The holy spirit in the Qur'an : an assessment from a Christian perspective

Shih-Ching, Judy Tao ; Tau Shih-Ching, Judy (Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch, 2006-03)

Thesis

This study is an attempt to gain an understanding of the al-ruh (Holy Spirit) from a Muslim perspective and a comparison with the Christian perspective. Chapter 1 is an introduction. Chapter 2 and 3 are textual study; the meaning and usage of the al-ruh (Holy Spirit) in the Qur’an will be examined, especially in Muslim Dictionaries, Encyclopaedias and Commentaries as compared with the meaning and usage in the Biblical and Jewish scriptures. Obviously, the Holy Spirit plays an active role with humankind in creation and in revelation; the al-ruh has evidently inspired all the prophets and even believers according to the Qur’an. The experience of Muhammad with respect to the al-ruh is also mentioned in the Qur’an even when he was not yet aware of the work of Holy Spirit as well as the person of the Holy Spirit, as the third person of the Trinity in Christianity. Chapter 3 carries on the findings from the Qur’an, and furthermore give explanations as well as evaluate exegeses and various commentators’ opinions regarding al-ruh. Moreover, there are some disagreements among various Muslim commentators as manifested in their interpretations. Such disagreement is discernable with respect to the doctrine of Holy Spirit as a Person in the Trinity. In addition to this, various issues are investigated like: ‘Where did the divisions and disunity come from?’ Is it possible to find a satisfactory answer? ‘Is al-ruh the angel Gabriel?’ since the angel Gabriel is only mentioned once (66:4). Nevertheless, most of the commentators indicate that the Holy Spirit and the Spirit as the angel Gabriel are the same. Is there a gap in understanding between Muhammad and commentators? Is there a gap between classical and contemporary commentators? Chapter 4 presents a report of the empirical fieldwork carried out through interviews. Questionnaires are designed based on findings in the Qur’an and what commentators have said. A cross section of Muslims in the Western Cape of South Africa as well as Muslims from other African countries presently in Stellenbosch is selected for interviews. Several Islamic sects (i.e. Sunni, Sufis) who are found in South Africa are included in these interviews along with relevant information obtained from Internet sources. An analysis of data provides the basic thoughts for the assessment and response from the Christian point of view in Chapters 5 and 6. Chapter 5 is a comparative study. The aim is to find out similarities in both Christian and Muslim religious concepts, thereby attempting to build up on common grounds; and to find out the differences in understanding about the Holy Spirit and to restore an agreeable understanding of the concept of the Holy Spirit. The ultimate goal is to use the idea of the al-ruh from Qur’anic and Islamic concepts in order to build a bridge to the understanding of the Holy Spirit in Christianity. Some concepts are common to both Christianity and Islam, i.e. spirit (ruh), soul (nafs) and conscience (fitrah). Some fundamental doctrines are essential for both religions. For instance, The Oneness of God is understood in Islam as Tahwid (i.e. Oneness of Allah), and in Christianity, as Trinity, the Godhead or Triune God. Besides, both religions in terms of this doctrine contain elements of the transcendence and immanence of God in relation to creation. The key issue investigated further is ‘whether the Spirit is created or eternal’ and ‘Is al-ruh the created Spirit or the creator Spirit’? The question of how a Christian explains to a Muslim that Jesus is ultimately the Ruh Allah (the Spirit of God) introduced in the next chapter. Chapter 6 is a Missiological approach which is based on the fundamental knowledge of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity in Systematic theology and Missiology. Certain topics are examined from a comparative religious point of view; firstly, a comparison of the natural human with the spiritual human to find out the function of the conscience and of spirituality from a Biblical point of view. Secondly, a comparison of Jesus with Adam and an angel in terms of the purpose for which God created the whole world is made with a focus on Jesus in humanity. Thirdly, a definition of the divinity of Jesus in terms of two aspects: Jesus as the first-born Son of God and Jesus as Messiah (the anointed one and saviour of the world), using a historical, traditional and Christological understanding. Fourthly, a Pneumatological approach is applied as an innovation to this study. Its endeavours generally explore the human religious experience, in order to initiate a ‘dialectical dialogue’; and subsequently to focus on the Trinitarian experience in Islam. An interesting example of martyrdom as an imitation of Christ on the cross can be found among Sufi Sunni Muslims. This is an evidence of the freedom of the Holy Spirit working wherever he wills. In brief, although the Person and the work of the Holy Spirit are not very obvious in the Qur’an, a careful study makes it increasingly apparent. Finally, the work of the Holy Spirit is still alive in all religions, not least in Islam, as the resulting evidence of my research suggests.

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