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Biblical narratives and the Qur'an

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Part of a series on the Qur'an Quran cover


Sura · Ayah

Qur'an reading

Tajwid · Hizb · Tarteel · Qur'anic guardian · Manzil · Qari' · Juz' · Rasm · Ruku' · Sujud ·



Origin and development

Meccan revelations · Medinan revelations


Persons related to verses · Justice · Asbab al-nuzul · Naskh · Biblical narratives · Tahrif · Bakkah · Muqatta'at · Esoteric interpretation

Qur'an and Sunnah

Literalism · Miracles · Science · Women

Views on the Qur'an

Shi'a · Criticism · Desecration · Surah of Wilaya and Nurayn · Tanazzulat · Qisas Al-Anbiya · Beit Al Qur'an

The Qur'an, the central religious text of Islam, contains references to over fifty people also found in the Bible, typically in the same or similar narratives.

Western secular scholars have tended to analyze such similarities as evidence for the influence of pre-existing traditions on the composition of the Qur'an.[1] Lacking sufficient historical evidence, such scholars have relied mainly on a structuralist view point, now considered weak by mainstream scholarship within the western traditions. From a traditionalist Muslim perspective such a discussion can make no sense, as Muslims believe that the Qur'an was sent from Allah (God) through the angel Jibrael (Gabriel) to Muhammad in a series of revelations, and this perfect divinely-inspired text was then progressively dictated (word for word, and over and over again to make sure there were no mistakes) by Muhammad to the followers of Islam. Moreover, they believe that the Biblical tradition was corrupted over time, and hence it is futile to use it as a basis for any sort of comparison with the immaculate revelation of the Qur'an.

On the other hand, the stories in the Qur'an tend to concentrate more on the moral or spiritual significance of the story rather than details as 'it doesn’t tell these stories as if it’s talking to people who are ignorant of them, it’s using these stories to make moral and religious points, and assuming that the people already know the details of the stories.' [2] The Bible is also held to reflect true unfolding revelation from God; but revelation which had become corrupted or distorted (in Arabic: tahrif) in its handing down, both in its narrative and more importantly in its message; which necessitated the giving of the Qur'an to Mohammed, to correct this deviation. There are therefore guidelines set out in the way Muslims are to understand the Bible, the primary one being that the Qur'an is always more authoritative than the Bible. Therefore, anything in the Bible that agrees with the Qur`an is accepted, and anything in the Bible that disagrees with the Qur`an is rejected. Many stories in the Bible are not mentioned at all in the Qur`an; with regard to such passages, Muslims are instructed to neither believe nor disbelieve in them, but they are allowed to read them and pass them on if they wish to do so.

It has been strongly argued that the similarities between the two texts are only superficial in nature. Interpretation of scripture brings with it the underlying message of the text, and it is there that the interpreter will find systemic differences.

Torah narratives

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Adam and Eve (آدم Adam and حواء Hawwaa)

See Genesis 2:4-4:1 and Al-Baqara 2:30–39, Al-A'raf 7:19–27, and Ta-Ha 20:115–123.

God creates the first human, a man, from clay and the life force proceeding from God's mouth. God then creates a woman. There is no mention of a wedding, but the two are considered married. God puts them to live in a garden of paradise. God tells them to eat any food of the garden they wish, except a single tree. (Genesis 2:17; Al-Baqara 2:33) Another force tempts them to eat fruit from the tree, telling them they will become like God if they eat. However the Quranic narrative here is different - it does not say that Adam and Eve were tempted by this claim, but followed the temptation of eternity, and a kingdom that never decays (Ta-Ha 20:120).

They both eat. From natural consequence, they became ashamed and covered their nakedness with leaves. (Genesis 3:6-7; Al-A'raf 7:19–21) God questions them, reminding them that God commanded them not to eat of the tree (Al-Baqara 2:37; Al-A'raf 7:21; Gen. 3:9-13). They respond. God puts conflict between the woman and man and between humans and the tempter (Al-A'raf 7:23; Gen. 3:14-15). God makes the man leave the garden and the two humans populate the earth (Al-Baqara 2:34; Al-A'raf 7:27; Genesis 5:4)

There are also many significant differences between the stories:

