I have just come across a fascinating account of Christians living in the third/ninth century Abbasid Baghdad to be found in the work of Muslim theologian Abu Uthman al-Jahiz (died 255/869) in a letter he wrote to some Muslim friends who had asked for his help against a group of Christians. He outlines for them the way in which Christians treat Muslims in debate:
‘They choose contradictory statements in our Hadiths, our reports that have weak chains of transmitters, and the equivocal verses in our Book, and they take to one side our weak and common people and ask them questions about them. Despite the ideas they have learnt from the heretics and accursed atheists, they often appear innocent before our intellectuals and people of influence. Hence they stir up trouble among the powerful, and cause deception among the weak-minded. And the pity is that each and every Muslim thinks he is an expert in religious matters, and that no one is better at arguing with heretics than anyone else!’
Quotation in Early Muslim Polemic against Christianity Abu ‘Isa al-Warraq’s “Against the Incarnation”, edited and translated by David Thomas, published by University of Cambridge Oriental Publications 59 in 2002.
David Thomas comments,
‘This depicts the Christians as completely unscrupulous in the way they confused ordinary Muslims by presenting spurious or difficult statements from Muslim scriptural sources, and confuted experts with arguments they innocently passed off as not their own. It is undoubtedly exaggerated.’ (page 7)
Exaggerated or not, the description is undoubtedly fitting of some Christians we deal with today as we well know – mentioning no names! How little has changed in over a thousand years…