from The Qur’an and the Christian: An In-Depth Look at Islam for Followers of Jesus
by Matthew Aaron Bennett
TO THE CHRISTIAN READER OF THE QUR’AN
Though this book urges Christians to familiarize themselves with the Qur’an, a few issues must be made clear from the outset. First of all, the teaching of the Qur’an cannot be reconciled with the biblical Gospel without doing violence to both. Though the pluralistic character of our day bristles at such a suggestion, attempts to make the message of Islam and Christianity commensurate fail to account for the actual beliefs held by members of each faith. Consider the words of Islamic scholar, Muhammad Mustafa al-Azami:
Let us recall two of the major doctrines of Christianity: Original Sin and Atonement. The former is the automatic inheritance of every human, being the progeny of Adam, whilst the latter embodies the belief that God sacrificed His only begotten Son as the sole means of absolving this Sin. The Qur’an categorically rejects both.
In other words, Muslims themselves recognize that although the Qur’an claims to continue the true biblical message, it is diametrically opposed to central doctrines taught therein. Thus, we do a better job of both respecting our Muslim neighbor’s beliefs and maintaining the integrity of the biblical message when we are willing to acknowledge that Islam and Christianity diverge.
Second, the Arabic language as it is spoken today is indelibly shaped by qur’anic theology. Since the writing of the Qur’an appears to be the first occasion that the Arabic language was used to record a substantial text, the implicit and explicit definitions given to words as they appear in the Qur’an have born influence on the subsequent use of the language. Therefore, in order to communicate biblical concepts such as God, sin, humanity, and eschatology to
Muslims, one must be conscious of the effect that the Qur’an bears on such language, whether one is speaking in Arabic or expressing these ideas in English.
Third, if you pick up the Qur’an expecting it to read like the texts with which you are familiar, you will likely encounter frustration. The Qur’an is not simply a Muslim version of the Bible. It does not contain much narrative or history. Rather, it is primarily didactic material, instructing believers through repetition concerning the importance of remembering God, submitting to his will, and striving toward upright living.
As you read the Qur’an, let me encourage you to actively fight the temptation to skip over seemingly repeated phrases and ideas. Semitic literature often uses repetition to highlight those things that are of central importance to the text. Try to discover why the Qur’an is concerned to highlight this particular material and whether or not it presents these concepts in a way that conflicts with biblical teaching.
Finally, though Western readers have been notorious for their less-than-charitable descriptions of the Qur’an as a text, I would encourage a Christian reader of the Qur’an to undertake this task as an act of neighborly love. The concepts, words, and phrases contained in this book have likely impressed themselves on your Muslim neighbor from the day they were born through to the present. By studying this book, you not only learn about how your Muslim neighbor views the world, you also show him or her that you care.
Reading the Qur’an will allow you to have increasingly engaged, meaningful conversations in which your questions and disagreements come not from a secondhand account of what the Qur’an teaches but from your own encounter of its message. Your Muslim neighbor will likely appreciate your efforts, and you will have more credibility in their eyes when you say that you have compared the Qur’an and the Bible and remain convinced of the beauty of the Gospel. Likewise, as you read the Qur’an, it may provide you opportunities to naturally invite your Muslim neighbor to consider reading the Bible.
TO THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNICATOR
As mentioned above, the uniqueness of the Qur’an can prove problematic for Christian communicators. As you read the Qur’an, some of the problems that arise may present themselves to you in the form of questions: How should a Christian view this book that lays claim to biblical characters who are barely recognizable in its accounts? Where does shared vocabulary indicate shared concepts? More troublingly, where does it obscure differences? And what role does the Qur’an play in shaping our evangelism and discipleship?
The final question above might raise some eyebrows among readers familiar with some of the intramural missiological discussions regarding various contextualization strategies from the CAMEL Method to Insider Movements. We will address questions regarding the legitimacy of such strategies in due course. For the moment, however, I want to simply contend that the Qur’an and its language must inform the manner by which we discuss the Gospel with our Arabic-speaking friends. If we are ignorant of the Qur’an and its message, we will likely struggle to understand why our Muslim neighbors misunderstand us when we speak of the atonement offered through the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah.
In order to illustrate this claim, consider the fact that the previous sentence alone employs four instances of biblical language that are in conflict with qur’anic concepts yet are expressed by the same vocabulary. The words atonement, Gospel, Jesus, and Messiah all appear in the Qur’an, with irreconcilably different meanings associated with them. In order to make disciples, we must ensure that what we intend to communicate is actually understood. Thus, one of the primary purposes for writing this book is to begin to acquaint Christian witnesses with the ways that the Qur’an has influenced the theological language necessary for communicating the Gospel among Muslim peoples.
 Muhammad Mustafa al-Azami, The History of the Qur’anic Text: From Revelation to Compilation (Lahore, Pakistan: Suhail Academy, 2005), 307.
 For a fascinating discussion on these issues, see Sidney Griffith, The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the “People of the Book” in the Language of Islam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013).
This post is adapted from The Qur’an and the Christian: An In-Depth Look at Islam for Followers of Jesus
by Matthew Aaron Bennett. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
Understanding Islam’s sacred text is integral to understanding your Muslim neighbor
Cross-cultural missionary and scholar Matthew Aaron Bennett blends the insights of Islamic believers, secular Qur’an scholars, and missionaries to Muslims, making The Qur’an and the Christian like no other resource for Christian ministry to Muslims. Combining these perspectives in one guide better equips Christians to communicate the biblical gospel to friends and neighbors who are adherents to Islam–both in and out of majority-Muslim cultures.
The Qur’an and the Christian addresses issues both simple and profound, such as:
- How the Qur’an came to be, including Muhammed and the Qur’an’s textual precursors
- The major themes of the Qur’an and how these shape the practice of Islam
- The presence of Bible characters, Jews, and Christians in the Qur’anic text
- Whether and how a Christian should read the Qur’an
- Avoiding miscommunication with Muslims when the Qur’an and Christian teaching seem to overlap
This book will help Christians learn how to explore Islamic faith with missiological wisdom and biblical precision. The Qur’an and the Christian will give believers the insight to deepen friendships, promote understanding, and clarify the biblical gospel among Muslim friends and neighbors.