A Christian Perspective on Islamic Prophecy
- ISBN: 9780268107253
- Published By: University of Notre Dame Press
- Published: March 2020
In Muhammad Reconsidered, Anna Bonta Moreland tackles the question of Muhammad’s prophecy in Christian theology and proposes that “Christians become open to the theoretical possibility that Muhammad is a religious prophet” (8). The book’s main argument is that the “Catholic Church is particularly equipped to engage with Muslims in theological terms” (7) and that “Christians have solid internal theological warrants for exploring the possibility that Muhammad was a religious prophet” (8). In this well-argued book, Moreland prepares the theological groundwork for an examination of that possibility. The author has indeed introduced a new typology of religious pluralism that suggests that some elements in one religion can be taken seriously by the other.
Moreland begins her inquiry into the question of Muhammad’s prophecy by examining the Second Vatican Council’s claims about Islam through an intertextual reading of the key Council documents. The author examines the texts of Dei Verbum (DV), Nostra Aetate (NA), and Lumen Gentium (LG), which all affirm that Islam is a religion that submits to one God, venerates Jesus as a prophet, honors the Virgin Mary, awaits the Day of Judgment, and has regard for the moral life and worship of God through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. These texts, according to the author, go even further to acknowledge that Muslims and Christians not only believe in the same God, but also share an overlapping set of beliefs. By examining the key Vatican II documents, Moreland sets the stage for the argument that Islamic beliefs, which the key Vatican II documents applaud, did not emerge in seventh-century Arabia without a messenger.
The author explains how the four Council “constitutions” (DV, NA, and LG, along with Sacrosanctum Concilium) provide the interpretive keys for the sixteen documents that came out of the Council. Among the four constitutions, DV holds a central role as it accentuates the divine invitation to a dialogue of salvation. In DV, the author refers to the primacy and scope of divine revelation. She argues that the eternal Word of the Father in DV appears to be more fundamental than the sacred scripture. For instance, the document refers “first and foremost to the eternal Word of the Father” (21) and that revelation is an invitation by God to a conversation with believers. The other aspect in DV is the continuation of revelation in human history that had begun with the Jews and reached its apex in Jesus of Nazareth. Because the Christian understanding of this message is not yet complete, revelation will continue until the end of time, thus paving the way for the possibility of a continued revelation in Islam.
The next document discussed is LG. Here, Moreland interprets LG as an invitation into the dialogue of salvation. Although this dialogue is ordered through the Church, LG considers “all of humanity in relation to the Church, organized along two rings, one inside the other” (27). The inner ring is composed of the Catholic Church and other baptized Christians; the outer ring includes those who have not received the Gospel but are the recipients of the Abrahamic covenant (the Jews) and those who have acknowledged God as the Creator (the Muslims). By including Muslims in the dialogue of salvation, LG recognizes Muslims as those “who are ordered to the people of God” (27). Like DV, LG opens the possibility that Muhammad is a prophet who engaged in the unfinished business of understanding the complete and perfect revelation in Jesus Christ.
The other document discussed is NA. This document, according to Moreland, “speaks to the good that is present in non-Christian doctrines, moral teachings, and religious rituals” (30). NA affirms that religious people encounter God through concrete teachings, practices, and rituals. This affirmation, she writes, “builds on the claims made in LG and moves from an appreciation of individual non-Christians toward recognition of the beliefs and practices of their religious communities” (30). More specifically, NA explicitly affirms that Muslims and Christians honor the same God and share an overlapping web of beliefs. This affirmation, according to Moreland, is an invitation to “Christians to take the Qur’an theologically seriously as a document that contains seeds of the Word” (33).
In chapters 3 and 4 the author turns to Thomas Aquinas’ treatment of prophecy to explain how Muhammad fits within this agency. The author justifies her turn to Aquinas by arguing that if the Council Fathers themselves appealed to Aquinas on prophecy, then it could not be more suitable to use Aquinas’ writings to compose an argument about Muhammad’s status as a prophet. Moreland argues that Aquinas “emphasizes that all things relating to God . . . can be the subject matter of prophecy. . . [and] anything touching upon knowledge or love of God is a candidate for prophecy” (49). With this sketch of Aquinas’ understanding of prophecy, Moreland highlights how “prophecies can be delivered through unexpected people and in unanticipated ways” (46) and that God chooses the most unlikely figures to speak and act prophetically.
In chapter 5, the author tackles the question of whether Christians could in fact consider Muhammad a prophet. Here, the author examines the writings of six notable Christian theologians who have considered this question (W. Montgomery Watt, Hans Küng, Kenneth Cragg, David Kerr, Christian Troll, and Jacques Jomier). She concludes that the first four thinkers “have taken up the question of Muhammad’s prophethood in a serious way” (106) while the last two thinkers conclude that Christians should not ascribe the title “prophet” to Muhammad.
Muhammad Reconsidered is an indispensable work on interfaith studies in general and Muslim-Christian relations in particular. The book brings to light writings from authoritative Christian sources that speak positively of Islam, opens “up space on the borders of prophecy where unlikely figures stand” (83), and offers new ways to think about other faiths more seriously.
Hussam S. Timani is professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Christopher Newport University.Hussam S. TimaniDate Of Review:March 31, 2022