1. Abd al-Malik al-Juwaynl, "Shifa al-ghalil fi al-tabdil" ("Textes Apologetiques de Guwaini", Beirut, 1968, Michel Allard, S.J., editor, p. 78).
An excellent general introduction to the Islamic view of Jesus is G.C. Anawati's essay "Isa" ("Encyclopedia of Islam", new edition, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1978, volume 4, pp. 81-86). The article's emphasis is theological, covering topics such as the Trinity and Jesus' annunciation, birth, and crucifixion as understood by Muslim religious belief; but it also includes a discussion of "Islamo-Christian polemic concerning Jesus".
"The Encyclopedia of Islam"s essay on the Gospels - "Indjil" (volume 3, new edition, pp. 1205-1208), by Anawati and Carra de Vaux, concentrates especially on the charge of "tahrif", Muslim-Christian polemics on the relative merits of the Quran vs. the New Testament, and the influence of the Gospels on the Quran and hadith-traditions.
Michel Hayek's "Le Christ de l'Islam" (Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1959) is a detailed study of the events in Jesus' life, seen in the light of the Quran and Islamic popular belief.
A more recent study of the same topic is in Roger Arnaldez, "Jesus fils de Marie, prophete de l'Islam" (Paris, Desclee, 1980); Arnaldez uses the Quran and medieval Quran commentaries such as those of al-Tabari and Zamakhshari for his principal sources (See, however, Islamochristiana, volume 7, 1981, pp. 278 seq., for an unfavorable review of Arnaldez).
As a general bibliographical reference (up to 1977) Don Wismer's "The Islamic Jesus" (New York, Garland Publishing Inc., 1977) is a good starting point, though it has severe weaknesses: Wismer makes reference only to sources in English and French, and is by no means thorough even in these, confining himself primarily to works written in this century. Robert Caspar sharply criticizes Wismer in his review (in Islamochristiana, volume 8, 1982, p. 307).
A bibliographical guide to Muslim-Christian polemical writings of the pre-modern period - (Islamochristiana, volume 1, 1975, pp. 125-181), by Robert Caspar et al., entitled "Bibliographie du dialogue islamo-chretien: les auteurs et les oeuvres du viieme au xeme siecle compris". The bibliography is continued for the 11 and 12 centuries (volume 2, 1976 of the same journal, pages 187-249); and for the 13 and 14 centuries (volume 4, 1978, pp. 247-267).
For an overview of Abbasid Muslim polemical works on Jesus, see Olaf H. Schumann's "Der Christus der Muslime: Christologische Aspekte in der arabisch-islamischen Literatur" (Gutersloh, Gutersloher Verlagshaus, 1975). In part 1, "Die klassische islamische Kritik an der Christologie". Schumann discusses Christ as portrayed in the Quran and in the writings of Ali al-Tabari, al-Jahiz, ibn Hazm, and Abu Himid al-Ghazzali.
See also Anawati's "Polemique, apologie et dialogue islamo-chretiens. Positions classiques medievales et positions contemporaines" ("Euntes Docete", Rome, volume 22, 1969, pp. 375-451), for an introduction to the same medieval authors.
Ignaz Goldziher's "Uber muhammedanische Polemik gegen Ahl al-kitab" ("Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenldndischen Gesellschaft", volume 32, 1878, pp. 341-387), remains invaluable for its description of the evolution during the first Islamic centuries of Muslim attitudes toward Christian and Jewish scriptures. Goldziher also lists a number of popular Muslim traditions concerning the figure of Christ, e.g., Jafar al-Tayyar's dream in which Jafar asked Jesus to recommend an appropriate inscription for his seal-ring (a legend which seems to have had wide circulation; cf. footnote 6 below and "al-Risalah al-Qushayrfyah").
Scholarship on individual Muslim polemical works: for Amr ibn Bahr al-Jahiz's treatise on Christians and Christianity, see "A risala of al-Jahiz" ("Journal of the American Oriental Society", volume 47, 1927, pp. 311-334), by Joshua Finkel, which gives an English translation of the text.
Also see I.S. Allouche's "Un traite de polemique christiano-musulmane au ixe siecle" ("Hesperis", volume 26, 1939, pp. 123-155), and
Charles Pellat's "Christologie Gahizienne" ("Studia Islamica", volume 31, 1970, pp. 219-232).
Dominique Sourdel, in "Un pamphlet musulman anonyme d'epoque Abbaside contre les Chretiens" ("Revue des Etudes Islamiques", volume 34, 1966, pp. 1-34), discusses a polemical work which is roughly contemporary to al-Jahiz;
Wismer, op. cit., p. 230, notes that some of the arguments in this anonymous treatise are similar to the polemics of al-Jahiz.
For Abu Isa al-Warraq's polemic on the Jacobites, Melchites and Nestorians, see the text translated by Armand Abel as "Le livre pour la refutation des trois sectes chretiennes" (Brussels, 1949); this book includes the Arabic text and a French translation.
Abel analyzes the work of al-Baqillanl in "Le chapitre sur le christianisme dans le 'Tamhid' d'al-Baqillani (mort en 1013)", an essay found in "Etudes d'orientalisme dediees a la memoire de Levi-Provencal" (Paris, G.-P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1962, volume 1, pp. 1-11).
Al-Baqillani offers a carefully nuanced argument, which describes and then sharply criticizes the imagery used by Nestorians and Monophysites in their attempts to comprehend the union of divine and human natures in Christ:
- the intimate mixture in a drinking-bowl of water and wine;
- the apparition, mated with its source yet distinct,
- of the image of a man who stands reflected in a mirror;
- the imprinting, in the humble material earth, of the signet of some precious ring.
While analyzing this imagery, al-Baqillani speculates on the Christian concept of the Divine: in his view, Christians are incapable of freeing their imaginations from the material when thinking of God.
William Montgomery Watt, "Ash-Shahrastani's Account of Christian Doctrine" (Islamochristiana, volume 9, 1983, pp. 249-259), gives an English translation of that part of the "Kitab al-milal wa-al-nihal" which deals with Christians and Christian beliefs. Al-Shahrastani criticizes Christian interpretations of the nature and identity of Jesus, and asserts that Saint Paul distorted Jesus' teachings.
