Islam: A Guide for Jews and Christians

F. E. Peters
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The Quran is a sacred book with profound, and familiar, Old and New Testament resonances. And the message it promulgated, Islam, came of age during an extraordinarily rich era of interaction among monotheists. Jews, Christians, and Muslims not only worshipped the same God, but shared aspirations, operated in the same social and economic environment, and sometimes lived side by side, indistinguishable by language, costume, or manners. Today, of course, little of this commonality is apparent, and Islam is poorly understood by most non-Muslims. Entering Islam through the same biblical door Muhammad did, this book introduces readers with Christian or Jewish backgrounds to one of the world's largest, most active, and--in the West--least understood religions.

    Frank Peters, one of the world's leading authorities on the monotheistic religions, starts with the central feature of Muslim faith and life: the Quran. Across its pages move Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Solomon, John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary. The Quran contains remarkably familiar accounts of Genesis, the Flood, Exodus, the Virgin Birth, and other biblical events. But Peters also highlights Muhammad's very different use of Scripture and explains those elements of the Quran most alien to Western readers, from its didactic passages to its remarkable poetry.

    Peters goes on to cogently explain Islam's defining features--including the significance of Mecca, the manner of Muhammad's revelations, and the creation of the unique community of Muslims, all in relation to the Judeo-Christian tradition. He compares Jesus and Muhammad, describes Islamic commandments and rituals, details the structures of Sunni and Shi'ite communities, and lays out central Islamic beliefs on war, women, mysticism, and martyrdom.

    The result is a crucial and extremely accomplished book that offers Western readers a professional yet highly accessible understanding of Islam, and at a time when we need it most.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2548-6
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    THE POINT of this book is simple and rather direct: to provide a reader whose cultural and religious formation has been Jewish or Christian with a way of approaching the body of belief and practice called Islam. InThe MonotheistsI place Islam as an equal at the side of Judaism and Christianity and attempt, in considerable detail, to contextualize each with the others in the hope of illuminating all three. Here, the primary focus is Islam, and the other two monotheistic systems are cited only to the extent that they cast light on the faith and practices of the...

  4. 1. Discovering Scripture in Scripture
    (pp. 1-29)

    THERE is only one way to approach Islam and that is to open and read from the pages of the Quran. The Muslim will prefer to hear it, but for the non-Muslim, the Muslim Scripture is almost always a book and not the “recitation” (al-quran) that its Arabic title announces it to be. It is by no means an easy read. The Quran, or Koran, as it is sometimes spelled, bristles with obscurities and ambiguities. Highly emotive poetry— or so it appears; the non-Muslim is normally relying on a translation, which is not very kind to poetry— alternates with an...

  5. 2. The Past Remembered
    (pp. 30-50)

    ALTHOUGH if many of the figures mentioned by name in the Quran are familiar from the Bible, the rhythms of the Recitation are not biblical, even across translation: the style of the Quran is that of neither the Old nor the New Testament. And it is not merely the voices and rhythms that differ: the structure, themise-en-scènein which these familiar figures now appear, is different from their earlier presentations in the Scriptures of the Jews and the Christians. We are hearing something else in the Quran, a second, somewhat foreign accent we can discern, only after close inspection,...

  6. 3. “And Muhammad Is His Messenger”
    (pp. 51-67)

    FROM the Christian perspective, Jesus is God’s final revelation, the fulfillment of what had earlier been promised in the Bible, and the meaning of that revelation unfolds in the events of his life as described in the Gospels. His followers accept only the four Gospels that the Church as a whole had received as authentic and believed were inspired: the four canonical Gospels are consequently regarded as veridical accounts of the great work of redemption. Muhammad’s life bears no such theological weight for Muslims. The Quran is the revelation, not Muhammad, who was merely its messenger, the mortal who delivered...

  7. 4. The Prince of Medina
    (pp. 68-95)

    MECCA was a parched and shadowless settlement collected around a single well—the Zamzam of Muslim lore—and a shrine. Yathrib, or, as the Muslims soon started calling it, Madinat al-Nabi, the “City of the Prophet,” and now in English simply Medina, was a quite different place. It was an oasis whose underground water supply supported plantations of date palms and a comfortable population of agriculturalists. Those agriculturalists were, for a couple of generations before Muhammad’s arrival, Arabs, chiefly the tribe called Khazraj, who had first approached Muhammad at Mecca, and another, the Aws. But there were other people in...

