkey and regions related to Turkey. They held that works were not part of faith. They tended more towards more liberal approach to expressions of Islam.

 

Whereas the Hanbalites, the more much more conservative, literalist law school insisted that works belonged within faith, and indeed faith increased or decreased according to works. So works were primary. The Hanbalife Law School is centered on Saudi Arabia, and that, of course, is one of the most conservative narrow areas of the Islamic world, very much works driven. How do the debates discussed in the preceding slides connect with debates within Christianity? Are such questions purely of historical interest, or do they have resonance today in Christianity?

 

Does a debate about the relative balance between faith and works in Christianity still exist? How would we draw on the Christian experience of that debate to engage with Muslims? With Muslims who follow a religion, which at its core is works based. What about the debate relating to the interpretation of scripture through reason or through a more literalist approach. That debate was and remains active in Islam.

 

What about in Christianity? Does it exist in Christianity? Does it still exist in Christianity? How do Christian perspectives on that debate help us to engage with Muslims? Welcome back to understanding the Quran.

 

We’re continuing on with the theme of doctrines and debates. And in this lecture, we’re going to focus very much on one particular debate, the issue of predestination versus free will. Now we’ve touched upon this before in these lectures, but we’re going to look at it more intensively now. I draw your attention to the Moodle page, where there is a range of reading materials that relate to this topic. There is an excellent piece of writing by Baljon, by Hoover, And you have a set of readings translated by Andrew Rippon, which we will look at in part in these slides.

 

We’re going to watch film, and there is an also very interesting, excerpt of writing by the great, Christian, missionary Samuel Zwemer, a very prolific writer who spent time in the Middle East, in Egypt, and in various locations. And he has left us a a vast collection of writings on Christian perspectives on Islam. Now our Moodle page includes a an excerpt from one of his books in which he talks about the debate about predestination versus free will. Let’s begin by listening to what the Quran has to say on this topic A key verse is Surah 13 verse 11. For each such person there are angels in succession before and behind him.

 

They guard him by command of Allah. They guard him by command of all Allah and verily, never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves with their own souls. But when once Allah will of a people’s punishment, there can be no turning it back, nor will they find besides him any to protect. The fascinating thing about this topic is how each side of the debate is fed is supported in part by certain references in the Quran and in the associated literature. The fact is there has been a debate down the centuries in Islam between those who advocate predestination and those who advocate free will.

 

So each side must be able to find some support in the literature, and they can. So that verse in the Quran contributes. What about the next verse? 1327. The unbelievers say, why is not a sign sent down to him from his lord?

 

Say truly, Allah leaveth to stray whom he will, but he guideeth to himself those who turn to him in penitence. As we’re reading these verses, make a note of your impressions. Does each verse seem more weighted towards predestination or free will? Assemble a set of Quran verses and draw your own conclusions before we move on to associated literature. The Quran, surah 14 verse 27, Allah will establish in strength those who believe with the word that stands firm in this world and in the hereafter, but Allah will leave to stray those who do wrong.

 

Allah doeth what he willeth. Is that more inclined to predestination or free will? Surah 4 verse 78. Wherever you are, death will find you out even if you are in towers built up strong and high. If some good befalls them, they say this is from Allah.

 

But if evil, they say this is from thee, oh prophet. Say, all things are from Allah, but what have come to these people that they fail to understand a single fact? Verse 79 of surah 4. Whatever good happens to these from Allah, but whatever evil happens to thee is from thy own soul. And we have sent thee as an apostle to instruct mankind, and enough is Allah for a witness.

 

Now the Quran has many references in addition to those that I’ve read, but there are also many references in the hadith and fiqh manuals. Here’s one reference from the hadith from Muslim, and it’s interesting because it raises the issue of Mohammed serving as a kind of intercessor. Sahih Muslim number 38, the messenger of Allah said to his uncle at the time of his death, make a profession of it that there is no God but Allah, and I will bear testimony of your being a Muslim on the day of judgment. So the issue arises. In the free will versus predestination debate, what role is there for intercession by Mohammed on judgment day?

 

And how does that cut across predestination? Turning now to a fiqh manual, a legal text, a jurisprudence text. Arisala is a Maliki manual from the Maliki law school writing, Another precept is the belief in divine for ordainment, whether it be for good or for evil and whether it be pleasant or distasteful. All of that has been ordained by Allah our Lord. The beginnings of affairs are in his hand and they take place by his decree.

 

He knows all things before they happen, and they happen in accordance with his knowledge. Neither words nor deeds can proceed from his servants except by his decree. Is this the same sense, the same inclination that we’re getting from some of the earlier Quran verses? Carrying on. Surely, he who creates knows.

 

Besides, he is the gentle and knowing one. He leads astray whom he likes to, and he then forsakes him out of his justice. He also guides to the right path whom he wishes to and grants him success out of his grace. Everything is facilitated through his aid and takes place in accordance with his prior knowledge and decree as to whether his servant shall be miserable or happy in the hereafter. Is this more weighted towards predestination or free will?

 

Now we come to some of the writings by scholars, and we have a very interesting piece of writing by Hassan al Basri who wrote the Risala, same name as the previous work, but a different work, in response to a letter from the caliph Abdul Malik. Now you have this particular piece of writing available in greater at greater length on the middle page. This is an excerpt. Hassanal Basri writes, know, oh, commander of the faithful, that God is more just than to blindfold his servant and then to say to him, look, I will not punish you, or to make him deaf and then to say to him, listen, I will not punish you, or to make him mute and then to say to him, speak, I will not punish you. This, oh, commander of the faithful, is plainer than that which is hidden from an intelligent person.

 

I’d encourage you to read Hassan al Basri’s full text on the Moodle page because he is a champion of free will in the early centuries of Islam. He was a precursor to the Mu’tazilite school, which argued very strongly for free will for Muslims. He was opposed by others, and one of those who spoke against his view was Ibn Khudama, an early Hanbalite jurist and scholar coming from the Hanbalite school. It he was a more conservative person, and the Hanbalat School is the most conservative law school among the Sunni law schools. Ibn Khadama disagreed with his contemporaries about how to define faith, and he took a more hard hardline position concerning the possibility of supplementing the the Quran and the Hadith with reason.

 

He was very much a literalist text based person opposed to the arguments for free will. Read his piece of writing available in the text by Ripon on the Moodle page. You also have writing by Mohammed Al Fadali Al Shafi’i, which we have encountered previously. This is also available on your Moodle page, edited and translated by Andrew Rippon and Jan Nuffet. He tries to strike a balance in the question of predestination versus free will.

