The Mirror of the Other: Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi's Splendid Replies
Sarrio Cucarella, Diego
Heck, Paul L
This dissertation focuses on a polemical work written by the thirteenth-century Egyptian Maliki scholar, Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi, entitled al-Ajwiba al-fakhira `an al-as'ila al-fajira (Splendid Replies to Insolent Questions). This work was the first of three major Muslim refutations provoked by an apology for Christianity written around 1200 by the Melkite Bishop of Sidon, Paul of Antioch. Both Paul's letter-treatise and al-Qarafi's reply incorporate substantial amounts of material and arguments from previous works that other Christian and Muslim writers had composed about the other faith. Seen from this viewpoint, the Ajwiba constitutes a moment in a protracted conversation that involved a considerable number of actors over a period of several centuries and across distant lands. Christian-Muslim polemical literature has been the object of significant research in the last decades, most often from the historian's perspective. It has been suggested that Christianity and Islam, in spite of their commonalities, represent two opposing conceptions of the human-divine relationship and that there is little chance of Christian-Muslim dialogue ever progressing beyond the oppositional discourse that has characterized most of their shared history. By applying the insights of the new discipline of comparative theology to the literary encounter between Paul of Antioch and al-Qarafi, I argue, however, that the important theological differences between Christianity and Islam should not be presumed to be simply 'there.' The exchange between these two writers exemplifies the inherent 'other-ing' that has characterized the history of Christian-Muslim polemics, contributing to widening the theological gap between these two faith traditions. By reason of their historical connection and geographical contiguity, both traditions have made theological choices through which they defined themselves `politically' in relation to one another. I suggest that an awareness of this historical reality contributes to tempering the impact of their oppositional discourse. It may also play a corrective role by helping theologians to discriminate between interpretations of the other that are shaped by a prior concern to establish one's truth and other theological evaluations that are made after an honest effort to listen to the adherents of the other religion.
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