Islamo-Biblica, Dialogue and Dissonance II :
Islamic Dialogue and Polemic with the ahl al-kitab (People of the Book) and others.
IN SHI`I ISLAMIC SOURCES
1980s- 2006-9 IN PROGRESS UNDER REVISION 2017
Shī`ī Iḥtijāj volumes date from the 3rd / 9th. century although debates between certain of the Imams from `Ali (d.40/661) onwards are recorded in numerous literatures. The Dharī`a of Aqa Buzurg al-Tehrani a lists a dozen or more al-Ihtijāj (Religious Disputation) volumes (Dharī` 1:281-4 Nos.1471ff). Among them is one of Ibn Shahrāshūb (d. 588/1191; Dharī`a no. 1472). Volumes IX and X within the second edition of Majlisī’s Biḥar form the Kitab. al-iḥtijāj ("Book of the Confrontation") ( 345pp + 454pp) and reproduce material from a wide range of Iḥtijāj sources Bulky ,,,
- Ihtijaj = al-Iḥtijāj. 2 vols. In 1. Beirut: Mu`assat al-A`lamī. 1403/1983.
∎ Early Imami Shī`ī Iḥtijājāt, religious disputations.
Closely related to masā’il traditions are the important Shī `ī iḥtijāj accounts which record religious argument or dialogue‑disputations between the Prophet or various Shī`ī Imams on the basis of the Q. and the traditions. Certain of the Shī`ī dialogue‑disputations (which may be centered upon Sunnī‑ Shī`ī or specifically Shī`ī matters) record exchanges between an Imam(s) and one or more members of the ahl al‑kitāb and other disputants (Jews, Christian, Zoroastrains, etc). Volumes containg record of episodes of Iḥtijāj have been put together by Shī`ī writers from around the 3rd / 9th. century. They can be found in several of the previously mentioned categories of Islamic literatures containing traditions of the Bible and Isrā’īliyyāt(<‑‑2.1‑4). In his Dharī` a Āqā Buzurg al‑Tehrānī lists a dozen or more volumes entitled al‑Ihtijāj ("Disputation") (Dharī` 1:281‑4 Nos.1471ff). Muhammad b. `Alī Ibn Shahrāshūb (d.588/1191), for example, compiled one (Dharī`a no. 1472).
Abū Manṣūr Aḥmad b. `Alī al‑Ṭabrīsī [Tabarsī] (d.c. mid 6th/12th cent?)
Better known than that just mentioned and twice translated into Persian during the Safawid period is the earlier fairly large (500+pp) often published Arabic volume entitled al‑Iḥtijāj `alā ahl al‑lajāj (The Disputation against the People of Obstinacy) compiled by Abū Manṣūr Aḥmad b. `Alī al‑Ṭabrīsī [Tabarsī] (d.c. mid 6th/12th cent?). It opens with a lengthy extract taken from the Tafsīr attributed to the eleventh Shī`ī Ḥasan al‑Askarī (d.260 /874). A tradition going back through Ja`far Ṣādiq and Imām `Alī detailing a debate the Prophet had with a Jew, a Christian, an Athiest, a Dualist (Zoroastrian) and an Idolator is detailed (Iḥtijāj, I:21ff). The debate with the Jews and Christians early on records the Prophet’s confounding Jewish and Christian assertions respecting the alleged Sonship (ibn Allāh) of Ezra (Uzarya?) and Jesus. Using his opponents logic the Prophet argues that if Ezra who revived the Torah is called Ibn Allāh (Son of God) why not Moses also who communicated this book. Jesus is reckoned the Ibn Allāh but his own words contradict belief in his unique Sonship for according to Muhammad he said "I am going to my Father and to your Father" (cf Jn. 14:16; Iḥtijāj, I:23‑4).
Muhammad Baqir Majlisī’s Kitab al‑iḥtijāj ("Book of the Confrontation") in the Biḥār al-anwar.
Two volumes of the second edition of Majlisī’s Biḥār form the K. al‑iḥtijāj (Book of the Confrontation’, constituting vols. 9 &10 and having 345pp + 454pp) reproduce material from a wide range of sources. Cited, for example, is the K. al‑tawḥīd (Book of the Divine Unity) of Shaykh al‑Ṣadūq, Ibn Babūwayh (‑‑>) which along with other Shī`ī sources records various iḥtijājāt (religious confrontations) engaged in by several of the Imams, most notably the first, sixth, seventh and eighth Twelver Imams. A few notes on select iḥtijāj episodes can now be set down.
