Gabriel Reynolds, The Qur’an and the Bible: Text and Commentary (2018) will be seen as a major contribution to global interfaith dialogue, with consequences for us all. The take-away from reading this book is that the Biblical traditions of the past and current Jewish and Christian communities in the Middle East had, and are having, significant influence on the Qur’an, its authorship, and its interpretation. The development of the Qur’an over centuries reflected a deep and prolonged mixing of scripture and interpretation cultures with the Bible, which cannot be separated.
It is, of course, also true that the traditions of the Islamic communities in the Middle East had, and are having, significant influence on interpretation of the Bible, whether this influence is acknowledged or not. The development of the interpretation of the Bible over centuries has reflected a deep and prolonged mixing of scripture and interpretation cultures with the Qur’an, which cannot be separated.
The key decision of the early Islamic community was that the Bible was not to be treated as a source of authority for Islam. Officially, the Bible is an inauthentic and falsified scripture. Nonetheless, the Bible significantly influenced, and influences, the Islamic tradition of interpretation of the Qur’an. (Comparable decisions with consequences more recently are the Early Christian embrace of the Hebrew Bible as authority, the Mormon late embrace of the Bible as authority, and the Baha embrace of both the Bible and the Qur’an as authorities.) This medieval Islamic scholarly decision has played out in unexpected ways.
The book is beautifully printed, with ample text spacing for reflective reading. The handsome dust jacket is welcoming to the thousand pages of the contents. The careful author of this book provides a note on his sources, an index for his citations to the Biblical verses, an index to the Qur’an suras and verses, a bibliography covering other Qur’an translations, Islamic primary sources, non-Islamic primary sources and secondary sources, a descriptive list of the principal Biblical and post-Biblical characters in the Qur’an, an engaging introduction addressing his interpretative method, the structure and scope of the book, earlier scholarship on the links of the Qur’an and the Bible, and the author’s conclusions and personal reflection.
The author professes an agnostic position about the authorship of the Qur’an: God as the author, singular author, or plural authors. The reality is that the authorship of the Quran is plural, much like the predecessor Bible with which the Quran was, and is, in conversation over the centuries.
This book is a step, an important step, in the universalization of scripture in a global environment. Today, all the religious traditions are, directly or indirectly, in conversation, whatever their current, official determination of the authority of the scriptures of other traditions.
Documentation of flexibility in understanding and interpretation of scriptures is significant for social harmony in any culture. Examples of such current religious tradition flexibility and adjustment in processes regarding scripture interpretation that are hopeful parts of the long-term view of the universality of respect for all scriptures include:
- Catholic tradition on the roles of women, clergy celibacy, and abortion in the Bible;
- Mormon tradition on gay persons and the role of the Bible;
- Evangelical Christians on the health and wealth gospel within the Bible; and
- Islam on fatwas, the roles of women, and jihad in the Qur’an.
Quakers: There is no reference to Quakers in this book on the Qur’an.
The Quaker testimonies also proliferate, mature, and change with the changing cultural context, notably, the peace testimony, the simplicity testimony, and the emerging testimonies regarding the environment and animals.
So too are the elements of the Islamic tradition changing. The pacing of discernment and adjustment among these Quaker and Islamic traditions may differ but, in the big picture, they are parts of an historic, universal, inevitable, and progressive process.
- How are Quakers flexible regarding the Bible and the scriptures of other traditions?
- How do Quakers view the other early document candidates for inclusion in the Bible?
- Do Quakers provide a place for the Qur’an within their scope of scripture?
- Gabriel Reynolds, The Qur’an and the Bible: Text and Commentary (2018)