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Book review: Prophet Muhammad’s encounter with Christians

24th Sep 2021
Book review: Prophet Muhammad’s encounter with Christians

People of the Book – Prophet Muhammad’s Encounters with Christians by Craig Considine. Pp 191. Hardback. £20. Hurst Publishers 2021

This book is about the life of Prophet Muhammad, where his interactions with Christians are explored. ‘People of the Book’ aims to show the symbiotic relationship between members of the two faiths and seeks to highlight the religious diversity amongst Christians during the lifetime of our Prophet.

The language in the book makes it very accessible, and although I felt as though I knew a lot of the history (from an Islamic perspective), the background provided on the Christian actors and treaties was beneficial.

The book begins with the Prophet’s encounter with Bahira the Christian Monk, who is the first to identify him with the mark of the Prophet. Bahira is described as a renegade Christian heretic who was likely to be an Arian or a Jacobite… an Arian, the term given to followers of Arianism, as convinced by Arius (d 336), the North African Presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt…. Many of the Qur’anic accounts about God are similar to, or at least do not contradict, Arius’s beliefs on the nature of the Almighty’. (p10) Considine is constantly pointing out the similarities between the Christian and Muslim doctrines, but also talks about the different sects within Christianity of the time.

Another poignant moment in the book is The Believers encounter with the King of Abyssinia – referred to as Ibn Abjar – who granted sanctuary to the Muslims after the first Hijrah.

It is a story that recounts how Islam accepts the religions that have come before it but also recognises the sacredness of Jesus and Mary. Once again the background provided on the Abyssinian King was an eye-opener: “King Ibn Ajjar is referred to in Islamic sources as Najashi, the Arabic term for king, but he is also referred to in other sources as King Armah, Ella Tsaham or simply Negus, the Ethiopian term that refers to a monarch or a ‘rulers reign’.” (p 42)

“While holding firmly to his Christian beliefs, Ibn Abjar did not refute the Qur’anic passages or theological claims read by Ja’far. The Believers had no power over him and posed no threat to the Christians of Abyssinia”. (p46)

Considine, in highlighting the individuals who were of Christian faith during the time of the Prophet, consistently points out that they did not have to abandon their faith to be accepted by the ‘Ummah.’

This book is an anti-thesis of Huntington’s infamous ‘Clash of Civilisations’ essay. It seeks to build bridges between the communities by showcasing moments in history where we have thrived in safety side by side, respecting and accepting our different perceptions of the sacred.

‘People of the Book’ has been thoroughly researched, as illustrated by the multitude of quotes featured. Although they give weight to the arguments Considine is trying to make, it makes the book an impersonal read.

I almost wanted to hear his voice (and opinion) and not that of other scholars he puts forth. I enjoyed the read; it was informative and accessible.

Aasiya I Versi

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