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III. The Qur'an and The New Testament

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The Qur'an: A Collection of the Revelations of Allah to Muhammad

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The Arabs, particularly Muhammad, were at a disadvantage before the rise of Islam because they possessed no written document to serve as a foundation for their animistic belief. The Jews who had been expelled from Palestine and then settled in the Hedjaz, with some Christian slaves, possessed a holy book that guided them, gave them the law, revelation, power, wisdom, promise and understanding. The Torah and New Testament had not yet been translated into Arabic at that time. They were available only in the original draft of Hebrew and Greek. A part of these texts probably also existed in the Syriac language. These holy books were considered a sign of higher culture and a source of wisdom. This could not be said for the animists on the Arabian peninsula. Jews and Christians could say, "It is written!" The Bedouins, however, possessed no written proof related to their set of beliefs. Muhammad longed for a holy book in the Arabic language, for a valid revelation of faith and life, and a written law to serve as the sum of all ordinances. Such a book, with its revolutionary knowledge, should be faultless.

Muhammad was illiterate (Sura al-A`raf 7:156). As a merchant he could probably count and make out letters, but he could not read or write fluently. He did not have full command of the Arabic script, let alone Hebrew, Greek or Syrian. He never had direct access to any Biblical source or to the translation of an inspired source, and thus totally relied on hearsay and oral traditions. Even today, texts in the Qur'an show that the Biblical accounts in the Qur'an have been distorted. Muhammad could only pass on what he had heard from the Jews and Christians in his area. Certain Christian groups in Mecca during that time advocated essential deviations from the New Testament texts. In addition, Muhammad had to reckon with either intentional concealment or with distorted stories of the Torah from the Jews.

Muhammad had no access to the clear sources of the word of God, either during his upbringing or from his informants. There are allusions to the fact that Waraqa Ibn Nawfal, the cousin of his wife Khadija, attempted to translate portions of the Torah from Hebrew into Arabic. What actually happened is not known. Beyond that, it is questionable whether Muhammad got along well with his relative, who did not recognise Muhammad as a spiritual leader, but believed in Jesus the Lord.

Despite his deficient education, Muhammad was a gifted poet and a master of popular Arabian poetry. His Suras are written with a dynamic, enthusiastic rhythm and flights of imagination. Despite minor grammatical errors, the Qur'an is considered to this day to be the most beautiful and best creation in the Arabic language. It remains the standard and the source of all later publications in the Arabic world. The holy book of Muslims does not present its content in plain prose, but in a memorable poetic form.

Islam claims that Muhammad did not compose the Qur'an, but rather that Allah himself, through the angel Gabriel, dictated all Suras word by word to Muhammad and unforgettably impressed them upon his mind. Muhammad was counted only as an involuntary instrument in the hand of Allah. Therefore, the Qur'an is for many Muslims the place where Allah approaches mankind. His book is highly esteemed; it is kissed, never laid on the ground, and fitted with gold frames and arabesques.

It is obvious to readers of the Qur'an that the Suras from the Meccan period are shorter and more dramatic than the long texts of law composed later in Medina. It relates to the fact that during the time of persecution the Muslims only retained by heart the texts which impressed them most. In Medina, there were several secretaries who always stood near Muhammad in order to write every word of his revelations. The texts from the Meccan period are more prophetic, written with warnings or threats, while the texts composed in Medina are concentrated on regulations and laws for the community, family life and a political system. They contain the foundation for all later Islamic legislation. It is significant that the last words of Muhammad related to the observance and refinement of his directives, and did not contain a vision for the future, nor words of consolation. In Mecca, it was as though a volcano of ideas had erupted; in Medina the lava hardened into solid blocks.

After Muhammad's death, different transmissions of his revelations circulated among his followers. Many a partisan word was subsequently attributed to him or spread as if having originated from him. The third caliph, Othman, saw no other way but to assemble all the existing versions of the Qur'an and put a final draft of the Qur'an together. This final draft is now considered the faultless, holy book of the Muslims.