  • In the Bible, God tells the man to name the animals (Genesis 2:19). In the Qur'an, Allah teaches Adam the names "of all things" and Adam repeats them (Ta-ha 20:120).
  • In the Bible, the woman is created from the rib of the man. In the Qur'an, Eve is not mentioned by name, but states that women were created from one soul (Adam) surah An-Nisa 4:1 and Al-A`raf 7:189), though Muhammad refers to the Biblical story of the rib in hadith Abu Huraira.
  • In the Bible the forbidden tree is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. While the fruit is often depicted as an apple, the Bible does not describe the fruit. (Gen. 2:9). In the Qur'an the forbidden tree is not mentioned by name .
  • In the Qur'an, the tempter is Satan Iblis (Al-Baqara 2:34). The tempter is a serpent in the Bible (Genesis 3:1-4) whom Christians identify as Satan (Revelation 12:9, 20:2) but some Jews do not.
  • In the Qur'an, Allah tells the angels to prostrate before Adam (as a sign of respect and as an order), but Satan refuses (Al-A'raf 7:10); in the Bible, God creates man in His own image (Genesis 1:27)

Cain and Abel (Qābīl and Hābīl)

See Genesis 4:1-16 and Al-Ma'ida 5:27–32. There are no contradictions between the two texts, though each contains unique material.

Adam and Eve have two sons. Each made sacrifices to God and God accepted the sacrifice of one and not the other. The scriptures do not specify why God accepts only one (Gen. 4:1-7; Al-Ma'ida 5:30–32). The assumption of the Biblical version, is that God had given them instructions for the sacrifice and Cain had chosen not to follow them. Because of the rejection of his sacrifices, Cain murdered Abel (Al-Ma'ida 5:30; Gen. 4:8). Cain has an interaction with God and God condemns him to suffer. Abel is regarded as righteous.

  • In the Qur'an, the names of Cain and Abel are Qabil and Habil .

Noah (نوح Nūḥ)

See Genesis 6:5-9:29 and mainly Hud 11:25–48 as well as Al-A'raf 7:59–64, Yunus 10:71–73, Al-Muminun 23:23–28, Ash-Shu'ara 26:105–121, Al-Qamar 54:9–16, and all of Nuh 71:1–28

Noah was a righteous man who lived among a wicked people. God decided to kill all the wicked and save the righteous. God commanded Noah to build an Ark, using God's own instructions. (Gen. 6:9-16; Hud 11:39) Noah does so and he, a few others, and two of each species (the bible specifies of animal), a female and a male, board the Ark (Gen. 6:19; Hud 11:42). Water gushes up from the ground and rain came and flooded the earth killing all the wicked. (Gen. 7:11-12; Al-Qamar 54:11–13). All aboard the Ark are safe until the waters retreat (Gen. 8:14 ; Hud 11:44).

There is disagreement among Christians and Muslims concerning whether the flood was local or global. The Biblical account states that "all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered." (Gen. 7:19) possibly indicating a global flood. Geological evidence for a recent, global flood is debated. There are several differences between the texts themselves:

  • The Qur'an focuses entirely on the dialogue between Noah and the wicked (Hud 11:32–37) but Genesis mentions no dialogue.
  • In the Qur'an, Noah has a son who rejects him (Hud 11:43) and dies in the flood while some people outside his family are faithful and join him (Hud 11:42). Genesis counts three sons, Noah's wife and sons' wives who all board the Ark but no others.
  • In the Qur'an, the Ark rests on the hills of Al-Joudi (Judaea)(Hud 11:44), and in the Bible, on the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4) The Al-Djoudi(Judaea)is a mount in the biblical range Ararat. The Qur'an cites a particular mount in The Ararat Range and the Bible mentions The Ararat Range. Judaea is still present in the Ararat range in Turkey. There is no conflict between the Bible and the Qur'an on this topic.

Abraham (Ibrāhīm ابراهيم) promised a son

See Genesis 18:1-15, 22:1-20 and Hud 11:69–74, Al-Hijr 15:51–56, As-Saaffat 37:102–109, and Adh-Dhariyat 51:24–30. There are no contradictions between the texts, though each scripture contains some minor, unique details. Several messengers come to Abraham on their way to destroy the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham welcomes them into his tent and provides them with food. They then promise their host that Isaac (ʾIsḥāq إسحٰق) will soon be born to Abraham's wife, Sarah (Sārah سارة). Sarah laughs at the idea because she is far too old to bear children.

