The Quran, a book that holds immense significance and influence in today’s world, serves as the foundational text of Islam. It shapes legal systems, politics, ethics, cultures, and worship for a quarter of the global population. While it can be challenging to comprehend, the Quran presents an intriguing aspect for Christians – its numerous references to biblical stories and characters. Surprisingly, despite the historical challenges Islam posed to Christianity, the Quran draws heavily upon the Bible. Moses, mentioned 136 times, and Abraham, mentioned 69 times, are the most frequently named figures in the Quran, while Jesus is mentioned six times more often than Muhammad.
One of the remarkable aspects of the Biblical references in the Quran is the combination of knowledge and ignorance. The Quran contains countless references to biblical events and characters, yet it confuses Mary, the mother of Jesus, with Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. These observations raise an intriguing question: “How can the Quran possess extensive knowledge about the Bible and yet overlook the fact that a thousand years separated the family of Amram from the family of Jesus of Nazareth?”
This inconsistency between the Bible and the Quran is not an isolated incident. There are other instances, such as the inclusion of the name “Haman” from the Book of Esther in the court of Pharaoh during Moses’ time. Additionally, there is a reference to a “Samaritan” during the golden calf incident, and a mention of Saul’s warriors choosing between drinking water with their hands or lapping it up like dogs, which is reminiscent of Gideon’s story in Judges. These discrepancies prompt us to explore the question: “What is the Bible doing in the Quran?”
Throughout history, many Christians have viewed Islam as a Christian heresy, stemming from some form of sectarian Christianity. This perspective has led to two contrasting responses. One approach seeks to correct what it perceives as errors, while the other advocates for the retrieval and unveiling of the true Christ within Islam. However, what if both correction and retrieval are misguided? What if Islam’s connection to Christianity is not a family tree but something entirely different?
My research proposes an alternative thesis. It suggests that there is a deep theological disconnect between the Bible and the Quran. While the Quran incorporates biblical and extra-biblical Christian and Jewish materials, it repurposes them to serve its unique theological agenda. The Quran possesses an extensive volume of biblical reflexes, but these do not necessarily indicate a profound affinity between Islam and Christianity.
For example, the Quran repeatedly refers to Jesus (Isa) and even acknowledges him as the Messiah (al-Masih). However, it lacks a Christology and fails to provide an explanation of what a Messiah truly represents. The theological disparity between the Bible and the Quran goes beyond surface similarities. The Quran lacks a covenantal theology, which plays a vital role in framing the saving relationship between humans and Allah. Moreover, the Quran’s concept of monotheism differs from that presented in the Bible. While the Bible emphasizes exclusive covenantal loyalty to Yahweh, the Quran’s notion of God’s oneness is grounded in Arabic ideas of client-protégé relationships and the rejection of partnership with God.
If Islam did not develop directly from Judaism or Christianity, then how can we conceptualize the connection that led to the absorption of biblical content into the Quran? Rather than envisioning a family tree, two metaphors offer insights. The first metaphor compares the relationship between Islam and Christianity to the repurposing of materials from a demolished church for the construction of a mosque. The second metaphor likens the process to linguistic hybridization, where Christian and Jewish influences form the superstrate, while pre-Islamic Arab language and culture shape the substrate.
Recognizing that the Quran does not have a family tree connection with Judaism and Christianity should not be seen as a negative judgment. Understanding Islam for what it truly is, rather than through the lens of a Christian heresy, can have profound implications for coexistence between the two faiths and foster meaningful interfaith dialogue. It also frees us from the tasks of correction and retrieval, enabling fresh perspectives on the similarities and differences between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
Source: Lausanne Movement