Islamic interpretation of the Bible for more than a millennium has been mainly outside characterization of the Bible according to Muslim categories on the one hand, and polemical use of actual quotations from the Bible on the other.

One can speak of “Qurʾanic” interpretation of the Bible because the Qurʾan repeatedly refers to three “writings” understood to be part of the Bible. Explicit references to these three books in the Qurʾan are consistently positive and respectful. During the first three centuries of Islam, most Muslim exegetes and other scholars seem to have referred to the earlier scriptures in the same respectful way. In spite of this, the best-known “interpretation” of the Bible among Muslims today is that the Bible is corrupted and falsified.

In the centuries between, Islamic intellectual history offers a number of notable Muslim encounters with the content of the Bible itself. These include a famous metaphorical interpretation of the Gospel’s description of the deity of Jesus, and a lesser-known project to interpret the Qurʾan through the Bible.

The Qurʾan on the Bible.

Both Christianity and Judaism and their scriptures were firmly established in the Middle East when Islam arose during the seventh century. Therefore one should not be surprised to find references to the earlier scriptures, or to their contents, in the Muslim scripture. Because of the strong faith of Muslims that the Qurʾan is the Word of God, Muslim perceptions of the Qurʾanic interpretation of the Bible influence all other areas of Islamic interpretation of the Bible as well.

Three particular books are mentioned by name in the Qurʾan, which we identify as substantial parts of the present-day Bible: the tawrāt (Torah), the injīl (Gospel), and the zabūr (Psalms). The term tawrāt appears eighteen times in the Qurʾan, mostly in the third and fifth suras or chapters. The term injīl appears twelve times. Its pattern of occurrence is similar to that of the term tawrāt. In fact, in all but two of its occurrences the term injīl appears in tandem with tawrāt.

The singular noun zabūr appears only three times in the Qurʾan. Its pattern of occurrence is quite different from that of the other two books. Zabūr never appears together with the other two names of earlier scripture. In addition to the particular names of scriptures, the Qurʾan also refers many times to these books through other expressions such as “the book of Moses” (Q 11:17) and “the book that Moses brought” (Q 6:91).

The verses in which these books are mentioned by name provide some basic information about the Qurʾanic approach to them. Progressing canonically, the reader first learns that God “sent down the Torah (tawrāt) and the Gospel (injīl)” (Q 3:3). The Torah and the Gospel were revealed after the time of Abraham (Q 3:65). Subsequently, God taught Jesus the Torah and the Gospel (Q 3:48), and Jesus in turn confirmed the truth of the Torah (Q 3:50).

Perhaps more interesting for the Qurʾanic interpretation of the Bible are the characterizations that the Qurʾan uses to describe the earlier scriptures. A striking, though typical, example is found at Q 6:155: “Then we gave Moses the book, complete for him who does good, and distinguishing every thing, and as a guidance and a mercy.” These and other expressions are repeated throughout the Qurʾan. The Torah is characterized as containing “guidance and light” (Q 5:44). The same phrase is used to describe the contents of the Gospel at Q 5:46. The Gospel is also called “a guidance and an admonition to the godfearing” (Q 5:46). The Torah is said to contain “the judgment of God” (Q 5:43).

The Qurʾan also characterizes the earlier scriptures by way of actions that often seem to be related to polemical situations. For example, Q 3:93 contains the command, “Bring the Torah now and read it, if you are truthful.” The context seems to be a dispute about what foods were permitted to the Children of Israel. In another polemical passage, at Q 5:43, the Torah is said to be “with” the Jews and to contain God’s judgment. Another verse says, “If you are in doubt regarding what we have sent down to you, ask those who read the book before you” (Q 10:94). The verse follows a substantial story about Moses, Pharaoh, and the Children of Israel. The impression given by these and other verses (Q 16:43; 21:7) is that the Qurʾan sees the earlier scriptures as intact, available sources of authority.

This impression is born out in the language of “confirmation” that the Qurʾan uses to portray the relationship between the earlier scriptures and what is conceived of as being “sent down” in the present. A typical statement of this relationship comes in a polemical speech to the Children of Israel: “And believe in that I have sent down, confirming (muṣaddiqan) that which is with you.…” (Q 2:41). This active participle occurs some eighteen times in the Qurʾan. The object of the participle is generally one of a number of indistinct phrases that could be understood to refer to earlier scriptures. These “confirmation verses” portray the present recitation as aligning with what God has revealed in the past, and perhaps also as gaining authority from past revelations. The frequent repetition of phrases like “what is with you” (Q 3:81; 4:47) and “what is with them” (Q 2:89, 101) also suggests a concept of intact copies of the earlier scriptures in existence at the time of the recitation.