 

He writes, the liberal theologians teach that humans create their own actions even though they are slaves of God. They’re called the khadiria. Similarly, the representatives of extreme pre predestination are called the Jabiriyah, for they teach that people are forced to act as they do by god’s compelling power. This doctrine is also incorrect. And al Fadawi summarizes his perspective.

 

The truth is the golden road between 2 extremes. People are not compelled nor do they create their own actions. God created the actions which people perform, but at the same time, people act. People have a free choice to act. And this became essentially the position of Sunni Islam among the scholars.

 

Among the masses, a much more predestinarian view predominates. Let’s listen to Hamka, the Indonesian scholar and exegete who we’ve encountered before. Let’s listen to his commentary on Surah 29 Surah 18 verse 29, and I would encourage you to read that verse in your Quran as well as verses surrounding it. He writes, now his commentary is weighted towards human responsibility and freedom of action. Verse 8 1829 reads as follows, and whoever so wishes then he will abandon faith.

 

Humke comments, because you are each given intellectual capacity, you yourself can consider and adhere to the truth. If you are strong in faith, you will save yourself because you have followed the voice of your own intellect. And if you wish to abandon faith, then the one who will bear the consequences of this apostasy is none other than you. Listen to Chandra Muzaffar, a modern Malay scholar Malaysian scholar. He makes a very clear and unambiguous statement.

 

He says the Quran accords the human being freedom, the freedom of will, of choice, of speech, of action, but it is freedom that is shaped by the entirety of eternal values which guides him as a human being. In other words, it is freedom to fulfill his destiny as Khalifa Allah, no more no less. There are clearly mixed messages out there on this question among the Islamic scholarly community. What is noticeable, as I said previously, is that while Islamic scholars debate the issue of predestination versus free will, at the level of the masses, predestination seems to be predominant. Shiite scholars tend more towards affirming freedom of the will.

 

Listen to Behisti and Bohona writing in 1982. They’re 2 Iranian scholars, and they write, man’s disobedience is only a manifestation of his free will and power of choice granted to him by Allah. And to get a further perspective on this topic, turn to your Moodle page and pause this presentation and listen to the short summary by Yusuf Estes, the American convert to Islam, on predestination. Then read the other materials on the Moodle page on the issue of free will and predestination And ask yourself the question, where does Islam sit? Does it clearly sit in one side or other side of this debate?

 

In choosing assignments for this course, you may well choose to take this as a topic of an assignment and to not only address the debate within Islam, but to respond to it as a Christian? How does the Islamic debate intersect with Christian debates on this very topic? And how would you respond to a Muslim on this topic? How would you engage with a Muslim on the question of predestination and free will from a Christian perspective?

 

Episode 106
Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: Sin, Repentance, and Forgiveness in Islam
Jun 19, 2024 | Runtime: | Download
Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on sin, repentance, and forgiveness in Islam during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents… Read More

Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: Sin, Repentance, and Forgiveness in Islam

Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on sin, repentance, and forgiveness in Islam during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the Islamic view of sin, repentance, and forgiveness from the Islamic materials. 

 

  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Sin, Repentance, and Forgiveness: 

 

Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re moving on to a new lecture topic now. The topic is sin, repentance, and forgiveness in Islam. We’re going to break this into different parts. We’re going to look first at sin.

 

I draw your attention to the materials on the Moodle page. You have a set different set of materials there. You have a translation by Arthur Jeffery from, a work by Ibn Saud, a classical writer on the fall of Adam, which of course is a key sin in the Islamic account. You also have a comparative index to sin drawn from the answering Islam website, a useful resource for compiling together diverse references to seen in the Islamic materials. We also have, in terms of Christian response, we have some writings on the website on the Moodle page by Karl Fander, a 19th century, Christian CMS missionary in India.

 

References to sin occur repeatedly in the Islamic literature. Beginning with the Quran, verse 2 verse 81, I’m sorry, chapter 2 goes as follows. Nay, those who seek gain in evil and are girt round by their sins, they are companions of the fire, therein shall they abide forever. So this association of sin and the fire, sin and the fire comes through repeatedly in the Islamic materials. The Quran presents it, and the other materials explicate it to explain the Quran.

 

The Hadith also contains multiple diverse references to sin. This reference is taken from the the collection by a Muslim, Muslim ibn Hajjaj, and his source is Uthman ibn Affan. That’s number 441 in Sahih Muslim. I heard Allah’s apostle, peace be upon him, say, when the time for a prescribed prayer comes, if any Muslim performs ablution well and offers his prayer with humility and bowing, it will be an expiation for his past sins so long as he has not committed a major sin and this applies for all times. So in this shorter death, we have a window into a broader understanding of sin that there are major sins and lesser sins.

 

Also, that sins can be canceled out, especially the lesser sins can be canceled out by certain works. Here’s another important reference in Bukhary that alludes to the question of sin. Bukhari writes, Allah’s apostle was asked, what is the best deed? He replied to believe in Allah and his apostle. The questioner then asked, what is the next?

 

He replied, to participate in jihad in Allah’s cause. The questioner again asked, what is the next? He replied to perform Hajj, Mabru, and adds comment pilgrimage to Mecca, which is accepted by Allah and is performed with the intention of seeking Allah’s Allah’s pleasure only and not to show off and without committing a sin and in accordance with the traditions of the prophet, peace be upon him. The translator has added that commentary at the end. So they are the good deeds to avoid sin.

 

Sin is a diverse concept in the Islamic materials, and different words are used for different kinds of sin. And what I’d like to do now is to give you a list of those words that are used at different points of Quran to refer to different kinds of sin. Hatia is the principal term used for sin in the Arabic Bible, and it literally means missing the mark. It occurs in those Quran verses listed there. Compare it with Romans 3 23.

 

The term entails a burden or a heavy load, and it incur occurs in in surah 94, in the early verses. We also have the term dalaal appearing in the Quran as well as dulma, which means injustice and inequity, whereas dala means astray. You have a range of other terms, vanba, which means a crime or a fault and that’s used a lot in the Arabic Bible but in the plural also appearing in the Quran at verse 2 of surah 48. Means transgression. It occurs in Quran surah 45.