Genesis 18:12 "After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"
Hud 11:72 (Yusuf Ali). “She said: "Alas for me! shall I bear a child, seeing I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a wonderful thing!"”

The angels rebuke her, telling her that by God's will she can bear a son. A conversation ensues in which Abraham admits he wished God to have mercy on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

In another narrative, Abraham receives communication from God to sacrifice his son. Abraham agrees to this and begins the sacrifice. Before he can do so, God tells him to stop and gives him a replacement sacrifice. Abraham is honored for his faithfulness to God. (As-Saaffat 37:102–108; Genesis 22:2-18) There are several differences:

  • In Genesis, the sacrificial son is clearly Isaac, but the Qur'an is ambiguous. By tradition, Muslims believe the sacrificial son is Ishmael (Ismā'īl إسماعيل) and that this event happens before Isaac's birth.
  • God seems to speak directly to Abraham in Genesis but through a vision in the Qur'an.
  • In the Qur'an, Abraham tells his son that he will sacrifice him. In Genesis, Abraham avoids telling Isaac, saying instead that "God will provide the sacrifice."

Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah

(Lūṭ لوط and "The People of Lot").

See Genesis 19:1-26 . The story is told in full in Surah Al-Hijr 57-77 and repeated in Surahs Hud 74-83, Al-A'raf 80-84, Ash-Shu'ara 160-174, An-Naml 54-58, Al-Ankabut 28-35, As-Saaffat 133-138, Adh-Dhariyat 31-37, and Al-Qamar 36-39.

After visiting Abraham, several angels go to the city in which Lot is a foreigner. They tell him God will soon destroy the city because of the wickedness of the people. The men see the angels and approach them for sex. Lot offers his daughters in their place but they are rescued first. The angels tell Lot and his family to flee by night and to not look back. God destroyed the people with a shower of stone from the sky. Lot's wife looks back to see the burning city and is turned into a pillar of salt. (Quran:11:74–83 Bible:Genesis 19:5-26).

There are several differences between the Qur'an and Bible:

  • In the Qur'an, Lot is a prophet. In Genesis (Genesis 19:1-29), Lot is seated at the city gate, the place where people sought advice from the elders. Lot acts righteously in inviting the two angels to spend the night with him, rather than spend it outside in the city square. In the New Testament, (2 Peter 2:7,8) Peter the Apostle, describes Lot as a righteous man who was daily tormented by the lawless deeds he saw in Sodom.
  • In Genesis, Lot's wife leaves with Lot but turns around briefly and God turns her into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26). In the Qur'an, she never leaves the city. 11:81
  • in the Bible and in the Qur'an, Abraham pleads for God to have mercy (Qur'an11:75; Gen. 18:24-33). In Genesis, he convinces God to spare Sodom if just ten righteous men can be found there, which cannot be found. In the Qur'an, God tells Abraham not to ask for mercy on them 11:76

Joseph (Yusuf يوسف)

The narratives of Joseph can be found in Genesis 37-50 and in the Qur'an 12.4-102.

Joseph has a vision of eleven stars and the sun and the moon all bowing to him which he shares with his family. (Genesis 37:9) And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, "Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me."

(Yusuf|12.4) Behold! Joseph said to his father: "O my father! I did see eleven stars and the sun and the moon: I saw them prostrate themselves to me!"

His brothers become jealous that their father prefers Joseph over them. The brothers form a plot to kill Joseph, but one brother convinces them not to kill him but throw him down a well while they are alone. (Yusuf|12.8-10; Genesis 37:20-22) They do so. They lie to their father, covering Joseph's clothing in blood and say that a wild animal attacked him. A caravan comes near by the well and the brothers pull Joseph out of the well to sell him as a slave to the traders in the caravan. Later the traders sell him to a wealthy Egyptian merchant. (Genesis 37:27-36; Yusuf|12.20-22)

Joseph grows up in the house of the Egyptian. When Joseph is a grown man, the wife of his master tries to seduce him. Joseph resists and runs away. The wife lies to her husband, saying that Joseph tried to rape her. (Yusuf|12.25; Gen. 39:12); At this point the two stories differ. Joseph's master imprisons him.

