The Bible and the Qur'an: A New Islamic Understanding

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 10, 2009 - Pages 105-120

The relationship between Islam and Christianity remains a sensitive issue, because it calls forth many historical memories and involves many theological disputes. It involves the history of Islamic expansion, the Crusades and colonialism. Theologically there is always the issue of the Cross, the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity, [1] issues in which Christians and Muslims hold very different points of view.

Besides the above mentioned, Muslims generally believe that the Qur'an abrogated the Bible, and many also think that the text of the Bible is completely corrupted. On the grounds of this abrogation, they believe that Islam has entirely superseded Judaism and Christianity. They consider the Judo-Christian tradition to be a pre-Islamic revelation and hold that all Jews and Christians have to follow the new revelation of Islam. This view of the older religions is comparable to the way Christians have traditionally regarded Judaism. Interestingly, the Qur'an accused the Christians of this in their behavior toward the Jews, and later we find Muslims themselves doing the same. The Qur'an has a prophecy about that:

The Jews say: "The Christians have naught (to stand) upon"; and the Christians say: "The Jews have naught (to stand) upon." Yet they (profess to) study the (same) Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not; but Allah will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment. (2:113)

Although they rely for this on only one Qur'anic verse, generally Muslims believe that the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is the last prophet and the Seal of the Prophets. [2] He brings the final revelation from God, and for that reason Christians and Jews are obliged to follow him. This exegetical understanding could be countered by exegesis of other verses, which we will discuss below. As Adyin puts it: "According to the Qur'an, all the prophets brought the same message. Established structures such as revelations, sacred books, prophethood, sacred places, and religious laws (Shari'a) are not religious per se but its concrete forms, bound to time and space."[3]

In the early days of Islam, Muslims and Christians enjoyed a good relationship. But as history developed their relationship became tense and antagonistic. In this article we want to show that this antagonism is not of the essence of Islam; it is rather contextual and related to specific realities in the growth of Islam.


Islam's Relationship with Judaism and Christianity

Allah (God) revealed the Gospel as a vertical extension of the Torah-meaning it was a higher, deeper, and clearer expression of heavenly law. This led to a horizontal extension by which Christianity spread all over the world. The Qur'an was revealed as a horizontal extension of the Torah and the Gospel. This resulted in a vertical progress within Islam, through which Muslims could move from the level of the Torah to the level of the Gospel within the Qur'an itself.[4] Actually, the tension between two levels within the Qur'an produced, on the one hand, Islam's great heritage of jurisprudence, which is a kind of an Old Testament experience, and on the other hand Sufism, which is a kind of a New Testament experience.

Due to the spread of Christianity and Islam the circle of faith extended to include most of the globe. Islam arose to append Ismail's descendants to the descendants of Is'haq (Isaac), who had formed the central pole of faith in Judaism and Christianity for the global providence of salvation, so that they too could participate in supporting the global foundation of faith in preparing for the Second Advent of the Messiah.

Many Muslims think that the Qur'an abrogates the Bible, but in fact that is not true according to the verses of the Qur'an itself. The Qur'an does not state that it came to abrogate the Torah and Gospel. Rather, it came confirming them and including the values they have. Abrogation as mentioned in the verse:

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten (or postponed), but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things? (2:106)

means that Islam will diverge from the path of Judaism and Christianity and emerge as a separate religion according to the will of the Arabs and the Prophet himself. It also means abrogating the Qur'anic verses which were revealed in Mecca (the Meccan revelation) by the Qur'anic verses revealed in Medina (the Medinan revelation). This means the establishment of a new branch from the roots of the tree of Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ismail (Ishmael). That new branch is the Nation of Islam, which was finally meant to be an equal peer and a rival for Judaism and Christianity, the branches of Is'haq ibn Ibrahim (Isaac son of Abraham). Some verses of the Meccan Qur'an were abrogated and replaced by Medinan Qur'an, especially those verses that talk about the direction for prayer (qiblah), holy war (jihad) and Islamic laws (Shari'a).

While the Qur'an decides and confirms that it contains the divine truth, it confirms as well that Bible of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) also contains divine truth. There is no verse in the Qur'an that says the Torah and the Gospel of that that time were distorted. Distortion here means misinterpretation of the Books, not a flaw in the Books themselves, and this corruption affects all nations.