For post-Abbasid polemical writings, see Henri Laoust, "Contributions a une etude de la methodologie canonique de Taki-d-Din Ahmad b. Taimlya" (Cairo, Imprimerie de l'Institut Francais d'Archeologie Orientale, 1939);
and for a 16 century Ottoman appreciation of the differences in Christology between Catholics and Reformation era Protestants, see Bernard Lewis, "The Muslim Discovery of Europe" (New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1982), pp. 176-177.
2. Discussed by Louis Massignon in his article "Le Christ dans les Evangiles, selon Ghazali" (Revue des Etudes Islamiques, volume 6, 1932, pp. 533-534).
References to Jesus abound in al-Ghazzali's works, both in his polemical and devotional writings. See for example "Ninety-nine Names of God; a Translation of the Major Portions of al-Ghazdal's al-Maqsad al-Asna" (Ibadan, Daystar Press, 1970), translated by Robert Charles Stade.
In this work, on pp. 134-135, al-Ghazzali compares those mystics who in a state of ecstasy identify themselves with God to Christians who mistakenly identify Jesus with God: in each case the individual has failed to distinguish an indwelling divine Presence from the human form It inhabits (see also Wismer's summary, op. cit., p. 96).
Al-Ghazzai's "Nasihat al-muluk" (translated by F.R.C. Bagley as "Ghazzali's Book of Counsel", London, Oxford University Press, 1964), gives a summary (on p. 186) of Islamic beliefs concerning Jesus.
Wismer, op. cit., p. 57, catalogues some 2 dozen references to Jesus which appear in al-Ghazzali's "Ihya ulum al-din"; Wismer draws on G.H. Bousquet's "Ghazali: Ihya Ouloum Ed-din, ou vivification des sciences de lafoi: analyse et index" (Paris, Librairie Max Besson, 1955), for his references.
3. T. Nagel, article "Kisas al-Anbiya'" ("Encyclopedia of Islam", new edition, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1979, volume 5, p. 180).
Besides Nagel's essay, an excellent introduction to the Christ of popular and folk-literature in the premodern period can be found in the last section of Jacques Jomier's article "Quatre ouvrages en arabe sur le Christ" ("Melanges de l'Institut Dominicain d'Etudes Orientales du Caire", volume 5, 1958, pp. 367-386). Jomier contrasts the image of Christ in modern and medieval Muslim Arabic literature, noting that in medieval Islam, neither Sufi authors, compilers of folk sayings, nor theological polemicists attempted to describe the personality of Jesus or his emotional temperament as a man. Such preoccupations with personality in literature are typically more of a modern concern, and usually did not interest the composers of popular literature in the medieval era. For this reason, Jomier concludes on p. 386, "la figure medievale de Jesus avait... de flou et de desincarne".
Marshall Hodgson, in "The Venture of Islam" (University of Chicago Press, 1974, volume 1, pp. 446-448), attempts to reconstruct the popular image of Jesus among Muslims of the premodern period, and notes the sources from which this image must have been drawn: the Quran, hadith, and Christian apocrypha.
E.J. Jenkinson, "Jesus in Moslem Tradition" ("Muslim World", volume 18, 1928, pp. 263-269), catalogues some of the better-known folktales associated with Jesus in Islamic culture, especially the famous "Bridge Saying":
"Jesus, on whom be peace, has said, 'The world is merely a bridge:
ye are to pass over it, and not to build your dwellings upon it".
British explorers found these words carved in Arabic on a mosque-gateway in Futehpur-Sikri, the ruined city of the Moghul emperor Akbar. For details, see Joachim Jeremias, "The Saying of Jesus about the Bridge" ("Expository Times", volume 69, 1957, pp. 7-9). Wismer, op. cit., pp. 225-226, quotes the travel account of a nineteenth-century Scottish missionary who visited Futehpur-Sikri and vividly described this Arabic inscription. The writings of another traveler, the 17 century Jean de Thevenot, are also cited by Wismer (op. cit., pp. 244-245), who quotes Thevenot's observations on Islamic popular traditions in the Levant concerning Jesus.
Arthur John Arberry, "Aspects of Islamic Civilization as Depicted in the Original Texts" (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1967), pp. 213, 311-312, 314-315, and passim, cites a number of other oral traditions and sayings attributed to Jesus in Islam.
A Syrian legend concerning Jesus, in which he raises a dead man to life, is recounted by Constance Evelyn Padwick, "The Nebi Isa and the Skull" ("Muslim World", volume 20, 193), pp. 56-62).
For a more learned form of the genre of "tales of the prophets", see Abu Ishaq Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Thalabi (d. AD 1036), "Arais al-majdlis: Qisas al-Anbiya" (Cairo, "Matbaat Hijazi", AH 1371).
Al-Kisai tended to be sensationalistic and anecdotal, and portrayed Jesus especially as a wonder-worker; whereas al-Thalabi gives more of a moral tone to his stories about Christ: he describes Jesus (pp. 229-230) as being:
"ascetic in the lower world, desirous of the Hereafter, zealous in the worship of God".
Al-Thalabi also shows considerable care in establishing the "isnad" for individual Jesus-traditions and draws when possible from available tafsir-commentaries.
A number of histories and chronicles from the Abbasid period refer to popular traditions concerning Jesus. Wismer, op. cit., pp. 240-241, cites a number of references to Jesus in the chronicles of al-Tabari (d. AD 923).
Abdelmajid Charfi, "Christianity in the Quran Commentary of Tabari" (Islamochristiana, volume 6, 1980, pp. 105-148), discusses al-Tabari's treatment of the Injil, the miracles of Jesus, and the question of His crucifixion.
Andre Ferre, "L'historien al-Yaqubi et les Evangiles" (Islamochristiana, volume 3,,1977, pp. 65-83), contrasts al-Tabari's chronicles and the "Muruj al-dhahab" of al-Masudi (d. AD 956) with the histories of Ahmad b. Ishaq al-Yaqubi (d. between AD 891 and 905). Ferre notes that al-Masudi and al-Tabari based their description of Jesus on the Quran, Christian apocryphal writings, and conversations with Christian informants, whereas al-Yaqubi apparently drew directly from an early Arabic translation of the Christian Gospels in his portrait of the life and sayings of Jesus.
