CHRISTIANITY and CHRISTIANS. Arabic, Nasraniyah, Christianity”; the terms used for Christians being Nasran, pl. Nasara, or `Isawi.
Christianity seems to have been widely diffused in Arabia at the time of Muhammad. According to Caussin de Perceval, who quotes from Arabic writers, Christianity existed amongst the Banu Taghlib of Mesopotamia, the Banu `Abdu ‘l-Qais, the Banu Haris of Najran, the Banu Ghassan of Syria, and other tribes between al-Madinah and al-Kufah.
The historian Philostorges (Hist. Eccles. lib. 1, c. 3) tells us that a monk named Theophilus was sent by the Emperor Constance A.D. 342; to the Himyarite King of Yaman, and obtained permission to build three Christian churches for those who professed Christianity; one at Zafar, another at `Adan, and a third at Hurmuz on the Persian Gulf. According to the same author, the Christian religion was introduced into Najran in the fifth century. A Bishop sent by the Patriarch of Alexandria was established in the city of Zafar, and we are told by Muslim authors, quoted by Caussin de Perceval, that a Christian church was built at San`a’ which was the wonder of the age, the Roman Emperor and the Viceroy of Abyssinia furnishing the materials and workmen for the building. The Arabs of Yaman were ordered by the ruler of Abyssinia to perform a pilgrimage to this new church instead of to the Ka`bah; an edict which is said to have been resisted and to have given rise to the “War of the Elephant,” when Abrahah, the Viceroy of Egypt, took an oath that he would destroy the Meccan temple, and marched at the head of an army of Abyssinians mounted on an elephant. This “War of the Elephant” marks the period of Muhammad’s birth. [MUHAMMAD.]
The Christianity of this period is described by Mosheim as expiring under a motley and enormous heap of superstitious inventions, with neither the courage nor the force to raise her head or display her national charms to a darkened and deluded world.” Doubtless much of the success of Islam in its earlier stage was due to the state of degradation into which the Christian Church had fallen. The bitter dissensions of the Greeks, Nestorians, Eutychians, and Monophysites are matters of history, and must have held up the religion of Jesus to the ridicule of the heathen world. The controversies regarding the nature and person of our Divine Lord had begotten a sect ot Tritheists, led by a Syrian philosopher named John Philoponus of Alexandria, and are sufficient to account for Muhammad’s conception of the Blessed Trinity. The worship of the Virgin Mary had also given rise to a religious controversy between the Antiduo-Marianites and the Collyridans; the former holding that the Virgin was not immaculate, and the latter raising her to a position of a goddess. Under the circumstances it is not surprising to find that the mind of the Arabian reformer turned away from Christianity and endeavoured to construct a religion on the lines of Judaism. [JUDAISM.]
Al-Baizawi and other Muslim commentators, admit that Muhammad received Christian instruction from learned Christian named Jubra and Yasara (al-Baizawi on Surah xvi. 105), and that on this account the Quraish said: “It is only some mortal that teaches him!” For the Traditions relate that Muhammad used to stop and listen to these two Christians as they read aloud the Books of Moses (Taurat) and the New Testament (Injil). But it is remarkable that Muhammad should, after all, have obtained such a cursory knowledge of Christianity. For from the text of the Qur’an (extracts of which are subjoined) it is evident that he was under the impression that the Sacrament of Baptism was Sibghah, or the dyeing of the Christians’ clothes; and if the Chapter of the Table refers to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (which is uncertain), it was “a table sent out of heaven that it may be a recurring festival.” The doctrine of the Trinity is supposed to be a Tritheism of God, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary; and a proof against the Divinity of Christ is urged from the fact that he and His mother “both ate food.” The crucifixion is denied, and Mary the mother of Jesus is confounded with Mary the sister of Aaron. Such mistakes and omissions could only arise from a most imperfect acquaintance with the ordinary institutions and beliefs of the Christian communities, with whom Muhammad must have been brought in contact. The gentler tone and spirit of the Christians seems to have won the sympathy of Muhammad, and his expressions regarding them are less severe than with reference to the Jews; but the abstruse character of their creed, as shown in their endless schisms regarding the nature of the Trinity and the person of Christ, and the idolatrous character of their worship, as still seen in the ancient Syrian and Coptic churches, led him to turn from Christianity to Judaism as a model whereby to effect the reformation of a degraded and idolatrous people like the ancient Arabians. The Jewish and Mosaic character of Muhammad’s system will be treated of in another place. [JUDAISM.]
