Scripture and God in the Judeo Christian and Islamic Traditions: A Study of Anthropomorphism is a masterful, thought-provoking, and insightful study by Zulfiqar Ali Shah of anthropomorphism in the conceptions of God in the Bible and the Quran that will be welcomed by scholars and students and all who are interested in the Abrahamic traditions.
John L. Esposito is University professor and Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University whose most recent book is The Future of Islam.
Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s book is an extensive undertaking that is encyclopedic in its scope and ambitious in its aims. Although written with a view to demonstrating the relative superiority of the Qur’anic and Muslim understanding of the transcendent God, the book’s lengthy treatments of corresponding biblical, Jewish, and Christian understandings seem largely fair, balanced and thorough. Scholars dealing with concepts of God in the three traditions will have to come to terms with this work in the future.
William A. Graham
Dean of the Faculty of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School,
John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity, and Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies (Faculty of Arts and Sciences)
“I am in awe of Zulfiqar Shah’s work! His exposition on anthropomorphism and transcendence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is not only learned, rigorous, and erudite, but also profound and inspiring. Every student of comparative religion, and every person of faith ought to read and reflect upon this book. I for one after completing this book, feel compelled to read it again. And this time with greater relish.”
Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl
Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Professor of Law
Chair of Islamic Studies Program
UCLA School of Law
405 Hilgard Ave., Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA
Despite differences with Dr. Z. A. Shah on certain matters of detail, he has performed a remarkable service to the scholarly community by his in-depth and fair-minded examination of anthropomorphic conceptions of God in the Bible and the Quran. I applaud his efforts and commend his impressive work to the world of scholarship for serious study and reflection.
Professor Emeritus of Religion (Islamic Studies), Boston University
This book is an extremely important contribution to the comparative study of the attribution of anthropomorphic qualities and characteristics to God in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Qur’an as well as later thought in all three Abrahamic traditions. The encyclopedic scope of this book reflects the impressive breadth and depth of the author’s scholarship. Deserving special attention is the author’s comprehensive treatment of Islam’s theological safeguarding of the unity and transcendence of God that is clarifying, engaging and challenging. Therefore, this comprehensive and sympathetic work adds a significant and welcome voice to both scholarship and interfaith dialogue.
Donald W. Mitchell
Professor of Philosophy
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
Editor CLARITAS, Journal of Dialogue and Culture
The chapter on Judaism is well researched and solid.
Distinguished Service Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism
Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Theology
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah makes a major contribution in this book to the ongoing conversation between Islam and Christianity. He presents an Islamic interpretation of incarnation with admiral clarity, and in the spirit of a continuing dialogue.
Prof of Christian Doctrine
King’s College London
“Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s comprehensive, penetrating and masterly study of
anthropomorphism across the landscape of Abrahamic traditions is a must-
read for students and professional scholars, as well as all readers dedicated
to constructively balancing the intellectual and spiritual dimensions of life.”
Emeritus Professor Frederick Mathewson Denny
Department of Religious Studies
University of Colorado at Boulder
“A valuable contribution to the comparative study of the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Zulfiqar Ali Shah has shed important light on the influence of text on respective believers’ perception of God.”
Jane I. Smith
Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs
Harvard Divinity School
45 Francis Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
“Anthropomorphism in our scriptures is a very important question for Christians as well as for Muslims and Jews, and we must all be grateful for this thoroughly researched and clearly written new treatment of the subject. I am glad to be able to recommend it.”
Emeritus Professor John Hick, University of Birmingham UK and the Claremont Graduate University, California
“Erudite, showing impressive mastery of the various sources used, very vast, comprehensive and promising academic discussions of the conclusions drawn”.
Prof. Binyamin Abrahamov
Department of Arabic
Bar Ilan University
Ramat Gan 52900
“Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s monumental work, A Study of Anthropomorphism and Transcendence in the Bible and the Qur’an, reflects equally the deep erudition and profound humanity of its author. It is a work that beneficially could be read by people of all faiths, who will discover in this rich text not only what makes certain faiths distinct from one another, but just as importantly, what it is that binds people of different faiths together in their common quest for absolute meaning and purpose.”
Mark E. Workman
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL
Rarely has the precise point of debate between Islam and Christianity been so carefully and extensively articulated. Dr. Shah has studied the classic Christian theological sources of Scripture and the early Church Councils in order to sharpen his comprehension of the key areas for mutual understanding and radical disagreement between these two major world religious traditions. This is a profound work. His thesis is simply that Christianity’s conviction regarding Jesus the Christ as incarnate Logos, divine Person and perfect Image of the Father renders the God of Christianity as essentially corporeal. It remains a conclusion which in his judgment cannot be logically overcome, even though Catholic Christianity has long struggled with its tension between the final triumph of the Risen Christ, the sacramental system of God at work in the world and the apophatic approach of the holy mystics. Shah’s work now awaits a similar study of equal erudition from the Christian perspective in order to bring the points of legitimate disagreement, especially in areas of Christology, to the table of fruitful theological interreligious dialogue.