Many Abbasid and post-Abbasid collections of hadith-literature contain references to Jesus. Note, e.g., Ibn al-Hajjaj al-Qushayri Muslim (d. c. AD 875), Sahih Muslim (Lahore, Shaykh Muhammad Ashraf, 1971-73), translated by Abdul Hamid Siddlqi; Ibn Qutaybah (d. AD 889), "La traite des divergences du hadit" (Damascus, "Institut Francais de Damas", 1962), translated by Gerard Lecomte; al-Tibrizi (d.c. AD 1337), "Mishkat al-masabih" (Lahore, "Shaykh Muhammad Ashraf", 1963-65), translated by James Robson. Wismer, op. cit., lists the references to Jesus in each of these works.
4. "Tales of the Prophets of al-Kisai" (Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1978), translated by W.M. Thackston, Jr., p. 333.
Thackston points out (op. cit., pp. 354-355, note 119) that al-Kisai in composing popular stories such as that of Jesus and the clay bird, may well have made use of Christian apocryphal sources such as the Arabic "Infancy Gospel", the "Protoevangelium of James" and the "Nativity of Mary". From each Christian source al-Kisai apparently borrowed that material which offered especial dramatic potential. The same criterion seems to have served al-Kisai with regard to the Quran: he made use of Quranic material in such a way as to maximize its dramatic effect in the Jesus stories. A good example is al-Kisai's use of the phrase "And I announce unto you what you eat and what you store up in your houses" from surah 3.49. Al-Kisai turned this verse to good advantage in his story of the raising of Shem (the translation is by W.M. Thackston, Jr., pp. 333-334 of his edition):
"Here is the tomb of Shem, the son of Noah," they said.
"Revive him for us". (Shem was in a sarcophagus of stone).
Jesus approached the tomb, prayed, took a vessel of water,
sprinkled it on the tomb and said: "Arise, Shem, through the might of God!"
And the tomb was split asunder, and
Shem leapt out, his hair and beard white.
"How long have you been dead?" Jesus asked.
"For four thousand years", Sham said.
Then he added, "And when I heard the cry of Jesus,
I thought that it was the Cry of Resurrection.
My hair and beard turned white out of terror".
Then Shem returned to his tomb, and they said:
"O Jesus, you have done a marvelous thing.
Tell us what we eat and what we drink".
And Jesus informed each one of them what he ate and drank
and what he had stored in his house
and that however much it increased they became more recalcitrant.
Thereupon Jesus cursed them, and God transformed them into apes and pigs,
where after they lived for three days and then died.
The people who believed in him remained,
and Jesus stayed among them until God raised him up to Himself.
In the Quran, the verse: "And I announce unto you what you eat..." is not dramatized at all; it simply forms part of the statements attributed to Jesus which describe his ministry on earth. But al-Kisai built up a whole miracle-story around this one phrase and thus gave to the verse a narrative quality and even suspense: the Quranic quote occurs in al-Kisai's text just before the climax, when Jesus delivers his dread curse and transforms the unbelievers into swine. One can summarize al-Kisai's work by noting that a pious tone surrounds each episode in his chapter on Jesus, but that the piety is less important than suspense and dramatic effect.
5. G.C. Anawati, article "Isa" ("Encyclopedia of Islam", new edition, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1979, volume 4, p. 85).
For a discussion of Sufi images of Jesus, see Tor Andrae, "Islamische Mystiker" (Stuttgart, W. Kohlhammer Verlag, 1960, pp. 22-24). Fritz Meier asserts in his "Abu Said b. Abu-l Hayr" ("Acta Iranica" 11, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1976, p. 348), that the image of Christ as a wanderer served directly as a model of behavior for many Muslim ascetics. Olaf Schumann (op. cit., p. 106), notes the significance of Jesus as a moral guide for the Sufis, and makes an important distinction between the images of Jesus in polemical works and in mystical-devotional writings. In contrast to the Muslim polemicists, Schumann remarks, the Sufi authors disregarded theological questions about Jesus and treated Him instead as a model for pious conduct:
"Fur sie (i.e., for the Sufis) war aber Christus nicht das Objekt scharfsinniger Definitionen, sondern der Lehrer, der die Heiligen zur Erfiillung des Gotteswillens ermahnte... Christus selbst war das Vorbild des frommen Asketen".
The image of Jesus appears frequently in works concerning individual Sufi mystics. Louis Massignon, "La passion de Hallaj" (Paris, Editions Gallimard, 1975, volume 3, pp. 233-234), demonstrates how al-Hallaj (d. AD 922) consciously modeled much of his deportment on that image of Jesus with which he was familiar, the Christ of Islamic legend and the Quran. Because of this, al-Hallaj's own contemporaries saw in him a kind of Christ-figure, and attributed miracles to al-Hallaj that conform to the wonders wrought by the Islamic Jesus.
Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, in "al-Durrah al-Fdkhirah", translated by Jane Idleman Smith as "The Precious Pearl" (Missoula, Montana, "Scholars Press", 1979), makes frequent use of the image of Jesus and cites him as a model of conduct for the pious. It is interesting to see the same author treat the image of Jesus in two very different ways:
- in his polemical treatises al-Ghazzali emphasized Christ's human weakness and lack of divinity,
- but in a devotional work such as al-Durrah he presents Christ's exemplary poverty and asceticism.
The image of Jesus appears frequently in the works of the celebrated mystic Muhyi al-Din Ibn Arabi (d. AD 1240), especially in his "Fusus al-hikam", which has been translated by Hans Kofler as "Das Buch der Siegelringsteine der Weisheitsspriche" (Graz, Akademische Druck und Verlagsanstalt, 1970). In the "Fusus", Ibn Arabi devotes an entire chapter to Jesus, and on p. 92 of Kofler's edition, does an exegesis of surah 3.49 from the Quran (where Jesus shapes a bird of clay and breathes life into it). As noted above, this surah is also treated in al-Kisai's "Qisas al-anbiyd"; but in al-Kisai's the miracle is made into a dramatic wonder-tale, while Ibn Arabi treats the same Quranic verse in a highly different fashion, making it the vehicle for highly sophisticated mystical and ethical speculations.
