5: The Qur’an’s Beauty and Applicability
The Qur’an, for Muslims, far exceeds in importance, any other writing. Many of those who were interviewed pointed to its beauty, and some gave it even mystical qualities. For these and similar reasons, the Qur’an is treated as something “holy in itself,” almost worthy of worship.
Take for instance the old man I met in the Harrisburg mosque who was highly revered due to his ability to quote, by memory, any passage from the Qur’an (and therefore given the title of Hafiz). Yet, I never saw him lead any discussions on the Qur’an. A younger man from Saudi Arabia was given that responsibility. When I asked, “Why?” I was told that the old gentleman didn’t understand Arabic well (memorizing doesn’t endure understanding).
It shocked me to find a man who had spent years memorizing the Qur’an, yet had no yearning to understand the content of its message. Is it no wonder, then, that Muslims have so little desire to translate their most holy book? Merit is found in the rote reading of the Qur’an in Arabic, and not in its message.
My friend who considered the Qur’an to be the epitome of beauty, offered me certain Suras as examples. Yet, when I asked him to quote from the text, he could not. Some of the Pakistanis who could quote certain passages had great difficulty in explaining their meaning. I found it disconcerting that the “beauty of the Qur’an” had so much appeal, yet its “beauty” seemed, in fact, to discourage its rationale which became an enemy to its mystique.
Here then is the key which points to the difference between the scriptures of the Christians and that of the Muslims. The fact that Muslims accord the Qur’an a place of reverence and worship, while memorizing its contents without necessarily understanding it, almost sparks of idolatry.
In much of the Muslim world leather amulets worn on the body are sold outside the mosques. Within these amulets one can find folded pieces of paper with an ayya, or verse from the Qur’an written on them. These verses supposedly have power to ward off evil spirits and diseases. For these Muslims the very letters of the Qur’an are imbued with supernatural power.
Christianity stands against this view of God’s written word. We believe that the power and authority for the scriptures comes not from the paper it is written on, but from the words, or the truth it expresses. We also believe that the Bible is the testimony of God’s revelation to certain men, and so is not holy in and of itself, but is a text which must be read and studied, much as a textbook is read and studied in school. Therefore, its importance lies in its content, rather than in its physical pages, just as a newspaper is read and thrown away, though the news it holds may remain imprinted on the readers mind for years to come.
Over a period of four months, during my weekly trips to the local masjid, I would spend an hour or two with the members, studying the Qur’an in English, but reading it aloud, always, in Arabic. Yet, when it came time to discuss and explain the meaning of the text, they would many times quote from the Bible to make a point, leaving the Qur’anic texts for the Islamic commentator Bukhari to explain (though not a commentator, Bukhari was a collector of hadith, some of which refer to the Qur’an).
Even more revealing concerned the content of our discussions, which tended to center around Biblical theology, and used ideas such as, “the substitutionary sacrifice for one’s sins,” and, the Biblical idea of “being in the world but not of it,” concepts which are unique to Christ’s teaching.
This was not atypical to the group at the Harrisburg mosque. During a presentation on television, Louis Farakhan quoted directly from the Bible four times, while not once citing the Qur’an or any other Muslim writing. Maybe this curiosity points to his previous background as a Christian, yet it denotes the fact, that, though the Qur’an is revered for its beauty, it often is not well-understood. It seems that for many American Muslims it has not become a primary influence, and, therefore, is often measured by the standards of the Bible, the very book it claims to “supersede.”
Nor is the traditional reverent concern for the physical treatment of the Qur’an, exhibited by my Asian immigrant friends, practiced by all Muslims in America. In a number of the masjids I visited, I saw copies of the Qur’an on the floor, while some had their front covers missing.
Perhaps, the criticism by Muslims that Christians abuse the Bible, is a result of their misunderstanding of its purpose. Christians believe that the Bible is a text which must be read and studied, much as a textbook is read and studied in school. Consequently, there is no injunction against writing in it, or against laying it on the floor (though most of the Christians I know would not do so, out of respect for its message; not that it is holy in itself. Yet, having been sensitized, I cringe when an evangelist or preacher clutches or leafs through a very worn personal Bible).
Muslims hold a high view for all scriptures, including the Bible, yet the Qur’an, they contend, retains supreme position and ascendancy over all others because, “initially, it was never written-down by men and so was never tainted with men’s thoughts or styles.” It is Allah’s ultimate revelation to humanity because it came down directly, word for word to Muhammad via the angel Jibril (this process is called “nazil”).
Left unsaid is the glaring irony that the claim for nazil revelation of the Qur’an, comes from one source alone, the man to which it was supposedly revealed, Muhammad. There are no outside witnesses both before or at the time who can corroborate Muhammad’s testimony. Not even miracles are provided to substantiate his claims.
In fact, the evidences for the authority of God’s revelation, which the Bible emphatically produces are completely absent in the Qur’an, namely: that the revelation of God must speak in the name of God, Yahweh; that the message must conform to revelation which has gone before; that it must make predictions which are verifiable, and that the revelation must be accompanied by signs and wonders, in order to give it authority as having come from God. Because these are missing in the case of the prophet Muhammad and of the Qur’an, for those of us who are Christians, it seems indeed that it is the Qur’an and not the Bible which turns out to be the most human of documents.
That the Word of God was written by men holds little consequence for a Christian, as we know that these men were always under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). Whereas the Qur’an is alleged to be ‘free of any human element,’ we know that God deliberately chose to reveal His Word through individuals who were inspired prophets and apostles, so that His Word would not only be conveyed directly to humanity but that it would be communicated to their understanding and powers of comprehension as well. This the Qur’an cannot do if it has no human element, as is generally alleged.