 

Compare it with the use in Romans in the Arabic Bible. Now a key term for sin is shirk, which literally means association of God, association of Allah with other gods. There are four aspects to this shirk. Idolatry, ascribing plurality to god, ascribing divine knowledge or power to other than God, and performance of ceremonies implying reliance on other than God. I refer you to the dictionary by Thomas Hughes, the dictionary of Islam, which is available on your Moodle page, which discusses the four kinds of shirk, which we also encountered in an earlier lecture.

 

Shirk meaning association of Allah with other gods and thereby me ultimately meaning apostasy because it means renouncing belief in Allah as one god. That’s one of the major sins of Islam. Other terms used are fascia, fujur, sei, su and durum, referring to specific sins, adultery, depravity, single mistake, evil, crime, as well as vola, an error, an oversight, facade, corruption. Bhutan, lying or slander. Asyan, rebellion.

 

Junna, a crime. All of these terms are used for sin and they constitute the body of sin as a group understanding. Another key sin is being a free thinker or a vindic, a magician or an apostate that comes out of the Risaleh. And these are some of the greatest sins in Islam. So being an apostate, forgetting a quranic chapter or a verse which had been memorized this reference to that in the hadith collection of Abu Dawood.

 

Shirk, we mentioned, was one of the greatest sins in Islam. There is some difference among the scholars as to what are the greatest sins, and because there’s difference among the scholars, you will find difference in the modern day amongst, Islamic writers and ordinary Muslims. Al Ghazali, the great classical scholar who died in 11/11, he records a difference of opinion among the companions among Mohammed’s friends as to the number of major sins. Some were saying that there were 4. Others were saying there were 7 major sins, others were saying there are 9 major sins, and ibn Abbas, the early companion of Mohammed, who was a source of many of the hadith accounts, said that there were 70 major sins.

 

According to Al Ghazali, suicide is a major sin, but it is a lesser sin than shirk associating others with Allah. Al Baydawi, the commentator who we encountered in the earlier lectures on the tafsir, he died in 1286, he gives a concise listing of 7 grave sins. They are associating other gods with God, killing a person whom god has declared inviolable, slandering a blameless woman, consuming the wealth of an orphan, charging interest is a grave sin, in this view, deserting a cause, and being obstinate towards one’s parents. So these are the grave sins. In opposition to the grave sins, there are forgivable sins.

 

There are lesser sins. Being soiled with urine, according to Abu Dhabi, is one of those. Non payment of the zakat, the tithe, is another that’s referred to in one of the legal texts, the. And another legal text, Alhidaya, says letting premises for use as a church or a pagoda is a forgivable sin, but still a sin. I’d like you to go back and look at all of the slides on, the sins that we’ve encountered, and I’d like you to make notes on similarities and differences between the Quran and the Bible on the understanding of sin.

 

How would you go about talking to a Muslim? Given that they have the approach to sin that they do, how would you go about talking to a Muslim about a biblical understanding of sin? Continuing on from our discussion of sin in the last lecture, repentance and forgiveness are themes associated with sin in the Islamic discourse, and we’re going to turn our attention now to repentance and forgiveness in Islam. Now as we go ahead with this topic, I’d like you to be keeping one eye on the Moodle page. There are a number of important documents on the Moodle page to help you.

 

You have a film, which we’re going to look at shortly. There is a, sermon by a Muslim in Pakistan on the whole notion of forgiveness in Islam. And then you have two pieces of writing by Karl Fander, the 19th century CMS missionary in India in India, and he writes about the nature of sin and the means of forgiveness of sin and responds to it from a Christian perspective. So that will give you some important Christian angles on this whole discussion. Let’s first consider repentance in Islam.

 

Repentance is a theme that one finds in particular contexts. The month of Ramadan, the fasting month of Ramadan is a time when repentance is supposed to be at the fore of people’s consciousness. And indeed, there are many references to repentance in the Quran. Repentance in Arabic is a, and there is an entire chapter of the Quran that is called the chapter of, the chapter of repentance. Let’s first look at this reference from surah 85 verse 10, which says, those who persecute the believers, men and women, and do not turn in repentance will have the penalty of hell.

 

They will have the penalty of the burning fire. So punishment will come if there’s no repentance. In other words, sin, those who persecute, No repentance, therefore punishment. On the question of repentance, we turn to Sufi writers because repentance as a notion features very largely in Sufi consciousness and Sufi writings. Now one of the greatest Sufi writers was Al Ghazali.

 

He died in 1111. And one of his most famous works was translated in 1982 by Karim, and I have drawn on that for a discussion for Al Ghazali’s discussion of repent repentance or Tawba. Al Ghazali says, repentance has four principles. It must be sincere. The repentant must determine to turn away from both major and minor sins in the future.

 

There we have this distinction between major and minor sins. The repentant must search into into his or her past sins, and the repentant must understand the need for repentance. Al Ghazali goes on that repentance has 3 ingredients, the knowledge of the sin, repentance for the sin, and giving up sin in the future. Now this is a very Sufi discussion, and this is the kind of discussion that Sufi Muslims, mystical Muslims, engage in, and we’ll be looking more closely at Sufi Islam in a later lecture. Ghazali, a Sufi writer, says that repentance is compulsory because it’s firstly the only way to salvation, citing verse 24 verse 31 of surah 24.

 

But furthermore, repentance is compulsory because the Sharia law says it’s compulsory. So what are the forms of repentance in Islam? How can people repent or take penance? Well, penance can take the form of feeding 10 freeborn poor Muslims according to the legal text, Arisaleh. Or it can take the form of setting free a believing slave who is free from all blemishes, according to the same legal text.

 

Or repentance can take the form of returning stolen property, shunning what is forbidden, asking for forgiveness, performing superegoory superegoory acts of worship, and pronouncing formulaic conut supplications according to that same text. So you can see that repentance is a very workspace thing in Islam. Taking certain actions will bring about penance. How does the Islamic concept of repentance that we’ve just been discussing compare with biblical teaching on repentance? How would you respond as a Christian to the concepts of repentance that we have just discussed in the slides?

 

What about forgiveness? Allah is particularly pleased when one of his servants repents. We read in the riyadu sadihin. We’re told in the Quran in verse 3 of Surah 110, celebrate the praises of thy lord and pray for his forgiveness for he is off returning. Now this concept of forgiveness and mercy is a frequent recurrent theme in the Quran and in the Islamic literature.

