This article is in response to another writing of the same title by Pastor Samuel Green, “Comparing the Bible and the Qur’an“.
Reason 1. The Context of the Bible and Qur’an
Scripture is supposed to be God’s message to mankind, it does not have to be a history book or a biography. It needs to mention what is needed to be known so that the message could be understood. The Qur’aan does not revolve around the life of Muhammad ﷺ, but it does relate many relevant verses about occurrences throughout the Prophet’s ﷺ life. The Qur’aan is not of human production and thus unlike the Bible it is not ordered through human concepts of organization: chronologically, topically, by (chapter) length, by name (title) or alphabetically. It would be crass to expect the Qur’aan to be ordered like the Bible or to provide the same information as the Bible. Whereas the Bible consists of biographies, letters, revelation, doxologies, epistles, pastorials, poems; the Qur’aan specifically consists only of revelation and nothing else. Pastor Samuel goes on to state:
“Thus, to understand the Bible you only need the Bible. In fact, many of the stories which are only briefly retold in the Qur’an are told in full in the Bible. The Bible is self-sufficient, as the word of God should be.”
This would be patently false and one of the ways we can demonstrate this is by the dependence of Christians to rely upon commentaries, exegeses and lectionaries. In fact, to not rely upon any of the three previous categories of writings and to rely upon one’s own understanding of the Bible is considered to be eisegesis. Oxford Biblical Studies defines this to mean, “A comparatively modern term to describe, disapprovingly, a piece of scholarship which appears to find in a given text a significance alien to its context. This might be to provide biblical support for a doctrinal position already held. The term was coined (from the Greek eis, in, and egeisthai, to guide) as the opposite of exegesis (Greek ek), which means an elucidation of.“
In regard to the claim that the Qur’aan cannot be understood without the Seerah (Biography of the Prophet ﷺ) or without the narrations of the Prophet ﷺ, we believe that the Qur’aan can be understood without them to some extent, but for a more accurate understanding and a more comprehensive understanding we must often refer to these other forms of literature. It should be noted that it is the Qur’aan which commands the believers to obey the Prophet ﷺ:
“Say, “Obey Allah and the Messenger.” But if they turn away – then indeed, Allah does not like the disbelievers.” – Qur’aan 3:32.
The only way to do this is to follow his Prophetic Sunnah, and so it can be understood that by utilizing the Prophetic Sunnah to understand the Qur’aan, we do this because it is a command in the Qur’aan to do so.This is more of a safeguard as to avoid the sin of eisegesis, as opposed to the Qur’aan being incomplete in any way, shape and or form. I would agree with the Pastor’s statement, “Therefore to compare the Bible to the Qur’an alone is misleading and inaccurate.” I agree with this because the Qur’aan is unlike the Bible in purpose and historical development. Whereas the some parts of the Bible began as authoritative writings and then became scripture (Councils of Carthage, 393 &397 CE), the Qur’aan from its very inception has been and was always scripture in its entirety.
Reason 2. Practices and Beliefs
The Qur’aan contains all of the beliefs that Muslims must know, the Pastor has not provided an instance where we believe something that is not manifested in the Qur’aan. Whereas the Qur’aan commands us to do certain actions such as to fast and pray, to understand how the Prophet ﷺ enacted these commands we refer to the Prophetic Sunnah. While in Islam we separate scripture or the Word of God (risalah) from the biography and actions of the Prophet ﷺ or the Messenger of the Word of God (rasool), the New Testament mixes both and thus the Word of God is lost among the words of men, history and biographies. The Pastor continues by stating:
“The Bible has everything a Christian needs. The Bible fully declares what God has done to save us and bring glory to himself and how we are to live. It is the basis for our wisdom and defines our liberty. “
This is largely untrue, for example the beliefs about the Trinity cannot be found in the New Testament. Nor can the beliefs about the hypostatic union, the second coming of Christ, the immaculate nature of Mary, their doctrine of salvation solely by grace (their soteriological perspective), the foregoing of the laws of God and the original sin.
Why is the Bible so complete?