Henry Corbin, "Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi" (Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XCI, 1969, p. 364, note 29), discusses Ibn Arabi's exegesis of surah 3.49; (see also p. 313, note 65), where Corbin analyzes Ibn Arabi's "theophanic" concept of Jesus.
Andreas D'Souza, "Jesus in Ibn Arabi's Fusus al-hikam" (Islamochristiana, volume 8, 1982, pp. 185-200), focuses on the opening of the chapter on Jesus in the "Fusus", where there is a poem describing how Jesus came into being.
Ibn Arabi's "Tarjuman al-ashwaq" (London, Royal Asiatic Society, 1911), translated by R.A. Nicholson, also contains several references to the figure of Jesus.
A good introduction to the mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. AD 1273) is "Mystical Poems of Rumi" (University of Chicago Press, 1968), translated by A.J. Arberry. Wismer, op. cit., p. 208, catalogues the poetic imagery involving Jesus which appears in this work.
Among all the images of Christ which I have encountered in the writings of the medieval Islamic mystics, perhaps the most intriguing is that found in the epistles of the "Ikhwan al-Safa (Brethren of Purity"). The Arabic text can be found in "Rasail Ikhwan al-Safa" (Beirut, Dar Bayrut, 1957, 4 volumes). Yves Marquet, "Les Ihwan al-safa et le christianisme" (Islamochristiana, volume 8, 1982, pp. 129-158), gives a French translation of the life of Jesus contained in epistle 44 of the Ikhwan. As one reads through this treatise one realizes that the "Brethren of Purity" have made Jesus look very much like an Ismaili dai:
Christ is said in this epistle to have known that he could not manifest himself openly to men, given their state of ignorance, imprisoned as they are in Nature and the Material. Hence He took the disguise of a physician and healer and wandered from town to town, preaching, mingling with men, and piquing their curiosity with parables. He would then initiate select listeners and offer them a Gnostic vision in which the soul is called to awaken from the sleep of ignorance and escape from the prison of the body, to ascend finally into the celestial spheres and the realms of divine majesty.
For a description of the activities of a "typical" Ismaili dai - missionary preacher - see R.A. Nicholson, "A Literary History of the Arabs" (Cambridge University Press, 1977, pp. 272-273).
For a general discussion of the Ikhwan al-Safa, consult Ian Richard Netton, "Muslim Neoplatonists: an Introduction to the Thought of the Brethren of Purity" (London/Boston, Allen & Unwin, 1982).
Also see Yves Marquet, "La philosophie des Ihwan al-Safa" (Algiers, Societe nationale d'editions et de diffusion, 1975);
and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines; Conceptions of Nature and Methods Used for its Study by the Ikhwan al-Safa, al-Biruni, and Ibn Sina" (Cambridge, Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1964).
6. Najm al-Din al-Kubra, "Die Fawdeih al-Gamdl wa-Fawdtih al-Galal des Najm ad-Din al-Kubra" (Wiesbaden, 1957, edited by Fritz Meier; chapter 35, p. 15).
Najm al-Din goes on after this passage to recount what happened to him on one occasion during private meditation:
while trying to concentrate on his dhikr exercises, he found himself momentarily distracted by Satan's whisperings. The Sufi records that he thereupon sprang into action, waving a mystic sword, upon which were engraved the words "God-God", and whirling it against the thoughts crowding in to distract him from meditation. Najm al-Din seems to be establishing an equation in this passage: his own combat, in which use is made of spiritual weaponry, is analogous to Christ's pelting Satan with a brick. Jesus thus serves as a model of conduct for the student of the mystic arts.
For further examples of Jesus as a guide to Sufi conduct, see Abu al-Qasim Abd al-Karim al-Qushayri (d. AD 1074), "al-Risalah al-Qushayrtyah" (Cairo, "Dar al-kutub al-hadithah", no date, volume 2, pp. 456-457, 558, 563-564, 620, and 718-719).
Al-Qushayri recounts traditions and legends about Jesus in such a way as to illustrate ideal conduct for the Sufi, on topics which include:
- good manners, and
- the proper sense of shame.
He includes a chapter on "dreams of the Sufis" in which Jesus appears to Hasan b. Ali and recommends an edifying inscription to be carved on a seal-ring. I thank Professor Gerhard Bowering of Yale University for his help in guiding me through the works of the Sufi mystics and for introducing me to the writings of Najm al-Din al-Kubra in particular.
7. Emmanuel Sivan, "Le caractere sacre de Jerusalem dans l'Islam" ("Studia Islamica", volume 27, 1967, p. 155).
Ahmad Badawi, "Al-Hayah al-adabiyah fi asr al-hurub al-salibiyah bi-Misr wa-al-Sham" (2 edition, Cairo, Dar Nahdat Misr, 1979, pp. 136-140), discusses the life of Ibn Munir al-Tarabulusi and quotes a number of his poems. Badawi's book includes a chapter entitled "The influence of the Crusades on Arabic literature", which has a section (on pp. 417-426) devoted to speeches, sermons and poetry in which the theme predominates of jihad against the Franks.
Muhammad b. Ali b. Ahmad al-Hirafi, "Shir al-jihad fi al-hurub al-sal1biyah fi bilad al-Shdm" (Cairo, "Dar al-ICtisam", 1979, pp. 255-288), gives a detailed treatment of Ibn Munir's life. On pp. 285-286 al-Hirafi discusses Nur al-Din b. Zengi's siege of Damascus, and the "madih" - poems composed by Ibn Munir at this time (c. AH 546/AD 1152) encouraging Nur al-Din in this siege and urging him to persevere in the jihad until he should conquer Jerusalem.
Hadia Dajani-Shakeel, "Jihad in 12th Century Arabic Poetry: a Moral and Religious Force to Counter the Crusades" ("Muslim World", volume 66, 1976, pp. 96-113), describes the process whereby polemical religious imagery and the theme of holy war came to dominate Arabic poetry in the Islamic Near East in the period between AD 1144 and 1187.