The following selections from the Qur’an will show the actual teaching of that book regarding Christianity. In the whole of the Qur’an there is not a single quotation from the New Testament, and it is noticeable that nearly all the allusions to Christianity are contained in Meccan Surahs; Surah ii. being according to Jalalu ‘d-din Suyuti, one of the earliest chapters given at Makkah. and Surah v. the last.
Surah v. 85:-
Of all men thou wilt certainly find the Jews, and those who join other gods with God, to be the most intense in hatred of those who believe; and thou shalt certainly find those to be nearest in affection to them who say, ‘We are Christians.’ This, because there are amongst them priests (qissisun) and monks, and because they are not proud.”
Surah ii. 59:-
“Verily, they who believe (Muslims), and they who follow the Jewish religion, and the Christians, and the Sabeites – whoever of these believeth in God and the last day, and doeth that which is right, shall have their reward with their Lord: fear shall not come upon them, neither shall they be grieved.”
(The same verse occurs again in Surah v. 74.)
Surah ii. 105:-
“And they say, ‘None but Jews or Christians shall enter Paradise:’ This is their wish. SAY: give your proofs if ye speak the truth. But they who set their face with resignation Godward, and do what is right, – their reward is with their Lord; no fear shall come on them, neither shall they be grieved. Moreover, the Jews say, ‘The Christians lean on naught:’ ‘On naught lean the Jews,’ say the Christians. Yet both are readers of the Book. So with like words say they who have no knowledge. But on the resurrection day, God shall judge between them as to that in which they differ. And who committeth a greater wrong than he who hindereth God’s name from being remembered in His temples and who hasteth to ruin them? Such men cannot enter them but with fear. Theirs is shame in this world, and a severe torture in the next. The East and the West is God’s: therefore, whichever way ye turn, there is the face of God. Truly God is immense and knoweth all. And they say, ‘God hath a son:’ No! Praise be to Him! But – His, whatever is in the Heavens and the Earth! All obeyeth Him, sole maker of the Heavens and of the Earth! And when He decreeth a thing, He only saith to it, ‘Be,’ and it is. And they who have no knowledge say, ‘Unless God speak to us, or thou shew us a sign…!’ So, with like words, said those who were before them: their hearts are alike. Clear signs have we already shown for these who have firm faith. Verily, with the Truth have we sent thee, a hearer of good tidings and a warner: and of the people of Hell thou shalt not be questioned. But until thou follow their religion, neither Jews nor Christians will be satisfied with thee. SAY: Verily, guidance of God, – that is the guidance! And if, after the Knowledge which hath reached thee, thou follow their desires, thou shalt find neither helper nor protector against God.”
Surah iv. 156:-
“Nay, but God hath sealed them up for their unbelief, so that but few believe. And for their unbelief, – and for their having spoken against Mary a grievous calumny, – and for their saying, ‘Verily we have slain the Messiah (Masih), Jesus (`Isa) the son of Mary, an Apostle of God.’ Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not, but they had only his likeness. And they who differed about him were in doubt concerning him. No sure knowledge had they about him, but followed only an opinion, and they did not really slay him, but God took him up to himself. And God is Mighty, Wise!”
Surah ii. 130:
“They say, moreover, ‘Become Jews or Christians that ye may have the true guidance.’ SAY : Nay! the religion of Abraham, the sound in faith, and not one of those who join gods with God!
Say ye: We believe in God, and that which hath been sent down to us, that which hath been sent down to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes: and that which hath been given to Moses and to Jesus, and that which was given to the prophets from their Lord. No difference do we make between any of them: and to God are we resigned (Muslims).’ If therefore, they believe even as ye believe, then have they true guidance; but if they turn back, then do they cut themselves off from you: and God will suffice to protect thee against them, for He is the Hearer, the Knower. The Baptism of God, and who is better to baptize than God? And Him do we serve.”
