Tuesday evening, Jérôme Prieur and Gérard Mordillat continued their travels to the monotheists. Many of you watched the first three episodes on Arte devoted to Christianity. The two authors now explore the Koran with Jesus as a compass. They signed the documentary "Jesus and Islam". To invite you to continue watching the series that continues tonight and tomorrow, and to help you understand the issues at stake in this work as historians, Marianne interviewed a young French Islamologist, Guillaume Dye, Koran historian.
Marianne: Is it appropriate today to broadcast a documentary and publish a historical book on the Koran?
Guillaume Dye: Yes, for two reasons. First of all, because Koranic studies have never been as lively as they are today. This discipline is undergoing many upheavals. Schools are clashing. New theses are emerging. It is therefore very interesting to explain these developments to the public and to make them understand the stakes. It is also important for the public to realize the difference between what we really know, and what we thought we knew, about the beginnings of Islam: things that we thought had been established for a long time are much less certain than we thought.
Then by civic-mindedness. We must develop a critical eye, we must allow believers and lay people alike to understand the historical environment in which Islam was born. They must be allowed to perceive the complexity of things, and obviously to understand the work of historians - a perspective that is obviously different from that of faith. I will take two simple examples. We don't know when Mohammed was born, and we don't even know in what year he died. Everyone will tell you 632, but this is contradicted by the oldest sources. Nor do we know his real first name: Mohammed is more of a nickname.
Marianne : To talk about this current situation, do you think that Gérard Mordillat and Jérôme Prieur's choice to choose Jesus and his place in the Koran is a good idea?
It is already a good choice for marketing and educational reasons: the figure of Jesus makes the link with their three previous documentaries. And this will allow viewers to better understand the historical links between Christianity and Islam.
But there are deeper reasons. For example, most of the Koran is composed of stories featuring Bible characters or gospels. The Western reader is therefore faced with familiar characters, even if the stories that depict them are often confusing, because they are very allusive, and also because they often refer to apocryphal writings and Jewish and especially Christian legends of late antiquity that people know rather little about.
Marianne: So this will show the links between Christians and Islam?
Yes, but these relationships are complex and ambivalent.
There are elements in the Koran of convergence between Islam and Christianity, especially in the controversy against the Jews, who did not recognize the messianity of Jesus. Then, Jesus enjoys a very high status in the Qur'an: he is said to be the word and spirit of God, he is born of Mary (the only woman whose name is mentioned in the Qur'an), whose virginity is recognized in the Qur'an, and he is the only prophet to receive a revelation from the cradle.
On the other hand, the Koran rejects the divine nature of Jesus, who is neither God nor his son. In some passages, Jesus is put on the same level as, for example, Job or Jonah, which makes him a rather secondary character. Everything happens as if we had several strata in the Koranic text, some seeking convergence with Christians, others aiming to convince them to abandon their Christology, others still ignoring their existence.
Jesus is therefore a good entry point to understand the Koran. It is certainly not the only one, but it is perhaps the one that best explains the different points of view that divide the different historical schools that study the Koran.
Marianne: What are they?
To summarize in broad terms, there are first of all the approaches that follow, roughly speaking, a "secularized" version within the general framework provided by the Muslim tradition. We will then say that the Koran consists of a set of words spoken by Mohammed himself and represents the experience of the community that existed around him, first in Mecca, then in Medina, between 610 and 632 (Muslim dogmatics, for its part, considers that the Koran was dictated by God to Mohammed, who is therefore not, stricto sensu, the author of the Koran).
This raises two problems. On the one hand, we know that the accounts of the Muslim tradition are often late and very biased - it is probably unwise to place too much trust in them. On the other hand, there is a tension between the fact that a very important part of the Koran is located in a Christian context (seeking convergence or polemic, sometimes in a very elaborate way) and the fact that the Hedjaz, the region where the Koran is supposed to have been proclaimed, probably knew at the time only a very marginal Christian presence, unlike the rest of Arabia and the Near East.
Faced with this situation, there are two possibilities. Researchers, let us say, more "traditional", will accept with more or less caution the accounts of the Muslim tradition, and will maintain the idea that the Koranic text has a single author. All that remains for them to do is to build a history around it, and postulate that Mohammed perfectly mastered Christian and Jewish cultures, and that the Christian presence in the Hijaz was more significant than previously thought.
On the other hand - and here we find more critical approaches - other scholars consider that it is impossible to take seriously the richness and complexity of the Koranic corpus while remaining within the traditional framework. They are led to see the Koran as a collective work (which would have been spread over several generations), partly independent of Mohammed's preaching. While some of the Koran may have been composed in Mecca and Medina, it seems very likely to researchers who have recently begun to study the question of the authors of the Koran and their profile that substantial passages from the Koran have been written by Christian (and, to a lesser extent, Jewish) scholars and scribes who have been able to put their pen at the service of the emerging Muslim community.