 

In the Hadith, for example, we read in Bukhary’s Hadith, Allah’s apostle said if anyone of you feels drowsy while praying, he should go to bed till his slumber is over. Because in praying while drowsy, one does not know whether one is asking for forgiveness or for a bad thing for oneself. Always be on the lookout for terms which are similar, but which mask underlying differences. Is the forgiveness and the repentance that we read about in Islam, the terms are the same as in Christianity. Are they the same in terms of underlying function and form?

 

We read in the Hadith collection of Abu Dawood that when the prophet came out of the privy, he used to say grant me thy forgiveness. That’s an interesting one to think about. There are different views. Again, we’re drawing on a range of legal texts and Sufi texts here, Different views on forgiveness. According to the legal text, Harisala, Allah will forgive if the sinners repent.

 

Same texts ask God’s forgiveness for believing parents. And Al Ghazali says every sincere repentance is accepted and forgiveness is forthcoming. Salvation by deed. We find this in a hadith account. Whoever says glory be to God and in his praise 100 times in a day, his sins will be put away from him, though they be as the foam of the sea.

 

According to a hadith account recorded by William Goldsack the in his book on selections of Mohammedan traditions. Now the whole idea of forgiveness is interlinked with the often repeated concept of God’s mercy. How does intercession work with forgiveness? Can believers be interceded for? If they have sinned, is there a form of intercession?

 

Well, according to Ali Al Khari, a classical scholar, the righteous are prophets and saintly persons who can intercede for sinners. So prophets and saintly persons can intercede for sinners according to that writer. He also reports that the Mortazila, who we’ve encountered in earlier writing, they were the liberal theologians of early Islam who believed in free will and so forth. They apparently downgraded intercession to something which can only increase a person’s rank in paradise, not getting there in the first place. They believe that those committing the greatest sins remain in hell forever, and that was a great debate in early Islam.

 

Do Muslims who commit mortal sins remain in hell forever? The Mordazielites said yes. Others said no. Remember that repentance and forgiveness act as a sign of warning of the punishment of the fire. And we have to reiterate this this idea that so often when Christians study Islam, we see words that sound familiar.

 

Repentance, that’s a term that’s well embedded within Christian, doctrine. Similarly, forgiveness. But other terms used in the same way, do they mask a deep seated similarity or a deep seated difference? According to Lagard, he writes the reality of sin to repentance to forgiveness in Islam belongs to a system quite different from our own. William Phipps writes on this whole topic of, forgiveness in Islam and Christianity as well.

 

He argues that both the biblical and the Quranic and hadith materials argue for both vertical and horizontal forgiveness, namely God forgives as people forgive each other. However, Jesus attached no strings to this, he says, teaching forgiveness for any who repented, says Phipps. Whereas the Quran limits forgiveness. It’s not for pagans. Mohammed did not forgive poets who criticized him, and he showed no mercy in certain instances.

 

So forgiveness, says Phipps, in Islam is contingent upon certain conditions. I’d like you to stop the film. Stop the recording now and watch the film how to do repentance in Islam. A link is provided on the Moodle page. Furthermore, this whole question of forgiveness, sin, repentance, and forgiveness is the focus of Chalkut Mukherjee’s excellent book, The Search For Forgiveness, Pardon and Punishment in Islam and Christianity, published by IBP in 2004.

 

It’s a comparative study of the notion of forgiveness in Islam and Christianity, and I would highly recommend it.

 

Episode 105
Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: Islamic Eschatology
Jun 19, 2024 | Runtime: | Download
Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Islamic Eschatology during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the Islamic view of… Read More

Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: Islamic Eschatology

Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Islamic Eschatology during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the Islamic view of the end times, focusing on a few themes within Islamic Eschatology: dying, the experience of the grave, and the final Judgment. 

 

  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Islamic Eschatology

 

We’re moving on in this lecture to a new topic, the topic of eschatology, and this topic will be addressed in 2 parts. Eschatology, of course, refers to the end times. Let’s consider this statement by. Is a convert to Islam, a British convert to Islam, and he conducted some very interesting research into the, census figures coming out of a British the British census in 2,001. And in his analysis of the census figures from the Scott Scott Scottish area of Britain, he made this following statement.

 

He said, the Scottish figures show us that out of all the minority religions in the main Christian denominations, Islam is the religion people are least likely to leave or convert to. In other words, it is the least attractive to others and yet paradoxically the most resilient. Why might that be so? That’s an interesting question to ask, and we are going to consider an answer to that question in the materials that we look at in this lecture. I took a book of sermons from Indonesia by this, imam, h a Mustafa, and took one particular sermon and translated it.

 

And it included a very interesting statement, which I think gives us a window into the answer to the question that I asked about why Muslims are least likely to leave Islam. In his sermon, Mustafa says, oh Muslims, we should always be god fearing. In other words, we should always follow his commands and prohibitions. Furthermore, to be god fearing engenders a fear of death which can stimulate fear of punishment in the grave as well as a hope for God’s assistance with all complications. It’s worth asking what words recur in that particular statement.

 

And I think very quickly, you will see the word fear occurs twice. God fearing, god fearing of course twice as well. So within that short statement, you have some form of fear appearing 4 times. Perhaps that is one reason why Muslims are less likely to leave Islam. Let’s continue on.

 

Another Indonesian writer, the famous 20th century, scholar and exegete, he wrote, death is not obliteration. It is not disappearance and termination. Death is only a change to the nature of living from the perishable to the eternal, from the world to the hereafter. As long as we live in the world, we should not lose sight of this. We should not lose sight, he says, of the true nature of death, a change from the nature of living, from the perishable to the eternal, from the world to the hereafter.

 

So this focus on fearing god, focusing on death comes through in the right in the comments by both of these writers. Let’s consider what the Quran has to say. A famous surah that relates to this whole theme of eschatology is surah 90 beginning verse 12. Let’s read that. And what will explain to thee the path that is steep?

 

It is freeing the bond man or the giving of food in a day of privation to the orphan which claim with claims of relationship or to the indigent in the dust. Then will he be of those who believe and enjoying patience and enjoying deeds of kindness and compassion. Such are the companions of the right hand. But those who reject our signs, they are the companions of the left hand. On them will be fire vaulted over.

 

So we have this dichotomy established between companions of the right hand who who believe, who enjoin patience, and who deeds of do deeds of kindness and compassion, give food to the orphan, and so forth, who will receive rewards compared with those who don’t, the companions of the left hand over whom there will be a fire vaulted over them. Again, there’s this sense of warning that’s inbuilt into this statement, And you can imagine the sense of fear that it may engender and the sense of need to follow the the core of of, of Islam. Another verse in the Quran, a set of verses from 5 to 10 in Surah 92, go. Then he recited, as for him who gives in charity and keeps his duty to Allah and believes in the best reward from Allah, nay, I e, Allah will compensate him for what he will spend in Allah’s way. So we will make smooth for him the path of these, but he who is a greedy miser for him the path of evil.