The Qurʾan contains several passages that either quote or resemble expressions from the Bible. Q 7:40 has the phrase, “until the camel passes through the eye of the needle,” though there is no apparent awareness in the context that this may come from the Gospel (Matt 19:24). At Q 5:45, immediately after two references to the Torah (Q 5:43–44), we read, “And therein we prescribed for them: ‘A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, and ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth.…’ ” (cf. Exod 21:23–25). At Q 48:29 the Qurʾan seems to claim to offer a quotation from either the Torah or the Gospel: “as a seed that puts forth its shoot, and strengthens it, and it grows stout and rises straight upon its stalk, pleasing the sowers, that through them he may enrage the unbelievers.” This also seems to be the approach to the Psalms at 21:105: “For we have written in the Psalms, after the remembrance, ‘the earth shall be the inheritance of my righteous servants’” (cf. Ps 37:29). The only time that the Qurʾan claims that the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qurʾan hold a specific content in common is at Q 9:111. The common content is said to be a promise binding upon Allah in those three scriptures: that believers “fight in the way of Allah; they kill and are killed.”

Stories of the Prophets.

In the Qurʾan we find a kind of interpretation of Bible stories without any certain awareness of the Bible’s contents. Stories involving biblical characters are told not as if they came from the Bible or could be found in the Bible. The Qurʾan seems to show no actual familiarity with the text of the Bible. The stories are told as if overheard.

The stories are often presented in a kind of homiletic fashion, using selected details and differing versions evidently for the teller’s own purposes. Some of the details of the Qurʾanic stories are also found in the Bible. Other details are extra-biblical and familiar from rabbinic or apocryphal sources, and some details match no known source.

The Qurʾan presents stories of many biblical characters, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Joseph, David, and Solomon. In some suras the stories are told in a formulaic fashion. Allah sends his messenger to a particular people. The messenger delivers Allah’s message, but the people do not accept the message. The messenger warns the people of the consequences of resisting Allah, and the people begin to manhandle the messenger. Before any harm can come to the messenger, Allah delivers the messenger and his family and destroys the people. However, in other cases the Qurʾan offers carefully-presented stories, for example the story of Joseph in sura 12. In the Qurʾanic telling (described as “the best of narratives” at Q 12:3), the Joseph story lacks details such as the names of Joseph’s brothers, while providing extra-biblical details such as an episode in which the friends of Potiphar’s wife cut their hands when they first see Joseph. But the Qurʾanic story follows the general biblical outline and indeed claims to be a “confirmation” of the existing narrative (Q 12:111).

Of all the biblical figures mentioned in the Qurʾan, Moses receives by far the most attention. His name appears some 136 times, in 50 separate pericopes in 36 of the Qurʾan’s 114 suras, totaling more than 500 verses. Even more striking than the abundance of material is the special profile that the Qurʾan seems to give to Moses. In the Qurʾan, God speaks directly with Moses (Q 4:164), and says to him, “Moses, I have chosen you above humankind by my messages and my word” (Q 7:144). In five extended versions of the Moses story, the Qurʾan relays different elements of the narrative in different sequences, with differences in the details among the narrative elements. These many Qurʾanic versions—characterized by John Wansbrough as “variant traditions” (1977: 22–23)—contain elements that are familiar from the Hebrew Bible. Other details in the Qurʾanic narratives match the details found in extra-biblical tellings such as in Midrash, Mishnah, and Talmud.

The Qurʾanic material on Jesus—called ‘Īsā in the Qurʾan—mostly concerns the circumstances of his birth, some of which resemble those of the first chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. Again, the material on Jesus is not offered as from the Gospel, or as matching what is in the Gospel, but simply as an independent telling (Q 3:62). Jesus is presented briefly in two verses as a miracle worker who heals the blind and the leper, and who raises the dead “by permission of Allah” (Q 3:49; 5:110). The Qurʾanic report in the same verses that Jesus created a bird from clay and blew life into it resembles a story in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas the Israelite.