The Most Reverend Richard J. Sklba
Vicar General/Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee, WI
I am glad to see Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s comparative study of anthropomorphism and transcendence in print. The topic is an important one, and readers willing to invest the time will find the analysis challenging. One need not agree with the author’s conclusions regarding the relative superiority of Islam on this matter in order to appreciate his contributions. The book is a welcome addition to conversations in comparative religious thought.
Distinguished Research Scholar (Religion)
Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
“This is an extremely important topic and critical to the understanding of Western faiths and the current crisis of disbelief. Idolatry is the great sin of Judaism and Islam, and yet many of the greatest theologians have missed the idolatry of the very conception of God as mental image. The image of God that a mind holds is invariably idolatrous; hence this subject is an essential one for anyone today who takes God seriously, whether an atheist or theist. The atheist because the god he imagines he doesn’t believe in probably doesn’t exist, and the theist because the God he believes in through some mental image probably doesn’t exist either.”
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson
Founder Zaytuna College, CA
“This is a monumental work taking in the sweep of the three Abrahamic faiths with deep scholarship and confidence. For this lifetime’s labor of love the author deserves our gratitude.
Professor Akbar Ahmed
Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies
The growing recognition that the fullest appreciation of Jewish and Christian theological discourses requires setting them in dialogue with Islam as well as with each other is an extremely important and relatively recent development. By examining classic Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sources concerning God’s unity and transcendence, Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah makes a major contribution to both debates about anthropomorphic depictions of God within the Abrahamic religions, and, by virtue of his comparative method, to the larger “trialogue” itself. This work presents a worthy challenge to scholars and theologians of all three traditions.
Charles L. Cohen
Director, Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions,
University of Wisconsin-Madison
This is a powerful study, simultaneously an analysis and a devastating critique of anthropomorphism in Abrahamic traditions. The author, a pious and observant Muslim, moves through Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in arguing for the devastating consequence of an anthropomorphized understanding of God for the contemporary world.
Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
This book is based on meticulous research and presents a comparative view of the three monotheistic traditions focusing on “anthropomorphism” and “transcendence” in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an. It is unique in its undertaking as it attempts to address the subject matter in light of contemporary debates about God while remaining attentive to the hermeneutical as well as theological perspectives that underlie those debates. The author utilizes all the available scholarly methodologies and approaches and more; the end result is a re-examination and reframing of key issues to help the modern reader navigate through them with relative ease. It is a welcome addition to the growing library of works that seek to discover paths of convergence and divergence within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic heritage.
Dr. Irfan Omar
Marquette University, Department of Theology
This is an extremely important work. The author brings out very clearly what unites Islam with its other Abrahamic traditions, namely, Judaism and Christianity and what sets it apart. Monotheism (Tawhid) is the hallmark of Islam and in a unique way it brings home the point that God (Allah) is neither an abstract reality nor an anthropomorphic being. “There is nothing like Him and He is All Hearing and All Seeing.” (Al-Qur’an 42:11) We are thankful to Dr. Shah for presenting his thesis with careful research and high standard of scholarship.
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi
Chairman, Fiqh Council of North America
“A well-researched and thought-provoking work that masterfully surveys the thinking of theologians and philosophers in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim tradition on the issue of anthropomorphism. There is much here for all people to learn and ponder.”
Dr. Ihsan Bagby
University of Kentucky
“This book takes in a wide range of sources, scholars and issues, all of which stood at the very core of theological debate in pre-modern Islam and continue, albeit in attenuated form, to animate theological thinking and discussions among Muslims today. Professor Ali Shah pulls no punches in this text, stating his positions clearly and directing his critique with unfailing candor. This, alongside the wealth of information it provides, is almost certain to gain this book a wide readership and to spawn serious, constructive and seminal debate.”
Sherman A. Jackson
King Faisal Chair of Islamic Thought and Culture
The University of Southern California
Zulifiqar Ali Shah has written a masterly book that proves that true scholarship can foster dialogue, not by shying from differences, but by facing them squarely and clarifying them. He does this with a passion for fairness and objectivity that is exemplary.
Professor Daniel C. Maguire, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
This study on anthropomorphism and transcendence in the Bible and the Qur’an is a timely intervention in an ongoing theological conversation. It comes at a time when both understanding between Christians and Muslims holds promise while misunderstanding between these communities threaten global peace. This book is a tour de force and relevant to students of Islam and comparative religion. The author has painstakingly and intelligently excavated the archives of religious thought in order to render to make available insights that show how each tradition is distinct as well as similar. A must read for the contemporary student of theology.”
Ebrahim Moosa, Professor of Religion and Islamic Studies, Department of Religion, Duke University.
An important and timely contribution on a topic that has engaged participants in interfaith polemics as well as dialogue for centuries.
Yvonne Haddad, Professor of the History of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington DC
A major contribution to our understanding of anthropomorphic conceptions of God in the Abrahamic traditions. The author’s mastery of the material, his depth of analysis and his ability to ask hard questions and skillful addressing of them are evident throughout the work. A must read for students of Islamic thought.
