In the past 50 years, thinkers have come to realize that Islam is an intrinsic part of the history of Western thinking on evil in complicated ways. Islam is linked to the older traditions of Jewish and Christian thought, but offers an alternate vision to them. There is also the way in which the Islam regards the Qur’an.
Islam and Other Abrahamic Religions
Islamic thought was deeply influenced by earlier Greek, Jewish, and Christian thinkers; and so, to understand Islamic thought reveals things about those earlier traditions that might otherwise go missing.
Islam was itself the source of the transmission of much pre-Christian literature and philosophy, especially Greek philosophy, to Western Christendom. These also picked up a good bit of insight on a series of important topics from the Islamic philosophers and lawyers themselves.
Also, Islam serves in a way as a kind of internal critic of the mainstream of Western thinking about evil; a critic who is both within and without this mainstream. It not only serves as a useful contrastive option to the main line of thinking that Western ideas of evil follow, but it also serves as a vital account that has its own integrity, even if it is somewhat oblique to that mainstream.
This is a transcript from the video series Why Evil Exists. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.
The Uniqueness of the Qur’an
The Qur’an is unique among the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths in explicitly rendering the episode of the origin of evil in Creation by recounting the rebellion of Iblis, the rebellious spirit. Iblis is the one who becomes ash-Shaitan, the primordial rebel against God.
The Qur’an is the sacred text of Islam, but it is not viewed, per se, as the Muslim Bible. Yes, it’s roughly as long as the Christian New Testament and similarly divided into sections. There are 114 suras (chapters) in the Qur’an and each of those suras is composed of verses called ayahs, which is also translated as the word ‘sign’.
Each of the verses, thus, of each of the suras of the Qur’an is a sign of God’s providence and love towards humanity. So far so good; it looks like another holy book.