Category Archives: Islam

Medina…in brief

Medina, originally called Yathrib, was an oasis 275 miles north of Mecca. It was an agricultural settlement, with widely scattered palm groves and armed farmsteads, and it numbered among its inhabitants both Arabs and Jews. The two groups lived in a complex political association which late in the sixth century CE began to unravel, resulting […]

Mecca…in brief

Mecca was a holy site for as long as the Arabs had any memory of the place, and whatever the surmises regarding the origin of that sanctity, the Muslims traced the holiness of its sanctuary back to Adam who was directed there and built a cube-like house (kacba) directly beneath an identical  structure in heaven. […]

Muslim Jerusalem….in brief

Jerusalem, generally called simply “the Holy” (al-Quds) by the Muslims, is not mentioned by name in the Quran, but the Muslim tradition unanimously sees a reference to it in the allusion in 17: 1 where Muhammad was borne by night from Mecca to “the distant shrine” (al-masjid al-aqsa). Muslim armies took Jerusalem without resistance in […]

Allah…..in brief

Islam knows no creed, no formal profession of faith that every Muslim is required to proclaim as a sign of his membership in the Islamic community. A number of Muslims have attempted to elaborate such a creed (aqidah) to supply the immediate doctrinal needs of some moment of Islamic history, but none has won the […]

Getting Down With the Saudis 1980

If you think that all academics look the same, think again. Standing on the immigration line at the Jeddah airport I am immediately and instinctively identified—“Look for an attractive professor, possibly dressed like a vagrant or a disco dancer”– by a young man attired of course (all Saudis do in fact look alike) in an […]

Jesus in Islam

To speak of Jesus in Islam is to plunge immediately into an enormous paradox. Jesus of Nazareth, the person regarded as the Son of God by the Christian Church, reappears emphatically and often in the Quran as a prophet. Though there are signs that some of Jesus’ own contemporaries may also have thought of him […]

Islam on Judaism

“Islam,” no less than “Judaism,” is  a construct, and its contents vary according to what Muslims, or Jews, or indeed anyone else, choose to include in it. But in the case of Muslim and Jews at least there are foundation texts which establish the general outlines of the construct and to some extent point the […]

Where Three Roads Meet: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Pilgrimage to Jerusalem

“Where three roads meet” is an ominous phrase. It was the telltale detail that gave Oedipus to understand that the traveler he had killed at such an intersection was none other than his own father, as the oracle had predicted. There is another such intersection, It is called Jerusalem, and it is the place where […]

The Late Harvest of Hellenism: Muslim Baghdad and Christian Toledo

Introduction Almost four decades ago I wrote a book called The Harvest of Hellenism. I am still very fond of the title, though I must confess that it is only half mine. The first half I stole from Heiko Oberman, the celebrated Reformation historian.  His work was called The Harvest of Medieval Theology, and I […]

The Holy Places of Jerusalem

When Jerusalem first appears in biblical history it is a town without a past, a newly conquered Jebusite settlement that David had made the capital of his still insecure Israelite kingdom. Today it is once again the capital of a Jewish state, but in the three millennia that separate the modern city from David’s cramped […]