Holy Words and the Common Good

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

This was published today on Middle East Online.

Thankfully, the Florida pastor decided to cancel his plans to burn copies of the Quran on September 11. Not as well reported, though, were the stories of others in the United States who did the deed. On September 11, a burned copy of the Quran was found at a mosque in Michigan. Two Tennessee pastors also burned copies of the Quran on September 11, despite protest from members of their own families. And last week, a partially burned Quran was also found outside a mosque in my home town, Chicago. Although sad, it is not entirely surprising there would be copycats.

As I read the reports of these sporadic burnings of the Quran, all I could do was lament that they very likely had little knowledge of the contents of this book, and the deep connections it has to their own faith. Had they taken a little time to read the book they wanted to burn, it is quite possible they would have changed their minds. And after all, if they had mustered enough effort to obtain a copy of the Quran, why not read it first?

I know if they would do so, they would find much with which they can relate. They would learn that both Moses and Jesus Christ are mentioned more by name in the Quran than the Prophet Muhammad himself.
They would read passages in the Quran saying Jesus was “strengthened with the Holy Spirit” (in at least three passages: 2:87, 2:253, and 5:110).

They would discover that the 19th chapter of the Quran is named for Jesus’ mother, Mary. And they would read that the Quran holds up the example of the Virgin Mary as the ideal believer: “And [we have propounded yet another parable of God-consciousness in the story of] Mary, the daughter of Imran…” (66:12)

If they would read the Quran, they would find that some 73 passages of the Quran speak of Moses and his epic. And they would find that the Quran records two miracles about Moses: Moses’ staff turning into a serpent and his hand glowing brightly after placing it under his arm. They would read that the Quran says that God bestowed His grace upon Moses and Aaron (37:114), that he was “specially chosen” by God (19:51) and that God bestowed on Moses “wisdom and knowledge” (28:14) as a reward for doing good. In addition, the Book of Moses in the Jewish Bible is described by the Quran as a “Light and Guide” (6:91).

If they would read the Quran, they would find this passage about the equality of humanity:

“O Mankind! Behold, we have created you from a male and female and have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily, the best of you in the sight of God is the one who is most conscious of Him. Behold, God is All-knowing, All-aware.” (49:13)

They would read this passage about salvation:

“Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds — shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have and neither shall they grieve. (2:62)

I can go on and on and on — reciting verses from the Quran that touch the heart of the sacred beliefs of both Judaism and Christianity. And of course it does, because the Quran calls Muslims to be the spiritual siblings of Christians and Jews, as children of the God of Abraham.

Are there tough and belligerent verses in the Quran? Most definitely — as there are in the Jewish Bible and the Christian New Testament. Yet, like the verses in the texts of the Jews and the Christians, the verses in the Quran have a context and explanation.

But what is most important to focus on is that which is common to all three faiths in our country, and to use those common beliefs to bring people together, and to support the common good.

This summer has seen so much fear and hate-mongering for cynical political gain, and it has ensnared many Americans who are, in reality, good people who are simply misinformed. Once we learn the truth, we will realize that we are really much more similar than we are different.


2 thoughts on “Holy Words and the Common Good

  1. “Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds — shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have and neither shall they grieve. (2:62)

    Have these verses not been “abrogated” by others which call Jews and Christians pigs and dogs? Does Islam not teach that Jews and Christians who do not become Muslims will be destroyed on the day of judgement? I may be wrong and these may be ahadith rather than Quranic verses – I’d be interested in your comments. Whether non-Muslims hear the ‘tolerant’ verses or the jihadist verses seems to depend on whether the speaker is from an Islamic nation or a Western one. I’ve always been told that the later verses, the ones that teach destruction and jihad against non-Muslims, have abrogated the earlier ‘tolerant’ verses. Is this the case? Certainly the Muslim populations of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, various North African countries, Egypt, Saudi etc seem unaware of the current application of the verse quoted here if their treatment of Christian minorities is anything to go by. When Jews can build new synagogues and Christians can build new churches in these countries, then it’ll be easier to believe that the verse quoted here still applies.