In prison, Joseph meets two men. One has a dream of making wine and the other dreams of carrying a stack of breads that birds are eating. Joseph tells the first that he will serve the Pharaoh again and the second will be executed. Both things happen. Later, Pharaoh has a dream:

(Genesis 41:17-19) And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river; 18 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fatfleshed and well favoured; and they fed in a meadow; And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill favoured and leanfleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness:

(Yusuf|12.43) The king (of Egypt) said: "I do see (in a vision) seven fat kine, whom seven lean ones devour, and seven green ears of corn, and seven (others) withered. O ye chiefs! Expound to me my vision if it be that ye can interpret visions."

Pharaoh asks for Joseph's help and Joseph tells him the meaning of his dream: Egypt will have seven years of good crops followed by seven years of famine and the famine will be worse than the abundance. Pharaoh rewarded Joseph by giving him charge over the store houses.

During the famine, Joseph's brothers came to Egypt to buy food, but one brother was left with their father. Joseph recognized them but they did not recognize Joseph. He demanded that they return with the missing brother. The brothers return home and find that Joseph had hidden in their packs more than they paid for. They asked their father to return with the missing brother. Reluctantly, their father allows this.

They return and Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. (Genesis 45:1; Yusuf| 12.90).

In the Bible, the missing brother is Benjamin, Joseph's only full blood brother. The others are half-brothers.

Moses (Mūsā موسى)

In the Bible, the narratives of Moses are in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The narratives here are mostly in Exodus 1-14 and 32. In the Qur'an, the Moses narratives are in the following passages: 2.49-61, 7.103-160, 10.75-93, 17.101-104, 20.9-97, 26.10-66, 27.7-14, 28.3-46, 40.23-30, 43.46-55, 44.17-31, and 79.15-25.

Pharaoh is slaying the young male children of the Israelites (II:46). Moses' mother casts Moses as an infant into a small ark and God protects him. Moses is found by the household of Pharaoh and they adopt him. Moses' sister, Miriam, had followed Moses. When he is found, she recommends that his own mother serve as nurse to him. When Moses is an adult, he sees an Egyptian fighting with an Israelite. Moses intercedes and kills the Egyptian. The next day Moses sees the Israelite whom he saved. "Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" he asks. Pharaoh tries to have Moses killed and Moses flees. He goes to a watering place in Midian. He meets some sisters and waters their herd. When the women's father learns of Moses, he invites him to stay and gives him one daughter to marry.

In Midian, Moses sees a fire and approaches it. God speaks to him, telling him first to remove his shoes. God says that he has chosen Moses. God says to throw down his staff and stretch out his arm as signs. His staff turns to a serpent and then returns to the form of a staff. His arm becomes white although he is not sick. God commands him to go to Pharaoh and deliver God's message. Moses says that he cannot speak well, so God provides Aaron, his brother, to help Moses speak.

God sends Moses to the court of Pharaoh. Pharaoh refuses to listen to Moses, so Moses throws down his staff, and it becomes a serpent. Then he puts out his hand, and it turns sickly white. Pharaoh's magicians perform a magic feat also but the feat is swallowed by Moses' serpent. God makes the food supply to suffer. God also sends locusts, frogs, blood, and death. God sends at least nine signs to Pharaoh. Each time the Egyptians agree to let the Hebrews leave and God stops the plague, they break their word. God charges Moses to lead the Israelites across a sea. Moses strikes the sea with his staff and the sea becomes dry. Pharaoh's army pursues them but the water returns and they are crushed. (Exodus 14:7, II:47)

Moses leaves the Hebrews for forty nights and puts his brother Aaron in charge over the people (Al-Baqara|2.48) On a mountain, God gives Moses a revelation of precepts for Israel to follow. God makes tablets with writing on them which Moses carries back to Israel. Moses asks to see God. The people see the fire and lightning and the mountain and are afraid. While Moses is gone, the Israelites demand to worship an idol. They use the gold of their ornament to construct a golden calf whom they say is the god who rescued them from Egypt. Aaron does not stop them. Moses returns and chastises them and Aaron and many are killed for the act. God sends down manna and quail to eat but the Hebrews are still rebellious against God, complaining about the food. Moses asked God for water and God answered him. Moses struck a stone with his staff and water came forth. The Israelites are divided into twelve tribes.

