Subjugating the fallacies of John of Damascus

John of Damascus/Saint John Damascene’s thoughts on Islam

by Ibn Anwar

 Today, whilst looking for material for my blog at my university’s library I found a very interesting book on the thoughts of the reputed John of Damascus recapitulated from his two writings, “On the Heresy of the Ishmaelites” and “The Disputatio Saraceni Et Christani”. The book is entitled “John of Damascuson Islam, the Heresy of the Ishmaelites” by Daniel J. Sahas. In this brief article we shall observe and analyse some of the things highlighted by Daniel J. Sahas on what John of Damascus said about Islam and the Muslims whom he lived with in Damascus and elsewhere. Before we begin with the subject proper, let us get a brief sketch of who this John of Damascus character was.

  John of Damascus or Saint John Damascene as he is known in the Catholic tradition was born in Damascus around 676 C.E. His grandfather Mansur bin Sargun may have met Khalid b. Walid r.a. in the defeat of Damascus by the sahabah and his army. John grew up to become a priest and a monk. For a person in his time and age he was a voracious writer and wrote quite extensively on the Christian faih. Perhaps above all else he is much known for his love and support of venerating images to which he wrote three “Apologetic Treatises Against those Decrying the Holy Images”. He is also known for his famous work called “The Fountain of Wisdom” or “Fount of Knowledge”. He’s one of the earliest Cristian thinkers to have dealt with Islam in a comparative manner and one of the early Christian polemists against Islam in Christian history. John of Damascus died in 746 C.E. He was canonised and is considered by the Roman Catholic Church as the “last of the Church Fathers” or the “last of the Greek Fathers”. He was made a doctor of the Church by the Vatican in 1883.

The Roman Catholic Church considers him in the following light:

“John of Damascus was the last of the Greek Fathers. His genius was not for original theological development, but for compilation of an encyclopedic character. In fact, the state of full development to which theological thought had been brought by the great Greek writers and councils left him little else than the work of an encyclopedist; and this work he performed in such manner as to merit the gratitude of all succeeding ages. ”

Let us now consider some of the ideas he brought forth and expounded on Islam. Daniel J. Sahas has summarised John of Damascus’ work “On the Heresy of the Ishmaelites” into 12 different points with his own explantions entailing. In this article I will only be dealing with 5 out of the 12 points. This is because after looking through them carefully I have decided that the seven others are not really that serious or important as to call for my response. So the following 5 points will be John of Damascus’ ideas, each followed by my responses and explanations.

1. On page 70 as point number 3,”Chapter 101 gives three names to the Muslims : Ismaelites, Hagarenes and Saracens.(764A)”

From the above stated point we may see a trace of bigotry from John of Damascus. Instead of calling the Muslims for who and what they are actually called i.e. Muslim(s) the “scholar” chooses instead to call the Muslims as a whole Ishmaelites, Hagarenes and Saracens. We are vey well aware that Muslims even at the time of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. did not only consist of Arabs who are the direct descendants of Ishmael(Ismail) and Hagar(Hajrah) but also plenty others from many walks of life such as the famous Bilal Bin Rabah who was an Abyssinian or Salman Al-Farsi who was a Persian and many many others. It is indeed wrong and foolish to consider the whole of the Muslim world as Ishamel or Hagar based. This in itself tells us of either how little John of Daascus knew of Islam or that there was an ill intent behind his writings.

2. On page 71 as point 4,”They(the Ishmaelite) became idol worshippers – they worshipped the morning star, and Aphrodite, whom they called Habar(or Haber) in their language, which means great – and they remained as such until the time of Heraclius, when Muhammad appeared.(Cf. 764B)”

John of Damascus in the above statement is referring to the pre-Islamic era in Arabia, particularly the Hijaz in Mecca. What is strange is that he identifies the deities worshipped there as the morning star and Aphrodite. I for one have never heard of this information. This is something new to me. But what is even more strange is that John of Damascus say that Aphrodite was called Habar by the Arabs and it means great in their language(which is Arabic). There is no such word as “HABAR” with the meaning of great in the Arabic language! One may ask, what kind of Arabic was he exposed to or did he just fabricate this?!?

3. On page 73 point 5,”Muhammad, the founder of Islam is a false prophet who, by chance, came across the Old and New Testament and who, also, pretended that he enountered an Arian monk and thus he devised his own heresy.(CF. 765A)”

John Damascus on this point makes the bold claim that the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. received his inspiration from the Old and New Testament. These booksare his source of information “which he came across”. Now this claim raises several serious poblems for John of Damascus. For one thing, we now know that NO copies of the Bible in Arabic ever existed in the time of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

“Moreover, if Judeo-Christian thought had really made inroads into Jahiliyyan society and culture, the absence of an Arabic translation of the Bible could not be explained. As for the New Testament, it is certain that no Arabic translation of it existed in the fourth century of Hijrah. This is evident from the reference by Ghazzali, who had to resort to a Coptic manuscript to write his Rad, a respectable refutation of the divinity of Jesus according to the Gospel. In translating the work of the Arab philosopher, Rev. Fr. Chidiac searched everywhere for Gospel sources which could have served at the time of the composition of Rad. He finally found a manuscript in the library of Leningrad written about 1060 by a certain Ibn al-Assal as the first edition of a Christian text in Arabic. Thus, there did not exist an Arabic edition of the Gospels at the time of Ghazzali, and, a fortiori, it did not exist during the Pre-Islamic period.” (Malik Ben Nabi, The Qur’anic Phenomenon, 1983, American Trust Publications, pg. 154)

