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Welcome to Pfander UK!

Some of you will recognise our name Pfander has been rebranded. Pfander is now two separate organisations, with different emphasis, yet with common goals.

Pfander Centre for Apologetics was founded in 2007 with three main aims

  • The academic study of all issues relevant to Islam and Christianity
  • Engaging Muslims on key historical and theological issues
  • Resourcing and equipping Christians to engage Islam with the Gospel

In this decade the ministry has grown, and developed to equip Christians to do the same, resulting in Muslims turning from Islam to the Lord Jesus through the Pfander sites, team & students.

In the Summer of 2017 one of the founding members, Dr Jay Smith, returned to the USA to continue his work as an independent researcher and speaker. He runs Pfander Films, under the umbrella organisation The Pfander Centre for Apologetics. He is now a researcher and itinerant speaker in the USA. To follow Jay’s work and keep up to date with his latest research subscribe to his PfanderFilms YouTube channel. Dr Smith continues as a visiting lecturer on historical critique of Islam for Pfander UK’s online Course on Islam.

Pfander UK seeks to:

  • Help people see Jesus through the whole Bible.
  • Answer questions Muslims ask about the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus and the Bible.
  • Understand Islamic mission, secular accommodation of it and their impact in the world.
  • Research and present the latest historical critique of Islam’s history and its texts.
  • Ultimately to provide a confident Biblical response to Islam.

One way of equipping the church is through Pfander’s online Course on Islam. This course introduces ground-breaking research into the theological, historical, socio-political & missional trends of Islam today & through history.

Weaved throughout the course we journey through the whole of the scripture, to understand “what is written about me [Jesus] in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms”. To know more contact us here.

Critique the religion. Love the person.

By Beth Grove Today I sat across from my savvy, experienced radio interviewer discussing on air to thousands listening across the country about the intriguing practice of bold public engagement with Islam. We discussed the tensions between debate and friendship, debate in the context of friendship, debate with those who consider us ‘enemies’. That tightrope […]

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Jihad in the West

‘Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries’

by Paul Fregosi
Prometheus Books, New York, 1998
Reviewed by Sharon Morad, Leeds


Preface

(pp. 15-18)
There is a link between terrorism known as Jihad today, with wars of Muslim expansion beginning with Muhammad.

All expressions of Islam’s basic distaste for the outside world.

Most Muslims claim crusades are the origin of the conflict between Islam and Christianity, but this is the wrong way around. The first crusade was in 1096 AD. Jihad had already been going on for 500 years by then.


Introduction

The Holy War that Isn’t (pp. 19-27)

Definition of Jihad: not attempt to convert people to Islam by force (except maybe in the 1st century of Islam).

Rather, attempt to “expand and extend Islam until the whole world is under Muslim rule. The jihad is essentially a permanent state of hostility that Islam maintains against the rest of the world, with or without fighting for more sovereignty over more territory” (20). It is a duty, an obligation for all Muslims.

[p.22] A contrast between Christ (He who lives by the sword will die by the sword), with Muhammad (the sword is the key to heaven and hell).

  • Christians who kill are ignoring the words of Christ. Muslims who kill are obeying Muhammad.[p.23] Crusades – 1096 AD until 1270 AD. An attempt to retake (formerly Christian) Palestine.
  • Jihad = 1,300 years. An attempt to occupy Europe, Asia and Africa, and then Islamicize them.[p. 25] Why do we not hear of the Muslim capture of Jerusalem from the Christians in 638 AD, or of the capture of Spain about 70 years later, or of the subsequent 800 year occupation?
  • It was the success of Jihad against Europe that triggered Pope Urban II to call for the first Crusade in 1095 AD.
  • Colonialism – not exclusively western. Muslim lands colonized much of Europe in the 7th – 19th centuries, and the two colonized each other in the 19th century.
  • In fact Europe colonized Muslim lands for only 130 years (1830s – 1960s)!![p. 26] Muslims have freedom of worship in Christian lands, not vice versa (penalty of apostasy = death).

Part One: The Days of the Prophet

Chapt. 1: The Beginning: Mecca 570-622 (pp. 31-33)

A summary of the traditional accounts of Muhammad’s life, describing Islam as being “essentially a patriotic movement aimed at asserting Arabian independence and prestige” (p.32)

Chapt. 2: Gabriel Cometh: Medina (pp. 34-39)

  • A traditional account of the early followers and opposition. Unfaltering description of the Qur’anic revelation.
  • A description of the clash between Muhammad and Abu Sufyan (Umayyad originator). Early days, Muslims at risk, and Hijra to Medina.
  • Perhaps a pious exaggeration of dangers in Mecca. Those that remained were undisturbed.