God gives the Israelites bountiful land, but this occurs at different times in the two scriptures. Besides that and the many additional details in the Torah, there are other differences:

  • In the Bible, Moses' message is to free the Israelites from slavery under Pharaoh. In the Qur’an, Moses initially focuses on Pharaoh to convert toward one God. Pharaoh assumed himself as god and was worshiped by Egyptians.
  • The Biblical Moses is reluctant to become a prophet and makes excuses. He eventually agrees and Aaron speaks and performs miracles at first until Moses is ready and takes over. In Quran, Aaron was made Allah's messenger on Moses request to back him up in the difficult task. Moses asked Allah to give him human support from Family, then ask for Aaron (his brother) praising Aaron by saying that he (Aaron) is better speaker than him (Moses).
  • The sorcerers, in the Quranic story, repent after seeing Moses' signs and submit to Allah at the anger of Pharaoh.
  • In the Quran, Pharaoh didn’t repent but tried to deceive Moses and Allah by saying that now he believes in one God, God of Moses and Aaron (while drowning). But all knowing Allah didn’t accept this because he sought repentance at the time of death after seeing the angels.
  • In the Bible, Moses first goes to Pharaoh without showing any signs.
  • In Exodus, Aaron helps make the golden calf. In the Quran, Aaron himself was a messenger of Allah and was representing Moses in his absences. He opposed that idea with all his might and warned the Israelites that God will be angry with them.
  • Pharaoh drowns in Exodus. In the Quran, Pharaoh drowned as well, and Allah said in the Qur'an that he kept pharaoh's body as an example for generations to come (or made an example for coming generations)

See also Aaron, Islamic view of Aaron, and Islamic view of Pharaoh.

Destruction of Korah (Qarun)

The story of the destruction of Korah appears in Numbers 16:1-50 in the Torah and in Al-Qisas 76-82. Korah was an Israelite living during the time of Moses. Because of his wickedness, God caused him to die by opening the ground and swallowing him and his home (Numbers 16:31-33; Al-Qisas|28.81). In the Qur'an, Karon is simply a rich man who is too arrogant. In the Torah, he leads a minor rebellion against Moses. God also kills the others who rebel with him and their homes.

Later Hebrew Bible narratives


In the Bible, both Gideon and Saul are military leaders of Israel between the Exodus and Exile. In the Book of Judges in the Bible, Gideon is hesitant about leading the Hebrews to battle. To demonstrate God's power, God tells Gideon to observe when the troops reach a river and whoever drinks without his hands Gideon must send home. The Hebrews later have victory.

In the Qur'an, the same event happens to Saul on the way to meet Goliath. In the Biblical account of Saul and Goliath, Saul is also hesitant about the battle with Goliath's army but David wins the battle for Israel.

Saul, David and Goliath (Tālūt طالوت, Dāwūd داود and جالوت Jalut)

The story appears in 1 Samuel 8-12 and 17:1-58 and in Surah 2 246-248 and Surah 2 249-251.

A prophet of Israel appoints Saul as king after the Israelites petition the prophet for a king (Samuel 9:17; Al-Baqarah|2.247). At least a few people are not happy with Samuel's choice. Saul is going into battle with his army and is unsure about his victory. David kills Goliath, a significant warrior in the opposing army (Samuel 17:50; Al-Baqarah|2.251). In the Bible, Goliath is the champion of the Philistine army. In the Qur'an, he is the leader. The account also bears similarity to when Gideon led an army. See Mixed Similarities.

The Queen of Sheba

The story appears in 1 Kings 10:1-13 and 2 Chronicles 9: 1-13 and in verses Surah 27 20-44. The two stories have almost nothing in common. In each, the Queen of Sheba comes to visit Solomon and is impressed by his wisdom and riches. In the Bible, the visit is only diplomatic. In the Qur'an, the Queen becomes monotheist and marries Solomon joining their kingdoms. Although not part of the Qur'an, Islamic tradition holds that the name of the Queen of Sheba is Bilqis or Balqis.