 

And throughout the Quran, we have this constant sense of the dichotomy between good and evil, the rewards of being good, and the punishments that await those who are not, the rewards for those who follow and who are obedient, and the punishment awaiting the disobedient. Consider this statement from Bukhary’s Hadith collection, volume 6, book 60, number 469. This is from Ali, Mohammed’s son-in-law. We were in the company of the prophet in a funeral procession at. He said, there’s none of you but has his place written for him in paradise or in the hell fire.

 

They said, oh, Allah’s apostle, shall we depend on this fact and give up work? He said, carry on doing good deeds for everybody will find it easy to do what will lead him to his destined place. Based on such Koranic accounts and hadith accounts, we find statements by scholars such as Patrick Seal, who wrote, as Islamic sunnah or tradition grew and expanded in the centuries that followed Muhammad’s death, new horrors were added which the prophet never conceived, such as the interrogation in the grave and the torments that follow. So we have this idea that the Quran, of course, according to the Islamic Islamic account, was the first Islamic text to appear, and it was supplemented by the Hadith collections. And Patrick Seal is suggesting that as the additional writings happened, the threats and the and the the the sense of fear and the gruesome accounts of punishment for misdeeds grew more and more and more in the Islamic literature.

 

So having looked generally at those literary materials, let’s focus in on a particular theme at this point. That is the theme of, the experience of dying. This is a theme that comes through quite regularly in the Islamic literature. A very early Jewish convert to Islam, Kaaba Al Ahbar, he writes, dying is like a thorny tree being pushed into a man’s insides so that every thorn takes hold of a vein they’re in and then dragged a man mighty of strength so that what is rent is rent and what remains. We’re getting a sense as to why there may be this sense of apprehension on the part of Muslims of what happens if they are not obedient And, again, why Muslims may be less likely to leave Islam as was pointed out by Yahya Burt in his quote in the first slide that we encountered in this lecture.

 

Continuing on, let’s consider this right the reading by Samarkhandi, a classical Islamic scholar, again on the process of death. When a man who is a true believer is drawing near to the next world and is about to be cut off from this world, they’re to send to him angels whose faces are white as the sun, bringing with them a shroud from paradise and celestial aromatics and take their seat just within his vision. Then the angel of death arrives, takes a seat at his head and says, oh, thou tranquil soul, come forth to Allah’s favor and forgiveness. Then it comes forth flowing as easily as a drop from a water skin. But Samarkandhi goes on to give the other side of the corn coin.

 

Remember this dichotomy between the believer and the disbeliever. What happens to the disbeliever? He continues. But when an unbeliever is drawing near to the next world and being cut off from this world, they descend to him from heaven angels whose faces are black, bringing with them hair cloth and take their seats just within his vision. Then the angel of death arrives, takes a seat at his head and says, oh, thou pernicious soul, come forth to Allah’s discontent and wrath.

 

Thereupon, his soul is scattered through all his members and the angel drags it forth like the dragging of an iron spit through moist wool tearing the veins and the sinews. In my own scholarship, I have focused on writings by Indonesian and Malay scholars. And one of the very earliest Indonesian Islamic scholars who has left significant writing is Abdurra’of of. One of his shorter pieces of writing was this document, which was entitled, and the English translation is essential exposition and clarification on the visionary experience of the dying and what gladdens him. Now in this account, Abderaouf describes the experience of of death.

 

And you have, a detailed article, on the Moodle page by myself in which I, talk about this article and its significance and look at it from various angles. Here on these slides, I include several excerpts from this document, from this particular work by Abdul Auf. Let’s read them. When a person is at the point of death, he experiences several visions. When a vision of black appears to him, which is Satan, then he should utter the creed.

 

There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the prophet of Allah. He he he. When a vision of red appears to him, which represents the Christians, then he should utter, there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the prophet of Allah. He he he. When a vision of yellow appears to him, which represents the Jews, then he should utter, there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the prophet of Allah.

 

He he he. When a vision of white appears to him, which represents the vision of our prophet Muhammad, the messenger of Allah, then he should utter by the will of Allah. He was one of the true believers. When a servant of Allah is at the point of death, 2 devils sit next to him, 1 on his right and one on his left. The devil on his right takes the form of his father and says to him, oh, my child, I truly love and cherish you.

 

Please die in the Christian faith as it is the best of religions. The devil on his left takes the form of his mother and says to him, oh, my child, my womb was your shelter, my milk was your nourishment, and my lap was your place of repose. Please die in the Jewish faith as it is the best of religions. Thereupon Allah inclines whoever he wishes towards faiths which have gone astray. Whenever Allah wishes to show one of his servants the true path and to affirm him through statement of the divine unity, the angel of mercy comes to him.

 

Some scholars identify him as Gabriel, and he drives away from that person all the devils, and he wipes his face. That’s a very interesting account by Abdur’aouf now. The document was written in the late 1600. So we may well ask the question, how relevant is it today? But in fact, the themes of the death experience and the role played by, demons presenting themselves as Christians and Jews to lure the believing Muslim away from his belief is a theme that recurs in modern is some is modern Islamic literature as well.

 

Let’s think more broadly and ask the question, how does the portrayal of death in the preceding slides compare with biblical teaching? Write down your main thoughts. And I would also draw your attention to the Moodle page where you have a comparative index to Islam on the theme of death in which, there are wide ranging references throughout the Islamic literature, especially in the Quran to the theme of death. Welcome back to my an understanding the Quran. We’re continuing on with the theme of eschatology, and we’re going to look at the 2nd phase of eschatology.

 

Phase 1 in a sense that relates to the average to the ordinary individual is the phase of dying. Phase 2 relates to another theme, namely the torment in the grave, what happens in the grave, the experience of being in the grave leading ultimately up to judgment day. I’d refer you to your Moodle page under lecture 6. There is a reading by Sam Shimun entitled Islam and the magical world of genies and dragons. And that reading includes a good discussion drawing on various sources, which addresses this question of the experience of the grave.

