Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
When we talk about the “Judeo-Christian” core of America, many of us think of the Ten Commandments. Whether or not you think that your local courthouse should display Exodus 20:1–17, Christians at least hope that we will base our laws on God’s laws. And so we teach the Ten, talk about them, and recite them.
Some Christians are surprised to learn that the famous Ten Commandments is not the only list of basic rules in the Old Testament. Ezekiel 18:5–9 is a great example, listing basic moral principles which are important to God. We find other nice collections in Psalms 15 and Job 31, and the New Testament has a few passages like Colossians 3:5–4:6. All of these passages suggest that if we follow the rules on these lists, God will be very happy with us.
A question that comes to mind is, why are these lists different? Instead of giving multiple lists, why don’t these other passages just repeat the Ten Commandments?
I think that the answer is that people benefit from specially designed lists. Virtually all Bible scholars today agree that each individual book of the Bible was written to address needs and concerns of the book’s specific audience. The basics of right and wrong never change (that the point of passages like Matthew 22:37–40 and Romans 13:8–10), but for most of us it’s helpful to have more detail in order to understand what God has in mind for us.
With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Qur’an also has short “lists” of commands. Perhaps the most well-known appears in sura 6:151–153 (the numbers in parentheses are my additions):
Say, “Come, let me tell you what your Lord has bidden you:
(1) that you associate nothing with Him;
(2) that you honor your parents;
(3) that you do not kill your children because of poverty – We provide for you and for them;
(4) that you do not come near indecencies, whether outward or inward
(5) and that you do not kill the soul which Allah has sanctified – except in the course of justice.
All this He has enjoined upon you, so that you may understand.”
(6) And do not come near the property of the orphan, except with the best intentions, until he reaches maturity.
(7) And give full weight and full measure, equitably. We do not burden any soul beyond its capacity.
(8) And when you speak, be fair, even if it concerns a close relative.
(9) And fulfill your covenant with Allah.
All this He has enjoined upon you, so that you may take heed.
(10) This is My path, straight, so follow it. And do not follow the other paths, lest they divert you from His path. All this He has enjoined upon you, that you may refrain from wrong-doing.
Sura 17:22-38 more or less repeats this same list with additional comments.
This list is actually pretty close to the Ten Commandments – closer, in fact, than any of the other Old Testament passages I’ve mentioned above. This passage does not say anything about the Sabbath (not a big surprise, since Islam does not teach anything special about the seventh day), and instead of talking about adultery and coveting, it stresses purity (command 4, as in Psalm 15) and fairness in business dealings (command 7, similar to Ezekiel 18).
Perhaps the most interesting “novelty” is command 3:
“that you do not kill your children because of poverty – We provide for you and for them…”
This command addresses the ancient practice of killing off newborn children, particularly girls. While the idea of infanticide is horrific now, it was a common practice throughout the ancient world for the same economic reasons that women get abortions today: better to let a newborn die than to make life harder for its family.
A perplexing thing for modern Christians is that the Bible never condemns infanticide. Even though Christianity has usually (not always!) taught that infanticide is wrong (for example, see this early Christian document), the Bible has no “anti-infanticide” rule.
The Qur’an, however, is clear: no matter how poor you are, you may not end the life of a newborn. And since infanticide accomplished about the same thing in the seventh century as abortion does today, it’s not too hard to use this verse to argue against abortion.
As a Christian writing for Christians, I certainly am not arguing that the Qur’an belongs on the same level as the Bible. But we should be able to admit that on ethics and morality the Qur’an is pretty good. In fact, the next time we’re debating whether to display the Ten Commandments in public, we might consider adding Qur’an 6:151–153 next to it. (I hope at least the pro-lifers will agree…)
A Christian blog and podcast by Ray Burns.
Helping modern readers engage with ancient biblical texts