Bible and Qur’an Side by Side: Method and limitations – Marlies ter Borg

Surprising though it may seem, a side-by-side anthology of Bible and Qur’an quotes was not available in the English language until it appeared the Dutch site www.bibleandkoran.net in December 2007. I was very pleased to be able to cooperate with the Dutch Broadcasting Companies, IKON and RNW, who were putting the complete Bible and the complete Qur’an on the same site on an equal basis for the first time in history. In fact they performed this feat not only using a Dutch translation (by Leemhuis), but also in English using the Yusuf Ali translation, and in Arabic, with of course the complete Qur’an in Arabic. Especially for a Christian organization, this was an extra-ordinary and brave initiative.

Against this historical background the side-by side published in 1889 by a German professor of Evangelical Theology, Johann-Dietrich Thyen 1989 was a breakthrough. Unfortunately it was never translated into English, or edited in a way to make it accessible for lay persons, or developed in dialogue with Muslims. It was the work óf Christian expert fór Christian experts and showed, apart from an admirable honesty and diligence, a slight bias. For example Thyen give the chapter on John/Yahya the Biblical title of ‘Johannes der Täufer,’ (John the Baptist); but there is no such thing as baptism in the Qur’an, for there is no original sin which has to be washed away. The ‘Sündenfall’ a title Thyen gives to the story of Paradise Lost takes place only in the Christian Bible. The Jewish interpretation of the story lacks the concept of original sin.
The Intellectual Crusade against the Qur’an

Christianity has for ages cultivated a hate relationship with the Holy book of Islam. The first translation into Latin, by Robertus Ketensis at the behest of Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, appeared in 1143 in the so-called aftermath of the first Crusade, when sentiment was moving towards a second crusade, which would begin a year later. This first translation, titled ‘Lex Mahumet pseudoprophete’ The Law of Mohammed, the Pseudo-prophet tended to exaggerate harmless text to give it a nasty or licentious sting and preferred improbable and unpleasant meanings over likely and decent ones. It was to serve not only as a refutation of Islam, but as a source of knowledge for Christians wanting to convert Muslims. It was perhaps this translation that inspired Dante to place Muhammad deep down in hell, punished as a sower of discord by having his entrails hanging out. Inferno XXVIII, 19-42, 1308-1321 A second Latin translation was issued in 1698 by Ludovico Marracci, a confessor to Pope Innocent XI. The introductory volume contained an essay titled ‘Refutation of the Qur’an’. This version chose the most negative translations and selectively quoted commentaries to the Qur’an to give a very dark picture of the Qur’an. Marraci’s self-stated goal was to discredit Islam. Marraci’s translation was the source of later European translations. In 1499 in Granada about 5000 Arabic manuscripts including the Qur’an were consumed by flames for all to see at the orders of Ximénez de Cisneros, of Archbishop of Toledo. It is to this incident that the German poet Heinrich Heine referred in the famous lines “Where books are burnt one ends up burning people.” These words, often taken as a prophesy of the Nazi regime, were actually the words of Hassan, servant of Al Mansor the ruler of Cordoba. Heinrich Heine, ‘Almansor. Eine Tragödie, ‘ 1821Such public book burnings did not occur often, but the Qur’an was placed on the catholic index. Even after the index was abolished in 1966, reading the Qur’an by Christians was simply ‘not done’.


Whilst giving all due honor to Thyen, this anthology pretends to go a step further, a few steps in fact. In the first place, it is not just for experts but explicitly, and perhaps even first and foremost, for lay persons. Indeed it gives the lay reader a relatively easy way of catching up on knowledge withheld for centuries of blackening and prohibition. If Bible and Qur’an are to be considered as part of World Literature, it is about time that they be made easily accessible for every willing reader. Easily means more than making Bible and Qur’an available in the lay person’s language. It implies more than putting them on internet so that search programs can be applied. Even simultaneous search of both books made possible by IKON on www.bibleandkoran.net can be no more than an instrument, often leading to surprises but as often simply proving what the reader already suspected. When IKON looked for a way of lowering the threshold even further, they stumbled upon our stories. So they decided to publish this anthology together with the complete Bible and the complete Qur’an on internet. Thanks to Radio Netherlands Worldwide it was simultaneously published in Dutch English and Arabic. It is this same desire to help lower thresholds to a sensible discussion on Bible and Qur’an which lies at the root of preparing a greatly improved and extended version of an originally Dutch book for English publication in print.

