A couple of years ago, my church offered a four-Saturdays class meant to introduce Christians to the Qur'an. The teachers were Muslim friends of mine, and it was a terrific series.
One of the points made in that series by Imam Sulaiman Z. Salaam Jr. -- a point that came as something of a surprise to many people -- was that Muslims are obliged to know the Bible. Why? Because the Qur'an makes many references to biblical figures and to biblical stories but rarely tells the full stories. So to understand why the Qur'an mentions such people and matters, Muslims need to be familiar with the Bible.
A new 1,000-page book from Yale University Press should help Muslims with that very task even as it educates Christians, Jews and others about the connections between the Bible and the Islamic holy book.
The Qur'an and the Bible: Text and Commentary, by Gabriel Said Reynolds, a professor of Islamic studies and theology at the University of Notre Dame, is an important resource for anyone who wants to grasp the deep, organic connections between these two sacred books and among the three Abrahamic faiths.
In the book's introduction, Reynolds notes that ". . .the Qur'an alludes to, and develops, earlier traditions," including the Bible itself and some "post-Biblical (but pre-Qur'anic) Jewish and Christian writings which became part of the repertoire of sacred history among Jews and Christians and, eventually, for the author of the Qur'an.
"My conviction, a conviction which has only increased during my work on this book, is that the Qur'an is an original work in literary and religious terms, but also a work which depends heavily on its audience's knowledge of the Bible and the traditions which developed out of the Bible." Which is just what Sulaiman told people at our church.
Reynolds notes, however, that ". . .the Qur'an is not so much borrowing from any particular work, but rather emerging from a religious culture in which these traditions were discussed and elaborated."
So, he concludes, ". . .the Qur'an itself, by referring regularly to Jewish and Christian traditions, demands that its audience know those traditions. The Qur'an, in other words, has an intimate relationship with the Bible."
Most of the book is taken up with the text of the Qur'an itself, using a modern English translation by Ali Quli Qarai. But on many pages, the text is interspersed with Reynolds' commentary relating what is written to biblical sources.
A couple of examples: In sura (or chapter) 19, the Qur'an mentions "the progeny of Abraham and Israel." Reynolds' note on the passage points out that this "reflects an awareness of the tradition in Genesis 32 of the change of Jacob's name" (to Israel).
Near the end of sura 14, there is mention of "the day when the earth is turned into another earth. . ." Reynolds points to a passage in the New Testament book of Revelation in which the author, John, writes that "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. . ."
The tradition of Islam is that the Qur'an was dictated to the Prophet Muhammad by an angel over the course of more than 20 years. Reynolds holds open the possibility that the Qur'an had more than one author and/or editor, though he doesn't spend a lot of time on that matter. It's hard to imagine why any mosque in the country wouldn't want this book in its library. (Or any church or synagogue, for that matter.)
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A DECLINE IN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM GLOBALLY
I may have more to say about this next week on the blog, but the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom just issued its annual report and in it has bemoaned what it calls an “ongoing downward trend” in religious liberty around the world. The link in the previous sentence will take you to a story about the release. Here is a link to the report itself.
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P.S.: The annual AIDS Walk in KC happens Saturday, and I'll be walking again to support the AIDS Service Foundation. If you'd like to be part of the solution by making a contribution, you can do that here. And thanks.