A complicating factor is that the nature of the Qur'an's text differs from the nature of the Bible's text. Also, their histories of composition are different: "Unlike the Bible, the Qur'an has not yet been subjected to a rigorous historical-critical examination. The lack of critical studies may owe partly to the conviction of believers in the different nature of the Qur'an vis-à-vis the Bible. It has only one extant original source, one "author" over his lifetime."[5] This has encouraged many Muslims in the rightness of their belief that the Qur'an has abrogated the Torah and the Gospel.

Nevertheless, there are no clear verses to support this significant claim. In fact, the Qur'an contains numerous verses that confirm the validity of the Torah and the Gospel for those who believe in them. The Qur'an even demands that the Peoples of the Book turn to their Books and follow them (this will be detailed later). How could the Qur'an be confirming the Bible if the Bible has no intrinsic validity? The historically fixed enmity between Muslim and the people of the Book, the expansion of Islam into Christian territories, Christian denial of Mohammed, the Crusades and colonialism increased the distrust and suspicion of each other. This situation has been aggravated by recent political conditions in the Islamic world where polarization between Muslims and Jews and Christians is at a peak.

Generally speaking, the People of the Book have denied the prophecy of Mohammed, and Muslims responded to the disbelief of the People of the Book by claiming that the Torah and the Gospel were perverted. This eventually led to confirming the concept in the Muslim mind that the Qur'an abrogated the Torah and the Gospel, in an attempt to undermine the whole theology of the Bible. Generally Muslims have the concept that all the People of the Book are wrong and only Muslims are right. This non-acceptance has strained relations between them. Many Muslims are radical in this point. Since my belief is the only right one, if you do not agree with me, you are wrong. It is like this: if I admit that the other is right, then it would lessen my share of rightness. Such concept is a relief for someone who does not want to consider things objectively or to bother with reconsidering his concepts or to evaluate matters with a true evaluation. Such people want to flow with their personal emotions and wishful thinking. Of them the Qur'an says, "Not your desire, nor those of the people of the Book (can prevail); who ever works evil will be requited accordingly." (4:122)

Of course, there are many verses in the Qur'an that accuse the People of the Book and point out their mistakes. These texts are the most commonly used in the Islamic world today. Similar verses also exist in the Bible; the Bible contains many stories where God scolds people for their mistakes. The Qur'an also contains some verses that speak positively about the people of the Book, but today's Muslims are not concerned with these verses, because they do not match their mindset.

Thoughtful consideration of the verses that speak positively about the Torah, the Gospel and the People of the Book does not imply partiality towards them. It is simply proper scientific method to take into consideration all given elements and reflect on them accordingly, especially as they were given by Allah. Recalling such verses is incumbent upon those who wish to be impartial and reasonable. Doing so will help Muslims, Jews and Christians build a proper relationship with each other. It is not a matter of fanaticism, sympathy or allegiance; it is about seeking the truth and correct information. Disregarding the truth or interpreting it incorrectly does not mean that it does not exist. Such prejudices will only disable the potential energies of the nation of Islam, block it from fulfilling its mission, and thus hinder God's desire from reaching its correct goals.

The Qur'an contains a balance of justice and a divine vision, both for the People of the Book and for Muslims. With all this, divine providence wished for the Islamic nation to be a moderate nation that judges objectively, with truth and justice.[6] That is why the Qur'an contains verses that call for the unity of the Abrahamic faiths and all monotheistic people. It also contains verses that invite the religions to unite in a unique global spirit that is not found elsewhere. However, many Muslims ignore these verses, and hence they never elevate themselves to the level of these great verses of the Qur'an. Being moderate means neutrality, to see things as they are and from all sides. It also means humility to the truth and to have an open mind for understanding God's commands. The Qur'an praised some among the Christians for their meekness and humility.[7] Do today's Muslims have these attributes to which the Qur'an invites us?