The Bible is not complete for the reasons outlined above. The Pastor makes the claim that the Bible contains the teachings of the Prophets. However, as is well known, Christians forego the alleged teachings of the Prophets and follow the teachings of Paul. Therefore including the alleged writings of the Prophets in the Bible is largely useless to the Christian faith. Perhaps what is most troubling is that while Moses lived between 1600 and 1300 BCE, the oldest record of the Old Testament is from 250 BCE, the Dead Sea Scrolls. With a space of over 1300 years between the Prophets and the Old Testament, it would be very difficult to ascertain whether or not these writings were actually written by the Prophets themselves or written homonymously (by authors writing in the name of the Prophets).
A More Accurate Comparison
Whereas none of the major doctrines of the Christian faith can be found in the New Testament or the Old Testament, the major beliefs of Islam can be found with complete certainty in the Qur’aan. Our doctrine of Tawheed? Surah al Ikhlas 112 covers the entirety of that doctrine in 4 verses. The same cannot be said of the Trinity, Salvation by Grace, the Immaculate Conception, a Divine Messiah, a Second Coming of Christ or of the hypostatic union. As stated previously, whereas the Qur’aan solely contains the words of God, the Bible contains the words of men in the form of letters, epistles, pastorials, biographies, poems mixed with the words of God to the point that it is very difficult for any Christian to ascertain which is from God and which is from man. This therefore, cannot be seen as a deficiency of the Qur’aan, but should be seen as a corruption and blatant travesty against the sanctity of scripture in the form of the Bible. Whereas Islam keeps the distinction between the commands of God and the Prophetic enactment of those commands, the same cannot be said of the New Testament.
1. The Bible and the Qur’aan are not the same in their typology (style of presenation) and in terms of their contents. Whereas the Bible is absent of the major beliefs of Christianity (as highlighted previously), the Qur’aan contains all major beliefs of the Muslims. While the Bible contains biographical works, letters, epistles, poems and other works of men, the Qur’aan solely contains the word of God. Thus, the Muslim is able to distinguish between the Word of God and the Prophetic enactment of the Word of God. While the Bible does claim to contain the works of the Prophets, the time span between that of the Prophets and that of the oldest Old Testament is too wide for anyone to claim with certainty that they were written by the Prophets themselves and until such evidence is presented, anyone who holds to that claim has fallen prey to the fallacy of wishful thinking.
2. If Muslims and Christians were to take the Qur’aan and the Bible in order to demonstrate their most sacred beliefs, the Christian would not be able to discuss the Trinity, the Hypostatic union and other major beliefs without relying on the debates of the Patristics (Church Fathers) who articulated most of their beliefs over a 400 year period. An example would be the doctrine of Tawheed versus that of the doctrine of the Trinity. Whereas the Muslim can refer the Christian to Qur’aan Surah 112 (al-Ikhlas), the Christian cannot refer us to any passage that entirely expresses their belief in the Trinity.
3. It is true that the Prophetic Sunnah compliments the Qur’aan and that beliefs can be derived from both. However, while the Prophetic Sunnah can undergo scrutiny, literary criticism and inspection, the Qur’aan does not undergo these things. Therefore beliefs extracted from the Prophetic Sunnah can be studied to verify their authenticity as the Prophet ﷺ may have been commanded to practise an act in one particular way earlier during his life and another way at a later period during his life. In the case of female circumcision, this is a common practise that should not be confused with female genital mutilation. A cliterodectomy is legal in most Western nations and is considered a cosmetic medical practise.
4. All religions with scripture do not condone the practise of extracting one’s own understanding of the scripture by self interpretation. This practise, known as eisegesis (defined above), is actively discouraged in both the Christian and Muslim faiths respectively. To tackle the Pastor’s claim, we invite him to defend the view that the Unitarians who read the Bible and reject the Trinity based on the Bible, that they are reading it correctly. It is quite obvious that when it comes to contentious verses with which the various Christian sects dispute about, the Pastor would turn to his commentaries to explain the proper understanding of those verses. While the Qur’aan can be understood by reading it, a Muslim knows he would be understanding its passages clearly by seeing the enactment of the Qur’aan and its explanation through the Prophetic Sunnah of Muhammad ﷺ. Thus, I find the Pastor’s claim to be wholly inaccurate and a poor representation of both the beliefs of Muslims and Christians in regard to their handling of scripture.
and Allaah knows best.