8. Shihab al-Din Abu al-Qasim Abu Shama (AD 1203-1267), "Kitab al-Rawdatayn (Livre des deux jardins) Recueil des Historiens des Croisades" ("Historiens Orientaux" (RHC Or), Paris, 1898, volume 4, p. 321). For a summary discussion of Abu Shama and his "Kitab al-Rawdatayn", see Francesco Gabrieli, "Arab Historians of the Crusades" (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1984, pp. xxx-xxxi). Abu Shama's pun on qiyamah/qumamah is not the only example from the Crusades of "tajnis" (poetic wordplay) involving Frankish-Christian nomenclature. Ahmad Badawi, op. cit., pp. 421-422, quotes the text of a 12 century poem addressed to Saladin, urging him to wrest Jerusalem from the Franks: he should bring destruction (al-tabar) to the Hospitallers (al-Usbitar), and level roofs (al-suquf) and bring them down upon the Christian bishop (al-usquf).
9. M.M. Badawi, "A Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry" (Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 259-260. Most of the scholarly work done on the Islamic Jesus confines itself to the medieval period; for the modern era, there is considerably less scholarship available.
Kenneth Cragg, "The Call of the Minaret" (New York, Oxford University Press, 1956), pp. 244-254, reviews 20 century Muslim writings, both biographical and philosophical, which touch on the life of Jesus. Among the works discussed here by Cragg is Abbas Mahmud al-'Aqqad's "Abqariyat al-Masih" (3 edition, Cairo, Dar Nahdat Misr, 1973), one of the most famous recent Muslim studies of Christ; this treatment emphasizes the philosophical and ethical dimensions of the figure of Jesus. Cragg (p. 253) terms it "a sincere and reverent attempt to comprehend Christ within a Muslim scheme".
In my discussion of 20 century Arabic literature I focus on poetry; but other fictional genres have also made use of the figure of Jesus and the motifs of the Passion and Crucifixion. Two examples in particular, one a drama, the other a novel, at once come to mind:
- Salah Abd al-Sabir's "Ma'sdt al-Hallaj" (Beirut, "Dar al-adab", 1965), translated by Khalil Semaan as "Murder in Baghdad" (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1972), is a drama which portrays the trial and execution of the Sufi martyr Husayn b. Mansur al-Hallaj, and compares his Passion to that of Christ's. Abd al-Sabur's drama is a political commentary on the oppressive nature of human social institutions; both al-Hallaj and Jesus are depicted as victims of an unjust State.
- Muhammad Kamil Husayn's "Qaryah Zalimah" (Cairo, Maktabat al-Nahdah al-Misriyah, 1964), translated by Kenneth Cragg as "City of Wrong" (New York, Seabury Press, 1966), is a novelistic rendering of the events of Good Friday, in which Christ's Passion is recounted from the point of view of a devout Muslim. Nowhere does Husayn attempt directly to portray Jesus, who appears only once in the novel, and that briefly. Rather, throughout the narrative Husayn illustrates the effect that Jesus (and the spiritual values operating in Him) had on other individuals. In "Qaryah Zalimah" Christ is a rather abstract embodiment of the force of Conscience; Husayn does not attempt at all to evoke the personality of Jesus or identify himself as narrator with Jesus' agony. In this Husayn differs radically from the poets discussed in this article al-Bayyati, al-Khal, and al-Sayyab, who embrace the human Christ by seeing their own sufferings and their society's sufferings in his Passion. For a discussion of "Qaryah Zalimah", see G.C. Anawati's article "Isa" (Encyclopedia of Islam, new edition, Leiden. E.J. Brill, 1978, volume 4, p. 85); and Jomier, op. cit., pp. 369-370. A very detailed study of this novel is available in Anawati's essay, "Jesus et ses juges d'apres 'La Cite Inique' du Dr. Kamel Hussein" ("Melanges de l'Institut Dominicain d'Etudes Orientales du Caire", volume 2, 1955, pp. 71-134), where Anawati analyzes individually the various characters in Hussein's story, the Apostles, Pilate, Lazarus, Mary Magdalen, and Caiaphas the High Priest.
10. N. Naimy, "The Mind and Thought of Khalil Jubran" ("Journal of Arabic Literature", volume 5, 1974, p. 67). Jubran's concept of Christ reached its fullest articulation in his "Jesus the Son of Man. His Words and His Deeds as Told and Recorded by Those Who Knew Him" (London, W. Heinemann, 1954), translated into Arabic by Tharwah Akkashah as "Isa Ibn al-Insdn" (second edition, Cairo, "Dar al-Maarif", 1974). Recent studies on Jubran and his work include Jean and Kahlil Gibran, "Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World" (New York, Avenel Books, 1981); Suhayl Bashru'i and Albir Mutlaq, editors, "Fi dhikra Jubran" (Beirut, Maktabat Lubnan, 1981); and Ghassan Khalid, "Jubran fi shakhsiyatihi wa-adabih" (Beirut, Mu'assasat Nawfal, 1983).
11. Selma Jayyusi, "Trends and Movements in Modern Arabic Poetry" (Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1977, volume 2, p. 724). S. Moreh, "Modern Arabic Poetry 1800-1970: the Development of its Forms and Themes under the Influence of Western Literature" (Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1976, pp. 257-258), discusses the process whereby imagery from various religions:
- Christ and the Crucifixion,
- the prophet Muhammad,
- the Phoenix, etc.
became "secularized" and incorporated into modern Arabic poetry.
See also Ahmad Kamal Zaki, "Al-tafslr al-usturi lil-shicr al-hadith" ("Majallat Fusuil", volume 1, number 4, July 1981, pp. 91-106).
12. T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land and Other Poems" (New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1962, p. 29). Eliot himself (op. cit., p. 47), in his "Notes on 'The Waste Land"', acknowledged the importance to his poetic work of Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance (New York, Doubleday, 1957). Weston describes the evolution of the myth of the Grail, from its origins in ritual to its appearance as a Christian symbol in 13 and 14 centuries Europe. Chapter 4 in Weston's book, entitled "Tammuz and Adonis", discusses nature cults and dying gods.