The Imams and religious disputations
Imām `Alī ibn Abi Talib (d. 40/661) is presented in modern and pre‑Qajar Shī`ī sources as just about the first to engage in `dialogue’ with diverse religionists (Thaqalayn 2/3‑4; 1995‑6:99‑110). In this respect there exists, for example, a tradition recording a dialogue betwen Imam `Alī and a Christan Patriarch (al‑jāthilīq) about the nature of God’s being the bearer of the divine Throne (ḥāmil al-`arsh, cf. Q. 35:41; 69:7). It is found in Kulīnī’s al‑Kāfī as well as Majlisī’s Biḥār and other sources (al‑Kāfi I:129‑130; Biḥār 2 58:9-10). The Imām came to express the view that the divine Throne (al‑arsh) is supported by and intinmately associated with four celestial lights:
`The [celestial divine] Throne (al-`arsh) was created by God -- blessed and exalted be He -- from four Lights (anwār): a Crimson Light (nūr aḥmar) by means of which redness (al-ḥumra) was reddened; the Green Light (nūr al-akhḍar) by means of which greeness (al-khuḍra) was made green; the Yellow Light (al-nūr al-a®far) by means of which yellowness (al-®ufra) was yellowed and the White Light (al-nūr al-abayḍ) through which whiteness (al-bayāḍ) is [whitened] realized."
Imām `Alī continues by identifying the "Light" of the Throne with the knowledge (al-`ilm) of God, the "Light" (al-núr) of which is the divine Throne bearer. So too the Light of His Grandeur (min nūr `aẓimałṭhi) and of His Power (qudrat) which illuminate the hearts of the believers. All that is borne aloft by God is by virtue of His Light, Grandeur and Power (Kulaynī, Kāfī I:129‑130; Majlisī, Biḥār, 58:9-10). Versions of this tradition had a considerable influence upon the two founders of Shaykhism, Shaykh Aḥmad and Sayyid Kāẓm as well as upon the Bāb himself. At the very beginning of his T. al‑Baqara the Bāb draws heavily upon this tradition as he does in various later works (T. al‑Baqara XXX; QA 77:316; add).
In the K. of Ibn Bābuwayh another discussion between Imam `Alī and
See Iḥtijāj againts the Jews relating to their traditions (Tabrizī, Iḥtijāj, I:210‑227)
Hishām b. al-Ḥakam and the Shi`i Imams
Thomas notes that “It is known that Hishām b. al-Ḥakam was a merchant as well as an intellectual and that he moved from his native lacuna to Baghdad sometime in the mid-second/eighth century” (1988:60). Apart from the K. al-tawḥīd this religious encounter is cited the Iḥtijāj of Ṭabrīzī and, among other Shī`ī sources, in Majlisī’s Biḥar al-anwār 2 (10:234ff).
Refer al-Ṭabarsī, Ihtijaj, II:415-432; Bihar 2 10:299-307 cf.49:173ff and also Ibn Bābuya, `Uyūn al-akhbār (2:139f) and K. al-Tawhīd (sect. 65 417-441).
al-Tibrizi [Ṭabarsī], Abū `Alī,
The K. al‑Tawḥīd (`Book of the Divine Unity’, written around 340/950) of Ibn Bābūya [Babawayh]
This important contains two sections (37 and 51) which include important and influential iḥtijāj episodes of Muslim Christian debate in the context of wider religious confrontation. Section 37 contains an early Shī’ī Christian debate which Thomas dates to the 140s / c.765 and has described as a "carefully dramatized narrative" (Thomas, 1988:60; 1992:190 fn.4). This encounter took place at Karkh (Baghdad) between an otherwise unknown Christian patriach named Bārīha and the Shī`ī merchant and theologian Hishām b. al‑Ḥakam (d. 179/796). Oriented around the Christian doctrine of on the Trinity this section is entitled, `Against those who say that God is the "third of three" (Q.5:73) [Christians] and [those who hold] that there is no God except the One [true] God (Muslims)’ (K. Tawḥīd, [ sect. 37]: 270‑275).