When it approaches the death of Jesus, the Qurʾan appears ambiguous, ranging from verses that seem to assume his death (Q 3:55; 5:117; 19:33) to an explicit denial that the Jews killed Jesus (Q 4:157). However, there is little ambivalence in the Qurʾanic denial of Jesus’s deity. The Qurʾanic Jesus is emphatically not God, not the Son of God, not to be “associated” with God, and not the “third of three.” Most Muslims have understood the Qurʾanic interpretation of these central New Testament affirmations to be an unequivocal denial. On the other hand, Jesus is given the name “Messiah” (Q 3:45) and is mysteriously called the “word” of God and “a spirit” from God (Q 4:171).

Readers of the Qurʾan evidently had a strong desire to know more about the biblical characters mentioned in the Qurʾan, because many details are supplied in Muslim works of commentary, history, and a special genre called qiṣas al-anbiyā’ (Stories of the Prophets). Two of the best-known works of this genre are the ‘Arā ‘is al-majālis fī qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’ of Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad Tha‘labī (d. 1035), and the Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’ of al-Kisā’ī, written around 1200 C.E. These works drew on a variety of sources, among them information provided by Jews and Christians from the biblical narratives.

A good example of a key biblical detail missing from the Qurʾan is the name of Abraham’s intended son of sacrifice in the single Qurʾanic telling of the story at Q 37:102. Abraham says, “My son, I see in a dream that I shall sacrifice you; consider, what do you think?” However, the name of the son is not provided, either in the verse or in the context. Early commentators such as Muqātil ibn Sulaymān (d. 767) immediately specified the son as Isḥāq (Isaac), and even at the end of the third Islamic century the great classical exegete al-Ṭabarī (d. 923) argued that the son was Isaac. Later Muslim commentators such as Ibn Kathīr (d. 1373) eventually reached a doctrinaire understanding that the son of intended sacrifice was Ishmael, but it is interesting that prior to al-Ṭabarī, Ibn Qutayba (d. 885) wrote that he preferred Isaac because he had found it so in the Torah. Tha‘labī, on the other hand, was certain the son was Ishmael: “the Jews claim it was Isaac; but the Jews lie.”

The Bible as a Source of References to Muhammad.

At various points in Muslim intellectual history, Muslim scholars have treated the Bible as a source of prophecies about Muhammad. Muslim writings from the early centuries of Islam are full of stories of Jews and Christians reading references to Muhammad in their scriptures and then responding in Muslim terms either appropriately or inappropriately. There are also two verses in the Qurʾan that, according to some Muslims, state that prophecies about Muhammad are found in the earlier scriptures. At 7:157 the Qurʾan says that readers of the Bible find references to the “ummī” prophet “written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel”; while at 61:6 ‘Īsā is portrayed as “giving good tidings of a messenger who will come after me whose name is aḥmad [more praised].”

The earliest example of the Bible being treated in this way is the quotation of a Syriac version of John 15:2316:1 in the Sīrat rasūl Allāh of Ibn Isḥāq (d. 767). Muslims interpreted Jesus’s words about the Comforter to mean a prophecy of Muhammad. Other biblical texts that have frequently been used in this way include Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Isaiah 42:1–4 and—more surprisingly—Isaiah 21:7. The most famous example of a Muslim work written expressly for this purpose is The Book of Religion and Empire of ‘Alī ibn Rabban al-Ṭabarī (d. 855). Ibn Rabban offered many examples out of a pre-conversion knowledge of the Bible. While citing these examples, Ibn Rabban was treating the earlier scriptures as intact texts, and did not in fact accuse them of textual corruption or falsification.

But the practice of interpreting the Bible as a source of prophecies of Muhammad has remained popular with Muslim scholars throughout Islamic history and up to the present day. The claim of intact prophecies and the accusation of corruption continued on parallel tracks—often in the same works.

The Understandings of the Muslim Interpretive Tradition.

In addition to verses that explicitly mention one or both of the earlier scriptures, there is a series of verses in the Qurʾan that some Muslims have understood to refer to a variety of “tampering” actions related to the earlier scriptures. These verses generally do not specify actor or object, and the verbs seem to indicate a range of indistinct actions that are seldom clarified by context. Taken on their own, it is difficult to say what the verses mean. However, Muslim exegetes have offered their interpretations.

