(What an interesting time to be teaching about World Religions! The observations and comments I offer in this post were put together before the events of the last few days).
As I prepare to teach a course on World Religions for the first time, one thing I frequently meet up with is the attempt to sidestep or gloss over those parts of the Qur’an that deny the legitimacy of Judaism and Christianity, and that express divine judgment against everything but Islam.
As a Christian, I might not start out with Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except by me.” Maybe I would. I probably wouldn’t start with Paul’s assertion that when Christ returns, the Lord “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
But the fact is, even after our analyses, interpretations, and “yes, but”s, those passages invariably draw lines. Better yet, they identify lines that were drawn by Christ himself. If the Christian gospel is true, then those lines are decisive.
Again, those wouldn’t be the statements I’d start out with in talking about Jesus and his kingdom, or in teaching a unit on “Christianity” in a World Religions course. But neither would I try to hide them. And why would I try? What they say explicitly is something the New Testament says implicitly many times. And why would I want to? C. S. Lewis wrote to the effect that there’s a “Great Divorce” between heaven and hell, between what’s true and what isn’t. The New Testament says that the dividing line is Jesus. As a Christian, as a teacher, would I do someone a favor by pretending it was some other way?
Judging from the politically-correct versions of Islam being foisted onto the American public, though, one would get the impression that no straight-thinking Muslim ever thought the Qur’an had anything bad to say about non-Muslims and their differing beliefs.
Exhibit A: I have a packet of material titled, “Teaching Islam and the Arab World.” Its author evidently hopes that no one will ever read sections of the Qur’an other than the ones the author quotes. Here’s how he works. He quotes from the Qur’an 2:136 as follows:
“Say: We believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us, and in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, to Moses and Jesus and the other prophets from the Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Allah we have surrendered ourselves.”
Then the author comments: “Thus, in Islam, the prophets are seen as spiritual brothers to one another. Some commonly known figures who are considered prophets in Islam include Noah, Jonah, Abraham, Ishmail, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus.”
Sweet, isn’t it? And true enough. But why doesn’t the author quote the statement that prompts the Muslim to “Say” what he says? In the Qur’an, here’s what immediately precedes the “Say” section quoted above:
“They say: ‘Accept the Jewish or Christian faith and you will be rightly guided.’ Say: ‘By no means! We believe in the faith of Abraham, the upright one. He was no idolater’.”
The way the passage is cropped and quoted in the study packet seems to be motivated by a desire to avoid the very point of the text: Christianity and Judaism are not along side of Islam. They are superceded by Islam. My question is, Why not just acknowledge that that’s what the Qur’an says?
In our study of Islam this semester, I won’t attempt to portray Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as some sort of happy trinity of Abrahamic religions. Why? Because it ain’t so.