A idea of this debate can be gained from the fact, for example, that Barīha asks Hishām whether there is "any physical connection between the prophet of yours [Muhammad] and the Messiah [Jesus]". Hishām replies, "He is the descendant of the paternal uncle of the Messiah’s mother’s ancestors, since the Messiah is the descendent of Isḥāq and Muhammad the descendant of Ismā ’īl’ . Apart from the detailed discussion of the relatioship between the "Father" and the "Son" there many other points of particular interest including when Barīha is asked for a description of his dīn (religion) [Islam] in the sense of the personal holiness or sanctity (łahāra) of the prophet [or Imam]. Hishām voices a very early expression of the impeccability of he prophet [Imam] when he among many other things explains that "he is ma`ṣum (sinless) since he commits no sin, generous since he has no avarice". It is especially noteworthy that Muhammad [the Imam] is decribed as, "... from the progeny of the prophets (min `Itrat al‑anbiyā’), the collector of the knowledge [wisdom] of the [pre‑Islamic] prophets (jāmi` `ilm al‑anbiyā’ ) and one who is "never ignorant of a question" and " gives opinions on every religious practise, and reveals all that is dark" (K. Tawḥīd, 274; cf. Thomas1988:56, 59).
This very early dialogue is a fundamentally a lead into a brief account of the conversion of Barīha the Christian patriach to Shī`īsm through the instrumentality of Hishām b. al‑Ḥakan and by virtue of the greatness of the seventh Imam Mūsā al‑Kāẓm (d.183/799 son of Ja`far al‑Ṣādiq) whom they sought out in Medina. The seventh Imam is said to have questioned Barīha about his knowledge of al‑kitāb (the Book, Bible, NT). Barīha told him that it is thorough and that he had an unsurpassed knowledge of its ta`wīl (exegesis, interpretation). This dialogue then centers upon the miraculous biblical knowledge of Imam Mūsā who in Christ‑like fashion starts to recite the Gospel (qira`at al‑injīl). This caused the astounded Barīha to exclaim, 'The Messiah used to recite it like this, and only the Messiah gave this recitation' adding that he had for fifty years been seeking someone like the Imam. Apologetically Barīha asked Imam Mūsā where he had obtained the Torah, Gospel and books of the prophets. Subsequently, narrating this story Ja`far al‑ Ṣādiq explained that
`We [the Imams] have the books as a legacy from them. We recite them as they did, and pronounce them as they did. For God does not place a sign in his world of the kind that, when someone asks about something, the reply comes: I do nor know' (K.Tawḥīd, 275; tr. Thomas 1988:54ff, 60). 4
At a fairly advanced age Barīha as well as his female attendant are said to have become devotees of Ja`far al‑Ṣādiq (shortly before his death in c. 148/765) and subsequently his [twelver] successor Imam Mūsā. While this apologetically oriented Shī`ī iḥtijāj account most likely tells more about the apologetic concerns of Ibn Bābūya than a mid. 8th century Shī`ī‑ Christian religious disputation it may yet contain indications of early encouters between Shī`ī Muslims and Christians (Thomas 1988:62ff). Possibly based upon episodes such as this Algar in an article on Imam Mūsā ha stated that
Contained in the `Uyūn al‑akhbār al‑Riḍā’ (2:139f, a compilation of traditions associated with Imam Riḍā’) as well as the K. al‑Tawhīd (`Book of the Divine Unity’, sect. 65 417‑441) of Ibn Bābūya as well as other Shī`ī sources (˙abrīzī, Iḥtijāj II:415f; Majlisī, Bihār2 10:299‑307 cf. 49:173f; etc) is an account of a lengthy iḥtijāj episode engaged in around 202/817‑8 by the eighth Imam `Alī b. Mūsā al‑Riḍā’ (d. 203/818) before the `Abbasid Caliph al‑Ma`mūn (189/813‑210/817?) and a number of representatives of religious and philosophical opinions (Thomas 1988:75). Ordered to take part in this ecumenical debate which al‑Ma`mūn is famous for having set up were leading religionists (ahl al‑adyān), upholders of [diverse] religious opinions (a®ḥāb al‑maqālāt) such as the Christian Patriarch (al‑j āthilīq), the Jewish Exilarch (rā’is al‑jālūt) and the leaders of the Sabaeans (rū’asā al‑®ābi’ūn) as well as the supreme [Zoroastrian] Hirdadh. Also incorporated into this account is what was allegedly said by `Imrān the Sabaean about al‑tawḥīd (the Divine Unity). Witnesses to the debate were also leading representatives of the Sabaeans, Zoroastrians, Magians, Jews, Greek philosophers (including a certain Nusłās) and the Mutakallimūn (Islamic theologians) (Ibn Bābūya, Tawḥīd, 417; cf. Thomas 1988:66 fn. 66).
