In addition to physical violence, Christians and Muslims, members of the world's leading monotheistic religions, have traded polemical attacks upon one another and upon Jews for centuries (with attacks by Christians on Jews in the great majority). At least some of these have had their basis in what theologians call "supersessionism": the claim that one faith has superseded all others and represents the final expression of divine will for all time. Some Christians felt that the Qur'an, while calling for the nominal protection of Jews and Christians as "People of the Book" (ahl al-kitab), argues the superiority and finality of Islam relative to the two earlier faiths and adopts a posture at best condescending and paternalistic toward them, at worst derisive and scornful (s. 2:138-140; s.5:59-66; s.5:82-85; s.60:3; s.62:6-7). Moreover, Muslims appeared to believe that Judaism and Christianity had mixed the truth of divine revelation with “falsehood” (batil - s.3:71). On the other hand, Christians, some Muslims felt, were implacably hostile to Muslims and refused to recognize Islam as a legitimate religion in its own right. Attacks occurred within faiths as well: with Christians accusing one another of "heresy" (from a Greek word meaning "choice" or "sect"), and Muslims accusing one another of "heretical innovation" (bid'a), "unbelief" (kufr), or "apostasy" (ridda). (More related to Muslim supersessionism)
Many wondered whether in the end the three religions were so different. Was the rivalry authentic? Granted, Christianity and Judaism had long been regarded as pillars of the West and Islam had most often been seen as the exotic outsider. However, it was also the case that ties of kinship between the three were sometimes affirmed by the holy texts themselves. In Genesis 25:9, for example, Ishmael - ancestor of Muhammad - returns from Arabia to join his Israelite kinsmen and together they bury their common father Abraham. Folk cycles like the eleventh century Akrites” tradition suggested that, contrary to the established habit of separating Islam and Christianity into two exotically distinct religious and cultural worlds, the lines between the two cultures were far more porous than they appeared at first glance. Historian John Wansbrough argued (controversially) that prior to the eighth century Islam had been a Judeo-Christian sect, not a distinct religion. World leaders have on occasion been moved to call for accommodation on the part of all sides (see, for example, the UN appeal in 2006).
Seyyed Hossein Nasr (“Comments on a Few Theological Issues in Islamic-Christian Dialogue,” in Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Wadi Z. Haddad (eds.), Christian-Muslim Encounters ( University Press of Florida: Gainesville, FL, 1995), 464) pointed out that polemical attacks between Muslims and Christians in our own times had acquired a new and often “unnoticed partner": Modernism. The insertion of such widely read personalities as Salman Rushdie, Samuel Huntington, and Fahmy Huweidy into this discourse argued increasingly, in Nasr's view, for the claim that the term “Christian” in Christian-Muslim discourse had been displaced to some extent by the term “Secular Modernist.” Hence, the Ayatollah Khomeini could refer to the United States, which he saw as mainly secular and materialist, as "the Great Satan."
Notice the dependence on stereotypical distortions and outright falsehoods in many of the examples of polemical attacks below. Note also how often interlocutors on both sides resort to the rhetorical tactic (what Norman Daniel calls the "dialectical trick") of comparing one's own values with what one alleges is the opponent's practices, a move almost guaranteed every time to make you look good and make your opponent look bad. There is room for error in two specific areas with this tactic: first, there is the logical fallacy of comparing apples and oranges (the only valid comparison in this case is between each side's values or between each side's practices), and second, there is the possibility that your evidence about what the opponent's practices actually are may be flawed (or at least distorted), especially if you are relying on second-hand reports. (See Norman Daniel, Islam and the West: The Making of an Image (Chatham, N.Y.: One World, 1993), 296)
William Dalrymple, "The Venetian Treasure Hunt," The New York Review of Books, vol. 54, no. 12, July 19, 2007
Norman Daniel, Islam and the West: The Making of an Image (Chatham, N.Y.: One World, 1993)
Holly Edwards, Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press and Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2000)
Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Wadi Z. Haddad (eds.), Christian-Muslim Encounters (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1995)
Rana Kabbani, Europe's Myths of the Orient (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986)
Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979)
David Shipler, Arab and Jew (New York: Penguin Books, 1986)
Colin Thubron, "Madame Butterfly's Brothel," The New York Review of Books, vol. 56, no. 10, June 11, 2009, 24-27
Andrew Wheatcroft, The Conflict Between Christendom and Islam 638-2002 (New York: Viking, 2003)