Therefore, Christians believe that the Bible, alone, consisting of the Old Testament and the New Testament, is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16,17). By inspired, we mean that the messages of God were relayed to His chosen men who spoke or wrote them, using their own language, personalities, and cultural thought-forms (Inspiration, thus, does not mean “divine dictation”). King David wrote as an inspired poet, and the prophet Jeremiah spoke as an inspired preacher, and so on.
When we read 2 Timothy 3:16, we read that all Scripture is inspired. The word used is “theopneustos” which means “God-breathed,” inferring that what was written had it’s origin in God Himself. In 2 Peter 1:21 we read that the writers were moved by God. Thus, God used each writer and his personality to accomplish a divinely authoritative work, for God cannot inspire error. The writers received the actual recording of truth.
How, Muslims ask, was this done? Did God use mechanical dictation, or did God use the writers own minds and experiences? The simple answer, according to 2 Peter 1:21, is that, “prophecy never had it’s origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Thus, the Spirit’s control was always with them in their writings, so that what we have today is, “The Mind of God in the words of men”.
God, in His omnipotent power, saw to it that what was written was that which He desired to be written, and that it kept to its subject matter, which was, “God as Redeemer” (see II Samuel 23:2,3 and II Timothy 3:16). God also made sure that it was not tampered with, an idea misunderstood too often by most Muslims.
Concerning the literary style of the Qur’an, Muslims believe it is superior to all other books in the Arabic language because of it’s pure Arabic text and it’s sophisticated literary style. They quote Sura 10:38 which says: “Will they say ‘Muhammad hath forged it? Answer: ‘Bring therefore a chapter like unto it, and call whom ye may to your assistance, besides Allah, if ye speak truth.” This is echoed in the Hadiths (Mishkat III, pg.664), which says: “…This book is second to none in the world according to the unanimous decision of the learned men in points of diction, style, rhetoric, thoughts and soundness of laws and regulations.” Muslims conclude that due to the fact that there is no literary equivalent in existence, this proves that the Qur’an is a, “miracle sent down from God, and not simply written by any one man.”
In response we ask whether the Qur’an can be considered a miracle written by one man, when we know from historical research that the Qur’an which is in our possession today was derived from the memory of Muhammad’s closest companions and finally compiled fourteen years after the fact by a group of men who, then, destroyed the evidence by burning the original from which they copied. Where is the miracle in that?
The logic of the claim to it’s uniqueness, according to Dr. Anis Shorrosh, is spurious as well, as “this no more proves its inspiration than a man’s strength demonstrates his wisdom, or a woman’s beauty, her virtue. Only by it’s teachings, principles, and content can a book be judged rightly, not by its eloquence, elegance, or poetic strength” (Shorrosh 1988:192).
One must ask, moreover, what criteria is used for measuring one literary piece against the other? In every written language there must be a “best piece” of literature. Take for example the: Rig-Veda of India (1,000-1,500 B.C.), or the eloquent poems in Greek, the Odyssey and the Iliad by Homer, or the Gilgamesh Epic, the Code of Hammurabi, and the Book of the Dead from Egypt, all which are considered classic masterpieces, and all which predate the Qur’an?
Closer to home; would we compare Shakespeare’s works against that of the Qur’an? No! They are completely different genres. Yet, while few people today would dispute the fact that Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets are the best written in the English language, no-one would claim they were, therefore, divine.
Yet, what do we say concerning the Qur’an’s supposed literary qualities? When anyone who is familiar with the Bible picks up a Qur’an and begins to read it through, there is the immediate recognition that he or she is dealing with an entirely different kind of literature than what is found in the Bible.
Whereas the Bible contains much historical narrative, the Qur’an contains very little. Whereas the Bible goes out of its way to explain unfamiliar terminology or territory, the Qur’an remains silent. In fact, the very structure of the Bible, consisting of a library of 66 books, written over a period of 1,500 years, reveals that it is ordered according to chronology, subject and theme.
The Qur’an, on the other hand, reads more like a jumbled and confused collection of statements and ideas, interposed many times with little relationship to the chapters and verses which preceded. Many scholars admit that it is so haphazard in its make-up that it requires the utmost sense of duty for anyone to plow through it! The German secular scholar Salomon Reinach gives a harsh analysis, stating that: “From the literary point of view, the Koran has little merit. Declamation, repetition, puerility, a lack of logic and coherence strike the unprepared reader at every turn. It is humiliating to the human intellect to think that this mediocre literature has been the subject of innumerable commentaries, and that millions of men are still wasting time in absorbing it” (Reinach 1932:176).
McClintock and Strong’s encyclopedia concludes that, “The matter of the Koran is exceedingly incoherent and sententious, the book evidently being without any logical order of thought either as a whole or in its parts. This agrees with the desultory and incidental manner in which it is said to have been delivered” (McClintock and Strong 1981:151).
Even the Muslim scholar Dashti laments the literary defects of the Qur’an, saying, “Unfortunately the Qur’an was badly edited and its contents are very obtusely arranged.” He concludes by noting that, “All students of the Qur’an wonder why the editors did not use the natural and logical method of ordering by date of revelation, as in ‘Ali ibn Taleb’s lost copy of the text” (Dashti 1985:28).
When reading a Qur’an, you will discover that the one-hundred and fourteen Suras not only have odd names for titles (such as the Cow, the Spoils, the Bee, or the Cave), but their layout is not at all in a chronological order. Size or length had more to do with the sequence of the Suras than any other factor, starting with the longest Sura and ending with the shortest. Even within the Suras we find a mixed chronology. At times there is a mixture of Meccan and Medinan revelations within the same Sura, so that even size is not an infallible guide in dating them.
