The Qur’an describes Christians and Jews as “People of the Book”. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares clearly: “Christianity is not a religion of the book.” Why?
The importance of the Qur’an to the religious worldview of Muslims is seen in the way the text is venerated. The Qur’an is often decorated with beautiful and ornate ornamentation.
In a mosque, or even in a house, it will often be on a special stand, known as a kursi.
Muslims are generally careful not to place other books on top of the Qur’an, and to treat the scripture with respect.
But the Qur’an is not the only source of revelation in Islam.
Both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims agree that God’s will is also known from the hadith: reports or traditions about the words and deeds of Muhammad.
Many aspects of Islamic practice and doctrine, including circumcision, prayer instructions, or ideas about heaven and hell, are known from the hadith.
So revelation in Islam is both the book—the Qur’an—and traditions—the hadith.
For the early Muslim scholar al-Shafi`i this obligation to follow the Qur’an and Muhammad’s hadith matches the Islamic profession of faith, which declares “there is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
What about the Christian idea of revelation?
The Qur’an describes Christians and Jews as “People of the Book”—in Arabic ahl al-kitab—and this leads some people to imagine that the place of the Bible in Christianity is similar to that of the Qur’an in Islam.
In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares clearly: “Christianity is not a religion of the book.” Why?
Because Christianity is ultimately a religion of a person: God has revealed himself not in words or commands but in a human being, in Jesus. God’s ultimate language is the flesh and blood of Jesus.
It is in Jesus’ parables, teachings, miracles, works of compassion, and above all in his suffering, death, and resurrection, that the love of God is revealed.
The first letter of John teaches: “We love, because he first loved us.” (1John 4:19)
So what role is left for the Bible?
In the Gospel of Luke, the risen Christ explains how scripture points to himself when he reminds the apostles how “everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled”. (Luke 24:44).
So the Bible is more than an assorted collection of writings. The books of scripture were written by holy people under the guidance of God to communicate the good news. God speaks through the scriptures but the words are those of a human author.
There’s an intriguing parallel to this vision of inspiration in how Muslims understand a special kind of hadith known as a hadith qudsi.
In a hadith qudsi the speech is attributed to God, but it is not the same as the Qur’an. Most Muslims would say a hadith qudsi is not “word for word” divine speech. It is the meaning, and not the articulation, that is divine.
Something similar can be said for Christian views of the Bible. The articulation is human, but the meaning is divine.
But is Christian scripture reliable? Some Islamic traditions—although not all—consider the Bible to be corrupt, and this is a question we will examine in our next episode.
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