Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
A Brief Introduction to the Qur'an: The Qur'an and the Old Testament
01/23/2009 - Colin SmithOne of the prominent ideas set forth within the Qur'an is that of continuity with previous revelation, namely Judaism and Christianity (e.g., sura 2:87-91). Sura 2 teaches that in the beginning all people were one community, presumably with a single religion. Allah provided mankind with a Book with which to judge disputes that arose among people, and sent prophets to show the way, and to warn the people when they disobeyed the revelation given to them (2:213; see also 35:24; 13:7).
In light of this, the Qur'an draws particularly from stories concerning Old Testament prophets to illustrate Muhammad's warnings, and teach regarding obedience and faithfulness to Allah and his commands. There are two things particularly noteworthy about the Qur'anic use of the Old Testament: first, the stories are always presented as teaching tools to make a present-day (at least for Muhammad) point; second, they are rarely, if ever, presented without embellishment--sometimes to the point where the original Old Testament story is barely discernable.
The lessons taught by the Qur'an through the use of Old Testament stories tend to revolve around similar themes: Allah's faithfulness to believers, and warnings against those who are unfaithful, or who reject the warnings of the prophets (or Prophet: Muhammad). Sura 38 laments the fact that people disparaged the Warner that Allah had raised up within their midst. They neither gave him respect, nor believed the message he brought to them. In contrast, the Qur'an sets forth a story wherein two men visited with David and asked him to arbitrate a dispute. One man had ninety-nine ewes, while the other had only one. The man with the ninety-nine demanded that the other give him his one. David rebuked the man for his selfishness then realized that God was using this dispute to point out his own sin. David fell down in repentance, and God forgave him his transgression. In other words, those who disparage Allah's Messenger should rather be like David, who recognized the divine purpose behind his visitors and turned from his sin.
The background for this story is David's adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, and Nathan's subsequent visit to David where he recounted the story of the two men as a means of bringing conviction to David's heart over his sin (2 Samuel 12:1-15). The differences between the Qur'an and the Bible are clear: in the Qur'an there is no mention of Nathan, and the people in Nathan's story become literal men. Also, the focus of the Biblical story is how God brought repentance and restoration to David after committing gross sin. The Qur'anic version, however, places the emphasis on the faithfulness of the men who came to David.
Sura 11:96-99 gives Moses as an example of a messenger sent by Allah with Clear Signs and authority to Pharaoh and his Chiefs. The purpose of this example is to show that true prophets are often ignored and their messages are more likely to fall upon deaf ears. This was certainly the case with Pharaoh and his Chiefs since his Chiefs preferred to listen to Pharaoh than Moses, but Pharaoh was not equipped of Allah to rightly lead.
In sura 21, the Qur'an tells brief stories about Abraham, Lot, Moses, David, Solomon, and others to illustrate Allah's provision of protection and a means of escape from the midst of difficulty. Some of these tales merely give an overview with little embellishment. For example, Allah delivered Noah and his family from the evil people of his age by means of the flood, and Allah rescued Lot from the town wherein the people practiced abominations. Other stories give extra-Biblical details, or, in some cases, complete re-writes of the Biblical account. The story in Genesis 12 where Abraham leaves his home country at the Lord's bidding does not contain any reference to the idolatry of his people. However, sura 21:51-70 tells of Abraham breaking his fathers idols and challenging his idolatrous kinsmen to converse with their idols. The people respond by attempting to burn Abraham, but Allah thwarts their plan by making the fire a protection for him. This event is not recorded in the Genesis account, but is stated in the Qur'an as a historical event demonstrating Allah's deliverance of his faithful messenger.
Sura 12 is the most detailed retelling of an Old Testament story in the Qur'an. It recounts the story of Joseph in a way that appears at first to be simply a paraphrase of the Biblical account; however, the story soon deviates from the Biblical narrative. Instead of being accused of molesting Potipher's wife, Joseph is vindicated by eyewitnesses but chooses prison over being under her control (28-35). This testifies to the Islamic attitude toward the prophet: Allah will not permit him to be shamed. For the Muslim, the idea of Joseph being accused and convicted of impropriety with Potipher's wife would be as unthinkable as a prophet being executed as a criminal on a common cross.
The fate of the baker is that he would hang from the cross (41). In Genesis 41, the cupbearer eventually remembers Joseph when Pharaoh asks for an interpretation to his dreams, and Pharaoh sends for him. In the Qur'an, the cupbearer learns the interpretation from Joseph and reports back. However, somewhere between 12:49 and 12:50, Pharaoh learns that the interpretation is Joseph's such that he then sends for him. Joseph does not come immediately, recalling that he asked to be imprisoned rather than spend his time under the control of a woman who tried to blacken his name. He receives assurance that no woman would ruin his reputation, and he would come into Pharaoh's presence directly, with honor and rank. This is all, of course, absent from the Genesis account. Further, in the Qur'an, Joseph demands to be set over the storehouses, whereas in Genesis Joseph merely recommends that someone be put in that position, and Pharaoh, finding no other worthy candidate, offers the job to Joseph.
There are many other examples of Old Testament stories that appear in a somewhat different form in the Qur'an, but these few demonstrate the point more than adequately. In the next installment, we shall look at the Qur'anic treatment of John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus.