I am currently reading Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s 1935 English translation of the Qur’an which is considered the “Authorized” English translation. To the Muslim, any translation of the Qur’an falls short because Muslims believe that the Qur’an is inspired only in Arabic. Any translation is a poor reflection of it, but since I cannot read Arabic, it is the best I can do.
When we look at Islam, Christians have a tendency to view it as basically the same as Christianity in its worldview. We tend to think that the Qur’an fills the same place in Islam as the Bible does in Christianity (or is supposed to fill). In reality, the Muslim view of the role of their Scriptures is quite a bit different from what we assume it is.
Here are three things most Christians do not know about how Muslims view the Qur’an.
1. It is the manifestation of Allah.
Christianity reveres the Bible as inspired writings, but they are a reflection of the Living Word of God – Jesus Christ. In Islam, the Qur’an is the Living Word of God.
To the Muslim, Jesus (in Arabic Isa) is the last prophet before Muhammad and the promised Messiah of Israel. He was sent by Allah to provide a new revelation – the Gospel (Arabic Injil), but Jesus is not the Word of God. He is important, but He is not the Son of God as Christians understand it. (Incidentally, no Muslim would ever slander Jesus. He is second only to Muhammad in their veneration of the prophets.)
In Islam, the role that Jesus fills in Christianity is filled by the Qur’an. It is not simply Scripture. It is truly Allah’s presence on earth. It is hard for us to understand, but Islam does not believe Muhammad wrote the Qur’an. They believe Allah spoke the Qur’an through Muhammad as the final revelation to mankind.
In Islam, the Qur’an is quite literally the Word of God. Allah spoke it directly, and Muhammad simply heard it. The Qur’an is independent of human influence or interpretation.
2. It is very dependent on the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament.
The Qur’an was not intended to stand independent of previous revelation. Virtually every Surah (the rough equivalent of a chapter) contains at least one allusion to the Bible. It is the final revelation of Allah, but not the only one.
Islam holds that Allah has revealed himself to mankind through many prophets. These prophets were used by Allah to write His words to mankind:
- Suhuf Ibrahim (the scrolls of Abraham)
- Tawrat (the Torah of Moses)
- Zabur (the Psalms of David)
- Injil (the Gospel of Jesus)
The Qur’an relies on these books and assumes familiarity with them (even if Muslims recognize that Suhuf Ibrahim is lost to mankind), but also acknowledges that they have been corrupted by mankind. The Qur’an is Allah’s correction of these books but it maintains a continuity with them. To that end, the Muslims have no problem with the Gospels correcting the Torah because that is the role of revelation through a prophet. Each subsequent prophet has had to correct the errors that have crept into the previous revelation.
3. It is not the only authority of Islam.
Both Shi’a and Sunni Islam are governed by not only the Qur’an but also the Hadith, which is the sayings of the Prophet Muhammed; and Sharia, the application of the Qur’an and Hadith to practical situations.
Shi’a and Sunni Islam differ on which Hadith are authoritative and have different approaches to Sharia, but all Muslims recognize that Hadith and Sharia are amplifications and applications of the Qur’an. Without them, they cannot truly understand the divine revelation of the Qur’an because the words of Allah transcend human reason.
It is a mistake to simply quote the Qur’an and use it to disprove something in Islam. Muslims do not hold to a priesthood of all believers. The Qur’an is the revelation to all of mankind, and individuals do not have the right to interpret it themselves. Such an idea is foreign to them. The Prophet interpreted the Qur’an in the Hadith. None of us have the right to question his interpretation. The Sharia applies the interpretation.
This is why attempts to understand Islam can very easily become misunderstandings. Islam views the Qur’an in a completely different light than we Christians view the Bible. Setting aside the 1,400 years of misunderstanding and opposition that Christians and Muslims alike have created, Christianity and Islam are still incredibly different.
In a climate of heightened tensions because of terrorism and wars in the Middle East, it is very easy to make snap judgments based on our own perspectives without genuinely considering the voice of our neighbors (and make no mistake, Muslims are in Jesus’ category of neighbors).
I don’t claim to be an expert on Islam or the Qur’an, but I believe that the way of Jesus is not the way of hatred and fear. That is why I do not read books about Islam by people who obviously are on a crusade to destroy. The way of Jesus is not the way of assault and war. It is the way of long-suffering and grace. It is not the path of “get them before they get us” which I hear so often from the mouths of Christians.
Personally, I find the Qur’an fascinating. I do not accept it as Scripture because I am a Christian; but I don’t want to judge it based on my rejection. I want to do my best to understand how the faithful read it.
For the Muslim that might read this, I hope I have done justice to your sacred book and have not offended you. You are my neighbor, and I love you even though we disagree.
For anyone interested in learning more about Islam and how the Muslims and Christians have interacted over the years, I strongly recommend a lecture series from The Modern Scholar entitled “Islam and the West” by Sayyed Hossein Naer.
For those who wish to spout hatred and ignorant bigotry, please save your breath. The world has more than enough evil in it, and I don’t need any more here.
Stay tuned. Soon I will be writing on misunderstanding about Jihad in Islam.