A new theological work is seeking answers about one of the most frequent flashpoints in Christian-Muslim Studies – the role of Jesus Christ. Any committed effort toward interfaith dialogue among Christians and Muslims faces the differing accounts of Jesus from the Qur’an and the Bible. This new book explores the stumbling blocks and stepping stones with a rigorous comparative method.
The book is the result of a long-term research project by a multi-faith, multi-national, and multi-disciplinary team. The final credit for the work goes to two theologians: the comparative theologian Klaus von Stosch, head of the Centre of Comparative Theology and Cultural Studies at the University of Paderborn, and the Muslim theologian Mouhanad Khorchide, head of the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Münster.
This book was published earlier this year in German by Herder, under the title Der andere Prophet. Jesus im Koran. The English translation, The Other Prophet: Jesus in the Qur‘an, will be published by Gingko in the summer of 2019.
The following presents an interview with one of the book’s co-authors, Professor Klaus von Stosch:
Christian-Muslim Studies Network: What makes Jesus in the Qur’an distinctive?
Professor von Stosch: This is the first book on Jesus in the Qur’an that is co-authored by a Muslim and a Christian theologian. In researching for this book, we met regularly with a number of experts from different religions, denominations, countries, and even disciplines. It was a lengthy process, but we believe we can offer several new and fascinating ways to approach the role of Jesus in the Qur’an.
CMSN: How did this interfaith partnership operate during the research and writing process?
KVS: First off, our research process stretched over six years, during which time we met every two months. Each meeting involved a full day of reading the relevant passages of the Qur’an together. I and Mouhanad Khorchide worked within a larger group that included experts in both religions. They provided a steady flow of different suggestions and insights that forced us to rethink everything again and again.
We also weren’t clear about all parts of our method for the first two years. It took some time to agree on enough basic assumptions about how to read the Qur’an that we could hold in common. But after the first few, very difficult years, our time together grew more and more productive. We learned a lot from each other.
CMSN: What are the aims of the book?
KVS: We have three aims for this book. First, we want to show how these methods can lead to new and productive cooperation between Muslims and Christians. Second, we want to demonstrate how important an understanding of Christology is to an understanding of the Qur’an. Last, we want to encourage Christians to deepen their belief in Jesus Christ through encounters with the Qur’an.
CMSN: This issue traces its history back to some of the earliest recorded dialogues between Muslims and Christians, in discussions that cross time and language. How do you consider some of the contextual history while maintaining theological focus?
KVS: The book focuses on accounts of Jesus within the Qur’an, and it tries very hard to understand the debates on Jesus in the Qur’an in a historically adequate way. This required careful attention to method, as well as a six-year research process. Methodologically, the book tries to read the Qur’anic verses about Jesus holistically, and in the context of their respective surahs. At the same time, it reads the verses diachronically in the order of their historical development.
CMSN: What led you to focus on Christology?
KVS: Christology is simply the most problematic part of the Qur’an for Muslim-Christian understanding. For Christians there is nothing more important than Christology, and Jesus is clearly seen as divine. For most Muslims, of course, it is clear that the Qur’an contradicts several ideas of Christology very directly, for example, by refuting that Jesus is the son of God.
At the same time, Muslims believe that the Qur’an represents the direct speech of God to mankind, and as such, it cannot be ignored or altered. Considered next to the disagreement over Christ’s true nature, this seems to create an unsolvable problem. If Christology is right, then the Qur’an must be wrong, which is impossible for Muslims to accept. If the Qur’an is right, then Christology seems to be wrong, and this is impossible for Christians to accept. Hence we really have a problem here, and I love to work on problems.