Chapt. 3: The First Battles (pp. 40-45)

  • A description of the early days in Medina.
  • Quarrels between Ansars and Muhajirun.
  • Problems with the Jewish tribes.
  • Poets writing verses mocking Muhammad.
  • Muhammad establishing his authority – intrigue, manoeuvering , assassinations, wars, monetary gains thru caravan raids.BattlesNakhla = successBadr = success (angels helped)Abu Jahl (enemy from Mecca) executed, head given to Muhammad.Poets

    Female: Asthma bint Marwan, killed for making disrespectful verse.

    Male: Abu Afak and Kab, both killed.

  • Terror is effective, as many people became loyal as a result.Jews: one tribe forced to leave (without possessions)

Chapt. 4: A man of Many Parts (pp. 46-51)

Many examples of Muhammad’s cruelty.

  • Torturing a Jew until he revealed a gold store.
  • Killing and robbing tribesmen to whom he had given hospitality (killing by cutting off hands and feet so they bled to death).
  • Had a number of pious followers willing to act as assassins. This is different from the Muhammad of the Muslim psyche. In the Muslim psyche he is kind, helps the poor, saves baby girls, is nice to 11 wives.
  • Combination of religion and politics. The Qur’an occasionally addresses Muhammad’s enemies with vengeance, and helps Muhammad out with exemptions from laws or answers , or knotty problems.

Chapt. 5: When the Killing Had to Stop (pp. 52-55)

Battle at Mt. Uhud was the first major defeat for Muhammad, but Abu Sufyan does not follow up his advantage. Two years later, the Meccans attack Medina, but due to a big trench which had been dug, their attack failed.

  • Kihouna – Jewish chief at Khaybar; had a fortune in gold, was tortured by Muhammad in order to reveal the whereabouts of his gold (46). When he was dead, Muhammad married his 17 year old widow, Safiya, that same day (54).
  • Killing by subordinates was routine.
  • An assassination attempt of Abu Sufyan was foiled, but not completely useless, as four others were taken instead.
  • Zaid (Muhammad’s adopted son) avenged a raid on a Medinan caravan, killed a middle-aged woman named Um Kirfa, along with her daughter, and two sons, by tying her legs to camels and having them pull her to pieces. Muhammad congratulated him on his return saying it was a job well done.
  • When Muhammad returned to Mecca there was not much bloodshed, only a poet, a minor singer and one or two others.

Chapt. 6: A Man of His Time (pp. 56-59)

Basically a summary of preceding chapters with a special comment that Muhammad’s actions weren’t so much worse than other men of his time, but he was a hypocrite for preaching love and mercy at the same time; and in any case his life in history is nothing like his mage in Islam today.

  • Now a comment on the slaughter of the Jewish Beni Quraiza tribe (660-800 men slain, wives and children sold as slave). Soldiers receive large amounts of booty (Muhammad gets 1/5). The Qur’an (S. 33:25) praises God for the killings because with them Muhammad becomes feared.

Chapt. 7: Of Banes and Stones (pp. 60-64)

A summary of the traditional account of the compilation of the Qur’an; some early controversy about it and the Mut’azilites. Throughout history other Muslims have challenged the idea of an eternal, uncreated Qur’an. A bit about the Hadith and questions on its reliability.

Chapt. 8: A Paradise for Warriors (pp. 65-68)

Why did outnumbered, under-equipped Arabs make such huge territorial victories so quickly?

1) dissensions between the Christians

2) warfare between the Byzantines and the Persians exhausted both.

3) plunder – either in this life or the next, the soldier of Islam was promised riches and women.

There is a detailed and graphic description of Muslim paradise, complete with houris, rivers of wine and the enjoyment of watching those in torment.


Part Two: Beyond Arabia

Chapt. 9: Onward Muslim Soldiers: Byzantium and Persia 632-640 AD (pp. 71-75)

After the death of Muhammad came the caliphate of Abu Bakr (2 yrs.), Umar (for ten years, then assassinated), followed by Uthman.

Uthman was the descendant of Abu Sufyan, the implacable enemy of Muhammad.

630 AD was the first battle outside of Arabia – against the Byzantines in Jordan. Muhammad ordered two campaigns just before his death:

Usama – led troops to the north

Khalid – captured Baghdad (he was a great general later on of the Umayyads)

Fall of Jerusalem, Damascus (635) and Antioch (636)

Muawiyya was active in the campaign against Syria. He was declared the governor of Syria by Umar in 640 AD.

By 641 AD much of Egypt and Persia had fallen

Islam (poor)

Sword (middle class)

Tribute (rich)

Chapt. 10: The Island Campaign: Cyprus, Rhodes, and Crete 649-668 AD (pp. 76-82)

A summary of the civil war between Muawiyya and Ali, establishment of the Umayyad caliphate.

Ali – 4th caliph, had capital in Basra. Muawiyya accuses him of complicity in Uthman’s murder.