Another problem is that of repetition. The Qur’an was intended to be memorized by those who were illiterate and uneducated. It therefore engages in the principal of endless repetition of the same material over and over again. This all leads to a good bit of confusion for the novice reader, and gives rise to much suspicion concerning it’s vaunted literary qualities.
In contrast to the Bible, which was written over several hundred years by a variety of authors, and flows easily from the creation of the world right through to the prophecies concerning the end of the universe; the Qur’an, supposedly revealed by just one man, Muhammad, in a span of a mere twenty years, seems to go nowhere and say little outside of the personal and political affairs of this one man and his companions, at one particular stage in history.
With no logical connection from one Sura to the next, one is left with a feeling of incompleteness, waiting for the story to give some meaning. Is it no wonder that many find it difficult to take seriously the claim by the Hadiths that the Qur’an is “a book second to none in the world,” worthy of divine inspiration?
Almost all Muslims contend that the explanation for numerous contradictions between the Bible and the Qur’an are due to additions and corruptions of the Bible by Jews and Christians over the years. Yet, not one Muslim I have talked with has been able to point out where our current scriptures differ with the originals, or when these substitutions could have been made.
This is compounded by the fact that the Qur’an, itself, gives authority to the Bible, assuming it’s authenticity at least up to the Seventh Century. Consider the following Suras:
Sura Baqara 2:136 states that there is no difference between the scriptures which preceded and those of the Qur’an, saying “…the revelation given to us…and Jesus…we make no difference between one and another of them.” Sura Al-i-Imran 3:2-3 continues, “Allah…He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus)…as a guide to mankind.” Sura Nisaa 4:136 carries this farther by admonishing the Muslims to “…Believe…and the scripture which He sent before him.”
In Sura Ma-ida 5:47,49,50,52 we find a direct call to Christians to believe in their scriptures, “…We sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel… Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein, if any do fail to judge by the light of what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel…” Again, in Sura Ma-ida 5:68 we find a similar call, “People of the Book!…Stand fast by the law, the Gospel, and all revelation that hath come to you from YOUR LORD. It is the revelation that has come to thee from THY LORD.”
To embolden this idea of the New and Old Testament’s authority we find in Sura 10:95 that Muslims are advised to confer with these scriptures if in doubt about their own: “If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee. The truth had indeed come to thee from thy Lord.” This is repeated in Sura 21:7, “…the apostles We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration. If ye realize this not, Ask of those who possess the message.”
And finally, in Sura Ankabut 29:46 Muslims are asked not to question the authority of the scriptures of the Christians, saying, “And dispute ye not with the people of the book but say: We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and that which came down to you.”
If there is anything in these Suras which is clear, it is that the Qur’an emphatically endorses the Torah and the Gospel as revelations from God. This coincides with what Christians believe, as well.
Furthermore, both the Christian Bible and the Muslim Qur’an hold to the premise that God does not change His word, His revelation (despite the law of abrogation found in the Qur’an). Sura Yunus 10:64 says, “No change can there be in the words of Allah”. This is repeated in Sura Al An’am 6:34: “There is none that can alter the words of Allah,” and again in Sura Qaf 50:28,29.
In the Bible we, likewise, have a number of references which speak of the unchangeability of God’s word, such as Deuteronomy 4:1-2; Isaiah 8:20; Matthew 5:17-18; 24:35; and Revelation 22:18-20.
Why should a Jew or Christian before or after the time of Muhammad be interested in changing God’s revelation? Does he or she want to go to hell? (See Revelation 22:18-19). The only conceivable reason to bring about changes would be that it was the Qur’an, which came after, which differs from the “Book”, and not the other way around.
Why do Muslims continue claiming that the Bible has been corrupted? When, one must ask, was the Bible allegedly polluted? Surely the Qur’an would have clearly stated that it was defiled. If Muslims continue to claim that the scriptures have been corrupted, they have an enormous responsibility to show from what time in history and where these corruptions exist in the text (the task of textual criticism).
The New Testament, they say, has been tampered with by Christ’s disciples. Their authority for such claims is derived from nameless liberal scholars, who, using the same criteria, would play havoc with the authenticity of their own Qur’an.
Christians, in response, need only point to the numerous existing copies on open file at numerous museums around the world to corroborate the accuracy of the ancient New Testament text, with what we have today; manuscripts which existed long before the Qur’an was even written.
The New Testament is the historical record of the manner in which God fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, and established the New Covenant. It contains the account of the life and teachings of the Messiah (the Gospels), the creation of the Church (Acts of the Apostles), the explanations of Christian beliefs and conduct (Epistles), and a description of the end times, when God’s purpose for humanity will be fulfilled (Revelation). Understood in its entirety, it’s truth and it’s unity with the Old Testament Messianic message gives credence to the Old Testament Scriptures which came before.
It is no wonder, then, that Christians accept only the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible as God’s inspired written Word, consisting of teachings by more than thirty prophets and apostles, written over a period of tremendous historical change and diversity, spanning more than 1,500 years, yet held together by a common unifying idea; that God, the Creator/Redeemer is at work in history with the intent to redeem and to save humanity for Himself.
Nowhere do we find these redemptive concepts in the Qur’an. In fact, much of the Qur’anic account has little to do with the Biblical scriptures which preceded it, and contradicts many of the teachings of the “previous prophets”. Take for instance the following examples:
Some of the Qur’anic teachings seriously conflict with important Christian teachings. Jesus, in the Qur’an was not crucified (Sura 4:157), nor did God beget a son (Sura 19:36-36,92; Sura 112:3), the Qur’anic account suggesting a physical act, which is outrageous to both Muslims and Christians alike: “How shall I [Mary] have a son, seeing that no man has touched me…” (Sura 19:20-21).