Professor Abdullah Saeed, the Sultan of Oman Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies and Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia
This exploration of anthropomorphism in Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures is well researched and clearly expounded. This study provides a useful historical synopsis of anthropological, sociological and philosophical understandings of religion, and of the various religious concepts of transcendence and immanence of God. While I differ with some of Dr. Shah’s overarching conclusions, I find that this text generates a fascinating comparison of the three Abrahamic scriptural traditions with regard to conceptions and descriptions of deity. Moreover, it is clearly written and accessible, and thus it will therefore be of great interest to both students and scholars of comparative religions.
Comparative Literature Program, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
“Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s A Study of Anthropomorphism and Transcendence in the Bible and the Qur’an provides profound insight into Muslim perceptions of divine transcendence. While anthropomorphism is inevitable in human efforts to describe the divine, Shah maintains that the Qur’an’s explicit insistence on divine incomparability protects Muslims from excesses in this regard. His conclusion that Islam’s relatively greater emphasis on divine transcendence precludes as well the alienation he observes in the secular West provides a worthy challenge for Jews and Christians.”
Kenan Professor of Humanities
Department of Religious Studies
College of William & Mary
Williamsburg, VA 23187 USA
Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Bibliographies Online: Islamic Studies
Co-Editor-in-Chief, Religion Compass
In a time when inter-faith relations are of great global significance, this volume provides an important analysis of shared visions and diversities of views held by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. I hope this book is widely read.
Professor of Islamic History and Associate Director of the Prince
Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at
Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s A Study of Anthropomorphism and Transcendence in the Bible and the Qur’an is an honest assessment of one of the most perplexing shadows of monotheism as it has expressed itself in the history of the three Abrahamic faiths. The author painstakingly examines the anthropomorphic depictions of God in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptural traditions. He correctly notes that at the textual level the Qur’an is the most consistently and severely anti-anthropomorphic, upholding a more rigorous notion of divine transcendence. Beyond the historical value of this book as an exegetical work of comparative religion, it can be read as an important theological composition. The tension between a God who is wholly other and thus resistant to any human characterization, on one hand, and the basic psychological need on the part of human beings to portray God anthropomorphically, on the other hand, continues to be at the heart of religious faith and devotion. God may be without image, but in the absence of image it is hard to imagine how to worship God. In that respect, if monotheism is to persist as a vibrant force, there must always be an idolatrous element expressed in the anthropomorphic representation of the deity. And yet precisely because this is so, we must always refine our beliefs so that we are not ensnared in representing the unrepresentable and imaging the imageless by the fabrication of images that, literally speaking, are false. Rather than expanding the analogical imagination in envisioning transcendence, the spiritual demand of the hour, the epochal duty, is the need to overcome it. Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s book has contributed significantly to this conversation.
Elliot R Wolfson
Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies
New York University
“The book as a whole is scholarly, engages a topic of great interest to scholars of religion, and is very well written. The opening chapter, ‘Anthropomorphism: Background, Criticism, and Defining Categories’, is an excellent compendium on the nature of anthropomorphism together with an excellent introduction (detailed in later chapters) to its manifestation in particular religions, primarily the Abrahamic ones. As a locus of these two related but distinct accomplishments, the chapter is one of the best I know”.
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
Fordham University, New York
Zulfiqar Ali Shah has read widely, very widely, in seeking to understand Hebrew Scriptures and their Christian counterparts. His reading leads him at times to fault both sets of Scriptures rather than their followers – a position that is surely in tension with the teaching of the Quran and that will intrigue the adherents of all three revealed traditions. The boldness of the exposition as well as its vast scope will challenge many a reader and provide fruitful material for all those interested in the comparative study of religion. These features, combined with Ali Shah’s clear and lucid prose and the over-all appealing manner in which the book has been prepared, make it one to be examined and pondered.
Charles E. Butterworth
Department of Government & Politics
University of Maryland
Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s monograph is a leap in the process of traditional Islamic scholarship coming of age in the West. It marks the beginning of theological reflection by American Muslim scholars in a way that is engaged, erudite and self-aware — a fine example of faith seeking understanding. It embodies the sterling qualities of classical Islamic scholarship — passionate erudition and a commitment to both understanding and serving God.
Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies
Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy
University of Toledo
“It is arguably one of the most important works in recent years on the
study of anthropomorphism and transcendence in the comparative
perspectives of the Bible and the Qur’an. Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah has
written a truly scholarly, and yet accessible book that opens up new
avenues of research in comparative religion and invites both scholars
and religious leaders to reconsider the theological formulations that
lie at the center of the line that separates the idea of absolute
monotheism from that of anthropomorphism. A closely argued and lucidly
written, this book will surely provide a rewarding reading experience
to both scholars and lay educated readers.”
Mumtaz Ahmad, Ph.D.
International Islamic University
Islamabad – Pakistan