Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Comparative Study: The Bible And The Qur'an

When I was still earning my history degree, my History 201 class required us to read a book that influenced history that was over 1,000 years old. I was also taking a Muslim religion class at the time and while it didn't require me to read the entire Qur'an, I chose to read the Qur'an for my History 201 assignment to hopefully help with both classes. I was gifted a copy of the Qur'an when I was a missionary in the Philippines on one of the two occasions that I met with Muslims in a local mosque.

When I finished, I wrote a brief ten-page comparative study of the Bible and the Qur'an. My paper killed the curve for that class. The teacher announced that two students had received 147/150 and no one else had pulled off an "A." When I got my paper back, I saw that it had received one of the two "A" papers. I don't have a saved copy of that paper on my computer nor do I have a paper copy.

Towards the end of 2012, I started writing a longer study of the Bible and the Qur'an starting with Adam and Eve. Other writing projects got in the way. I don't know if I'll ever get around to finishing it and I kind of doubt it at this point. I had hoped to self-publish it. Honestly, I really just wish I still had a copy of the paper I wrote for my History 201 class.

I decided that since it's unlikely that I'll finish this article, I'd post the little that I had here. Maybe it will help some people become more interested in finding out a little more about the Qur'an. I knew this project was going to take too long because the few paragraphs I've written already have 21 references.

Adam and Eve

The Qur’an and the Bible both start off with elements of a creation story and both center around the creation of Adam and Eve as the first people. While the Bible goes into detail about the specific order in which God created everything[1], the Qur’an focuses more on worshipping the Creator who created mankind and everything along with them. The most descriptive part of the creation in the first section of the Qur’an emphasizes the aspect of proper worship: “O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, that you may become righteous – [He] who made for you the earth a bed [spread out] and the sky a ceiling and sent down from the sky, rain and brought forth thereby fruits as provision for you. So do not attribute to Allāh equals while you know [that there is nothing similar to Him].”[2] While the Bible does advocate the proper worship of God, the first couple chapters of Genesis focuses on the detailed account of the creation while the Qur’an implies that the reader is already familiar with this information and discusses proper worship and the praise due to Allāh instead.
While the account of Adam and Eve is similar when read from the Qur’an or the Bible, a few key differences can be found. In the Biblical account, God allows Adam to name all living things. “So the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name.[3] In the Qur’an, Allāh reveals to Adam the true names of all things and hides this knowledge from the angels.[4] When Allāh asks the angels to inform him of the true names, they are unable to do so. Allāh then commands Adam to give the true names to the angels, following which the angels prostrated before Adam at Allāh’s command (except for Satan).[5]
The elements of the story of the forbidden fruit are remarkably similar between the Bible and the Qur’an with a few differences among the details. The story starts in both cases with God allowing Adam and Eve free reign to eat of whatever trees they wanted but forbidding the fruit of one specific tree.[6] Satan approaches Eve alone in the Bible but the Qur’an seems to imply that he approached both Adam and Eve. Satan’s argument to Adam and Eve is similar in the two accounts but the Bible contains a truth mixed with a lie while Satan simply lies in the Qur’an. In the Bible, Satan tempts Eve by saying “you certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.”[7] His lie was that Eve would not die if she partook of the fruit but his statement about being like the gods and obtaining wisdom was actually true. The Qur’an presents Satan as arguing that “your Lord did not forbid you this tree except that you become angels or become of the immortal.”[8] Following their conversation with Satan, Adam and Eve partook of the fruit and realized (in both stories) that they were naked and made themselves clothes.[9] When God confronts Adam and Eve about what they had done, the Bible shows Adam and Eve attempting to place blame on anyone but themselves.[10] In the Qur’an, Adam and Eve instead immediately tell Allāh “we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers.”[11] The final difference between the two stories is God’s reaction to Adam and Eve’s transgression. In the Qur’an, Allāh sends Adam and Eve into the world to be an enemy to Satan and to live, die, and then eventually be brought forth.[12] The Biblical version shows God cursing the serpent[13], Eve[14], Adam[15], and the earth.[16] At this point, God makes clothes for Adam and Eve in both accounts.[17] Then God casts out Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden so they wouldn’t partake of the tree of life and live forever[18] while the Qur’an says nothing concerning the tree of life and immortality in its account.
While this may be a fairly broad generalization, the Biblical account seems to have more details about the actual story while the Qur’an emphasizes proper worship, repentance, and God’s willingness to forgive. While Adam and Eve don’t walk away without any consequences in the Qur’an, they definitely get a more detailed punishment in the Bible. The Bible does, however, seem to value the wisdom and agency of the individual more than the Qur’an. While Adam names all living things in the Bible, he is merely gifted that knowledge in the Qur’an and Allāh ultimately is the source of the names. The Biblical version also dishes out a more severe punishment to Adam and Eve because they were ultimately responsible for what happened whereas the Qur’an seems content with placing the blame for the situation on Satan’s deception.

Cain and Abel

I only found one mention of Cain and Abel in the Qur’an and they weren’t mentioned by name (though it’s pretty apparent that the two sons of Adam are Cain and Abel). The story of Cain and Abel can be found in Genesis 4:1-16 in the Bible. The Biblical account is, once again, more detailed. The account in the Bible is likely more detailed in many cases because the people of Mohammed’s time would have already been familiar with the stories (as they come from the Old Testament and predate Mohammed’s record by thousands of years). The Biblical account tells us that Cain was older than Abel and Cain became a “tiller of soil” while his brother was a “keeper of flocks.”[19] Both offer a sacrifice to God, Cain from the fruit of the ground and Abel from the firstlings of his flock. God had respect to Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. God also warns Cain to watch himself and not give in to Satan’s influence. Cain then met Abel in a field and killed him. Following the murder, God asks Cain where his brother is and he responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The story ends with God cursing Cain and placing a mark upon him. The version in the Qur’an gives more insight into why one of the offerings was accepted and the other rejected. “Said [the latter], ‘I will surely kill you.’ Said [the former], ‘Indeed, Allāh only accepts from the righteous [who fear him].”[20] Abel explains to Cain that Allāh accepted his sacrifice because of his righteousness and because he feared God (which is reasoning the Bible doesn’t offer). Abel goes on to say that if Cain wants to kill him, he will not attempt to kill Cain in return. The most interesting deviation from the Biblical account comes after Cain has killed Abel. Allāh sends a crow to the earth scratching “in the ground to show him how to hide the disgrace of his brother. He said, ‘O woe to me! Have I failed to be like this crow and hide the disgrace [i.e., body] of my brother?’ And he became of the regretful.”[21]

[1] See Genesis 1-2.
[2] Sūrah 2:21-22.
[3] Genesis 2:19.
[4] See Sūrah 2:31-33.
[5] See Sūrah 2:34.
[6] See Sūrah 7:19 and Genesis 2:16-17.
[7] Genesis 3:4-5.
[8] Sūrah 7:20.
[9] See Genesis 3:7 and Sūrah 7:22.
[10] See Genesis 3:12-13.
[11] Sūrah 7:23.
[12] See Sūrah 7:24-25.
[13] See Genesis 3:14.
[14] See Genesis 3:16.
[15] See Genesis 3:17.
[16] See Genesis 3:18-19.
[17] See Genesis 3:21 and Sūrah 7:26.
[18] See Genesis 7:22.
[19] See Genesis 4:2.
[20] Sūrah 5:27.
[21] Sūrah 5:31.

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