Muslims consider Christianity to be polytheistic

"Fundamentalists know that the Koran praises Christians as friends of Muslims."

Terrorists say that the Koran says that Christians are to be hated to death. Wrong, says a Catholic theologian in an interview. His years of research shows that the Koran has no problem with Christians. Is the religious war a misunderstanding?

NZZ on Sunday: Mr. von Stosch, what brings you, as a Catholic fundamental theologian, to deal with the image of Christ in the Koran?

Klaus von Stosch: Within the systematic theology that I represent as a scientist, the dogmatist is responsible for the internal architecture of faith, and the fundamental theologian has external responsibility. As a kind of foreign minister, he has to see where there are friendly neighbors with whom you can develop good relationships, and where the rogue states that you have to show a clear edge to.

Is Islam a difficult candidate right now?

I thought so too at first. I am not a dialogue uncle who has always wanted to advance the peace of the religions. To this day I feel that the Koran lacks something decisive from my Christian perspective. But there are also things in it that have something important to say to me and that can also help me advance in my own faith and life.

What is missing?

The decisive factor is of course the cross, after all a third of the Gospels are about the Passion. The Koran has a blank space here. But what surprised me from the scholarly reading is that the cross is not directly rejected. Not even at the point in Sura 4 that was usually interpreted that way. It says, “They didn't kill him or crucify him, it just seemed like it to them. They did not kill him, certainly not, but God raised him to himself. "

You don't see an affront in this?

The verses are usually read in such a way that they deny the historical fact of Jesus' death on the cross: From a Christian point of view, this would make it impossible to recognize them as God's word. But if you look at the verse in the context of the whole sura, it becomes clear that God is speaking to the Jews at this point, who claim that they killed Jesus. That is denied by God - not that Jesus was killed and crucified at all. One can also understand the passage in such a way that God does not allow the reins of action to be taken out of his hands.

How did God come to talk to the Jews about it in the Koran?

Mohammed had quite a falling out with a Jewish clan with whom he was fighting in Medina. That is also the reason that he changed the direction of prayer and then prayed against Mecca instead of Jerusalem. In the argument the Jews seem to have said, we have already flattened Jesus, we will flatten you too. The verse now says: You didn't make it with Jesus, you won't make it with me either!

The Christians are not meant here?

If God had wanted to tell Christians by verse that they were wrong for 600 years when they thought Jesus was crucified, wouldn't it have been a good idea to tell them directly? Also from a Muslim point of view? God often speaks to Christians in the Koran. He says: you Christians!

Does the meaning only come from reading the whole sura?

This is what the holistic surah research method is about, which we apply for the first time in relation to Christology in the Koran. We combine it with a historical-critical reading of the Koran, which pays attention to the order in which the individual verses of the Koran were written. These methods can be perfectly reconciled with the fact that the text of the Koran may come from God, as Muslims believe. But when God speaks, he does so in a certain time to certain people and in a certain language, Arabic. If you want to understand the Koran correctly, you have to ask yourself how certain words were understood during this time.

What does this mean in concrete terms for the image of Christ?

For example, in the historical context there are two words to refer to Jesus as the Son of God. Arab Christians use the word Ibn, pagan Arabs say Walad. If the Koran now says: "Do not say that Jesus is the Walad of God", this is probably not addressed to Christians, but to the pagan Arabs.

What made the pagan Arabs call Jesus God's Son?

In the Kaaba of the Meccan period, before Mecca became Muslim, all kinds of gods were worshiped and integrated. Only in this way could the city become an important center of pilgrimage. The Christians brought their Jesus with them, who was then worshiped by pagan Arabs, just as they worshiped various daughters of God. At this point the Koran defends itself against polytheists who integrated Jesus into their pantheon but never felt themselves to be Christians.

Nevertheless: He rejects the idea of ​​the Son of God here.

Yes, but it's about what is meant and where. In the early suras, the Koran does not even deal with Christianity when it rejects the sonship of Jesus. This is about the pagan Arabs who, when referring to Jesus, mean something completely different from the Christians.

But does it come to a contradiction later?

There are certainly places that deal critically with Christianity. But the Christians criticized by the Koran often believe differently than we Christians today. At one point where the Koran deals critically with the Trinity, it becomes clear that it also includes Mary and turns against the idea of ​​God the Father, God the Mother and God Child. From today's point of view, Christians would defend themselves against this, that would be polytheism! Certainly there were Christian sects on the Arabian Peninsula who came close to this idea. But that was never mainstream in the churches.

What other aberrations did the Koran notice?

In Sura 5:75 the Koran tries to criticize Christians because they supposedly think that Jesus and Mary did not eat normally like we did. How did the Koran get this idea? I have come across the heresy of Julianism, which assumes that Jesus ate before the resurrection exactly as he did after the resurrection. Even the emperor thought Jesus was a god in the 6th century and said: God can't go to the toilet! So he couldn't have eaten normally either. The Koran turns against this.

How important is Jesus in the Koran?

It occurs in 108 verses and is given titles that the Koran does not use for any other prophet. Jesus is the Spirit of God, the Word of God and the Messiah: this is almost the full program and uses important points that one would actually only expect in a Christian scripture. Jesus already speaks in the Koran as a baby, he works miracles, raises the dead. These are all awards that no other prophet receives and that emphasize his specialty and his origin from God.

Where did this appreciation come from?

The Koran researcher Angelika Neuwirth has convincingly shown that the Koran was created in the resonance space of late antiquity. It is shaped by oral traditions which, among other things, are processed by the Bible. In the early verses there is actually no critical discussion of Christians at all. It is also questionable whether Mohammed saw himself as a Muslim in the sense of his own religious affiliation. Muslim initially simply means: who gives himself up to God. Jesus is also referred to as a Muslim in the Koran.

