COMPARING THE BIBLE AND THE QUR'AN
(How to do it accurately.)

By Samuel Green

Introduction

The Bible and the Qur'an are often compared to each other when Christians and Muslims are discussing issues. They are typically compared in the following ways:

This type of comparison is something that I myself have done in the past. However, it is actually inaccurate and misleading to compare the Bible to the Qur'an. There are two reasons for this.

Reason 1. The Context of the Bible and Qur'an

The Qur'an revolves and evolves around Muhammad's life. Muhammad recited the words of the Qur'an in response to various situations in his life, but what these situations were is not recorded in the Qur'an. That is, the Qur'an does not provide its own context or chronology. Knowing the correct context and chronology is essential to understand the Qur'an. But to know this context and chronology you must go outside of the Qur'an to the Islamic traditions - books like the Hadith or Sira literature. These books provide the context for the Qur'an. The Islamic scholar Habib Ur Rahman Azami clearly states the Qur'an's dependence upon the Hadith and Sira.

(I)t is almost impossible to understand or explain the meaning of a large number of Qur'anic verses if the Traditions are rejected as useless and inauthentic. (Habib Ur Rahman Azami, The Sunnah in Islam, pp. 29-31.)

The Bible, however, is very different. It provides its own context and chronology. Its revelation begins with creation and tells the story of God, the world, his people, the prophets and the Messiah, right through to the age of the resurrection. When the Bible gives various commands or announces the gospel it does so within a context that it itself has revealed. Thus, to understand the Bible you only need the Bible. In fact, many of the stories which are only briefly retold in the Qur'an are told in full in the Bible. The Bible is self-sufficient, as the word of God should be. Therefore to compare the Bible to the Qur'an alone is misleading and inaccurate.

Reason 2. Practices and Beliefs

The Qur'an does not contain most of the basic practices or many of the beliefs of Islam.

The Sunnah (the example of Muhammad) is the crucial complement to the Koran; so much so, that there are in fact isolated instances where, in fact, the Sunnah appears to prevail over the Koran as, for example, when the Koran refers to three daily prayers (24:58, 11:116, 17:78-79, 20:130, 30:17-18), but the Sunnah sets five. On the other hand, there are cases from the earliest days of Islam of universal practices which appear to contradict express Sunnah. Moreover, the Koran does not make explicit all of its commands; not even all those which are fundamental. Thus it enjoins prayer, but not how it is to be performed: the form of canonical prayer (salah) is based entirely on Sunnah. (Cyril Glassé, "Sunnah", The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, pp. 381-382)

(T)he obligatory injunction to establish Salah (regular, formal worship) was revealed in the Qur’an as were some of the elements of Salah (like Qiyam, Ruku`, Sujud and Qira’ah). But the actual manner of offering Salah and the order in which the various acts connected with it were to be performed, were not described in the Qur’an. ... Similarly the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) was prescribed as a religious duty in the Qur'an but its method and formalities were not defined. The Prophet showed the correct way by performing the Hajj himself. (Habib Ur Rahman Azami, pp. 10-11)

Narrated Al-Irbad ibn Sariyah as-Sulami: ... They gathered and the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) led them in prayer, stood up and said: Does any of you, while reclining on his couch, imagine that Allah has prohibited only that which is to be found in this Qur'an? By Allah, I have preached, commanded and prohibited various matters as numerous as that which is found in the Qur'an, or more numerous. ... (Abu-Dawud: bk. 19, no. 3044, Hasan)

Islamic Shariah is complete only with recourse to both the Qur'an and the Sunnah. (Habib Ur Rahman Azami, p. 5)

How, when and what to pray, what to do on Hajj, circumcision, the signs of the hour, the story of Hagar, in fact most of the essential Islamic practices and beliefs come from the Sunnah (practices) of Muhammad. The Sunnah is essential to Islam but it does not come from the Qur'an but the Hadith and Sira. Again, this is not the case with the Bible. The Bible has everything a Christian needs. The Bible fully declares what God has done to save us and bring glory to himself and how we are to live. It is the basis for our wisdom and defines our liberty. Therefore to compare the Bible to the Qur'an alone is misleading and inaccurate.

Why is the Bible so complete?

The Bible is complete because it contains the Torah, the law of Moses, the Psalms of David, the Wisdom of Solomon, the prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. It has the gospel of Jesus from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the writings of the apostles of the Messiah.

The Bible
Law of Moses
(Torah)
The Prophets
(an-anbeea')
The Psalms
(Zabur)
The Gospel
(Injeel)

Christians believe all the prophets and make no distinction between them, therefore, they read all of the prophets, and because they read all of the prophets they lack nothing.

A More Accurate Comparison

It should be clear now that to compare the Bible to the Qur'an is irrelevant because while the Bible is the foundation of Christianity, the Qur'an is not the foundation of Islam, rather Islam is founded on the Qur'an, Hadith and Sira. If you want an honest and accurate comparison between the books of Christianity and Islam then you must compare the essential books of both religions.

