Author: Joyce Slaughter
IX. Some Key Differences
We can see that in some ways Qur’an can be compared to a Roman Catholic understanding of sacraments, especially the Eucharist. There are some ways in which the comparison falls short, however. Two key points come to mind: sacraments are meant to be communal celebrations and some sacraments are a means of initiation into the church, or Christian community.
Chauvet reminds us that the “agent of celebration (of the sacraments) is the church as understood in the primary meaning of the assembly.”1 It is Christ, in the person of the priest, who presides during the Eucharist. Since Christians are the “Body of Christ” they, too, are presiding“(T)he assembly is the active sacramental mediation of (Christ’s) his action”. In other words, according to many sacramental theologians, the entire community, priest and people, are necessary for sacramental action.
However, the believer does not need to read, recite, or meditate on the Qur’an communally for her to receive benefits. Some Islamic scholars teach that the Qur’an existed eternally with Allah. This eternal existence seems to preclude the requirement of the community being a necessity to the Qur’an’s existence.
Another difference is that sacraments, especially Baptism, are a means of initiation into the church, or Christian community. Even in infant baptism, the parents, godparents, as well as the entire community promise to nurture the child into adult faith. Chauvet claims sacraments are essential to Christian identity. “Every sacrament shows (Christians ) how to see and live what transforms our human existence into a properly Christian existence.”2
On the contrary, in Islam an infant does not need a rite to enter into the community of believers. Muslims believe everyone is born a Muslim. It is only our parents who change us into believers of another religion. The Quran says that Allah called forth all the souls of humanity from the loins of Adam to bear witness to Him and they all replied, “We bear witness.” It is the witness statement, or shahada, that is whispered into the ear of every newborn Muslim. It is this same statement that every convert to Islam proclaims to effect his conversion. All Muslims proclaim it in their daily prayers. “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his Messenger.” The Qur’an isn’t the port of entry into Islam.
In summary, Quran and sacraments are similar in that they both contain the divine presence, transform individuals and societies, and give new meaning to lives. Qur’an and sacraments are both signs of the sacred and they both have remembrance or memorial at their core.
I hope that you will be encouraged by this paper to engage in interfaith dialogue because I agree with Daniel Madigan of Georgetown University who says, “…one of the great values of our encounter with the other is to discover our particular identity.”3 To me this means that dialogues with “the other” will clarify and strengthen my own faith.
1 Chauvet 33
2 Chauvet 154
3 Madigan 166