Muhammad's cultural roots are Christian?

He is a seeker of God, a Hanif, so he comes out of a basic monotheistic understanding that is certainly not free from Jewish and Christian influences. Sura 19 of the Koran, named after Maria, reads almost like a Christian text. Sura 3, named after Mary's father, is also a huge invitation to Christians. It was probably created on the occasion of a visit by a delegation of Christian theologians from Najran. In response to Muhammad's advances, you must have said: If Jesus is not the Son of God, what is he? The Koran does not reject your critical inquiries, but offers you an abundance of starting points for your faith. At the same time, however, one notices the sura that it marks differences to Christianity through blank spaces in Christology.

Are Jesus and Mohammed even brothers in spirit?

I defend myself against overemphasizing the community. Much more exciting are the differences from which I can learn something that is enriching for me. Isn't it exciting that Jesus speaks to us humans in the Koran as a baby? If one does not get the unrational idea of ​​taking this passage literally, it means that Jesus already had a charisma as a child that illustrates his special mission. Here the Koran alludes to the beauty of Jesus. In general, the beauty of God is a central point that we Christians can learn from Muslims. Let us just think of the beauty of the Qur'anic recitation. In Islam, the beauty of the Koran is crucial. In Christianity, Jesus is decisive, through whom God touches me as a person.

Is this role of Jesus missing in the Koran?

It is not recognized positively, but left out. That is a relativization, because the Koran knows the Christian tradition very well and is very conscious of it. Some of my Muslim colleagues see a strong relativization in the fact that the Koran compares Jesus with Adam and thus emphasizes his humanity. But we as Christians also believe in the humanity of Jesus.

How do fundamentalist Muslims derive hatred of Christians from the Koran?

By looking at verses out of context and working them philologically inaccurately. Whenever something is said about Jews or Christians in Arabic, the language always means a specific group of Jews or Christians. It is important to know who.

For example where?

Let us take verse 30 of sura 9, the only passage that explicitly denies that Jesus is referred to as the Son of God in the sense of Ibn God. Directly in the next verse it becomes clear that here Christians are accused of venerating not only Jesus but also their bishops as sons of God. Likewise, Jews are accused of venerating Ezra and their scribes as sons of God. Obviously, this is not about a specific statement about Christology, but about a malformed Christian piety that can be observed in certain Christians at a certain time.

With all of this, how can a negative overall picture of Christians be postulated?

Fundamentalists also know that the Koran also speaks positively of Christians and praises them as the best friends of Muslims. Your strategy is to say: What God says last is true. It cancels everything else. That is why the scientifically still controversial question of which sura was last, the fifth or the ninth, is so important.

What would be better from a Christian point of view?

The fifth. It contains the exciting passage where the disciples ask Jesus to send a table down from heaven for them to gain certainty in faith. You affirm that you will continue to testify your faith through this table in the future. If, however, it was previously pointed out that Jesus even raised the dead to life, it is hardly understandable why a one-off miracle food should dissuade the disciples from their doubts. It is therefore natural to see this as an appreciation of the Eucharist. Is that the Quran’s last word to you? The majority of Western Islamic scholars see it that way.

What do the Muslim researchers say?

Many tend to sura 9 as the last sura of the Qur'an. It actually contains violent verses which, taken out of context, are blatant: Islam critics mostly quote the sword verse of Sura 9: 5 and the command: "Kill the unbelievers wherever they hide." Do these unbelievers, these co-sellers, mean Christians? No. It can be deduced from the context of the verse that the addressees are pagan Arabs, in this case Meccans who have broken a treaty and denied Mohammed the previously promised free pilgrimage to Mecca. Can you read everything in the Koran! And the contract can be historically assigned to the year 628. Before that, Mohammed had fought with the Meccans three times and in the end won the day, but instead of taking Mecca now, he had himself and his companions guaranteed safe conduct to the Kaaba.

And did he respond to the breach of contract by calling for a massacre?

In self-defense, he threatens retaliation. But interestingly, that doesn't happen then. When Mohammed reminded them of his previous victories and threatened to take Mecca, they gave in and offered to convert to Islam. As a Christian you can still say from the Sermon on the Mount: "That is not mine!" But 99 percent of politicians would act like Mohammed.

But does the Koran not do justice to the Christian maxim of love?

We have to be careful not to compare apples with oranges here. The Koran comes into being at a time when there is no functioning state legal system. In the tribal society on the Arabian Peninsula, the law of the strongest prevailed, and solidarity within the tribe was paramount. In this context, Islam brings a revolution that advocates the biblical values ​​of mercy and justice.

What brings you to this finding?

God's mercy is mentioned more often in the Koran than any other quality of God, a total of 598 times. And the Prophet Muhammad is also called the Prophet of Mercy. If you look at Islamic mysticism, it is precisely Jesus who not only brings God's mercy, but also his love for people. Perhaps that could also be an access to the talk of Jesus as God's word in the Koran. Jesus, in all his humanity, would then be God's merciful and loving address to us.

That sounds pretty Christian now.

Nevertheless, Muslims could also take such a sentence from the Koran. They would then only insist that other prophets and other people can familiarize us with God and bring us his good news.

What Can Christians Learn?

You see God's human friendliness not only realized in Jesus. For them, Jesus Christ is the all-important norm. But when you come across Koranic statements that see this norm also realized in other people, there is actually cause for joy. The relativization of Jesus made in the Koran is certainly not something that Christians can adopt. But the values ​​and images of God that the Koran brings to her are much closer to Christianity than we are often aware.