Is the Qur'an an alternate Bible?
Is the Qur’an an alternate Bible?
I read the Qur’an last week. It is quite a different experience from reading the Bible, which I’ve read countless times and somehow always want to read again. As a Christian, why should I write about the Qur’an and the Muslim faith? Isn’t it dangerous to read sacred texts opposed to your own? Why do it?
Other than it being an assignment for grad school, here’s why. Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion. According to Pew Research and many other sources, it will likely outstrip Christianity as the most-practiced religion in the world within the next thirty years. Instead of fighting and hating Islam, we Christians should begin educating ourselves on the differences. Instead of speaking defensively, we should speak intelligently. We should analyze why our children can’t see the difference and why no one wants to learn the reasons why.
I’ve composed a list of basic questions about the Qur’an, with responses based on my reading and my perspective. Feel free to comment or correct my understanding; just back up your perspectives with sura/verse from the Qur’an or book/chapter/verse from the Bible. This is not really a good forum for an emotional, political, or religious verbal war—we’re just discussing differences. The goal here is for everyone to learn something (including me).
- Is the Qur’an an alternate Bible, wisdom book, or something else?
- What’s the difference between God and Allah?
- What are the major themes of the Bible and the Qur’an?
- What’s the difference between Jesus and Muhammed?
IS THE QUR’AN ANOTHER KIND OF BIBLE? The Qur’an is the sacred text and supreme authority for the Islam faith. Muslim children begin memorizing verses at a young age, and Muslim believers quote the Qur’an during prayers and worship. Like the Bible, the Qur’an is a collection of teachings, which Muslims believe were direct revelations from God (Allah) to His prophet Muhammed. Muhammed had scribes follow him around and write down the thoughts that came into his head, which he considered to be direct revelations from God. Although these revelations are organized into sura (chapter) and verse, they are random in nature, speaker, topic, and tone. Rather than organized genres like narratives, letters, prophesies, or poems (books in the Bible), Muhammed’s thoughts wander from story to dialogue to warning. People often assume that Muhammed’s words, like Confucius or Ghandi’s, were collected bits of wisdom or spiritual advice, but this is not the case.
The purpose of the Qur’an is to correct theology of the Bible and lead people in a different direction. The Qur’an is actually a rule book for a monotheistic, fundamentalist religious belief, which leave little room for error or question. Critics of the Christian faith might argue that Christianity is no different, but I would argue that fundamentalism and narrow-mindedness is not Biblical–it’s religious (a distortion by men of God’s truth). The Bible makes room for interpretation and Christian liberty; what it doesn’t leave room for is a sliding scale on goodness and forgiveness; the Bible doesn’t convey mystery over whether someone has been “good enough” for God’s mercy, because mercy is entirely dependent upon God’s character, not on our actions. Unlike the Qur’an, the Bible is not a guidebook for achieving God’s mercy and favor–it is a guidebook for understanding God and His love, and thereby acting as a guidebook for living a life of purpose.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOD AND ALLAH? Allah is Arabic for God. Muslims use the terms interchangeably. The word Allah also carries the concept of an all-powerful and all-encompassing God, so the word is translated as “we” into English whenever God speaks about himself. The pronoun “we” should not be confused with the Christian concept of the Trinity, which Muslims denounce (Qur’an, 5:73); it merely refers to an all-encompassing God. The Qur’an begins portraying God as primarily holy and authoritative (“Giver of Mercy . . . Lord of the Worlds . . . Master of the Day of Judgment,” (1:1-4). I would suggest that Allah, while called “the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy” in 113 out of 114 suras, is not merciful or loving, as he only favors those who obey him implicitly, and he pours out his wrath on those who do not (2:190-91, 4:102, 56:92). People might argue that God of the Bible does the same. The Bible is filled with warnings about sin and everlasting damnation; there’s also a lot of violence in the Old Testament against nations who fought against Israel. I think the key difference is motivation. Allah punishes non-believers with relish, even delight, while God punishes as a last resort, after loving warnings and pleadings to accept His love. The Bible woos unbelievers to God (John 3:16, Rom. 5:8-11, Rev. 3:20), but the Qur’an threatens them toward obedience (2:98). Mercy in the Qur’an, it seems, is earned; in my estimation, that’s not mercy.
WHAT ARE THE MAJOR THEMES OF THE QUR’AN AND THE BIBLE?
The major themes of the Bible are God’s love, forgiveness, and transformative power. The Qur’an claims a theme of mercy and peace, but there are underlying themes of fear and ultimatum that cannot be ignored. The miracle of the canon of Scripture is the seeming impossibility of having been penned by 40 different authors writing over a period of 1500 years about a history that covered 3000 years; they wrote in multiple genres and do not contradict one another; all books support the same theme that God loves, forgives, protects, and changes us. The Qur’an, not unlike the Book of Mormon, is one man’s testimony of what God has told him to say, without any authorization or outside sources to prove its validity. (Never mind the content issue.)
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JESUS AND MUHAMMED?
The Qur’an never claims that Muhammed is God—that is a common Christian misconception. Muhammed is God’s premier prophet, and Jesus and the rest of the apostles and prophets in Scripture are considered other prophets. In multiple places, the Qur’an refutes the Bible’s claims that Jesus is God’s Son, that He died on a cross, or that He was resurrected (23:91, 4:156-158). In contrast, The Old Testament predicts Jesus’ coming as Savior over 600 times, and the New Testament affirms numerous times that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son (1 John 5:20, Matt. 16:16, Matt. 26:62-64, Mk. 3:11, Mk. 5:7, Jn. 3:28, John 22:27). In terms of authoritative sacred texts, Jesus is also called the Word, making the Bible more than a translation of ancient writings: Jesus is actually the inspired Word of God in the flesh (John 1:1-5). Now that’s a hard concept to grasp.
For now, chew on all this. I welcome your comments and opinions.