Mohamed Ahmed Suleiman Ahmed

Religious Truth and the Intercultural Dialogue in the Theology of Anselm Turmeda

Mohamed Ahmed Suleiman Ahmed

Abstract: The idea of the interreligious dialogue through its intercultural and social dimensions stands as a start point towards the religious truth and the common understanding of the other. Religious identity itself plays the most important role in accepting or rejecting the other starting from its religious attitude, this appears clearly in the religious debates and controversies which took place between Christians and Muslims from the Middle Ages till our present time. The debates show us a very clear image of how the religious identity determines the intercultural dialogue and how the interreligious dialogue became absent of the cultural religious heritage during the middle ages.

Anselm Turmeda was one of the most important Christian friars who converted from Christianity to Islam and started to establish his own theological system by attacking Christianity. Turmeda started from the religious text to show the anti-religious dialogue instead of interreligious dialogue, his attempt depends only on his beliefs, not on philosophical arguments that can solve the problem in a dialectic way.

In this paper, I will try to show the real method of Turmeda and how he understood the idea of interreligious dialogue by using the cultural heritage which was available at his time.

Keywords: Theology; Conversion; Heresy; Prophecy

1. Introduction

My present paper discusses the concept of the religious truth and the intercultural dialogue in the theology of Anselm Turmeda. Turmeda was a Christian monk from the Franciscan friars in Majorca, he converted from Christianity to Islam when he was 35 years old, and he wrote both in Catalan and Arabic language (Llúcia Martín Pascual, 2015, pp. 101-125). In his early life when he was 6 years old he started to study the New Testament, after that logic and the language of the New Testament for 6 years. His major work was titled “The Gift to the Intelligent for Refuting the Arguments of the Christians”. He wrote also other works included “Libre dels bons amonestaments”, “Disputa de l'ase” (Jesús Gómez, 2005, pp.39-64. Mercedes Brea, Esther Corral Díaz, Miguel A. Pousada Cruz, 2013) and “Libre de tres”(Clint Hackenburg, 2015, p. 312).

In his early life, he studied Christianity and became one of the most talented friars who studied the New Testament in its original Greek language. After a long period of religious life and practice, he joined his master Nicolao Martello, where he became his only and faithful disciple. The relation between them was an exceptional one, Nicolao considered Anselm Turmeda his spoken tongue in all his religious teachings and ecclesiastical affairs, gradually, Anselm got his famous religious reputation from his studentship to Nicolao Martello, he remained 10 years under his disciplinary, this period was sufficient to give Turmeda the chance to be high qualified friar and theologian at his time (Anselm Turmeda, pp. 14-15).

2. The historical background of his conversion from Christianity

How was Turmeda converted from Christianity to Islam? The story as it was narrated by Turmeda tells us that in one of the expected and usual meetings between Nicolao Martello and his students, Nicolao Martello was so ill and couldn’t manage to attend and give the lesson to his students, he asked Turmeda to be ready to give the lesson instead of him, (Anselm Turmeda, p.15), Turmeda started the discussions about the teachings of the apostles of the Christ, but the students in this meeting started to debate about one of the perplexed and confused meanings in the new testament, this concept was the “Paraclete”, the students had a long time discussions about this concept, but they couldn’t reach a full and exact meaning to this concept,( Abd-Allâh ibn ‘Abd-Allâh, le Drogman, 1886, pp. 8-15).

After the students left Nicolao Martello’s monastery, Nicolao asked Turmeda about the nature and the results of the discussions of the students, Turmeda told him about the conflict and debates about the Paraclete, at this moment Nicolao had curiosity to know the results of the discussions, but Turmeda told him that the only discussion that they couldn’t reach was the concept of the Paraclete, (Abd-Allâh ibn ‘Abd-Allâh, le Drogman, 1886, pp. 8-15).