Non partial

Secondly, this anthology strives for impartiality, placing Bible and Qur’an stories side by side on an equal basis. I refrain as much as is humanly possible from interpretation or evaluation. This position must be valued from the historical experience of deliberate misinterpretation described above.
Retaining a position of neutrality might well be easier for me than it was for Thyen, because I am an unbeliever, whereas he was a Protestant working, however critically, in the tradition of Luther. It is not only because of what I myself believe (I don’t), but equally because I have no constituency, whose members might scold me, raise eyebrows or even remove finances, (I have)

The relationship of the Protestant movement to the Qur’an was hardly more favorable. Although he opposed a crusade against the Islam as a religion, Martin Luther did feel the need to fight Islam on the spiritual level. However, instead of banning the Qur’an, he wanted to make it available for scrutiny. Thus at his instigation, Ketensis’ translation was republished in 1543 in Basel. Luther wrote a preface. For him Muhammad was Gog, (with the Pope c-starring as Magog), the satanic enemy sent by God as a punishment. In the Bible Gog is destroyed and finally buried in Israel, in a graveyard “so large that it will block the way of anyone who tries to walk through the valley which will then be known as ‘the valley of Gog’s Army’.” Ezekiel 39:11 Incidentally Gog also appears as Yajuja in the Qur’an as a destructive force let loose just before the Last Day. 21, The Prophets, 96-97 Luther could not help noticing similarities between Qur’an and Bible, but this only strengthened him in his opinion that Islam “had been patched together out of the faith of Jews, Christians, and the heathen.” He compared Islam with the small horn of the fourth Beast.
“This horn had the eyes of a human and a mouth that spoke with great arrogance.” Daniel 7:7
The particular arrogance of Muhammad was, according to Luther, his refusal to accept Jesus as divine, and to offer salvation on a rational basis of good deeds, rather than grace. Thus the difference in the stories mentioned annex to chapter 1 became the basis for hatred and fear.
Many later European translations of the Qur’an merely translated Ketenensis’ Latin version into their own language, as opposed to translating the Qur’an directly from Arabic. As a result early European translations of the Qur’an were erroneous and distorted.
To end this rather gruesome tale of centuries of hatred it is worth returning to Heine, to his introductory poem to the same play Almansor:

“Christians and Muslims fought against each other, North against South. Love came at last and bought Peace.”

A third step forward was that this anthology was developed with and is directed to Muslims as well as Christians and Jews. A maximum of impartiality was achieved by an ongoing dialogue. Thus for the original anthology printed in Dutch in 2007 and subsequently put online by IKON and RNW, a Dutch converted Muslima, Karin Bisschop, acted as sparring partner.
We discussed every chapter, mutually catching each other out on any signs of partiality. We corrected each other whenever one of us was secretly slipping away from the principle that we were dealing only with the Qur’an and Bible, rather than with the Hadith, Church Fathers, or what we had, in some way or other, understood to be the right interpretation of certain passages. rather than with the Hadith, Church Fathers, or what we had, in some way or other, understood to be the right interpretation of certain passages.
This method reached its climax when we agreed that there is no literal command in the Qur’an to wear headgear (head scarf, or hijab), and that the religious duty to do so needs some further interpretation. For the Qur’an only tells women (and men) to behave and dress chastely. Thus women are required to cover their breasts. They must further not display their beauty, except to a small circle of intimae. 24 The Light, 31 But whether this implies covering head and hair is not decided in the Qur’an. Muslimas have different interpretations of this passage. Karin herself interprets it to mean that she should wear a headscarf out of doors, and she does. In the course of our cooperation our ‘non-interpretation’ of this passage hit the headlines. Karin, who runs a website for Dutch Muslimas called www.moslima.nl, was sharply criticized by some of its visitors. However Karin held fast to our position, out of integrity rather than loyalty to her own constituency. This anthology is about Qur’an and Bible passages, full stop. That was what we had agreed with each other and with IKON from the start. We explicitly left their interpretation to the reader, and to whatever expert authorities he or she was willing to acknowledge.

