03 June 2008

David Nancekivell on the Christian view of Jesus (pbuh)

Here is the third installment in the series of articles by invited authors. This article is by David Nancekivell, who currently teaches Arabic at McGill University's Institute of Islamic Studies (I was in two of his classes during the 2007-2008 academic year). Mr Nancekivell was born in Fort William, Ontario (now part of Thunder Bay), and, outside Canada, has lived in Malaysia, China, the United States and Lebanon. He has a BA in French as a second language and an MA in French-English translation from Laval University in Quebec City. Mr Nancekivell is currently doing a PhD in Arabic at Harvard University.

Readers may find this article controversial, and perhaps rightly so. It does, after all, call on Muslims to adopt the Christian view of Jesus Christ (pbuh). I'd like to mention here that I was invited to speak at three different churches in Grinnell, Iowa, and presented the Islamic perspective on Jesus (pbuh) to Christian audiences there. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received a delegation of Christians at his mosque in Medina, where he listened to their point of view and told them about the Islamic perspective on the matters that interested them as presented in the Qur'an. Thus, I see no problem with listening to what a sincere Christian has to say regarding the status of Jesus (pbuh). You can find my reply (based on the Qur'an) in the Editor's Note that follows the article.

Jesus as the Fulfillment of Abraham's Sacrifice

By David Nancekivell

One of the heroes of the three monotheistic faiths is Abraham son of Terah. He was told by God in Genesis 12 that "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (verse 3) and, in the Qur'an, Surah al-Baqarah v. 124 "Innii jaa'iluka lil-naasi imaaman" (I will make you a leader to the nations) . We admire Abraham for his courage in leaving Mesopotamia at the call of God for a destination far away. We admire him for his selflessness and faith in God, who gave him a son when he was already a hundred years old (Genesis 21:5). Abraham is the actual flesh-and-blood ancestor of the Jews and Arabs, and Muslims are enjoined to follow "millata abiikum Ibraahiim" (the faith of your father Abraham) in Surah al-Hajj v. 78.

Perhaps one of the most telling things about Abraham is the title he is given in both the Bible and the Qur'an. Surah al-Nisaa' v. 125 tells us "Wa-ttakhadha Allaahu Ibraahiima khaliilan" (And God took Abraham for a friend). James 2:23 tells us "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God." The word for friend in both the Qur'an and the Arabic Bible is "khallil".Darayabadi, in his translation of the meaning of the Qur'an (Vol. 1, p. 91a) says, "But the English word "friend" does scant justice to the idea of "khalil", which, in Arabic, denotes the dearest or most sincere friend who has no rival in the love and reliance placed upon him." Surely, then, God's decision to bestow such a title on Abraham points to a special relationship between God and Abraham. Close friends love and trust each other.

It is not without surprise, then, that we read the story in Genesis 22 and Surah al-Saaffaat, in which God commands Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son. We are surprised at two levels. One the one hand, Abraham agrees to offer up what, surely, is most precious to him. Any normal human father, if he sees someone attacking his son, would go to his defence immediately and without question. Yet here Abraham is asked to "attack" (sacrifice) his very own son, and he agrees! Scripture is silent on the inner struggle that no doubt ensued as Abraham contemplated obeying God, but we can imagine his agony.

On the other hand, we are surprised at God. God possesses all good qualities to the supreme degree. Thus human beings are somewhat righteous, but God is perfectly righteous. Human beings are somewhat patient, but God is perfectly patient. Human beings are somewhat loving and merciful, but God is perfectly loving and merciful.

In asking Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his own son, God was asking Abraham to part with his most precious possession. Why? Surely, if Abraham was willing to give up his most precious possession to God, then there is nothing he would withhold from Him. But if God is more loving than any human being, what love had God demonstrated for Abraham that would surpass Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son? Could it be said that Abraham was showing more love for God than God had showed for Abraham? This conclusion seems necessary unless it is true that, as the Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 16, says, "God loved the world so much that He gave His only son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

In the end, God did not allow Abraham to go through with the sacrifice. An angel intervenes and a ram is provided. But the Qur'an says, rather mysteriously, in Surah al-Saafaat, v. 107, "Wa-fedaynaahu bi-dhibHin 'aDHiimin" (We ransomed him with a mighty sacrifice). The prophet Yahya ibn Zakariyya, when first introducing Jesus to his own disciples, declared, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Jesus. in response to the Jews who asked him if he was greater than their forefather Abraham, replied, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56).