Thomas considered this account somewhat dramatically "artifical", a composite creation primarily designed to highlight the phenomenal, supernatural knowledhe of the Imām Riḍā who is credited throughout with a knowledge of the sacred writings of all the groups present. At times compounding alleged problems of taḥrīf by citing sometimes sophisticated , conflated Islamicate versions of biblical scripture the Imam claims an expert knowlede of the Bible, the Hebrew writings of the Sabaeans, the Persian texts of the Zoroastrians as well as the Greek writings of the philosophers. All of these he will draw on in the debate only a small portion of which can be summed up here. The debate has been convincingly shown by Thomas to be a composite creation containing some early elements, a "subtly constructed.. Shi`ite endeavour to secure the groups position within the Muslim intellectual community" (Thomas, 1988:80, see further K. Tawḥīd: 417ff; Thomas, 1988:65‑75, 78f). Asked his opinion of Jesus and his book Imam Riḍā’ sais to the Christian Patriarch:
'I acknowledge the prophethood of Jesus, his Book, what he proclaimed to his community, and what the disciples acknowledged. But whoever does not acknowledge the prophethood of Muhammad and his Book and does not proclaim it to his community is a disbeliever in Jesus's prophethood' (K. Tawḥid: 420; tr. Thomas 1988:68)
An interesting exchange follows in which Imām Ridā’ asks the Patriarch about the veracity of the testimony of Yuḥanna al‑Daylamī (a 7th century Christian missionary in N. Mesepotamia!) apparently confused by the Imam and /or Patriarch with the Beloved disciple (? aḥabb al‑nās ilā al‑masīḥ; AB 1:658f; Jn.13:23f;19:26f; chs. 20‑21) and it seems with the Paraclete figure also of the fourth Gospel (Jn. 14:16, etc) who was from an early period identified with Muhammad (= the Aḥmad of Q. 61:6 = [Gk] parakletos [periklutos?]) = Muhammad). While the Patriarch contested the veracity of any specific prophecy about the religion of an Arab figure named Muhammad in the Johannine record of Jesus’ words, he did, in distinctly Shī`ī terms (!), acknowledge Gospel testimony to the "prophethood of a man (nubuwwat al‑rijal)" and to "the people of his house" (ahl bayt) and his waṣiyy (Agent, Legatee). To prove Gospel prediction of Muhammad the Imam called for Q[N]usłās the Greek to consult the prophecy in the "third book" of the Injīl. Imam Riḍā’ read it himself and thr Patriarch was led to acknowledge it (K.Tawḥid, 420, Thomas ibid).
Responding to the Patriarch’s further questions Imām Ridā’ correctly identifies the number of Jesus’ disciples as twelve and identified Alūqā’ (= al‑Lūqā?), evidently Luke as the "most favoured and most learned" (afḍal wa a`lam) among them. The Imam also identified the three greatest `ulamā’ al‑injīl or `ulamā’ al‑na®ārī (Christian divines), namely, (1) Yūḥanna the Great of Aj, (2) Yūḥanna of Qarqisiyya (= Circesium) and (3) Yūḥanna al Daylamī of Zajān (= Arrajān?). Only the latter has been identified by Thomas whom I draw upon at this point (1988:69+fns.). In the course of debating Jesus’ power of resurrecting the dead Imam Riḍā’ makes the following statement:
Elisha (Al‑Yasa’) performed similar acts to Jesus, walking on the water, reviving the dead, healing the blind and lepers, though his community never took him as Lord, and no one ever worshipped him in place of God, great and mighty. [cf. 2 Kings 2:12f;4:32f; 5:1ff]. The prophet Ezekiel (Ḥizqīl) performed similar acts to Jesus son of Mary, for he revived thirty-five thousand men sixty years after their deaths [cf. Ezek. 37:1ff] (K.Tawḥīd,422; tr. Thomas 1988:70). .