 

The Indonesian scholar, Hamka, who we’ve encountered on a number of occasions before, draws our attention to the post death experience. He writes, it seems that before experiencing paradise or hell, one must pass through the period in the grave because this is a reflection of what will be experienced later. Note that last statement that the experience in the grave for the deceased heralds what they will experience in the end times of the final judgment. In a sense, it’s a kind of trial experience. Humpka goes on, although a person acknowledges faith in Allah, nevertheless the calculations of the sins and errors which he committed during his life will be taken into account.

 

Exception and relief will only be applied after that calculation, measuring the relative weight of his good and bad deeds. So there’s an assessment that takes place in the grave according to this Islamic belief. Reflecting and herolding the final assessment, which will take place on the day of judgment. We read this hadith account from Bukhadi who writes, once the prophet, while passing through one of the graveyards of Medina or Mecca, heard the voices of 2 persons who were being tortured in their graves. The prophet said, these 2 persons are being tortured.

 

Indeed, one of them never saved himself from being soiled with his urine, while the other used to go about with calumnies. The prophet then asked for a green leaf of a date palm tree, broke it into 2 pieces, and put 1 on each grave. On being asked why he he had done so, he replied, I hope that their torture might be lessened till these get dry. So in the grave, the deceased is subjected to tests, to an interrogation, to an assessment, and for some, that leads to torture. Abu Hanifa, a great early Islamic writer who we encountered in earlier lectures, who’s the father of the Hannafide law school, he writes on this.

 

He writes in one of his pieces of literature, article 18, we confess that the punishment in the tomb shall without fail take place. Article 19, we confess in view of the traditions on the subject, the interrogation by Munkar and Nakheer is a reality. Now Munkar and Nakheer are 2 of the Islamic angels and their specific is to interrogate the deceased in the grave to determine whether they were believers or unbelievers, obedient or disobedient. If they were unbelievers and were disobedient, then punishment ensued. An Nasafi, another classical Islamic writer, writes, the truly orthodox people teach that the torments of the tomb and the questioning by Munkar and Nakhir are realities, and that the pressure of the grave is a reality.

 

Whether a man be a believer or an unbeliever, obedient or reprobate. If he is an unbeliever, his his torment in the term continues till the resurrection day, but he gets relief from the torment on Fridays and during the month of Ramadan because of the sacred character of these periods. He continues, believers fall into 2 classes. If the deceased has been obedient, there will be no torment in the tomb for him. If he has been disobedient, he will suffer both the torment and the pressure of the grave, but the torment will be cut off on Fridays.

 

Again, we have this dichotomy between believers and unbelievers, obedient and disobedient. Another classical writer, Al Ghazali, who we’ve encountered before, a great influence on Muslims down the ages, writes on this topic as well. He says, we’re dealing with the unseen world. The snakes and scorpions of the tomb are not of the same species as the snakes and scorpions of our lower world. They belong to a different species and are perceived by a different sense of sight.

 

Suffering may be of the mind as is the case when one dreams that he has been stung and cries out in his sleep. The mind, unlike the body, suffers no change at death, and the deceased retains consciousness. He may therefore suffer pain or enjoy felicity as the case may be. Now the last few slides have presented perspectives on this experience in the grave by classical Islamic scholars. But lest we think that that is merely a theme discussed by classical thinkers, I present now writing a writing by h a Mustafa, the Indonesian preacher who I talked about before.

 

He writes, remember that the grave is like a garden of the gardens of paradise or a chasm of the chasms of hell. And the grave itself declares each day, I am a house of darkness. I am a place of loneliness. I am the abode of maggots. And Mustafa is a preacher, and this excerpt is taken from one of his sermons, one of his Friday sermons in a mosque in Indonesia.

 

So it goes to show that these themes of torment in the grave, punishment, reward, squeezing, and so forth are very much in the in the consciousness of Muslims in the present day just as they were in the classical period. These themes have not gone away. They are still there. Similarly, Hampka, another Indonesian writer who we’ve encountered many times before, writes, for sinners, the realm of the grave will be lengthy in duration, but for those who feel that their lives have been more weighted towards good, the duration will not be long. What does fast and slow mean in this context?

 

What does measurement in days years mean? Is it not the case that in our present lives, for someone who cannot get to sleep, one night feels like 12 hours. And for someone who sleeps well, one night only seems like a passing moment. So remembering that this theme of the torment in the grave or the testing in the grave with torment for those who were unbelievers and disobedient, remembering that that theme lives on in modern day writing by Islamic scholars and therefore circulates among modern day Muslim communities. How would you go about formulating a Christian response to this issue?

 

What biblical verses would you draw on? Will your approach be more logical and rational or more textual and biblical or more prayerful or a combination of these. We’re continuing on with our theme of eschatology in the Quran and in its associated literature. So far, we’ve considered 2 aspects of eschatology. Firstly, the process of dying.

 

Secondly, the experience in the grave following death. And now we’re turning our attention to the 3rd stage of the eschatological scheme, namely the final judgment. I’d like you to pause your recording for the moment and go to the Moodle page and turn on a film, a YouTube film, for which a link is provided on the Moodle page. The film is entitled signs of judgment day. Now this is a popular film produced by ordinary Muslims uploaded to YouTube, but it focuses on popular themes circulating amongst the Islamic community about signs of the impending judgment.

 

Now these signs are based in many ways upon Islamic literature. As you watch the film, I’d like you to consider how such popular Islamic accounts of the signs of the end times compare with accounts within the Christian tradition. The theme of the end times of the final judgment recurs on a repeated basis in the Quran. Surah 81 gives us a taste. Surah 81 maps out the kinds of signs that Muslims can look for signs at the end times.

 

Let’s read these verses from Surah 81. When the sun is folded folded up, the stars fall losing their luster, mountains vanish. She camels 10 months with young are left untended. Wild beasts are herded together. Oceans boil over with a swell.

 

Souls are sorted out. The female infant is buried alive. It’s questioned for what crime she was killed. When the scrolls are laid open, the world on high is unveiled. Blazing fire is kindled to fierce heat.

 

The garden is brought near. Then shall each soul know what it has put forward. So verily I call to witness the planets that recede, go straight or hide, and the night as it dissipates, and the dawn as it breathes away the darkness. The Indonesian preacher who I referred to earlier, h a Mustafa, in one of his sermons makes reference to the final day. He writes, remember that after the grave comes a day which is more dire, a day when small children will rapidly grow up.