The oldest known, dated manuscripts containing Arabic translations of the New Testament are in the collections of St. Catherine’s monastery at Mt. Sinai. Sinai Arabic MS 151 contains an Arabic version of the Epistles of Paul, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Catholic Epistles. It is the oldest dated New Testament manuscripts. The colophon of this MS informs us that one Bisr Ibn as-Sirri made the translation from Syriac in Damascus during Ramadan of the Higrah year 253, i.e., 867 AD.” (Sidney H Griffith, “The Gospel In Arabic: An Enquiry Into Its Appearance In The First Abbasid Century”, Oriens Christianus, Volume 69, pgs. 131-132)

Evidently, NO BOOKS of the Bible in the Arabic language were in the market during the Prophet’s time. How in the world did he “come across” the Old and New Testament as claimed by Jon Damascus?!? Even more interesting the same Church which he belongs to and hails him admits:

The Hijaz [Arabian peninsula] had not been touched by Christian preaching. Hence organisation of the Christian church was neither to be expected nor found.” (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, pgs. 721-722)

The problem is compounded further by the fact that all authorities admit that Muhammad s.a.w. was an UMMI or ILLITERATE! How in the world then did he manage to “come across” the Old and New Testament?!? Other experts have suggested that Muhammad s.a.w. stole and borrowed ideas from apocryphal and Talmudic writings. You know, if all these variant detracting opinions were brought together what will we get? We will get the following : pre-eminent Professor Dr. Muhammad bin Abdullah, specialist and expert in all “Abrahamic” faiths and books related. Is that even sensible? Come on..give me a BREAK!

4. On page 78 point 8,”The account of the Muslim understanding of Christ, as it has been recorded by John of Damascus, is very interesting and, as such it will be reproduced here:

He say that Christ is the Word of [from] God and His Spirit, created, and a servant, born from mary, the sister of Moses and Aaron without seed [ i.e. without human father], because the Word of God entered  Mary and she gave birth to Jesus, a prophet and a servant of God, and the Jews, violating the law wanted to crucify him and they seized him, but they crucified his shadow, and Christ himself was not crucified, they say, nor did he die; God took him up unto Himself because he loved him. And he says that when he ascended into heaven God asked him, “Jesus, did you say that ‘I am Son of God, and God’?” And Jesus answered “Be merciful to me, O Lord; you know that I did not say so,neither shall I boast that I am your servant, but men who have gone astray wrote that I said this thing, and they spoke lies against me, and they are in error”, And God answered to him: “I know that you would not say this thing”.(765A-C)”

The author Daniel J. Sahas then goes on to praise John of Damascus with the following:

“This passage is one of the most convincing evidences of the accuracy of John of Damascus’ knowledge of the teaching and wording of the Qur’an! The reference to the Qur’an which we have given show that each of these points which John mentions has a Qur’anic origin and that he transmits to the Christians a most accurate account o the Muslim point of view…” (page 79)

Let us put these mighty claims to the test! The passageon the account of Jesus by John is a combination of several verses from the Qur’an joined together to form a kind of short story. For the ease and benefit of the readers I will break them down one by one and thereafter present the verses as we have it as opposed to those presented by John of Damascus(which he claims is Qur’anic).

1. John of Damascus says the Qur’an says : “He says that Christ is the Word of [from] God

The Qur’an actually says in 3:45 : “Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah;”

As we can see there is a STARK difference between the two. John of Damascus claimed that the Qur’an calls Jesus THE Word of God, however the Qur’an itself uses the indefinite article a Word from Him! There is a great difference between THE and A ! Was John really accurate as claimed by the author Daniel J. Sahas?!?

2. John of Damascus says the Qur’an says  : ” and His(God’s) Spirit

The Qur’an actually says in 4:171 : “O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity” : desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. “

3. John of Damascus says the Qur’an says: ” and they seized him, but they crucifed his shadow

The Qur’an actually says in 4:157 : “That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- “

Where in the world does the Qur’an or Islam says that Jesus’ shadow was crucified???? Accurate? hmmm

4. John of Damascus says the Qur’an says : ” because he loved him. And he says that when he ascended into heaven God asked him, “Jesus, did you say that ‘I am Son of God, and God’?” And Jesus answered “Be merciful to me, O Lord; you know that I did not say so,neither shall I boast that I am your servant, but men who have gone astray wrote that I said this thing, and they spoke lies against me, and they are in error”

The Qur’an actually says in 5:116 : “And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.”

You will never ever find the story related by John of Damascus in the above anywhere in the Qur’an! No such incident is related anywhere!!! Is this an inspiration which he got from the Holy Spirit or what?