After the anthology was put online in Dutch, English and Arabic, I received a host of comments from all sides and a variety of countries. Any sensible and constructive suggestion was seriously considered. Verses were added at the request of readers, but no verses were scrapped. Leaving accusations aside from Christian fundamentalists that we were putting the word of God next to the work of Satan, we took advantage of all criticisms on a higher intellectual level.

During the second phase of the project, the preparation of an English publication in print, several comments were received from experts in the field. Some were found ready to contribute some thoughts to this book. Andrew Rippin represents academic Islam expertise in his introduction on the academic and historic context of this side-by-side. The readiness of the well known liberal Muslim Khaled Abou El Fadl to scrutinize my legal chapters, giving me very relevant advice, meant a great deal to me. He also offered me free access to his wonderful The Search for Beauty in Islam, from which several mystical reflections have found their way into this anthology.

Moch Nur Ichwan from Indonesia tells us how the term ‘muslim’ with a small letter m was given as a compliment by one Indonesian Christian to another. Tafsir expert Mehmet Pacaci from Ankara, Turkey writes about the Last Day, mentioning his experience in lecturing to American Methodists on ‘Hell’. Martha Frederiks, a former Protestant missionary, wrote on her fascination with women in the Qur’an. Herman Beck gives us a charming anecdote on lecturing to Muslim students in Indonesia on the creation story. Barbara Stowasser starts her revealing essay on Eve with a remark on her students’ reaction to the story. These ‘guest authors’ were asked to write, not in a polemic academic but in a friendly way, mentioning something of their own personal experience. They were invited to elaborate on a theme in side-by-side chapters, using their expertise, but in a personal way.

For interpretation is, in this age of individualism, ultimately a question for the individual believer. Of course religious authority and religious inspiration play an important role, but they are ultimately of the individual’s own choosing. Internet makes accessible interpretations which differ from those in one’s direct surroundings. The multi-cultural reality of today, interfaith dialogue and even confrontation force us to open up to ideas we did not grow up with. There are choices to be made on many issues. Indeed we reap today the fruits of a religious individualism which finds its roots in Bible and Qur’an. The individual authors who are willing to share their thoughts with the reader of this book are especially interesting not only on account of their expertise and research, but because they have lived and worked in a Christian-Muslim setting. Thus the anthology was tested and corrected during the process of its production in order to make it as correct and impartial as possible. To quote an anonymous peer reviewer:

“One should appreciate a balanced and unbiased language and content of introductions for each topic. The passages from either of the Holy Scriptures are selected carefully both to provide a proper content of them and to preserve neutrality over them.”

A Beginning, not an End

For many readers this book is an introduction. Hopefully they will be inspired or provoked to further reading, thinking and debate. In no way is this anthology final or comprehensive. I did not set out to be in any way all-embracing or to produce something definite. An anthology is by definition a selection, it’s simply a bouquet of flowers arranged in a certain way. Thanks to the careful mention of sources, checked again and again by a variety of persons, the reader can go back to the Biblical or Qur’anic context from which the quotes were taken. He or she can trace the elements of the arrangement to the infinitely fuller flower gardens from which they were picked. This anthology is obviously not complete, nor is it the only anthology that can be produced. Other authors might make other selections and arrangements. Why not? Pretending that this anthology presents some kind of ultimate or perfect truth would be a sign of pride. No text written or compiled by humans, – let alone an anthology of verses selected from Bible and Qur’an – can contain infinite truth and divine wisdom. Even God needs more than one book to express his wisdom, as is beautifully expressed in the Qur’an:

“…if the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it, for its aid.” 18 The Cave,109

A book about religious texts – not a religious book

This book is not about religion. Judaism, Christianity, or Islam is simply not its subject. Many other books cover the varieties these religions have shown over the ages in a way far better than the present author could ever do. This book is not about people and their beliefs and belief systems. Only incidentally are religious practices mentioned, for instance in introducing those stories which are linked to religious feasts. This book is no more that an anthology of texts that play a great role in three religions. It is not about religion as such. The relations of Jews, Christians and Muslims are highly complex. They have been studied extensively from a variety of angles. Each of these world religions consists of a pluriformity of movements and schools, authorities and dissidents, and builds upon a vast literature of interpretation. This anthology goes back to what, in the midst of these sectarian and academic debates, is sometimes snowed under: the actual texts of Bible and Qur´an.