 

Adults will be like drunkards and pregnant women will abort. And you will see people appear drunk, not through drinking alcohol, but rather through the dire and terrifying punishment of god. Surah 18 has eschatological themes pointing to the final judgment at various points of it. Beginning verse 47, one day we shall remove the mountains and thou wilt see the earth as a level stretch, and we shall gather them all together, nor shall we leave out any one of them, and they will be marshaled before the lord in ranks. Now have ye come to us as we created ye first.

 

I, ye thought we shall not fulfill the appointment made to you to meet. And the book will be placed and thou wilt see the sinful in great terror because of what is there in. They will say, ah, woe to us. What a book is this. It leaves out nothing small or great but takes account thereof.

 

They will find all that they did place before them and not one will by lord treat with injustice. You get the sense of impending doom that is woven through these kinds of accounts about the final day. And you also get a sense as to why Muslims would be fearful of the consequences if they are not obedient to God’s instructions. In commenting on the verses that we’ve just read from surah 18, a Malay language commentary contained in the Cambridge University Library writes as follows. The sections from the Quran are in brackets, italicized, and the commentary appears outside that those sections in brackets.

 

Verse 48. And they will be marshaled by the angels, oh, Muhammad, before thy lord and they will be in ranks and they will see that there is no one for protection. Now a decree pronounced for the unbelievers who deny the day of judgment. Have you come to us on this day naked with nothing to your name as we created you first when you came from the earth alone without any clothes or wealth? I, you thought we shall not fulfill the appointment made to you to meet, which was said to you by the prophets, and we will resurrect you from the grave, assemble you in the field of mashar, cause you to be fearful and criticize your actions.

 

And now the commentary continues by citing a hadith in support of the quranic message. An account from Aisha, may God be pleased with her. One day I asked the prophet of God, prophet of God, how will the people appear who are resurrected from the grave on the day of judgment when they are assembled in the field of Mashar? The prophet of God said, all those resurrected from the grave to the field of Mashaar will be naked. So I said, will all the women be naked too, oh prophet of God?

 

The prophet of God replied, all the women will be completely naked. So I asked, oh, prophet of God, won’t all the women feel ashamed? The prophet of God replied, the events at the time will be so important that no one will be concerned with other people nor will anyone even notice other people. Each will be concerned with themselves. No one will feel any curiosity towards other people.

 

So you get a sense from that commentary how Hadith is used to explicate and to elucidate the Quranic verses. Now this next reading is from a Samarkhandi, a classical writer who wrote an extended piece of literature focusing on the final day. And his his work is essentially a cobbling together of a whole range of different hadith accounts that talk about the end times. The hadith are very important for understanding the end times. He writes in talking about the fire of punishment that awaits the unbelievers.

 

He writes, the fire was stoked for a 1000 years till it became red. Then it was stoked for a 1000 years till it became white. Then it was stoked for a 1000 more years till it became black so that it is black as the darkest night. With such themes, it’s little wonder that many Muslims are apprehensive about being seen to be disobedient and are unlikely to leave Islam. Moving to the islands of Indonesia to an East Javanese village, we find a question posed that was answered by a leading Indonesian scholar.

 

The question from an East Javanese village Muslim is as follows. In the Quran, surah 2 verse 62, it says that apart from believers, there are also Jews, Christians and Sabeans who benefit from God’s rewards. Because they have faith in Allah in the last day and do good works, The clarification I seek is as follows, which Jews, Christians, and Sabeans are referred to here? Now this is very interesting. This intersects with a later topic we’re going to be addressing in our lectures, the topic of the people of the book.

 

So this Muslim has village Muslim has posed the question, and now the question is answered. It’s answered by Hamka, the very famous 20th century Indonesian scholar. He replies, the reference in this verse to Jews, Christians, and Sabeans means those Jews, Christians, and Sabeans in all periods since the time of the revelation of that verse 14 centuries ago right up until our present times. Those who are believers at the outset remain believers for all time right up until our present time and beyond. We’re staying with this theme about the outcome or the rewards or punishments awaiting non muslims.

 

He continues, if there’s among those some who only acknowledge the prophethood of Moses without recognizing the prophethood of Jesus and Mohammed, as is the case with Jews of today, their faith is certainly not acceptable. If they only believe in Jesus and resolutely refuse to recognize the prophethood of Mohammed, their faith is certainly not acceptable. In other words, those Jews and Christians who will earn the rewards on the day of judgement according to this Islamic view are those Jews and Christians who accept Mohammed as the final prophet. He goes on, envy is the reason that they are not willing to recognize that which is within their own sacred texts, which foretold that a last prophet would come to perfect the divine law of the earlier prophets. And the door to enter Islam will remain open to them until the day of resurrection.

 

Again, this theme is is there in the writing of Hamkar that the original biblical record contained references to the coming of Mohammed, and those references were largely erased from the biblical record by Jews and Christians. That’s the standard dogma of Islam. Let’s stay in Indonesia. Let’s listen to the writing of another liberal Islamic scholar, Nur Kholej Majid, the late Nur Kholej Majid, who has now passed away. He wrote, when the day of resurrection has arrived, nobody will speak except by his permission, by God’s permission.

 

Mankind will be divided into 2 groups, the suffering and the joyous. As for the suffering, they will remain in hell where they will moan incessantly. They will remain there forever while the sky and earth exist except if your Lord wishes otherwise, because your Lord certainly carries out whatever he wishes. As for the joyous, they will be in paradise remaining there eternally while the sky and earth exist, except if your lord wishes otherwise as a limitless mercy. So he’s allocating the ultimate decision to the sovereign Allah.

 

The 911 attacks were one of the most significant historical moments in the 21st century, one which will never be forgotten. The 911 hijackers left behind a letter, which had been written by their leader, Mohammed Atta, and circulated among them the night before the attacks. Let’s listen to that letter. You are doing an act that Allah loves and is content with. Because there will be a day by the permission of Allah that you will spend it with pure women in paradise.

 

Do you hear the eschatological theme coming through this letter, which motivated the men to the actions that they took? Smile in the face of adversity, all young men, for you are going forth to the everlasting paradise. Know that the paradises have been ornamented for you with the most beautiful of its ornaments and the women of paradise are call calling upon you to come forth, oh, you friend of Allah, and she has worn the best of its ornaments. When the hour of 0 comes, breathe deeply and open your chest welcoming death in the way of Allah. Always remember that you end your life with prayer and that you begin with it before the target and let the last part of your speech be.

