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I think people would be surprised at how much the Qur’an relies on the Hebrew Bible in its conception of the world, in its understanding of Muhammad’s role as one of a succession of prophets that goes all the way back to Adam. The Qur’an repeatedly reminds believers that the message that they are hearing is not a new message, it’s the same message that was given to the Jews, to the Christians that their god and the god of the Qur’an are the same, that their Scriptures are the same.
In fact, the Qur’an talks about this conception called the umm al-kitab, the notion that all revealed Scriptures are actually derived from a single source, the mother of books in heaven, that means the Torah, the Gospels, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita; all of these are essentially parts, little bits of one ur-scripture that sits at the right hand of God. The beauty of that notion is that then, therefore, these are all pieces of a single puzzle and that if you put them all together, then you get the full revelation of God, the full self-communication of God. And, I think, that’s really fascinating.
The other thing that’s really interesting is that people assume that Muhammad’s audience would have been unfamiliar with the great stories of the Hebrew Scriptures or of the Gospels. But, when you read the Qur’an, particularly when you read about the stories about Jesus, for instance, and you know, his virgin birth or when you hear about the stories of Abraham or the stories of Moses or of Jacob or Isaac, these stories always begin in the Qur’an with the commandment to either remember or recall. Remember when Moses did so and so, recall when Abraham did so and so and then it would tell sort of a brief version of a story that any Jew or Christian would be familiar with.
That indicates to historians that these stories were being revealed to an audience that was already familiar with them; that these stories were part of the very religious fabric of pre-Islamic Arabia and no wonder, this was a part of the world that was inundated with Jewish and Christian tribes, as well as, with Zoroastrian tribes and of course, pagan tribes and all of its infinite diversity and with the tribe, a particular group of believers who refer to the themselves as hanifs who were not Muslim but who were followers of the prophet Abraham.
So, the stories that we read in the Bible exist outside of the Bible. They certainly exist in the Qur’an but I find it fascinating that even before there was a thing called the Qur’an, these pagan Arabs living in the middle of nowhere were familiar enough with these stories that they formed the fabric for the very consciousness, the very conception of the creator and creation and the relationship between the two.