Jews and Christians would not trouble themselves with the Qur'an so much had not Muhammad seen himself as the absolute culmination in the line of all God's prophets. In the Qur'an he confirmed Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist and Jesus as prophets or ambassadors of Allah, with the limitation that each would have received only a part of the heavenly book. However, he, Muhammad, would have been the one to receive the most important pages as the final revelation in the Arabic language.

Even these assertions would not stir up a non-Muslim had not Muhammad proclaimed the content of his revelations in the Qur'an as the measure of all prior truth. What had been prophesied through many prophets and what Jesus said, did and suffered, was now no longer considered valid revelation or a real historic event. Only the texts from the Bible which passed through the filter of the Qur'an remained standing as "truth" for Muslims. Muhammad asserted that the Jews had distorted, falsified and suppressed the texts in the Old Testament, and that Christians had invented the crucifixion of Jesus as well as his resurrection from the dead. The designation "Son of God" and the belief in God as Father were later inserted into the Gospel.

Muhammad did not make clear by whom, or how, the concerned texts had been falsified. He also did not trouble himself over the fact that the Torah and the New Testament, centuries before Muhammad, had already been translated into several languages. Muhammad recognised none of this. He contented himself with the belief that his revelations alone were to be the measure of truth. Everything in which the Jews and Christians are not in agreement with the Qur'an is considered by Muslims to this day to be a falsification of the truth.

Islam condemns itself with such a claim. Calling the truth a lie reveals this religion to be a false one. Jesus called Satan the "father of lies" and Paul warned us about the cunning attacks of the enemy, whose words turn out to be ingenious perversions (John 8:44; Ephesians 6:11). It would be false to classify the whole Qur'an as a lie. It contains a lot of truth from both the Old and New Testament. But the entire aim of these statements is twisted and leads people astray. The more truth is interwoven in a lie, the more intelligible and effective it is. The Qur'an is a masterwork of Satan, an ingenious mixture of truth and lies that binds all its beliefs in an imitation of truth.

The Revelation of God in Christ

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One of the most important differences between Islam and Christianity is the fact that with Muhammad, the revelations of Allah became a book, whereas in the new covenant, God's word appeared as a person. The New Testament consists not merely of written or printed text, for Jesus Himself is the gospel in person. The central confession of Christians reads: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory" (John 1:14).

Even Muhammad claimed to have passively received his revelations from Allah. Jesus, however, is Himself the Revealer of God. The Qur'an declares the laws of Allah. Christ is Himself the lawgiver, for He said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you" (John 13:34; 15:12). Muhammad spoke about the forgiveness of Allah. Jesus fulfilled all prerequisites for forgiveness, and was Himself the forgiver. The difference between the Gospel and the Qur'an, formally seen, is as great as the difference between the text of a revelation and the one from whom the revelation originates. Christ is our Gospel.

The other fundamental difference if the fact that Jews and Christians do not believe in the truth of the revelations in the Qur'an. Nevertheless, Muslims cling to their holy book just as Christians hold fast to the Resurrected Christ. The book of the Muslims has become an idol to them, created and erected by Muhammad.

Finally, one cannot compare the Gospel with the Qur'an. While the Qur'an represents the sum of the messages of Muhammad, the Gospel is an eyewitness account of a person, the living Christ. Admittedly, the New Testament is the basis of our understanding and faith and the Bible remains the source of our strength and comfort. Behind the commands and promises of the Gospel there is no concealed, unknown and distant God like Allah, but a God who became man and lived life like us. He is our standard and our strength. Our God did not only speak and command, but became visible and tangible. The centre of our faith is the person of Jesus Christ, not theoretical beliefs or philosophical dogmas. Neither law nor grace, justification nor sanctification are the actual themes of the Bible; the Saviour and Lawgiver, the Crucified and the Resurrected, the Living and the Coming One, is its theme. He is the object of our faith. From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things. The end of our knowledge is not His book filled with letters, but Christ Himself - the one who loves us.

Moreover, Jesus did not write any book with His own hand. He was the Word of God in person, who left it to the care of His Father and to the power of the Holy Spirit, that His words and deeds would be genuinely lived out by His disciples. The resurrected Jesus saves us, not the Gospel as a book. Through the word of the New Testament, we can come to know the surpassing character, indeed, the very person of Jesus.

