I recently received in the mail the first English translation (The Proofs of Prophecy), of a famous debate "that took place in the early tenth century between the famous Isma'ili missionary Abū Hātim al-Rāzi (d. ca. 933) and the even more celebrated Abū Bakr al-Rāzi (d. 925), the physician and philosopher known to medieval Europe as 'Rhazes'. The two were towering figures of pre-modern Islamic thought, and this account of the debate between them brings us into immediate contact with some of the most intellectually exciting topics of medieval Islamic culture." (Quotation from the dust cover of the book; also reproduced at Amazon.com.)
I ordered this book because of my ongoing interest in Islamic studies, coupled with the fact that I have been impressed by a number of other published works in BYU's "Islamic Translation Series". I was not disappointed; this 2011 contribution has become my favorite of the series. Not only does Abū Hātim al-Rāzi take "the heretic" (i.e. Abū Bakr al-Rāzi) to task for his rejection of supernatural revelation from God (including the Qur'ān), but he does so by appealing numerous times to the harmony between the Bible and the Qur'ān. (He quotes from the Bible in nearly one hundred instances, from 24 different books/epistles, including those of John, Paul, and Peter).
The most interesting section of the book (IMO) is where Abū Hātim al-Rāzi defends the crucifixion and death of Jesus as portrayed in Gospels, arguing that there is no disagreement here between the Gospels and the Qur'ān. Please note the following:
As for the claim of the heretic (i.e. Abū Bakr al-Rāzi) that the Qur'ān contradicts what the Jews and Christians hold regarding the killing of Christ because both groups maintain that he was killed and crucified, whereas the Qur'ān explicitly denies his death and crucifixion and assets that God made him ascent to Him, we answer: What is in the Qur'ān is right and truthful. It is a parable coined by God, whose true meaning is know to scholars of the community. Nevertheless, some scholars have advance the following argument: The verse in the Qur'ān states, "Assuredly they killed him not but God raised him up to Him" [Q. 4:157-58], means in fact, that even were they to assert that they killed him, he is indeed alive, having been made to ascend to God, and he is with God in full glory, honor, and joy, because he is a martyr. Martyrs are alive with God, as God Himself describes them in the following verses: "Do not say about those who are killed in the cause of God that they are dead; they are indeed alive, but you do not perceive them" [Q. 2:154]; or else, "Do not imagine those who are killed in the path of God to be dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, enjoying His bounty, jubilant at what God has granted them from His grace, eagerly expecting those who have not yet followed, to come after them. In truth, no fear shall fall upon them, nor shall they grieve" [Q. 3:169-70]. It may therefore be said that this is the case with Christ. Thus, the verse, "Assuredly they killed him not" [Q. 4:157-58], means they did not really kill him, because he is a martyr whom God has made to ascent to Him. He is thus with God, full of honor and joy.
A similar account is found in the Gospel of John, which states that Christ died in the body but is alive in the spirit [cf. 1 Peter 3:18*], and so they imagined that he who died in the body is free of sins. In the Gospel of Luke, we find, "I say to you my friends, Do not fear those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will tell you whom to fear; fear him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell," and "In truth I say to you, I shall go to the kingdom of heaven, and this my body that shall be delivered to death for your sake. Do likewise whenever you gather together, as a memorial of me" [cf. Luke 12:4-6, 22:19]. In the Gospel of Matthew, we find, "That which you have heard with your ears, proclaim from the rooftops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the spirit; fear him who can kill the spirit and cast the body into hellfire" [cf. Matthew 10:27-28].
This is what may be found in the Gospel, and it agrees with the Qur'ān in this respect. Christ has said that he delivers his body to death and will go to the kingdom of heaven. He also spoke of those who kill the body but cannot kill the spirit. This saying of his is in agreement with the words of the Almighty in the Qur'ān, "Assuredly they killed him not but God raised him up to Him" [Q. 4:157-58]. In another verse, God said, in addressing Christ, "I shall cause you to die and make you ascent to Me" [Q. 3:55]. In yet another verse, quoting Christ, God says, "I was a witness to them while I lived among them, but when You caused me to die, it was You who kept watch over them. You are a witness over all things" [Q. 5:117]. This means: You wee a witness for them while You remained among them. Then he says, "But when You caused me to die, it was You who kept watch over them. You are a witness over all things." This proves that God the Almighty caused him to die when he disappeared from them. Hence, the Qur'ān is in agreement with the Gospel in respect of the fact that God cause him to die and ascent to Him, and that he is alive with God. This interpretation is correct with reference to both the Qur'ān and the Gospel. Accordingly, the claim advanced by the heretic that the Qur'ān contradicts the Gospel in this respect is false. (Abū Hātim al-Rāzi: The Proofs of Prophecy - A parallel English-Arabic text, translated, introduced, and annotated by Tarif Khalidi, 2011, pp. 124, 125.)
Abū Bakr al-Rāzi was a humanist, and argued that there is no such thing as supernatural revelation, and that our Universe needs no such revelation to explain its existence. A 'tool' utilized in his attack on supernatural revelation was to claim that the Bible and Qur'ān contradicted each other, but Abū Hātim al-Rāzi refutes such claims, exposing "the heretic" for what he is: a pure humanist who allows no place for God in the lives of mankind.
In ending, with respect to the interpretation of Surah 4.157-158, I ask: will you side with the humanist or with the theist ???
[*Abū Hātim al-Rāzi incorrectly attributes the passage to John, it is actually from the first epistle of Peter.]
Grace and peace,