The theme elaborated by Eliot in the verses I cite from "The Waste Land", of the cycle of the seasons and the individual's participation in autumnal death and vernal resurrection, is studied by Theodor H. Gaster in "Thespis: Ritual, Myth and Drama in the Ancient Near East" (2 revised edition, New York, Doubleday/Anchor, 1961). Gaster shows how myths of vegetation gods such as Tammuz express the desire of ancient man to survive and experience rebirth together with nature at winter's end. See especially Gaster's first two chapters, "Ritual and Myth", and "Ingredients of the Seasonal Pattern", which form a good scholarly introduction to Eliot's poetic motifs.
James Frazer's "The Golden Bough" (3 edition, London, Macmillan and Co., 1919-22) is a massive work in 12 volumes; volume 4, "The Dying God", and volumes 5-6, "Adonis, Attis, Osiris", are of particular interest to students of Eliot. There is also a very accessible condensed edition, "The New Golden Bough" (New York, New American Library/Mentor, 1964), in 1 volume, with abridgment and editing by Theodor H. Gaster. Pages 339-470 in the abridged edition cover the topic of vegetation gods; Gaster's "Additional Notes", pp. 462-470, are a necessary corrective to those ideas of Frazer's which have been superseded by recent anthropological research.
For recent discussions of Eliot and "The Waste Land", see Ronald Bush, T.S. Eliot: "A Study in Character and Style" (New York, Oxford University Press, 1984). Chapter 5, pp. 53-78, treats "The Waste Land" via a psychological and biographical study of the poet. Philip R. Headings, "T.S. Eliot" (revised edition, Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1982, pp. 82-108), has an excellent discussion of death- and rebirth- imagery in "The Waste Land".
Less recent, but still one of the outstanding pieces of criticism on the poem, is Cleanth Brooks' essay "The Waste Land: Critique of the Myth", in A Collection of Critical Essays on "The Waste Land" (New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), Jay Martin, editor, pp. 59-86. Brooks analyzes Frazer and Jessie Weston's scholarship in relation to Eliot's death/resurrection imagery.
For Eliot's role in inspiring contemporary Arab poets, see Khalil Semaan, "T.S. Eliot's Influence on Arabic Poetry and Theater" ("Comparative Literature Studies", volume 6, 1969, pp. 472-489).
See also S. Moreh, "The Influence of Western Poetry and Particularly T.S. Eliot on Modern Arabic Poetry" (1947 - 1964)" ("Asian and African Studies", Israel Oriental Society, Jerusalem, volume 5, 1969, pp. 1-50). Moreh's article includes a section (pp. 30-41) on "Mythology, religious symbols and legends in shicr hurr", which discusses Christ imagery and the symbolism of Tammuz and Adonis. Moreh also analyzes (on pp. 38-39) the work of Adunis (the pseudonym of Ali Ahmad Sacid), a contemporary Arab poet not treated in my paper. Adunis makes use of the imagery of Christ, Tammuz, and the phoenix, as symbols of death and resurrection.
Certain literary studies have compared T.S. Eliot's dramatic work with the theatre of Salah Abd al-Sabur (who is cited above in note 9): Louis Tremaine, "Witnesses to the Event in Masadt al-Halldj and Murder in the Cathedral" ("Muslim World", volume 67, 1977, pp. 33-46); and Fadil Thamir, "Abd al-Sabur wa-masrah Eliot" ("Al-Adab", volume 15, number 9, September 1967, pp. 46-53).
13. M.M. Badawi, "Commitment in Contemporary Arab Literature" ("Journal of World Literature", French title: "Cahiers d'histoire mondiale", volume 14, 1972, pp. 859-871). This essay has been reprinted in the collection "Critical Perspectives in Modern Arabic Literature" (Washington, D.C., Three Continents Press, 1980, Issa J. Boullata, editor, pp. 23-44). Badawi's article contains numerous references to post-World War II Arabic-language publications which treat the issue of iltizam. For an example of iltizam and politically oriented literary criticism, see Khalil Semaan, "Drama as a Vehicle of Protest in Nasir's Egypt" ("International Journal of Middle East Studies", volume 10, 1979, pp. 49-53), where Semaan interprets Abd al-Sabur's "Masat al-Hallaj" as an indirect political criticism of the regime of Jamal Abd al-Nasir.
14. Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayyati, "Ashar fi al-manfa" (Cairo, "Dar al-katib al-Carabi", 1968, pp. 50-53). M.M. Badawi, "A Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry" (Cambridge University Press, 1975, p. 214), comments on al-Bayyati's poetic imagery as follows:
[Bayyati] searched for suitable artistic masks in the worlds of history, symbols and myths, through which crisis could be expressed on social as well as cosmic levels. The mask, he says, is "the name through which the poet speaks, divested, as it were, of his own subjectivity... In this manner the poem becomes a world independent of the poet, although created by him".
In al-Bayyati's poems, then, Christ serves as a "mask" for the poet. Al-Bayyati has selected this mask not because he wishes to display his own subjective emotions via the image of Christ - at least this is not his avowed intent-but because Christ serves as a symbol, as the stuff of myth, accessible to, and, presumably, universally recognizable to all of al-Bayyatl's readers.
There is a strong contrast between the meta-personal cosmic "Christ mask" of al-Bayyati and the intensely personal Christ imagery of a poet such as Tawfiq Sayigh. In his poetry Sayigh borrows images from Christ's Passion - the crucifixion, burial in the Sepulchre, having one's limbs nailed to the Cross - and uses them to illustrate scenes from his own private life, in particular the agonies he endured in an unhappy love affair. Sayigh's collection "Al-qasidah K" (Beirut, Dar Majallat Shir, 1960) has a number of poems in which the poet identifies fervently with the sufferings of Jesus. See also Issa J. Boullata, "The Beleaguered Unicorn: a Study of Tawfiq Sayigh" ("Journal of Arabic Literature", volume 4, 1973, pp. 69-93), where Boullata translates several of Sayigh's poems involving Christ motifs.
I am grateful to Professor Mounah A. Khouri of the University of California at Berkeley for directing my attention to Sayigh's poetry.