How Should the Qur'an and the New Testament Be Read?

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The contents of the Qur'an are considered to be a faultless dictation of Allah - up to the last letter. This inspiration is regarded as being universally understandable. The necessity of an explanation would be a sign of the defectiveness of the Qur'an. Therefore, the Suras demand no critical thinking, only a passive acceptance and obedience.

The Qur'an should be memorised by every Muslim in the Arabic language, even if the reader is not an Arab. This act of memorisation is considered a justifying work, and so is often practised. Even small children sometimes have the suras drummed into their minds. It is not important whether they understand the text or not, it is only important that they keep the revelation faultlessly in their memory. Active and analytical thinking are not essential in Islam, only acceptance, submission and a passive assimilation. The rhythmical character of the suras makes them easier to recite, and impresses them upon the mind. The listener does not need to consider the text too much, because he will be carried along by the poetry and rhythmical beat.

In the beginning stages of Islam an interpretation of the suras was forbidden for some reason. A neutral exegesis would have been interpreted as being a presumptuous devaluation of the revelations of Allah through human reasoning. Open criticism of the revealed text would have been condemned as insolent pride and revolt against Allah and his prophets, as if the understanding of man could be placed over the word of God and it could be proudly judged. Free thinking is not welcomed in Islam. Only unconditional submission of reason to the Qur'an is demanded.

In contrast, Christians (unfortunately) are not encouraged to memorise the Bible, but to participate in active Bible study, to do research, meditation, prayer and to compare critically. Active faith with responsible thinking is the foundation of our culture, and not passive assimilation of the Gospel. Jesus has freed His followers to a humble sense of responsibility, to love in action. He does not allow them to linger with static knowledge that displays itself in emotional outbursts.

Christians are not required to keep the words of their Lord according to the lifestyle of the Middle Ages, but are challenged to live the Gospel of Christ's Lordship in their life each day. With such an emphasis on the present, the Christian mind is not elevated above the word that is revealed, but prayerfully seeks to listen to the voice of our living Lord each new day. The Bible is not an idol, but the place where Christ meets His church through His Spirit; He speaks to her, guides her, frees her from limited thinking and leads her to active trust in His comforting care.

In this regard a great difference becomes evident in the faith, thinking and awareness between the two religions. While many Muslims recite large portions of the Qur'an, there are few Christians who have memorised even one Gospel, or the Sermon on the Mount. Through the practice of memorisation in many generations, the average Muslim is more capable of remembering than the average Christian. In schools it has been obvious that Muslims are better able to remember than students from the West. In return, Christians are more gifted in thinking and adept in research than the majority of Muslims. The love of Christ frees its followers to an active thinking that operates in many areas of life. Recently a Muslim said, "The Protestants were the first on the moon." He wanted to express that in evangelical countries creative thinking has become more developed than in Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Catholic countries. It is significant that this statement did not come from a Christian, but from a perceptive Muslim.

The Solution of Religious and Judicial Problems After the Death of Muhammad

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As the Islamic armies rushed forward in victorious waves, reaching as far west as the Pyrenees, and as far east as the Indus River, tremendous problems emerged from the cultures of the subjugated lands, which had not existed on the Arabian peninsula. There were no answers or solutions in the Qur'an regarding these questions.

It was out of the question for Muslims to exercise independent and investigative thinking in matters pertaining to theological principles and divine laws. Since Allah had spoken finally through Muhammad, who became the "seal" and end of all prophecy, it became necessary for the Islamic teachers of the law to laboriously inquire whether or not Allah might have revealed additional words through Muhammad that were not written in the Qur'an. As a result the book of the traditions, al-Hadith, came into being, which goes through the companions of Muhammad back to Muhammad himself. Their only hope to finding a divine answer for the respective problems relating to modern life was through Muhammad. In Islam, no one except Muhammad can be the spokesman for Allah. He was and remains the eye of the needle through which all Islamic thought must pass. His Qur'an and the al-Hadith, the collection of traditions, have been the standard and source for the entire Islamic culture and science until today. When seen in the light of Islam, no other human is able to receive revelations from Allah. Muhammad was the absolute end point.

