John Of Damascus’ Response To The Islamic View Of Justification By Works -- By: Daniel Janosik
John Of Damascus’ Response To The Islamic View Of Justification By Works
Columbia International University
Part I: Theological Debates In Early Islam
First of all, it is essential to realize that theology in Islam developed in large part as a result of specific political debates.1 On theological issues, there is evidence that it may also have developed, at least in part, as a reaction to early Christian-Muslim polemics.2 Ignaz Goldziher, a respected Orientalist, reminds us that “Prophets are not theologians.” Essentially Goldziher means that those who “receive” revelation may not have any idea about how to put it together consistently, nor are they always aware of the contradictions that later generations will have to reconcile.3 The Qur’an has little to say in regard to actual theology and Muhammad did not have much to add outside of the later Hadith traditions. These traditions, moreover, deal more with actions rather than beliefs. Therefore, it is necessary to understand that there is a significant difference between Christianity and Islam in regard to their view of theology; Christianity is concerned with orthodoxy (right doctrine) and Islam stresses orthopraxy (right practice). John Esposito writes that “for Christianity, the appropriate question is, ‘What do Christians believe?’ In contrast, for Islam (as for Judaism), the correct question is, ‘What do Muslims do?’”4 Perhaps that is why even today there is such an emphasis on faith for many Christians and on obedience for most Muslims. Esposito refers to the Muslim belief that the “Book of deeds” will be used as a basis for their judgment,5 while in Christianity the basis will be a person’s faith in Christ and his atoning death – belief in what Christ has done for us rather than what we can do for him.6
Islamic theology most likely developed out of its sociopolitical context and its early confrontation with Christian polemics.7 The earliest theological development was a form of dialectic theology or discourse called kalām (“speech” or discourse), which may have evolved, in part, as a reaction to the Christian and Jewish theology of the conquered people. In addition to the Christian influences, Islamic theology probably also developed through the early political struggles, such as the Kharajite rejection of Ali as a rightful caliph due to his capitulation t...
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