Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Embracing the "Other" as an Extension of the Self: Muslim Reflections on the Epistle to the Hebrews 13:2

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Embracing the "Other" as an Extension of the Self: Muslim Reflections on the Epistle to the Hebrews 13:2

Article excerpt

There is an urgent need for interfaith dialogue to get past cucumber sandwiches and samoosas to the real business of truly loving each other and embracing "the other" as an extension of ourselves. One way of moving interreligious dialogue to a higher level of engagement beyond mere "tolerance" to deeper, more enduring interreligious cooperation is to read and embrace the sacred texts of religious traditions other than one's own for inspiration. Most religious traditions celebrate hospitality and welcoming of the stranger. This paper explores such an ethical and moral teaching within Christianity. The search is undertaken by a Muslim scholar.

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

(Hebrews 13:2, KJV)

I will begin with three preliminary observations. First, the idea of reading the sacred texts of religious traditions other than one's own is not a new and novel phenomenon . Regrettably, our interreligious history is replete with endeavors aimed at refuting and rebutting the authenticity of each others' sacred texts. One of die most well-known Muslim examples that comes to mind is that of the eleventh -century Spanish Muslim scholar Abu Muhammad Ali ibn Hazm (d. 1064 ce). Ibn Hazm wrote perhaps one of the earliest systematic textual critiques of the Old and the New Testaments. In his five-volume work, Al-FUd Fi al-Milal Wa-al-Ahwa Wa-ai-Nihal An Analysis of World Religious Communities, Ideologies, and Sects), ibn Hazm employed the Muslim theology of revelation wahy) to prove that the Torah and the gospels had been historically corrupted.1 Ibn Hazm is the progenitor of the Muslim doctrine of tahrif, the charge that the Jews and Christians had corrupted their divinely revealed scriptures. His polemical style is an abiding legacy that continues to bedevil Muslim relations with other religions, and in particular Muslim dispositions and consequently readings of the sacred texts of Jews and Christians. This leads to my second preliminary observation.2

One of the most critical challenges in interfaith dialogue is the question of language, in both its literal as well as symbolic forms. The interfaith encounter is not only biased by the language within which it occurs, it is also conditioned by a powerful symbolic language, namely the predominant categories of thought within which it occurs. Global realities dictate that we live within the hegemony of the English language, which inevitably privileges those who are more proficient in English and disempowers the less proficient or non-English speakers. This is illustrative of the power dynamics and partiality of hegemonic contemporary discourses on interreligious dialogue. In order to meet the subtle but powerful pressures on non -Western traditions to conform to prevailing discourses of "civility," non-Western scholars often inadvertently shore up concepts and texts from dieir own traditions that appear to correspond to "fashionable" Western concepts.

This was precisely the faultline in ibn Hazm s methodology. He was employing a peculiarly Muslim discourse and theolog)' of revelation and exegetical tradition in order to read and critique the Old and New Testaments. The result of his flawed analysis was misunderstanding and irreverence. A more careful examination of the nature of different sacred texts, however, may suggest that in fact Muslims, Jews, and Christians operate with radically different theologies of revelation. Supporting such a view, the Muslim comparative religionist Mahmoud Ayoub has argued that one may be able to differentiate between valid but distinct modes of revelation. The Bible, according to Ayoub, is more a revelation of action or a record of Gods acting in the history of humankind."3 On the other hand, for Ayoub, the Qur'anic mode of revelation is more direct communication or commandment from God to human beings. Whether one accepts the veracity of Ayoub s depiction is not my point; I am essentially arguing that a deep sensitivity to and appreciation of the differences in our tbeologies of revelation may assist us in building bridges of understanding between interfaith communities. …

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