Many Westerners assume the Qur’an is the Muslim counterpart to the Christian Bible, but if all a Muslim had was a Qur’an, they could not practice Islam.
One of the best illustrations to help Christians understand what the Qur’an is about is to imagine taking all the words of Jesus (the red letter verses in some versions of the Bible) out of context, randomly mix them up and arrange the passages in a book. The result would be similar to the Qur’an. The Qur’an lacks historical and biographical detail unlike the Bible, which contains the gospels with details of the life of Jesus.
Further, and significantly, the Qur’an was authored by one man, Muhammad, over the course of a single lifetime while over forty writers authored the Bible over a period of almost 1600 years. Despite being written by different authors, the Bible does not contradict itself and unlike Islam external tests are not necessary to practice Christianity.
The Hijra of Muhammad – the migration of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD marks a significant shift in the tone of the Qur’an. Muhammad arrived in Medina with approximately 150 followers, but by the end of Muhammad’s life the number of Islamic followers had increased to nearly 100,000. Once Muhammad had moved to Medina, the nature of his revelations changed dramatically. The early Qur’an written in Mecca is considered peaceful. “There’s no compulsion in religion” (Sura 2:256) and “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion” (Sura 109:6). But when Muhammad migrated to Medina the message became much more militant. “I will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Then smite their necks and smite of them each finger. That is because they opposed Allah and His messenger” (Sura 8:12-13).
In Islam there is a doctrine of abrogation. This means that the later passages that Muhammad received in Medina take precedence over the Mecca passages. In a way the later revelation supersedes the previous one, however that does not mean the earlier verse is incorrect. Because the Qur’an is considered the actual words of Allah and Allah cannot be wrong, the early Mecca revelations cannot be wrong. So when a Muslim states that Islam is a religion of peace, he can also fully believe that it is okay to “smite” the necks of disbelievers.
Pray that Muslims will be quickened to realize that the vast majority of their teachings do not come from the Qur’an itself – and pray they will explore the life of Muhammad and his words and deeds.