An Interview with Ejaz Naqvi, M.D.: The Quran: With or Against the Bible?

Sep 6, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1)           Ejaz, you have just written a quite interesting book. Why did you choose this topic?

No other book in the recent past has generated so much attention as the Holy Quran. The geo-political events in the last decade have provided the fuel to the fire. Religion seems to have once again taken a prominent role in our society, especially in politics. The religion,  as well as the scriptures are often used to promote violence.

Despite being in the limelight in recent times, the scriptures remain arcane to an average person and there are many mis conceptions and myths surrounding the teachings of the Scriptures. There is a gulf between those with knowledge and those who are seeking it. Moreover, much of the available comparative literature tends to glorify one scripture, while being critical of the other.  This book dispels the myths and mis conceptions about the Quran and the Bible and provides an objective review of the various topics of common interest presented in the two Scriptures; and focuses on finding common grounds, rather than create more friction between people of Abrahamic faiths.

The book covers many topics that intrigue many, especially in the west, such as: Who is the God of the Quran? What does the Quran say about the Jews and Christians and the interfaith relations? What’s the meaning of Jihad? What does the Quran teach about women’s role in the family and the society? What’s the Quran’s view on other Holy scriptures and prophets? These questions are addressed in the form of actual quotes from the Quran and the Bible, all the while limiting my own commentary.

2)           I have seen the Quran spelled differently in different contexts. Why do different scholars choose different spellings?

The correct transliteration of an Arabic word to English is often challenging. The actual “Q” sound of the corresponding letter in Arabic is not found in the English language. Many Arabic names are spelled differently. For example the name Muhammad is variously spelled as Muhammad, Mohammad and Mohamed.

3)           Let’s briefly compare the Bible and The Quran. Could your briefly describe each, at least in your view?

Most people of Abrahamic faiths believe the Quran and the Bible are Holy Scriptures, though their core beliefs may differ in terms of their authenticity. The essential teachings are very similar. At the very core, both teach that there is One God, that there is no one else worthy of worship, that He is the creator, the most praise-worthy, Almighty, the most Kind and the most Merciful. The beliefs in prophets, angels, the Day of Judgment and the hereafter are at the core of the teachings of the Quran and the Bible. The stories on prophets such as Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Jesus Christ are similar, though some differences do exist. The Quran views the prophets as sinless, whereas the Bible depicts them as fallible humans, who sinned (at least some of them), though they are to be highly respected. The Quran views the prophets as many links of the same chain- from Adam to Abraham, to Moses to Jesus Christ and Muhammad. They all brought the same basic message from the same God.

The instructions around morality and code of conduct are shared, such as: honesty, justice, kindness, helping the needy, and forgiveness. The Bible is typically more detailed when discussing the historical events. The Quran’s emphasis is more on the moral of the stories. The descriptions of hereafter are, however, are described in more detail in the Quran. The Quran places a lot of emphasis on accountability of one’s behavior.

4)           Let’s talk BASIC messages of the Quran- what would you say as the top five messages of the Quran?

  1. About God: The core beliefs are essential to the faith: They are belief in One God; that there is no one else worthy of worship; making partners with God is a great sin, and that He has many attributes, though the most often-repeated attributes are “Ar Rehman and Ar Raheem (The Most Kind and the Most Merciful).
  2. Prophets: They all were sent with two basic purposes: To be bearer of good news to those who follow the instructions from the divine and to warn mankind of the consequences of disobeying and transgression. Violating another human’s basic rights is a serious sin. The prophets were sinless (at least they did not commit major sins).Most often prophet mentioned in the Quran is Moses. Mary (though not mentioned as prophetess) is highly revered and is called “the chosen over women of all nations”.
  3. The Quran is guidance and literal word from God and that there is no doubt in it. The Gospel and The Torah were also sent from God and “therein was light and guidance” as well, though they have been corrupted with passage of time, but must be respected.
  4. In order to be righteous, the beliefs alone are not enough. The beliefs must be accompanied by actions in accordance with the divine commandments- honesty, humility, helping the needy, orphans are repeatedly emphasized.
  5. We are accountable for our deeds- both good and bad. Mankind will get the reward for all the good deeds (mentioned variously at 10:1 ratio or higher), whereas the bad deeds will be counted on 1:1 basis. In the end, it will be the mercy and forgiveness of God that will make one enter paradise. No one will bear the sins of another human.

