All my life I have believed in God. In Catechism classes, I enjoyed learning about the stories of Jesus. I would apply the lessons from the parables about Jesus to my own life. Daily prayers were also important to me; at night when I would recite my prayers, I would thank God for everything and ask for blessings.
As I got older, I began to ask more questions about the traditions of the religion. There were many aspects of Christianity that I didn’t fully understand, such as the Trinity, or the idea that “Jesus died for our sins.” What does that mean? Why did Jesus’ death make all Christians’ sins forgiven? What does it mean to pray: “Father, Son, Holy Spirit?” These were honest questions that I always wondered about. They were central to the religion, but no one was able to point out a solid explanation. Many times the response was to “have faith.” But I did have faith. Other times I was told, “there are some things that our human minds can’t comprehend, and we aren’t meant to understand…”
I just wanted to understand the traditions and beliefs of the religion I was practicing. The traditions felt good – singing in church, fasting during Lent, reciting prayers – but it was only comforting and familiar because I had been following it all of my life. Then I learned about Islam. Islam provided answers and explanations.
According to Islam, lots of prophets came to the earth to deliver God’s message to the people. Over time, whether done deliberately or due to human error, those messages were warped or lost. The Torah and the Bible, which were meant to record the message and teachings of the prophets, have been rewritten over and over into multiple different editions. Christianity divided into different sects, each believing in a different version of Christianity. The message had been transformed.
The message of the Qur’an, brought by Prophet Muhammad, simply reiterates the original message, and presents it in a form that cannot be changed. God has divinely protected the Qur’an from ever being changed (this is one of the miracles of Islam). It has remained the same to this day; after 1400 years, not one accent mark has been changed from its original form. To ensure it can never be altered, Muslims protect all editions from deviations – no copy is published without intense scrutiny. Any mistake would be detected immediately and all incorrect copies would be destroyed. Some Muslims spend hours a day memorizing the Qur’an, and children as young as 8 years old can recite the Qur’an in its entirety by heart.
There are no English versions of the Qur’an. There only exist English interpretations of the Qur’an. These interpretations are explicitly defined as such, so the true Qur’an – the true message from God – would never be lost in another language.
And much is lost in other languages. The uniqueness of the Arabic language prevents its poetic rhythm from being transferred to another language, and the multiple meanings of individual words cannot be conveyed to the English (or Latin or Korean) reader. The prose of the original can never be reproduced when written outside of its true form. Note the challenge expressed in the preface to one of the most comprehensive English translations of the Qur’an known today, written by Abdullah Yusuf Ali: “Sometimes I have considered it too stupendous for me – the double task of understanding the original, and reproducing its nobility, its beauty, its poetry, its grandeur, and its sweet practical reasonable application to everyday experience” (AlÍ, xiii).
There is a lengthy description of how, why, and to what extent the meaning of the Qur’an can be lost in a translation on page xviii of the above author’s preface, which also directs the reader to specific passages as examples. I will try to shorten the passage as best I can:
“An Arabic word is often like a full ray of light; when a translator looks at it through the prism of a modern analytical language, he misses a great deal of its meaning by confining his attention to one particular color… No human language can possibly be adequate for the expression of the highest spiritual thought. Such thought must be expressed symbolically in terse and comprehensive words, out of which people will perceive just as much light and color as their spiritual eyes are capable of perceiving” (AlÍ, xviii).
Islam states that all the prophets delivered the same message: Belief in the one true God. This is emphasized in all three of the monotheistic religions – not to worship idols or to take partners with God. Other parts of the messages include a set of moral standards, in addition to worshiping God. According to Islam, Christians started to deviate from the original message when they began worshiping Jesus along with God. Jesus was born from the Virgin Mary, healed the sick and performed miracles – which is probably why people started to believe that he was more than just a prophet. But the emphasis Christians place on Jesus takes away from the worship that should be directed to our one Creator – God.
The Bible records Jesus’ teachings, his acts, his words. The Prophet Jesus never claimed to be the son of God. How could God have begotten a son? The Prophet Jesus did not instruct people to worship him, he was telling people to worship God and God alone. In Islam, Jesus was an extremely important prophet who delivered God’s message to the people of his time. But he was not meant to be worshiped. He was not divine, and including him in prayers and acts of devotion is breaking the very first of the ten commandments. Jesus was not God’s son, God cannot have a son. This belief debases God, attributing human traits to God, bringing God down to the level of mankind.
No one died for our sins so that we’d all go to Heaven. We are judged individually at the end of our life based on our own individual actions, thoughts and words. If you have more good deeds than bad deeds, you will be granted acceptance into Heaven. If you have more bad deeds than good deeds, then either God will show mercy to you and allow you into Heaven, or God will send you to Hell. (God spells out what constitutes good deeds and bad deeds in the Qur’an.) This makes the most sense morally – as opposed to our sins today being affected or changed or forgiven through the worship of the Prophet Jesus.
Let me add that I was reluctant and scared when I first started to learn about Islam. I resisted it. But because everything kept making sense, I couldn’t turn away from it. The Qur’an explains to you how to pray, how to live your life – it provides a complete set of clear laws governing everything from crime to women’s rights, even getting as specific as how to divide the property of an estate if someone dies without leaving a will. I was so resistant to changing my religion – so afraid and even angry – but I was just continuously drawn to it. I couldn’t find any arguments against it. After a while I just realized that the only thing holding me back was facing my family with my decision. It is such a clear and complete religion – I have no doubt in my mind that the Qur’an is a direct message from God – which is actually in a way scary when I first read it in that way, because there is no turning back – once you know, you know.