Why a Muslim should read the Bible

December 2020

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The Muslim is on unsafe ground if he rejects and repudiates the authenticity of the Scriptures for two reasons. Firstly, Islam is believed by all Muslims to be the same as the religion of Abraham, Jesus and the rest of the prophets, as taught in the former Scriptures. And secondly, the Quran itself bears the highest testimony to the authority and genuineness of the Bible.

The possession of the Quran is no bar to the reading of the Bible: Such comments as “This is the book of the Christians and does not concern us, for we are Muslims, and have the noble Quran” need not prevent a Muslim reading the Bible also for it is a book which is so full of instruction for the soul.

The Bible deserves to be read on positive grounds because of its interest and the instruction which it is able to impart: The Old Testament should be studied, because Christ cited or referred to it so many times, probably more than four hundred, and instructed His disciples to look to it for the prophetic testimony to His work and mission. And the Gospel is the book which tells us almost all we know of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

The Bible is the inspired Word of God and therefore disregard of the books of God, is a disregard of God himself. In these Scriptures we find a very clear and definite plan of salvation and means of obtaining the forgiveness of sins; so that no one who is sincerely desirous of finding peace with God will read them in vain. Those who are established in their own faith should read the Scriptures because a man ought to hold his belief not merely on the strength of tradition but from intelligent conviction.

For a Muslim to study the Bible may of course arouse hostility and it is often found that the reception given to a Christian evangelist on a second visit is not so favourable as their first reception. This possible eventuality is from the very nature of the case unavoidable; it invariably accompanies every presentation of the truth. The Christian Scriptures are sometimes read for the first time with a positive feeling of relief and delight, because they are discovered to be so different from what they are commonly supposed to be. Rather than saying, “We have the Quran for our guide, what need have we have for these books? A warmer response would recognise that in the Quran the Scriptures are called a guide for all men which would usher in a recognition that to read and understand them would do no harm, let alone find the way to life everlasting.

The Muslim who does not wish to accept the Scriptures may take the following line of conversation: ‘A Muslim man was offered the Scriptures and wanted to have the Gospel; but as he was looking at the book another Muslim came up and said “Don’t take that; we don’t need the Gospel.” “How so” replied the first, “Muhammad did not reject it, but ordered us to believe in it, among other things, as it is from God.“ The second man replied that, although the gospel is from God, it was only necessary until Muhammad came, and after Muhammad it was not necessary. But the first retorted “lf Muhammad ordered us to believe also in the Gospel, then how is it not necessary ?”‘

The Bible is thought to be unworthy of reading as the Quran has abrogated the Bible

The Muslim will feel absolved from the necessity of reading the former Scriptures if the latter have been abrogated by the Quran. Hence arises the convenient theory to this effect, that is, as the Gospel superseded the Law of Moses, so the Gospel itself in its turn, has had to give place to the Quran. Some things, according to this view, have been entirely abolished, such as the Jewish sacrifices and ceremonial regulations. All that has not been abrogated has been promulgated anew in the Quran and the authoritative Traditions. These abrogated things belong to the non-essentials of religion and no Muslim would think of affirming that any of the essential elements of God’s true religion have been or ever can be changed.

Although the Quran has found it fit to exclude many jewish rites and ceremonies which were an expression of its external religion it has introduced its own set of strict external regulations such as ritual prayer, pilgrimage to Meccca and the Ramadan Fast. The progressive instruction and enlightenment imparted by God to his people in the Gospel concentrate the mind on the moral law of God, which remains unchanged, and the spiritual law and teaching of Christ. It is inconceivable that a later revelation, claiming superiority over the earlier, should go back to externals. The spiritual is superior. The kernel is better than the shell.

Muslims assert that the Quran has abrogated the former Scriptures on the principle ‘ Whatever verse we shall abrogate, or cause thee to forget, we will bring a better than it, or one like unto it’ (Baqarrah 2:106) but in what respect is the Quran superior to them? Interestingly we find that Muhammad does not summon the Arabs to something newer and higher, but recalls them back to the religion of Abraham.