  2. Thank you, Dr. Hassaballa, for another excellent article. I am constantly amazed at those who think they’re qualified to judge the character of a book that they themselves have obviously never read. All I had to do was start actually reading the Qur’an to find that, as 39:23 says, “(my) skin and (my) heart (did) soften at the remembrance of [the grace of} God.”

    Vincemillet – Thank you for expressing your doubt as a question, rather than as a dogmatic statement of vilification. I’m sure Dr. Hassaballa can himself provide a very good answer to your questions; but hopefully he won’t mind if I make some observations of my own. I’m rather new to Islam (not actually officially Muslim at this time), and still learning myself.

    It was obvious from my first reading of the verses in the Qur’an which speak of abrogating former revelation, that they did not speak of abrogating anything within the Qur’an; rather they spoke of the Qur’an abrogating some aspects of previous revelation (the Old and New Testaments, for instance). As the New Testament claims to replace the Old, being a “better covenant”, so the Qur’an replaces those former revelations (or certain time and culture bound aspects of them).

    The Qur’an itself absolutely forbids the notion that one part of it will contradict and nullify another part. 4:82 says this: “Will they not, then, try to understand this Qur’an? Had it issued from any but God, they would surely have found in it many an inner contradiction.” Therefore, those who claim that later portions abrogate former portions (the two portions being contradictory) are confessing that they don’t believe God is the author of the Qur’an – whether or not they realize the implication of what they’re saying. As 39:23 says: “God bestows from on high the best of all teachings in the shape of a divine writ FULLY CONSISTENT WITHIN ITSELF, repeating each statement [of the truth] in manifold forms…”

    Three verses in the Qur’an which speak of abrogating former revelations are: 2:106; 13:38-39; and 16:101. For a very good explanation of abrogation by a mainstream Muslim, check out Muhammad Asad’s footnote on 2:106. You can find his translation/interpretation of the Qur’an free online at http://www.altafsir.com/ViewTranslations.asp?Display=yes&SoraNo=2&Ayah=0&toAyah=0&Language=2&LanguageID=1&TranslationBook=7 . I believe that link will take you directly to Sura (chapter) 2; you can scroll down the page to the footnotes section following the text itself, and look for the note on verse 106.

    You will find, if you look up the verses that speak of Jews as “pigs or dogs”, that they do not call all Jews – or Jews in general – pigs; only those who willfully disobey the revelation God had given them (the Torah) are called by such names and condemned. This is very consistent with the attitude the Hebrew Prophets and Christian apostles had toward their Jewish contemporaries: God condemned in strong terms those who refused to obey his commandments (and frequently there was only a ‘very small remnant, according to the election of grace”, who were not disobedient and condemned). This certainly does not contradict or abrogate those verses, such as the one referred to by Dr. Hassaballa, which speak of all Muslims, Jews, Christians and Sabians who truly believe in God and DO RIGHTEOUS DEEDS, having their reward with their Sustainer. The Qur’an also condemns those “Muslims” who don’t follow through with obedience to the teachings of God through the Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace).[Interestingly, one of those verses speaking of ‘pigs and outcasts’ is in 2:65, only 3 verses ‘later’ than 2:62 which was quoted by Dr. Hassaballa and you – the other is 4:60. Did God contradict Himself, and abrogate a verse which was only 3 verses ‘earlier’? I think that in itself shows the foolishness of those who would assert ‘later’ verses abrogate ‘earlier’ verses.]

    So far I have not come across any Qur’anic teaching to the effect that Jews and Christians who fail to ‘convert’ to Islam before they die will “go to hell”. Only those who fail to live up to the Torah and Gospel are threatened with such a fate; just as Muslims who fail to live up to the Qur’an are threatened with that fate (see 5:43-48 for instance).

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