How to Do Comparative Theology

By Francis X. Clooney; Klaus Von Stosch | Go to book overview

5 “An Interpreter and Not a
Judge”: Insights into a Christian-
Islamic Comparative Theology

Axel Marc Oaks Takács

The dialogue between Muslims and Christians has a long, rich, and complex history. Long, in that the first extant theological encounter between a Christian and a Muslim occurred over 1,200 years ago between Mar Timothy I (728–823), the Catholicos of the Church of the East at the time, and the ruling caliph, al-Mahdi (who ruled from 775–785); this excludes any sort of early exchanges that may have occurred among Muhammad, his companions, and Christian tribes in the Arabian peninsula, possible interreligious engagement among Christian ascetics and proto-ṣūfī’s, and statements in the Qur’ān that explicitly address Christian theology, such as Christology, Mariology, religious life (for example, the matter of monks), and the conceptions of God that were intended to redress a certain understanding of a Trinitarian theology of a particular group of Christians. Rich, in that the advent of the Islamic religious tradition resulted in no dearth of confrontation between Christendom and the various Islamic caliphates and communities from Andalusia to the Ottoman world geographically, and from debates, philosophical transmission, crusades, an irenic conversation between St. Francis, and an Ayyūbid Sultan of Egypt, colonialism, and terrorism historically. Complex, in that no extant text can do justice to the variety of interactions “on the ground,” as it were, and no amount of whitewashing can conjure up a broad “theology of religions” to characterize Muslim-Christian interaction without taking into account the social, political, economic, and cultural contexts that surely shaped and were shaped by Islamic and Christian theology. Thus, it would appear that taking this long, rich, and complex history into account when performing a Christian comparative theology with the Islamic religious tradition should be a prerequisite for any project worthy of critical attention.

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