The al-Hadith encompasses approximately 20,000 sayings of Muhammad that were passed on by word of mouth. Many Muslims strove to attain the high honour of being bearers of such revelations and pretended to have come into honourable possession of a special revelation of Allah to Muhammad. The truth of most "traditions" is in doubt and is questioned by many scholars of Islamic theology. But their existence shows a basic principle of Islam. After Muhammad, Allah made no direct contact to other Muslims in order to impart revelations. The gap between Allah and Muslims is irreconcilably great. Besides that, Muslims originally had no right to do their own research to find explanations to problems in various areas of life, human rights and religion. They all had to subject themselves to the Qur'an. But with issues where the Qur'an contained no answer, everything came to a standstill until some artificially constructed tradition was brought forth for a verdict or until an instruction could be found.

Later allowances were made for analogical conclusions. By virtue of earlier decisions of Muhammad, based on similar case facts, new laws could be enacted and justice rendered. Islam practices free thinking indirectly. Therefore, the collision with Greco-Byzantine philosophy shocked Muslims to the core. The germs of free thinking in science and public life were eliminated only after a decade-long battle. Islam was paralysed amid innumerable laws that are embraced in the Sharia. Islamic law has become the climax of its culture.

Who Are the Bearers of Revelation in the New Testament?

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The New Testament contains not only acts and words of Jesus Christ, but also many Christ-centred testimonies of the apostles. In view of Islam a considerable difference emerges. Jesus made His disciples to be eyewitnesses and bearers of His self-revelation. He said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Thereby, the Father and the Son took up residence in the followers of Christ, and spoke through them. They became a source of truth. Without the Spirit-inspired testimony of the apostles we would know little of the grace and righteousness that unfolds itself in the church. John, Peter and above all Paul, wrote and explained much about what Jesus accomplished and taught. The Spirit of their Lord led them into all truth. Through Him they received their instructions by direct inspiration.

The resurrected Lord has authorised the testimony of His followers, and speaks through them until today. They have become His living letter to the world. As Muhammad was once the voice of Allah, so every Christian today should be a witness of Jesus. Thus, we should not compare Muhammad with Jesus, but only with His followers.

Only a few present-day Christians have the gift of prophecy. Many people have recognised that they are sinners in the all-revealing light of Christ, and have personally experienced the justifying grace of the Saviour. The love of God and the forgiveness they have experienced in Christ has so overwhelmed them, that they willingly devote themselves to Jesus and become His slaves and followers. They relinquish their false freedom and bondage to sin, living from the word of the Lord day and night. Jesus Christ said of Himself, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me" (John 4:33). The disciples of Jesus are strengthened in their spiritual life through daily Bible reading, prayer and practical obedience. As a result, they are guided in their daily life and receive direct inspirational contact with their Saviour (John 10:27-28).

The apostle Paul testified to this fact in the following way: "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:14-16). "God Himself admonishes through us: be reconciled to God!" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul revealed the secret of the church as the body of Christ in which the head and members represent unity in action. Jesus' followers are also called the "temple of God," which shows the closeness of God to each believer. Christians stand on another level from the old covenant believers or followers of other religions. In regard to John the Baptist, the greatest of all prophets, Jesus said, "The least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." This reference that justified Christians have a greater privilege than earlier prophets does not make them proud and presumptuous, because the spirit of truth holds them in brokenness and humility. They never forget who they were and what it cost their Lord to save them from the wrath of God. They also know that His care, intercession and love alone preserves them in being children of God. In their daily Bible reading and prayer they stand in direct conversational contact with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit.

Whoever compares this fact of the new covenant with the rigid limitations of revelation in Islam will see the imprisoned thinking of Muslims and recognise that the followers of Muhammad were led by a deceiving spirit. Furthermore, the Christian will be thankful for the privilege he has. On the other hand, we understand that our call through Christ, our contact with the Father, and power to faith, love and hope, also compels us to mission work among Muslims.

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