Blessings upon you, friends. I hope you are all feeling peaceful and well. I thought that today I would share where I am standing spiritually after spending quite of lot of time reading the Qur’an and exploring the differences and similarities between Christianity and Islam.
I take Islam very seriously because it is the second biggest religion on the planet in terms of the number of its adherents and also because when I read the Qur’an for the first time I found so much truth within its pages that connected with me deeply. There are certain statements relating to the character of God expressed within the pages of the Qur’an that I feel I cannot deny. I also have a great deal of reverence for the Bible, and continue to believe Jesus is central to God’s plan for humanity, even though at present I am uncertain in relation to Christian claims concerning the divinity of Jesus.
What I have been thinking recently is that there must be some kind of truth in relation to the way events unfolded in the life of Jesus and the life of Muhammad. There either was a crucifixion of Jesus, or there wasn’t. He was either raised from the dead or he wasn’t. And in terms of Islam, either Muhammad received revelation from the angel Gabriel or he didn’t. There must be historical truths in relation to these important matters.
It seems to me that there are only two ways that I might be able to figure out what happened historically. One is through studying textual criticism along with history and trying to find evidence that persuades me regarding the truth of certain events. The other way is to ask God to reveal the Truth to me (I already have, incidentally) and hope that he will graciously reveal to me in some way what actually happened in the life of Jesus and in the life of Muhammad. I suppose there is a third way, which is that I might die, and then things could become clear in the afterlife, though I can only speculate about this.
I do worry that even if I were to dedicate the rest of my life to the study of textual criticism and history, I might not be any clearer on the key issues of religion. In fact, I could become ever more uncertain. I say this because there are scholars and university professors who disagree entirely on matters of faith and spirituality and history, despite dedicating their lives to this kind of work.
What I do feel relatively confident about is that the Bible and the Qur’an teach many of the same things, at least from a certain viewpoint. For instance, I find great similarities between the moral teaching of Jesus and the way the Qur’an portrays our duty towards God and others. Let me provide an example.
In the Gospel according to Luke we find the following passage:
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)
Christians interpret the Parable of the Good Samaritan in different ways, but it seems to me, even after I have read the Bible quite a few times and studied Biblical theology in some depth, that Jesus is truly teaching us how we should behave in order to inherit eternal life. There are many Christians who believe works are simply not important at all (salvation, to some, is by faith in Jesus alone) but there are many other Christians who do believe works are important for salvation, a view which better accords with the teaching found in the Qur’an.
In the Qur’an we find a repeated emphasis on the Last Day (the day of judgement) when the deeds of every human being will be weighed up and judged. The Bible also teaches that there will be a judgement day; the only point of contention among Christians is whether good works will count for anything on the day of judgement, as Muslims believe they will. I don’t know what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is really teaching if it isn’t teaching that the way we treat others is very important in God’s eyes. I know some Christians believe we cannot truly love others without having accepted Jesus as Lord and received a rebirth and a new heart, but many Christians argue that even after being born again any good works we do do not affect our salvific status. There are also very many Christians (including many Catholics) who believe charitable works are important and are a salvation issue.
One important area of similarity between Christianity and Islam is that both the Bible and the Qur’an teach the doctrine of predestination (at least, in my understanding). Both the Bible and the Qur’an describe a book that God has written, contained (presumably) in the heavenly realms, which contains a record of all our deeds. There’s a beautiful passage in the Qur’an which talks about how if all the water in the sea were ink, it would still not be enough ink to reflect what is written about us in God’s book. In the Bible, in the Book of Revelation and elsewhere, there are references to books kept by God in the heavenly realms. Is it possible that God scripted the entire story of creation, including every detail, before he even began his creative work?
I continue to believe that God is sovereign over the unfolding of every event in all our lives, which is the idea at the heart of much of my own philosophical and theological writing. I don’t find this view incompatible with either Christianity or Islam, and I continue to believe in our lack of free will. All of the issues related to this perspective (for instance, the logic of judgement if we don’t have free will) are discussed extensively in my books.
God keeps leading me back time and time again to the figure of Abraham and the passages that mention Abraham in both the Bible and Qur’an. I believe God loves Abraham because Abraham trusted God and God’s promises to him, even though they looked doubtful and took many decades to manifest. Also, Abraham was always thankful. I think perhaps God is reminding me of these passages to inspire my own faith in him; that the things he has promised me personally and the plans he has for me will come to fruition, in God’s way, and in God’s timing.
For now, I will continue to seek, pray, and try to love God and love my neighbour to the best of my ability.