Although it draws on religious books, it is itself not a religious book, in the sense that the author is trying to promote their own religious convictions. Of course, as a European, I could hardly escape from the influence of the dominant religion at the time. I was brought up in England with a mild form of Christianity, Methodist, Congregational and Anglican, all in a peaceful mix. During my teens in Holland I lost my faith, although I never regarded it as inimical. As a philosopher I again started reading the Bible, together with the Qur’an experiencing them as fascinating and mutually enriching literature of the highest level. Whatever one believes, one can hardly escape from the fact that the intriguing and touching stories of Bible and Qur’an deserve the name of Literature with a capital L. They have, even in their mutual enmity, played a tremendous role in European culture, and can still inspire by their dramatic stories and wise sayings.

Other contributors to this book do depart from a clear religious conviction. Their goal however is not to convert but to communicate. This holds for Christian contributors such as Martha Frederiks and Herman Beck, as well as for their Muslim counterparts, Mehmet Pacaci and Moch Nur Ichwan. Of course, Abou El Fadl is a Muslim, but his reflections reach out to humanity as such.

Whoever is looking for proof that his or her convictions, his or her Holy Book is superior to that of another will be disappointed. So will they who seek to discredit the other’s religion, or indeed religion as such. For this book does not seek to prove anything of the sort. In fact it does not set out to prove anything. Conclusions are conspicuously lacking. Neither does it compare books which are so different in terms of history or structure of composition, or in terms of the status accorded to them by the respective believers. Because it is only an anthology, it is not relevant for the appreciation of the texts compiled, that Muslims see the Qur’an as the Word of God, whereas most Christians see the Bible more as a product of human intervention. For this book is simply an anthology of texts with similar content placed side by side. No evaluations either of equivalence or superiority are given. Although I might, as indeed any reader might, prefer the development of one story over and above another, I withhold any judgment, which after all is so minutely personal to have any relevance. If asked what I think, I must conclude: I simply don’t know!

Exegesis, Tafsir and figurative, historical and contextual interpretation

This book has been compiled with utmost care, in the philosopher’s tradition of respecting texts. It does not focus on interpretation, exegesis or tafsir, nor on the historical context of the Bible and Qur’an. This is not to underestimate the importance of such approaches. For instance, the figurative or metaphorical interpretation of texts has a rich history in Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition. Verses from the books themselves make clear that they entail figurative or symbolic language.

“These things I (Jesus ed.) have spoken to you in figurative language;” John 16:25

“He it is Who has sent down to you the Book: in it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning): others are allegorical.” 3 Al-’Imram, 7

According to Mehmet Pacaci, professor of Tafsir in Ankara Qur’an, this quote refers to the expression of the transcendent and unseen world in human language. In Qur’an interpretation or Tafsir a distinction is made between muhkamat ayat, or literal verses and verses which are ‘mutashabbihat’, indicating a profound symbolism. It is this symbolic language that humans must use when discussing what no living man has seen: God, the Last Day, Hell and Paradise. It connects with other verses showing that God transcends all images, such as:

“And there is none like unto Him.” 112, Purity of Faith,4

Ibn Rushd, that great philosopher persecuted by his own people, argued eloquently for a figurative understanding of Qur’an texts. The figurative approach was developed to great heights by the Sufis, who for instance understand verses calling for slaying Pagans (9:5) to mean fighting against evil forces in one’s own soul.

In Christian tradition figurative interpretation of the Bible goes back to the Church Fathers of the 3rd century such as Origen, and was developed further by Ambrose and Augustine. The Jewish philosopher Moses ben Maimon or Maimonides, (1138–1204) a contemporary of the Muslim Ibn Rushd or Averroes (1126-1198), living in Islamic Cordoba introduced an historical analysis of the Bible, showing that some images of God had a certain utility or relevance in certain periods, which they lost in later, higher stages of development. Thus an angry, jealous God can be understood as an antidote, relevant when the people of Israel were still combating their polytheistic tendencies. As monotheism settled, a more loving God came to the fore.

