Charles Ramsey, Adjunct of History, History Faculty, Baylor University USA
Sayyid Ahmad Khan described the authors of the Christian New Testament as recipients of revelation (ṣāḥib al-waḥy) and their writings as worthy of obedience (wājib al-‘amal). As incongruous as this may sound to some, Sayyid Ahmad also affirmed ‘St. Paul’, the ‘apostles’, and the ‘sacred historians’ responsible for penning the texts, with great reverence as being imbibed with light from the same ‘Holy Spirit’ that brought revelation to the Prophet of Islam. In this essay, we explore the logic and precedent applied by Sayyid Ahmad to categorize the writings of the New Testament. We will examine the distinction made between revelation (waḥy) and divine word (kalām ilāhi), and between the prophets found in every generation and the select legislative prophet who are authorized to institute doctrinal ordinances (sharī’ah). As we shall see, Sayyid Ahmad argued that like Muhammad and Moses, Jesus was a legislative prophet, and his followers proceeded (taḥdīs) under this dispensation to carry forward the spiritual revolution (ruḥānī inqelāb) whereby all have access through faith to the same spiritual light.
Throughout the history of Muslim-Christian relations, there has been a noted gap in Muslim engagement with the Christian New Testament. This is a difficulty to grapple not only with the authenticity, but also the authority of the text sacred to Christians, which contains at least some of the Gospel spoken of so reverently in the Qur’ān. This is partially due to the challenges posed by the difficulty in discussing the human-divine partnership displayed in revelation. Unlike the Qur’ān which is believed to be the direct speech of God, the writings in the Bible appear in various forms, and in various voices. Sayyid Ahmad Khan is distinguished by his focused study of the Bible and of his deliberation on the issue of both the authorial history of the New Testament and its present authority in the life of a Muslim.