Author: Joyce Slaughter
In writing the historic Vatican II document, Nostra Aetate, the Roman Catholic Church acknowledged that truth exists in other faith traditions and began to encourage interfaith dialogue. In their search for dialogue points, Christian and Muslim theologians have often compared the Qur’an, the actual words of Allah (God), to Jesus, the Word of God. This comparison is certainly helpful to the theological understanding of these two concepts. However, to the everyday Muslim associating Qur’an with Jesus presents a problem. Jesus, for Christians, is the divine Son of God, a co-equal as the second person of the Trinity. Some Muslims who see the Trinity as shirk, or polytheism, might hesitate to compare Jesus to Qur’an.
In his book, The Sacraments: the Word of God at the Mercy of the Body, Roman Catholic theologian, Louis-Marie Chauvet argues that sacraments are “first of all sacred signs. “ My first thought on reading this statement was that the verses of the Qur’an are called ayat, which means signs. Since Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the word of Allah, I concluded that the Qur’an might also be thought of as “sacred sign” and so could possibly be considered as sacrament especially from a Roman Catholic perspective. In this paper, therefore, I propose to focus on Qur’an as sacrament in light of the work of several Christian sacramental theologians, some of which are involved in interfaith dialogue. I will highlight both similarities as well as differences between Qur’an and sacraments. It is my hope that this comparison might facilitate a better understanding of Qur’an among Christians and sacrament among Muslims, thus smoothing the path for the type of interfaith dialogue that occurs among neighbors, colleagues, and grass roots interfaith groups.
II. Possibility of Quran as Sacrament
In proposing that Qur’an be understood as a sacrament, the first question that comes to mind is “Is it even possible to compare the two?” Michael Kirwan, a Jesuit priest teaching at Heythrop College at the University of London, reminds us “sacramentality is not a monopoly of Christianity, but rather is basic to all human experience.”1 Leonardo Boff, the Brazilian theologian, says “Every religion, be it Christian or pagan, has a sacramental structure.” and that “all things, not just some things, can be transformed into sacraments.”2 Daniel Madigan, an Australian Jesuit teaching at Georgetown University, states “the place of (Qur’anic) scriptural recitation in the Muslim tradition could be considered analogous to the role of the Eucharist in the Christian tradition.”3 Reza Shah-Kazemi, of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, says the Names of Allah, which are found in the Qur’an, are sacramental prolongations of the Named, charged with divine presence.4 Clearly, the groundwork of comparing Quran to sacrament has been laid.
III. Points of Comparison
Now that we have seen the it is possible to compare Qur’an and sacraments, I propose that the following concepts apply to both of them.
• They both contain the divine presence.
• They both transform humans individually and communally.
• They both give new meaning to life.
• They are both signs of the sacred.
• They are both emphasize remembrance.
IV. Divine Presence in Qur’an and Sacrament.
Our first point of similarity is that both the sacraments and the Qur’an are special articulations of the Divine Presence. Jesus Christ, the divine second person of the Christian Trinity both instituted and is present in the sacraments. Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., the theologian who served the Dutch Bishops at the Second Vatican Council, says, “The Eucharist is the focal point of Christ’s real presence among us.” The catechism of the Catholic Church says that “the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” in the Eucharist. Roman Catholic Christianity undoubtedly believes in the divine presence in the sacraments.
Muslims believe the Qur’an contains Allah’s divine presence as well. William A. Graham, of Harvard University, says that through recitation, memorization, and reverent study of the Qur’an Muslims experience the Divine.5 Shah-Kazemi explains that the Qur’an “is deemed to be both revealed truth, explicitly articulated through words, and sacred presence, mysteriously conveyed by the divine Word. Bukhari, a compiler of Prophetic Hadiths, or sayings, relates the story of one of the Companions who was reciting the Qur’an. When one of his animals tried to run away he was puzzled and asked the Prophet who told him “that was the power of the Divine Presence that descended with the reciting” that startled the animal. Even animals were aware that something was different. This Divine Presence is called “al-Sakina” and is said to descend when a believer recites Qur’an.
1 Catholic and Shia in Dialogue pg 176.
2 Boff, Leonardo. Sacraments of Life, Life of the Sacraments
3 Liturgy in a Postmodern World pg 170
4 Shah-Kazemi . pg 132
5 Graham, Islamic and Comparative Religious Studies 182