Historical analysis is also common in Tafsir, where detailed research is done as to the specific circumstances of Muhammad at the time of certain revelations. Thus the verse on slaying Pagans mentioned above is understood in the context of sharp contrasts between Muhammad and the polytheists of Mecca. The meaning of this verse is not to be automatically transferred to a 21st century setting. The Qur’an itself contains the notion of the historical development of revealed truth, and the idea that verses can be abrogated by later verses.

“None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar:” 2 The Heifer, 107

Historical analysis also flourishes on the Christian side, and is well developed by secular analysts. Biblical and Qur’anic images are explained in terms of the social, cultural, political or economic context in which they were written. Thus Rippin shows how images of Allah were shaped by the institution of absolute kingship.

Another form of interpretation is contextual, whereby certain verses are placed into perspective by linking them to other verses. It was Spinoza, the former Jew living in Holland, who excelled in this type of what is now called hermeneutical analysis, explaining for instance verses in the New Testament by reference to similar verses in the Hebrew Bible. All I can add to contextual analysis in this book is to suggest that it be extended to include similar verses from Bible and Qur’an. This could lead to valuable insights.

Having underlined the importance of figurative, contextual and historical interpretation, I must stress that the explanation or interpretation of texts given in this book is minimal. Exegesis and Tafsir are left to those who are better equipped than the present author to deal with them. Hopefully this new combination of Bible and Qur’an texts side by side will give them new themes to work on.

This book, with its relatively modest objectives, can be fruitfully used together with these various approaches practiced by other experts, for the very reason that it leaves interpretation and contextual and historical

analysis to the reader. Its usefulness might be more extensive because of what is left unsaid. It simply offers – to a large variety of readers – a refreshing look at Bible and Qur’an texts, by presenting them in a novel way: together. It is this relating of Bible and Qur’an text which might inspire new research.

Each chapter of parallel quotes on a story or issue has a short introduction describing the plot and mentioning the slight differences in the way it sometimes unravels. Similarities and differences are only touched upon, and that as objectively as possible. Only those references to translation issues, to exegesis, tafsir and tradition, deemed absolutely indispensable to understanding the texts are included. If, as in the legal chapters, more is added, a variety of interpretations is offered, so that the reader can make his own choice.

Balanced selection

The selection of texts has been a quest for balance. As far as is possible, given the difference in structure and history, Bible and Qur’an are equally represented, in terms of both quantity and quality. Although the Bible obviously has many more words than the Qur’an, an attempt has been made to make the columns on the left and right of more or less equal length. Care has been taken to ensure that under the heading ‘Bible’ in the left column, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are both adequately represented. As explained above, every effort has been made to avoid bias in the selection of quotes.

Above all, I would like to emphatically counter the assertion that I have the desire –as do some others writing on this subject – to prove the superiority of the Bible over the Qur’an, or vice versa. As I was compiling this anthology, it soon became clear that the idea of a ‘contest’ between the Qur’an and the Bible was absurd. Indeed, the texts I selected from these books turned out to be so complementary that their combination resulted in enrichment. Often, reading the left column clarifies the one on the right, and vice versa.

There appears to be a sharing of values on several levels: first, in the loving respect shown to the same characters, from Adam to Jesus or ‘Isa; second, in the expression of nearly identical story lines; and finally, in the ideas wrapped up in the stories, which are elaborated on in the chapters on values and attributes of God. Indeed the chapters Alpha and Omega describing characteristics attributed to God were a significant result of ongoing dialogue, the idea being suggested by Mehmet Pacaci and seconded by Khaled Abou el Fadl. It is inspired by the idea of the 99 names of God and the 13 attributes in the Jewish Yigdal Hymn

What’s in a name?

That Allah and God are the same or even similar is not for me to say. Perhaps not even a thoughtful believer can venture such a statement. For what, in the final analysis, can we human beings, know about the divine? But we can talk about the names we give to God.

God or Allah?