The trinity is misunderstood in the Qur’an, and consists of God, Jesus and Mary, God being the third of the three (Sura 5:119). One must ask how, God, if He is all-knowing, could send to Muhammad such an erroneous concept of the Christian trinity, one which only a small and insignificant sect believed and taught, and certainly was not representative of the scriptures, nor of Christendom as a whole.
Other contradictions confuse names and people. Abraham in the Qur’an is called the son of Azar (Sura 6:74), though in the scriptures he is called Terah (Genesis 11:27). Imram (Biblical Amram) was the father of Moses, Aaron and Mary, the mother of Jesus (by implication in Suras 19:28; 66:12; 20:25-30). Yet, the mother of Jesus was born one-thousand, five hundred and seventy years after the sister of Aaron, or Miriam. Yusuf Ali explains that according to Luke.1:5, Elizabeth is the “daughter of Aaron”, being of the priestly line, and so Mary, her cousin would also be seen as such. How then could the father of Aaron and Mary (the mother of Jesus) be Imran?
Some of the Qur’anic stories are quite confused. In the Qur’an we find that Moses’ wife (Zipporah, daughter of Jethro) was given to Moses in exchange for eight to ten years service (Sura 28:22-28), confusing this account with that of Jacob, two-hundred and twenty years earlier, who pledged seven years to Laban in order to have Rachel (Genesis 29:18 and Exodus 2:16). We also find that King Saul selects his small army of three-hundred from thirty-two thousand men (Sura 2:249), almost mimicking the Gideon account of the same (Judges 7).
Haman in the Qur’an is a servant of Pharaoh, who built a high tower to ascend unto the God of Moses (Sura 28:38). But the Babel tower occurs seven-hundred and fifty years earlier (Genesis 11), and Haman is found in the story of Esther in Babylon, one-thousand one-hundred years after Pharaoh. Yusuf Ali believes this is another Haman, yet this is ridiculous, as Haman is not an Egyptian name, but Babylonian.
In the Qur’an Ishmael rather than Isaac is chosen for Abraham’s sacrifice, on mount Mina (near Mecca) rather than mount Moriah. Though Ishmael is not named, Muslims assume it is he since in Genesis 22:2 God refers to Abraham’s “only son” to be sacrificed, thus Isaac must not have been born.
The more likely explanation is that God accepted Isaac as the only son of Abraham, since he was born by God’s hand to Abraham’s legitimate wife, and not that of a concubine (Hagar). In the same chapter (Genesis 22) Isaac is named as Abraham’s only son, and the covenant bearer (Genesis 21:12), even though Ishmael was alive at the time.
The Qur’an continues to confuse this story, stating that Abraham took Hagar and Ishmael to Paran (which it claims is near Mecca). This conflicts with the Biblical account, as Hagar and Ishmael were unaccompanied by Abraham, and Paran is not near Mecca but is south of Israel, in the Sinai Peninsula.
The question must be asked of Muslims, “If the Qur’anic accounts are indeed correct, then why would God allow so much of His revelation to be abrogated and compromised?” Furthermore, “if the preceding scriptures were authoritative, then why do their principle ideas disagree and contradict so much with what we find in the Qur’an?” If the Qur’an is the final revelation from God, it must not only agree with what God said before, but it must fulfill that which is in the Biblical scriptures, which He sent to all humanity via His chosen prophets.
Christians are convinced that the Bible is not only completely authoritative, but that it is truthful and answers all that anyone needs to know concerning who God is, and what He demands of them. They stand behind these convictions by desiring that the gospel of salvation, the Bible, be read by all the people of the world. It is for this reason that the Bible has been translated into over two-thousand languages so that now ninety-three percent of the world’s population can read it in their mother tongues. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Bible continues to be the best-selling book in the history of humanity.
So what can we say about the authority of the Qur’an’s beauty and applicability? Can we say it is a divinely inspired book sent by Allah for all of humanity, in all ages? Can it claim supernatural as well as literary qualities, which not only place it above other revelations, but point to it’s divine origins? Much of what has been offered points to the fact that the Qur’an lacks in all three qualities, and seems to reflect more the life and times of it’s author than that of the heart of a universal God. The idolatrous tendency of Muslims towards the Qur’an, as well as the confusion of its literary makeup, and the special conditions given to its author, point more to a book put together by one man, rather than an inspired piece of God’s revealed word.
If one were to contrast the sixty-six books of the Bible written over hundreds of years by a multiplicity of authors, with the Qur’an which came through one man, Muhammad, during his lifetime, there would be no contest as to which was the superior literature. In the final analysis, the Qur’an simply does not fit the breadth of vision, nor the literary style or structure of that found in the Old and New Testament. To go from the Bible to the Qur’an is to go from the superior to the inferior, from the authentic to the counterfeit, from God’s perspective to that of an individual, caught up and controlled by his own world and times. I end this section with a quote from a Qur’anic expert, Dr. Tisdall, who says:
The Qur’an breathes the air of the desert, it enables us to hear the battle-cries of the Prophet’s followers as they rushed to the onset, it reveals the working of Muhammad’s own mind, and shows the gradual declension of his character as he passed from the earnest and sincere though visionary enthusiast into the conscious imposter and open sensualist. (Tisdall 1901:27).
6: The Simplicity of Islamic Teaching
Some Muslim converts believe that the simplicity of the Islamic religion can be found in its flexibility. Though I have not formally investigated these claims, I would imagine they refer to the many cultures, worldwide, where Islam has acquiesced to native beliefs and practices which are not in accordance with Islamic teaching, a phenomenon which anthropologists label, “Folk Islam.” These syncretistic allowances are not, however, necessarily accepted by most Muslims. Nor are they given authority by the Qur’an or the hadiths.