Turmeda insisted to know the meaning of the Paraclete, finally, Nicolao told him –after insisting from Turmeda- the real and significant meaning of the Paraclete, it means -according to the words of Turmeda- one of the attributes and characters of the prophet Mohamed, the prophet of Islam, (Dionysius A. Agius, 1996, pp. 64-65). From this moment Turmeda recognized that Islam is a true religion and Jesus himself had prophecy that there will be a prophet after a long time that people must follow and believe him, (Dionysius A. Agius, 1996, pp. 64-65).

After that Turmeda travelled to Tunisia to join the court of the Muslim Sultan and announce his conversion to Islam. When he had arrived Tunisia the Christians met him with great and warm greetings because they already know him very well. There he met and befriended Joseph the physician. He told Joseph that he wants to be a Muslim, Joseph welcomed the idea of Turmeda and took him to the Sultan. There he announced his conversion from Christianity to Islam in front of a huge number of Christians who attended this great event in the life of Turmeda. After his conversion to Islam, he started to invite Christians to join Islam, but no one gave any attention to him. Briefly, that is how Anselm Turmeda converted from Christianity to Islam.

The start point in the conversion of Turmeda was the concept and significance of the word “Paraclete”, (Gr. Παράκλητος, Lat. Paracletus) means advocate or helper. In Christianity, the term Paraclete most commonly refers to the Holy Spirit.

3. The significance of the “Paraclete”

Paraclete comes from the Koine Greek word Παράκλητος (paráklētos that can signify "one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts; hence refreshes, and one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court"). It is found in Septuagint: “I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all” (Job 16:2). In the plural, and means "comforters", in the words of Job regarding the "miserable comforters" who failed to rekindle his spirit in his time of distress). We find this term also in the New Testament: “And I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). Also: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you”( John 14:26).

4. Paraclete in Islam

Many Muslim writers have argued that “another Paraclete” the first being Jesus—refers to Muhammad. This claim is based on the Quran verse, (Surah 61 verse 6), the earliest scholar is probably Ibn Ishaq (died 767), that Islamic tradition states he was the grandson of a Christian. Others who interpreted the Paraclete as a reference to Muhammad include Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Kathir, Al-Qurtubi, Rahmatullah Kairanawi (1818-1891), and contemporary Muslim scholars such as Martin Lings.

Here are two translations of the passage in Quran:

And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, "O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad." But when he came to them with clear evidence, they said, "This is obvious magic” (Surah 61 verse 6).

And when Jesus, son of Mary, said: "O children of Israel, I am God's messenger to you, authenticating what is present with me of the Torah and bringing the good news of a messenger to come after me whose name will be acclaimed." But when he showed them the clear proofs, they said: "This is clearly magic” (Surat 61 verse 6).

From the above-mentioned chapters of the Qur’an, Muslims refer and interpret the concept “Paraclete” as a pre-established prophecy from Jesus the Christ about the advent of prophet Mohamed, and from these verses also, Anselm Turmeda interprets the concept of the Paraclete. This interpretation and his conversion was an exceptional case in his time, (Roser Salicrú I Lluch, p. 1).

5. The doctrine of Turmeda

According to Turmeda, Jesus and Mohamed have the same mission, they are both masters of truth and they are both prophets, they are also human beings. not Gods. Jesus and Mohamed have the same mission as they are both prophets. Anselm starts his theological doctrine by defeating and rejecting the writings of the four gospels, he suggests that Mathew didn’t see the Christ except in the year of his ascension, also Luke, Mark, and Paul. Regarding ascension, Mark mentions that it was after the resurrection, but Luke mentions ascension after 40 days of resurrection, (Abd-Allâh ibn ‘Abd-Allâh, le Drogman, 1886, pp. 25-71).

Anselm Turmeda doesn’t accept the divinity of Jesus the Christ, he asserts that he was a human, not god, and doesn’t accept that Jesus is the creator, he is not also the son of god, but the son of Mary, because he says that if we consider Jesus as god there will be two gods, one is Jesus and the other is the father, hence we will find duality between the son and the father. Turmeda confirms the only one god which is not created or incarnated, (Abd-Allâh ibn ‘Abd-Allâh, le Drogman, 1886, pp. 25-71).

