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Qur'an and Bible

One of the stumbling blocks in encounters and discourse between Muslim and Jews is the existence of negative (alongside positive) portrayals of 'the Other' in their Scriptures. Depictions of Jews (and Christians) in the Qur'an can (and have been) interpreted both for good and ill. Similarly, portrayals of the 'Other' in the Bible were later applied to Muslims (and Christians), both positively and negatively. Unless both sides of these portraits are addressed, they will remain serious obstacles to genuine dialogue and the fostering of better relations.

Having values in common does not mean sharing all values. One of the weaknesses of contemporary interfaith approaches is limiting dialogue to the search for common ground and a reluctance to discuss difference - without the latter, genuine dialogue cannot exist and interfaith conversations will eventually run out of steam or be limited to enthusiasts. Of course, some level of commonality is necessary for generating solidarity but genuine dialogue requires a constructive interfaith tension. It takes a high degree of maturity to let contraries co-exist and to respect opinions that conflict with one's own without attempting to achieve a naïve accommodation.

The Qur'an and Bible project seeks to explore the relationship between the two scriptures, and their similarities and differences. What tools are available and which methods exist that can be applied to the interpretation of Scriptures, including problematic passages? The project studies Muslim and Jewish scriptures alongside one another, brings in classical rabbinic interpretations and the Hadith and Tafsir, and offers recommendations to interpret and discuss the texts (including hostile passages), in ways that further understanding between and among the Jewish and Muslim communities, foster dialogue and overcome prejudice and bias.

Over the course of 2020 and 2021, we held a reading group on the topic in which eminent academics from universities in the USA, Oxford, Cambridge and Abu Dhabi gathered regularly to discuss aspects of the relationship between the Torah and the Qur'an.

Reading Group - Results

Although the relationship of the Torah and the Qur'an is deep and nuanced, members of the Group generally agreed the following statements:

  • The Qur'an and the Torah are deeply connected. The Qur'an, in large part, comments on material contained in the Bible.
  • The Qur'an does not refute anything fundamental contained in the Torah.
  • The Qur'an also comments on both Jewish and Christian commentaries on the Bible.
  • The Qur'an does not require perpetual animosity between Islam and the followers of Judaism and is not antisemitic (or anti-Jewish).
  • Parts of some later Jewish texts appear to have been based on Qur'an and Islamic texts.
  • The Bible contains more violent verses than the Qur'an, especially when it comes to extreme violence.
  • No Qur'anic passage teaches that enemies in warfare should be annihilated or exterminated.
  • The Qur'an presents material contained in the Bible, adapted to provide a distinct, Islamic message.

Several of these conclusions, which were based on the texts, call for further study concerning the historical development of the interpretation of the texts and also seem to lend themselves to discussion between faith leaders and practitioners of interfaith dialogue. These are possible avenues for further activity at the Woolf Institute.

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Read about the reading group here.