Have you ever heard a Christian speaking to a Muslim, and telling them that the word Injil in the Qur’an is the same as the Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke or John] or it is the same as the Gospel, or the Good News about Jesus Christ? In this brief post, I would like to look at how Islam views this word, and why that matters.
In the Qur’an
The word Injil occurs 12x in the Quran. In Arabic it is a singular noun, and should be rendered ‘gospel’ and not ‘gospels.’ It always refers to a book that was sent down or given to the Muslim Jesus or ‘Isa. For instance,
"And We caused ‘Isa, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him in the Torah, and We bestowed on him the [Injil] wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that which was (revealed) before it in the Torah ..." (Q. 5:46)
"... We caused ‘Isa, son of Mary, to follow, and gave him the Injil..." (Q. 57:27)
According to Islamic thinking, there is a ‘mother of the books’ that is kept in heaven, and from this mother of the books, the Torah (the Pentateuch), the Zabur (Psalms), the Injil and the Qur’an came down to earth to the so-called prophets, Musa (Moses), Daoud (David), 'Isa (Jesus) and Muhammad. In Islamic thought, all of these books come from one source, and thus must all agree with each other. Where they differ, then the Qur’an which is said to be the last that came down, supersedes all the others.
The guidance and light that are said to be in the Injil are always thought about in Islamic terms. The Qur’an is all about guidance, as the main error of humans is to forget, and so they need guidance to bring them back to the right path. Secondly, light is frequently associated with Muhammad. Thus, as we will see from the commentators below, it is impossible to associate the terms “guidance and light” with the Christian ideas of Holy Spirit guidance, or Jesus as the light of the world.
Five Islamic Commentators on the ‘Injil’
- A Muslim telling a Christian about the Injil (around 800):
What you have said you report only from your Gospel and your new books; however, we have first, true Gospel. We received it from our Prophet, and it contradicts that which is in your possession. For after the Ascension of Christ into heaven, John and his followers revised the Gospel and set down what is in your possession as they wished. This is what our Prophet has handed down to us.
- Ibn Ḥazm (around 1000)
This Muslim theologian was one of the first to comprehensively develop the Islamic teaching on the way that the Bible has been tampered with by Christians. Concerning the Injil he said,
“The gospel sent down by God, great and glorious, disappeared, except for a few sections that God almighty left behind as evidence against them [the Christians] to shame them.”
- Ibn Khaldun (around 1400)
In his commentary he said that the “Gospel descended” on the Muslim Jesus. He used a word to describe this descent which is exactly the same as the descent of the Qur’an, and which always describes the descent of revelation.
- Tahir al-Jaza’iri (around 1900)
This Muslim scholar from Algeria wrote both a creedal statement and a catechism for his Islamic students around the turn of the 20th century. The creedal statement affirms:
"It is to be believed that Allah . . . has books which He sends down to His prophets, and in which He makes clear His commands, His prohibitions. His promises and His threats, and that they are truly the speech of Allah, having their origin from Him, though we do not know just how He spoke. These books He sent down by way of inspiration (wahy) and among them are the Torah, the Injil, the Zabur, and the Qur’an."
His Islamic ‘disciple’ memorizes the following answer to the question as to what is the Injil:
"I believe that the Injīl is one of the books of the Most High, which he revealed to the Messiah Jesus, in order to explain truths, call humanity to profess the Oneness of the Creator, to cancel certain secondary laws of the Torah, according to necessary measures, and to announce the coming of the ‘Seal of the Prophets.’"
- Yusuf Ali (around 1930)
One of the most popular English renditions of the Qur’an is by a man named Yusuf Ali. In the notes to his The Meaning of the Glorious Quran he says this about the Injil:
"…the Injil spoken of by the Qur’an is not the New Testament. It is not the four Gospels now received as canonical. It is the single Gospel which, Islam teaches, was revealed to Jesus, and which he taught. Fragments of it survive in the received canonical Gospels and in some others of which traces survive."
These five Islamic commentators assert the following:
1. The Injil descends from heaven like other books and was given to Islamic prophets, and in this case, it was to the Muslim Jesus.
2. It is not equal to the New Testament and Christians are said not to be in possession of the true Gospel.
3. It was used by the Muslim Jesus to explain Islamic truths, and to make the way ready for the coming of Muhammad, who is known as the ‘Seal of the Prophets.’
4. As a whole it is no longer in existence, although some pieces might exist in the Christian Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and according to Ibn Hazm exists only to shame Christians to remind them of what they forgot, or how they changed it.
If a Christian approaches a Muslim and uses the term ‘Injil’ with the assumption that the Muslim thinks that it is the same Gospel or Gospels as the Christian thinks about, there will be a disconnect in communication. Subtly, the Christian could be affirming Islamic doctrine, namely that Muslims only, know what the true Gospel is, and that Christians are mistaken. Rather, a Christian must go about and ‘repossess’ the term which has been effectively co-opted by Islam.
The Christian Gospel
The Christian who is presenting the story of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of His Majesty the Lord Jesus Christ, is presenting a very different story than that of the Muslim Jesus presented in the Qur’an. The Good News or Gospel of the ‘Son of the Most High’ that is always associated with the kingdom of God and its deliverance from the bondage of sin (Matthew 4:23) and it is news of great joy (Luke 2:10). This ‘power of God unto salvation’ (Romans 1:16) calls people to repentance from their assertion that they are lord, and replaces it with the bowed knee that says “Jesus is Lord.”
The four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are a composite sketch by eye-witness, working under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to produce a multi-faceted picture of “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1); in order that its readers might be “have certainty about the things” (Luke 1:4) they were taught, and that
"…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31).
This differs dramatically from the Muslim idea that the Gospels are akin to the hadiths which are a report on the activities of Muslims, and especially that of Muhammad. The Gospel in the Bible has the power to effect salvation (Ephesians 1:13) something that no hadith or Qur’anic verse could ever do. The Gospel in the Bible is eternal (Rev 14:6) and ushers in eternal life for its true hearers (2 Timothy 1:10), because it is the only “word of truth” (Colossians 1:5).
1. Have you ever heard someone equate the Injil of the Qur’an and that of the Bible? Have you done the same?
2. Does this article help you to understand the potential confusion that can occur when a Christian thinks that similar words in Islam and Christianity, necessarily have the same meanings? Can you see how this might cause confusion in the mind of your Muslim friend? Does it help you to understand the potential for a Christian to falsely assume that their Muslim friend is hearing the same thing as they might think they are communicating?
3. How will you go about clarifying the fact that Islam and Christianity might share common terms when it comes to the Gospel, but might have totally different meanings?