Monday, February 29, 2016

The Parables of Jesus in Islamic Literature (Part 5: Conclusion)

Sahih al-Bukhari

The time elapsed between this post and the last is the longest between any posts ince I started this blog over two years ago. I won't go into the details of what generated that gap, but it appears that I am starting to catch up with the myriad of things on my professional "to-do" list. 

One comment before I begin: I remember in my first teaching position at Berry College back in 1989, the chair of the department indicated to me that if my teaching did not generate responses from bigoted people then I wasn't doing my job. With that in mind, it is clear that these posts about Jesus' parables in Islamic literature are "doing their job." Hopefully others will learn from the trajectories we see in parable interpretations both in Islamic and in the other traditions covered in the book and in this blog.

As evident in the last post, the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is reworked to argue that even though God’s revelations to Muhammad are reminders of what God had already conveyed to previous prophets like Abraham, they are also corrections to the "errors" of the Jews and Christians. 

The other major version of this parable found in the Sahih al-Bukhari in Volume 3, Book 36, #471 makes this even clearer (cf. Volume 1, Book 10, #533):

The Prophet said, “The example of Muslims, Jews and Christians is like the example of a man who employed labourers to work for him from morning till night for specific wages. They worked till midday and then said, ‘We do not need your money which you have fixed for us and let whatever we have done be annulled.’ The man said to them, ‘Don’t quit the work, but complete the rest of it and take your full wages.’ But they refused and went away. The man employed another batch after them and said to them, ‘Complete the rest of the day and yours will be the wages I had fixed for the first batch.’ So, they worked till the time of ‘Asr prayer. Then they said, “Let what we have done be annulled and keep the wages you have promised us for yourself.’ The man said to them, ‘Complete the rest of the work, as only a little of the day remains,’ but they refused. Thereafter he employed another batch to work for the rest of the day and they worked for the rest of the day till the sunset, and they received the wages of the two former batches. So, that was the example of those people (Muslims) and the example of this light of guidance they have accepted willingly.

In this version, the first workers (Jews) were hired to work from morning to evening. They only worked until midday, however, when they quit, stated they did not need the man’s money, and wanted their work to be annulled. Even though the man asked them to continue, they refused. Likewise, the second group (Christians) was hired to finish the day’s work, but they only worked until the ‘Asr prayer time. These workers do not state that they do not need the man’s money, but they likewise wanted their work annulled, told the man to keep the wages, and refused the man’s entreaty to keep working, even though “only a little of the day” remained. Therefore, the man hired a third group (Muslims) who completed the task and received the wages of the first two groups (thus double what the other two groups were promised).

This version of the parable stresses the recalcitrance of Jews and Christians and their refusal to complete the task upon which they and God had agreed. The Muslims therefore are the ones who complete the task and remain faithful to God’s commands. In all versions of the parable, Muslims receive God’s special blessing.


The differing versions in Sahih al-Bukhari illustrate how different trajectories in the traditions are developed. In this case, the message that many Christian interpreters had received from the parable—that the time of the Jews had passed—is now extended to mean that both the times of the Jews and Christians had passed and that Muslims are finishing God’s assigned task faithfully. Thus Islamic teachings and practice correct the deficiencies in the responses of Jews and Christians to the work assigned to them by God.

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