Some facts on the Hadith. The word "hadith" means an account or news about something. A hadith can vary in length from a sentence to a full page. In Islam the main subject of the Hadith is what Muhammad did and said, that is, the Hadith contain the Sunnah. There are many large collections of Hadith. Prof. Masud-ul-Hasan explains what the main collections are:

Muslim
The collection of hadith 
by Imam Muslim.
8 volumes in the 
English/Arabic translation.
Al-Bukhari
The collection of hadith 
by Imam Bukhari.
9 volumes in the 
English/Arabic translation.

The recognised collection of Hadith on the "Musannaf"[1] pattern are the collections of:

  1. Al-Bukhari (d. 870 C.E.) [A collection of 7658 hadiths (ahadith).]
  2. Muslim (d. 875 C.E.) [A collection of 7748 hadiths.]
  3. Abu Daud (d. 875 C.E.) [A collection of 5276 hadiths.]
  4. Al-Tirmizi (d. 892 C.E.) [A collection of 4415 hadiths.]
  5. Al-Nasai (d. 915 C.E.) [A collection of 5776 hadiths.]
  6. Ibn Maja (d. 886 C.E.) [A collection of 4485 hadiths.]

... The collections of Al-Bukhari and Muslim rank high and are known as "Al-Sahihain" i.e. authentic and authoritative.

The best known collection on the "Musnad"[2] pattern is the collection of Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855 C.E.).

The Shia works on "Hadith", do not merely refer to what the Holy Prophet said or did, they also refer to what the Shia Imams said or did. The Shia works on Hadith are the collections of:

  1. Muhammad ibn Yakub Al-Kulluni (d. 939 C.E.)
  2. Muhammad Al-Hummi (d. 991 C.E.)
  3. Tahir Al-Sharif Al-Murtaza (d. 1004 C.E.)
  4. Muhammad Al-Tusi (d. 1067 C.E.) (Prof. Masud-ul-Hasan, History of Islam, vol. 1, p. 613)

There is also the important collection of the Muwatta of Malik.

The Hadith are part of the Islamic canon, yet Sunni and Shia disagree dramatically over which Hadith to accept. This means that within Islam there are very different canons that are used.

Ibn Sa'd
Ibn Sa'ad, Kitab
Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir
Ibn Ishaq
Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah 
translated as 'The Life of Muhammad'

Some facts on the Sira. The Sira are the biographies of Muhammad's life. These provide the context and chronology of his life, and thus the context and chronology of the Qur'an. The two oldest Sira are:

  1. Muhammad ibn Ishaq (d. 773 C.E.) via ibn Hisham's (d. 840 C.E.) recension, Sirat Rasul Allah. (English translation 798 pages[3].)
  2. Muhammad ibn Sa'd (d. 852 C.E.), Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, (English translation, 1097 pages[4].)

As you can read and see, there are a lot of other essential books in Islam than just the Qur'an, and they are all much bigger than the Qur'an. Both Bukhari and Muslim contain more hadiths than the Qur'an's 6236 verses. I have been told by an ex-Muslim Islamic scholar that Islam is 10% Quran and 90% traditions (Hadith and Sira). The Quran is like the frame of a picture. It sets some boundaries, but the details of the picture are provided by the traditions.

Some Application

1. Do not think that the Qur'an and Bible are basically the same. The Bible contains the writings of many prophets from Moses to Jesus. It provides all its own context and is sufficient for Christian belief and practice. The Qur'an however, only has what Muhammad, one man, recited. It does not provide the context for what it says or have the essential practices of Islam; these come from other Islamic books.

2. If Christians and Muslims want to compare books on any subject then the Hadith and Sira must be included in this comparison for it to be accurate and meaningful. The Hadith and Sira are part of the Islamic canon as much as the Qur'an is. If you see an Islamic leader comparing the Bible to just the Qur'an then have the courage to explain why this is inadequate and misleading.

3. In the media, Islamic leaders, and others, often say that certain practices, like female circumcision, are not authentic Islam because they are not in the Qur'an. However, statements like these are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading because authentic Islam is not based on the Qur'an but on the Qur'an and Sunnah. It is true that the Qur'an does not mention male or female circumcision, but this does not stop circumcision from being an authentic Islamic practice because it comes from the Sunnah.

4. Islam is a complex religion because it is based on so many books, each of which have their own method of study and critical issues. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for most Muslims to be familiar with all these essential books. This means that Muslims must depend upon their scholars to make the complex simple. However, it is possible for a Christian to read and be familiar with the whole Bible. When we invite you to become a Christian we are only asking you to accept the Bible.

Endnotes

[1] Where the hadiths are ordered according to topic.
[2] Where the hadiths are ordered according to narrator.
[3] Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, translated as, The Life of Muhammad, (tr. A. Guillaume), Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1998.
[4] Ibn Sa'ad, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, (tr. S Moinul Haq) New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 2 volumes, no date.

References

Sulaiman Abu Dawud, Sunan Abu-Dawud (translator: Prof. Ahmad Hasan).
Habib Ur Rahman Azami, The Sunnah in Islam, U.K.: UK Islamic Academy, 1995.
Prof. Masud-ul-Hasan, History of Islam, Delhi: Adam Publishers & Distributors, 2002.
Cyril Glassé, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989.


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More articles by Samuel Green.
Copyright © 2007 Samuel Green.
Last update 18 April 2011.

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