One example from this group of verses is Q 2:75: “Are you then so eager that they should believe you, seeing there is a party of them that heard God’s word, and then tampered with (ḥarrafa) it, and that after they had comprehended it, wittingly?” Of this particular verse, Muslim exegetes wrote that it referred to an incident in the time of Moses, when Israelite leaders heard God’s word from Moses but reported it to the Children of Israel incorrectly. In most other cases, however, Muslim exegetes told a story of encounter between the Jews of Medina and Muhammad. In this narrative, the Jews have in their possession the Torah that contains the description of Muhammad. The Jews do not want to acknowledge the authority of Muhammad because of envy that he is from the line of Ishmael rather than Isaac, and therefore they hide the references, misinterpret or mispronounce the verses, or otherwise “tamper” with the word of God.

The chart of verbs, terms, and expressions related to the “tampering” theme in the Qurʾan shows a series of repeating verbs in suras 2–7. Most significant of these verbs are those associated with alteration (ḥarrafa, baddala) and with concealment (katama, asarra, akhfā). Because verses of concealment outnumber verses of alteration, Muslim exegetes provided much more narrative material about a lively scenario in which the Jews of Medina know the prophecies of Muhammad in the Torah in their possession, but hide the prophecies in order not to have to submit to Muhammad.

This trend in the commentaries on the Qurʾan is also followed by other Muslim genres, such as sīra and maghāzī (biography of Muhammad), ḥadīth (sayings attributed to Muhammad), and asbāb al-nuzūl (“occasions of revelation”). In all of these works the overarching narrative is of Jewish (rarely Christian) obstinacy in the face of clear descriptions of Muhammad in their scriptures. Accusations of textual corruption or falsification appear seldom, if at all. The tone is sometimes free of any sense of confrontation, such as in the ḥadīth, “the people of the book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims.” In this tradition Muhammad says, “Do not believe the people of the book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.’”

One of the best-known stories of this type is the story about the “verse of stoning” that many Muslim exegetes tell to interpret Q 5:41 (“…the Jews…tampering with words out of their places.…”). A group of Jews brings a pair of adulterers to Muhammad in Medina for a ruling on their punishment. Muhammad proceeds to the Jewish study center and determines from their best Torah scholar that the punishment for adultery in the Torah is stoning. In some versions of the story, a Jewish teacher actually hides the “verse of stoning” with his hand until a Jewish convert to Islam removes it from the verse. Muhammad then commands that the two adulterers be stoned. This story reflects, on the one hand, a concept of the authority of the Torah and an understanding of its intact state. On the other hand, the story reflects a deep Muslim uncertainty about the ruling itself: though Muslim scholars are convinced that it was the sunna, or custom, of Muhammad to stone adulterers, there is no verse in the Qurʾan that supports this ruling (but cf. Q 24:2). This anomaly became one of the major flashpoints of Muslim discussion on Islamic Law.

Interpretation of the Bible for Polemic.

Cut loose from their Qurʾanic context, a number of verses from the Qurʾan have been used by Muslim polemicists to support their accusations of corruption and falsification against the Bible. In the early centuries of Islam, accusations of falsification seem to have been related to contemporary testimony of Jews and Christians that they did not find any references to Muhammad in their scriptures. If there truly are no references to Muhammad in the Torah and Gospel when the Qurʾan says they certainly will be found (Q 7:157), reasoned some Muslim polemicists, then the Jews and Christians must have erased the references. Once they made these accusations, however, some polemicists undertook a reading of the Bible in order to search for materials that they then claimed provided proof of the Bible’s corruption.

To interpret the Bible merely for the sake of polemic involves first of all a decision made prior to studying the text: that the earlier scriptures are corrupt or falsified. The aim is to attack and discredit the bases of Judaism and Christianity in the Bible. From there the search proceeds to find passages that could be judged by predetermined criteria to be unworthy of the word of God.

The two Qurʾanic verses that have drawn the highest number of accusations of biblical falsification from Muslim exegetes and other scholars are Q 2:79 and 3:78. These verses are typically vague about subject and object, and the scriptures themselves are not named. The focus of Q 2:79 is “those who write the book with their hands, then say, ‘this is from God.’” At Q 3:78, “there is a sect of them who twist their tongues with the book, that you may suppose it part of the book, yet it is not part of the book.” In spite of their lack of clarity, these verses have drawn the accusation that the Jews of Medina erased references to Muhammad from the Torah in an attempt to avoid having to acknowledge the authority of Muhammad. Most exegetes have limited the accusation to the Jews’ encounter with Muhammad in Medina and to alleged biblical materials related to Muhammad. However, Muslim polemicists have extrapolated from those beginnings of the accusation to include other time periods and other biblical materials.