Contrariwise, the historical record shows that instead of accepting the beliefs and practices of other cultures, Islam has effected just the opposite, imposing its own culture on that of the host or conquered culture. Take, for instance, the Sind culture, in Pakistan, which gave us Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Here is a good example of how the Arab culture has dominated and eradicated a once sophisticated host culture. (As I was born and raised in India, I am familiar with the history of the Indus Valley and Afghanistan, both good illustrations of Islam’s non-adaptation and eradication of host cultures.)
A few Muslims appreciated the simplicity of the decor within the mosques interior, contrasting it to the “gaudy icons” found in many Roman Catholic cathedrals. Although most Protestants would agree with many Muslims on this point, a question needs to be interposed here: “What, for both Muslims and Christians, is the function of a place of worship?” A mosque is a place designated for prescribed prayer. Posturing, also, is standardized; hence there is no place in a mosque for open and expressive worship, and consequentially there is no need for pews or hymnals, or for overhead projectors, for that matter.
A church building, or a cathedral, on-the-other-hand, is dedicated for more than mere prayer. It is a rallying point where people from the community come to assemble for corporate togetherness and worship. Praise to their Lord takes the form, expressly, of music. Singing, therefore, for a Christian, is not for “showing-off,” as Muslims perceive it, but is for offering individuals and the corporate body the chance to praise God, as King David did with his Psalms. Differences in needs, therefore, demand appropriate contrasts in venue.
A further criticism by Muslims is that the presence of women impedes the act of worship. I find this extremely demeaning to women, and really I wonder if, indeed, this is a universal concern for most Muslims. If so, one needs to question why the presence of women would cause men to think evil thoughts? Are women really only sexual objects? Sexuality may be a particular problem for certain individuals. Yet, to exclude one-half of the human race for the sake of the few who would go against any religious ideal is ludicrous. Furthermore, to penalize the women for the weaknesses of the men sparks not only of sexism, but fails to address the primary issue, that the real problem is the men, and it is they who must come to terms with their inadequacies, not the women.
Lack of complexity has often been forwarded as the cornerstone of Islamic theology and practice, and for some a great attraction. Yet, simplicity may be its undoing as well. As nations continue to advance and become more sophisticated, and as mobility has brought much of the world to consider itself as a large “global village,” the rigid inflexibility of thought and practice, religiously adhered-to for the last fourteen centuries, will not suffice for the fast-moving pace of the twenty-first century.
Islam has not managed well at adapting. This fact, as we have discussed earlier concerning Islamic Da’wah, has not been universally acknowledged by it’s adherents worldwide.
Answers to many of today’s important issues are no longer black and white, and it is those gray areas which will keep Islam increasingly out-of-step with the changing world culture around it, forcing its devotees to either assimilate and so neutralize their message, or solidify and therefore isolate themselves from what is happening around them.
7: The Testimony of other Muslims/Muhammad
The witness and lifestyle of Muslims within Islam is ongoing and attractive. A large enough number of Muslims I interviewed indicated this feature to convince me that this element could be a real asset for Islamic Da’wah activity in America.
Muslims have done well to tap into this wealth of ready-made and easily accessible material for their evangelistic campaign. One cannot dispute the suitability of a personal testimony, since it is nigh impossible to cast doubt upon a personal account of one’s changed life. Christian journals and pamphlets have used this vehicle for years to attract non-believers to the claims of Christianity. In fact, all religions use this tactic to their advantage.
The question which arises is whether Islam can take credit for the persons changed life, or whether any religion could have done the same for that individual?
One must not forget, that religion, by its very nature gives an individual a sense of belonging, a sense that he or she is part of a larger group. Religion also offers accessibility to a being (a god) who is larger than themselves. It is, therefore, logical that anyone who commits themselves to a religion will enjoy the security and identity which that religion affords them, a new-found identity which they will want to share with others who are not so fortunate. It is possibly this factor, more than any other, which Islam has a lot to be thankful for.
Take for example an Indian Muslim whom I befriended at the Harrisburg Mosque, who invited me to his home. During our conversation he told me that he knew many of the men who came to the Harrisburg Islamic center, while they were still in their homeland, India. He went on to say that most of them rarely attended the mosque in India, and would not have qualified as being religious, by anyone’s yardstick. Yet, in the U.S., they routinely attended the Jumma prayers, as well as all of the religious festivals. He believed that this new “religiosity” was due to their cultural insecurity in a new and foreign land. In time, he felt, “appearing religious” would wear-off, and they would assimilate as other newly arrived groups preceding them had done.
The true litmus test of a person’s testimony is found in how their changed life works to help others, and how the religion which claims to be a change-agent brings about a lasting benefit to the society in which it is involved (following James argument that “faith without deeds is dead,” James 2:14-26). The earlier discussion in this study dealing with the failings of Muslim countries points to the dearth of good examples for the witness of Islam. Though certain Muslim individuals enhance Islam’s name, the image of the worldwide Islamic community is possibly more detrimental then it is an asset for the witness of Islam.
However, in all my interviews with converts, the overwhelming attention-getting topic was not necessarily the testimony of other Muslims but “the person of Muhammad, himself.” His life, and his persecution in Mecca caught their imagination. For others, the attraction was the fact that he was chosen by Allah as the “seal of all the prophets.”
Christians, of course, before they can look at the merits of Muhammad, must evaluate whether or not Muhammad was a God-appointed prophet. It is unacceptable to take as authoritative the attestations of one witness who has no objective divine proof, such as a prophecy of divine signs. The Bible demands a sign to prove a prophet’s authenticity (read Deuteronomy 18:21-22; Exodus 10:1-2; and Isaiah 41:21-23).