5)           There always seems to be this innuendo that the Quran promotes violence- could you respond?

This is a misplaced criticism. The concept of Jihad is very different than what’s often portrayed in the media, or even among some Muslims. Jihad means “to strive” or “to struggle”. The greater Jihad is to strive against oneself- against the inner temptations and to strive against injustice. The military form of Jihad (termed “Qital” in the Quran) is the lesser form of Jihad. It must be in the way of God, for defensive purposes, to help the oppressed. The verses that are quoted to show “that the Quran promotes” violence are often taken out of context. In fact the verses 5:69 and 2:62 commands the followers to enter in a dialogue with “people of the Book” (in reference to Jews and the Christians) in “the best of manners”.

The Quran is critical of some Jews- especially the transgressing Israelites who accompanied Moses in the desert. The Quran also compliments the believing Jews who were righteous.

However, the Torah and the Gospel seem equally, if not more critical. In fact Moses killed “some 3000 people” when he found the worshipping Israelites when he returned from Mt. Sinai. The Levites (Moses’ righteous tribesmen) were ordained to take the sword out and go back and forth from one end of the camp to another and kill everyone” (Exodus 32:27-28). The book of Exodus is highly critical of some of the Israelites who complained often and were called “wicked, stubborn and rebellious” (Exodus 32: 7-10).

6)           I believe that all people should be respectful to all religions. Does the Quran mention anything along these lines?

The Quran is critical, as well as complimentary to “Muslims” Jews and Christians. The defining criteria are their level of piety, not their gender, race or what their label is. Verses 5:69 and 2:62 clearly state that anyone who believes in one God and the Day of Judgment and does good deeds shall have their reward from god and shall not grieve (on the Day of Judgment).

7)           Have you studied the Talmud for example, and are there different messages between the Quran and the Talmud?

I have not studied the Talmud, buy will one day, God-willing.

8)           Why study comparative religions?  What could the average citizen learn by reading the Quran in depth?

The study of the Quran actually opened me up for a study of other scriptures- especially the Bible. That’s when I discovered that the essential teachings of the Quran and the Bible had much more in common than most people realize. I wanted to share my findings with the others, which compelled me to write The Quran: With or Against the Bible?

The Quran is considered a complete guide, though it is not an instruction manual. The Quran repeatedly states that it was revealed in “Arabic language, so you will understand” (addressing to the community it was directly revealed, just as the Torah was revealed in Hebrew and the Gospel in Aramaic. Verse 3:7 states that there are clear verses and allegorical verses in the Quran but the clear verses form the foundation. The essential teachings related to God, His oneness and what’s considered good and bad are clearly defined, along with the consequences (good and bad) in no uncertain terms.

The Quran’s style does seem rather unusual in that the verses seem scattered, seemingly moving from one topic to another. In contrast, the Biblical verses are often more topically-oriented, though the same concepts are scattered throughout.

9)           Who wrote the Quran , and what are the basic sets of values, beliefs, and philosophies?

Muslims believe that the Quran is a literal word from God, revealed to prophet Muhammad through archangel Gabriel, and then directed his appointed scribes to write it down word by word. Furthermore, there were others who memorized the Quran word by word. These are called Hafiz ,and there  are still many memorizers around the Muslim world. They further believe that the Quran was available in one volume during his prophet Muhammad’s lifetime.

Please refer to question 4 for the basic beliefs and values taught by the Quran.

10)       What have I neglected to ask?

Most people believe that their religion is the best one; and that ought not to be a problem. The issue is that we often think that others’ religion, and scriptures are wrong and moreover everything about others is wrong. They tend to focus more on what’s wrong with others, rather than the “right” teachings of their own scriptures.

My book’s focus is thus on drawing similarity of the essential teachings of the scriptures followed by the people of Abrahamic faiths. As the Gospel of Matthew , chapter 7 says, “Condemn not and you will not be condemned; judge not, and you will not be judged”. The Quran similarly asks the followers to leave the judgment about who is right and who is wrong up to God.

Most people (Muslims and people of other faiths) who hold a negative opinion about the Quran and the Bible have never read the Quran or the Bible. I hope the objective review of the scriptures as presented in my book, will serve as a catalyst to study the scriptures, and do it with an open mind. Hopefully, this will then narrow the knowledge gap and promote interfaith harmony at a time when the tensions between various faiths seem to be running very high.

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