Have you ever wanted to understand the Qur’an, the sacred text of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims—but always felt as confused as if you were reading Leviticus?
Join us for a reading of Bible and Qur’an in parallel as we look at selected biblical characters who appear in both sacred texts. We will look at Jesus, Mary, and at least one Old Testament figure.
This forum series is led by Jonathan Homrighausen, Ph.D candidate at the Graduate Theological Union. [An article by Jonathan appears below.]
Dates & Time
The forum meets January 6, 13, 20; February 17 from 10:00 – 11:30 AM.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church – 231 Sunset Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94086
The forum will be held in the parish library, see Directions & Campus Map.
If you have any questions or are in need of special accommodation, please Contact Us
Slide show graphic derived from public domain images of (1) Papyrus 46, a folio containing 2 Corinthians 11:33–12:9 (Pauline Epistles) c. 175-225 located at the University of Michigan, Dublin; (2) Manuscript from Al-Andalus (Q’uran), 12th century.
[wpspoiler name=”Article by Jonathan Homrighausen” ]Consider a recent New York Times article reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes in America are the highest they have been since just after 9/11. Fueled by major politicians and media outlets, this fear and hatred clearly has real consequences. How can the church respond to this crisis? Perhaps one answer is beauty.
As a student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, I focus on on Scripture as an area of inter-religious dialogue between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. My parish, St. Mark’s in Santa Clara, California, called me to help the community brainstorm how we could reach out to our local Islamic community in this time of division.
One way to begin the dialogue, we decided, was to read our sacred texts in parallel. And thus the four week Bible-Qur’an Study was born. I had two goals for this class. First, I wanted to help students learn how to read the Qur’an: When did it appear in human history? How is it structured? What are its main themes? As with the Bible, the Qur’an is not the kind of book one can simply pick up and read. Second, I wanted to focus on characters shared by both Bible and Qur’an, as a way of seeing that our scriptures share common symbols, common characters, and common theological questions about God. What might we learn by reflecting on the Qur’an, then bringing those insights back to our own tradition?
In the first class I introduced the Qur’an and the Qur’anic notion of prophethood. We also addressed a necessary ethical question: how do we responsibly and respectfully read another’s sacred text? The Qur’an declares itself guidance for all of humanity. Anyone can respond to its call: Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists, pagans. But given our context in a country that casts suspicion on its Muslims citizens, we have to develop the open-mindedness to read the scripture without the many assumptions we might have heard on the news. We have to be open to finding something beautiful in the Qur’an.
In the second class we looked at Mary in both traditions, focusing on the infancy narrative in Luke and the narratives of Mary in Surah Maryam (19) and Surah al-Imran (3). Surprisingly to many Christians, Muslims uphold Mary as a pious role model. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an.
Qur’an and the Bible Forum: Qur’an and the Bible
I like to think of studying another’s sacred text as a kind of preparing the table for their presence—a very Christian metaphor for setting up dialogue! We found that in both Bible and Qur’an Mary is described in prophetic terms, even if the religious traditions following those texts generally don’t focus on that reading. Given how many non-Muslims think of Islam as uniformly oppressive to women, I wanted to focus on a strong female figure in the text.
One detail about the story of Mary in the Qur’an really struck a chord with the women in the group: her birth pains. As Mary is giving birth to Jesus she cries out: “I wish I had been dead and forgotten long before all this!” (19:23-26). Every mother in the room could identify with this human side of Mary. The thought that God Incarnate might have caused his mom pain when he was coming out of her is taboo in every church I’ve ever seen, but of course it is common sense that she must have had some agony. And in the Qur’anic account, she doesn’t even have Joseph helping her!
The third class had us encountering Noah. Our guiding question was theodicy: How does each narrative of the Flood answer the question of how a loving God could destroy almost all life on earth? How is Noah’s character a part of that theodicy? The biblical account leaves some crucial questions questions unanswered: What made Noah so righteous that God chose him? What was so bad about humankind that God needed to hit the reset button? In the Qur’an account, Noah becomes just one member of what Islamic tradition calls the “chain of the prophets.” In the worldview of the Qur’an, human history is a cycle of God sending a prophet, people ignoring that prophet, and God sending another prophet in his stead. God’s mercy is in continually sending us reminders of the same message: that there is no god but God, that he speaks to humanity through messengers, and that we should prepare for the Last Day.
The Qur’an Noah, rather than the passive and silent—some early rabbis thought childish!—figure of the Bible, repeatedly proclaims God’s warning to his people. Of course, they mock the poor guy, but he has the courage of his convictions to speak up and to ignore their ridicule. We don’t see that courage in Genesis. That courage explains why God chose Noah. The wickedness of humanity, embodied by the cruel mocking of Noah’s people, demonstrates what made humanity so rotten. At the end of the class, one man proclaimed that he liked the Qur’anic version more.
Of course, no Christian study of the Qur’an would be complete without a look at Jesus. Jesus is a prophet in Islam, not God Incarnate. Even so, there seems to be something special about him. No, the Qur’anic Jesus is not God, Son of God, or Son of Man, and he does not speak of the kingdom of heaven. But he is Son of Mary, Servant of God, a Word from God, and one through whom God works miracles. When we listed all of these Qur’anic descriptions of Jesus, we were in awe. I think the priest’s jaw dropped a little. The Qur’an’s reverence for Jesus was a surprise. An astonishing surprise.
When we hear about Muslims in the media, too often it is the context of questions about security and risk, questions asked out of fear: Which Muslims are safe? Is Islam a threat? But when we encounter something beautiful from another’s religion, it flips the script. All of a sudden we are no longer focused on people as a potential threat. We are open and curious. Beauty breaks down boundaries. This is not to say that everything in the Qur’an or in Islam is perfect and beautiful. Nor am I glossing over the real differences between Islam, Christianity, and their scriptures. But there can still be an encounter with beauty. And creating a space to see that beauty can be a political act in itself, a protest against a culture that seeks to learn about Muslims as a strange “Other” rather than learn from Muslims as people oriented to God.
One of the big areas we need to work in on interfaith activism is taking the pluralistic visions in our ecclesial documents and implementing them in the local parish. My suggestion: do a small group study of Toward Our Mutual Flourishing, The Episcopal Church’s statement on dialogue.
If you want to study shared characters in the Bible and the Qur’an, read John Kaltner’s Ishmael Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qur’an for Bible Readers Michael Lodahl’s Claiming Abraham: Reading the Bible and the Qur’an Side by Side. Both are written by Christian scholars committed to dialogue with Islam. For an Islamic perspective on the Qur’an, I recommend The Study Qur’an. Recently, we hosted Maha Elganaidi from Islamic Networks Group to introduce the parish to her religion, specifically Muslims in America. I like to think of studying another’s sacred text as a kind of preparing the table for their presence—a very Christian metaphor for setting up dialogue! Most Muslims I know are glad to hear of any non-Muslim reading their text with reverence and humility. We as a parish wish to engage with our Muslim neighbors to counter this time of division in America. And for at least a few people from my church, their small glimpses of beauty in the Qur’an will have well prepared them to better appreciate and love the people who follow this scripture.[/wpspoiler]