We know from the Qur’an, that Muhammad’s arrival and subsequent claim to prophethood was not accompanied by any signs (Suras 2:87,99,118-119,151,252; 3:183; 6:37,109,124; 7:203; 13:7,30; 17:59,88,93 all attest to this). This puts doubt concerning his claim.
A prophet’s message, finally, must correspond with that which preceded him. A Christian must view Muhammad in light of the total Biblical revelation, culminating with God, the Son, who is Jesus, the promised Messiah. They must ask three questions: 1) to what extent did the prophet Muhammad fully accept the “former scriptures” (refer to Deuteronomy 4:2; Isaiah 8:20; Matthew 5:18 and 24:35; and Revelation 22:18-19 to understand the importance of this decree by God), 2) to what extent did the prophet Muhammad point to the central significance of Jesus as Redeemer (John 14:26 and John 16:14), and 3) to what extent did the life and teachings of Muhammad exemplify suffering redemptive love, which is demonstrated by Jesus the Savior (John 15:5; 16:7-11)? Unless Muslims can show otherwise, Christians will continue to find him completely lacking in all three.
While the witness of certain Muslims in any community is admirable, it is, nonetheless, difficult for Christians to assume that this attribute qualifies Islam the status it demands. Until Muslims can demonstrate that their faith transforms society holistically, and until they can demonstrate that Muhammad, indeed, conformed to the revelation and message which preceded him, Christians will continue to doubt the veracity for the claim of Islam’s witness in the twentieth century, as well as the assertion that their prophet can insist on the status of a true prophet from God.
8: The Rationality of Islam
No-one can argue with Muslims, that Islam, as it is presented to the world, is a seemingly rational religion. This attribute will always be an attraction for Islam, especially for those people who yearn for simplistic answers to simplistic questions. What is more important, however, is whether or not rationality alone necessarily implies Truth. The ways of God are profound, and complicated to explain. Much of it is purposely clouded in mystery.
In order to fully understand God’s plan for humanity, or to understand the heart of God, or even His character, one must bring God down to our level, and anthropomorphize Him. This, however, is not easily accomplished, and many times impossible, unless God, Himself, has revealed it to us.
Take for instance the idea of the love of God, a belief which both Christians and Muslims can agree upon. It is not until we comprehend the trinity (a doctrine much maligned by Muslims) that we can truly understand love. For it is within the trinity that love if fully expressed. True love by it’s very nature requires an object, otherwise it becomes self-centered, self-serving and carnal. If God were one-dimensional, where would true love have originated? The trinity, encompassing the tri-une godhead, delineates the source from which love began, as each person of the godhead, since eternity, has given and received love from among themselves. The best example of the love between the godhead is exemplified by God the Father who sent God the Son to earth (John 3:16); and by God the Son, who in turn “being in very nature God…made Himself nothing…being made in human likeness…He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
As a result of this extreme act of love, we humans, being made in the image of God, can now explain and model perfect love to the world, using the examples of God the Father towards God the Son, and the ongoing relationship of God the Holy Spirit in our lives counselling us to become more like Him, by exemplifying that same love.
When Muslims maintain that Allah can be defined as the God of love, our response must be that this claim simply is not rational. For where is it exemplified in history, or in our lives today, and from where did it originate? Rationally speaking, love is much easier understood within the context of a loving God, who not only modeled it Himself, but continues even now to aid us in that same endeavor.
Muslims, while maintaining the rationality of their beliefs, have a difficult time rationally explaining many other beliefs, most of which we share in common with them. Some of these are: the virgin birth, the meaning of the title Messiah, the erroneous name for Jesus (Issa), the significance of the unblemished sacrificial lamb, and the significance of the burning bush. Yet, their inclusion in the Qur’an makes its authenticity no less authoritative. Both scriptures fall prey to accounts and beliefs which cannot be explained by rational means. Therefore, rationality alone should never be the criteria for delineating Truth.
I end with the example of the cross. Who, but God could think up the cross? To the world it is irrational. How could the infinite creator God allow Himself to be crucified by His finite creation? Yet, without the cross, God’s entire substitutionary and sacrificial plan for humanity’s salvation comes to naught. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (the world), but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (I Corinthians 1:18-19).
9: The Practices of Islam
The practices which were most admired by the responders were: polygamy and praying. Polygamy is a historic practice which has had a wide appeal even outside Islam, particularly amongst many African tribes. I find it incredulous, however, that there are Muslims today who believe polygamy is better-suited for Americans than monogamy (most of the men I meet in the U.S.A. are in enough trouble with the one wife they already have).
Monogamy gives recognition, status and integrity to a woman. Where is sexual fulfillment found for a woman who has to share her husband with other wives? But the greatest criticism of polygamy must be centered around what it does to a true understanding of love between a husband and wife.
“Polygamy excludes devoted love, for love between the sexes is exclusive, otherwise it is degraded in essence to mere sexual fulfillment. No woman who loves her husband and wishes to be fully loved in return, can tolerate a partner” (Nehl 1987:110). Invariably, with a plurality of wives, one wife must be favored over the others. In the Middle East and in Africa a definite hierarchy is inevitable, with the first wife dominating the subsequent wives. I saw, personally, the damage that this wifely competition and domination brought about, with the “lesser wives” almost relegated to the status of slaves.
Nor are very many Muslims prepared to speak to the issue of easy divorce (permitted in Islam), or prepared to answer, “What happens to the children in divorced situations?” In Senegal, the children remain with the husband’s family. Yet, in almost every case, they are never treated as equals with the other “legitimate” children.
