The Gentle Answer is a scholarly response to a claim that many Muslims have been making in relation to non-Muslims for more than 1200 years: that the text of the Bible is corrupt and/or falsified. The Muslim claim affects both Jews and Christians and has been a source of discouragement and bad feeling for non-Muslims living in Muslim-majority societies. At the same time, Muslims claim that their scripture, the Qur'an, is exactly the same in every detail since the time it was first recited. Both claims continue to be made boldly in the age of Internet websites and YouTube. Academic scholarship on the Bible and the Qur'an supports neither of the Muslim claims, but since critical writing on the Bible is more abundant and has a longer history, Muslim polemicists have selectively used Western biblical criticism in an attempt to support the traditional Muslim accusation of biblical falsification. Only comparatively recently have the techniques used in biblical criticism been applied to the Qur'an. The Gentle Answer responds to the Muslim claims by placing the Bible and the Qur'an on a level scholarly playing field to show that the scholarly questions about the Qur'an are at least as challenging as questions about the Bible. Since many of the scholarly questions are similar, Muslims and non-Muslims have good reason to work together at the answers. In the meantime, Muslims and non-Muslims have the opportunity to enter a friendly faith conversation in which the contents of the scriptures themselves are carefully considered and discussed. The Gentle Answer responds in such a way as to invite conversation rather than to perpetuate the acrimony that has often accompanied discussion of religious differences. Respect for the accuser means taking issues of truth seriously. It means doing one's best to thoroughly understand the accusation. It also means commending one's own faith with an understanding of the accuser's worldview. Differences in faith between Muslims and non-Muslims show no sign of going away in the years to come. But in a world of considerable political tension and violence, Muslims and non-Muslims must seize the freedom to openly discuss their differences together while nurturing mutual respect and committing to peaceful coexistence.
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Gordon Nickel is adjunct professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He began his study of Islam at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where he completed an M.A. in South Asian Islam and wrote a thesis on Shah Wali Allah's principles of Qur'anic exegesis. He researched and wrote his PhD dissertation under Dr. Andrew Rippin at the University of Calgary. His dissertation focus was the theme of 'tampering with the earlier scriptures' as developed in the earliest commentaries on the Qur'an. He also has an M.A. in Hebrew Bible and has completed several years of research in Indian Islam toward a doctorate at Osmania University in Hyderabad, India. In 2011 Brill Academic Publishers published Gordon's monograph "Narratives of Tampering in the Earliest Commentaries on the Qur'an." In recent years Gordon has taught on Islam and the Qur'an at Associated Canadian Theological Schools, the University of British Columbia, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the University of Calgary, and Columbia International University.
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