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A Christian Review of the Qur’an

January 27, 2011

The Qur’an is considered to be the very word of God by more than a billion adherents to Islam throughout the world. Its content, then, is of supreme importance to those Muslims and is, likewise, important to those who seek to understand both them and their religion and, particularly, those Christians who believe that they are called to evangelize Muslims with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To this end, a careful study of the Qur’an is warranted, and that is the intended purpose of the following review.

Three significant themes which are readily discernable in the Qur’an are: 1) the absolute character of God; 2) the apologetic for Islam and against other religious systems, most commonly Judaism and Christianity; and, most predominantly, 3) the “straight path” by which every life will be judged, resulting in either eternal torment or blessedness. Each of these will be considered, in turn.

IN THE NAME OF GOD

In the Qur’an, the character of God is clearly declared and repeatedly affirmed. Each of the 114 suras begins with this refrain: “In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy.” Thus, the implication that the God of the Qur’an is merciful is clear. However, the consistent testimony of the Qur’an is that God is sovereign, omnipotent, and omniscient, as well as merciful and compassionate. He is also curiously referred to as “the Best of Schemers.”[1] Perhaps above all, the clear singularity of God is revealed: God is “one single God.” (3:18) Further elaborating on this idea, Muhammad is told to say, “He is God the One, God the eternal. He begot no one nor was He begotten. No one is comparable to Him,” (2:112) and Muslims are instructed not to “set up rivals to God,” (2:22) who Himself bears witness that He is the only God. (3:18)

The Qur’an declares that God sovereignly punishes and forgives in accordance with His will. (2:284) An example of God’s sovereignty may be seen in the case of individuals to whom He does not intend to show mercy. The Qur’an states that there are those whom God may intend to be misguided and, in such cases, their hearts are hardened against the truth. Stressing God’s sovereignty, Muhammad is told: “you will be powerless against God” on the behalf of these who “are the ones whose hearts God does not intend to cleanse. . .” (5:41) Further, one reads:

As for those who disbelieve, it makes no difference whether you warn them or not; they will not believe. God has sealed their hearts and their ears, and their eyes are covered. They will have great torment. (2:6-7)

Again, God’s sovereignty is expressed in the idea that even misfortunes occur with the clear permission of God. (64:11) Indeed, an entire sura is dedicated to the theme of God’s sovereignty and is even entitled “Control” or “Sovereignty.” The first verses of this sura establish this doctrine: “Exalted is He who holds all control in His hands; who has power over all things; who created death and life.” (67:1-2)

Thus, in harmony with His sovereignty, God is also clearly identified as being both omniscient and omnipotent. He asks, “Did I not tell you that I know what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and that I know what you reveal and what you conceal?” (2:33) God’s power is well summed up in this sura: “Everything that is in the heavens and earth glorifies God; all control and all praise belong to Him; He has power over everything,” (64:1)

Finally, God is portrayed as compassionate and merciful, yet even the dispensation of His grace and mercy are subject to His sovereign will. It is said that “God chooses for His grace whoever He will,”( 2:105) and “All grace is in God’s hands: He grants it to whoever He will.” (3:73) As to the Qur’an’s commentary on the compassion of God, there are a number of allusions to this in response to those who are faithful to Islam. (Cf. 32:17; 21:101-104; 42:5) A specific example of God’s compassion may be seen in relation to the restrictions on foods that can be eaten. While there are defined dietary restrictions, these may be waived in the case of true hunger, without the consequence of sin. (2:173) The faithful Muslim is promised in the Qur’an that “God loves those who put their trust in Him.” (3:159)

