The 'Muslim Bible' in Light of Ours
THE BIBLE AND THE QUR'AN
by Jacques Jomier, OP
Ignatius Press, 2002
130 pages, $10.95
To order: (800) 651-1531 or www.ignatius.com
Since Sept. 11 there has been an understandable increase in the number of books about Islam. Although Islam and Christianity are the two largest religions in the world and their relationship is now nearly 1,400 years old, the number of popular titles comparing the two is quite small. Although written more than 40 years ago, the reprinted The Bible and the Qur'an fills in part of the gap, providing both an overview of the Qur'an and a unique look at the Bible.
Father Jacques Jomier, a Dominican priest who lived for many years in Cairo, approaches the topic from a wealth of personal and scholarly experience. He writes with a commendable objectivity, even sympathy, about the Qur'an, never losing sight of the serious differences between the sacred books at hand. The book does not attempt a detailed analysis of the Qur'an, noting instead key texts and the issues they necessarily raise.
The opening chapters focus on the origin of the Qur'an and the stages of development the book went through. Shorter than the New Testament, the Qur'an was written in Arabic in the early 600s and composed in about 20 years. One telling chapter focuses on the “universal mission” of Mohammad. According to the Islamic faith, he was the last of the prophets, sent to mankind on a mission that will last until the end of the world.
There have been several different legislations of the one true religion, as Jomier explains: “Muslim tradition also regards Judaism and Christianity as true religions that were forms of the one true religion, valid for a special period of history. For Muslim tradition the missions of Moses and Jesus were limited in time and space. God sent Moses and Jesus only to the children of Israel, but Mohammad came with a mission to the whole world.”
As this key belief is at the heart of the Qur'an, Jomier spends much of the book examining it. He presents the references to the Bible found in the Qur'an — indicating the Qur'an's apparent respect for the Bible — noting the tensions that exist between the two, as well as the fact that most Muslims have never read the Bible. The serious differences between Islam and Chrisianity are all discussed: the Islamic rejection of supernatural grace, the Incarnation, the Trinity and the redemptive death of Christ on the cross.
Jomier describes the Qur'an as “a book of apologetics,” for it is very concerned with addressing the person of Jesus Christ. “On the one hand, the Qur'an speaks of Jesus with great respect; several statements suggest His holiness very clearly,” he writes. “But on the other hand, the Qur'an mentions Jesus in an apologetic context to show that He is just a mere creature.”
Jesus (as well as Mary) is described as being a creature of exceptional purity — but only a creature: “[The Qur'an] rejects clearly the mystery of the Incarnation.” The idea that God could have become incarnate is incompatible with the Islamic understanding of God's “unity and transcendence.” Although the Qur'an does refer to Jesus as “the Word,” the “Christology of Islam … is rather like that of the Judeo- Christians who looked upon Jesus as a prophet in the chain of the prophets sent by God to restore the natural religion with its belief in God, Creator and Providence …”
Other topics covered include the Last Judgment, salvation, the saints and Muslim law. The appendix contains recent Catholic documents from Vatican II and Pope John Paul II about Islam, along with Archbishop Fulton Sheen's essay, “Mary and the Muslims.” Originally written in French, The Bible and the Qur'andoes not always read smoothly, and many chapters end quite abruptly. Still, this is a balanced, crucial — and timely — overview of the subject at hand.
Carl E. Olson, editor of Envoy magazine, writes from Eugene, Oregon.
- June 29-July 5, 2003