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Conquest and Controversy: Intertwined Themes in the Islamic Interpretive Tradition

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Narrative materials in classical Muslim commentaries on the Qurān included stories of the prophet of Islam in confrontation with representatives of other religious communities. In the case of the exegesis of Q 3:64, a verse which has been used in recent years as a call to interfaith dialogue, commentators told two different stories of encounter between Muhammad and Christians. Both stories, in their own ways, developed themes of theological controversy and political conquest. They sought to demonstrate the authority of the prophet of Islam to determine the truth about Jesus and to challenge foreign rulers to “submit.” The stories also made the case that through the events of the life of the prophet of Islam and the Muslim Conquest, as described in the Muslim historical tradition, God was at work in the world. By telling these stories, exegetes projected a memory of military domination and an assertion of spiritual superiority.

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