  8. Muhammad and Jesus: An Essay in Comparison
    (pp. 96-98)

    Muhammad and Jesus, who figures by name more prominently in the Quran than Muhammad, are both recognized as in some sense the founders of the two religious communities that claim more adherents than any others. Both men are deeply revered among their followers and both have served as role models for countless believers, but beyond that, they have little in common. At the outset, it has already been remarked that it was Jesus’ life, and particularly his death and resurrection, that founded Christianity, whereas it was Muhammad’s message that founded Islam. Muhammad reported a revelation from God; JesuswasGod’s...

  9. 5. The Muslim Scripture: The Quran
    (pp. 99-126)

    THE QURAN is the Scripture of the Muslims and comprises the series of revelations “sent down”—the Quran’s own preferred expression—to Muhammad between 610 and his death in 632. The revelations were delivered orally, in a variety of circumstances, and, as it was explained, through the medium of the angel Gabriel. These God-sent communications were repeated verbatim and publicly by Muhammad over the twenty-two years of his ministry, first at Mecca between 610 and 622, and then at Medina from 622 to 632, and were finally collected into the Book as we have it. Thus the Quran is literally...

  10. 6. The Umma, Allah’s Commonwealth
    (pp. 127-155)

    THE HEBREWS were a “polity” from the outset, albeit on the modest scale of an extended family or clan that led an apparently autonomous existence among the scattered tribes on the margins of the Middle Eastern agrarian societies of the Stone Age. Eventually they grew into something more substantial—as God himself had promised —and the kingdom of Israel survived politically in its exposed Palestinian home for more than three hundred years. In the end, however, there were too few Israelites for their “state” to be politically viable in the Fertile Crescent of the seventh century B.C.E., and in Babylonia...

  11. 7. God’s Way: A Life and a Law for Muslims
    (pp. 156-185)

    WITH Muhammad’s death, God’s voice was stilled, and the community that “The Guidance” had brought into being had to turn to their recollection of what the Quran had pronounced were Muslim’s responsibilities. But if the Quran declared the principles of a Muslim life, Muhammad exemplified these, and the community of Muslims has drawn on his example, as well as on his own personal teachings, from his own day to this.

    As the Christians looked to Jesus, who in his humanity was their peer, first in the flesh and then in the accounts of his life, the earliest Muslims had before...

  12. 8. Defining and Defending the Community of Believers
    (pp. 186-215)

    IT IS sometimes pointed out that there is no such thing as “Judaism,” or “Christianity,” or “Islam” save what we construct as such in our own minds: there are, in truth, only Jews, Christians, and Muslims. To put it somewhat more accurately, however, those names are what the believers constructed in their own minds. The three group designators were devised not by modern social scientists but by members of the groups themselves, early on. The conceptualized “Judaism” first appears, in Greek, in 2 Maccabees 2:21; in 14: 38 the phrase “practicing Judaism” is used. It is echoed by Paul (Gal....

  13. 9. The Worshipful Acts
    (pp. 216-244)

    THE QURAN is part preaching directed toward conversion and part instruction, where the Book lays out, sometimes generally, sometimes specifically, what it is to be a muslim, one who has submitted to God. The quranic picture of what makes up a Muslim life grew far more detailed at Medina, where Muhammad was the head and authoritative guide of a Muslim community (umma), a community now free to practice its beliefs in public. Part of that instruction is liturgical, that is, it describes the rituals—in Arabical-ibadat, “the worshipful acts”—by which God wishes to be formally and publicly acknowledged....

  14. 10. This World and the Next
    (pp. 245-272)

    ALL THREE monotheistic movements grew out of a perceived distinction between God, “who alone is holy,” and the present circumstances in which humankind finds itself. These circumstances are often referred to as “the world” or “this world.” Though God had looked on this world, which was, after all, his creation, and pronounced it “good” (Gen. 1:4, etc.), his devotees sometimes took a somewhat more pessimistic view of their circumstances, as did God himself on occasion, since there were elements in that creation, some manmade but others quite natural, that he wished to keep distant from his presence.

    The Pillars of...

  15. Reflections after a Breakfast
    (pp. 273-276)

    “THE ARABS have their Bible,” King Alfonso X advised his Castilian subjects in the mid–thirteenth century, “which was translated from the Hebrew.” The king,salva majestate ejus, was wrong, but his intentions were good, and his information in one respect was not so very far from the truth. The Quran was indeed “from the Hebrew,” although not translated, in the ordinary sense of that word, either by or for Muhammad. But some manner of translation had assuredly taken place between the Scripture of the Hebrews and the audience that heard Muhammad proclaim the Word of God in Arabia in...

  16. Index
    (pp. 277-285)