Thoughts on the Qur'an

This is an article I wrote for The Edward Website. This is, technically, a first draft.

About two months, I decided that I needed to read the Qur'an. I'd been considering reading it for years: I even bought a (translated) copy of the Qur'an four years ago. My decision came at a time when I was unsure about my faith. I'd realized that I could no longer call myself an Episcopalian; and as that was the Christian sect I fit in with best, I began to become worried that I was no longer a Christian. My faith in Jesus has always wavered more than my faith in God. I made the decision to read the Qur'an because I wanted to know if I was actually Muslim. As I hadn't read the Qur'an, I felt I couldn't say that I wasn't a Muslim because I didn't know what being a Muslim meant. Something unexpected, however, occurred during my reading of the Qur'an: it helped me realize what being a Christian meant to me.

Unlike the Bible, which was written by hundreds of different people at different places and different times, the Qur'an was written by one man in the late 500s. This fact led me to expect that the Qur'an would contain fewer inconsistencies than the Bible, since I account for the inconsistencies I find in the Bible by admitting that it's a collection of writings by many different people. In this respect, the Qur'an met my expectation. While there are apparent inconsistencies in the Qur'an (such as when God allows Satan to lead men astray in Surah 38 and then questions why men would turn away from Him in Surah 39), I am more inclined to believe that these are not actual inconsistencies, but that I am just not properly understanding the verses. Accepting, also, that the Qur'an is supposed to be read in Arabic, I am more inclined to write off my misunderstandings as translation issues. I recognize that I am disadvantaged when reading the Qur'an because I cannot read Arabic. I attempted to account for this disadvantage by consulting other translations whenever I had a question about wording, but this method only led to more confusion because I didn't know which translation to trust.

The Qur'an repeats important lessons and beliefs ad nauseum. While this made the reading of the last 200 or so pages tedious, it did imprint me with a very strong idea about what the Qur'an says and the lessons it teaches. What the Qur'an taught me that made me think and question the most were its statements about the divinity of Jesus. In the Qur'an, Jesus is not the Son of God. He is accepted and revered as a great prophet and his life is often used as an example of perfect submission to God's will. When the Qur'an speaks about the Christian belief in Christ as God's Son, the tone of the words becomes angry, even hostile. It is tempting at this point to ignore the reasons behind this anger, to write off the entire Qur'an as a lie. But I do not believe in reading a book like the Qur'an without intending to learn something from it, and it is impossible to learn from something if you've written it off as worthless and a lie. That led me to want to discover why Mohammed was so infuriated that Christians claimed Christ as the Son of God.

The Messiah who is Jesus, son of Mary, was only an apostle of God, and a command of His which He sent to Mary, as a mercy from Him. So believe in God and His apostles, and do not call Him 'Trinity'. Abstain from this for your own good; for God is only one God, and far from His glory is it to beget a son.

4: 171 (Quotes are taken from Ahmed Ali's translation)

There are several verses throughout the Qur'an that echo the one above: that the idea of God having a son insults God and lessens His glory. If we can treat the Qur'an philosophically (and logically), we can state the following:

God cannot have a son because it would not be fitting of His glory; and having a son would lessens God's glory; and believing that God had a son is insulting to God.

If we can accept all of those statements as true for the sake of the argument, the question of how arises: namely, how does having a son lessen God's glory? While the following verse is not a direct answer, it does point us in the right direction:

The Christians say: "Christ is the son of God." That is what they say with their tongues following assertions made by unbelievers before them. May they be damned by God: How perverse are they! They consider their rabbis and monks and the Christ, son of Mary, to be gods apart from God, even though they had been enjoined to worship only one God, for there is no god but He. Too holy is He for what they ascribe to Him! They wish to extinguish the light of God by uttering blasphemies; but God will not have it so...

9: 30-32

Linking Jesus with rabbis and monks makes it clear that, for Mohammed, Jesus is only a man. Suppressing the urge to say, "No, he's not!", let's ask the question: how would worshipping a man as God (or as another god since the Qur'an doesn't accept that one God can be three, only that one God must be one) lessen God's glory? By worshipping a man as God, we are raising ourselves to God's level: we are, in fact, stating that we are equal in some way to God. The emphasis is not on God's love for man, which is so emphasized in the New Testament, but on God's power, on God's omnipresence over man. Man can be loved by God if he worships Him, but there is an overwhelming emphasis on man submitting to God, of man acknowledging God's power.

The Qur'an constantly refers to itself as part of "the Book":

He has verily revealed to you this Book, in truth and confirmation of the Books revealed before, as indeed He had revealed the Torah and the Gospel...

The Qur'an, therefore, is meant to follow the Gospels. If the New Testament only included the Holy Gospels, the Qur'an would be a development of the Bible. Like the Gospels sought to change and correct Old Testament thinking, the Qur'an does something very similar in relation to Christianity at the time. Recall what the Christian/Catholic church was like in the 5th century: only priests could read the Bible since it was kept in Latin, those who translated or published the Bible in other languages were killed, people could pay off their sins in Church, Christians were under the complete control of the Church and could not separate their faith in Jesus from their worship of Mass. The focus, from the Qur'an's perspective, was off. Christians seemed to be worshipping people as much as, or more than, they were worshipping God. The Qur'an acts as a sharp reminder that God is God and deserves our worship more than the Church.

Still, it is hard for me to accept Jesus as a mere man without feeling a deep sense of loss. The question then became for me: what is lost by stating that God cannot have had a son? Soren Kierkegaard, author of Fear and Trembling, called Jesus a "mediator" in his Philosophical Fragments, which makes me feel like Jesus is the connection between God and man. If Jesus is not the Son of God, this connection disappears and the distance between myself and God grows and I can no longer perceive Him. Jesus grants me the chance to feel connected to God. One Quaker author I read recently described God as the sun and Jesus as the sun's rays of light. In addition to losing my connection to God, I feel that removing Jesus's divinity robs me of the greatest example I know of humbling yourself for the love of someone. God humbled Himself to such an extent that he became man to allow us the chance to better know Him. For me, this is the greatest example of humility and love. Though the Qur'an focuses, above all else, on submission and humility before God, it robbed me of my inspiration to do so.

I started reading the Qur'an not knowing if I was a Christian or not. By realizing what I'd lose by removing Jesus's divinity, it made me realize that, regardless of what anyone else might consider me to be, I am a Christian and I now know what being a Christian means for me.

© Tatiana Hamboyan Harrison

NOTES FOR FURTHER READING: You can read the Qur'an online, for free, here.