A Christian would, furthermore, point to the Genesis 2:24 passage, where God took Eve and presented her to Adam, and, “The two became one.” This is echoed by Jesus in Matthew 19:4 and Luke 16:18, where he says, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Why, then, would God change this universal law, and allow the descendants of Adam to marry additional spouses to add to their “harems?” Muhammad can be excused for having lived in a polygamous society. But he also lived after Jesus and ought to have been aware of His teaching.
Islamic prayer, for converts, was a high-priority attraction, and should be discussed here. Due to opposing interpretations of the significance of prayer, Christians and Muslims will differ. For a Muslim, prayer (Salat) is a mechanical act of obedience. It is not important, therefore, that the believer understand what he or she is praying, nor whether or not the prayer pertains to the situation at hand. Posturing and quoting the Qur’an in Arabic is considered an act of obedience for a Muslim.
For a Christian, prayer is understood in the context of relationship. A Christian “speaks” to God in order to praise Him, to communicate with Him, or to intercede for themself and for others. All these demand an ongoing vital personal relationship with a God who is infinite yet personal, who is transcendent yet not distant, and who is immediately present at all times and in every situation. Until Muslims discover and receive the God of Jesus Christ who is like “Abba,” Father, they cannot hope to understand the ramifications of true prayer, nor can they hope to be personally communicating with and receiving, the blessings of the God who is there, which a life of prayer can offer.
10: Islam’s Superiority to All Other Religions
Two respondents stated that the superiority of Islam is found in its attainability; that, in contrast, Christianity is simply too difficult to obey. Perhaps, it would have been helpful for them to have compared what is required of a Christian with that which is required of a Muslim.
I mentioned earlier, that, in conversations which I have had with Muslims on this issue, they have admitted that there are few examples of Muslims who have actually attained the ideal Muslim life. In fact, I am convinced that it is this very factor, Islam’s simplistic approach to the “unattainable,” which has kept so many Muslim countries in poverty and dysfunctional in modern times.
On the other hand, as has been noted, there are millions of examples of Christians worldwide, who have committed their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, and who, because of His gift, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, have seen dramatic transformations in their lives, which has affected not only themselves, but also has caused dramatic changes in others around them. Missiologists have coined the term “Redemption and Lift” to explain this phenomenon.
A large number of converts considered Islam superior because it had received the most recent and “final” revelation. Islam is not singular in claiming such an “added” revelation. The Mormons, the Moonies, and the Ahmadiyyas, to name a few, believe that they have received further revelations which supersede those of both traditional Islam and Christianity.
A question begs for an answer: “Have these ‘additional’ revelations fulfilled what had been said previously about God, and about His redemptive work for humanity? (an idea which is prominent throughout the earlier scriptures: the Old and New Testaments.)
Other converts felt that Islam is superior because it has had the greatest influence on the modern world. There are those who would agree that Islam is influential, but many would wonder whether or not it can claim the same influence as, say, Judaism, or Christianity, religions which have been credited with setting the stage for The Renaissance and the Enlightenment; which, in turn, set the stage for the Industrial Revolution, affecting, dynamically, the world in which we live today.
Claiming the superiority of one religion over another can be tenuous, as one’s definition will be colored by their religious affiliation. Many Muslim booklets make the claim that much of the technological advances found in the West today are a direct result of earlier Islamic teaching, and it is this which makes it superior.
While one can debate the validity of the above comment, it perhaps is more important to point out that much of what we have in the West is not necessarily Christian, but an accumulation of knowledge borrowed from a vast array of cultures both secular and religious, over a vast period of time.
If one were perfectly honest, however, they would have to admit that all religions tend more to retard creativity and research. Both Christianity and Islam are guilty of this. Yet the fact that modern science found a particular fertile ground in the “Christianized” West has more to do with the fact that in those countries, and especially in those which were run by Protestants, which for theological reasons separated church and state, the secular world was afforded the freedom to go about its business of creating the modern technology which we all marvel at today. Ironically, it is this very “Westernization” which poses the greatest threat for domiciled Muslims who live in the West today, as they watch their children assimilate ideals and aspirations which reflect a Western secular mind-set rather than that of their Islamic heritage.
11: The Theology found in the Qur’an
Surprisingly, a few converts considered Islam a religion of peace, though the prophet Muhammad, himself, was involved in over forty separate military campaigns. The fact is that many of Islam’s best successes have been attributed to its military conquests.
Apparently, today, due to Islam’s newly precarious position in a global society, dominated by an “anti-Islamic” superpower, the “former” militarism of Islam is, conveniently, no longer overtly taught or practiced. That is not to say that Muslim nations do not involve themselves in war, as can be attested by the earlier statistics concerning current global conflicts involving Muslim countries.
Possibly the greatest curiosity, however, is the view that Islam has no specific teachings on sin. One respondent may have been referring to the concept of spiritual sin, an idea well-understood in Christianity, but defined in Islam as social sins. Or, perhaps he felt that Christianity put too much emphasis on the guilt of sin, and so preferred the Islamic approach, which does not really deal with the moral predicament, promising instead the innate goodness of humanity.
Christianity emphasizes the heinousness of sin. According to scripture, any sin is an abomination to God whose character is holy and righteous. Sin, in essence, is a rejection of His character. However, Muslims, as do Christians, believe that Satan tempts them. Yet, according to Christians, it is not Satan, but each individual who is responsible for their own actions, and for their own sins.
Both Christians and Muslims believe that everyone has the choice to resist Satan’s temptation. The Bible insists, throughout, that the consequences of sin is death, and that everyone is guilty (Romans 3:23). Therefore, everyone deserves eternal death, Muslims and Christians alike (Romans 6:23).