On 14th August 2007 the Dutch Bishop Muskens proposed calling God Allah. “God doesn’t care what we call him. He is above that kind of thing. People have invented different names in order to quarrel with each other.” He called into memory that ‘Allah’ simply means ‘The God’. He didn’t imagine the name ‘Allah’ would be accepted by the Catholic Church immediately, but in a hundred years or so things could be quite different. NRC Handelsblad 19 August 2007

A description of different names or characteristics attributed to God/Allah can be found in the last chapter of this anthology, Omega. Here I simply wish to point out that the names Allah and God are used by both religious groups as the situation demands. Thus on the Arabic version of the Dutch site www.Qur’anandbible.net Allah is used all round, simply because it is used in the Arabic translation of the Bible. In Indonesia Christians use the term ‘Allah’ to communicate with their Muslim counterparts. In America Muslims use the word God. In this anthology I use the name God for the Jewish, the Christian and the Muslim deity. That is as far as my introductions go. In the quotes we follow the translators, who use the word God and Allah respectively.

What holds for the name of God also holds for the names of the various characters that people this anthology. For brevity’s sake I often use their English names. The Arabic names appear often in the quotes from the Qur’an. In the table of contents English and Arabic names stand brotherly and sisterly side by side.

The Sources

The texts compiled in this book are very diverse in their origins. The Bible stories contain texts from the Hebrew Bible, or the Tenach, which includes the Torah, or Law. These go back, at least in part, to the Israel of 1,000 years before Christ. It is said that they cannot be fully understood without the Talmud, the record of rabbinic discussions about Jewish Law and ethics, which unfortunately falls outside the limits of this anthology, as do writings of the Church fathers, modern theology, and the vast Qur’an interpretation. In all these cases the reader is warned not to jump to conclusions! Genesis, on which I draw extensively, may be the first book of the Bible, but is probably not the oldest. It was reportedly written down during the Babylonian exile, about 500 years before Christ.

Many quotes are taken from the New Testament, recorded between 50 and 130 A.D., which contains the four Gospels, letters from the apostle Paul, and the Revelation of John. The great variety of documents written around these books, such as the Gospel according to Thomas, I leave aside. In one case I cited from Mishnah Sanhedrin, a legal Jewish text from the end of the 2nd century A.D. For newcomers, the LORD in the Bible refers to God or Yahweh (I am). In the introductions, I use the term ‘God’.

The Qur’an dates back to the seventh century A.D. and was, according to Islamic tradition, revealed to Muhammad by the Archangel Gabriel over a period of 23 years, starting in 610 A.D. The Islamic era begins with Muhammad’s emigration to Medina in 622 A.D which is counted as 0 A.H. The first revelation occurred while Muhammad was still living in Mecca, during the month of Ramadan, which is commemorated each year through fasting and reflection. For newcomers:

I, We, He – refers to ‘The One God’ or Allah. Allah is the one speaking in the Qur’an, revealing his message to Muhammad via the angel (messenger) Gabriel.

Of course, given the time difference, the Qur’an could not have been mentioned in the Bible. On the other hand Bible is mentioned in the Qur’an, and Jews and Christians are called the People of the Book. The book resulting from the revelations to Muhammad contains an affirmation of the best from the Torah and the Gospel, and even mentions the Psalms of David. The significance of these earlier books is underlined in the following verse:

“If you were in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before you…” 10 Yunus, 94

However this veneration does not refer to the Bible as we know it, which according to Muslim tradition has been tampered with by human beings with human motives. Nevertheless, to understand stories written in ‘shorthand’ in the Qur’an, and issues only touched upon or even less than that, Muslims sometimes fall back upon the more elaborate Biblical texts on the subject in question. Indeed, Biblical notions have found their way into the Hadith or sayings of Muhammad, and are used both in the interpretation or Tafsir of the Qur’an and in the development of Islamic Law.

The Bible was created over many centuries and displays a wide variety in structure and style. In comparison, the Qur’an is a marvel of simplicity, created in one and the same breath, as it were. Intended for recitation by the faithful, it includes many repetitions and quick changes of subject. Its mercurial character makes it very difficult for outsiders, and perhaps even for insiders, to follow the storyline or the logic of arguments. Here this anthology can offer support.

The differences in structure and history between the two books make it difficult to spot similarities at first glance. It was only by ‘cutting and pasting’ that I discovered the clear and very similar lines of the stories and arguments. There are a surprisingly large number of parallel stories in the Qur’an and the Bible. All of them are represented in this compilation, although some of the longer ones have been abbreviated. Experts or believers will miss beautiful elaborations etched into their brains. They can easily go back to find them in the Bible and Qur’an.