Daniel J. Sahas said and I quote again,””This passage is one of the most convincing evidences of the accuracy of John of Damascus’ knowledge of the teaching and wording of the Qur’an!” Who is this guy trying to fool? I think it’s safe to say that both John of Damascus and his fan and commentator Daniel J. Sahas are incompetent.

5. On page 84 point 11,”The Muslims accuse the Christians also of idolatry, because they venerte the cross; and the Christians return the accusation to the Muslims, because they venerate the Ka’ba.(Cf.,768D-769B)”

Other points under this include on page 86:

a. There is a stone which the Muslims embrace and kiss in their (Habathan or Chabathan)

b. This – which they call “stone” – is a head of Aphrodite, whom they used to venerate and whom they used to call (Haber, or Chaber).

c. Upon this stone, even to this day, traces of an engraved image are visible, for those who know about it.

and on page 89 Daniel J. Sahas mentions that John of Damascus claims that,”When John of Damascus questions the Muslims as to why they venerate the Ka’ba, he says that some of them reply that it is “because Araham had sexual intercourse with Hagar on it” and others “because Abraham tied there his camel when he was about to sacrifice Isaac”.(769A)”

It is utterly fallacious to compare the veneration of the Muslims with regards to the Ka’bah and the Christians with regards to the Cross. For one thing,we do not hesitate to step on the Ka’bah which was in fact what Bilal Bin Rabah did after the fall of Mecca whereupon he declared the adhan. Which Christan is willing to step on the cross utilised in his Church at the front? So the Ka’bah and the black stone are nothing more than objects which cannot harm nor benefit us. The Ka’bah is simply a building to mark a diretion or qibla chosen by God for the worship of His adherents. The purpose behind this is simply to unite the believers. What better way to do this then to set a particular direction which everyone has to face 5 times a day every day of the week? In regards to the black stone or Hajar Al-Aswad being the “head of Aphrodite” and called Habar/Haber..well we have discussed this earlier. Then we are also told that the black stone has an engraving on it of an image. Now, what bothers me is why in the world is John of Damascus the only man on earth to hve seen and recorded these things? Why didn’t Ibn ishaq record it? He found no compunction in recording the so called “satanic verses” why in the world would he have left out such a vital information as an “engraved image” on the black stone? Why has no history book ever recorded what John of Damascus alleged? He then went on even farther, so far in fact as to suggest that Muslims say that the black stone is venerated because they believe “Abraham had sex on it with Hagar” ! Astaghfirullah…Where the hell is this to be found? The second interpretation is that the stone was used as a means to tie Abraham’s camel. Again, where in the world is this to be found??? Let’s see what exactly are we told regarding the black stone?


Volume 2, Book 26, Number 667:

Narrated ‘Abis bin Rabia:  Umar came near the Black Stone and kissed it and said “NO DOUBT, I KNOW THAT YOU ARE A STONE AND CAN NEITHER BENEFIT ANYONE NOR HARM ANYONE. Had I not seen Allah’s Apostle kissing you I would not have kissed you.”

Volume 2, Book 26, Number 675:

Narrated Zaid bin Aslam from his father who said:  “Umar bin Al-Khattab addressed the Corner (Black Stone) saying, ‘BY ALLAH! I KNOW THAT YOU ARE A STONE AND CAN NEITHER BENEFIT NOR HARM. Had I not seen the Prophet touching (and kissing) you, I would never have touched (and kissed) you.’ Then he kissed it and said, ‘There is no reason for us to do Ramal (in Tawaf) except that we wanted to show off before the pagans, and now Allah has destroyed them.’ ‘Umar added, ‘(Nevertheless), the Prophet did that and we do not want to leave it (i.e. Ramal).'”


Book 007, Number 2914:

Abdullah b. Sarjis reported:  I saw the bald one, i. e. ‘Umar b. Khattib (Allah be pleased with him). kissing the Stone and saying: BY ALLAH. I AM KISSING WITH FULL CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE FACT THAT YOU ARE A STONE AND THAT YOU CAN NEITHER DO ANY HARM NOR GOOD; and if I had not seen Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) kissing you. I would not have kissed you. The rest of the hadith is the same.

As for Muslims accusng Christian of idolatry for venerating the cross…well, are we really off the mark on that? What do you usually have on crosses? Figurines of Jesus, right? Do they bow down to it? Yes, one only needs to enter a Church to see this. I don’t have to start adding pictures here as proof. Everyone who knows the Christian religion knows this! I think John of Damascus kinda missed the 2nd of the 10 commandments which states rather clearly:

You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind, or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea.”(Deuteronomy 5:8 )

I believe it is safe to say by now that we are dealing with a very delusional person equipped with faulty information which we have absolutely no idea where he got from. Was this person a true scholar and as great as what the Catholic Church makes him out to be? Well, that I leave for the readers to judge for themselves.

And say: “Truth has (now) arrived, and Falsehood perished: for Falsehood is (by its nature) bound to perish.”

(Qur’an 17:81)

Allah knows BEST!

References : Daniel J. Sahas, John of Damascus, The Heresy of the Ismaelites.

                       Al-Qureeb Al-Mawarid





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