One of the projects I engaged during this pandemic is to study what Muslim believe to better understand these people groups we are trying to reach with the Injul (the Gospel). It has been fascinating – I have learned much and yet I know very little. So the journey will continue, probably for several years, but the study has spurred on my desire to know the Bible in the context of what Muslim’s believe so that I am effectively equipped to share the gospel.
Let’s start by driving right past the obvious why. We are called to spread the Good News and go and make disciples, but let’s go deeper. Very few Christians have read the Koran. Very few have even tried to understand Muslim life from their cultural perspective. And guess what? The opposite is true as well. Very few Muslims have read the Bible – even though it is a Holy Book according to the Qur’an. And few have tried to culturally understand Christians as well. Hence, we are all awash in assumptive beliefs with very little actual dialogue, understanding, and real communication. Time to change.
I’m bewildered where to start, so I’ll just start with the Qur’an – the Muslim Holy Book. It is actually fairly short – just a little over half the length of the New Testament. It is broken into 114 Surat, think “chapters”. Some are very short – Surah 1 is 7 verses long. Some are very long, having 200 or more verses. Muslim tradition holds that the entire Qur’an was revealed in one night – they call this “Lay-lat al-Qudr”, or “The Night of Power”, celebrate at the end of Ramadan. In practicality, the Qur’an was written down by Muhammad over 22 years, from 610 to 632AD.
The Qur’an reads very differently than the Bible. There is no prophecy in it at all, and no chronology or historical context either. Now, the Bible jumps back and forth in time depending upon the book – hence you can buy a Chronological Bible today, but each book still has historical context to it, so that you can place a book within a time frame and the culture. You don’t have this sort of context with the Qur’an. It is much more a collection of sayings, rules, exhortations and consequences.
To say that average Muslim has read the Qur’an and is highly versed in it would be a stretch. We’d be stretched to say the same of Christians, since only half regularly read the Bible. But there is a difference here, too. When we study the Bible and when Pastors preach the Word of God, we do so from the Bible text itself. Sure, we have notes, and we have commentaries, and we have maps and study guides and all kinds of tools, but what is taught is more or less text from the Bible.
Islam, because there is little context in the Qur’an, has developed a complex system of external commentary, that combined with Muhammad’s known actions and sayings form the Hadith. Muslim’s are taught primarily from the Hadith, rather than directly from the Qur’an. Hadith will generally reference verses in the Koran, but what is primarily taught is commentary. So where we would study the Bible, a Muslim neighbor would primarily study Hadith, and interpret the Quran through the lens of that Hadith.
When we begin to understand the work in front of us, yes, it is good that Islam recognizes the Bible as a Holy book, but the reality is many Muslims have little understanding of either the Bible or the Qur’an. Much work to do! To be continued next month. Again, two great starting books, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi and What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an, by James White.
Give Hope. Give Life. Give Bibles!