 

There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger. And after it, if god is willing, the meeting in the high paradise. It’s a chilling letter that was circulated among those 19 young men before they crashed those planes into those buildings and into the ground. And what comes through very clearly is this belief that by doing what they did, they could short circuit. They could circumvent the final day, the judgment, all that goes with tormenting the grave, and so forth.

 

Because they believed that by dying as they were doing, they were dying as martyrs, and therefore, they would not have to go through the testing in the grave and the final judgment. They would just go straight to paradise. So if Islamic teaching seems to be pointing Muslims towards the end times, preparing them and warning them, How does that compare with biblical teaching, and how would you approach Muslims on this question? And remember our original question at the beginning of these lectures on eschatology, where we looked at the quote by Yahya Burt, where he explained that Islam was the religion that people were least likely to convert to, but also least likely to leave. So those within Islam were most unlikely to leave it, and I think we’ve seen in these lectures why, given the warning that’s built into the Islamic textual materials about death, the grave experience, and the final judgment.



Episode 104
Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: The Jesus of Islam
Jun 19, 2024 | Runtime: | Download
Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on the Jesus of Islam during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the Islamic… Read More

Dr. Peter Riddell Lecture: The Jesus of Islam

Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on the Jesus of Islam during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) as a prophet found in the traditions and within the Qur’an. 

 

  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: The Jesus of Islam: 

 

Welcome back to understanding the Quran. In the last couple of lectures, we’ve dealt with the issue of prophethood in Islam. And in that, we considered various prophets giving particular attention to Muhammad, who Muslims considered to be the last and the greatest prophet of Islam. Another key prophet in the Islamic accounts is, the prophet Isa, usually translated as Jesus. And in this lecture, we’re going to focus on the Islamic Jesus, looking at various sources that help us to understand the Quran on this particular theme.

 

Now if you turn to your Moodle page to see what resources are there, the resources include some quite diverse readings on the question of Jesus in Islam. You have a selection by, that’s been compiled by F. E. Peters in which he gathers together, various readings on Jesus from the Quran, drawing on the commentators as well. So that will give you a snapshot of a different kind of, different kinds of, materials that help us to understand the quranic account of Jesus.

 

You also have a reading by Seferta in which he deals with modern commentators and their treatment of the Jesus theme. Modern commentators, Mohammed Abdul and Rashid Rida. And you also have an interesting writing by an Indonesian writer called Hasbulla Bakri. Also linked to the middle page for this lecture is a film about which I’ll say more later. And as always, you have a couple of readings by Christian writers giving a Christian response to this particular theme.

 

So we’re dealing with the Jesus of Islam, best known as Isa. That’s the name that’s used for him in the Quran. Now the fact is that Jesus is interwoven throughout the fabric of Islam. The biblical account is drawn on and adapted. And the Muslim starting point is a specific view of Jesus that’s similar in some respects to Christianity.

 

We do hear echoes of the Christian account of Jesus, but there are significant differences and they should not be ignored. In the Quran, Jesus is understood in the usual prophetic terms, the kind of prophetic language and prophetic function that is allocated to to other prophets in Islam. But we should also note the sheer brevity of references relating to Jesus in the Quran. There’s not there’s barely 90 verses in the Quran which contains over 6,000 verses, barely 90 verses make reference to Jesus, and most of these verses relate to Jesus’ birth narrative. It should be noted that Jesus is the last prophet before Mohammed.

 

He’s penultimate. His prophethood is penultimate to that of Mohammed. And he’s seen in the Quran as a subject of controversy. The Quran itself makes the statement the person of Jesus the person of Jesus, so the Quran sets out to set the record straight. Apart from the Quran, of course, Jesus appears in the hadith collections, and these serve to supplement the quranic account, adding a lot more detail to what the Quran has to say about Jesus.

 

For example, hadith number 652 from volume 4 of the collection by Al Bukhari has Mohammed saying, both in this world and the and in the hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers. Their mothers are different, but their religion is 1. There are really from a Christian perspective, there are really two manifestations of misunderstanding about Jesus in the Quran. Firstly, there’s a misunderstanding by Muslims of the true character of Jesus, of who he was, and there is also a misunderstanding by Muslims of what Christians believe about Jesus.

 

The Quran, from a Christian perspective, explains away all the unusual characteristics of Jesus. The virgin birth is not seen as a sign of divine incarnation. It’s merely a sign of Allah’s omnipotence. Surah 112, that that oft repeated surah of the Quran, it rejects the Christian doctrine of incarnation as does surah 18 verses 4 to 5. These are key verses within the Quran for challenging and rejecting the Christian account of Jesus and the biblical account of Jesus.

 

The Quran says that Jesus performed many miracles in verse, 49 of surah 3 as well as verses 113 to 108 of 5. But that his miracles are not seen as evidence of Jesus being more than human. Rather, they’re, again, pointing to seen as pointing to Allah. So Jesus’ miracles and the virgin birth merely point to Allah as to how powerful Allah is. He can do anything.

 

Those events do not point to something special about Jesus. 4 verses 171 to 172 represent a firm condemnation of the claims of the trinity, and I would encourage you to read those verses. But the trinitarian concept within the Quran does not seem to reflect the Christian understanding of the trinitarian concept. The Quran seemed to imply that the trinity consisted of god the father, Mary the mother, and Jesus the son, which, of course, is not how the Bible betrays the trinity. Surah 4 verses 157 to 159 are key verses that reject the crucifixion of g Jesus.

 

Jesus. And in rejecting the crucifixion of Jesus, these verses therefore side step any claims of resurrection from death. Now the vast majority of Muslims, the orthodox dogma is that Jesus did not die. He was not crucified. So, again, this represents a clear misunderstanding of biblical claims and teaching about the person of Jesus.

 

I’d like you to consult reference materials and online sources to draw up a list of those Quranic verses that refer to Jesus. And you’ll find a good selection of Quranic verses on the Jesus account in the reading by Peters on the Moodle site. I’d like you to read all the verses on the Jesus story in the Quran and consider how the Quranic account compares and contrasts with the biblical account of Jesus’ life and ministry. We’re definitely into a a stage where comparison and contrast is relevant because Jesus the Jesus story is so central to the Christian story. Jesus makes an appearance in the Quran in a form, but how connected is it with the biblical account?

 

I leave that for you to make that comparison from the materials. And I would also encourage you to watch the film the Jesus of Islam or the Muslim Jesus, for which a link is provided on your Moodle page and to respond to that. That presents a Muslim account of the Jesus story, and you will be assisted in your response by the readings by the Christian writers also provided on the Moodle page.