zaterdag 2 juni 2018

Arab sources of Ramon Marti, Christian anti-Muslim author of Spain, saved by the learned and pious Egyptian scholar al-Tufi

A few weeks ago I received a small book of 156 pages, considering itself no 4 in a series of transmissions.
1) It starts with an anonymous Coptic Christian in Egypt, writing against Islam, about 1260, when Mongol leader Hulagu had conquered and promised freedom of religion to Christians. But after the battle of  'Ain Jalut, where the Mamluks of Egypt had beaten the Mongols, religious tolerance ended. This first book was entitled Al-saif al-murhaf fi al-radd ala al-Mushaf or 'the whetted sword in refutation of the written word (of the Qur'an)'. No manuscript of it has survived the long history of debates between Muslims and Christians.
2) Book no 1 was used about 1270 by the Spanish Christian scholar of Catalonia, Ramon Marti (died after 1284) in his anti-Muslim apologetic book De seta Machometi (written in Latin)
3) The Hanbalite scholar ibn al-Tufi (died 1316), wrote a book Al-Intisarat al-Islamiyya fi kashf shuban al-nasraniyya, where he discusses book no 1 and includes numerous lengthy quotes in Arabic.
4) To continue the isnad on this polemic, Sjoerd van Koningsveld, Professor emeritus of Leiden University, has published 117 quotes from author no 1 from the writings of al-Tufi, with references to Ramon Marti (who used the same texts for his polemic book against Islam).
Many authors of books and articles do not claim originality, but are only transmitters, sometimes also commentators. In this case we even may say: haddathana P.S. van Koningsveld, 'an al-Tufi, 'an Ramon Marti, 'an nasara min al Misr. The major issue for this book is the idea of Muhammad as a prophet. The polemical author here (and Ramon Marti) formulated four criteria for prophets: he must speak the truth, embody personal holiness, perform miracles, his teaching and practice must be in harmony with the natural law. Most of the text is written here to 'prove' that Muhammad does not respond to any of these four criteria.
In this way the polemic continues and it is for the history of the polemic often interesting to see how scholars are repeating arguments against Islam, not from direct contacts with Muslims, but rather through chains from their own tradition.
In his book about the period 1945-1970 (The Struggle of Islam in Modern Indonesia, 225-230) Ben Boland gave an analysis of Muslim apologetics. He ended with quotes from Mukti Ali, who concluded that 'Apologetics only formulates things that are already known ... its character is therefore negative and conservative, ... it may arouse emotions and give self-satisfaction, but they cannot produce true conviction and discernment.' Like here it is often not exciting, but rather again a sad expericnece of reading.
At the same time I was finishing an historic novel written by a Dutch-Spanish author, Reconquista, about the political process. It is a book full of fighting between Christian and Muslim rulers, much violence, adventure, much change of position: Muslims had a higher culture, Christian were stronger fighters. The latter were often hired by Muslims to fight against other Muslims and also against Christians. In the social and political reality of that period, the theological arguments were not really important or relevant, although the distinction between the two communities was rigorous. In combination one may doubt about the relevance of the usual list of religious and theological differences for the real life of Christians and Muslims living together.

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