This article discusses how the Quran interprets Christianity. However, before we get started, I would like to remind readers of the four essential sources of Islamic legislation. These are, in order of importance: the Quran (the Book), the Sunnah (the exemplary life and practices of Prophet Muhammad), consensus, and judgments reached by Islamic scholars. The first two establish Islamas fundamentals; the last two, which rely completely on the first two, give flexibility and wide applicability to the laws. No decisions made by scholars or agreements of Muslims may contradict the Quran or the Sunnah.
In general, social theories do not work in an absolutely deterministic manner due to the human factor. This is true of the fact that religions offer peace to society. Among these side factors are various social and historical engagements, possible misunderstandings and misinterpretations inherited from the past, and so on.
In this article, I analyze two religions: one is a religion of love and peace, and the other is a religion of love and mercy. However, many unfortunate events have taken place between them. For the purpose of this paper, I have set all such events aside on the grounds that every historical event should be evaluated in light of its original circumstances. Therefore, it would not be fair to judge the past using todayas arguments. We can probably just say: Those who believe (in the Quran), who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians, Christians, Magians, and polytheists, God will judge between them on the Day of Judgment, for God is witness of all things (22:17) The only benefit from recalling these events might be to discover the mistakes made in history so that they can be avoided in the future.
Given the above and now that we are in the Age of Information, followers of both religions should review their knowledge and think carefully about whether existing misunderstandings are based on something other than the written sources, especially the holy books of both religions. Prophet Muhammad once said: People are the enemy of what they do not know.a So, do we really know each other well? If not, what does such ignorance lead to? Do those who have sharp critiques of another religion even know its fundamentals? Unfortunately, none of these and similar questions have a positive answer.
Therefore, in an effort to help diminish this lack of knowledge, this article provides some brief explanations about how the Quran sees Christianity. There are many other related verses and arguments in the Sunnah as well, but those will be dealt with in a later article. For the purposes of this article, the Quran is sufficient.
Christianity and Christians
Is Christianity a Divine Religion? This question has an immediate answer: Yes! According to the Quran, Christianity is a religion from God and all religions from the Divine Source are the same. The only differences are some modifications made by God according to the prevailing conditions of a particular age. The name of this religion is Islam, and Prophet Muhammad brought its final version: He has established the same religion for you as that which He enjoined upon Noah--which We have sent by inspiration to you--and that We enjoined upon Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (42:13). Other verses, such as 4:136 and 2:213, point this out in a wider approach.
That is why the Quran most of the time carefully distinguishes unbelievers from followers of the holy scriptures, although there is no agreement on all points of these beliefs. The fact that it calls them the People of the Booka is important.
Remarkably, the Quran sometimes refers to People of the Book (Jews and Christians) or previous scriptures as supporting the Messenger, and sometimes declares itself a reference for verifying previous scriptures. In fact, both show that the Quran somehow accreditsa Christianity. We read, respectively: They say, ˜Why does he not bring to us a sign from his Lord? Has there not come to them a clear evidence of what is in the previous books? (20:133; see also 6:114, 10:94, 13:43, 29:47, 28:52) and He has revealed to you the Book with truth, verifying that which is before it, and revealed the Torah and the Gospels aforetime, guidance for the people (3:3; see also 35:31).
In the following verse, the Quran gives special importance to Christianity: Behold! God said: O Jesus, I will take you and raise you to Myself, and clear you (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme. I will make your followers superior to those who reject faith, until the Day of Resurrection. Then shall you all return unto Me, and I will judge between you about that which you dispute (3:33). In 22:40, the Quran mentions churches as being among those places in which the name of God is commemorated.
Christians and their relations with Muslims. The following verses state the basic characteristics of Christians in general, which can be summarized as being trustworthy, adoring God during the night, being lowly before God, not taking a small price for the communications of God, not behaving proudly, being strong believers and crying on account of the truth, having Compassion and Mercy in their hearts, and so on.
We read in the Quran: Among the People of the Book are some such that if you entrust one (of them) with a heap of wealth, he shall pay it back to you (3:75); They are not all alike. Of the People of the Book there is an upright party. They recite Godas communications in the nighttime and adore (Him) (3:113); and Most surely, among the People of the Book are those who believe in God and (in) that which has been revealed to you and to them, being lowly before God; they do not take a small price for the communications of God. These have their reward with their Lord. Surely God is quick in reckoning (3:199; see also 29:47).
The Quran also states: When they hear what has been revealed to the Apostle, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears on account of the truth that they recognize. They say: Our Lord, we believe, so write us down with the witnesses (of truth). And why should we not believe in God and in the truth that has come to us, while we earnestly desire that our Lord should cause us to enter with the good people?a Therefore God rewarded them, on account of what they said, with gardens in which rivers flow to abide in therein. This is the reward of those who do good (to others) (5:83-85); and bestowed on Jesus, son of Mary the Gospel, and We ordained compassion and mercy in the hearts of his followers (57:27).
A Muslim man or women is forbidden to marry an unbeliever and to eat the meat of any animal that has not been sacrificed in Godas name. However, the following verse cancels that restriction for the People of the Book: This day (all) the good things are allowed to you. The food of those who have been given the Book is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them, and chaste believing women and the chaste from among those who were given the Book before you (are lawful for you) (5:5).