The Qur'an and the Abrogation of the Torah and the Gospel

Here we want to set out some new ideas that may surprise some people: First, the Torah is not really distorted, nor is the Gospel. Rather, it was the interpretation of the texts which was distorted. Second, the Qur'an did not abrogate the Torah and the Gospel. Let us look at some verses from the Qur'an:

Surely We, ever We, have been sending down the Remembrance, and surely We are indeed preservers of it. (15:9)

This verse is commonly interpreted to say that the Qur'an is the only Remembrance, even though it is mentioned many times in the Qur'an that the Torah and the Gospel are also Remembrances.[8] The essence of the divine truth is preserved in the Torah and the Gospel as it is preserved in the Qur'an. Misinterpretations and mistranslations do not change the essence of the divine truth that is there.

Let us now discuss some Qur'anic verses which Muslims consider as proof of distortions in the Bible itself and other related issues:

Some of the ones who have judaized pervert the wordings from their original meanings... (4:46) ...they pervert the wording from their contexts. (5:13)

It is clear here that "pervert the wordings" refers to the actions of those who interpret the texts incorrectly to fit with their desires, interests and what they are familiar with. It does not refer to distortions in the original text itself.

Surely We sent down the Torah, wherein there is a guidance and light... and whoever does not judge according to what Allah has sent down, then those are (who are) the disbelievers. (5:44)

This verse invites the people of the Torah to judge by the Torah. How can Allah ask them judge by a Book that is itself distorted? The verse describes the rabbis who did not judge by the Torah as disbelievers. It bears mentioning that the word "judge" does not mean political judgment,[9] as many of today's Muslim scholars think. Rather, it means that the Torah is meant to guide and lead the Jews in their daily life. This verse is addressing those Jews who do not strictly apply the commandments they have been given in the Torah in their daily life.

And if any fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) wrongdoers. (5:45)

This verse talks to Jews, and describes them as despotic if they do not apply the Torah.

If any [Christians] do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel. (5:47)

This verse invites Christians to judge by the Gospel. Since the Gospel does not contain legal or political judgments, this verse confirms the previous opinion that the word "judge" does not mean political or legal judgments primarily. Instead it refers to leading, guiding and making the Gospel the center of the Christian's life, that they should study it and extract the provisions which can guide them forward in their walk of faith. This verse speaks to Christians and describes the ones who do not judge by the Gospel as dissolute.

If only the People of the Book had believed and been righteous, we should indeed have blotted out their iniquities and admitted them to Garden of Bliss. (5:65, 66)

Today we see that the People of the Book since the Renaissance have subjugated nature and the whole world! This could be viewed as their reward for having judged by the Bible. Yet how could this be if, according to the common Muslim understanding, they are judged not by the Bible but by the Qur'an? Judging "by the light of what Allah hath revealed" may have a meaning different than what these Muslims think.

Not all of them are alike: of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (for the right); they rehearse the verses of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. (3:113)

This verse proves that the People of the Book, just like any other nation, have good people as well as bad people. They are not all the same, and many of the good people recite Allah's verses. Some interpreters say that the Qur'an is talking about the People of the Book who became Muslims;[10] however, they would then no longer be People of the Book; they would be Muslims.

Muslims will never lessen the favor Allah has shown them by admitting that God has also shown some favor to the People of the Book. There are many other verses in the Qur'an which go in the same direction and offer the same concept, for example 5:69, 3:84-85, 3:19, 6:159, 23:52, and 49:13.


The Hebrew Bible and the Gospel Compared with the Medinan and Meccan Qur'an

Old Testament and the New Testament

Let us consider Isa (Jesus) as he related to the Mosaic Laws (the Shari'a of the Torah) that the Jews of his time were following. These Jews saw Isa as deviant in his deeds and sayings and as contradicting the tradition of Musa (Moses) and the legacy of their ancestors. But actually that was not the case. Rather, when they misunderstood Isa they also missed the point of the tradition of Musa and its wisdom; they considered only its outward appearance while ignoring its essence and purpose. This is similar to the Muslim mindset of today. The Jewish religious leaders thought that Isa had come "to destroy the law and the prophets" and considered him to be their enemy. They rejected him, thinking that they were doing the right thing. He therefore said to them, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matt. 5:17)

Many Jewish leaders of that time thought that Allah's grace and words were completed with Musa's laws and the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. They were not expecting a new message, and thought that the Messiah would come to empower Musa's book and guide them in the same historical path as the prophets and jurists of the old days. They overlooked the fact that Allah's blessing is infinite and His words are endless. Isa came to guide the Jewish people to a new stage of divine blessing and wisdom, because the law of Musa had fulfilled its purpose and Isa, without ignoring the law, came to guide them to the higher wisdom and spirit of the law.

