Reading Sura 57 again recently, I found myself wondering whether anyone had ever made some kind of comparison – whether in detailed form in a book or in a blog post or anywhere else – between Muhammad and Martin Luther. There is a striking similarity in the spirit of reform of religion that already exists rather than a claim to offer something brand new. There is a striking difference in the genre of their predominant output and in their sense of not merely calling but having received divine revelation apart from (even if in concordance with) existing sacred texts. Reading Sura 2 in its current context gives the impression to a critical reader that it stems from after Muhammad’s time and may have been written in the process of creating the Qur’an as a book. Yet that conclusion might be too hasty, given the striking way it addresses the children of Israel rather than only or even primarily Arab polytheists. The book referred to at the beginning might therefore not originally have been the book that these words became part of, but the Jewish scriptures, as throughout the rest of this sura. As with the placement of the Book of Revelation at the conclusion of Christian Bibles, here too the placement alters the meaning, connecting it to the book it now introduces. Then again, 2:185 seems to mention the Qur’an, although once again the impression of the meaning may be altered in light of the setting of the words within their current literary context. 4:136, on the other hand, is clearer in its reference to the book the Apostle was given.
Be that as it may, what do you think of the idea that Muhammad and Martin Luther might be worth comparing? Is that a meaningful and useful comparison to make, or is it unlikely that anyone would learn anything from setting the two figures side by side? If they are not useful comparisons, then who would you recommend instead? Jesus is an obvious choice, but it is hard for many Christians to think of him as a Jewish reformer, which is one reason I find myself considering other possible figures for comparison.
Potentially one could also bring Martin Luther’s On War Against The Turk into the picture, and discuss how critical he was of Catholicism and the Pope vs. how critical he was of Islam.
Of related interest, Larry Hurtado blogged about the Gospels and the Qur’an!