as a result of my long studies and many encounters with Muslims I too have come to the conclusion that Christians and Muslims ‘should go beyond tolerance, accepting differences, while remaining aware of commonalities and thanking God for them,’ to quote from a joint declaration of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (Vatican) and the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Islamic Culture and Relations organisation (Tehran) in 2008.
My advocacy for serious dialogue between Christians and Muslims goes back a good twenty-five years to my discovery of the ‘abrahamic’ root from which Judaism, Christianity and Islam are sprung. all three religions revere Abraham as the father of their faith, from whom they learned the central lesson for humankind before God – proven trust. The Hebrew Bible describes Abraham as a blessing for ‘all the families of the earth’ (Gen 12:2–3); in the New Testament, Abraham is ‘the father of us all […] in the presence of Him whom he believed – God’ (Romans 4:16–17); according to the Qur’an, Abraham is a ‘leader of people’ (Sura 2:124). However, Jews, Christians and Muslims do not believe ‘in Abraham’ but in the god to whom he pays tribute as the creator, protector and judge of humankind. Hence, all three Holy Books call Abraham the ‘friend of God’: the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 41:8), the New Testament Book of James (James 2:23) and Sura 4:125 in the Qur’an.
My discovery of this Abrahamic root had significant consequences for my subsequent work, and I explored it in my two previous books. The first was Abraham: Sign of Hope for Jews, Christians and Muslims3 and the second is titled Die Bibel im Koran. Grundlagen für das interreligiöse Gespräch (The Bible in the Qur’an. Foundations for Interreligious Dialogue, 2017).4 I think that the Holy Scriptures themselves provide an opportunity for Jews, Christians and Muslims no longer to ostracise one another as ‘infidels’, ‘unredeemed’, ‘out-dated’ or ‘deficient’ (as has so often been the case throughout history), but instead to show mutual regard for one another as ‘children of Abraham’, all pursuing their own paths before God and towards God. Jews, Christians and Muslims share a common heritage that sets them apart from other religions – for instance, asian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. This includes the stories of Adam and the Creation, Noah and his rescue from the Great Flood, Moses and his struggle against a heathen despot, Joseph and his tumultuous fate under God’s wing, and David, to whom God gave his own book, the Psalms (to name but a few examples). This is not a value judgment: it merely illustrates that Jews, Christians and Muslims have a duty to acknowledge their shared responsibility before God as ‘children of Abraham’ for the common good of humankind. Reading the Bible and the Qur’an alongside each other is an important act of faith in an age of division like ours, when ‘religion’ is often misused in order to divide people and stoke distrust and hatred. other studies have laid the groundwork. I can think of a group of French Christian and Muslim researchers, whose first publication, in 1987, was Ces Écritures qui nous questionnent: La Bible et le Coran (The Challenge of the Scriptures. The Bible and the Qur’an, New York 1989). I can also think of major studies by the Canadian Christian theologian Brian Arthur Brown, including Noah’s Other Son. Bridging the Gap between the Bible and the Qur’an (New York/London 2007) and Three Testaments. Torah, Gospel and Quran (New York/ Toronto/Plymouth UK 2012). I’m also thinking of an exciting undertaking by the British Christian scholar of Islam Colin Chapman called The Bible Through Muslim Eyes and a Christian Response (Cambridge 2008), which was written in the hope that ‘one day, a Muslim in Great Britain will write a book with a similar title, “The Qur’an Through Christian Eyes and a Muslim Response”’. There is also a book published in response to the pioneering, even sensational, A Common Word, a text signed by 138 Muslim scholars in 2007. It’s called A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor by Miroslav Volf, Ghazi bin Muhammad and Melissa Yarrington (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge UK 2010), but more on that in the sixth and final chapter of this book. I should also mention the subsequent project by the US Christian theologian Barbara J. Hampton, Reading Scripture Together. A Comparative Qur’an and Bible Study Guide (2014). Last but not least, there are also many small initiatives in German cities. Erlangen deserves a special mention, for young people there have organised a ‘Café Abraham’, creating a forum for Jews, Christians and Muslims to meet, help each other and talk.