I think that Jesus intended to make a spiritual and legislative revolution and give birth to a new, reformed Judaism. Had this happened, this renewed Judaism, centering on the Temple of Jerusalem and led by Isa, the king of the Jews, would have embraced other cultures and emerged as a new world religion.

The Qur'an of Medina and the Qur'an of Mecca

The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is similar to the difference between the general trend of Medina's Qur'an (the Qur'an which was revealed in the city of Medina) and the general trend of the Mecca's Qur'an (the Qur'an which was revealed in the city of Mecca).[11] In time the Medinan Qur'an abrogated the Meccan Qur'an, but this can be considered only a temporary postponement. Mecca's Qur'an came on the level of Christianity, which came on the foundation of Musa's laws. The Gospel of Isa came to complete and fulfill the laws of Musa with a message of acceptance, freedom and peace; in the same way we find in the Meccan Qur'an acceptance, freedom and peace. Islam's first message was thus the core of religions, which is exactly what Isa had presented to the Jewish scholars even though they preferred to stick to the interpretation of the Torah with which they were familiar. Islam, at its beginning, came on the level of the presentation of Isa. But just as the Jewish leaders rejected Isa, Mecca rejected the prophet Mohammed and plotted to kill him, so he immigrated to Medina. The Meccan Qur'an was then abrogated in order to initiate a new nation that started from where the Israelite nation ended.

The Meccan Qur'an was postponed and replaced by the Medinan Qur'an, whose most prominent features are Shari'a, jihad, and the uniqueness of Islamic nation. The Medinan Qur'an, therefore, is closer to the level of the Old Testament. Let us think: if Isa had not been crucified, but instead had been accepted by the Jewish authorities, what would he have done as the King of the Jews to liberate Israel politically and conquer Rome? If Jesus had lived long enough to embark on this mission, wouldn't he have needed laws, politics and an army?

In short, the Qur'an contains both elements relating to the Mosaic Law-the Medinan Qur'an-and elements relating to the message of Isa-the Meccan Qur'an. Therefore Islam can be the middle religion with the content to relate well with both Judaism and Christianity.


Abrogation and Postponement in the Monotheistic Religions

Abrogation and Postponement in Judaism

The Providence of Allah is much aware of man's fallen state and his weak faith. Allah always wishes for goodness and the betterment of man. However, man is the one who does injustice to himself. Providence, while pursuing man's guidance, treats man according to his degree of faith. This has led to abrogation and postponement in the Abrahamic religions. Providence is realistic and always takes the easiest and fastest way. However, man's ignorance and disobedience leads him to take a longer and more complicated way. In this section we will learn that Allah by His providence attempts to restore man in many ways.

Suppose Musa (Moses) didn't kill the Egyptian; wouldn't he have become the king of Egypt? According to the Qur'an, when Musa killed the Egyptian he realized that it was a satanic act:

"Now the man of his own people appealed to him against his foe, and Moses struck him with his fist and made an end of him. He said: 'this is the work of evil (Satan), for he is an enemy that manifestly misleads.'" (28:15)

Musa's original mission according to the Qur'an was to guide the Israelites and proselytize the Egyptians; Egyptian proselytizing started with Joseph actually. The divine plan was to guide both peoples. This point is quite clear in Qur'an: "Then after them sent We Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and his chiefs with our signs. But they were arrogant: They were a people in sin." (10:75) The Qur'an mentions that Pharaoh's magicians believed in Moses after they were defeated: "But the sorcerers fell down prostrate in adoration, saying, 'We believe in the Lord of the worlds, the Lord of Moses and Aaron.'" (7:120-122) Also, one of the high officials of Pharaoh's palace was a pro-Moses sympathizer, and he used to tell Moses about the palace news: "A believer, a man from among the people of Pharaoh who had concealed his faith, said, 'Will ye slay a man because he says My lord is Allah?'" (40:28) Furthermore, the Qur'an states that the wife of Pharaoh was a believer: "And Allah set forth as an example to those who believe the wife of Pharaoh. Behold, she said: 'Oh my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to thee, a mansion in the Garden and save me from Pharaoh and his doings.'" (66:11). But the weak faith of the Israelite people led Firawn (Pharaoh) to disbelieve Musa, rejecting and persecuting him and his people and refusing to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt. Yet the heart of Heaven was with the Israelites.[12]