We may safely challenge the Muslim to bring forward any passage from the Quran in which the praises of the Gospel and the Old Testament have been abrogated. There is none to be found. For anything of the kind we should have to go to the Traditions.

We find nothing in the Quran superior to Christianity.

In the Scriptures we find the sublimest teaching and the loftiest morality. Then, when we come to the Quran, which for the sake of argument we suppose to abrogate the Scriptures formerly given, we naturally expect to find something vastly superior. But in this we are disappointed, for we perceive:

a) no superior excellence in teaching but contradictions for example compare Muhammad’s sensual paradise with Christ’s ‘in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven’ (St. Matthew 22:30);

b) no superior excellence in its commands, for example how far removed are Muhammad’s commands to fight against and slay the infidels from the brotherhood of man from the love, even of enemies, inculcated by Christ and the Gospel!; c) there is no advance in the performance of the works of God nor any improvement in morality.

d) The idea of the successive abrogation of the Scriptures is unworthy of an all-wise God for it makes God’s Word imperfect and futile.

Encouragements calculated to favourably dispose the Muslim to honour and read the Christian Scriptures

Without question Muhammad gives positive testimony of the Bible in the Quran. The question has been asked whether such an argument is proper for a Christian to use, and should we take this course of action we need to make clear that we do not do so on the grounds of Muhammad’s authority. This type of argument is used only because Muslims are followers of Muhammad and the Quran and that the original Jewish and Christian Scriptures already possess an established position among Muslims. The religion inculcated in them is believed to be identical, with the exception of certain minor differences, with that of the Quran. The previous Scriptures are acknowledged to be from God, and the Quran bears the clearest testimony to their genuineness and sacred character. It is quite a legitimate course to argue with the Muslim from his own standpoint; but, of course, should there be any disposition to think that Christianity relies for its confirmation upon the authority of Islam, the idea must be immediately disclaimed. Our appeal then amounts to this: ‘These books are highly spoken of in the Quran, and therefore it is your duty to read them, therefore I invite you to read them and become acquainted with them for your own advantage.’

There is a large number of passages in the Quran which refer to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and many of them may be usefully be brought forward in discussion with Muslims. We just mention a few examples.

a) All the Scriptures given by God are to be believed in : ‘O ye who believe! Believe in Allah and His Messenger, and the scripture which He hath sent to His Messenger and the scripture which He sent to those before (him). Any who denieth Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Day of Judgment, hath gone far, far astray.’ (An-Nisa 4:136).

b) They are the standard of guidance which God has given: “Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel. To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it”(Al-Maidah 5:47,48).

c) On one occasion in order to settle a dispute between Muhammad and the Jews Muhammad proposed to settle the difference of opinion by a reference to the Old Testament. He told them to “Bring ye the Law and study it, if ye be men of truth” (Al-Imran 3:93) so that it might judge between them.

d) In Al-Imran 3:23 the Old Testament is called ‘the book of Allah and the title of Furqan (the distinction) which is applied to the Quran is also given to the Pentateuch “And remember We gave Moses the Scripture and the Criterion (Between right and wrong)” (Al-Baqarrah 2:53 c/f Al-Anbiya 21:48).

e) The Book of Moses is described as ‘a light and guidance to man’ (Al-Ana’am 6:91) and ‘(to give) Insight to men, and guidance and Mercy’ (Al-Qasas 28: 43 c/f Al-Ana’am 6:154).

f) To charge any of the Scriptures (including the Quran) with falsehood is a great sin: ‘Those who reject the Book and the (revelations) with which We sent our messengers: but soon shall they know (their folly)’ (Al-Ghafir 40:70).

g) Both Muhammad himself, and the unbelieving Qurraish are referred in the Quran to the previous Scriptures, which not only proves their genuineness but their authoritative force: “If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee” (Yunus 10:94); “Before thee, also, the messengers We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: If ye realise this not, ask of those who possess the Message” (Al-Anbiya 21:7). If Muhammad himself, who had the Quran, was referred to the former Scriptures, it is certainly important for his followers to read them.