Friday, December 2, 2011
In my library, I possess what seems to be a fairly rare book on Christian-Muslim dialogue, with the full title, The Early Christian-Muslim Dialogue: A Collection of Documents from the First Three Islamic Centuries (632 - 900 A.D.): Translations with Commentary.
The book was published back in 1993 by the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute (Hatfield, Pennsylvania), and was edited by N. A. Newman. (Google Books link.)
The following are the translated works included in the book (links to free online editions of the 3 largest works are included):
The Dialogue of Patriarch John I [the Jacobite (i.e. monophysite) Patriarch of Antioch] with 'Amr al-As [the Amir of the Hagarenes] (639 A.D.)
Leo III's [Byzantine Emperor] Reply to Umar II [Umayyad Caliph] (719 A.D.)
John of Damascus' "Islam" in On Heresies [chapters 100, 101] (died circa 752 A.D.)
Note: Google Books online preview of Daniel J. Sahas definitive work, John of Damascus On Islam, available here.
The Dialogue of Patriarch [Nestorian] Timothy I with Caliph [Abbassid] Mahdi (781 A.D.)
Online access: Woodbrooke Studies - volume 2; The Apology of Timothy the Patriarch before the Caliph Mahdi - Mingana
The Religious Dialogue of Jerusalem
Al-Kindi's Apology (circa 820 A.D.)
Online access: The Apology of Al Kindy - Muir
Al-Tabari's Book of Religion and Empire (circa 855 A.D.)
Online access: The Book of Religion and Empire - Mingana
Al-Jahiz's A Reply To The Christians (died 869 A.D.)
In addition to the obvious assessment that the above works provide us with a fairly good glimpse into the kind/type of dialogue that was transpiring between Christians and Muslims in the first three centuries after the rise of Islam, I would like to add the following observations: first, the majority of Christians entering into dialogue with the Muslims in this early period were deemed heretics by the 'Catholic' (Greek and Latin) branch of Christianity; second, the Muslims writers were all Sunnis; third, the level and scope of the dialogues seem somewhat 'unsophisticated' and uninformed by more modern 'standards'; and fourth, certain lines of apologetic method and argumentation on how the ongoing dialogues/debates would proceed along were established—lines, with few exceptions, that have continued down to our own day among the more popular and polemical disputants.
I would now like to expand a bit on my fourth observation. Those who are familiar with this blog are aware of importance that the development of doctrine played in the formation of Christian dogmas. They are also cognizant of the incredible diversity that existed (and continues to exist) among 'catholic/orthodox' Christians, let alone among those who came to be deemed as heretics via conciliar and imperial decrees. With this in mind, I find it quite interesting that much of the apologetic method and argumentation between Christians and Muslims has been carried on with the view that Christian dogma has virtually no diversity, and was 'fixed' long before the debates between the Christians and Muslims began. (I would also argue that the same holds true concerning the development of Muslim doctrines.)
It is my belief that this lack of acknowledgement, and discernment, concerning the development and diversity of dogma, has severely hindered constructive and fruitful dialogue between Christians and Muslims. I also believe that much of the poor apologetic method and argumentation that began in those early dialogues has continued into the 21st century—allowing, of course, that both sides have become much more 'polished' in their presentations of those methods and arguments.
Sincerely hope that this opening post will stimulate some robust and thoughtful interaction.
Grace and peace,