Reading the Quran with Muslims and Christians
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.
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