For the past few weeks I have been carefully reading through the entire Qur’an. One reason is because there are roughly 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, including an estimated 3-7 million Muslims in America. Understanding the Qur’an will help me better relate to my Muslim neighbors and friends. Second, Muslims consider the Qur’an the greatest miracle and proof of Islam (Surah 10:37-38). It is considered the most beautiful, holy, and truthful book. I wanted to assess this claim for myself.
Following are some observations and criticisms of the Qur’an. Just one precursor: If the Qur’an were true, then I would believe it. I’m just not convinced it is. If someone begins with the conviction that the Qur’an is true, then certainly these critiques will have little effect. But if one begins with an honest attempt to evaluate the historical, theological, philosophical, and scientific evidence, I believe they would come to a very different conclusion.
The Character of Allah
There are clearly commonalities between the Islamic and Christian views of God. Both view God as omniscient (Surah 4:7), omnipotent (Surah 2:20), creator (Surah 6:1), and sovereign (Surah 74:31).
But the differences are also substantial. The Bible says that God is love (1 John 4:8). The Qur’an says that Allah is Loving (Surah 85:14). The reason for this difference is significant. The Biblical God can be love because He is one God who eternally exists as three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, relationality is within the nature of God. Allah, on the other hand, is Unitarian (Surah 112:1-4). Allah acts lovingly towards His creation but love is not one of His attributes. This turns out to be a weakness of Allah, for Allah is dependent upon His creation to express love. Allah can only act lovingly after He has created. Therefore, He lacks love as a maximally great attribute. Yet love is within the character of the Biblical God Himself. The Biblical God is thus more perfectly good than Allah.
The type of love Allah expresses is also different than the Biblical God. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loves unbelievers and yearns for their salvation. By contrast, the Qur’an makes it clear that Allah does not love unbelievers. Allah does not love mischief-makers (Surah 28:77), unbelievers (Surah 30:45), the unjust (Surah 42:40), as well as the unfaithful and ungrateful (Surah 22:38). Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son, whom the Father lovingly accepted back upon his return. In contrast, the Qur’an says that Allah only loves those who first purify themselves (Surah 9:108). Simply put, the Qur’an says to love those who first love you. But Jesus said to love even your enemies. This may be why the Qur’an repeatedly commands Muslims not to build friendships with unbelievers (Surah 3:118; 4:89; 4:144; 5:71; 60:1). Muhammad did sign treaties with unbelievers when it suited his purposes. Yet Jesus was considered a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34).
Muhammad also misconstrued the nature of the Trinity. He believed the Trinity was God the Father, Jesus, and Mary! Yet this is clearly not what the Bible teaches about the triune God. But it does help to explain why so many Muslims fiercely condemn the doctrine as heretical. The Qur’an says: “And when Allah will say: O Isa son of Marium! Did you say to men, take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah.” (Surah 5:116). If the Qur’an were inspired, why would it have a faulty understanding of the Christian God? Even if Christians were wrong about God’s triune nature, it seems that the Qur’an should at least properly understand the Christian doctrine.
The Islamic view of Jesus is fascinating. He is considered a prophet along with Adam, Lot, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. While Muhammad is considered a prophet of Allah, he had a normal birth, performed no miracles, and sinned. On the other hand, Jesus was sinless, virgin-born (Surah 19:18-21), and a miracle-working prophet (Surah 2:253). One key difference between the Bible and the Qur’an involves where the source of Jesus’ power comes from. In contrast to other prophets who worked miracles, the Biblical Jesus does miracles through his own power. This is one confirmation of his deity. But since Muslims deny that Jesus is divine, the Qur’an has Jesus performing miracles at the permission of Allah (Surah 5:110).
While the Qur’an does affirm traditional miracles of Jesus such as healing the blind and leprous, it also affirms extra-biblical miracle claims such as making a bird out of clay and breathing life into it (Surah 5:110). This story is actually from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a 2nd or 3rd century pseudepigraphical “gospel” about the early childhood of Jesus. Upon further research, I have discovered that much of the Qur’an is borrowed from sources outside the Old and New Testaments. There is not a problem with relying upon other sources (we see this in the Bible), but the Qur’an often relies upon spurious historical sources that undermine its credibility.
It was also interesting to note how the Qur’an turns Jesus into an Islamic prophet. In Surah 19:197, Jesus says, “Surely I am a servant of Allah; He has given me the Book and made me a prophet.” The Qur’an also does this with Abraham (Surah 2:131), the disciples (Surah 3:52) as well as Moses and Noah (Surah 42:13).
The Qur’an records no miracles of Muhammad. So how do we know the Qur’an is inspired and true? The Qur’an itself is a testimony to its veracity. Surah 10:37-38 says, “And this Quran is not such as could be forged by those besides Allah, but it is a verification of that which is before it and a clear explanation of the book, there is no doubt in it, from the Lord of the worlds. Or do you say: He has forged it? Say: then bring a chapter like this and invite who you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.”
The Qur’an repeatedly charges doubters to produce a chapter like it (Surah 2:23; 11:13; 17:88). The Qur’an is believed to have such high literary merit that it can only be considered divine. And yet how do we really test this? This is a very different test for truth than what Jesus laid out. He did publicly verifiable miracles to support his claims to deity (John 20:30-31; Acts 2:22). The test for the Bible is external and objective, but the primary test for the Qur’an is internal and subjective.
And yet we can actually take the Qur’anic test. I would encourage you to read it and make up your own mind. I read it carefully. I mean no disrespect to my Muslim neighbors, but I simply do not see its literary merit. It is repetitive, redundant, oddly arranged, difficult to follow, and choppy. Qur’anic verses do not compare to the works of Shakespeare or the biblical Psalms, such as Psalm 23. Muslims claim that it must be read in Arabic to appreciate its beauty. But why would God’s universal and eternal revelation be limited to the (roughly) 20 percent of Muslims who are Arabic? If the Qur’an were truly inspired, its literary beauty would transcend one particular language understood by a tiny minority of the world’s population.
I write these words with fear and trembling. Not for my own life, but because I do not want to alienate Muslims. I truly believe that most Muslims in America are peaceful, hard-working people who want to live their lives according to the American dream and their Muslim faith. I have had Muslim students in my class and they have all been wonderful people. Many Muslims condemn and mourn violence done in the name of Islam. The Muslim people in America are not my concern. They have the right to practice their faith in America as much as any other religion.
My concern is Islamic theology. Before reading the Qur’an, I was familiar with a few Qur’anic verses endorsing violence. Yet I was surprised at how frequently violence is encouraged within the pages of the Qur’an. Consider a few Surahs:
“And fight with them [unbelievers] until there is no more persecution and religion should be only for Allah; but if they desist, then surely Allah sees what they do.” (Surah 8:39).
“I will caste terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” (Surah 8:12)
“Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection. And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the sayings of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!” (9:29-30).
Again, I write this not to condemn or judge Muslims. But it is unmistakable that Muhammad practiced violent methods to both spread his empire and propagate his faith. And his followers have as well. Sure, Christians have used violence, torture, and other abominable practices in the name of Jesus. But it should be quite obvious that they acted inconsistently with what Jesus taught and modeled.
Reading the Qur’an has been a helpful and insightful exercise. I learned a great deal about what Muslims believe about Allah and also how they practice their faith. I would encourage all Christians to do the same. You may agree with my analysis. And you may disagree with it. But either way, reading the Qur’an will help you better understand your Muslim neighbors.