Jesus and Prophet Muhammad

Note: This post accompanies the material for an online course in Christian-Muslim relations offered by staff at the University of Edinburgh. You can now join this course for free here.

Many Learners expressed concerns about the tone of the texts we read in Week 2 of the course. Learners have been disturbed by how, well, uncivil many of these texts are. Some have also engaged in debates about which points are more historically accurate than others. These are understandable reactions, but the hope is that we can engage a little more deeply with these texts than that. Here are a few points to consider in doing so:

First, it’s worth remembering that these are polemics (i.e. texts designed to denigrate or even poke fun at the other faith), and they are almost exclusively aimed at internal audiences, meaning that the Muslim scholar was writing mostly for fellow Muslims, while John of Damascus was mostly trying to help fellow Christians navigate the challenge of Islam to their faith. What might have prompted these writers to use this kind of language? In what ways do you see humor being used as a persuasive tool here?

Second, no matter how distasteful they may seem in tone, these texts have been very influential among large groups of people. What patterns and tropes do you see in these texts that might still be floating around in today’s conversations, for better or for worse?

Third, recall that some of the authors of these texts actually engaged much more closely with members of the opposite faith than many of the world’s Christians and Muslims do today. Both John of Damascus and Timothy the Patriarch, for example, not only lived alongside Muslims, but held prominent administrative positions within an explicitly Islamic government. Consider again their comments about Islam and Muslims with this kind of robust interfaith encounter in mind.

Here are a few further questions you can consider in exploring these historic engagements around Jesus and Prophet Muhammad:

  1. Does this challenge your assumptions about the requirements of interfaith coexistence?
  2. How might people who hold opposing viewpoints about Prophet Muhammad and Jesus, or any similar topic, cooperate effectively?