The moral value — or virtue — fundamental to the three monotheistic religions is faith. This was the value of Abraham by virtue of which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are traced back to him.
We can see in Abraham what this virtue consists of: Abraham believed in God, believed in Him because He is God, and Abraham acted on this belief, even though everything indicated that the promise of God could not come true.
As G. E. M. Anscombe indicates, faith is believing God because He is God. Note that it would be absurd to believe that God exists because He says so, for you have to believe that someone exists before you can believe what he says. Faith therefore assumes a belief in the existence of God (14). Herein lies a difference between the approaches of Jesus and Muhammad to their ministries.
Jesus addressed his Gospel to the Jewish people, who had already believed in God — with backsliding — since the time of Abraham 1600 years before, and who had had the Book of Moses for 1200 years.
Cultural habits meant that they did not need persuading of God’s existence. Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, which the Hebrew prophets had taught the Jews to expect.
But Muhammad faced pagan ignorance of God and a culture of idolatry. Thus, he first had to preach the existence of God and, in the Quran, we see the Prophet confronting unbelief:
Do they who disbelieve not look with reflection at the form of camels — how wondrously they are created; and at the sky… For you are but a reminder sent to them. (Quran 88:17)
Here we find, so beautifully set out, the signs, so prominently adverted to in the Quran, of the existence of God, and not just signs of the existence of God but also of His bestowal of blessings, beautiful creativity, majesty, power, and His Oneness.
Now, all through the earth there are wondrous signs of God, for those who are firm in faith. And they are within yourselves as well. Can you not then see? (51:20-21)
Nowhere does Jesus persuade his listeners of the existence of God; this is taken for granted. But it is not for nothing that the first words of the Shahadah are: “There is no god but God”, which is an assertion of His existence as much as it is a repudiation of polytheism. Muhammad had to enforce the existence of God as the first belief; the first truth the Muslim reminds himself of is the existence of God.
The cardinal truth is that in the Abrahamic religions God reveals Himself, to and through prophets, men who speak for Him with His authority, and mankind is challenged to respond to their revelation.
Jesus is enumerating those who will enter the Kingdom. The poor in spirit are those who have a sense of spiritual poverty and who will enter because, in their poverty, they know they are absolutely dependent on God; they have no other resource. This, surely, is the condition of being a Muslim, and it leads to perfect obedience, just as it did in Abraham.
In Christianity and Islam the idiom is different but the concept is the same.
Many of the moral precepts of the Quran can be matched by those of Jesus. Jesus condemns hypocrisy. In the Quran, we read:
The hypocrites seek to trick God, but He is tricking them. When they stand up to pray, they stand up lazily and to be seen by people, and they do not remember God save a little. (4:142)
Similarly, in Matthew 6, Jesus condemns the insidious corruption of religious hypocrisy, and in particular “practicing your piety before men…”
Regarding the giving of alms, Jesus teaches that it should be done in secret: the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing (6:2, Revised Standard Version).
Interestingly, in a hadith, Muhammad uses the same idiom in enjoining secrecy in alms giving:
Seven people will be shaded by Allah under His shade on the day when there will be no shade except His. They are … (6) a person who practices charity so secretly that his left hand does not know what his right hand has given… (Al-Bukhari)
The concentration of moral precepts in the Sermon on the Mount produces in the reader a unique sense of soul-piercing spirituality.
The Christian reader misses such an atmosphere when first reading the Quran. Its precepts are mostly brief and scattered, lost in the mass of chapters, but when gathered together, as Muhammad Abdullah Draz has gathered some in The Moral World of the Quran, they are soberly impressive. Many parallels can be drawn with Jesus’s teaching, for example with his instruction to overcome evil with good (Draz 322).
Good and evil cannot be equal (O Prophet), repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend. (41:34)
The teaching of Jesus that a man who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery in his heart is paralleled by:
Tell believing men to lower their gaze and master their senses… (24:30)
It is not surprising that there should be such consonance between the Gospels and the Quran. Draz argues not just that reason governs morality, but that the Quran says this in its own words when it says (16):
Do they follow the command of their reason, or is it that they are an unjust people? (52:32)
Here is the point of concurrence between Islam and the Catholic Church: the rationality of morality, expressed on the Catholic side in its Aristotelian-Thomist tradition of moral philosophy.
Thus, we can see that the consonance in values and morality of the Quran and the Gospels is not coincidental but is rooted in their common rational origin — the rationality of God Himself.
Anscombe, G.E.M. Faith in a Hard Ground: Essays on Religion, Philosophy and Ethics.United Kingdom: Imprint Academic, 2008.
Draz, Muhammad Abdullah. The Moral World of the Quran. London and New York: I.B.Tauris, 2008.
(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)