15. Rita Awad, "Ustuirat al-mawt wa-al-inbiadth fj al-shiCr al-Carabi al-hadith" (Beirut, al-Muassasah al-Arabiyyah, 1978, p. 88). For another discussion of the use of myth (especially the myth of Tammuz) in modern Arabic poetry, see Asad Razzuq, "Al-ustuirah fi al-shir al-muasir, al-shuara al-Tammuziyyun", (Beirut, 1959).
16. Stefan Wild, "Judentum, Christentum und Islam in der palistinensischen Poesie" ("Die Welt des Islams", vols. 23-24, 1984, pp. 259-297). The 4 poetic quotations which follow in the main text of the present essay (the mawlid-verse and the poems by al-Bustanl and Kamal Nasir) represent my rendering of Wild's German translation from the original Arabic. Wild's translations are found on pp. 273-275 and p. 293 of his article.
17. Wild, op. cit., p. 271.
18. Ibid., p. 271.
19. Ibid., p. 289.
20. Ibid., p. 292.
21. Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayyati, "al-Majd lil-atfal wa-al-zaytun" (Beirut, "Dar al-awdah", no date, pp. 27-28). The above-cited "Ughnlyah ila shabi" is not the only poem in the collection al-Majd to make use of the figure of Jesus. Another poem from this volume, "al-Awdah (The Return"), on p. 17, describes a dream-like state in which the narrator imagines himself and his fellow-countrymen as being unexpectedly freed from sufferings and released from a pain they had thought inescapable. Al-Bayyati creates the image of a Christ who has been suddenly delivered from crucifixion: "And it was as if Jesus were with you, returning to Galilee, without a cross". A third poem from al-Majd, "Ughniyah (A Song"), pp. 9-10, also uses Christ imagery, focusing on Christ's humiliation at the hands of his tormentors: "Your Jesus stands in chains, stripped; the daggers tear him, beyond the crosses of the borders; and above your domed shrines a cloud weeps..." Whereas "al-Awdah" introduced Jesus as an image of hope to al-Bayyati's countrymen, in "Ughnlyah" Christ and his Passion are described only in terms of pain and disgrace. The reader experiences Jesus in the very midst of his sorrows.
For other poems by al-Bayyati employing similar motifs, see the works translated by Khalil Semaan under the title "From al-Hallaj, a Poem by Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayyati" ("Journal of Arabic Literature", volume 10, 1979, pp. 65-69). The poem concentrates on the execution of al-Hallaj, but draws on Christian images of crucifixion and resurrection. Also see Semaan's article, "Islamic Mysticism in Modern Arabic Poetry and Drama" ("International Journal of Middle East Studies", volume 10, 1979, pp. 517-531), which likewise compares Christ and al-Hallaj, and offers a translation of poems from al-Bayyati's collection "Sifr al-faqr wa-thawrah" (Beirut, 1965).
22. Yusuf al-Khal, "al-Bir al-mahjurah" (Beirut, "Dar majallat Shir", 1958, pp. 11-13).
Issa J. Boullata, "Modern Arabic Poets", 1950 - 1975 (Washington, D.C., "Three Continents Press", 1976), translates three poems by al-Khal in which Christian motifs of redemptive suffering and resurrection pre-dominate: "al-Tawbah (Repentance"), "al-Bir al-mahjurah (The Deserted Well"), and "al-Hiwar al-azali (The Eternal Dialogue").
Ghali Shukri, "Shicruna al-hadith... ila ayna?" (Cairo, "Dar al-Maarif", 1968, pp. 179-186), discusses the poetry of al-Khal, especially his collection "Qasaaid Mukhtarah".
For a specifically political interpretation of al-Khal's poetry, see Joseph Zeidan, "Myth and Symbol in the Poetry of Adinis and Yusuf al-Khal" ("Journal of Arabic Literature", volume 10, 1979, pp. 70-94). Zeidan argues that the Tammuz and Christ imagery present in the work of both Adinis and al-Khal was directly influenced by the nationalist activities and subsequent execution of Antun Saadah, onetime head of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.
But Ghali Shukri, in an essay entitled "Shacir lahu qadiyah" ("Majallat Shicr", volume 8, 1964, pp. 84-90), interprets the Christ of al-Khal in a much broader sense. Shukri points out that al-Khal emphasizes the hesitation and doubts which Jesus experienced as a fully human individual before submitting himself finally to the will of God the Father. The reason why al-Khal portrays the human weaknesses of Jesus, in Shukri's view, is to allow the reader to identify with Christ as man, a Christ who mirrors the agonies and potential for transcendence in human existence and is not simply a symbol for any one political issue. "Christ in his recalcitrance", Shukri insists on p. 89 of his essay: "is the exemplar of the free man... and Christ in the works of Yusuf al-Khal is freedom itself. In this way symbol mingles with myth and with life. And thus the poetic structure discloses an exalted ideology on the part of the poet, transcending in its loftiness the limits of political issues and social problems to other, unbounded, horizons."
The best critical appreciation to date of Yusuf al-Khal is Jabra Ibrahim Jabra's article "al-Mafazah wa-al-bir wa-Allah", in the collection of essays entitled "al-Shir fi marakat al-wujud" (Beirut, "Dar Majallat Shir", 1960, pp. 9-24). Jabra begins by evoking the political problems and questions associated with contemporary conflicts in the Middle East. But the answers Jabra offers are spiritual rather than specifically political: he challenges his reader by describing what he defines as a widespread need for spiritual rebirth. It is in this light that Jabra goes on to discuss the "Tammuzi" school of poets (most notably among them Yusuf al-Khal), a school which, in Jabra's view, offers nourishing poetic images of redemptive suffering and resurrection. Jabra then analyzes al-Khal's diwan, "al-Bir al-mahjurah" (Beirut, Dar Majallat Shir, 1958), in terms of its recurrent religious imagery. Jabra describes at length the figure of the poet in al-Khal's universe: the poet himself becomes a Christ-figure who offers up his spiritual torments on behalf of others. The goal, - Jabra comments on p. 18, - is for the reader to follow the poet/Christ-figure to "godhood" ("al-uluhah"), via a process of purgative suffering and resurrection. "And in the end," Jabra asserts, "the poet achieves this godhood for every man, for what is the poet but a part of humanity." But the reader too must participate in the poet's struggles, must look within himself and discern his own sterility and spiritual barrenness, the slain god within who awaits rebirth from the soul's soil. "And it is incumbent on man," Jabra continues on p. 19, "- or on the poet - that he deepen this discernment by an action like that of repentance. It is a tragic, religious, action, since man sees the bottomless chasm between himself and the godhood towards which he stretches out his desperate arms. He will not be joined to it till he places the bridge of discernment, of acknowledgment and confession, over the lips of the gaping abyss." Jabra continues his discussion of al-Khal's imagery on pp. 21-22 with a quote from another poem in the diwan:
"And do not be impatient and anxious if evil grows great:
God's cross is raised on the hill of Time."