Imām Ridā’ also stunned by Exilarch by reciting some verses of the Torah. He then asked the Exilarch about a reference in the Torah to "Muhammad and his community", mentioning "ten signs" sent down to Moses and citing the following sophisticated Islamicate conflation of Isa 21:7 and pats of Ps.149,
Behold, the last community (umma) comes following there rider on the camel. They praise the Lord greatly with a new song in new congregations (al‑kanā’is). Let the children of Israel heed them and let their hearts find rest in their king. In their hands are swords, with which they will have revenge on the unbelieving nations in the regions of the earth (K.Tawh īd: 000; tr. Thomas, 1988:77). .
The Exilarch agreed that this is written in the "Torah" and also acknowledged the following Islamicate, conflated and rewritten version of parts of Isaiah 21:7 and Ps.149 cited by al‑Riḍā’,
O people, I see the form of the rider on the ass clothed in a raiment of light, and I see the rider on the camel with a brightness like that of the moon" (tr. Thomas, 1988:73 see esp. also fn.53).
The Christian Patriarch also affirmed his knowledge of the following Islamicate "words of Jesus in the Gospel" which are actually a conflation of various Johannine paraclete references (14:26f; 15:26f; 16:5‑8) as gain cited by Imam Riḍā’,
I am going to my Lord and your Lord, [Jn 20:17b, cf. Jn 16:5a etc,] and the Paraclete will come [15:26a]. He it is who will witness to me [Jn 15:26c] about the truth as I have witnessed to him, and he it is who will explain to you everything [Jn 14:26b]; he it is who will expose the evil deeds of the peoples, and he it is who will shatter the designs of the unbelievers [cf. Jn 16:8] ( ibid, tr. Thomas ibid, 73+fns., 78).
Touching now upon the issue of the alleged loss of the true Gospel[s] al-Ridā’ asks the Patriarch to, tell him "about the first Gospel" the circumstances of its being lost, rediscovered and again set out as the "present Gospel". The Patriarch replies, "We only lost the Gospel for one day, then we discovered it fresh and new: John and Matthew gave it to us". Claiming greater knowledge of the Gospel Imam Ridā’ criticizes the Patriach for his inadequate knowledge and gives the following account of the Christian emergence of multiple and differing Gospels:
I know that when the first Gospel was lost the Christians met together with their experts and said to them: 'Jesus son of Mary has been killed and we have lost the Gospel. You are the experts, so what can you do?' Luke and Mark said to them: 'The Gospel is in our hearts and we will produce it for you book by book, every one. Do not grieve or er it or leave the churches, for we will recite it to you, each and every book, until we have brought it together for you completely'. So Luke, Mark, John and Matthew sat down and wrote for you this Gospel after you had lost the first Gospel. But these four were disciples of the first disciples. Did you know that?' The Patriarch said: 'I did not know this, but I know it now. The matter of the Gospel has become clear to me, thanks to your knowledge, and my heart confirms to me that the things I have heard, and about which you have full knowledge, are true. I ask for further understanding' (K.Tawḥīd, 425‑6 tr. Thomas, 74).
As Thomas notes the original Injīl was replaced by those of the four evangelists is echoed in other Islamic sources including al‑Jāḥiz, Radd, 24 II:8‑20) `Abd al‑Jabbār, al‑Mughnī V:143; 2:2‑8), Tathbīt dalā’il al‑nubuwwa (152, 1:6‑155, I:18??). Such sources also have it that the original Gospel was in Hebrew or Syriac and this being lost or was replaced by an inadequate or corrupted version in Greek or some other language.
In his section on the Injīl in his Insān al‑kāmil the Shī `īte Sufi `Abd al‑Karīm al‑Jīlī wrote that God sent down the Zabūr to David and the Injīl to Jesus in the Syriac language (bi’l‑lughat al‑suryāniyya).
Iḥtijājāt and Bābī‑ Bahā’ī sacred writ.