Jonah (Yunus يونس) and the "whale"

In both the Bible and the Qur'an, Jonah is swallowed by a "big fish", usually inferred to be a whale. The Book of Jonah in the Bible consists of four chapters about Jonah's mission to Nineveh. The story is referenced three times in the Qur'an: in verses 139-148 of Sura 37 (As-Saaffat) (Those who set the ranks), verses 87-88 of Sura 21: al-Anbiya' (The Prophets) and verses 48-50 of Sura 68: al-Qalam (The Pen) /Nun. It is mentioned in verse 98 of Sura 10: Yunus (Jonah) and verse 86 of Sura 6: al-An'am (The Cattle).

In the Qur'an, Jonah gets frustrated by his own people and abandons them to God's mercy, however without asking permission from God and thus going against his given responsibility. In the Quran, it is also mentioned that if Jonah had not prayed inside the belly of the fish he would have stayed in there until the Judgement day, i.e., died in there along with the fish and had rotten along with. In the Bible, Jonah pays a fare to sail to Tarshish. In both stories, he boards the ship loaded with passengers, lots are cast and Jonah is thrown overboard and swallowed by a large fish (Jonah 1:17, As-Saaffat 37|142). After praying, he is cast out of the fish and washed ashore, and God causes a gourd to grow (37|146) or weeds (2:5). In the Bible, Jonah continues into Nineveh, and the city is spared by God. In both Bible and Quran, God causes the gourd to grow to comfort Jonah after he lays on the shore in a sickly state, Jonah (4:6), (As-Saaffat 37|145). According to an Islamic tradition however, the big fish gets frightened at first, fearing it might have swallowed a holy person as it heard prayers and supplications read in a wonderful voice from her stomach, hearing which numerous sea creatures had surrounded it. But she comforts herself later since it was God's order to swallow Jonah. After 2 days the fish casts him out the beach of an island and he is very weak. The gastric juices with the hot sunlight burned his skin till the point he was about to scream of pain. God causes a vine to grow over him and provide him fruit and shade. He recovers and goes back to his people who had become good after he left. According to the Quran, the number of the people he was sent towards as a Prophet exceeded a hundred thousand. They believed in his message and God granted them prosperity for a long time. (As-Saaffat 37|147-148).


In the Bible, Haman was a Persian noble and vizier of the empire under Persian King Ahasuerus who desires to persecute the Jews. In the Qur'an, Haman is an adviser and builder under a Firaun(Pharaoh) of ancient Egypt whose narrative relationship with Moses is recounted in the Qur'an.

The structure which Firaun commands Haman to build is similar to the Tower of Babel in Genesis, unrelated to the narrative of Haman in the Bible. Both structures are made from burnt bricks for the purpose of ascending to the heavens.

New Testament narratives

Zechariah and John (Zakariya (زكريا) and Yahya (يحيى))

The story of Zechariah is told in the Gospel of Luke 1:5-80 and Luke 3:1-22 and in the Qur'an 19.2-15. Zechariah and his wife reached an old age without bearing children. God spoke to Zechariah and told him his wife would conceive, despite her barrenness, and his name would be John. As a sign that this would happen, God struck Zechariah mute until John was born though he communicated using signs. John became a great and righteous prophet and came to confirm God's Word. Both accounts mention John's death.

The two accounts never directly disagree, but each have unique elements: In the Bible Zechariah is a priest. God speaks to him on Yom Kippur in the Holy of Holies. He doubts that God will act and his muteness is a sign and punishment. Muslims regard Zechariah as a Prophet and therefore claim he would never doubt God's omnipotence although in the Quranic narrative he does question how would it come about since he is an old man and his wife long barren. Upon which he is told that for God it is indeed very easy and that haven't God created you already while you were naught. In the Quranic narrative Zechariah is also reminded that the sign he should seek for would be a muteness for three nights although without being restrained from speech, implying, he simply would not find an occasion to talk to anyone. Zechariah, therefore, is found emerging from his chamber and reminding his people to celebrate the praises of the Lord through an inspirational gesture (Surah Maryam 19|1-11).