Jabra's meditation closes on this tone of hope.
In stark contrast to al-Khal's concept of the poet's solidarity with Christ is the image of Jesus in the poem "Lazarus 1962" by Khalil Hawi, found in "Hawis Bayddir al-ju" (Beirut, "Dar al-Adab", 1965), pp. 35-83. A translation of the poem is available in Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard, "Naked in Exile: Khalil Hawi's 'The Threshing Floors of Hunger'" (Washington, DC, "Three Continents Press", 1984); the Arabic text and English translation are accompanied by a critical essay on the poem. This poem imagines the aftermath of Jesus' raising of Lazarus, and uses as its narrators Lazarus and his wife. The mood of the poem is savage, and most of this rage is directed against Christ, who made Lazarus return from the quiet of death. "Why did Christ restore me to life", Lazarus asks bitterly, "if he cannot also dispel the horrors of the human existence to which he is returning me?" And while Lazarus writhes with bitterness, Christ is shown as glowing with self-satisfaction, because he has been clever enough to work a pious miracle; yet Christ remains completely ignorant of the misery of our earthly lives. Thus al-Khal and Hawi differ completely in their treatment of Christ: the one embraces him, the other spurns him as being too distant from our sufferings.
I am grateful to Professor Adnan Haydar of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for bringing this poem to my attention and discussing the work with me in several conversations.
For a general discussion of Hawl's life and poetic works, see Ahmad Yusuf Daud, "Khalil Hawi: shiruhu, hayatuhu, wa-mawtuh" ("al-Marifah", volume 21, number 248, October 1982, pp. 180-199).
Jurj Khidr examines Hawi's use of Christ imagery in "al-Ramz al-masihi inda Khalil Hawi" ("Mawaqif", volume 46, Spring 1983, pp. 78-84).
And Rita Awad, "Adabund al-hadith bayna al-ruyad wa-al-tabir: dirasat naqdiyah" (Beirut, "al-Muassasah al-Arabiyah", 1979), discusses Hawi's "Lazarus" poem in a section entitled "al-Mawt wa-al-inbiath fi shir Khalil Hawi", pp. 69-95.
23. Badr Shakir "al-Sayyab, Unshudat al-matar" (Beirut, "Dar maktabat al-hayah", 1969, p. 129).
Al-Sayyab has attracted the attention of many literary critics.
For general studies of his work, see Issa J. Boullata, "The Poetic Technique of Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, 1926-1964", in the collection edited by Boullata entitled "Critical Perspectives in Modern Arabic Literature" (Washington, DC, "Three Continents Press", 1980, pp. 232-243);
and M.A.S. Abd al-Halim, "Al-Sayyab - a Study of his Poetry", (R.C. Ostle, editor, "Studies in Modern Arabic Literature", Wilts, England, "Aris & Phillips Ltd.", 1975, pp. 69-85).
Also see Hatim al-Sakr, "Al-Sayyab", ("Afaq Arabiyah", volume 8, number 5, January 1983, pp. 120-122). For al-Sayyab's use of myth, see Nazeer el-Azma, "The Tammuzi Movement and the Influence of T.S. Eliot on Badr Shakir al-Sayyab", published in the collection edited by Boullata cited above, pp. 215-231; el-Azma has also published an article in Arabic entitled "Badr Shakir al-Sayyab wa-al-Masih", ("al-Fikr al-Arabi", volume 4, number 26, March 1982, pp. 171-192).
See also Arieh Loya, "Al-Sayyab and the influence of T.S. Eliot" ("Muslim World", volume 61, 1971, pp. 187-201). Of especial value is Ahmad Itman's article, "'Ala hamish al-ustirah al-ighriqiyah fi shir al-Sayyab" ("Majallat Fusuil", volume 3, number 4, July - September 1983, pp. 37-46). On p. 38 Itman quotes al-Sayyab himself on the poet's need in the modern era to have recourse to myths; as al-Sayyab says:
"For we live in a world in which there is no poetry... What can the poet do then? He has returned to myths and tales which have not lost their heat, because they are not a part of this world... He has returned to them in order to build from them worlds which defy the logic of gold and iron."
Al-Sayyab's "Unshudat al-matar" includes several poems which, like "al-Masih bada al-salb", mingle motifs of suffering and persecution from several religious traditions, Muslim, Christian and pagan. In "al-Awdah li-Jaykur" (pp. 98-104), the narrator compares himself to Jesus crowned with thorns and Muhammad hiding in the cave of Hira. "Ughniyah fi shahr Ab" (pp. 19-22) makes use of the ancient Assyro-Babylonian myths of seasonal vegetation-gods: "Tammuz is dying on the horizon and his blood seeps away with the dusk into the dark cave... The night, the wild boar, the night is wretched misery!"
Frazer notes in "The Golden Bough" (abridged edition, pp. 342-347) that in Greek myth Adonis/Tammuz was believed to have been killed by a wild boar while at the hunt; and Phoenician traditions stated that the blood from his wounds stained the mountain streams.
Finally, Serge Hutin, "Les gnostiques" (Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 1970, p. 112), notes an analogous mingling of religious traditions in the beliefs of the Nosairis: it is not the blood of Tammuz/Adonis, but rather that of Husayn, slain at Kerbela, which stains the sunset red.