The earliest extant work of Muslim anti-Christian polemic to contain a substantial passage from the Bible is the Radd ‘alā al-naṣārā (Refutation of the Christians) of Abū Muḥammad al-Qāsim ibn Ibrāḥm al-Ḥasanī (d. 860). Al-Qāsim did not accept the integrity of the Gospels, so he freely changed the wordings of the text to suit Muslim beliefs about Jesus. In his rendering of Matthew 18, for example, al-Qāsim removed references to “Father” and “Son of God” as well as teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount that ‘Īsā—according to Islam—could not possibly have delivered. A later polemical work that contained a quantity of biblical material unseen in earlier writings was the Tathbīt dalā’il al-nubuwwa (Confirmation of the Proofs of Prophecy) of the Mu‘tazila Qāḍī ‘Abd al-Jabbār (d. 1025). ‘Abd al-Jabbār quoted from all four Gospels, the book of Acts, and also the epistles of Paul and of John. The intent was negative—that is, to attack Christian belief in line with earlier works of Mu‘tazila polemic. However, in some of his arguments he used passages from the Bible to defend Islamic beliefs about Jesus, implicitly relying on the Bible’s authority. His acceptance or rejection of the authority of the Bible depended, of course, on the particular argument he was making.

The first Muslim to develop the accusation of the corruption of the Bible in a major and systematic way was the Spanish scholar Ibn Ḥazm (d. 1064). In his Kitāb al-fiṣal fī ’l-milal wa ’l-ahwā’ wa ’l-niḥal (Book of Separation Concerning Religions, Heresies, and Sects) he wrote of what he considered to be chronological and geographical inaccuracies, theological impossibilities, and preposterous behavior of prophets in the Hebrew Bible. Ibn Ḥazm did the same with the Christian Gospels. These “proofs” that the Bible was corrupted were determined, of course, according to Islamic doctrines such as the sinlessness (‘iṣma) of prophets. Islam judged unworthy of the Word of God statements about God that it had determined were impossible (for example, that God wrestled with Jacob in Genesis 32).

Biblical reports of the behavior of figures considered prophets in Muslim thought that show them sinning (for example the adultery of David with Bathsheba) were cited as examples of biblical corruption. The Muslim doctrine of prophetic sinlessness took root even though the Qurʾan, too, provides examples of the sins of prophets and has them asking God for forgiveness (including David, at Q 38:24f.)

The polemical approach of Ibn Ḥazm was picked up in a major way by Muslim scholars in the wake of the Mongol incursions into the Middle East and especially the destruction of Baghdad in 1258. The Egyptian jurist Aḥmad ibn Idrīs al-Qarāfī (d. 1285) drew heavily on Ibn Ḥazm, as did Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1350), the student of the famous Ibn Taymiyya. Some western scholars have suggested reasons for the harshness of this anti-Bible polemic: that Ibn Ḥazm was enraged by a rumored attack on the Qurʾan written by a Jew in Spain; that there was a mood of “religio-political competition” in the century following the Mongol onslaught; or that a letter by Paul of Antioch in the early 1200s provoked Muslim scholars to counterattack.

A Muslim text on the Bible in the tradition of Ibn Ḥazm that has been very influential in modern times is the Izḥār al-ḥaqq (Demonstration of Truth) of Mawlana Raḥmat Allāh Kayrānawī (1818–1891). The book grew out of material that Raḥmat Allāh had collected for a public debate with a European missionary in Agra, India in 1854. Raḥmat Allāh made use of traditional Muslim accusations as well as the arguments of Ibn Ḥazm. However, Raḥmat Allāh started a new trend in Muslim anti-Bible polemic by bringing in the writings of western critics of the Bible in the middle of the nineteenth century. This polemic, too, was undoubtedly complicated by political tension during this period of British rule. Three years after the debate the Indian soldiers’ “Mutiny” occurred, and Raḥmat Allāh himself was forced to flee India.

Muslim arguments against the Bible have not progressed much beyond Raḥmat Allāh’s book, published in Arabic in 1864 and still widely distributed in an Urdu translation in South Asia. In recent decades, Muslim writers who “interpret” the Bible solely for the sake of polemic will make use of any popular western material judged to support the traditional Muslim accusations, including the speculations of the Jesus Seminar or the thesis of “orthodox corruption” from Bart Ehrman. Such Western materials have become very popular among some Muslims, especially in the era of the Internet, simply because they seem to give scholarly support to the traditional Muslim accusations against the Bible.