When I look at the story of Moses, I think Allah's first providence was to guide Firawn and establish a heavenly nation in the Promised Land under the protection of the ancient Egyptian Kingdom. Divine Providence was working through Musa to bring the Israelite people out of Egypt under the protection of the Egyptian King, just as earlier Providence had guided the Israelites into Egypt under the protection of the Egyptian King in Yusuf's (Joseph)'s time-from the deep well of water to the Pharaoh's palace in Yusuf's case; and from the deep waters of the Nile to the Pharaoh's palace in Musa's case. Yet when further progress became impossible, this plan was abrogated (postponed) and replaced with a new plan focusing on the Israelite people alone. Allah would bring them out of Egypt no matter what, while separating them from Egyptians. This became necessary because the Israelite people, who were the only people on the side of Allah at that time, were influenced by the Egyptian people, who were on the satanic side, instead of influencing them.

The first providential plan was that the Jewish people would enter the Promised Land after traveling 21 days along the coast to Gaza and then into Palestine. However, due to their weak faith at that time, this plan was abrogated. It was replaced by walking across the Sinai in order to enable the Jews to witness Allah's miracles, be trained for a new life in the Promised Land, and also to give them time to forget all about their former life in Egypt.[13] Meanwhile, the providence of guiding the Egyptians to Allah was not lost by this abrogation; it was only postponed to the period of Christianity and Islam.

Abrogation and Postponement in Christianity

Isa (Jesus) desired to simplify Musa's teachings and laws, and show the Jewish people the core of man's problems in order to solve them. Then he intended to do the same thing for the whole of humanity in order to free them from Satan's grip. Isa was to establish a model family and show the example of the heavenly nation through establishing an earthly kingdom under his godly reign. Isa the Messiah wanted to take the Jewish people from the concept of following outward laws to the concept of completing the law with truth and fulfilling the order of the Old Testament with wisdom. But he was misunderstood and taken to the cross.

Christians and Muslims clearly disagree on the issue of the crucifixion. Christians believe that the Messiah was predestined to be crucified, because his sacrificial death was required to save mankind from sin. They say that the Isa was crucified and resurrected from death. Muslims, on the other hand, say that the Isa was not crucified. They say that a man who looked like Isa was crucified in his place. In my view, regardless of whether Isa died or was spared by a substitution, the event of the crucifixion marked the end of Isa's ministry to the Israelites. It became the reason behind the appearance of Christianity and Islam, and it is also the reason for the second advent of the Messiah.

Isa (Jesus) did not come to establish Christianity as another religion. He came to establish God's Kingdom on earth and to free man from Satan's chains. This Kingdom was meant to be centered on Israel. It was to include Israel, Rome and Egypt, including the Arabs and other peoples who lived in that area. But owing to Jewish misunderstanding, this first plan was abrogated, postponed and replaced by the cross and the establishment of Christianity. This plan was postponed until the Second Advent of the Messiah.

Abrogation and Postponement in Islam

Christianity came on a foundation that is deeply-rooted in religious history. The divine experience with man has roots in the Jewish Torah, which prescribed for the Jews exclusiveness and distinction from other people because at that time Allah want His people to be completely separated from the satanic world. Then Isa came and declared that the Law's prescription of exclusivity and separateness is neither the origin nor the core of religion. The core of religion is love, freedom, mercy, forgiveness and universality. Isa declared that laws are only a means,[14] and that man is the master of the laws, not vice versa.

