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Friday, May 31, 2013

"What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an" (James R. White)

TITLE: What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an
AUTHOR: James R. White
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013, (318 pages).

In what way is the Bible similar to the Qur'an, and in what way are they different? It is one thing to hear interpretations from scholars, but what does the holy book actually say? What has the Qur'an to say about Jesus, modern politics, war, God, and many other faith matters? What exactly is the Qur'an? These questions plus many others are considered in this book. Calling the Qur'an as the "single uniting factor" for all the world's muslims, if anybody wants to understand Islam, the beliefs of Muslims, as well as to appreciate more about the Islamic faith, one needs to seriously consider the Qur'an itself. James White, an accomplished scholar and apologist writes this book with Christians as his primary audience, not to refute Qur'an but to expand the understanding of two faiths. For anyone to properly engage others in religious conversations, there need to be some knowledge of the holy books of the faiths in question. White goes to the beginning of Muhammad's life, early life around 570AD, early encounters with the angel Gabriel, and his primary role as a passive recipient of the holy words, the writing of the Qur'an, and the death of the prophet. He covers the Qur'an texts themselves, the origins, and the authority attributed to it.

The Qur'an contains about half the size of the New Testament, there are 114 surat (or chapters) and various ayat (or verses). In terms of organization, there is no chronological or topical arrangements, just a "pedestrain" manner of writing. In terms of authority, the earthly version that is considered "perfectly accurate rendition" is the Arabic Qur'an, written in heavenly language. Four things best describe Islam. In terms of worship, Muslims use the term "tawhid" in their acknowledgement of Allah, and to be reminded that they are to bring purity in worship. In terms of confession, the "shahada" is the pronouncement of belief, and Muslims are not to commit the sin of "shirk" which is essentially idolatry. The "mithaq" is the covenant between Allah and the descendants of Adam; the "fitra" which flows out of a natural inclination of mankind to worship God. Growing out of its early battles against polytheistic cultures, Islam continues to frown on the Christian theology of the Trinity, even putting Christianity as a polytheism, when it clearly is not. A key contention made by White is that it is the Qur'an that puts words into Jesus' mouth, a claim that denies Jesus' deity, when it is Jesus himself who had made the claim He is God.

Regarding the theology, the Qur'an also prefers to use 'Isa as a reference to Jesus, and also talked about Jesus' second coming. The key difference is that while Islam considers this eschatology only a part of the whole, Christians consider the second coming of Jesus as the whole matter altogether. White is also meticulous in comparing the major points of interest as well as controversies. He notes that the Qur'an actually has very little to say about the Cross and the Pauline epistles, especially on Christ's redeeming act for mankind, and yet Muslims deny the very foundation of Christ that was hardly mentioned in the Qur'an. While there are similarities in terms of the final judgment and the end times, the differences lay in the nature of atonement and how justice will be meted out. White also highlights the question of period of faith affirmation. Should we trust a holy book written after Muhammad claimed prophethood, or the claims of the Bible which stretches all the way back before Muhammad was even born? There is also a curious question of why Muslims insist that the Bible refers to Muhammad and his prophecies by name. A key question that White pose is this: "Why did Muhammad feel the need to project himself into the texts of the Jews and the Christians?" Why must Muslims make Christians think that the Bible is very specific on the claims of Muhammad when the Qur'an does not make as specific a claim?

Regarding the text, White notes that Muslims far too often take the Qur'an as it is, without questioning or examination. At the same time, they apply a different standard to the Bible. When pushed to the end, Muslim apologists will eventually say: "Because the Qur'an says so." There is something circular in the argument. The basic presupposition is that the Qur'an is right, because the Qur'an says that the Qur'an is right. If anyone thinks that the Qur'an is wrong, the next thing is for them to read the previous statement. Such circular arguments is essentially the way many Muslim interpreters will insist upon.

My Thoughts

Let me reiterate again that the book by White is written to Christians, and for Christians. It is not meant to be a text to debate. Neither will it make apologists of readers overnight. For that matter, it is not easy to debate any Muslim apologists on the Qur'an for at least three reasons. First, there is a circular logic to the way Muslims insist about the Qur'an. If anyone disagrees with this, there is really nothing much that anyone can talk. So the conversation will easily end. Circular techniques very quickly become an end in itself. Closed-ends kind of conversations are never going to produce much headway in religious dialogues. Second, comparison between the Bible and the Qur'an is difficult simply because of the difference in authority attributed to them. For example, Muslim scholars do not examine and critique the Qur'an in the same way as Christian theologians and scholars adopt biblical criticism techniques. In that way, the platform for Christian and Islamic scholars to debate and to talk frankly on the holy texts is already very restrictive. Third, the person of Jesus continues to be the key contention. Muslims see Jesus as peripheral, while Christians see Jesus as central. They see the coming of Jesus as just a part of the coming of Christ, while Christians see Jesus as the main event, the major Person in the Second Coming. Muslims see Jesus only as a prophet, while Christians see Jesus as God. For these reasons, while White's book is a bold attempt to try to bridge the theological gap through understanding and debate, it is only a small step forward. The main benefit is for Christians to be aware that Muslims read the Qur'an quite differently than the way Christians read the Bible. In wanting to engage any Muslim, Christians need to understand the mindset of the Muslim. White's book is a great way to learn that.

Let me share some thoughts about the rise of Islam. The Church is not only losing adherents to secularism. It is also losing people to other religions. It is common knowledge that Islam is growing faster in Europe and in the West, than traditional faiths such as Christianity. Recently, the Telegraph UK reported on a 2011 census that shows Christianity declining 50% faster than thought. The same report also shows Islam growing faster, where one in every ten people under 25 is Muslim. This is but one example of the rising influence of Islam. For me, the bigger concern is not Islam per se, but the way the Church is losing many Christians to secularism or ill-informed ideas about the Christian faith. Thus, a book like this is meant not so much as to target the Muslim faith, but more like to clarify what every Christian needs to know about the Qur'an.

Should we fear any Islamic uprising? I think there is no need to. If truth be told, God is great, and in time, God will manifest himself. There is no need for us to squabble and fight each other just to be proven correct. God will prove himself. In the meantime, love our neighbour. Love our fellow brothers and sisters. Love our fellow human people. We may disagree a lot, but that is no reason to fight.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Graf-Martin Communications and Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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