What are “grace” and “mercy?” We have found these are recurring questions as we read through the Qur’an. And Christians ask them in their own theologies just as much as we might ask them here about the Islamic view of these ideas.

It wasn’t until college until I really realized that grace was more than just a prayer you said before dinner.  I had sung “Amazing Grace” all my life, but the truly amazing story of a God who acts in life-saving ways through Jesus Christ on the behalf of sinners and “enemies” (Romans 5:10), well, that took some maturity to really get.  “Mercy” — I knew that one well.  It was what I got when I deserved so much worse.  The simplest of minds gets that one.  And I am often pretty simple-minded.

The beginning of this surah gives us a line that goes a long way to helping us understand better the Qur’anic view of “grace:”

He will grant you wholesome enjoyment until an appointed time, and give His grace to everyone who has merit. (11:3)

We have seen this idea before.  With this connotation, “grace” is most equal to the word “favor.”  Some have Allah’s favor, and some do not.  What determines the difference?  Grace or favor is granted to the one who merits it through his obedient goodness.  Once again, we see that the Qur’anic view of grace has as much to do with merit earned by the person as it does the compassion of a god upon an undeserving human.

If any desire [only] the life of this world with all its finery, We shall repay them in full in this life for their deeds — they will be given no less — but such people will have nothing in the Hereafter but the Fire: their work here will be fruitless and their deeds futile. (11:15-16)

There is a foe much greater than Islam, more threatening to American Christians than Muslim violence.  Materialism, the dominant worldview of our own increasingly secularized American society, says only that which is material exists and only that which can be sensed, owned or used for some immediately gratifying end has value.  This “religion” (the store isn’t called “True Religion” for no reason, right?) is much more insidious than Islam.  In America at least, we have more to fear from marketing, malls and massage parlors than we do from mosques.

Christians realize the threat of materialism.  Muslims do too.  And this is something we can most certainly agree upon.  Ayah 17 even claims a continuity between this message from the Qur’an and that found in the “Book of Moses” of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  The reduction of life to consumerism, of the human to consumer, and of happiness to ownership and pleasure are rivals that Christians and Muslims can join together to oppose.