The Western intelligentsia's capacity for self-flagellation and self-hatred seems to be endless, and so now comes Jack Miles, a retired professor of religion, to tell us in a new book that Allah in the Qur'an is "more merciful" and "more moral" than the God of the Bible. Miles is, of course, being feted and celebrated for this in all the right places by all the right people, those who know that teaching the people of Western Europe and North America to despise their own culture and heritage, and to love that of Islam, is a good and noble endeavor.
Miles' claims, however, are completely wrong. In the first place, there is the evidence of present-day reality. There have been well over 30,000 jihad terror attacks worldwide since 9/11; virtually all of them carried out by Muslims acting upon Qur'anic dictates, many of them screaming "Allahu akbar." There have been no terror attacks committed by Jews screaming the Shema or Christians screaming "Jesus is Lord." No doubt Christians have behaved violently in the name of Christ throughout the history of Christianity, but in doing so they never invoked the violent passages of the Bible as justification for their acts.
There is a simple reason for these facts: while there is a great deal of violence in the Bible, it is descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, it describes violent acts commanded by God, and that has created a number of theological problems that have preoccupied many Jews and Christians ever after, but nowhere does it present those violent acts as something to be imitated. The Qur'an, by contrast, exhorts Muslims to wage war against unbelievers in commands that are presented as universal, that is, applying to all Muslims for all time. That is also how they have been interpreted by Islamic exegetes from Muhammad's first biographer Ibn Ishaq up to the present day: as mandating offensive jihad against unbelievers as the highest and final stage of the Qur'an's teaching on jihad.
And as for Allah being "more moral" than the God of the Bible, consider these passages from the New Testament and the Qur'an:
"God our Savior...desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (I Timothy 2:3-4)
"And if we had willed, We could have given every soul its guidance, but the word from Me will come into effect: I will surely fill Hell with jinn and people all together." (Qur'an 32:13)
So Allah is saying that he could have saved everyone, but has instead decided to torture some people in hell for all eternity, just because. "We're talking about the same being," Professor Miles? No, we aren't.
"'More merciful than Yahweh': Jack Miles on God in the Quran," by Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service, January 22, 2019:
(RNS) — Ever since 9/11, Americans have been treated to a host of conflicting, often ill-informed, views about Islam and its deity, Allah.
Some insist Allah is a vengeful being who commands his followers to kill nonbelievers. Others plead that Islam is a religion of peace and its God not different in kind from the one worshipped by Jews and Christians.
Jack Miles, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "God: A Biography" and a retired professor of religion at the University of California Irvine, now offers an erudite and highly readable close reading of Allah's real nature.
In "God in the Qur'an," he compares the God of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament with God as he is portrayed in the Quran....
Were you interested in correcting the record?
I offer examples of great violence from Jewish and Christian Scriptures and note that we don't deduce from that that all Jews and Christians are terrorists in waiting. If we don't do that for ourselves, we shouldn't do it for Muslims. But that's a secondary motive, I would say. Once you get that out of the way, you're free to look at the text, look at the characters and the episodes. That's a pleasure. It's a fascination.
What you found is that Allah is more merciful, consistently so, than in the Bible. Is that accurate?
Yes, it is. A friend asked me, what was the biggest surprise you discovered in writing the book? I said, Allah is more merciful than Yahweh. Understand, we're talking about the same being, but the presentation (in the Quran) stresses not just Allah's mercy, but also the themes of repentance and forgiveness. I should say, these episodes that involve biblical material probably are no more than a quarter or a fifth of the overall material in the Quran. So, my comment that Allah is more merciful than Yahweh is confined to that portion of the Quran.
I'll give two examples. Adam and Eve in the Quranic version immediately repent of their sin and throw themselves on the mercy of Allah and Allah forgives them on the spot. They do have to leave paradise, but if they live a good life then at the Last Judgment they will ascend to the heavenly garden. Adam and Eve in the Bible never do repent.
Similarly, the Israelites, just after crossing the Red Sea, create the Golden Calf and God decides to exterminate them as punishment. Moses dissuades him from that, but still there's horrendous violence imposed on them, a mass slaughter of the lead offenders. In the Quran, the Israelites immediately repent and Allah forgives them. The tablets of the law are not broken. In something approaching efficiency, the Israelites get over it, Allah gets over it and everyone moves on to the Promised Land....
Allah is at pains to say that Jesus is not his son, and actually there's a scene in which Allah and Jesus are speaking and Jesus explicitly repudiates any notion that during his life on earth he ever claimed such as a blasphemous thing. No, he is not the son of God. God had no son, or spouse, and no one really closely associated with him.
This has the effect of making Allah a more awe-inspiring, more august being. Christian theology itself sometimes uses the phrase that God is the "wholly other." That phrase, "wholly other," is a pretty apt description of Allah in the Quran.
It appears the theology of the Quran is fairly straightforward in comparison with the Bible. Would you agree?
Yes. I make the point that the Hebrew Bible came into being over a thousand years. The Quran came into being as 20 years of revelation to the Prophet Muhammad from the year 610 to the year 632. So, there is much greater consistency in the portrayal of the character of Allah. He is more moral in a way. He's more exacting, but always in a predictable manner. Of course, the complexity that Christianity has by having the deity be both divine and human at the same time is also completely absent. So, by being "wholly other" Allah can be wholly simple. That provides a kind of appeal, a kind of fascination, but it isn't a fascination of complication and conflict....