another thing that is especially important for Christians is that they also share with Muslims the story of John, whom the Qur’an calls a prophet (Sura 3:39) and the New Testament, the ‘Baptist’ (Matt. 3:1–8), Jesus, who is venerated among Muslims as ‘a messenger’ (Sura 5:75) and by Christians as the ‘Son of God’ (Luke 1:32), and Mary, who is a particularly blessed woman for Christians and Muslims alike (Luke 1:30) and ‘chosen’ by God (Sura 3:42). Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an, which explains the high regard in which devout Muslims hold Mary to this day. This book will discuss these matters in detail. Such ‘overlaps’ between the two traditions bind Christians and Muslims together in a special religious community, even though the Qur’an explicitly does not acknowledge an entirely new revelation, unprecedented in religious history, which expunges all prior revelations. Rather, the Qur’an seeks to restore the ancient religion that God had previously entrusted to Jews and Christians: the ‘religion of Abraham’ (Sura 2:130–135). The Qur’an therefore appeals to Muslims:
Say, ‘We believe in God and in what was sent down
and in what was sent down to Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob and the tribes,
and in what was given to Moses and Jesus and all the prophets by their Lord.
We make no distinction between any of them, and we devote ourselves to Him.’ (Sura 2:136)
What is of particular significance to Christians is that the Qur’an attaches great importance – indeed, a profound theological interpretation – to the birth of Jesus. Both Sura 19:16–35 and Sura 3:45–59 report God’s annunciation to Mary, the birth of her son and his deeds in such a manner that Jesus becomes a ‘sign to all people’ and a sign of God’s ‘blessing’ (Sura 19:21). Furthermore, Sura 19:32 explicitly states that Jesus is ‘not domineering’ but a man of ‘peace’. ‘Peace was on me,’ the Qur’an quotes Jesus as saying, ‘the day I was born and will be on the day I die, and the day I am raised to life again’ (Sura 19:33).
The birth of Jesus is also recounted in two books in the Christian Bible: the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke’s Gospel. I have tried to establish a conversation between these two traditions – the Qur’an and the New Testament – in my book. In doing so, I have analysed both the differences and the similarities between them, and demonstrated that the story of the birth of Jesus is more suitable than virtually any other for comparing the Holy Scriptures and prompting exchanges across religious boundaries to bring Christians and Muslims together in a spirit of dialogue. My book will provide some answers as to why this is the case.
All too often in the past, communities have lived along- side each other in mutual indifference. There has been too much ignorance on all sides, often combined with arrogance regarding one’s own religion’s supposed superiority over all others. It is high time, however, to make the early years of the third millennium a period of exchange between religions, the beginning of a new culture of inter- religious communication. There are too few peaceful initiatives, rather than too many, in our turbulent world, which is regularly shaken by acts of violence. How it would build confidence between believers around the world if Christians and Muslims were to take the message of peace seriously! The feast of Christmas is the ideal occa- sion for this, as Christians and Muslims could exchange wishes of peace: ‘Peace be with you and yours and on your house and family.’ This would foster trust and peace- ful coexistence in neighbourhoods, towns and communi- ties where Christians and Muslims live together. It would encourage a culture of attentiveness to the presence of others as an alternative to the barbarism of mistrust and exclusion. Peace could reign in the name of Him who was announced to Mary in the following words: ‘Mary, God gives you news of a Word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, who will be held in honour in this world and the next, who will be one of those brought near to God’ (Sura 3:45). Christianity and Islam influence the behaviour of over two billion people on this planet. If they cannot come to terms, then the world as a whole will never live in peace.
I am extremely happy to be able to share my thoughts with English-speaking readers in Simon Pare’s translation, which joins Italian and Persian editions of the book. I would like to thank him for his patient, painstaking and committed work. I hope that this book will encourage people to strive even harder to promote dialogue.
Tübingen, August 2017