Trinity according to the theology of Turmeda can’t be applied upon the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Trinity in the interpretation of Turmeda means that there are three separate persons who are not equal, so, the only one god can’t be manifested in three different persons. Regarding the incarnation, Anselm Turmeda asserts that God is never incarnated into body. God himself is infinite, the body is finite, both finite and infinite can’t be meet in one body which is infinite. The most obvious element in which religions differ is the language of their Holy Scriptures; at least as far as the so­called world religions are concerned, (Christoffer H. Grundmann, 2015, p.12), from this point Turmeda gave his interpretation to the incarnation.

Regarding the Eucharist, Turmeda doesn’t accept the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, because if the wine and bread become the real blood and flesh of Jesus, then we have more than one Jesus in many different places in the world, since Jesus himself is one, so, it would be impossible to be present in many different places with the same blood and flesh. Crucifixion is denied by Turmeda, God is the almighty and the omnipotent can’t be crucified, if there was crucifixion, then the person who died on the cross cannot be God. God is immortal and eternal, can’t be killed by any other power, (Pep Vila, 2001, pp. 344-345).

According to Turmeda, god has no corrupted body; the body which was seen in the son was the body of Jesus the Christ not the body of the god, as Jesus himself was a human being in human body not the god in the human body. From this point Turmeda refers to the corruption of the body of the Christ, he mentions that this body was corrupted in many aspects such as hair, nails and some other parts, if this body is divine one and the body of the god, then corruption mustn’t be applied to it, because God is not corrupted by any other mean. In addition to corruption, this body was diminished in both time and space, since time and space are both created by God, how can we then justify the existence of Jesus the Christ in time and space and consider him the creator of time and space? ( (Pep Vila, 2001, pp. 344-345).

In addition to his critic of Christianity, he criticized also the patristic power and its spread in all religious affairs, among these was the indulgence, Turmeda explains indulgence as a terrestrial mean to collect money from people, but not religious base to justify the guilty of the people, he rejects indulgence as it was represented by the ecclesiastical powers, his emphasis was to acknowledge and confess to the only one god, not to any of the religious powers in the ecclesiastical order, (Abd-Allah ibn' Abd-Allah, Dragoman , 1886, pp. 25-71).

6. The Nicene Creed

Anselm Turmeda has his own interpretation towards the Nicene Creed; he accepts some chapters of this creed and rejects the others, from these agreements and disagreements between the Nicene Creed, Turmeda accepts the confirmation of the one God, who is the almighty, creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen, but he doesn’t accept the relationship between Jesus and God as son and father. Turmeda also doesn’t accept the eternity of Jesus the Christ, because eternity applied only to the one eternal God who is not the same as Jesus the Christ. He refers also that God couldn’t be called “God from God”, because there is only one God that doesn’t proceed or begotten from God, in another sense, the expression “god from god” refers to duality, not to unity,(Anselm Turmeda, 1420).

Turmeda refers also to the term “begotten” as the same meaning with “made”, because if he is begotten from the father then he is made from the father, hence, he is not God. Being of Christ is not the same being of god, so, the logical consequence of the Nicene Creed doesn’t imply the same being and nature, and so, all things were made by God, not by the Son.(Anselm Turmeda, 1420).

Turmeda mentions that if Jesus came from the heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit as it’s written in the Nicene Creed, then he wouldn’t be a god, because it’s confirmed that he came from the heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by his own power. Here, as Turmeda says, there was an extra power helped Jesus to come down from the heaven. In the next comment of Turmeda he says that the Nicene Creed itself says that Jesus the son was made a man. (Abd-Allah ibn' Abd-Allah, Dragoman, 1886, pp. 25-71).

