The First and Final Commandment
Dr Laurence B. Brown
DR MOHAMMAD MANZOOR ALAM reviews
an important (and, hopefully, influential) book of our times
are certain fundamental commonalities between the three Abrahamic faiths --
Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There is nothing surprising about it because
all three recognise the validity of the larger Abrahamic tradition. The fact
that the prophets of all three faiths were Abraham’s (PBUH) children is also
has extended recognition to the "People of the Book" and honours their
prophets. However, this gesture of Islam has yet to be reciprocated by the other
two. Over the centuries Muslims have tried to understand the larger heritage of
which Islam regards itself as the culmination.
Laurence B. Brown’s The
First and Final Commandment, as the title suggests, is an interpretation of
Islam as the repository of the "original" as well as the final commandment
of God. Islam takes every divine commandment right from the time of Adam to
Abraham to Muhammad (peace be upon them) as a single, unified, cohesive entity,
culminating in the Quran. Thus the book tries to look at the scriptures from a
Brown takes Islam as the final commandment, overlaying and replacing everything
that came before it. In a comparative study of the doctrines of the three faiths
he finds Islam the most consistent, reasonable and tamper-proof. The Quran is a
complete entity as opposed to the Bible, of which several "Books" have been
lost. Dr Brown observes that the losses are worrisome, but no less worrisome
could be the additions made to compensate for them.
Bible is shared between the Christians and Jews. Jewish "Books" too got lost
in the frequent and devastating invasions and destruction of their temple. The
wise men of Jews did try to reconstruct some of them from memory. That was a
valiant effort, but how correct or true to the original such reconstructions
were is open to debate. The Quran, on the other hand, has remained safe from
such vicissitudes. Dr Brown’s preference for Islam is based on an extensive
analysis and study of the three faiths.
discusses the history of the Christian church to show that it has not been
doctrinally consistent even on crucial issues like the Trinity and the
infallibility of papacy. On one hand we have the case of Pope Honorious-I who
ruled the Vatican during the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) lifetime and was a
monophysite. On the other there is John who was a lecher and impious person.
Honorious I was condemned and anathemised for not being a true supporter of
Trinity and Christ’s divine nature, although he was officially praised on his
death as "truly agreeing with apostolic teaching". The condemnation came 44
years later. The case of Joh XII was quite different. The following quote about
this "Christian Caligula" is rather long, but interesting, showing how
hollow the claims of "papal infallibility" could be both in the case of Pope Honorious-I and Joh XII:
charge was specially made against him that he turned the Lateran into a brothel;
that he and his gang violated female pilgrims in the very basilica of St. Peter;
that the offerings of the humble laid upon the altar were snatched up as casual
booty. He was inordinately fond of gambling, at which he invoked the names of
those discredited gods now universally regarded as demons. His sexual hunger was
insatiable -- a minor crime in Roman eyes. What was far worse was that the
casual occupants of his bed were rewarded not with casual gifts of gold but of
land. One of his mistresses was able to establish herself as a feudal lord ‘for
he was so blindly in love with her that he made her governor of cities -- and
even gave to her the golden crosses and cups of St. Peter himself’.
The point here is that neither an innocuous pope like Honorious-I was considered infallible (otherwise, why was he anathemised?) nor was the openly vicious John XII anything close to a good human being, much less infallible. Pope Honorious-I’s monophysitism was problematic to the church, but that’s somehow more reasonable than the church’s insistence on Christ’s (PBUH) divine nature.
Dr Brown finds Islam unburdened by such baggage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is described in the Quran as a human being like any other, not certainly a divine being. There is no Islamic arch priest (there is no priesthood in Islam as such) who is "infallible". In Islam infallibility is not a human attribute. Unlike the other scriptures, the Quran is undoctored, unreconstructed, unedited. It has internal and external consistency and integrity.
This 606-page tome is a little polemical in tone as any work of this nature is bound to be, but it still remains highly readable. The quality and quantum of research is breathtaking in impact, encyclopaedic in sweep. A must-read for anyone interested in the great Abrahamic tradition.g