This is the 11th in a series of interviews about religion that I am conducting for The Stone. The interviewee for this installment is Sajjad Rizvi, a professor of Arab and Islamic studies at the University of Exeter and the author of “Mulla Sadra and the Later Islamic Philosophical Tradition.”
Gary Gutting: How do you see Islam in relation to the other major Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Judaism? Should we think of them as (for example) rivals, or as complementary developments of monotheism, or as different cultural expressions of an essentially similar religious experience?
Sajjad Rizvi: The very notion of Abrahamic religions is arguably Islamic. The Quran presents Abraham as an adherent of Islam, but here “Islam” means the primordial faith that connects humanity to one God and leads in turn to Judaism, Christianity and then historical Islam as proclaimed by Muhammad. There are some who view Islam as a faith that supersedes the two earlier monotheistic religions. But I think it’s more useful to understand Islam as a religion that is self-conscious about its relationship to Judaism and Christianity and explicitly takes account of their scriptures and traditions. Almost all the prophets of the Quran will be familiar to those who know the Bible, and the Quran explicitly refers to parables, ideas and stories from the Bible.
The common roots — and inheritances — of the three faiths make it useful for us to think seriously in terms of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic civilization and heritage that we all share. The development of philosophy in Islam also shows a common tradition of rationality. Anyone with a basic understanding of the categories of Aristotle’s thought employed by Christian and Jewish thinkers would find many of the arguments of Islamic philosophers and theologians familiar. The great Islamic philosopher Avicenna (10th-11th century) developed a metaphysical notion of God that had a tremendous impact on the Latin west: the idea that God is the necessary being required to explain the existence of every contingent being.