When the Nicene Creed confirms that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, here, Turmeda tells that Jesus the Christ is something different and separated from the god, because if he is the same god, how could it be acceptable to set on the right hand of the Father? (Abd-Allah ibn' Abd-Allah, Dragoman, 1886, pp. 25-71).

Turmeda doesn’t accept the idea that the son will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, because this means that another incarnation will be done again, and this is against the teachings of the gospels, because the incarnation had happened only at the first moment when the word of god became flesh and blood. The Holy Spirit according to Turmeda is the spirit of God, it proceeds from God, not from the Son. The Holy Spirit also is not worshipped because it’s not god, this means that Turmeda believes and confirms that only the God is worshipped and glorified, but not the Son or the Holy Spirit. That was very brief how Anselm Turmeda understood the Nicene Creed. (Anselm Turmeda: Pourquoi J'ai Embrassé l'Islam).

7. The ego and the other

Turmeda says that there is a duality between Jesus and god as it is mentioned in the New Testament, the words of Jesus himself confirms another and supreme god who is the almighty and has his domination upon Jesus himself. From the following passages, Turmeda confirms the duality and the superiority of god the father upon the son.

If we give a look on the following passages, we can understand how Anselm Turmeda had his own interpretation to the New Testament and the Christian religion, from these passages, Turmeda confirms that Jesus is something and god is something else. For example: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only”( Matthew 24:36). Also, “And Jesus saith unto him, the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew: 8:20). In another passage we find: “Jesus answered them, and said, my doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me” (John 7:16). And: “for I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12:49). And also: “I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him” (John 8:26). Also: “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings, and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me” (In John 14:24). Also, we read: “and he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [There is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mathew 19:17).

In addition to the previous passages, Turmeda mentions also these verses: “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). And: “Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had spoken these things unto her” (John 20:16-18).

From the above passages, we can understand how Turmeda understood the Christian religion and how he had his own interpretation towards the Christological problem and the relation between God, Son and the Holy Spirit.

8. What is the relation between religious truth and the intercultural dialogue in the theology of Anselm Turmeda?

Turmeda believed Christianity as it was revealed to Jesus the Christ according to his Islamic interpretation. For him, Christianity is a true religion, the gospel is truly the word of God, except these distortions by disciples. Jesus also is the word and spirit of God, the Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus the Christ not the mother of God. The problem is that Turmeda didn’t accept the interpretations of the Christians regarding the following:

Incarnation: that god can never be incarnated in a corrupted and finite body.

Crucifixion: that god can’t be died or crucified by any other mean, he is the omnipotent.

Death: that death can’t be applied to God, it can only be applied to the created beings.

Resurrection: that resurrection itself comes against god, because it happens by the well of God for those who are created by God.

Redemption: that redemption comes only as a mercy or blessing from God, but God himself is not an object of redemption.

Ascension: that ascension happens only to the creatures and angels, and sometimes to men, but in this case, can’t be considered ascension of God, because if it was the ascension of God, then to whom the ascension was directed?

Salvation by blood: that salvation is a spiritual virtue which is granted by God to the pure and faithful people, so, God can never be an object of salvation as he is the source of it.

Turmeda believed in the humanity of Jesus depending on the writings of the gospels which agree with the Islamic concept of Christianity. He rejects the divinity of the Christ according to the words of Christ himself, because in the new testament we find such kind of duality between Jesus the son and god the father, that’s why Turmeda focused on these texts as an obvious and clear evidence towards the humanity of Jesus and he was absolutely a human being sent by God.

The conflict in the interreligious and intercultural dialogue of Turmeda has two main sources:

First: his conversion from Christianity and his understanding to the Islamic religion. Second: his reading and understanding of the New Testament which allowed him to prove the humanity of Jesus from the gospel itself.

The method that Turmeda followed in his understanding of the New Testament was not a convenient method; from one side he proves the humanity of Jesus from the Qur’an and New Testament if we consider both of them the words of God. From the other side, he accepts some passages from the New Testament and rejects some other passages. At the same time, he accepts all the passages of Quran.


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