A Concise Guide to the Qur’an: Answering Thirty Critical Questions

Written by Ayman Ibrahim Reviewed By Matthew Bennett

Ayman Ibrahim is an Egyptian Christian academic who teaches at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Having grown up in Egypt and having earned his second doctorate in Islamic Studies, he is well-versed in Christian-Muslim relations, conflicts, and theological differences. So why would a Christian author exhort his audience to invest time in reading the Qur’an?

In his newest book, A Concise Guide to the Qur’an, Ibrahim contends that in order to understand the Qur’an’s influence on one’s Muslim neighbors, Christians must read it for themselves. Not only will a reader of the Qur’an better understand its role in a Muslim’s life, but the very act of reading the Qur’an will likely be received by a Muslim neighbor as evidence of a loving commitment to understanding them.

Still, Ibrahim’s book contributes much more than a mere appeal to take up and read the Qur’an. Throughout the book, Ibrahim presents traditional Islamic views of the Qur’an, its origins, and its textual integrity. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of contemporary critical scholarship, however, Ibrahim’s book also presents significant challenges to the traditional understanding of the Qur’an that are not often considered.

For readers who are unfamiliar with the Qur’an, Ibrahim’s work provides a helpful orientation. Each of the thirty chapters are titled with a question that the chapter answers, making this a valuable reference resource. The answers given will both benefit non-Muslim readers of the Qur’an and at times challenge Muslim readers as well. Though a relatively short book, A Concise Guide to the Qur’an represents a thorough and wide-ranging distillation of Ibrahim’s extensive study of the world of Islam.

Too often, introductions to the Qur’an have chosen either a polemical perspective against Islam or merely rehearse traditional confessional views. Ibrahim’s work rejects such a binary approach by providing the reader access to both the confessional Islamic claims and the critical questions raised in the academy. Some examples will demonstrate the valuable contribution of the book.

One of the most common claims about the Qur’an by traditional Muslims is that its text has remained unchanged since the seventh century. Ibrahim’s book helpfully explains this claim from both the Sunni and Shiite perspectives. He also addresses traditional ways of reconciling some of the apparent discrepancies between versions of the Qur’an that are reported in early Islamic sources.

In addition to these traditional claims, however, Ibrahim highlights the often-overlooked fact that the Qur’an that modern Muslims read has less than 100 years of history. Furthermore, despite being written at a broadly accessible level, Ibrahim exposes the reader to significant historical-critical and text-critical issues that undermine confidence in the claim that the current versions of the Qur’an accurately represent an original copy. By drawing on both Islamic sources and secular scholarship, Ibrahim presents the reader with compelling reasons to dispute claims regarding the incorruptibility of the Qur’an. For Christians and Jews, who are often accused by Muslims of having corrupted their books of revelation, such information is significant.

Perhaps the greatest point of contention between Muslims and Christians is the question, “Who is Jesus?” Both the Bible and the Qur’an feature a character who was born of a virgin, did miracles, taught with authority, and was identified as a great prophet. Yet the Qur’an presents this character, known within qur’anic Arabic as ‘Isa, as the merely human Son of Mary in direct contrast with the biblical portrayal of Jesus as the Son of God incarnate.

Characters such as Jesus and Abraham and Moses appear in both the Qur’an and the Bible. As a result, they are often assumed to represent common ground shared between Muslims and Christians. Ibrahim’s book, however, helpfully demonstrates how Jesus plays a different role and serves a different purpose within the horizons of the Qur’an’s concern. In fact, when the Qur’an employs biblical prophets, it utilizes them as mouthpieces for Islam rather than characters used to advance God’s purposes in developing redemptive history. Instead of a naïve affirmation that Islam and Christianity share a common Jesus character, the reader of Ibrahim’s book will be prepared to engage in fruitful discussions and ask clarifying questions of their Muslim friends concerning the person of Jesus.

Ibrahim has admirably condensed a wealth of information regarding the Qur’an and its history into a slim volume. Due to the limits of scope, however, the reader hoping to investigate the Qur’an’s interaction with biblical material may be left disappointed by the four questions that directly address this topic. Still, the questions Ibrahim does answer about the Qur’an and the Bible provide a good trajectory and starting place for further research and application.

In the end, I whole-heartedly recommend A Concise Guide to the Qur’an as an accessible–yet–informed primer on the Qur’an. Ibrahim manages to present Islamic traditional beliefs while also encouraging critical dialogue with Muslim claims. Ultimately, in order to love our neighbors, we must understand our neighbors. Likewise, love requires us to be willing to engage difficult conversations together in pursuit of truth. Ibrahim’s book encourages and equips Christians towards both goals.

Matthew Bennett

Matthew Bennett
Cedarville University
Cedarville, Ohio, USA

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