Whatever the case regarding the historicity of the Shī`ī iḥtijājāt and associated literatures involving the ahl al‑kitāb, statements of the Imams and their often conflated Islamicate bible citations certainly had an important influence upon post‑10th century Shī`ī atttitudes towards the scripture, followers and attitudes of members of the Abrahamic relgions. Its influence is registered here and there in Bābī‑ Bahā’ī sacred primary literatures. Both BA* and AB* show the occasional influence of the Shī`ī Iḥtijāj accounts. In a Tablet to the Jew named Ḥakim Ḥayyīm responding to a question about the non‑existence in the Gospels of any reference to the Aḥmad as indicated in Q. 61:6, BA* stated that many of Jesus’ revelations were not included in the extant Gospels assembled by the four evangelists. He also stated that,
Abd al-Baha' not only drew upon iḥtijāj accounts involving Muhammad’s debating with Christians (MA 9:27) he also in certain of his alwāḥ held that the original Injīl Gospel(s) was in Hebrew and subsequently in Greek (bi‑lisān‑i `ibrānī va yunānī) (MA 9:22).
To return to early Sunnī encounters between Muslims and members of the Abrahamic religions. In the eighth century CE the Sunnī Caliph al‑Maḥdī had a debate with the Nestorian Catholicos, Timothy I (d. 208/823). The so called Apology of Timothy (c. 165/781) is preserved in Syriac and there exist a number of Arabic recensions.
Here the Caliph, for example, asserted that Muhammad fulfilled the paraclete promises. Countering this and following Patristic tradition, the Patriach denies that the Paraclete (al‑Fáraqlí) is anything other than the Holy Spirit (rūḥ al‑quds), the divine Spirit of God (rūḥ Allāh) (Caspar, 1977:135,161).
The late 8th cent. CE `Letter of Hārūn al‑Rashīd to the Emperor Constantine VI' (r. 780‑787 CE) ‑‑ actually written by Abū al‑Rabī` Muhammad b. al‑Laith. Here paraclete sayings are applied to Muhammad.The Bible is frequently quoted in this work; including a conflation of paraclete and related sayings (Jn 16:5 + 15:26‑27 + 16:13; cf. 14:26) as a prophey of Muhammad the Paraclete (al‑Baraqlí) (Dunlop, 1968:113‑4).
At this point it will be appropriate to say a few words about the writings of A prolific theologian and Shī`ī apologist `Abū Ja`far Muhammad Ibn Bābūya, al‑Qummī, Shaykh al‑Ṣadūq (d.381/991) who is best known as an expert in Shī`īte legalism and the Imamī traditions. Several of his many of his works contain Islamo-biblical citations uttered by the Imams and other examples of Isrā’īliyyāt traditions which are often reworked in the service of Imamī Shī`īsm as has already been partly illustrated in the above accounts of al‑iḥtijājāt episodes involving `people of the Book’ cited above as found in the the K. al‑Tawḥīd (`Book of the Divine Unity’, around 340/950?) And other works of Shaykh al‑Sadūq. Though basically a defence of the authority of the Imams it is an important source about early religious debates (al‑iḥtijāj) and has been described as "the earliest surviving compendium of theological discussions from a Shī`ite author" (Thomas, 1988:53).
In that section of his Thawāb al‑a`māl ( `Rewards for Pious Deeds’) dealing with the arrival at the mosques Abī `Abd‑Allāh (Imam Ṣādiq) is said to have cited the following words from the tawrat (Torah), "It is written in the tawrat, `My houses on earth are the mosques (al‑masājid). So blessed be that servant who dilligently purifies himself in his own house then visits me [God] in my House [in Jerusalem].’ (Thawāb, 51). The tawrat is again similarly cited by the same Imam in the almost adjacent section dealing with the rewards for becoming ritually pure then visiting the mosque, "It is written in the tawrat, `Blessed be whomsoever purifies himself in his own house then visits me. And the True One (al‑ḥaqq) shall be associated with the shrine (al‑mazmūr) and shall honour the visitor’ (Ibid, 52). No stigma whatsoever seems to be associated with Islamicate citations from the Torah attributed to the Imam.
4. Thomas notes that "It is known that Hishām b. al-Ḥakam was a merchant as well as an intellectual and that he moved from his native lacuna to Baghdad sometime in the mid-second/eighth century" (1988:60). Apart from the K. al‑tawḥīd this religious encounter is cited the Iḥtijāj of Ṭabrīzī and, among other Shī`ī sources, in Majlisī’ s Biḥar al‑anwār 2 (10:234ff).