The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, December 10, 2016


I first learnt what shirk meant from Yehuda Nevo's article reprinted in What The Koran Really Says, 2003. (You can watch me get it wrong the prior November, right here.) Aziz Poonawalla the Shiapundit proposed in March 2003 that Christians violate tawhid. These mean the same. And it's applicable not only to Christians.

In Islam, God is One, wahid; and to confess this by Allah wahdahu is the tawhid (sura 112's more Jewish Allah ahad is also canonical). The confession often continues la sharik lahu, implying shirk as opposite to tawhid. Shirk means "association", that is the temerity of associating X with God - whatever X is. This is the great rhetorical foil of the Qur'an: wherever there arises a doctrine which some sura does not approve, the howl of shirk! will ring out. Some Pharaoh is arrogating to himself the rights of God? SHIRK! Some rebel is denying to Solomon the rights of God? SHIRK!

If you detect in that comment some level of contempt, I must plead guilty. At a meta-level some forms of association are unavoidable. First off the Qur'an has to associate with God at least a name, the Syro-Arabic "Allah". The Qur'an allows to the Believer, in addition, to associate adjectives of praise: the Lord, the Benevolent, the Merciful, the Judge, the Advocate. And as John Damascene pointed out: if God has no hypostatic Word - Greek: logos - then He cannot issue a command to His slaves nor can he send a message (Greek: rhema) to His prophets... messages like the Qur'an itself. So the Qur'an's complaints are often more rhetorical than principled.

The Muslim will counter that REAL shirk must mean something more specific. When I first found out about the Dome's arcade, I realised that here was presented the Caliphal definition: it is the "error" of the Byzantine Christians, as of the late 60s / 680s. Justinian II, Emperor at this time, had identified Jesus the Messiah with God's hypostatic Word come to Earth, and allowed to Jesus some will independent of God by the Holy Spirit. Caliph 'Abd al-Malik (calling himself "amir al-mu'minin" at the same time) used suras 3 and 4 to explain things otherwise to the worthies of Jerusalem. God is one; one must not, ever, say three. (Some scholars think sura 4 might have been opposing Tritheism, for its own part; but the Dome is well past that. Up to this point is what I remember submitting to Poonawalla in his comments, which he mainly accepted; but his comment-section has since been lost.)

Also worth noting is what the Dome does not quote. Sura 5 has a more thoroughgoing definition of Islam against Christianity over vv. 73-77: not only must the Muslim avoid saying three, but he must also deny that God Himself was born of Mary. So here is not just an attack against (straw-man) Trinitarianism, but also one against the belief in Mary as Theotokos, the basis of the Ephesus synod. Sura 5 leaves naught for Jesus but to serve God as messenger. The Dome slips by this latter because the Dome has its eye on Constantinople - and on Rome, and on the Nestorians.

'Abd al-Malik, and his heir al-Ma'mun, and Shi'ism to this day are in agreement with the Monotheletes on one point: to the extent God has hypostatic logos, this is inalienable to Him and inseparable. The Qur'an is but a creation of God, a rhema delivered at a point in spacetime (albeit pivotal), like (as in Arian Christianity, long before Ephesus) Jesus was a rhema.

The Sunnis have since abandoned this and attempted Christianity's scheme, to reify some token to logos - in their case, the Qur'an. 'Abd al-Malik would have no more trouble calling them mushriks than al-Ma'mun did. Suras 4, 5, and (arguably) 19 made this easy for him.

posted by Zimri on 10:33 | link | 0 comments

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