Shi'i Islam and Christianity
The history of the Shi`ah and Christian cultural relations is comparatively old. Of these relations may be mentioned inter-religious dialogue in the area of Kalam that took place in a spirit of complete mutual understanding. In the works of the Shi`ah this is discussed in detail. Among such dialogues one may refer to discussions between the spiritual leaders of the two creeds, particularly dialectic between the Muslims and Catholicos, preserved in the oldest Shi`i books. The commentators of hadith have explained Catholicos in the following manner: "Catholicos, is the greatest spiritual leader of Christianity of every age." Most probably this word is the same as Catholic in the present sense, though for an author it is difficult to say which term is an alternative of the other.
Muhammad bin `Ali bin Babwayh al-Qummi, known as al-Shaykh al-Saduq (d. 280/901 A.D.), has recorded four polemical discussions between the highest spiritual leader of Christians and Shi`ah scholars of eminence and Mutakallimun in his works.
It is probable that dialogue of Cathilicos with Imam `Ali (`a) took place during 657 A.D. But the culminating point of these controversies has been during the early 10th century A.D., i.e., in the 2nd century Hijrah, during the periods of Imam al-Sadiq (`a) and Imam al-Rida (`a), the 6th and 8th Imams of the Shi`ah.
2-- Another point that is indicative of the close cultural relations between the Shi`ah and Christianity is recording of the sayings, character and biographical accounts of Christ in the books of the Shi`ah, which surpasses all such accounts of Christ in the works of all other sects of Islam. It is noteworthy that the name of `Isa has occurred in the Qur'an 25 times and the name of Masih (`a) recurs 36 times in the Qur'an. And the circumstances of his birth and his way of preaching and his ascension are repeatedly narrated in the Qur'an. But despite this emphasis the books of non-Shi`i authors do not contain detailed accounts of Christ's sayings and character.
For instance, in Sihah al-Sittah, i.e., six authentic compendia of hadith of Ahl al-Sunnah we do not come across even a single utterance of Christ. On the other hand in the books of the Shi`ah, even some of the oldest, utterances of him are found in abundance.
Imam `Ali (`a), the first Imam of the Shi`ah, has narrated the ascetic style of the life of Christ in one of his sermons, given under No. 160, in Nahj al-Balaghah. After him, in the 2nd century A.H., Imam al-Sadiq has quoted the preaching of Christ, as found exactly in the Bible of Mathew, while delivering his advice to `Abdullah bin Jandab in New Testament, book of Mathew, chapter 6, sentences 2,3,6,7,16 and 18. During the period from the 2nd to the 4th century A.H., al-Jahiz, in al-Bayan wa al-Tab'in, nine short sayings and one detailed speech of Christ were recorded. During the middle of the 4th century an eminent Shi`i author, Abu Muhammad Hasan bin `Ali bin al-Husayn bin Shu`bah al-Harani (d. 38 A.H. = 1001 A.D.) in his book, Tuhf al-`Uqul `an Al al-Rasul, had devoted about 16 pages to record the sayings of Christ. These utterances consist of two parts: the first, which is briefer, second, which is comparatively detailed, quote parts of Christ's sermons. According to the researches done in this regard, same words are accessible to us at present, in some of anajil (i.e., Book of New Testaments). For example one may refer to the following:
Book of Mathew, sentences 1-7, 14-17 and 44-45 in chapter 5, sentences 12-19, 24, 30 in chapter 6, sentence 16 in the chapter 7, and 29-36 in chapter 22; Book of Luke, sentences 17-49 in chapter 6; 44-45 in chapter 6, 4-17 in chapter 8 and 37-53 in chapter 11; Book of Mark, sentence 30 in chapter 12.
Ibn Shu`bah was a resident of Harran and since Harran was a center of learning for the Christians, he had access to a majority of the Christian primary source. Of course, most of the sentences that Ibn Shu`bah has quoted are specifically from the books of Mathew, Luke and Mark. It remains unknown why he has not quoted from all the books of New Testament.