The Qur’an and the Christian, Matthew Aaron Bennett. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2022.
Summary: A scholarly discussion of the origins and place of the Qur’an in Islam with the aim of encouraging Christians to read, and understand how to read and discuss the Qur’an with their Muslim neighbors.
People of Islamic belief are part of the warp and woof of American culture. They are our neighbors, they may provide our health care or fill our prescriptions, they are cashiers at our groceries, and classmates of our children. We eat at restaurants owned by them, enjoying their cuisine. A growing number are being elected to political office. Our temptation may be to suspect them or shun them or try to marginalize them. The operative word is “them.” But as a Christian, I am caught up by the word “neighbor.” I see no “out” clause excusing me from the love of neighbor that Jesus has commanded.
If we develop any kind of trust and our candid about our respective beliefs we may likely be drawn into conversations about respective beliefs and may hear that the Qur’an speaks of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Isa), who are honored as prophets as are their “books.” We may be tempted to retreat, finding ourselves on unfamiliar ground. The author of this book encourages a different approach. He wants us to read the Qur’an as an act of loving our Muslim neighbors by seeking to understand their book. In this work, he wants us to understand how the Qur’an is regarded, understanding its origins and the cultural background of its origins, its meaning as a “revelation.” and its intent: to give instruction in the life pleasing to the one true God, Allah. Much of this is covered in the first part of the book.
The second part deals with the Qur’an as a text in relation to previous texts, because indeed, the Qur’an makes reference to the sacred texts of Jews and Christians, although as we learn, there were no copies of the Bible in Arabic available at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an and its inscription in Arabic, explaining the lack of direct quotes. It speaks of Torah, Psalms, and Gospel (Injel). Jews and Christians are called both to obey their books, and receive the Qur’an as correction for ways their books have been distorted. Bennett discusses references to biblical characters, and sometimes the “mash-up” that joins characters separated by centuries in events. A basic principle is to observe how these advance Muslim readings, rather than criticize these lapses. It also points out that our reading should be discerning, noting both points of contact and distinction.
The third part then returns to the idea that Christians should read the Qur’an, and why and how. Reading the Qur’an, understanding the use of rhetorical questions in the text, and how it resonates in the life of our Muslim neighbors offers a bridge for communication. At the same time, Bennett helps us discern some key distinctions between Islam and Christianity that emerge in reading the Qur’an and the Bible. There are very different conceptions of God, beginning with the transcendence but not imminence of Allah. The Qur’an’s aim is not to show us how to enter into loving relation with God but to submit to and serve God. Indeed, the love within the Trinity has no counterpart. There is sin, but no original sin for which atonement has been provided through Christ. Sins are addressed through repentance and offset by good works.
Bennett addresses the use of the Qur’an in efforts of Christians to share their faith. Contrary to some approaches which advocate this, he would commend the Qur’an simply for understanding and believes that efforts to use the Qur’an in Christian witness may often result in confusion. One exception that he discusses is the Qur’an’s account of the Akedah, Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, which commends Abraham on the basis of his submission, yet maintains the need for a sacrifice in place of the son. He suggests that this raises a question only the Bible can answer–why was a ransom needed? He believes this addresses the need for an atoning sacrifice and can lead to a discussion of Jesus.
I appreciate Bennett’s combination of loving engagement with Muslim friends, thoughtful understanding of their Book that avoids polemics, recognizing both points of contact and the distinctions between Christian belief found in the Bible and Islamic belief rooted in the Qur’an. He wisely urges not assuming what our friends believe but to listen to them. He is also candid about the reality that both Islam and Christianity are evangelistic and seek to persuade others of the truth of their beliefs with the hope of conversion. He helps Christians to be both discerning in these matters and loving in our engagement with Muslim friends, believing that our willingness to read the Qur’an may lead to an openness to examine the Bible. Some may be uncomfortable with what they think of as “proselytizing,” but where there is no imposition or manipulation but simply honest discussion between interested friends, this seems far superior to fostering good Christian-Muslim relations to the “othering” which often characterizes these relationships.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.