Network launches first seminar: Muslim views of the Bible

The Christian-Muslim Studies Network launched the first in a series of seminars with a presentation from Dr Martin Whittingham of the Oxford Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies.

Dr Whittingham analysed Muslim views of the Bible and Christianity generally, discussing his ongoing research in a presentation titled, ”As it says in the Torah…’ Muslim use and criticism of the Bible in the Hadith literature’. Dr Whittingham specializes in Muslim views of the Bible and engaged with staff and student questions on Christian-Muslim relations  during a seminar at the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. IMG_1963

Dr Joshua Ralston, director of the Christian-Muslim Studies Network and a lecturer in Christian-Muslim relations at New College, noted both the importance and difficulty of exploring Hadith literature.

‘As those of you who have studied Islam know, it takes a brave soul to venture into the intricacies of Hadith literature’, Dr Ralston told staff and students.

The Hadith are carefully compiled sets of saying and stories from the life of Muhammad and the early companions of the Prophet. Individual Hadith are vast in number but vary in length, subject, and authoritative quality. This makes them difficult to study, especially for a scholar interested specifically in Islamic perspectives on Christianity.

Dr Whittingham noted that followers of contemporary Christian-Muslim relations might expect to find regular condemnations of other faiths among the prophetic sayings, but this was not the case. Explanations for this are many and varies, but one current theory suggests that early Islam was more interested in gathering in ‘believers’ from among the many traditions of seventh-century Arabia than in dividing the Abrahamic faiths.

‘There seems to be no outright rejection of [Jewish and Christian scriptural] views’, Dr Whittingham said of his research in the Hadith. ‘Affirmation is much more common’.

Such affirmations include allusions to both the Gospels and the Torah, especially Isaiah 42. Occasionally the Gospels are quoted with minor changes to the current text.

Three Hadith – from a list of thousands – do accuse Christians of corrupting or even lying about their scriptural texts, but such statements are the minority, Dr Whittingham said. One Sunni Hadith, for example, accuses Christians of lying about the their prophets and corrupting their scriptures.

Other Hadith showed Islam embracing the practices of Christianity and Judaism, such as swearing with one hand on the Torah or reading scripture therapeutically.

The seminar was attended by staff from across the university with research interests in Christian-Muslim relations, as well as students from the School of Divinity, for whom the seminar provided an opportunity to engage with their studies through an alternative, still-critical, lens. The seminar was followed a session for questions, with further discussion convened over refreshments.

The School of Divinity currently offers courses in Islamic law and in the history of Christian-Muslim engagement, as well as two masters programmes and the PhD. Offerings continue to expand, as Dr Abdul Rahman Mustafa, the Henry Luce Post-Doctoral Fellow in Islam and Christian-Muslim Studies, is preparing a course that explores controversies in Islamic intellectual thought, beginning with Medieval debates about the nature of God and concluding with modern debates about radical Islam.

Those interested in applying for a degree program in any of these areas should see the website for the School of Divinity or contact Dr Ralston directly.

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