Monday, February 8, 2016

The Parables of Jesus in Islamic Literature (Part 1)

Part of the fun of writing this book was exploring interpretations and interpreters that were either completely new to me or were not as familiar as they should have been. As far as publishing the results, the "down" side is that sometimes--if not many or most times--I did not know as much as an expert in that field would know, whether I was writing about Flannery O'Connor, Frederick Douglass, William Shakespeare, Octavia Butler, Thich Nhat Hanh, or other such interpreters.

On the other hand, as a scholar of the parables, when I was writing about their use of the parables in particular, I had insights into those interpreters that specialists did not have. It was exciting to find aspects that had not to my knowledge been noted before. 

Almost two years ago, when I first started researching for the book, I discovered some interpretations of the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard in Islamic hadith that were fascinating. Since those interpretations contrasted in extremely interesting ways with interpretations in the early Christian church and the "Church Fathers," I decided to write about those interpreters first, so I could compare the interpretations more cogently.

In addition, when I was teaching the sophomore Honors Seminar--"A Chorus of Voices: The 'Afterlives' of the Parables," one of the students in the class, Rema Elmostafa, also discovered these interpretations and did some excellent work on them. You can find her work on the "A Chorus of Voices" blog from the class that is in the "My Blog List" on the right side of this page. Our class conversations about the interpretations in the hadith were very enlightening.

I also want to thank my friend and colleague, Dr. Florian Pohl, who read through the section of my book devoted to this topic. He offered several helpful comments and suggestions. The errors, as always, remain my own.

First a brief general introduction to this topic: 

The Qur’an indicates that God’s verbal supreme revelation has been revealed in written form to humankind in four different collections:
  • Torah (revealed through Moses; Sura 6:154)
  • Psalms (revealed through David; Sura 17:55)
  • Gospel (revealed through Jesus, which fulfilled what was revealed in the Torah; Sura 5:46)
  • Qur’an (revealed through Muhammad, which confirms both the Torah and Gospel, explains them, and has greater authority than them; Suras 3:3–4; 5:48; 10:37; 12:111; see Moucarry 2002: 26).

The Qur’an includes traditions from the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Moses and Abraham) and the New Testament (e.g., Mary, John the Baptist, and Jesus). Further development of these traditions took place in the hadith (“recollections”; Arabic plural = ahadith), which are collections of traditions reporting a saying or action of Muhammad or, less often, one of his companions (Khalidi 2001: 25–26). Hadith literature includes Muhammad’s reactions to various events, his opinions on numerous matters, and the reasoning he used to reach his decisions. Muhammad taught that Islam was not a new religion; instead, he proclaimed the religion that God had revealed through the prophets. Beginning with Adam, the succeeding stream of prophets, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and others, had proclaimed the unity of God, submitting and worshiping God alone, and following the entirety of God’s law. Islamic teachings and practice are, in part, understood as corrections of Judaism and Christianity, the two monotheistic traditions that preceded Islam, which partly explains why traditions about previous biblical figures are divergent from how they appear in the Bible (Outcalt 2014: 95–98).

The Qur’an and the hadith collections constitute the two most important sources for Islamic faith and practice, and the Sahih al-Bukhari and the Sahih Muslim bin al-Hajjaj are the two most authoritative of the six “canonical” collections, with the Sahih al-Bukhari being considered the “most authentic” collection.  

I'll start the next post with a few more comments about the Qur’an and hadith traditions (e.g., some comparisons about their treatments of Jesus), before moving on to talk about the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard in the hadith, specifically Sahih al-Bukhari.


  1. David, this is extremely fascinating and pertinent to Christian-Muslim dialogue today. What a great find! Congratulations on the book, too!


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