In a recent survey of Muslim popular literature on Christianity, Kate Zebiri reports that all of the authors who write on the subject of scripture claim that the text of the Bible is corrupt (1997, p. 50). She adds that among contemporary Muslims the doctrine of the textual corruption of the earlier scriptures is “virtually unchallenged” (p. 6). On a more anecdotal level, one London group surveying YouTube contents in 2006 found more than 43,000 videos attacking Christianity, many of them from well-known Muslim polemicists such as Ahmad Deedat, Shabir Ally, Jamal Badawi, and Zakir Naik.

Notable Exceptions in Islamic Interpretation.

Though polemic against the Bible is by far the most common method of Islamic interpretation past and present, Muslim intellectual history also offers a number of notable encounters with the text of the Bible that strike a different tone.

One work that has caught the fascination of many scholars is al-Radd al-jamīl li-ilāhiyyat ‘Īsā bi-ṣarīḥ al-Injīl (The Fitting Refutation of the Deity of Jesus through the Evidence of the Gospel). The work is widely attributed to Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 1111), though some scholars dispute this. Al-radd processes several Gospel texts about the deity of Jesus through an interesting hermeneutical grid: if such passages are opposed to reason or seem to resist a rational explanation, asserts the author, they should be interpreted through ta’wīl, that is, metaphorically. Therefore, the author’s refutation of the Christian belief in the deity of Jesus rests on giving metaphorical interpretations to many passages from the Gospels that either clearly present or strongly imply the deity of Jesus.

Unique in the history of Muslim interpretation of the Qurʾan is the commentary of Burhān al-Dīn al-Biqā‘ī (d. 1480). Al-Biqā‘ī’s massive Naẓm al-durar fī tanāsub al-āyāt wa-al-suwar (String of Pearls Concerning the Harmony of the Verses and the Suras) is the only known commentary to contain extensive verbatim quotations from the Bible. The exegete used the Bible not only for polemical purposes, but primarily as scripture to elucidate the Qurʾan. He quoted a chapter or more at a time from the Bible, and the purpose of many of his quotations was simply that of learning from the Bible. For example, in the process of showing that Q 21:105 is a quotation of Psalm 37:29, al-Biqā‘ī quoted from fourteen other Psalms before he offered Psalm 37. Of the various reasons why al-Biqā‘ī provided these frequent and extensive quotations from the Bible, the most common was to provide more details for a laconic or elliptical Qurʾanic reference to biblical content. For example, where the Qurʾan first provides a version of the creation of Adam, al-Biqā‘ī quoted the full first three chapters of Genesis.

One Muslim attempt to interpret the Bible by actually writing a commentary on it is the Mohomedan Commentary on the Holy Bible by Sayyid Aḥmad Khān (d. 1898), written in India during British rule. Sir Sayyid wrote in Urdu on Genesis 111 and Matthew 15. His approach to scripture was Modernist, and his writing is free of polemic. Even more unusually, Sir Sayyid proposed that the Bible could have a positive role in Muslim life as long as it was read in the light of the Qurʾan. In this way, he wrote, any distortions from Jewish and Christian misinterpretation could be corrected. Sir Sayyid did not accuse the Bible of having a corrupted or falsified text.

A recent event in Islamic interpretation of the Bible shows what is possible in the age of the Internet. In October 2007 a group of Muslims associated with King Abdullah II of Jordan posted to the internet a statement titled, “A Common Word between Us and You.” The statement proposed as a basis for Muslim-Christian dialogue that Christians and Muslims share “in common” a belief in love for God and love for neighbor. The Muslim authors quoted the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:37–40 about love for God and neighbor in answer to a question about “the greatest commandment in the Law.” This is similar, said the authors, to materials in Muslim scripture and tradition. Therefore they claimed that this is the “common word” referred to in Q 3:64, a place where Muslims and Christians can meet for dialogue.

This recent Muslim initiative seems to show a willingness to read both the Bible and the Qurʾan and to take their contents seriously. The Qurʾan itself certainly appears to hold the previous scriptures in high regard. In between, however, Islamic interpretation of the Bible has generally not shown this willingness to treat the Bible as the word of God.


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Gordon Nickel