PEOPLE OF THE BOOK

Yet another persistent theme throughout the Qur’an is the ongoing apologetic in defense of Islam as the fullest revelation of the will and message of God. While there are some rebuttals of polytheism (Cf. sura 6) and disbelievers, in general, (22:19-25) the most pointed verses are directed against the “People of the Book”; that is, Jews and Christians, most of whom are considered lawbreakers. (3:110) At times, the apologetic gets somewhat defensive, as when is it written: “They also say, ‘No one will enter Paradise unless he is a Jew or a Christian.’ This is their own wishful thinking.” (2:111) However, the Qur’an makes a distinction between the two faiths, saying that the Jews are “most hostile” to Muslims, while Christians are “the closest in affection” towards Muslims. (5:82)

To be sure, there are harsh pronouncements in the Qur’an against Jews. First, the Qur’an challenges the Jews, saying, “You who follow the Jewish faith, if you truly claim that out of all people you alone are friends of God, then you should be hoping for death.” (62:6) However, the Qur’an also goes to great lengths to declare the error of the Christian religion. For example, Jesus is quoted as saying that He has been sent to bring “good news of a messenger to follow me whose name will be Ahmad.” (61:6) Regarding Jesus, the Qur’an accords Him the status of a prophet, or “messenger,” of God, but denies the Christological formulations of orthodox Christianity. The Qur’an denies that Jesus is the Son of God, rejecting the premise that “God has a child.” (2:116) The Qur’an denies His divinity, saying, “Those who say, ‘God is the Messiah, the son of Mary,’ are defying the truth,” (5:17) and goes on to say,

The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God. . . So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of a ‘Trinity’ – stop [this], that is better for you – God is only one God, He is far above having a son. (4:171)

Further, the Qur’an denies that Jesus was crucified: “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them.” (4:157)

Finally, the Qur’an declares that Jesus will, in fact, even be a witness against all who believe these things about Him (divinity, death, etc.). (4:158-159) This is because those who “want to make a distinction” between the messengers of God, “are really disbelievers,” (4:150-151) and, consequently, those among the People of the Book who do not believe are “the worst of creation” and can expect no less than eternal damnation. (98:6)

THE GARDEN AND THE FIRE

At the heart of the Qur’an, beneath the overarching themes of the absolute truth of the God of the Qur’an and the error of other religious traditions, is the didactic substance intended to direct Muslims on the “straight path,” that they may fare well in the ever-looming judgment at the end of time.

The hope of forgiveness and mercy are offered to those who are faithful: “Believers, turn to God in sincere repentance. Your Lord may well cancel your bad debts for you and admit you into Gardens graced with flowing streams. . .” (66:8) In addition to this repentance, however, the Qur’an describes what must be done in order to be considered “good” in the eyes of God:

The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it. . . who keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God. (2:17)

In addition to these instructions, there are also specific “commandments” that are quite similar to the Ten Commandments of the Jewish and Christian traditions: “Do not wrongfully consume each other’s wealth (i.e., “steal”); . . . Do not kill; . . . Do not covet; Worship God; join nothing with Him. Be good to your parents. . .; do not go anywhere near adultery. . .” While there is no prescription for a Sabbath, as such, the validity of it is recognized for the Jews of the ancient world, with God saying that he rejected those who broke the Sabbath. (4:29-32, 36, 47; 17:31ff)

The instruction to strive to be “good” is tied quite closely with the idea of punishment and reward: “Avoid committing sin, whether openly or in secret, for those who commit sin will be repaid for what they do.” (6:120) This leads to the pervasive Qur’anic theme of the Day of Judgment. This time is alternately called the “Overwhelming Event,” (88:1) the “Deafening Blast,” (80:33) the “Day of Truth,” (78:39) the “Great Event,” (69:15) the “Day of Decision,” (78:17) and, particularly for those who are deemed unworthy of God’s mercy, the “Crashing Blow.” (101:102) Perhaps the best way to understand eternal judgment in the Qur’an is in the representative terms “Garden” and “Fire,” as these are identified as the eternal state for the believers and disbelievers, respectively. (2:221) The Qur’an describes each of these eternal resting places:

