When I am talking about theology in the next couple of questions, then this will not be in contradiction to my announcement in the introduction where I stated that I will focus on the "earthly things" over against the "heavenly realities". The discussion whether God is one in the Muslim Unitarian or Christian Trinitarian sense that is a debate about a transcendent question and I will not touch upon that. But if I discuss what was the official teaching of the Jews or the Church at a certain time (whether right or wrong) then that is an "earthly thing", something we can decide on the basis of historical data. It is in this same way that I was talking about the fact of the Trinitarian Christian Church in the 6th Century in my last article. And it is this historical fact of the teaching of the Jews and the Christians which leads me to wonder that the Qur'an seems to display much
Just as Christianity and Judaism, Islam confesses belief in an omniscient God, i.e. that God knows everything.
Muslims believe and proclaim that the Qur'an was given as a (new) last revelation partly because the Jews and the Christians have messed up the earlier ones. And to a certain extent this belief can be found in the Qur'an.
Sura An Nahl 16:63-64 reads:
And We sent down the Book to thee for the express purpose, that thou shouldst make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe.
The Book [Qur'an] seems to be sent down for the "express purpose" to make clear those things on which there are different opinions (verse 64) between those who have received apostles (and books) at an earlier time (Jews and Christians) but to whom their own acts (and desires) were more alluring than God's word (verse 63) (and who therefore changed [corrupted] the earlier message).
Especially, it is to clear up the areas of difference between the Jews and the Christians. In this article I want to investigate whether this claim is met or whether the Qur'an confuses the issues even more.
Also Sura Yusuf 12:111 (see also 16:89) reads:
Even if one doesn't want to stretch this verse (though some Muslims appearantly do so) that the Qur'an literally explains EVERYTHING, the context makes clear that the Qur'an supposedly gives a detailed exposition of all things that might not yet be clear from the earlier revelation. Is that a fair interpretation? I think so. Tell me if not and show me from the text why it means something else if you disagree with it.
There are a number of doctrinal issues where we have to ask if the Qur'an gives the promised clarification or does only add to the perceived confusion.
The Cross: I already pointed out the problem of the denial of the crucifixion as a historical reality. Now I want to look at it from the aspect of meaning. Both Jews and Christians are in agreement that the crucifixion happened. There was absolutely no disagreement and no confusion about this. The Qur'an is producing confusion where there was none before. The Qur'an denies the crucifixion but does not give any evidence for what happened. It does not give any explanation. The one and only Quranic passage on this issue reads:
4:157. That they said (in boast) "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary the Apostle of Allah"; but they killed him not nor crucified him but so it was made to appear to them and those who differ therein are full of doubts with no (certain) knowledge but only conjecture to follow for of a surety they killed him not.
4:158. Nay Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.
4:159. And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them.
Since I cannot see any evidence why God would be the author of the Qur'an I will assume in the following that Muhammad is this author. But it could be any other source other than God himself and the observations below would still make sense.
The one thing the Jews and Christians agree upon is the historical fact of the crucifixion. And this is what the Qur'an denies. But the Qur'an does not give any explanation or clarification as promised in Sura 16:64, nor is it confirming the earlier scriptures as mentioned in Sura 12:111. The Qur'an denies instead of confirming and is confusing instead of clarifying. And seemingly, in order to protect himself from difficult questions he couldn't answer, the author also inserted the phrase "and those who differ therein are full of doubts with no (certain) knowledge but only conjecture to follow" (this sounds very much unlike God to me) but then continues to claim "for of a surety they killed him not" as if repetition would make it any more impressive. If the author of the Qur'an is so sure about it why has he not disclosed some information as to give us certainty and clarity as the Qur'an promised to?
Somehow Muhammad seems to try to incorporate arguments from Jews and Christians into one theory. He takes from the Christian side that God is victorious (Colossians 2:15 speaks of triumphal victory through the cross!) combined with our faith that he is the Messiah, i.e. sent by God, and from the Jewish side that the cross means a curse from God and defeat (Deuteronomy 21:23, but see Galatians 3:13!). Combining "he is the Messiah" (Christians) and "because he was crucified he cannot be the Messiah" Muhammad comes up with the solution "because he is the Messiah he could not have been crucified," claiming away the one piece that was not even in question. He claims the cross couldn't have happened but doesn't know how to explain why both parties believe it did happen. In order to not have to explain the unexplainable, the approach is to riducule those who might ask questions on the issue. And in all the 1450 years of Islamic history, Muslims still have not found a satisfactory solution to this problem. As I said before, this is one of the major questions I have towards Islam. In the light of the above promise of clarification, the response that "God intended it to stay as a mystery" is rather unsatisfactory for this central issue of Christian belief.
The Messiah: One of the most contentious points between Jews and Christians is the question on whether Jesus is the promised Messiah or not. How does the Qur'an fare in clarifying this issue? The Qur'an affirms the Christian that Jesus is indeed the Messiah by calling Jesus "al-Masihu Isa." But on the other side, the Qur'an takes away all the meaning that the concept of "Messiah" has in the Bible, both Old and New Testament. The Qur'an retains the title but does not know its implications. Could it be that God suddenly forgot all that he had given through prophecy about the Messiah earlier on? Had Muhammad known what the concept of the Messiah means, he would have understood that Jews and Christians cannot accept him as a prophet from this same God who made the Messiah the focal point of Biblical prophecy.
The ignorance about the central Biblical concept of the Messiah, who is the culmination of all Biblical prophecy is a strong sign that the author of the Qur'an is not the same as the author of the revelation of Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospel.
The clearest verse giving evidence that the Qur'an has no understanding for the title of "Messiah" but uses the word instead as an ordinary name is Sura 5:75:
The crucifixion is one prime event and reason that keeps the Jews from recognizing Jesus as their Messiah and which separates Jews and Christians. The Qur'an confuses the part that was clear before (the event of the cross) and trivializes (or is just ignorant about) what is the central issue between Jews and Christians, i.e. the identity of the Messiah.
And there is yet another strong indication in the verse denying the crucifixion that the Qur'anic author was very ignorant about the Jews and the meaning of Messiah in the Jewish faith. In Sura 4:157 we read:
No Jew would ever boast that he killed the Messiah. This statement is a complete impossibility. The very reason that the Jews killed him was that they believed him NOT to be the Messiah, and the fact that they were able to crucify him, is sign to them that he could not have been the Messiah. All Jews look forward to the coming of the Messiah as the fulfillment of all their hopes. This verse again shows that Muhammad did not understand the controversy between Jews and Christians and especially did not know that "Messiah" is a title that has such a crucial significance and that it is not something like a surname for Jesus and especially that no Jew (if he has not become a Christian) would ever have called him the Messiah. And those Jews who have come to believe in Jesus and do call him Messiah are surely not those who would boast about having killed him. Any way you look at this, it shows the basic ignorance and confusion on this issue.
There are more issues of doctrinal confusion. The discussion of the Trinity is worth discussing in an article by itself and hence will be the next topic we will ponder.
Copyright © 1997 Jochen Katz. All rights reserved.
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