Understanding Love and Compassion in the Bible and Al Quran

by Ambar Sari Dewi

82.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced at the end of 2020 because of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, and public order disturbance (UNHCR, 2020). While sources of these problems vary, religious misinterpretations of some texts in the Holy Scriptures fuel some of these conflicts. Hence, understanding and reading these challenging texts are basic steps to build harmonious interreligious relationships.

In this regard, NICMCR and UIN Sunan Kalijaga again held a series of webinars with the theme “Reading Challenging Manuscripts in the Holy Scriptures’ on October 13, 2021. The webinar presented four speakers from both countries and religions. Representing Muslim, Dr. Ahmad Rafiq of UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Drs. Anne Dijk of FAHM Institute, The Netherlands discussed how to understand Love and Compassion in Al Quran. Meanwhile, Prof. Dr. Ruard Ganzevoort of Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, and Pdt. Dr. Yusak Tridarmanto of Duta Wacana Christian University, Indonesia represented Christianity. The webinar was chaired by Dr. Ge Speelman from the Protestantse Theologische Universiteit and was attended by 73 members from all over the world and various institutions.

In her opening remarks, Ambar Sari Dewi, Coordinator of Pokja Interreligious Education (IRE) of the NICMCR stated that The Netherlands-Indonesia Consortium for Muslim-Christian Relations (NICMCR) in collaboration with State Islamic University (UIN) Sunan Kalijaga have successfully held a webinar in February 10, 2021. The webinar discussed the use of a new method in preventing radicalisation and extreme violence among youngsters in the Netherlands. This method, a mirror-mind game was concepted and developed by the Foundation Identity Development and Empowerment in an Interfaith Space (IDEIS). Mirror-mind was built on knowledge of texts and narratives from Qur’an and Hadith, and their contextual understanding, with a focus on ‘good behaviour’ in a plural society. The game was introduced to some high schools students in the Netherlands and identified the concept of ‘hybrid identity’ among Dutch-Turkish, Dutch-Muslim, Moroccan-Dutch etc.

Following the success of the above webinar, Ambar said that the Pokja intended to expand the discussion by understanding why radicalisation and extreme violence occur at the root of the problems, that is, understanding challenging texts in the Holy Scriptures. Two crucial themes chosen were texts about “Love and Compassion” versus texts about “War and Violence”.

In line with Ambar’s remarks, Moderator Ge Speelman explained that Love and Compassion were not a difficult topics to talk about. Everyone agrees that Love and Compassion are two important things in life. However,  it is much more complicated when we start to think about it. As humans, we need to train ourselves to like and share love.

The first panelist, Ruard Ganzevoort, started the discussion with romantic love. He stated that romantic love was initially applied to find a partner, create a family and raise children. These aspects were considered as important goals in the Christian society. However, there were some changes in how society sees family and raises children. For example, one can have children without having to go through those steps above, such as adoption. In this regard, Ruard said that child adoption has changed families, from procreative, compassionate, and love; into non-procreative ones (Ganzevoort & Derks, 2018). This change, said Ruad, does not comply with the Christian tradition which believes that children and other sexual movements should be carried out within the framework of procreation. Therefore, adoption of a child would be considered an act of sin.

However, there are circumstances that cause one to not have children of their own, for example, due to health issues of the parents or other justified reasons. In this case, Ruard argued that to understand Love and Compassion in the Bible, one should also look at the context of it.

Furthermore, Pdt. Dr. Yusak Tridarmanto of Duta Wacana Christian University, Indonesia asserted that Love and compassion are indeed behavioral codes which are so significant and prominent in the Christian Bible. Their important roles are not based primarily on the frequency used of the terms, but more significantly, based on the personal character of God himself as the creator of earth and heaven. Thus, God’s love cannot be shaken by passion or distorted by disobedience. God is almost defined as love itself.

