Three things most Christians do not know about the Qur’an

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.

Conclusion

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.

Recommendations

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.

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8 thoughts on “Three things most Christians do not know about the Qur’an

  1. You have a right to your opinion. I am a Muslim and am not offended—but I hope you will allow me to express my opinion—or correction—on some of the points.

    Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Asad are good translations as well as Pickthall. Asad is available on the net and comes with tafsir—tafsir is a valuable tool to understanding context. Yusuf Ali also comes with tafsir, but I don’t think it is on the net.

    Jesus Christ(peace be upon him) and Quran.—-Perhaps Christians may understand such a connection–as a Muslim I would not agree to such a comparision. I view it more as a timeless letter of guidance from God to each and every individual human being.

    The Quran actually stands independednt of the previous scriptures even though it uses its stories as teaching points. One does not need to know any of the details of the previous scriptures to understand the ethico-moral principles the Quran emphasis. However, the Quran does acknowledge that the previous scriptures are from the One God that is also sending the Quran. It is this independence that allows it to correct the errors in the previous scriptures.

    Because this is a personal message from God to each individual–every single individual has a right/duty to interpret it and undersand it as his circumstances allow. However, there is also a science behind it—each word is understood in its historical semantic context and each verse also put into the socio-political/historical circumstances of revelation. The Surahs are also understood within the general ethico-moral themes—and all of this are intertwined together. That is why scholarly tafsir are very important for a CORRECT understanding of the Quran. However, tafsir are not themselves static. As we human beings grow in knowlegde, insights are incorporated into the tafsir (—after scholarly agreement—more or less the way scientifc theories are vetted.)

    The Quran is against blind belief-the best way to approach the Quran is to come at it with questions. Also,the Quran advises it must be read as a whole –and not be broken up–this means that all verses are interconnected and all surahs build on each other thematically. It also advises against quick reading preferring instead reflection on its message of Guidance.

    I wish you the best on your reading.

    • Thank you for sharing your insights. They help me understand the Muslim perspective a little better. As I stated in the post, it is difficult for Christians to get outside their own belief structure and see things with Muslim eyes, if you will.

  2. I am grateful that you are making the effort at all. Thankyou for that. There is much misunderstanding about Islam–but I hope that one day, with better understanding between Christians and Muslims, we can inspire each other to be “better believers/followers” of our respective faiths.

  3. Yes, our ways are very different and I believe unbridgable—but there is another way to look at things—Muslims are also (in a way)”followers” of Jesus Christ (pbuh) because we believe the Quran reiterates the message he brought—which is, –to do God’s will—and God’s will is to have right belief that inspires right intentions that leads to right conduct/actions for the benefit of all of God’s creations. We may go about it in different ways, but both are trying to do God’s will to the best of our understanding—and this makes Christians “those who willingly submit to God’s will” —or, to say it in Arabic,—“muslim.”

    Our “labels” are neccessary for our identity—but sometimes too strong an attachment only emphasises the differences and divisions…….

    • True. From what I have read, it seems to me that this understanding is at the core of the idea of ‘people of the book’. Both Islam and Christianity have at their core the same desire to submit to the will of God. We observe the practices of our faith because we believe they are the way that God gave them to us.

      Our differences are significant, and it would be hypocritical of either of us to ignore them but the differences do not preclude us from working and living together. Differences need to be understood and accepted without feeling we need to constantly be “winning the debate”.

  4. Surah 5 verse 48 of the Quran advises that we leave the judgement of “truth” to God and concentrate instead on striving “as in a race in all virtues”—that is, to be the best that we can be in accomplishing God’s will on earth. “winning debates” might be great for our ego–but doesn’t help make this world a better place–its ultimately our intentions and actions that make the difference……..

    Nevertheless, I myself have often fallen into the trap of “I am right/you are wrong” egoic desire….it is irresistible……. On the other hand—it is also possible to think that Christianity is “right” for you and Islam is “right” for me—–after all, we are all creations of a Compassionate and Merciful God….we all struggle to find our way with God’s help……

    “People of the book” is an interesting label that the Quran uses to group a set of beliefs to its “Abrahamic” origins. But there is also another grouping—that of “Adamic origins”—-In Islam, Adam (peace be upon him) is a Prophet (messenger) of God who also brought the same message as the Quran—which is monotheism.
    God is Compassionate and Merciful and has sent his Guidance to all mankind….but it unfortunately gets misunderstood/corrupted over time……

  5. All praises to the only true GOD. First of all, I want to say thank you for this discussion, if I may interject my overstanding. I believe the relationship with the true GOD has been cut off by our misunderstanding of treating each other. Over the period of time man allow hatred, lust, murder, raping, and disrespect to become a genuine staple way of living, thinking and evolving. Throughout this way of living man and woman could not remember how to communicate with GOD. So this new way of thinking and acting made man and woman make up different religions. All religions have a set day of beginning some can go as far back to 5000 years, man and woman has been around much longer. History has found that the brutality of killing each other had not been found past 5000 years. Religion is an act of separation of man and woman due to the perverted and destructive thinking of a man and a woman. When Man and Woman choose to be a murder, liar, cheater then you are, if you choose to be loving, kind, peaceful, and patience then you chooses to be. However I believe all have to answer to the one true GOD on how you treated and handle his/her creation…you. Everything grows for good, for protection, for healing, and etc…For little over 5000 year’s man and woman has been destroying. Finally, I believe when one destroy religion from its life the mind can re-correct itself and remember how to communicate with the one true GOD. ..And that’s to walk and talk with him as he did from the beginning. GOD is waiting…

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