Reading the Quran with Muslims and Christians

quran bible torahby Doug Baker

The story being told us by a large segment of our political and religious leaders is that Islam is inherently violent and that the reason is because Muslims obey the Quran.

Representative Mo Brooks (Alabama) recently said, "You look at the Quran, and I encourage people to read it on their own so they can get a first-hand view of whether these terrorists who are killing non-Muslims are doing what the Quran instructs them to do." These words are meant to strike fear and hatred into our hearts.

Brooks is right insofar as if we approach the Quran looking for reasons to be offended we will find them. There are passages that talk about killing and about warfare. Most of the Muslims I know are quick to point out that within their context these passages are not talking about being the aggressors in war or forcing people to convert to Islam. They are passages about defending the city in which they lived from people who attacked them.

And we know that there are passages in the Bible that also frighten us with their bloodthirstiness. The conquest of Canaan was, by all biblical accounts, a very bloody affair.

And just as bloodthirsty people use passages in the Quran to legitimize their own violence, so too have Christians appealed to the Bible as authorization to commit every violent and evil sort of action. We have found it easy to "justify conquest by appealing to the example of Israel's conquest of Canaan," as theologian Kevin Vanhoozer writes. In the case of the conquest of the American continents, that conquest amounted to genocide. And many Christian leaders at the time praised it as being just like Israel's conquest of Canaan.

When we look back at these things we have no difficulty in seeing that they used Scripture against its will and twisted it according to their own greedy desires. We would not dream of using the Bible to justify our own wars. In this we are giving the Bible a very sympathetic reading.

I would like to suggest that we can give the Quran a likewise sympathetic reading. We do not have to assume the worst and look for the worst. It will not harm Jesus in any way if we look for that which is uplifting and if we gladly affirm that which echoes our own faith.

In that spirit I read the following words to a group of Christians and Muslims gathered in my home to celebrate Thanksgiving together. "To every community there is a direction to turn to, so compete to do good deeds wherever you may be. God will bring you all. God has power over all things" (The Quran: A Contemporary Understanding, translated by Safi Kaskas, 2:148).

In this passage, I explained, God is reminding us that He has put us each into our particular community, whether Christian or Jewish or Muslim. God claims authority over us all. If we must compete between religions, God urges us not to compete for land, or wealth, or power, or numbers. Compete, God says, to do good deeds.

"I encourage people to read it on their own so they can get a first-hand view of whether these terrorists who are killing non-Muslims are doing what the Quran instructs them to do." – Mo Brooks

It strikes me that this one verse from the Quran manages to combine two important concepts from the New Testament.

First is that God intentionally has us all in different places and cultures. This is no accident, for as Paul says, "From one man [God] created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us."

Second is that we are encouraged to "Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another." We have an ongoing debt that we will never finish paying, and that is the debt to show love to everyone around us.

These two ideas are beautifully united in the second chapter of the Quran. As a follower of Jesus, I get excited when I find such correspondences between the spirit of the Bible and the spirit of the Quran. And the parallels are everywhere.

I did not always expect this. I long assumed, as many do, that the Quran is a dangerous book designed to pull people away from the God I worship.

But then I read it, and I found that I had been wrong. The Quran is not simply a retelling of the Bible, nor a commentary on the Bible. But neither is it a repudiation of the Bible. In fact the Quran tells its readers to go ask questions of the Jews and Christians to get further insight. So it should come as no surprise when we find similarities and echoes of the Bible within it.

So, to Rep. Brooks and to everyone else telling us that the Quran is the problem, I would simply echo Brooks' words back at him: "I encourage people to read it on their own so they can get a first-hand view of whether these terrorists who are killing non-Muslims are doing what the Quran instructs them to do." If you come to it seeking evil, you will find it. But when we give it a sympathetic reading, in the manner that I think most Muslims read it, we find something beautifully different from what Mo Brooks or ISIS would have us to expect.

What if our political leaders took up the Quran's challenge and decided to actively "compete to do good deeds"? How would that change our world? And wouldn't Jesus love to watch that competition!

The father of four beautiful daughters, Doug Baker is the author of Covenant and Community (Wipf & Stock, 2008) and currently looking for a publisher for a novel. His passion at the moment is to increase the connections between the Christian and the Muslim communities in Bloomington, IN.

Also in this series:

Reading the Bible with a Muslim Friend

Come, Let Us Bow Down in Worship

Ashraf and Old Testament Violence

Who Did God Save When the Zamzam Sank?

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9 Responses

  1. kb says:

    A laudable goal, to create bridges for understanding between Christians and Muslims in the United States. I agree that in order for Christians to be able to respond intelligently about the motivations of Muslims – whether extremist, moderate, or nominal – it will help greatly to actually read the Quran. I am working my way through a translation by NJ Dawoshed 1956 by Penguin Classics. So far the most significant thing I have learned is how focused Islam is on eschatology and the final judgment. Reading the Quran has opened my eyes to similarities between Islam and Christianity and also ways in which Islam deviates from previous revelation in its attempt to supersede Christianity and Judaism.

  2. neigedoi says:

    "We would not dream of using the Bible to justify our own wars." Not sure if this was intended facetiously… In fact President Bush's 2003 "preemptive strike" in Iraq was then and is still today debated by some evangelical Christians. While some opposed it on moral & Biblical grounds (e.g., Miroslav Volf), some justified it under a theory of "just war." As an example of both sides if the debate, see

  3. Lois Baker says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful article on reading the Koran and the Bible in similarly "sympathetic" ways. We need to hear more about what our two faith traditions have in common.

  4. Salim al baff says:

    Salam to every child of God on earth

  5. Thank you for publishing your interesting experience, which I hope to be a light for others to "seek first to understand" and to judge scripture based on the best, integrated, holistic understanding of its meanings, not based on what we hear from media, which is mostly biased, for one reason or another.

    Please go on; we need more thoughtful minds like you to do the needed efforts of dialogue-building and holistic research of scriptures, free from prejudgment, negative inherited attitudes and culture clichés, creating a new, positive, healthy atmosphere for knowledge-seekers and nurturing the idea of co-existence. (I have to thank Dr. Safi Kaskas for pointing this interesting article out to me — it really made my day!)

    • Doug P Baker says:

      Thank you, Mohamed!

      Your words are very encouraging to me!

      You say, "Please go on."

      Yes, I long to do exactly that! The editor of this site and I have decided that I will write a few more articles here. Please watch for them.

  6. Jesus is the answer. says:

    You are doing a wonderful job of preparing your readers for the One World Religion to come.

  7. Jean J Stuart says:

    Thanks for this article.

    Debunking The Myth That The Quran Endorses Violence

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