I’m doing some reading for an upcoming course I’ll be teaching entitled ‘Islam and the Muslim World.’ Currently I’m working my way through Reza Aslan’s No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (New York: Random House, 2011). This is a thorough, thoughtful volume carefully written and insightfully challenging. I am struck by the haste with which Islam moved away from Muhammad’s original revelation; within a generation after the prophet’s death his biographers and Muslim scholars had done an entire 180 on many of his positions. This type of shifting is surely not unique to Islam; the Jewish and Christian Scriptures show similar growth and adapting of traditions for a variety of reasons.
One of the most intriguing discussions in Aslan’s book thus far has been on the relationship amongst the three monotheisms: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For Muhammad and his earliest followers, Islam was seen in continuity with Judaism and Christianity. Jews and Christians, too, he claimed were “People of the Book.” Islam was seen as “the confirmation of previous scriptures” (12:111). This early continuity stands out as especially striking given the long history of tensions in the Middle East between these three faiths.
One reference from the Quran that Aslan offered has stayed with me, both as a lament for how far away from the ideal we’ve come and as a hope for a future reconciliation.
“Do not argue with the People of the Book–apart from those individuals who act unjustly toward you–unless it is in a fair way” (29:46).
What a wonderfully hopeful sentiment for not only scholars but all humanity to hear and strive to live by.