John Of Damascus: First Apologist To The Muslims -- By: Daniel Janosik

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 09:1 (Spring 2011)
Article: John Of Damascus: First Apologist To The Muslims
Author: Daniel Janosik

John Of Damascus: First Apologist To The Muslims

Daniel Janosik, Ph.D.

Who was John of Damascus and why is he significant? As a Christian theologian serving in an Arab empire, John stood on the cusp of a new world. His writings and insight into early Islam may not only have influenced the apologetic approach with Islam for the following 300 years, but we may gain a more accurate understanding of the developing Islamic theology as well as the place of Muhammad and the Qur’an since he wrote from an “insiders” view decades before the first biographical material on Muhammad was pieced together in a written form and almost 50 years before our oldest extant copy of the Qur’an was written. The city of Damascus, where John grew up, was a Christian city conquered by the Arabs in AD 635. Many thought that the marauding Arabs were a punishment from God for their unfaithfulness. In AD 661 it became the center of the Umayyad Empire where John served in a high position under the caliphs, as did his father and grandfather before him. Apparently he knew the early teachings of Islam. Of his influence Daniel Sahas writes,

John of Damascus’s short writings on Islam have had indeed a very long history, as well as a profound influence upon other Christian writers who dealt with or wrote about Islam. His exposition of Islam made Islam known to the Christian community and, therefore, made interfaith “dialogue” part of the history and the development of Islam as well as of Christianity.1

What can we know about Islam through John’s writings? First of all, there is good reason to believe that John knew Arabic.2 This allowed him to have a more effective role in the Arab-dominated government. His writings also show that he knew about Muhammad and the early stages of Islam. Hopefully, then, we can gain a fairly accurate picture of Islam in the first 100 years from John’s reflections and apologetic arguments.

Birth and Death

The year of John’s birth is very important because it is tied to whom he may have known and what he may have witnessed. Most scholars place John’s birth in either AD 674 or 675, but Sahas suggests that his birth may have been as early as AD 652, allowing for a friendship with Yazid I, who was born in AD 644 and served as the caliph between 680-683.3 If Robert Hoyland is correct in his assessment that it is John’s father who is a friend of the caliph Yazid I around AD 680 (when John would have been only 5 years old), then the year AD 675 is still the best choice.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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