Christian borrowings from Islamic theology in the classical period: the witness of al-Juwaynī and Abū l-Qāsim al-Anṣārī

David Thomas

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This article explores examples of Arab Christian theologians making use of Muslim theological concepts in the early Islamic period. It shows that while Christians appear to have possessed more than passing knowledge of the terminology and methodology employed by contemporary Muslim scholars, they made little use of this, except as a means to explain their teachings and to retaliate against arguments from their Muslim counterparts. It begins by discussing the extent to which the 9th century East Syrian theologian ʿAmmār al-Baṣrī adopted elements from Muslim teachings about the divine attributes, looks at evidence of borrowing in ʿAmmār’s Muslim contemporary Abū ʿĪsā al-Warrāq, and goes on to examine traces of counter-arguments from Christians in a refutation of the Trinity by the 10th century Ashʿarite scholar al-Bāqillānī. In none of these instances is there much sign of extensive absorption by Christians of Muslim concepts. The article then explores in detail traces of possible borrowings by Christians in arguments by the 11th century master al-Juwaynī and his pupil Abū l-Qāsim al-Anṣārī. In neither case does it find evidence of extensive borrowing by Christians, but rather indications that although they lived in an increasingly Islamic society, where their language and thought was imbued more and more with Islamic vocabulary and conventions, Christians continued to maintain their doctrines in forms they had inherited from pre-Islamic times. The record of Muslim theological works up to the 12th century indicates that Christians were not known by Muslims for demonstrating much interest in Muslim theology or for trying to express their doctrines in idioms established by Muslim theologians.‬
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-142
JournalIntellectual History of the Islamicate World
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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