The third surah is entitled in English “The Family of ‘Imran.”  Tomorrow we will see why.  This too is a Medinan surah and it picks up many of the same thoughts discussed in the second surah.  Today we return to the interplay between the three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 

Today’s section confirms what we have seen previously.  Islam views itself as a continuation of Judaism and Christianity (“The People of the Book”).  Allah, which simply means “God” in Arabic, sent the Torah and the Gospel.  This begs the question why Muslims don’t accept these books as authoritative and see the differences between the various revelations.  I think I know why and how they explain away the Jewish and Christian Bibles, but we will see as our reading continues.  The section continues that people who are truly “mindful of God” accept his revelations, all of them, even the Qur’an.  The Muslims acknowledge the Torah and Gospel as being from God, so the People of the Book should accept the Qur’an as well.  That’s only fair, right?

The concept may best be illustrated this way.  As each subsequent religion comes along, it swallows up the religion(s) that have come before.  Christianity envelopes Judaism (the same God is finishing what he started in the Old Testament through Jesus).  Islam consumes both Judaism and Christianity (Allah is God and Muhammad is the greatest in a long line of prophets that includes the Patriarchs, Moses, David and even Jesus).  Like any good carnivorous creature, the later religion(s) takes in what is useful (love, sovereignty of God, eternal reward and punishment) and discards what it cannot stomach (Christianity spits out the works-based atonement of Judaism; Islam has no appetite whatsoever for the divinity of Jesus).  Of course, the earlier religion (small fry) cannot accept (swallow) the newer (bigger fish) religion (most Jews reject Jesus and the New Testament; most Christians can’t accept the Qur’an or God doing a new thing through Muhammad).  I am only trying to describe what happens sociologically in religion, not whether it should be this way.

At the end of today’s reading (3:19-20) we are told that “true religion” is an attitude, not a name.  True religion is “islam,” that is to be submissively devoted to God alone.  Of course, the attitude has become the name of the religion as well.  Nevertheless, the Qur’an leaves open that if one has the spirit of “islam” (the attitude) within them, they too will be guided and rewarded even if they are not part of Islam (the religion).  I am not sure all modern Muslims see it that way, though.