Since Islam has not dealt with the fact of moral sin, it maintains no theory for its consequence, which is death. The Bible, however, begins with and faces up, head-on, to this predicament. Therefore, it is tragic to find individuals who have chosen Islam due to the fact that it has no guilt-inducing teachings. A belief must never be chosen for how it makes one feel, or how it can meet one’s needs. God’s truth does not function that way. God creates the boundaries of reality and truth. He, therefore, may not bend to our whim or fancy, but must stand consistent to His own character. The onus is on us to conform to His truth, to proclaim what God defines concerning sin, death, and salvation, and form our reality accordingly.
For a Christian, death no longer has a sting, because God, in His mercy, has not left us in our guilt, but has offered exoneration and forgiveness for those who receive it. He has sent His Son to die in our place, to take upon Himself our guilt. Therefore, those who believe in His historical redeeming death on the cross, and who repent of their sins, are saved from death, and eternal separation (John 3:16,17). But those who reject Christ, the only one qualified to be the mediator between God and humanity, will be eternally separated.
Muslims, understandably, cannot fathom the efficacy of Christ’s atonement. Would anybody believe that another human-being could pay for another person’s sins? Of course not. On that, we all agree. The question must come to: Who is this Redeemer? He is not just another human-being. Christ, as God, incarnate, fulfills all that is required for our redemption. But those who reject this crucifixion death of Christ, will remain, unforgiven, to spend eternal punishment, in total isolation from God; because, in rejecting God the Son, they have also rejected God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and this sin alone is unforgivable (1 John 2:22-23).
There are individuals who may not accept the Biblical message of justification and redemption, because it does not fit their needs. Yet, consequences follow every decision a person makes, and in this case, the consequences are eternal. Therefore, for those who have truly believed and have received Christ as their Lord and redeemer, they do not fear Christ the judge, and it is to them that eternal life is granted with God in heaven (John 5:22-24; Acts 17:30-31).
Muslims believe that paradise consists of a garden full of carnal pleasures, where men are waited-upon by beautiful virgins (Sura 78:33). Curiously, it is this very sensuous environment, which can, in this life separate us from God. I wonder, indeed, where lies the attraction of heaven for Islamic women?
Compare this view with that of the Bible, where heaven is envisioned as the place where both women and men will go, to enjoy the very presence of God Himself, and where they will live forever with Him in love and in joy. For, as it says in Revelation 21:1-7: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people,… He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain.”
12: Islam’s Spirituality
For some Islamic converts the idea that Allah has total control over all that happens, including history, gives them the security they crave. What they fail to acknowledge, is that this belief, as was mentioned earlier, smacks of the mechanical doctrine of predestination, a non-questioning acceptance of destiny and a resignation to fate (Kismet).
For some, Allah’s complete control leads to a fatalism and passivity; while for others, it frees the mind from matters over which it has absolutely no control. Kismet makes the Muslim fanatically self-sacrificing in war, yet resigned in defeat or in bereavement or in disaster, or in the presence of preventable evil such as epidemics (because these could fall under the “will of Allah”).
Furthermore, Allah is not bound by any moral obligation, as this would limit his sovereignty. It follows that Allah is also the author of evil. He is under no necessity of his own nature to be right, or just, or merciful. Therefore, a Muslim exhibits this twist-of-logic by saying, “Allah does not will an act because it is good; rather, it is good because he has willed it.”
Other attributes of Allah point out the contrast between him and the God of the Bible. “Allah,” according to Muslims, “loves only those who do his will,” whereas the God of the Bible not only loves those who are good, but He loves those who are sinners, those who reject Him, even to the point of giving His life for them (Romans 5:1-10).
Unlike Allah of the Qur’an, who is portrayed as a distant, remote, God with whom no one can have a personal relationship, the Biblical view of God is of One who desires a true, personal relationship with each of His creatures (John 1:11-14; 15:9-15).
In the Qur’an, as was indicated above, Allah is considered to be the author of evil. Yet, in the Bible we find just the reverse. God is infinitely righteous and holy (Psalm 77:13;99:9), for His, “eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Habakkuk 1:13).
When we take these three attributes of the Biblical God: 1)a God of selfless love, 2)who is in relationship with His creation, 3)yet is unable to create or accept evil, we will find in these three the relationship that He seeks with His creation as well.
Though new Muslim converts testify to the superiority of Allah, they fail to take into account that which is missing, that which Allah cannot offer. He cannot offer redemption of his people through a loving act on his part, nor can he offer a personal relationship with them; nor, because of his character, can he accept their possible rejection of him. In fact, all that Allah can offer is that his disciples follow him blindly. Completely lost is their response to a wooing of love.
In contrast, the God of the Bible does not seek a total and blind obedience from His creation. For that would not illustrate true love. True love seeks the best for the loved-one, at the owners expense. This sacrificial love is best exemplified in the crucifixion of Christ on the cross. It is this same quality of love which God desires from us, both in our relationship with Him, and in our relationships with all of humanity, who are made in His image, sinner and saved alike.
The Bible tells us that humans were created in God’s image (Genesis 2:27), a view which is in direct contrast to that of Islam, which perceives humans as slaves. According to the Bible, we were never created to be slaves to God. We were created, from the very beginning, to be His children, in perfect relationship with Him. This assumes, however, freedom of choice, in that we can accept or reject that relationship with Him, despite the fact that He is our creator.
And finally, according to the Bible, by God’s very nature, He can neither create nor tolerate evil. Thus, He has not brought about, nor can He tolerate the evilness of humanity. Sin is of our own doing. But God has made a way by which sin can be forgiven, so that we can, once again, be brought back into a true relationship with God, as was intended from the very beginning with Adam and Eve. Our fate, therefore, is never arbitrarily predestined. Anyone can, by simply acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior, be assured that they will be united here, and later in heaven, in the presence of God, for eternity.
These, then, are the true attractions of Christianity.