We have prepared chains, iron collars, and blazing Fire for the disbelievers . . . [while for the believers] God will save them from the woes of that Day, give them radiance and gladness, and reward them, for their steadfastness, with a Garden and silken robes. They will sit on couches . . . with shady [branches] spread above them and clusters of fruit hanging close at hand. They will be served with silver plates and gleaming silver goblets according to their fancy . . . Everlasting youths will attend them . . . (76:4, 11-19; cf. 13:35)

The Day of Judgment, then, is of central significance to the Qur’an. Its occurrence is described frightfully, in apocalyptic language: “When the sky is torn apart, when the stars are scattered, when the seas burst forth, when graves turn inside out: each soul will know what it has done and what it has left undone.” (82:1-5) It is said that at that time, people will come forward to be shown their deeds and judged accordingly. (99:6) While the judgment is the climax of the Qur’an, only God knows when this dreadful day will come, (33:63; cf. 20:15; 87:43-44) and thus life for the Muslim must be lived in anticipation of and preparation for that day, for even the believers cannot be assured of their eternal state. Regarding the fear and punishment of their Lord “none may feel wholly secure from it.” (70:28) The warning, then, is: “Always be mindful of God, and be aware that He is stern in His retribution,” (2:196) for “[e]very soul will taste death and you will be paid in full only on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever is kept away from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have triumphed.” (3:185) Hell, or the Fire, is described repeatedly in the most graphic of terms:

Hell blazes fiercely enough. We shall send those who reject Our revelations to the Fire. When their skins have been burned away, We shall replace them with new ones so that they may continue to feel the pain; God is mighty and wise.” (4:55-56)

Thus, being “kept away” from hell is the driving motivator behind much of the Qur’anic instruction.

CONCLUSION

Perhaps each of the three themes outlined herein can best be seen as interconnected with the others, rather than being taken in isolation. That is, the nature of God demands the forsaking of any other religion, with a view to the eternal state of both those who accept Islam and those who reject it. The Qur’an fittingly provides a helpful synopsis:

Even so, there are some who choose to worship others besides God as rivals to Him, loving them with the love due to God, but the believers have greater love for God. If only the idolaters could see – as they will see when they face the torment – that all power belongs to God, and that God punishes severely. When those who have been followed disown their followers, when they all see the suffering, when all bonds between them are severed, the followers will say, ‘If only we had one last chance, we would disown them as they now disown us.” In this way, God will make them see their deeds as a source of bitter regret; they shall not leave the Fire. (2:165-167)

 The Muslim, then, is exhorted to hold fast to God in order to remain on the “straight path,” and remain on that path, devoted wholly to God, until one’s “dying moment.” (3:101-102) While even this may not assure the devout of admittance into the Garden, it is indeed the only path to that blessed state; anything less will be met with a horrific end. Thus, the faithful Muslim, who believes in the Qur’an as true revelation from God, is convinced of the Qur’anic description of God as all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign yet merciful. Being so convinced, he will oppose religious traditions which challenge his beliefs and he will live his life in accord with the will of God as it is laid out in the Qur’an, in the hope that he may one day enter into Paradise.

 The Christian called to share the good news of Jesus Christ with Muslims should be acquainted with what is contained in the Qur’an in order to engage in meaningful evangelistic dialogue. This is, of course, merely a synopsis – and that of one reviewer; nevertheless, I trust that this information will be of use to the Kingdom in some way.


[1] The Qur’an, translated by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 3:54. All subsequent references are taken from this translation.

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4 Comments
  1. Great insights.

    If you would like more detailed information on the Qur’an, my new book Qur’an Revealed: A Christian Critique, is actually a fully annotated version geared towards Christians. It puts the Qur’an in chronological order, gives a historical-critical analysis of each book, surah, and verse, and also has additional essays on how Muslims apply the teachings of the Qur’an.

    Please visit my website for more information!

  2. very nice and very amazing article about the quran i like it keep it up man thanks for the sharing.

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