Mary ("Maryam" مريم),

Mary's story is told in the Gospel of Luke 1:26-37, 2:1-21, and Qur'an 19.16-35. In the Bible, in the sixth month after the conception of John the Baptist by Elizabeth, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to the Virgin Mary, at Nazareth. Mary was of the house of David, and was betrothed to Joseph, of the same royal family. And the angel having taken the figure and the form of man, came into the house and said to her: ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.’ Mary having heard the greeting words did not speak; she was troubled in spirit, since she knew not the angel, nor the cause of his coming, nor the meaning of the salutation. And the angel continued and said: ‘Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.’ Not doubting the word of Godlike Zachary, but filled with fear and astonishment, she said: "How shall this be done, because I know not man?’ The angel to remove Mary's anxiety and to assure her that her virginity would be spared, answered: ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’ In token of the truth of his word he made known to her the conception of John, the miraculous pregnancy of her relative now old and sterile: ‘And behold, thy cousin Elizabeth; she also has conceived a son in herold age, and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: because no word shall be impossible with God.’ Mary may not yet have fully understood the meaning of the heavenly message and how the maternity might be reconciled with her vow of virginity, but clinging to the first words of the angel and trusting to the Omnipotence of God she said: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.’

In Luke, Mary is betrothed to Joseph but the Qur'an never mentions any man. In the Qur'an, 'her people' have a conversation with Mary accusing her of fornication. In the Bible, no such conversation happens but Joseph knows that people are thinking this.

The Quran states in the chapter named after Mary, verse 16-37: And make mention of Mary in the Scripture, when she had withdrawn from her people to a chamber looking East, And had chosen seclusion from them. Then We sent unto her Our Spirit and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man.He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son. She said: How can I have a son when no mortal hath touched me, neither have I been unchaste? He said: So (it will be). Thy Lord saith: It is easy for Me. And (it will be) that We may make of him a revelation for mankind and a mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained. And she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place. And the pangs of childbirth drove her unto the trunk of the palm-tree. She said: Oh, would that I had died ere this and had become a thing of naught, forgotten! Then (one) cried unto her from below her, saying: Grieve not! Thy Lord hath placed a rivulet beneath thee, And shake the trunk of the palm-tree toward thee, thou wilt cause ripe dates to fall upon thee. So eat and drink and be consoled. And if thou meetest any mortal, say: Lo! I have vowed a fast unto the Beneficent, and may not speak this day to any mortal. Then she brought him to her own folk, carrying him. They said: O Mary! Thou hast come with an amazing thing. O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot. Then she pointed to him. They said: How can we talk to one who is in the cradle, a young boy? He spake: Lo! I am the servant of God. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me the Messiah, ] And hath made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and hath enjoined upon me prayer and alms giving so long as I remain alive, And (hath made me) dutiful toward her who bore me, and hath not made me arrogant, unblest. Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive! Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt. It befitteth not (the Majesty of) God that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. And lo! God is my Lord and your Lord. So serve Him. That is the right path. The sects among them differ: but woe unto the disbelievers from the meeting of an awful Day. (translation: Pickthal)

Jesus (Isa عيسى)

Jesus takes up the whole of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in the Bible, as well as being the focus of the subsequent books of the New Testament. He appears several times in the Qur'an: in verses 35-59 of Sura 3: al-Imran (The Family of Imran), verses 156-158 of Sura 4: an Nisa' (The Women), verses 109-120 of Sura 5: al-Ma'idah (The Repast), verses 16-35 of Sura 19: Maryam (Mary), verse 50 of Sura 23: al-Mu'minun (The Believers) verses 57-65 of Sura 43: az-Zukhruf (The Gold Adornments) and in verses 6 and 14 of Sura 61: as-Saff (The Battle Array). Reference is made to him several more times.

The Qur'an contains few narratives from Jesus' life, but does include many brief descriptions in common with the Bible:

Some hold the view in which Christendom states that Jesus is part of the Trinity (the doctrine that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God). The Bible presents Jesus as a separate person from God, and gives him various names and attributes normally reserved to God. The same is also done with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. The Qur'an rejects a trinity. According to the Qur'an, Jesus and Mary did not ask to be worshiped and Jesus asked people to worship God. Also, according to the Qur'an, God "has no partners" and believing that God took physical form is in of itself a sin.

Other figures

The Qur'an and Bible have over 50 people in common, typically in the same narratives. The Qur'an identifies Enoch, Imram, and Ishmael as prophets, but they are never given a story. In the Bible, all these men are identified as righteous people but not prophets — except Ishmael who is not written of favorably.

