Reviewed by Ashraful HASAN , Independent Scholar.
John Kaltner's Ishmael Instructs Isaac is truly a "connections" book, helping bible readers to understand the message and meaning of the Qur'an. The Qur'anic message is explained by comparing and contrasting it it systematically with themes prevalent in the biblical text. Verses of the Qur'an are quoted and analysed in a manner which is easily understandable by readers. A thematic content analysis approach, combined with a chronological method, is employed by the author in his presentation. Comparing and contrasting the message of the Qur'an with the content of the biblical message serves to effectively highlight the similarities and differences which exist in these two texts. This serves to provide a better understanding of the Qur'an for bible readers.
Following an introductory chapter, John Kaltner organizes his presentation around chapters on Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Mary and Jesus. Each of these chapters is well documented and convincing in its presentation. The introductory chapter endeavors to explain the importance of trying to understand Islam and the Muslim world by exploring its roots and examining the fundamentals. This is in sharp contrast to the manner in which American society, in contemporary times, relies mainly on the media to understand Muslim society and Islam.
John Kaltner's chapter on Moses outlines how the Israelites were exposed to oppression under the heavy hand of Pharaoh. This is similar to the Qur'anic interpretation. Both scriptures endorse the view that the deity is behind everything that occurs. Elements of ambiguity regarding the people of the book, as present in the Qur'anic message are, however, identified by the author in his discussion. Thus, while the Jews and Christians are held in high virtue due to their relationship with Allah, the violation of this relationship necessitated the coming of Mohammad and Islam. (p.165)
The manner in which God is portrayed in both the Qur'an and the biblical text is discussed in detail by the author. In the chapter on Moses, it is explained that mercy and forgiveness of Allah is the major theme of the Qur'anic text. In contrast, "God's character is associated more with death and destruction - than with mercy and forgiveness" (p.188) in the biblical account.
The comparative analysis provided by John Kaltner serves as a major strength of this study. Numerous events of significance, as provided in the biblical text, are presented alongside the manner in which these events are presented in the Qur'an. The "golden calf" story in the Bible, for example, is discused alongside the manner in which this story is narrated in the Qur'an. John Kaltner aptly highlights the manner in which the Qur'an portrays the mercy and forgiveness of God, while the biblical message emphasizes the wrath and anger of the deity. These images can be reconciled, as Kaltner notes, by considering them as being two sides of the same coin. The Qur'anic focus on God's mercy and forgiveness can be explained in terms of the Qur'anic interpretation of the outcome for those who choose to obey the edicts enunciated by God. In contrast, the Bible focuses on the divine response towards "...those who chose to do evil" (p.189) and disobey.
Kaltner explains how the majority of the biblical figures mentioned in the Qur'an come from the Hebrew Bible. Mary and her son Jesus are the only two people from the New Testament - discussed in length in the Qur'an. Discussion on Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Mary provide a clear and succinct picture of how the Qur'anic message converges with the content of the Bible and where the two texts differ in interpretation. The chapter on Jesus brings to the forefront the fact that Jesus is "... a venerated figure in Islam." (p.240) While acknowledging the tension and differences which may exist between the two religions, John Kaltner's discussion on how Islam's sacred text portrays Jesus serves as a testament to the fact that Muslims have a "...deep and abiding respect for Jesus" (p.240) -- thereby establishing the ultimate connection between these two major faiths.