Before the appearance of Islam, Mecca and the Arab people as a whole had rejected Christianity because they were proud that they were descendants of Ibrahim and they believed that they were also Allah's chosen people. This was the same reason why they rejected the Judeo-Christian Islam, and considered Muhammad to be advocating a foreigner's religion. If we look carefully in the early history of Islam, we can recognize that the first mission of Islam was a reformation movement within Christianity.[15]

God made several attempts to realize this. First, the King of Ethiopia launched the famous elephant's war. Abraha, the Ethiopian King in Yemen, was a Christian. He declared war against the pagans of Mecca in order to spread Christianity in Arabia. He wanted to destroy the Kaaba, the holy shrine in Mecca, so that all the Arabs would pray at his big cathedral in Yemen. The second attempt was the first Muslim migration to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). When the early Muslims were heavily persecuted in Mecca, the prophet Mohammed asked them to seek refuge in Ethiopia, where they stayed for several years. But this ended in failure for many reasons. Also we can notice the intimate relations between early Islam and Christianity. The Qur'an comforted the prophet and early Muslims when the Christian Romans were defeated in their holy war against the pagan Persians.[16] The Qur'an also prophesied that in few years the Romans would defeat the Persians.[17]

When the Prophet was in Mecca, he and his followers used to pray towards Jerusalem. This in itself was deeply unpopular to the Arabs, who were devoted to the shrine of the Kaaba (the central shrine in Mecca with its black stone). Therefore when in Medina it was granted to the prophet Mohammed to change the direction of his prayers towards the Kaaba:

We see the turning of thy face (for guidance) to the Heavens: now shall We turn thee to a qiblah that shall please thee. Turn then thy face in the direction of the sacred mosque. (2:144)

The verse says that it was "a qiblah that shall please thee" because changing the direction of prayer towards the sacred Kaaba bolstered Muhammad's hope to win the hearts of the Arabs.

Islam came after Christianity in the historical progression. That is why at its beginning in Mecca, Islam urged acceptance of Jews and Christians, advocated freedom of faith and conscience, and called for a grand unity of monotheistic religions including Muslims, Jews and Christians. With this kind of presentation, Islam at that point theoretically surpassed Christianity and Judaism. However, the tough nature of the Arab Bedouin community, which held on to its idols, kept the Meccan people from changing from idol worship (paganism and polytheism) to monotheism. For the above mentioned reasons, the first revelation, which related Islam to the Masjid al-Aqsa (Jerusalem Temple) and the People of the Book, was abrogated and replaced with a new center in Mecca (the Masjid al-Haram or sacred Mosque), and a level of revelation that promoted distinction and separation from Christianity and Judaism. The revelations about unification between Islam, Christianity and Judaism had to be abrogated.

Mohammed's original mission was not to completely separate from Christianity. But the people of Mecca were faithless, rejected Islam, were difficult to guide, and even attempted to kill the Prophet. Hence the Meccan providence, which was based on acceptance and freedom and which was close to Christianity, was replaced by a new providence in Medina. In that providence the Kaaba was established as the new center of faith and jihad was permitted in order to establish a new independent nation, with its distinct laws and identity and its rivalry with Jews and Christians. The earlier providence, with its purpose of uniting the three Abrahamic nations, was abrogated and postponed to the Last Days, as the Qur'an states:

The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah-that which We have sent by inspiration to thee-and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein... And they became divided only after Knowledge reached them, through selfish envy as between themselves... Allah will bring us together, and to Him is (our) Final Goal. (42:13-15)


"The religious hostility between Christians and Muslim has obscured their common origin, their co-hiership in the legacy."[18]

Today many Muslims believe that Qur'an had abrogated the Bible. This belief is an obstacle for interfaith relations and reconciliation between Islam and Judeo-Christianity. Muslims need to reread the Qur'an and the history of Islam in order to understand the original spirit of Islam. The fact is that Old Testament Islam abrogated the New Testament Islam. The New Testament Islam was postponed, to be declared once again in the Last Days.

The core teaching of New Testament Islam is tolerance, acceptance and inclusion. It can even supersede the Gospel in its philosophy and universal viewpoint. All the forms of violence and exclusive spirit in the Muslim world of today are the result of the human psychological reflex against political oppression and feelings of humiliation in the face of the prevailing Western culture. They remind us of the Jews' situation 2,000 years ago in the face of the Roman Empire, when as today the whole region was full of violence, rebellion and unrest.