Mixed similarities

In several cases, the Qur'an and the Bible have common events but occur in different narrations.

Idol calf and Samaritan

In the Bible, in Moses' absence certain people who went out of Egypt with the Hebrews worship a golden calf saying "This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." Hundreds of years later, Samaria was founded and became the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. King Jeroboam, its first king, also made two golden calves and said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." Later, around 700 BC, another people group occupies Samaria called the Samaritans.

The Qur'an tells the story of a calf while Moses is gone. A man called "the Samari" Yusuf Ali or "the Samaritan" (Arberry) is blamed for protagonizing their idolatry.

A verse in Hosea 8:5-6 contains the same content as Ta-Ha|20.97 where Hosea refers to the Jeroboam calf and the Qur'an refers to the earlier calf. Both feature a prophet speaking to the Samaritan/Samaria promising to destroy the calf.

Throw out your calf-idol, O Samaria! My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity? They are from Israel! This calf - a craftsman has made it; it is not God. It will be broken in pieces, that calf of Samaria.
(Moses) said: "Get thee gone! but thy (punishment) in this life will be that thou wilt say, 'touch me not'; . . . Now look at thy god, of whom thou hast become a devoted worshipper: We will certainly (melt) it in a blazing fire and scatter it broadcast in the sea!"(Yusuf Ali [Qur'an 20:97])

In the Qur'an, Moses' punishment that the Samari cannot be touched is the same as the modern Samaritan's punishment where no Jew was allowed to touch them because of their idolatry. In his commentary, Yusuf Ali claims that the Samari is not a Samaritan.

Miriam and Mary

In Arabic, both the names Mary and Miriam are called Maryam. While speaking about Miriam, the mother of Jesus, the Qur'an calls her the sister of Aaron and the daughter of Imran (father of Mary).

"O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!" (Yusuf Ali [Qur'an 19:28])
And Mary the daughter of 'Imran . . . ([Qur'an 66:12])

In Exodus in the Bible, Miriam is a prophetess who is the sister of Aaron and Moses and the daughter of Imram but lived a thousands years before Mary mother of Jesus. Most Muslims believe she is called a spiritual sister, not a literal sister. Some say that Mary's father's name was also Imram. A hadith tells a narrative when some Christians asked a Muslim about this:

"When I came to Najran, they (the Christians of Najran) asked me: You read "Sister of Harun", (i.e. Mary), in the Qur'an, whereas Moses was born well before Jesus. When I came back to Allah's Messenger I asked him about that, and he said: "The (people of the old age) used to give names (to their persons) after the names of Apostle and pious persons who had gone before them.""[11]

In the Bible, Miriam and Mary are clearly two different women although they shared a common name. Miriam (c. 1450 BC) the sister of Aaron and Moses, is the daughter of Amram (see Num. 26:59) while Mary (c. 50 BC), the mother of Jesus, is the daughter of Eli/Heli (see Luke 3:23).

Hannah and Hannah

In the Books of Samuel, Hannah is grateful that God gave her a son, Samuel. She dedicated him to God by letting him live with Eli the prophet and priest.

In the Qur'an, Mary's mother is grateful to God for Mary and dedicates her to God. Mary then lives in the household of Zechariah the prophet.

In the Bible, Zechariah is also a priest. Mary's mother has no name in the Qur'an, but in Islamic tradition, it is Hannah. In Christian tradition, Mary's mother's name is Anne, Greek for Hannah.


  1. The Orientalists,The Bible & The Qur'ân: A Brief Review Of The Bible Borrowing Theories (Islamic Awareness) - A Muslim review and critique of the notion that the Qur'an depends on earlier sources.
  2. eg Gerald Hawting, interviewed for The Religion Report, Radio National (Australia), 26 June 2002. "... the Koran seems to assume that the readers know these stories [already], it doesn’t tell these stories as if it’s talking to people who are ignorant of them, it’s using these stories to make moral and religious points, and assuming that the people already know the details of the stories."
  3. Surah 5.110
  4. Surah 3.45
  5. Surah 3.52
  6. Surah 3.55
  7. Surah 5.110
  8. Surah 2.87
  9. Surah 4.158
  10. Surah 3.46
  11. Sahih Muslim 5326

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