Islam and Christology
co-organised by IAIS, YADIM & IBT
Speaker : Dr Louay Fatoohi
Respondent: Dr Ng Kam Weng
Venue : IAIS Malaysia Jalan Elmu, Off Jalan Universiti, Kuala Lumpur.
Programme includes an address by Dr Louay Fatoohi and launching of book 'The Mystery of the Historical Jesus: The Messiah in the Qur’an, the Bible And Historical Sources by Dr Louay Fatoohi' by Yg. Bhg. Datuk Haji Mohd Nakhaie Hj Ahmad, Chairman, Malaysian Islamic Dakwah Foundation (YADIM).
Dr. Louay Fatoohi is a British scholar who was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1961, and holds a PhD in Astronomy from Durham University, United Kingdom (1998). He reverted from Christianity to Islam in his early twenties.
The author of several books and over forty scientific and general articles in Arabic and English, Dr Fatoohi is particularly interested in studying historical characters and events that are mentioned in the Qur’an and comparing the Qur’anic account with the Biblical narratives and historical sources. His books include The Prophet Joseph in the Qur’an, the Bible, and History; Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source; The Mystery of the Crucifixion; and The Mystery of the Israel in Ancient Egypt, which he co-authored with his wife Dr Shetha al-Dargazelli.
Dialogue on Islam and Christology – 13th August 2009: with Dr LOUAY FATOOHI (PhD in astronomy, Durham University), and a Christian response from Dr NG KAM WENG (Research Director, Kairos Research Centre, KL) Sponsored by IAIS Malaysia, the Malaysian Islamic Dakwah Foundation (YADIM) & Islamic Book Trust. This three and one-half hours Seminar opened with Datuk Haji Mohd Nakhaie Hj Ahmad (Chairman-YADIM) launching the book by Louay Fatoohi, The Mystery of the Historical Jesus: The Messiah in the Qur’an, the Bible and Historical Sources (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2009). The event was introduced and chaired by Emeritus Professor Datuk Osman Bakar (Deputy CEO–IAIS Malaysia).
Dr Louay Fatoohi summarized his work The Mystery of the Historical Jesus by examining the portrait of Jesus and Mary found in the Qur’an, and in New Testament canonical Gospels & certain apocryphal Infancy narratives, as well as historical sources contemporary with the early Christian era (Josephus & Roman historians). He stated the aim of his study was to establish the historical accuracy of the Qur’an’s depiction of the virgin birth of “Messiah Jesus son of Mary”, his prophetic human life and miracles, and denying Jesus died on the cross – motivated by Dr Fatoohi’s faith conviction in God’s revealed truth in the Qur’an as a totality.
Reviewing the Qur’anic verses relating the lives of Mary, Zachariah, and Jesus, Fatoohi argued in some detail that Islam’s scriptural account was not contradicted in any conclusive manner by the redacted synoptic gospels as well as historical sources, and found supporting confirmation in certain apocryphal Christian writings. He dismissed Muslim exegesis and hadith narratives about Jesus as generally unreliable and reflecting popular Christian views. Fatoohi stressed that the evidence of Qur’anic verses requires careful literal reading entailing drawing out implications not stated explicitly (e.g. Joseph may be unhistorical, since he is not mentioned by the Qur’an). He then briefly reviewed the evidence of the synoptic Gospels, Pauline Letters, Acts, and Roman era historians, finding nothing compelling that controverts the Qur’anic account.
Fatoohi’s vision of the ‘historical’ Jesus affirms these main points: Mary never married and Jesus had no siblings; Jesus’ unique miracle of his virgin birth beneath a palm tree; Jesus as the Messiah was a spiritual teacher performing miracles who predicted the future advent of Muhammad; the original notion of ‘sonship of God’ was not divine; there is no explicitly unambiguous mention of his Second Coming in the Qur’an (despite whatever exegesis and hadith may state); and finally Jesus was raised physically to Heaven.
In his response: Ng Kam Weng critiqued Fatoohi’s methodology of viewing Scripture (both New Testament and Qur’an) as historical texts subject to rational criteria – an epistemic legacy of Enlightenment instrumental reason. This led historically to European Biblical criticism undermining the authenticity and authority of the New Testament Canon (the four Gospels …) by form-critical literary methods with its resulting search for an “historical” Jesus. Dr Ng seriously questioned the frequency with which Fatoohi appealed to ‘arguments from silence’ and their resulting “implications” – and stated that such arguments are always deemed weak at best. Ng strongly upheld the superiority of Canonical texts over those of a variety of doubtful Apocryphal writings, citing reasons of internal coherence, narrative interpretation, and holistic reading of the texts – and he awarded more credence to the Biblical discourse. When dealing with Biblical texts one must understand properly their special religious hermeneutic of typological prophecies within their real context.
Ng adduced the typological character of narratives whereby Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, and he aligned it to the parallel function of narratives about Muhammad’s advent fulfilling earlier Jewish or Christian prophecies. Regarding Jesus’ employment of the ‘Messiah’ figure or ‘son of Man’/[God] language, this was clearly in the context of fulfillment of predictions found in the OT apocalypse Daniel 7. Ng argued that ‘Son of Man’ discourse in NT writings already possessed overtones of divinity, with its semantic range encompassing the idea of ‘son of God’. Furthermore, to dismiss the reliability of NT Gospel accounts on the basis of an (allegedly) forced projection of divinity onto the person of Jesus, stated Dr Ng, is to fail to see the discontinuity between the OT and the teaching of Jesus with its originality. Thus, the creative originality of recasting OT prophecy must be the product of Jesus’ mind, and he himself created the earliest Church.
A lively set of questions was posed to both the speakers concerning specific points in their presentations. Dr. Fatoohi clarified that he never employed evidence from silence, and that he preferred to base his arguments for the historicity of the Islamic Jesus on the Qur’an, not hadith. Several Muslim and Christian viewpoints were expressed concerning the literary nature of the Qur’an itself and whether its inviolability from distortion may be questioned. Professor Hashim Kamali (CEO-IAIS) brought the session to a close with his clarification on the ‘Uthmanic codex of the Qur’an; people lingered for an hour discussing what they heard.
Please also read a review on AMEIA blog done by Rev. Fr. Michael Chua, Ecclesiastical Assistant, Archdiocesan Ministry of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.