Discussion on Love and Compassion from the Christian’s perspective was continued by some selected texts and verses in the Bible. For example, the most significant, interesting and yet difficult passage in the Old Testament concerning love is Hosea 3: 1-5. Particularly important in this occasion is verse one which reads: “The LORD said to me again, “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the LORD loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.” (Hos. 3:1 NRS).  Yusak said this verse is significant, yet difficult because it tells the extent of love that God has (figuratively described as a husband) to a woman/wife although she left him for another man. It is significant because it shows God’s everlasting love, no matter how it found an unexpected response from the one whom he loved.

Furthermore, In the New Testament, a particular passage needs to be considered is John 3: 16-18 with its focus on John 3: 16. The texts reads “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”.  The phrase “… that he gave his only Son…” would tell us that Jesus Christ is indeed a gift from God in whom every believer could have eternal life. Jesus himself would demonstrate the love of God by laying down his own life for the benefit of his friends through dying on the cross.  In another word the cross is indeed the proclamation of God’s eternal love to the world.

In summary, it is clear that Love and Compassion are two related and complementary words which should have characterized the living behaviour of God’s people.  These living codes found their foundation only on God’s personal character which manifests in his eternal love and his compassion for humanity struggle as they are represented practically in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. On the basis of this conviction all believers are accordingly called to put Love and compassion as daily living codes for promoting happiness in the midst of society at large.

From the Muslim perspectives, texts about Love and Compassion were discussed by Dr. Ahmad Rafiq of UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He stated that the hostility between Muslims and other believers occured because some verses in the Qur’an emphasize that the disbelievers are the enemies of Muslims. In surah Al-Mumtahanah verse 9, Allah said: “Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them. Whosoever maketh friends of them – (All) such are wrong-doers.” (60:9).

Interpretation of this verse is that God only forbids you in regard to those who waged war against you on account of religion and expelled you from your homes and supported others in your expulsion, that you should make friends with them. An tawallawhum is an inclusive substitution for alladhīna ‘those who’. And whoever makes friends with them ‘those who’ — they are the wrongdoers.

However, in the previous verse, Al Quran clearly advises Muslims to stop fighting them and to stop forcing them to leave their homes. Muslims are even asked to relate to unbelievers in some ways as Allah directs Muslims to treat them well. In surah Al-Mumtahanah verse 8, Al Quran stated: “Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers ”. (60:8). This verse can be interpreted that God does not forbid you in regard to those who did not wage war against you from among the disbelievers on account of religion and did not expel you from your homes, that you should treat them kindly. An tabarrūhum is an inclusive substitution for alladhīna ‘those who’ and deal with them justly. This was revealed before the command to struggle against them. Assuredly God loves the just.

Rafiq continued his explanation by stating examples in the Indonesian culture. He said that in Indonesia, these verses were defined in three perspectives and the transcription has three different interpretations. As such, multiple understanding of these verses occurred and at some points, were applied in daily life of Indonesian Muslims. Differences in understanding these verses caused some serious and even, violence actions. These actions were obviously against the lessons of Prophet Muhammad SAW to mankind, namely to immediately resolve most of the conflicts they face by way of discussion and deliberation.

Drs. Anne Dijk of FAHM Institute, The Netherlands emphasised Dr Rafiq’s statements by citing Allah’s words in Surah Arrahman. The Surah clearly tells about justice and compassion, that every Muslim is ready to submit and do the right thing according to the Quran and Sunnah. Anne said that Surah Arrahman shows man’s devotion and faith to Allah based on love instead of fear of hell.

In the question and answer session, a question was raised why some Muslims act violent towards other Muslims when the Quran clearly stated to love those who have different faiths. Answering this question, Dr Rafiq said that it happened because these Muslims have different interpretations of the verse. He then suggested that the performativity of reading the Qur’an should be extended. From the Christian perspective, the key to understand and answer why there are some religious based-violence actions is by being holistically cognizant of the texts and verses. The webinar was closed by a promise of a further discussion about War and Violence in the Bible and Al Quran.