Indeed, what God did not, in the end, require of Abraham, He required of Himself. The near-sacrifice of Abraham's son was but a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Jesus made so that those of us who believe in Him might not perish for our sins, but have everlasting life.

Editor's Note: As a Muslim, I completely disagree with Mr Nancekivell's point of view, and here is why. God says in the Qur'an:

O people of the book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His apostles. Say not "Trinity" : desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah. Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs (Qur'an, 4:171; Abdullah Yusuf Ali's interpretation).
To this, I would add the following verses: "Blessed be He in whose hands is Dominion; and He over all things hath Power;- He who created Death and Life that he may try which of you is best in deed: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving" (Qur'an, 67:1-2; A. Yusuf Ali's interpretation).

Finally, I welcome comments on this article from everyone. I would just like to remind Muslims wishing to leave a comment of the following verse:

And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, "We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)" (Qur'an, 29:46; A. Yusuf Ali's interpretation).
Peace be upon you!


Anonymous said...

Here's a different take on the same verse:

Al-Shaykh al-Saduq (d. 991-2) recorded the following hadith in his book ‘Uyun akhbar al-Rida:

Al-Fadl b. Shadhan said, “I heard al-Rida, peace be upon him, say, ‘When God the Blessed and the Sublime commanded Abraham, peace be upon him, to sacrifice the lamb which He sent down to him (i.e. Abraham) in place of his son Ismail, peace be upon him, Abraham, peace be upon him, wished to sacrifice Ismail, peace be upon him, with his hand. He [wished that] he was not commanded to sacrifice the lamb in place of him (i.e. Ismail) so that what would weigh on (lit. return to) his heart would be what weighs on (lit. returns to) the heart of a father who sacrifices his most precious son with his hand. And, in doing so, achieve the highest of the ranks of the people of reward under duress.

So God the Exalted and the Mighty said (lit. revealed) to him, “Oh Abraham, whom do you love most among my creation?”

He said, “Oh Lord, You have not created anything more beloved to me than your beloved Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him and his family.”

God, the Exalted and the Mighty, said (lit. revealed) to him, “Oh Abraham, do you love him or yourself more?”

He said, “He is more beloved to me than my own self.”

He said, “Do you love his son or your son more?”

He said, “[I love] his son [more].”

He said, “Is the unjust murder (lit. sacrificing) of his (i.e. Muhammad’s) son by his enemies more painful for your heart or the sacrificing of your son by your hand in obedience to me?”

He said, “Oh Lord, his murder (lit. sacrificing) at the hands of his enemies is more painful for my heart.”

He said, “Oh Abraham, a group which claims that it is from among the umma of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, will kill al-Husayn, peace be upon him, his (Muhammad’s) son after him (i.e. Muhammad) unjustly…like a lamb is slaughtered (lit. sacrificed) and in doing so will earn my wrath.”

Abraham, peace be upon him, became sad because of that and his heart ached and he began to cry. God the Exalted and the Mighty said (lit. revealed) to him, “Oh Abraham, I have redeemed the grief you would have felt over your son Ismail had you sacrificed him with your hand for your grief over al-Husayn, peace be upon him, and his murder. And I have awarded you the highest ranks of the people of reward in duress.”

[Imam ‘Ali al-Rida, peace be upon him, said] that is [what the] saying of God “We redeemed it for a great sacrifice” (Surat al-safat: 107) [means]. There is no power and no strength except in God.’

Rashed said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for presenting the Shi'ite perspective to us. As a Sunni, I don't agree with it (wallahu a'lam), but it's good to see different points of view: it leads to a healthy discussion.

You certainly have the right to post anonymously, but I wish you'd give us a name we could call you by.

I commend Ustadh Daoud (David Nancekivell) for having written under his real name.

Anonymous said...

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