They surely are Infidels who say, ‘God is the third of three:’ for there is no God but one God: and if they refrain not from what they say, a grievous chastisement shall light on such of them as are Infidels. Will they not, therefore, be turned unto God, and ask pardon of Him? since God is forgiving, Merciful! The Messiah, son of Mary, is but an Apostle; other Apostles have flourished before him; and his mother was a just person: they both ate food. Behold! how we make clear to them the signs! then behold how they turn aside! SAY: Will ye worship, beside God, that which can neither hurt nor help? But God! He only Heareth, Knoweth. SAY: O people of the Book! outstep not bounds of truth in your religion; neither follow the desires of those who have already gone astray, and who have caused many to go astray, and have themselves gone astray from the evenness of the way. Those among the children of Israel who believed not were cursed by the tongue of David, and of Jesus, Son of Mary. This, because they were rebellious, and became transgressors: they forbade not one another the iniquity which they wrought! detestable are their actions!”
Surah v.18: –
“And of those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ have we accepted the covenant. But they too have forgotten a part of what they were taught; wherefore we have stirred up enmity and hatred among them that shall last till the day of the Resurrection; and in the end will God tell them of their doings. O people of the Scriptures! now is our Apostle come to you to clear up to you much that ye concealed of those Scriptures, and to pass over many things. Now hath a light and a clear Book come to you from God, by which God will guide him who shall follow after His good pleasure to paths of peace, and will bring them out of the darkness to the light, by His will: and to the straight path will He guide them. Infidels now are they who say ‘Verily God is al-Masih Ibn Maryam (the Messiah, son of Mary)! SAY: And who could aught obtain from God, if He chose to destroy al-Masih, Ibn Maryam, and his mother, and all who are on the earth together?’ For with God is the sovereignty of the Heavens and of the Earth, and of all that is between them! He createth what He will; and over all things is God potent. Say the Jews and Christians, ‘Sons are we of God and His beloved.’ SAY Why then doth He chastise you for your sins? Nay! ye are but a part of the men whom He hath created!
Surah v 58: –
“O Believers! take not the Jews or Christians as friends. They are but one another’s friends. If any one of you taketh them for his friends, he surely is one of them! God will not guide the evil-doers. So shalt thou see the diseased at heart speed away to them and say, ‘We fear, lest a change of fortune befall us,’ But haply God will of Himself bring about some victory or event of His own ordering: then soon will they repent them of their secret imaginings.”
Surah xxii. 18:-
“As to those who believe, and the Jews, and the Sabeites, and the Christians, and,the Magians and those who join other gods with God, of a truth, God shall decide between them on the day of resurrection: for God is witness of all things.”
Surah v. 112:-
Remember when the Apostles said – ‘O Jesus, Son of Mary! is Thy Lord able to send down a furnished TABLE to us out of Heaven?’ He said – ‘Fear God if ye be believers.’ They said – ‘We desire to eat therefrom, and to have our hearts assured; and to know that thou hast indeed spoken truth to us, and to be witnesses thereof’ ‘Jesus, Son of Mary, said – ‘O God, our Lord! send down a table to us out ,of heaven, that it may become a recurring festival to us, to the first of us and to the last of us, and a sign from Thee; and do Thou nourish us, for Thou art the best of nourishers.’ And God said – Verily, I will cause it to descend unto you; but whoever, among you after that shall disbelieve, I will surely, chastise him with a chastisement wherewith I will not chastise any other creature. And when God shall say – ‘O Jesus, Son of Mary, hast Thou said unto mankind-‘ “Take me and my mother as two Gods, beside God?”‘ He shall say – ‘Glory be unto Thee! it is not for me to say that which I know to be not the truth; ha d I said thus, verily Thou wouldst have known it: Thou knowest what is in me, but I know not what is in Thee; for Thou well knoweet things unseen!”
Surah xix. 35: –
“This is Jesus, the son of Mary; this is a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt. It beseemeth not God to beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He decreeth a thing, he only saith to it, Be, and it is. And verily, God is my Lord and your Lord; adore Him then. This is the right way. But The Sects have fallen to, variance among themselves about Jesus: but woo because of the assembly of the great day, to those who believe not!”
The only New Testament saints mentioned by name in the Qur’an, are John the Baptist, Zacharias, and the Virgin Mary.
