Intercession & Abundance in The Quran and Aramaic Gospel Traditions

On account of mankind’s imperfect nature, if it were not for God’s leniency—his love, mercy and forgiveness—divine judgment would surely condemn everyone to hell. In both the Qur’ān and the Gospels, it is only on account of the grace of God that mankind is spared the torment of hellfire and granted the gift of eternal paradise (Mark 16:16; John 1:14–17; 3:18; Q 36:44; 16:61; 35:45). God’s grace factors most significantly into the theology of Paul’s letters which argue that mankind can only be shielded from condemnation on the Day of Judgment through the blood sacrifice made by Jesus Christ (Romans 3:25; 5:21; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 15:22; Ephesians 2:13; see Chapter 3).

The different and perhaps opposing roles ascribed to the Messiah come together on the Day of Judgment. As Christ—that is, the Messiah—Jesus is both to judge (Romans 2:16; 2 Timothy 4:1) as well as to intercede on behalf of mankind (Isaiah 53:12; see also 2 Timothy 4:1). These diametrically opposed functions to be served by the Messiah are the product of a Christian worldview—wherein Jesus is God and judge—superimposed over a Jewish worldview—wherein the Messiah is to redeem mankind. As a result of these competing worldviews, the tension between God judging sinners on the one hand, and the possibility of an agent intervening on their behalf on the other, is also found throughout the verses of the Qur’ān.

The Qur’ān, with its emphasis on universal justice, is highly ambivalent about such a compromising notion as intercession. And while some have translated the Arabic term shafā‘ah as “intercession,” it is more precisely aligned with the Syriac term found in the Gospels and Pauline letters, šēf‘ā, “abundance”—that is, the outpouring of either (1) mercy, which comes from God or (2) charitable works, which comes from people. Consequently, there is a spectrum of qur’ānic verses that deal with “abundance” (shafā‘ah) on the Day of Judgment.99 One class of these verses explains that absolutely no abundance will be accepted on the Day of Judgment (Q 2:48, 123, 254; 7:53; 40:18) which reflects the uncompromising emphasis on universal justice at the very core of the qur’ānic worldview.

Another class of verses implies that abundance may come from human agents. There are verses that state that no abundance will be accepted on the Day of Judgment except from those to whom God has given “permission” (idhn; Q 2:255; 10:3; 20:109; 34:23), angels with whom He is “pleased” (rid.ā; Q 21:28; 53:26), with whom He has made a “covenant” (‘ahd; Q 19:87) or with those who have “testified to the truth” (shahid bi al-haqq; Q 43:86), which all imply the success of possible intercessors (cf. Ardā Virāf Nāmak 15:18). These verses are in dia-logue with Jesus’s advice to his community, encouraging them to be charitable (see Chapter 3) and show “abundant” (mšapa‘tā) generosity in order that such abundance return to them (Luke 6:38; see also Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3; Diatessaron 10:14; Q 4:85). The implication of this relationship is that God will consent to righteous or saintly human beings whose abundance—that is, outpouring of charitable works—may save themselves or others on the Day of Judgment (evident by contrast with Q 7:53; cf. Q 2:48, 123).

A final class of verses nullifies the abundance of all intercessory agents, except God Himself. So some verses explain the futility of abundance coming from other gods (ālihah; Q 36:23), as well as from “givers of abundance” (shafā‘at al-shāfi‘īn; Q 74:48; see later discussion)—which is a refutation of arguments in Paul’s letters where the Holy Spirit “pours out” (mšapa‘/špīkā; Romans 5:5) love abundantly and performs “intercession” (msalyā; Romans 8:26–27; 1 Timothy 1:2) on man-kind’s behalf. These verses are also a refutation of Paul’s vision of the Christ-God who “abundantly poured out” (ašpa‘) his grace (Ephesians 1:6–7). Distancing itself from the Trinitarian dimensions of the Holy Spirit and Christ, which diametrically oppose Muhammad’s vision of strict monotheism, while retaining the appealing sentiments of love and grace, the Qur’ān states, “Say to God belongs all abundance (qul li allāh al-shafā‘ah jamī‘an). To Him belong the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. Then to Him will you return” (Q 39:44; see also Q 6:51; 32:4; Romans 9:23).

One final point in the discussion of abundance and the Day of Judgment begins in the Gospels. It states concerning the evil clergy (see Chapter 4), “[You] progeny of vipers how can you speak good things while you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart (tawtāray lēbā)” (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45; cf. Diatessaron 4:16–17; Thomas 45).

Matthew adds, “As for he who has [charitable works], more will be given to him and it will increase/abound (nētyatar/nēttawsap). And for he who does not have, even that which he has will be taken away” (Matthew 13:12; 25:29).

Like “he who has [charitable works], more will be given to him and it will abound (nētyatar)” the Qur’ān teaches that “for those who have done good is good and its increase/bounty” (ziyādah; Q 10:26; see further John 10:10). Moreover, on the Day of Judgment the fate of the evil clergy who in the Gospels speak evil, whose hearts are devoid of abundance, and who will have what little charitable works they possess snatched away, will be the following,

Do they await except its meaning? On the day its meaning arrives, those who forgot it long ago will say, “indeed the messengers of our Lord came with the truth. So will we have any givers of abundance who will give abundantly on our behalf (hal lanā min shufa‘ā’ fa yashfa‘ū lanā), or may we be returned [to earth] so that we may do differently than we used to do?” Alas, they have lost themselves and their illusions have left them astray.(Q 7:53: see also 6:70; 26:100–102)

Whereas the givers of abundance, aside from God Himself, are not afforded any guaranteed authority in the Qur’ān, later Hadith reports portray Muhammad as the indisputable giver of abundance (shafā‘ah) in the hereafter. In this vein, Muhammad’s basin (hawd.), mentioned in Bukhārī 2:21:286; 3:40:555; Muslim 2:479 may be inspired by the blood of the covenant (Matthew 26:28–29) and the “bubbling spring” which Jesus measures out in Thomas 13 (cf. further John 7:37; Diatessaron 21:12; 35:1–2).

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