Many excellent Bible and Qur’an translations have been published. After due consideration, I selected Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s widely respected rendering of the Holy Qur’an. Thanks are due to Tharike Tarsile Qur’an Inc. (New York, USA) for their permission to use the updated version of 2008. Words added by the translator to provide clarification are in brackets. Additions made by me to facilitate the reader’s understanding of the storyline are marked as follows: (ed.)

As for the Bible, there are many excellent translations into English. However many are carefully guarded by copyright rules. Thus I was forced to use three different translations for the left column. The overall result was, however, very fortunate. Thus the New King James Version, (NKJV) published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. in 1982, is used for the stories, thus remaining within the 1000 verses allowed without explicit permission. For ‘modern’ controversial issues I used the Contemporary English Version, (CEV), thus staying within their 500 verse limit for use without explicit permission. For the chapter on Common values and virtues and for the chapters on God; Alpha and Omega, the ancient King James version is used. I thank The Britsh Crown and Cambrigde University for the cordial permission- strictly speaking unnecessary for publication outside the UK- to use that beautiful age old Biblical language from 1611 for the chapters which do indeed taste of eternity.

My ultimate reason for choosing this combination of three Bible translations is the combined beauty of the language. If Khaled El Fadl searches for beauty in Islam, I still search for it in the Bible, the Holy Book of my childhood. Thus whereas the CEV is clearer for the contemporary legal chapters, for me, the baby Jesus was never “dressed in baby clothes and lying on a bed of hay” Luke 2: 4-12 as the CEV would have us believe. He was most definitely “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” as the NJKV clearly states. That beauty can coincide with practicality is shown by the fact that swaddling clothes are back in fashion, proven by medical experts as a remedy against unrest of the infant generally and cot death in particular. Perhaps our forefathers were wiser than we were taught to believe.

I have taken the liberty with both books to cut and paste for the reader’s benefit. Three dots indicate an incomplete sentence. Often complete sentences have been removed, to sustain the tension and keep the focus on the storyline. The extensive use of omissions is not due to lack of respect. On the contrary, they keep the storyline clear and exciting, without burdening the reader with irrelevancies. He or she can easily go back to the source from which the quotes were plucked. They have been noted with care.

All translations have their limitations. In a sense, they can be no more than a rendering of the original text, written in Hebrew and Aramaic (Hebrew Bible), Greek (New Testament) or Arabic (Qur’an). Translation issues have been spelled out by the experts. It is only incidentally that I refer to various translation options, as the subject demands.

Reconciliation while respecting differences

However much one tries, an anthology can never be completely objective. Subjective preferences and one’s own social context play a role. I have chosen to bring the Bible and Qur’an texts as closely together as possible, and to underline the conciliatory tendency so clearly present in both books. This is not to wash away differences; on the contrary such a practice is degrading for the believers. My intentions in the cultural and political context of today are perhaps best expressed in terms of a quote from U.S. President Obama, which has become the motto of this book:

“We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree.” Barack Obama, Turkish Parliament 6 April 2009

The beautiful texts collected in this anthology will strike a chord with many readers from a variety of backgrounds. They will hopefully contribute to inter-faith and inter-cultural and academic dialogue, which is intensifying in many places all over the world. A constructive dialogue does not unfold as a matter of course. It needs effort, and more especially openness, kindness and patience, as El Fadl notes in a comment on this Qur’an verse:

“O mankind! We…made you into nations and tribes (li ta’arafu) that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). 49 The Inner Appartments,13

‘Li ta’arafu’ means to get to know one another. But the word ‘arafa’ (to know) is quite profound. It connotes kindness, goodness, tolerance, and patience…To know is to learn and teach – learn about others and teach about ourselves. To learn and teach, that is ‘ta’aruf’. And neither learning nor teaching can be accomplished without kindness, tolerance, and patience.

Khaled Abou el Fadl.p.19

The selection of quotes from Bible and Qur’an presented in this anthology is not a definite statement, not an end, but, hopefully a beginning. This anthology evolved over more than half a decade into what lies before you now. The quotes I have collected flow together into a beautiful image of what many believe to be the work of the Divine, which others simply recognize as great literature. Hopefully this anthology will inspire believers and nonbelievers alike.

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