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Reading the Qur’an and the Bible Side by Side—Differing Creation Accounts

June 7, 2012

“At first glance,” writes Michael Lodahl in his book, Claiming Abraham: Reading the Bible and the Qur’an Side by Side, “it might seem that a doctrine of creation is something that Jews, Christians and Muslims share alike. In one sense that is true . . . [But] this need not imply that the meaning is identical for Jews, Christians and Muslims.” Let’s take a look:

Biblical Account Qur’an Account
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Surah 16:3 He created the heavens and the earth in truth; may He be exalted above what they associate [with Allah].
Genesis 1:11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind.” Surah 36:82-83 “His command is indeed such that if Allah wills a thing, He says to it, “Be!’ and it comes to be. Glory, then, to Him in whose hands is the dominion of everything.”
Genesis 1:20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” Surah 21:30 Then we separated them, and of water we produced every living thing.
Genesis 1:22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill up the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

We are familiar with the Genesis account, but hopefully not too familiar to learn something new. God brings creation into existence not with the command form of the verb “Be!”, as in the Qur’an, but with “let there be”, the jussive voice in the Hebrew language. The jussive voice has a “softer” tone, we would say, than that of the imperative, the language of command. One can certainly overstate this distinction, but allow me to venture that the jussive voice is more like a tone of permission, of invitation.”

Michael Lodahl draws our attention to the subtle, but important, difference between “Let there be” in Genesis and “Be!” in the Qur’an. Is this difference important? I think so.

The “Playful Labor of Creation”

Lodahl continues, “Perhaps God is, in a certain sense, ‘making space’ for creaturely existence to occur, rather than giving irresistible commands.” God in Genesis brings all into being, but playfully, and then, once created, he endows his creation with its own power to keep on creating.  “When we read, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures,’ and ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind,’ we may hear the Creator inviting the creaturely realm to share in the playful labor of creation.” God endows the swarms of sea life with the power to produce new swarms. Same with land animals and the birds of the air; they procreate new animals and new birds after their own kind.

Examining subtle differences between basic texts in the Bible and the Qur’an often explains how small variances can lead to large divergences of societal paths.

Creation’s Creativity

Michael Lodahl points out that there are Hebrew puns in Genesis 1, in the creation story, and these puns are fun to say out loud. For example, the earth is called upon to “bring forth” (tadshe) vegetation (deshe), and the waters are called to bring forth (yishretsu) swarming creatures from the sea (sherets).” God playfully commands the earth, then, to “produce produce” and the seas to “swarm with swarming swimmers” and the birds and the land animals to keep the creative process going. It’s all in the seed.

But the Allah of the Quran retains for himself all instances of creative power. Muslims ask, “Why would Allah share his glory with animals, birds, and people?” So, you may have thought that the God of Genesis and the Allah of the Qur’an are the same, at least, in terms of being the same Creator God. Not so. Allah retains, but God endows. And, just to make sure the reader understands, the Qur’an (in 16:3, quote above) takes a swipe at the Genesis version of creation referring to it as “associating” creation with God, the great sin known as shirk in Arabic.

Today, Islam suppresses its adherents’ creative urge. An Islamic classroom is a place of stupefying repetition and Islamic artwork is beautiful, perfectly repeating but mindless calligraphy.

I predict that you are not about to see an Islamic business begin to compete with Boeing to build a better airplane or with Apple to build a better laptop. You are not about to hear of a Muslim non-profit corporation set out to triple the production of rice in S.E. Asia, like the Rockefeller Foundation did in the 1960s. These and ten thousand other innovations are suppressed. So seriously is this suppression taken as orthodox Islam that when the nation of Saudi Arabia recently celebrated its independence day its banners proclaimed, “Sixty Years of Progress without Change.”

Muslims deserve better. Put your faith in the God of Genesis and He will set your feet on the path of being the creative person He made you to be. For there is no other name by which we shall be saved.

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