This obviously means that God wants Muslims to become closer to Christians in their social life. But more importantly, and in addition to issues of marriage or food, Muslims are asked to be nice to them at all times: Do not dispute with the People of the Book except by what is best, except for those of them who act unjustly (29:46). Can their status as People of the Book be one reason why Muslims are told to be nice to them? You will find the most violent of people in enmity towards believers [to be] the Jews and the polytheists, and you will find the nearest in friendship to believers [to be] those who say: We are Christians.a This is because there are priests and monks among them, and because they do not behave proudlya (5:82; see also 13.36).
Who is saved: Christians or Muslims? The above discussion naturally may lead one to a desire to know who will be in heaven. However, we are not at a position to really answer this question, for heaven belongs to God and its people are His people. Thus, talking about who will and will not be in heaven does not seem to be a respectful behavior toward God: Whatever is in the heavens and Earth is Godas, and We enjoined those who were given the Book before you and you too to be careful of (your duty to) God. If you do not believe, surely whatever is in the heavens and in Earth is Godas. God is Self-sufficient, worthy of [all] praise. (4:131).
Those who consider themselves to have some kind of guarantee, who try to restrict the ways to heaven according to their own will, or letting everybody have a place in it ahead of time may be at fault. We probably can talk about being saved if it is clearly stated in the scriptures. I think both Muslims and Christians agree that unbelievers will receive an everlasting punishment on the Day of Judgment.
So, everyone should consider seriously what the Quran says: (As for) those who believe and do good, We will make them enter into gardens beneath which rivers flow, to abide therein forever. (This is) Godas promise, (which is) true. Who is truer of word than God? (This) shall not be in accordance with your vain desires or those of the People of the Book. Whoever does evil will be requited with it and, besides God, such people will not find for themselves a guardian or a helper. Whoever does good deeds, whether male or female, and he (or she) is a believer--they will enter the garden and will not be dealt with unjustly in any way (4:122-24). Clearly, these verses are talking about both Muslims and Christians, but not in accordance with their desires.
Probably the problem becomes one of determining what are good deeds. Fortunately, good deeds are defined in almost exactly the same way in both religions. The verse: Turning your face to East or West can be read as calling yourself Muslim or Christiana: It is not righteousness that you turn your faces toward the East and the West, but righteousness that one should believe in God, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the Prophets; give away wealth out of love for Him to near relatives, orphans, the needy, wayfarers, beggars, for (the emancipation of) captives, and observe the prayers and pay the poor-rate. Those who keep their promise after they have made one, and those who are patient in times of distress, affliction, and conflict--these are the ones who are true (to themselves) and who guard (against evil) (2:177).
The following verses address Christians directly: If the People of the Book had believed and guarded (against evil), We would have covered their evil deeds and have made them enter gardens of bliss (5:65) and Those who believe, or who are Jews, Christians, and Sabians--whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, will have their reward from their Lord. There is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve (2:62; see also 5:69).
How is the Bible mentioned? It is widely accepted in the Muslim world, along with some historical evidence, that the words of the Torah, the Bible, and the Psalms do not have the same miraculous nature of those of the Quran. This is because they have been translated repeatedly, with the result that many alien words gradually became part of the original text. Also, the words of commentators and sometimes their misguided interpretations were confused with their verses. In addition, distortions conceived by ignorant and hostile people were incorporated into them. Over time, the amount of corruption and alteration in those Books has continued to grow.
Nevertheless, there is still some evidence that the Bible or the Torah, both of which are mentioned in the Quran, mostly refers to those existing at the time of Prophet Muhammad. As for the Torah, the Quran states in a verse revealed after a group of Jews asked the Prophet a question and then disobeyed his decision: How do they make you a judge and they have the Torah, wherein is Godas judgment? Yet they turn back after that. These are not the believersa And We sent after them in their footsteps Jesus, son of Mary, verifying what was before him of the Torah. And We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light, and verifying what was before it of the Torah, and [serving as] a guidance and an admonition for those who guard (against evil) (5:43-44, 56; see also 5:27, 7:157).
As the Gospel verified the Torah, the Quran verifies both (3:3; see also 9:111). Likewise, the following verse also encourages followers of the book to read the Book as it should be read: Those to whom We have given the Book read it as it ought to be read, they believe in it. Those who do not believe in it are the losers (2:121).
Suggested Reading List
- Gulen, M. Fethullah. The Infinite Light. London: Kaynak A.S., 1996 (Online at www.fgulen.com). Gulen, Essentials of the Islamic Faith is also a good source of related information.
- Hasan, Ahmad (trans.). Sunan Abu Dawud, book 36 (Online at www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah).
- Khan, M. Muhsin (trans.). Sahih Bukhari, books 55 and 56 (Online at www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah).
- Nursi, Bediuzzaman Said. Risale-i Nur Collection: The Letters. The Nineteenth Letter: Sixteenth Sign.a Konak-Izmir, Turkey: Kaynak AS, 1998. (Online at www.nur.org or www.risale-inur.com). Related topics are discussed throughout the entire collection.
- Siddiqui, Abdul Hamid (trans.). Sahih Muslim, books 30, 31, and 41 (Online at www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah).