For the pagans of Arabia in Muhammad’s time, idolatry meant a whole complex system of superstitions and taboos (c.f., 6:136-44).  Maybe it does for us too, but I can’t really think of similarities.  How about you?  This sort of thing is easier to see in true religious paganism, such as the proverbial virgin thrown into the volcano or a baby sacrificed to Moloch as is mentioned in 6:137.  One more reason idolatry is repugnant.

In today’s short section Muhammad is told to tell his world the good news that what is right and wrong is plain.  There is no need for an elaborate system of taboos and religious rituals of suspect nature.  There is a simple moral law to be followed (6:151):

  1. Avoid idolatry
  2. Honor your parents
  3. Reject infanticide
  4. Live a pure life in every way
  5. Refuse to take a life unless it is necessary (which calls into question some popular depictions)
  6. Treat orphans justly, especially when money is involved
  7. Say only what is truthful and fair
  8. Keep your promises

This is an interesting list.  Two of the eight deal with idolatry.  Two deal with family relationships, or three if the orphans are under the charge of the man as it seems.  Two deal with killing.  Four uphold integrity.  Two relate to the tongue.  You could say from this list that the core values of this infant movement that became Islam were monotheism, honor, family, life, justice and integrity.  That’s a pretty good set of core values.

Now jump over to the Hebrew Bible and compare this list to the Ten Commandments (not to imply that this Qur’anic passage is a similar foundational law code).  As I see it, all of the ten core values of ancient Israel are covered by the eight commands of Islam, with the exception of the Sabbath command and the law to keep God’s name holy.

One more jump.  This time to the Sermon on the Mount, a text many see as every bit as foundational to the ethic of Christ’s followers as the Ten Commandments were to the Israelites:

  1. idolatry = Matthew 6:24
  2. parents (metaphorical for God) = Matthew 5:45; 6:8-9; 7:11
  3. infanticide = Matthew 6:21-22; 7:9-10
  4. purity (especially sexual) = Matthew 5:27-32; 7:12
  5. murder = Matthew 6:21-22; 38-39
  6. justice (especially financial) = Matthew 5:23-24; 6:2-3; 12; 19-21
  7. truthfulness = Matthew 5:36-37
  8. reliability = Matthew 5:33-37

Maybe number two is a stretch, but I see straightforward overlap between the Qur’anic list and the words of Jesus.  In fact, the correspondence between the ethics of all three codes for life is quite close.  Once again, there is a lot of common ground here.

An interesting question for another post some time is whether there is anything Jesus commands that Muhammad did not?  How about this one to get us started?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:43-45a)