In the Mishkatu ‘l-Masabih, there are recorded in the traditional sayings of Muhammad, about six apparent plagiarisms from the New Testament; but whether they are the plagiarisms of Muhammad himself or of those who profess to record his sayings, it is impossible to tell:-
Abu Harairah says the Prophet said, “Of the seven persons whom God in the last day, will draw to Himself, will be a man who has given alms and concealed it, so that his left hand knoweth not the what the right hand doeth (Book i. c. viii pt. I Matt. vi. 3)
Again: “God accepts not the prayers of those who pray in long robes (Book c. ix pt. 2; comp Matt. xii 38.)
Again: “The doors of the celestial regions shall not open to them (the wicked) until a camel pass through the eye of a needle.” (Book v. c. iii. pt. 3 comp Mark x 25.)
Abu Umamah relates that the Prophet said, “Blessed be Him who hath seen me. And blessed be him who hath not seen me and yet hath believed.” (Book xxiv. c. xxvi. pt. 3; comp. John xx. 29.)
Mu’az relates that the Prophet said, “Do unto all men as you would they should do unto you, and reject for others what you would reject for yourself.” (Book i. c. i pt. 3; Matt. vii 12.)
Abu Hurairah relates that the, Prophet said, “Verily God will say in the day of resurrection, O ye sons of men! I was sick and ye did not visit me. And the sons of men will say, O Thou defender how could we visit Thee, for Thou art the Lord of the universe, and art free from sickness? And God will say, O ye sons of men, did you not know that such a one of my servants was sick and ye did not visit him,” &c. (Book v. c. i. pt. 1; comp. Matt. xxv. 21.)
Although it would be difficult to prove it from the text of the Qur’an, the general belief of Muslims is that Christians are not in a state of salvation, and Laza or the “blazing fire,” mentioned in Surah lxx. 15, is according to the Imam al-Baghawi, reserved for them.
The condition of a Christian in a Muslim state is that of a Zimmi, one who pays tribute to a Muslim governor, for which he enjoys protection. He is allowed to repair any old church which may have been in existence at the time the country was subdued Islam, but he is not allowed to erect new ones: “for,” says Abu Hanifah, “the construction of churches and synagogues in Muslim territory is unlawful being forbidden in the Traditions.” “It also behoves the Imam to make distinction between Muslims and Zimmis (i.e. Christians Jews,, and others paying tribute. It is therefore not allowable for them to ride upon horses or use armour, or to wear the same dresses as Muslims.” The reason for this, says Abu Hanifah, “is that Muhamadans are to be held in honour and Zimmis are not,”
The wives also of Zimmis are to be kept apart from those of Muslims on the public roads and baths. And it is also ordered that a mark should be placed on their doors, in order that when Muslim beggars come to them they should not pray for them!
The learned have ruled that a Zimmi should not be allowed to ride at all, except in cases of necessity, and if he be thus of necessity allowed to ride, he should dismount when he meets a Muslim. (Hidayah, vol ii. 219.)
A judge when he administers an oath to administers an oath, must direct him to say: “I swear by the God who sent the Gospel to Jesus.”
It is a singular ruling of the Muslim law that a claim of parentage made by a Christian is preferable to a claim of bondage advanced by a Muslim. Abu Hanifah says if a boy be in the possession of two men, the one a Muslim and the other a Christian, and the Christian assert that the boy is his son, and the Muslim assert that he is his slave, he must be decreed to be the son of the Christian and free, because, although Islam is the superior religion, there can be no balance between the claim of offspring and the claim of bondage. (Idem., vol. iv. l33.)
Sir William Muir referring to Muhammad’s reception of the Banu Hanifah and other Christian tribes, A.H. 9, says, “On the departure of the embassy the Prophet gave them a vessel with some water in it, running over from his own ablutions, and said to them, ‘When ye reach your country, break down your church, sprinkle its site with this water. and build a Masjid in its place.’ These commands they carried into effect, and abandoned Christianity without compunction. To another Christian tribe he prohibited the practice of baptism; so that although the adults continued to be nominally Christian, their children grew up with no provision but that of the Qur’an….. It is no wonder that Christianity, thus insulted and trampled under foot, languished and soon disappeared from the peninsula.” (Life of Mahomet, vol. iv, 219.)
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam