Impressions from the Koran
Having read the Koran in its entirety (A. J. Arberry’s translation), I have various impressions of it. Some might accuse me of lacking objectivity, to which I would reply that everyone has a worldview which he brings to any subject. It is possible, by the evidence, to be persuaded out of a given worldview and into another. But, everyone brings his current beliefs to the table. So, I don’t claim “objectivity” in the sense of not already having my own conclusion. That would be akin to someone telling you, “Here’s a new math theory to consider, but first you’ve got to stop knowing that 2+2=4.” One cannot just “stop knowing” that 2+2=4, anymore than I can “stop knowing” that God wrote the Bible. Having completed my trip through the Koran, nothing in it came close to convincing me that Mohammad was inspired, or that I should abandon the Bible. What follows are a few scattered thoughts, though so much more could be said.
Beware the lone prophet. Mohammad lived c. A.D. 570-632 and the Koran was supposedly revealed to him by the angel Gabriel. Thus the content of an entire religion is filtered through one human being. In stark contrast, the Bible was penned over 1,500 years by about forty different writers—separated by time, education, ethnicity—who, nevertheless, composed a thematically cohesive book like no other. The last book in the Bible was written 500 years before the Koran. Mohammad was clearly influenced—directly or indirectly—by the Bible. There would be no Koran had the Bible not been here first, for Mohammad spends a lot of time talking about biblical characters, rewriting biblical accounts (e.g. Abraham was a Muslim), and criticizing Bible believers. At times, Mohammad introduces things without context or explanation, expecting the reader to know what he’s talking about, when the answer has to be sought somewhere outside the Koran.
The Koran is repetitive in the extreme. Not that repetition is bad, but read it yourself and you will soon see. Omitting the duplicate stories and phraseology, the book might immediately shrink by half. Or more. Were it a novel, the Koran would surely have few readers. Its content, style, and language plod on in a tautologous circle. The very last page contains a warning about evil women “who blow on knots.” I realize the suras (i.e. chapters) are arranged by length, not chronology, but, still, the whole thing winds down in a very anti-climactic “more of the same”— certainly nothing to compare with the moving, encouraging invitation in the Bible’s final chapter.
The Bible has convinced minds for millennia, on the persuasiveness of its evidence. While there are adults who voluntarily convert to Islam, the religion’s success is tied to pounding the Koran into children from earliest days. Read the New Testament and the Koran’s inferiority is painfully evident by any measure of comparison. There are unbelievers who read the Bible and even write commentaries on it. Even some unbelievers appreciate the moral influence the Bible has exerted in history. Were the Koran not drummed into their heads from childhood, it would not be convincing multitudes to convert on the merit of its message. In point of fact, it just might be the loneliest book on the library shelf. The late, former atheist philosopher, Antony Flew, decided at the end of his life that God exists, but he was not ready to embrace the gospel. However, in his book, There Is a God, Flew noted, “...I think that the Christian religion is the one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim to be a divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul...If you’re wanting Omnipotence to set up a religion, this is the one to beat” (p. 185f.).
Maybe it’s me, but the Koran comes across as paranoid. Over and over it says “they cried lies.” The “they” who “cried lies” are those who reject Islam. Imagine someone who wants to rule other people by convincing them it is God’s will, but his case is so unconvincing. What to do? He can call names, threaten, intimidate, terrorize. It is incredible how much of the Koran is devoted to people who reject the Koran, as though Mohammad could not deal with opposers who called his work lies and fairy tales. He brings them up ad nauseam. “They cried lies,” and Mohammad cannot stand them for it.
Whatever the page, you are never far from a line in the Koran about unbelievers, chastisement, an evil homecoming, or being roasted in the fire, even having to drink “oozing pus.” Sura 56 warns, “Then you erring ones, you that cried lies, you shall eat of a tree called Zakkoum, and you shall fill therewith your bellies and drink on top of that boiling water lapping it down like thirsty camels.” There is an unmistakable fixation on punishment that permeates the Koran. The gospel of Christ stresses holiness and the struggle against sin, whereas the Koran hammers on the conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims, and how Allah is going to get all those who “cried lies.” Over and over the Koran criticizes Jews and Christians as unfit for friends on earth, and losers in eternity. Take out its constant criticism of non-Muslims, and its unending talk of their roasting in hell, and what is left? The Bible has warnings about hell, but it is all about avoiding the place. The Koran, on the other hand, seems to relish the fate awaiting unbelievers, and cannot emphasize it enough.
The Bible’s is a soaring story of redemption, inspiring with God’s own sacrifice for humanity’s sins. There is nothing remotely akin to it in the Koran. Islam is missing a Savior. It speaks much of sin, and says that God is forgiving, but offers no basis of forgiveness—there is no sacrifice to wash away sin. Christianity has the cross because that was the unavoidable price required, the only thing that could deal with sin. Islam makes salvation cheap. Say the prayers. Give the alms. Obey the Prophet. Paradise awaits. Islam fails utterly to provide a mechanism by which a holy God can save sinners. Only by the blood of Christ can it be done.
But what Islam lacks in a Savior it makes up in severity. The New Testament teaches Christians, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:4, ESV) and “our wrestling is not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12), and “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). It is a far cry from Mohammad’s instruction to slay people. As one of a multitude of examples from the Koran, consider: “This is the recompense of those who fight against God and His Messenger...they shall be slaughtered, or crucified, or their hands and feet shall alternately be struck off, or they shall be banished from the land. That is a degradation for them in this world; and in the world to come awaits them a mighty chastisement...” (from Sura V). “Muhammad is the Messenger of God, and those who are with him are hard against the unbelievers, merciful one to another” (from sura XLVIII). Search the Koran in vain for anything resembling Jesus’ lofty ethic in the Sermon on the Mount. Islam, as portrayed in its founding document, is a violent religion. Anyone who says Islam is inherently peaceful is either ignorant or lying. The violent, so-called “extremists” have not hijacked Islam. They are the true believers, taking their cue from the Koran itself. Islam offers a theocracy completely incompatible with the American Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Concerning the sexes, it was the gospel of Christ, more than anything in history, that elevated women. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), and “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). In contrast, the Koran advises, “...marry such women as seem good to you, two, three, four” (sura IV). Likewise, Mohammad says “Men are the managers of the affairs of women…And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them” (sura IV). Thus, Mohammad condones domestic violence, at least in cases where a husband thinks his wife has a bad attitude.
The Bible and the Koran have vastly differing concepts of the next life. According to Jesus, “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). The Bible says there are no sexual relationships in heaven. The Koran, on the other hand, describes Paradise as a place of sensual pleasure, full of “maidens... untouched... by any man” (sura LV) and “spotless virgins, chastely amorous” (sura LVI). Per Mohammad, “Surely for the godfearing awaits a place of security, gardens and vineyards and maidens with swelling breasts, like of age, and a cup overflowing” (sura LXXVIII).
Nothing in the Koran is worse than its denial of Jesus’ deity, which it does over and over. For example, “They are unbelievers who say, ‘God is the Messiah, Mary’s son’” and “The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a Messenger” (sura V). Muslims say Jesus existed, but that he was not God’s Son and he did not die on the cross: “for their saying, ‘We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God’—yet they did not slay him, neither crucified him...” (sura IV).
This is a tiny handful of examples, and much could be said regarding the traits of inspiration in the Bible, and their absence in the Koran. The ethic of Christ and the ethic of Mohammad are light years apart. Remember, the New Testament and church of Christ had been on earth nearly 600 years before the Koran was written. Islam is a late comer on the scene. It offers nothing good except what it borrows from the gospel (which is always better stated in the New Testament), which it mixes, unashamedly, with a host of gospel-denying verses.
Islam’s threat to Christianity comes, not from any theological superiority, but from its oft exercised powers of intimidation, threat, coercion, and violence. Those who still live in a culture not dominated by Muslim oppression should recognize the threat and refuse to buckle. Silencing ourselves for fear of reprisal means we are already losing to its influence, and being victimized by the very definition of “terrorism.”