Is it Safe for a Christian to Read the Qur'an?
And is reading the Qur'an a prerequisite for engaging with Muslims?
The topic of today’s post is whether or not it’s safe for a Christian to read the Qur’an. I think there are a lot of Christians, especially in America which is such a passionate majority Christian nation, who hear the words ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’ and ‘Qur’an’, and immediately respond to these words with resistance, fearing that Satan is linked to the religion of Islam.
To a certain extent, I had similar fears before I read the Qur’an. I had actually tried reading the Qur’an a couple of times many years ago; I felt as a philosophically-inclined theologian it was my duty to do so. However even just reading the first few lines gave me a feeling that this was a book in relation to which I should steer clear.
In retrospect, I think God hadn’t yet prepared me spiritually for reading the Qur’an. Also, the translations that I had come to possess did not speak to me in a way that gave me confidence in the text. It was only last year, when I bought a copy of Abdel Haleem’s recent translation of the Qur’an (from Arabic into English) that the text spoke to me in a powerful way. Even the Introduction to this edition is very interesting, informative, and well-written, and served as great preparation for reading the Qur’an itself.
I did pray to God about whether or not it was okay for me to read the Qur’an, and He assured me it was. Humans can have a wide range of opinions about theological matters, often muddied by fear, so I feel it’s always wise to go directly to God with a humble heart, and ask Him whether a certain thing is okay if we are feeling unsure.
After God gave me permission and I started reading the Qur’an, I was overwhelmed by the power of the content. I was in tears many times and descriptions of the nature and purposes of God spoke to me in a surprisingly powerful way. There was so much beauty in the words, and I had simply no idea how close the Qur’an is to Jewish and Christian theology on many central theological issues, such as judgement, Satan, God’s sovereignty, and a whole lot more.
Regular readers of my work will know that I don’t believe we have free will. This belief is very compatible with the Qur’an (as well as with the Bible, from a certain perspective), and one encounters phrases such as ‘God does as He pleases’ in the Qur’an which reflect a very high view of the sovereignty of God.
Of course, some Christians will read my words in this article and still feel afraid, perhaps out of loyalty to a particular denomination of Christianity, or their family or friends, or perhaps because they harbour some anger in their hearts. I believe God will only lead you to read the Qur’an if He wants to. I think many of both my Christian and Muslim friends might agree.
If you’re interested to learn about my experience of reading the Qur’an from cover to cover for the first time, including discussion of the major theological issues I felt were important during that first reading, I have written a short book entitled Discovering the Qur’an. Alternatively, you can get a copy of Abdel Haleem’s amazingly lucid translation on Amazon (click here to the see the book in the US Amazon store, or here for the UK). It’s simply entitled The Qur’an, A new translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, and is part of an Oxford World’s Classics series.
Despite any initial hesitation we may feel when contemplating whether to read the Scriptures of a religion that is foreign to us, I think we all owe it to our fellow human beings to respect their beliefs and try to understand them, so that we can follow the truth wherever it leads and help our societies to be less fearful and more integrated. And we cannot hope to further interfaith dialogue unless we step outside of our theological comfort zones.