I admit, this is a bit out of date, but I think it’s still worth discussing – early last month, an Islamic group called MyPeace put up billboards in Sydney bearing the phrase ‘Jesus – a prophet of Islam’. The posters received disparaging comments from several Australian bishops, and not entirely surprisingly, one poster was vandalized within a day of being put up.
The posters latch onto a very interesting aspect of the interaction between religions, which comes up in apologetics and interfaith dialogues, as well – that the more similar two theologies are, the more irritating the two sides find one another. I always imagine this as acting like musical tones – two distinct tones played together are a harmony, and sound lovely. Two very similar tones played together are out of tune, and set your teeth on edge.
For Christianity and Islam, by the ninth century or so, their theologies were largely similar – they both held similar creation stories, both of the world and of Man, they understood themselves as worshiping the same God, and both understood Jesus Christ to be the Messiah, who will return at the End to judge mankind. The major points of difference were their conception of God and their understanding of the nature of Christ – which, incidentally, were also the points of variation between the various sects of Christianity in the Near East at the time. Islam rejected the Christian conception of the Trinity, and denied the divinity of Christ, as well as Christ’s death on the cross (in Islam, Christ is taken to Heaven just before his death, but the Romans were tricked by God into believing they had killed him).
What’s so fascinating (at least to me!) is that so often apologetics and interfaith dialogues boil down to the author’s annoyance of ‘if only’ – Muslims complaining if only Christians would give up the Trinity and Christians complaining if only Muslims would accept the divinity of Christ.
On the one hand, there’s a rhetorical reason for these preoccupations – much of Christian theology, in particularly in the Late Antique period, focused on the nature of the Trinity and the relationship between the human and divine character of Christ, and so it was natural that Christian writers would focus on these concepts in their interactions with Islam. In a similar way, Islamic theology focused on its relationship with the larger Abrahamic tradition, and so Islamic thinkers were concerned with deconstructing Christian (and Jewish) tradition.
On the other hand, these ‘conversations’ really never go anywhere, as they’re effectively attempts to eliminate essential aspects of the other side’s religion. From my point of view, as someone who spends way too much time reading apologetics, how the author attempts to do so is interesting, but in the end, this attempt has to be futile, as the other side really has no reason to agree to the rewriting of their beliefs.