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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I’m Reading: The Quran – With or Against the Bible?

In a very broad sense I could be called a Muslim and a follower of Allah – that is I could be described as one who submits to the will of God, one who follows and obeys God.  I can say the Takbir without any twinge or hesitation: Allahu Akbar, that is “God is great” or “the greatest.”  And I can also say the first part of the Shahadala ‘ilaha ‘il allah…” or “there is no god but God…”

And after having read Ejaz Naqvi’s book The Quran: With or Against the Bible?[i] one could almost be excused for thinking that there is very little difference between the three major monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Naqvi is writing to a non-Muslim audience – particularly in the west, that may not be familiar with the Quran - with the intent to clarify some of the misunderstandings that have been developing in recent years about what it is that the Quran actually says.  The emphasis of the book is on the many similarities that the Quran has with the Hebrew Bible and with the Christian New Testament. 

And there are many. 

God is one – Yes. Absolutely.  “Your God is one God; there is no one worth of worship except Him, the Compassionate, the Merciful.”2: 163

God is light – Yes, indeed.  “God is the light of the heavens and the earth…” 24:35

God is kind and forgiving - agreed.  “And He is the Oft-Forgiving, Full of Loving Kindness.” 85:14

The book is a terrific corrective for those who think that all Muslims are bad and that the Quran is an evil book.  Naqvi’s book is a great place to begin.  It is not a commentary on or an exegesis of the Quran.  Instead it focuses very narrowly on the many similarities between the monotheist scriptures – so that there might be civil discussion between us – and that the widening gulf between us might be bridged.

Some issues however:

1. A glossary and an index would have been helpful.

2.  I tried to read it for what Naqvi had to say about the Quran, rather than nitpicking his description of the Hebrew Bible/ and New Testament – but sometimes what he said was just … well … wrong.
For example at one point early on he wrote, “It is interesting to note that the word ‘Quran’ itself has been noted in the Quran at least seventy times.  The word ‘Gospel’ is not found in current versions of the Bible... (Navqi, 17)”  

3. At times Navqi sounded very much like some of the Young Earth Creationist Christians.  His arguments for the ‘divine nature’ of the Quran are exactly those of the YEC for the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testaments.  He refers to portions of the Quran which can be interpreted in such a way as to refer to the expansion of the universe, human embryology, and other scientific concepts unknown or not understood in the 7th century CE in the same way that Ken Ham and others like him find dinosaurs and the water cycle and so on in the pages of the Bible. 

4. Navqi gives very little time to the varying opinions and interpretations of the Quran by Islamic scholars.  He presents Islam and the Quran as a largely monolithic entity.    But just as there are any number of opinions among faithful Jews and Christians, there are differing understandings within Islam.  Yet Navqi doesn’t delve into that much.   

5. Navqi’s goal is to highlight the similarities but also to downplay the more problematic areas.  He smoothes over some issues – like the equality of women – which he says that the Quran affirms and briefly mentions that not all Islamic scholars agree  - and the role of Jihad – which he says the Quran defines as either A) personal and spiritual or B) as an armed conflict for self defense.  He says nothing about why some followers of Islam interpret it otherwise.

This is not necessarily a fault.  He makes it clear in the introduction – and again in the conclusion that he intends to highlight those areas of common agreement and not the divisive issues.  He leaves it to the interested reader to pursue those on his/her own. (367)

6. While it may be true – in a broad sense – that I could call myself a Muslim (a submitter) and a follower of Allah (God) – I could not really wear that designation.  I cannot finish the Shahada - "There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God."     While I am very pleased to learn more about the Quran, and to find more and more common ground between us, I am not convinced of its claims.  

Still – there is much that can and should unite us between its pages, if we would only see it.

[i] Naqvi, Ejaz The Quran: With or Against the Bible?  iUniverse, Inc, Bloomington, IN, 2012. 

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