Allah is eager to save man to the extent of uniting all people in submission to Him. If we study history carefully, we can find that Allah's deepest purpose is unity and not separation, harmony and not division. Therefore Allah's providence in the days of Musa, Isa and the Prophet Muhammad sought first of all for unity: unity of the Israelites and the Egyptians in Musa's day; unity of the Jews with the peoples of the Roman Empire in Isa's day; and unity of all monotheistic peoples in the days of the prophet Muhammad. Nevertheless, time and again the people chosen by Allah proved themselves weak and faithless, and this required a change in the providence to at least salvage religion for the believers alone. This required separating the believers from other peoples and granting the Message only to the former, while postponing salvation for the rest. Thus the Israelites left Egypt and received the Torah while the Egyptians suffered loss; Isa founded Christianity while the Jews suffered loss; and Islam was established in Medina over against the Peoples of the Book. This phenomenon, which came to be known as abrogation, was never meant to be permanent. In the end, Allah's desire for unity among all the peoples who worship Him will be established.



[1] The relevant verses of the Qur'an include: "They do blaspheme who say: '(Allah) is Christ the son of Mary.' But said Christ: 'O Children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.'" (5:72) "They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah" (5:73) "Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth" (5:75)

[2] "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets." (33:40)

[3] Mahmut Aydin, in a paper published in Journal of Educational Studies 38 (Spring-Summer 2001):2-3.

[4] Many Muslim scholars noticed this tension between these different kinds of revelation. The famous Sudanese spiritual leader Mahmoud Taha declared that the Islam of Medina is not applicable today and called for re-establishment of Meccan revelation. He claimed that the Meccan revelation is the core of Islam. Taha was executed as an apostate in 1985.

[5] David Emmanuel Singh, "Mohammed, the Prophet Like Moses," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 43 (Fall 2008): 554.

[6] "Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity." (3:104)

[7] "Those who say, 'We are Christians': because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant. (5:88)

[8] "And before thee also the apostles We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspira­tion: if ye realize this not, ask of those who possess the Message (those who know the Remembrance i.e. the People of the Book)" (16:43)

[9] The slogan of judging with God's word was used for political reasons. See Mohammed S. al-Ashmawi, Political Islam, Arabic edition (Al-Ahram Press, 1987), pp. 30, 74.

[10] This is what Ibn Katheer, one of the most famous exegetes of the Qur'an, understood from this verse. See Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Arabic edition, vol. 1 (Dar al-Fikr, 1997), p. 447.

[11] In older editions of the Qur'an you can find that each chapter is classified as to whether it was revealed in Mecca or in Medina. After many scholars started to point out the differ­ences in the nature of these revelations, we noticed that in some modern editions of the Qur'an there is no explanation of the location of the revelation.

[12] "Truly Pharaoh elated himself in the land and broke up its people into sections, depress­ing a small group among them: their sons he slew, but he kept alive their females: for he was indeed a maker of mischief. And We wished to be Gracious to those who were being depressed in the land, to make them leaders (in Faith) and make them heirs" (28:4-5)

[13] "Now it came about when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, 'Lest the people change their minds when they see war, and they return to Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:17)

[14] "And this is a Book which We have revealed as a blessing: so follow it and be righteous, that ye may receive mercy. Lest ye should say: 'The Book was sent down to two Peoples before us, and for our part, we remained unacquainted with all that they learned by assiduous study': Or lest ye should say: 'If the Book had only been sent down to us, we should have followed its guidance better than they.' Now then hath come unto you a clear (sign) from your Lord - and a guide and a mercy: then who could do more wrong than one who rejecteth Allah's signs, and turneth away therefrom? In good time shall We requite those who turn away from Our signs with a dreadful penalty for their turning away." (6:155-157)

[15] In the eyes of the medieval writers Islam was not a pagan religion but a Christian heresy. See H. St. L. B. Moss, The Birth of the Middle Ages,395-814 (Oxford University Press, 1935).

[16] By 622 c.e., in the same year as when the Prophet migrated from Mecca to Medina. The war between the Romans and the Persians was considered holy war, a crusade in defense of the Christian faith.

[17] "The Roman Empire has been defeated - in a land close by; but they, (even) after (this) defeat of theirs, will soon be victorious - within a few years. With Allah is the Decision, in the past and in the future: on that Day shall the believers rejoice." (30:2-4)

[18] Moss, The Birth of the Middle Ages, 395-814.