This is the second part of the post in which I compare the Bible and the Qur’an. If you haven’t read the first part, you can read it here.
3.The strength of the Bible is multiplicity of genres; the strength of the Qur’an is melodious recitation.
The Bible has several genres. Psalms are poems; Paul’s writings are letters; the Gospels are genres of their own. Add onto it the chronicles of Old Testament, the Revelation of John, and you have a variety of channels. Every one of them expresses different shades in God’s revelations. Psalms show emotions embedded in revelation. Paul’s letters showcase a rhetoric that appeals to our reason. So Psalms move us, Paul’s letters convince us, and the Revelation of the apostle John makes us wonder or — just shrug. How about narratives? I will leave that for you to figure out.
Unlike the Bible, the Qur’an could be seen as just one or two genres fused together if we define the concept of genre by the standards of the Bible. But even if we define the genre broadly and by the standards of the secular world, you aren’t going to find letters in the Qur’an like that of Paul’s. The holy book of Islam brings together a question-answer format with poetic prose — if I can use these terms as names for the genres. The strength of the Qur’an is in the melodious recitation that would act as a counterpoint to the biblical genres. There are various ways of recitation and each way emphasizes different aspects of the sacred text of Islam. Even if you don’t understand the language, the melodious recitation has power to affect you in one way or the other and make you aware that the book deals with sublime topics. So the Qur’an appeals to our aesthetic sense (if there is such a thing) through melodious recitation.
From a secular point of view, I say that the Bible allows us to experience the revelation with various shades captured in many genres. The Qur’an allows us to experience its own revelation by appealing to our aesthetic sense.
Practical Lesson: Reading the Bible can be richer experience with some awareness of certain literary concepts. Reading the Qur’an can be more effective if it is accompanied with listening to its recitation.
4.The internal unity of the Bible is more flexible and complex. The internal unity of the Qur’an is tighter and clearer.
The Bible is a canon or, simply put, a book formed by bringing together other books (texts). All the gospels were influenced by one another, but they were written separately. Just compare John’s Gospel with Matthew’s, and see the differences. Same thing goes for the Old Testament books. Because of this, the biblical books are in a dialogue with one another, and the books that were written later build upon the other books in the canon. Sometimes they refer to a book that is outside of the canon. Because of this, you should not measure the Bible with the measuring stick of the Qur’an as Muslims do because it would be like measuring the Encyclopedia Britannica with a dictionary.
On the other hand, the Qur’an was formed as a single book: it includes revelations that reacted to events in Muhammad’s life, but none of them are relatively independent units of text like those of the Bible. So the internal unity of the Qur’an is tighter and more precise compared to the Bible although if you read the Qur’an, it will come across as somewhat random reactions to certain events. Also, the Qur’an (as a book written after the Bible) has the advantage of addressing biblical doctrines. Some of the verses in it address certain Christian heresies (the Trinitarian heresies spread in Arabia at that time).
But that makes the Qur’an a highly polemical book defined in the shadows of the Bible. Although the Bible is not as tightly unified as the Qur’an, it compensates it with a variety of styles, topics, perspectives, and languages.
Practical Lesson: When you read the Bible look for connections between various books. When you read the Qur’an be aware that some of its polemics require understanding of Christianity and Judaism of the time of prophet Muhammad.
5.The Bible has been influenced by oral traditions but it has strong textuality too. However, the Qur’an has been more influenced by orality than textuality.
The Bible is a mixed channel when it comes to textuality and orality. Certain parts of the Bible existed as an oral tradition first and only later were written down. For example, the Gospels have elements of an oral tradition. However, other parts of the Bible like the letters are born as written texts, bypassing the orality phase completely.
Why does it matter? Because the Bible gives us both phases of humans’ wrestling with the revelation. Jesus lived and died, and his story was passed on as an oral tradition. People thought about it, put it into a context, and wrote it down. It shows the fluidity of the oral traditions. The letters are another story. They are born with the structure, precision, and lengthy detailed argumentation only possible in the written medium.
But the Qur’an as a whole was first oral and then was written down. We have information that some verses from the prophet Muhammad’s revelations were written down in his lifetime, but the influence of the textuality is meager in the Qur’an compared to the Bible. That’s why the Qur’an truly becomes alive when it is recited like any oral tradition. It is designed to be oral. So when you read the Qur’an, you may miss some powerful elements of it because they only become alive when recited. As I see it, this makes the Qur’an less flexible for individual’s silent reading.
It also makes the Qur’an read like a reference book. It often lacks the detailed, long, and developed arguments that you see in letters within the Bible. As an oral tradition, its stories are without much detail. But as a counter argument, one can say that the Qur’an could be read and recited melodiously while the Bible is mostly read, and the tradition of a melodious reading of it is mostly lost.
Practical lesson: Deeper understanding of the Bible requires attention to nuances of orality and textuality of texts. Deeper understanding of the Qur’an requires a lot more attention to socio-economic and religious world of prophet Muhammad and art of storytelling of ancient Arabia.
That’s it for the second part of the post. If you liked it, please share it on social media and let others learn too.