A Christian Reads the Quran

An Essay By Hannah D. // 11/29/2018

I recently picked up an English translation of the Quran. I’ve heard lots of mixed messages on how Christianity and Islam relate. I’ve heard that Allah is a monster who calls his followers to sacrificial jihad against infidels (including Christians). I’ve heard that Mohammed was a prophet after the pattern of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus and simply extends the tradition of the People of the Book. I’ve heard that Islam is peaceful, that it’s extreme, that Mohammed was a pedophile, that he was a hero, that the Quran teaches compassion, and that the Quran teaches hatred.

So naturally, I decided to find out for myself. And I started by picking up a Quran.

As a Christian, I have read and heard from plenty of people who cherry-pick verses from the Bible and use them to twist it into some horrendous teaching all Christians supposedly believe. Or they take some doctrine from its pages out of context and use it to spread some malicious slander against my Faith and my God. So I wanted to be careful not to do that here. I wanted to be careful to compare translations, to look at footnotes. I want to give this religious text – a text beloved by a faithful people numbering in the billions – the respect it deserves. The ‘deserves’ part is mainly about the people. Giving passages that brought me pause the benefit of the doubt is, I think, a practical means for me to respect the followers of the book.

So, after my first reading of the text, I largely ignored the one surah I could find that concerned slaying the infidels. I figured that passages discussing warfare or law required commentary and historical context to understand completely and gave them the benefit of the doubt, to be turned to again when I had more thorough resources to assist my study. But there was one phrase I could simply not ignore. It was the phrase “God does not love.”

“However, to the righteously striving believers I shall give their reward in full measure. God does not love the unjust.” (Surah 3:57)

I saw it several times, and in a variety of surahs throughout the Quran. It made one fact very obvious to me: despite Muhammed’s frequent efforts to prove the contrary, the God of the Quran and the God of the Bible are two very different gods.

“God does not love the treacherous ones.” (from Surah 8:58)

Let’s make one thing clear. Allah is introduced in almost every surah as “the merciful, the compassionate.” He is also a punisher (Surah 35:7), the judge who determines whether you get Paradise or not after death (Surah 4:123-124). That’s pretty consistent with the Biblical God, who is both loving (1 John 4:7) and a judge (Revelation 20:12).

Diversion occurs more sharply with this particular phrase.

“God certainly knows whatever you conceal or reveal. He does not love the proud ones.” (Surah 16:23)

The Bible certainly talks about God’s displeasure in sin. Pride is something God hates, as is lying (Proverbs 6:17). But God feels very differently about the sinners.

"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)

Both Allah and God are concerned about the sinful works of humanity. But they handle it in different ways.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

"God will reward the righteously striving believers through His favor. He does not love the unbelievers.” (from Surah 30:45)

In the Bible, God loves sinful people. Jesus exhorted us to do the same – anyone can love someone who loves them. Even the Gentiles do that! It is by loving those who hate us that we show the world who our God is. After all, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (from Romans 5:8).

This brings in a second point of difference. God’s love for sinners is spoken of in relation to Jesus, His Son, because Jesus is who takes away the separation between sinners and God. Because Christ died for my sin, I can know a God who loves me. I am saved.

To be saved in the Quran, however, is a different ordeal.

“And as for those who believed and did righteous deeds, He will give them in full their rewards and grant them extra bounty.” (Surah 4:173a)*

So in the Bible we are saved by faith (“not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” from Ephesians 2:8-9) which leads to works (for one of many examples, see the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23). In the Quran, we are saved by faith + works.

“Those who disbelieve will have a severe punishment, and those who believe and do righteous deeds will have forgiveness and great reward.” (Surah 35:7)*

This is where things would, for me, get a tad unsettling. As a Muslim, I’d be saved by my faith and by my good deeds. I’d know that Allah will reward me for them. But I’d also know that Allah doesn’t love:

   1. Wrongdoers (or the Unjust; see also Surah 3:140-141)
   2. Traitors
   3. The Proud
   4. Unbelievers (see also Surah 3:32)
   5. The Excessive (gluttonous, drunkards; Surah 7:31)
   6. The Boastful (Surah 31:18)

If I’m being totally honest, I’ve had my moments – even as a Christian – that were treacherous, arrogant, boastful, or just plain old wrong. While alcohol isn’t really my thing, I’ve had some food-indulgent moments. I’m pretty sure, if I were Muslim, I’d still have days like this. And that would terrify me.

Which would it be? Would Allah love me as one of the faithful, as one who tried her best to do good works? Or would my wrongdoing, arrogant, excessive moments result in the separation of me from Allah’s love?

This is really where the depth and beauty of Scripture becomes so apparent. Critics have tried to argue that the Bible contains contradictions on the subject of salvation. You have Galatians, an anti-legalism treatise that emphasizes salvation by faith alone (Luther claimed this as his favorite book for this reason!), and you have books like James, which talk about the self-deceit of those who claim religiosity but whose actions say otherwise. Which is it? The critics say. Are Christians saved by faith or works?

But these passages aren’t contradictions. They are simply reflective of reality. You can capture a sense of the Christian struggle by reading Romans, in which Paul speaks of the new life he has by faith, the old sin he still struggles with – declaring, in frustration, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24).

Who indeed? God, of course!

"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." (Romans 8:1-2)

Jesus is the answer.

My sin blocks me from God. By accepting Christ’s sacrifice for me, my sins are legally wiped away. The debt is paid for. Sin may still be a part of my life, but God still loves me – He did even before I accepted Christ as my Savior! It’s ok, because those sins are covered. With Christ’s payment, I know that nothing can separate me from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). I can be at peace concerning the sin in my life, knowing that I serve and am saved by a faithful God who is not yet finished completing a good work in me (Philippians 1:6).

There is a certainty to this that is nonexistent, or at the very least not apparent, in the Quran. Without Jesus as Savior, who’s to say whether Allah sees my faith and good deeds as outweighing my wrongdoing or not? In fact, the Quran even makes this (fairly chilling) statement:

“God will certainly reward the truthful ones for their truthfulness and punish or pardon the hypocrites as He wishes. God is All-forgiving and All-merciful.” (Surah 33:24)

That kind of forgiveness and mercy is capricious, at best. If Allah might randomly wish to save one of the hypocrites, what’s to stop from randomly wishing to condemn one of the truthful?

It is for these reasons that the God of the Bible and the God of the Quran are completely separate deities. Both claim to love us but must punish sin. But one loves everyone – sinner or saint – and offers a certain means of salvation to those who only believe. The other loves only the believer, saved by faith and works, with no sure means of determining whether that combination is enough.

~*~*~
Most of the verses are taken from the Muhammed Sarwar translation. Where an * is used, I am quoting the Sahih International. Sahih International uses the phrase "God does not like." Of the seven English Translations listed on corpus.quran.com, five translation use "love" and two use "like." Their available concordance says the Arabic word is yuhibbu, which, from what I can tell from their dictionary, is usually rendered "love." Either sense, though, kind of implies the same thing.

The Muhammed Sarwar translation uses the phrase "righteously striving believers" where every other translation gives something like "believe and do good deeds," "believe and do good works," "believe and do good," etc.

I originally read Penguin Books' translation. Quran.com (Sahih International) and corpus.quran.com were helpful since I wanted to make sure I wasn't relying on a faulty translation. Seeing consistency across English translations was important to me since I didn't want to make an outrageous statement based on one faulty translation. I certainly have seen a lot of complaints Arabic scholars have made about English translations of the Quran!

I used NASB for Bible verses in this essay.

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