657 – battle at Siffin. Ali’s troops stop fighting when Muawiyya’s appeal to the Qur’an for a verdict. The Kharajites leave Ali and one of them murders him.

Muawiyya is the caliph between 661-680, with his capital in Damascus. The Umayyads rule until 749 – then the Abbasids take over and rule until 1258 AD.

Abbasid rule – was anti-Umayyad, with much destruction of any references to them. Thus we know very little about the Umayyads.

We do know that Muawiyya was a good leader, was an imperialist, had wanted to take ships to attack the Mediterranean islands, but Umar refused (Umar like many Arabs, was afraid of the sea). But Uthman gave him permission to attack Cyprus in 649, first from Saida (Lebanon) and then from Alexandria. The first major Arab naval enterprise brought great booty. Later the Arabs left when the island promised to pay tribute.

Crete was raided in 653 AD. Rhodes was raided in 653. The “Saracens” remanined there 5 years, stripped the island bare, melted down the giant bronze colossus (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world). Sicily was raided in 668 AD (at which time Muawiyya was now the caliph and not simply a general)

Advancement to Constantinople and a 6 year siege.

Chapt. 11: Checkmate on the Bosphorus: Constantinople 668-673 (pp. 83-86)

The dream of conquering Constantinople, greatest city of the east. In 668 there was an amphibious assault. An expedition sails from Syria, the Arab headquarters established on the island of Cyticus (a few miles south in the straits). Siege for 7 years.

The Byzantines had a secret weapon, a flaming mixture of ‘naphtha’, sulphur and pitch poured down on the attackers.

Eventually, Muawiyya realized he couldn’t take the city. The problem was that many of his ships were burnt, so he loaded as many soldiers as possible on the remaining ships. 30,000 soldiers were left to march back through Anatolia. The infantry was destroyed by the Byzantines during this retreat until there was a peace settlement, which forced Muawiyya to pay a tribute to Constantinople.


Part Three: The Iberian Venture

Chapt. 12: The Toledo Whore: Spain 710

Legend: the King Rodrigo of Spain seduces the daughter of count Julian of Morocco. In retaliation, Julian sides with the Emir Musa, a Muslim ruler of North Africa, based in Tunisia. Musa’s dream was to invade through Spain and France and meet Muslims invading from the east, so that Islam would surround the Mediterranean.

Chapt. 13: The Mountain of Tarik: Spain 711 (pp. 93-96)

The Caliph al-Walid authorizes the invasion of Spain, so the Musa and his commander, Tarik, with the count Julian as advisor, cross from Tangier to Gibralter (then called Jabil Tarik).

Spain – peasants oppressed by aristocracy. Internal dissension especially against Jews. They were now ruled by the Visigoths, who were complacent and corrupt.

The first battle, on the banks of the Guadelete river was a decisive victory for the Muslims. King Rodrigo was killed and his head sent back to Damascus.

The Muslims called Iberia al-Andalus and immediately began the campaign to take it all and head on for France.

Chapt. 14: A Conqueror’s Fate: Spain 711-715 (pp. 97-100)

Musa had commanded Tarik to wait for reinforcements, but the general ignored him, dividing the army into 2 parties, one heading for Cordova and the other for Toledo. The inhabitants fled and the cities and booty were taken without a fight.

Musa arrived with reinforcements in 712 en route to Toledo. He captured several other cities; Carmona, Medina, Sidonia, and Seville. Often the Jews helped the Muslims as liberators.

By 715 nearly all of Spain was under Muslim occupation. Leaving his son in charge, Musa returned to Damascus to report, but the new Caliph, Suleiman, feared his victories and had him banished to live as a beggar in a town in Arabia.


Part Four: Islam Unfolds

Chapt. 15: The Forgotten Isaurian: Constantinople 717-718 (pp. 103-106)

Leo the Isaurian, Anatolian and Byzantine emperor repelled the second Muslim attack on Constantinople in 717AD, initiated by Suleiman, consisting of 120,000 Arabs and Persians by land and 100,000 by sea.

Leo filled the granaries and the citizens watched with full bellies as the besiegers starved throughout the winter. The Arab supply ships were destroyed by Greek fire. A final doom for the Muslims came about when the Bulgarians joined the Greeks against them. The retreat was ordered, again, 30,000 by land, the rest by sea.

Chapt. 16: The Dhimmis: Dar-al-Islam from the Seventh Century Onwards (pp. 107-109)

Dhimmis could not carry weapons, ride horses, wear shoes, ring church bells, wear anything green, or fight back against a Muslim assault.

Proclaiming Jesus’ divinity and conversion from Islam were capital offenses.

Muslim rulers were not anxious for converts because Dhimmis were more valuable economically, as they paid tribute and were the slave labour.

Chapt. 17: Forays into France: The Langvredoc 718-732 (pp. 110-115)

The Spaniards began the Reconquista in 718 (ended in 1492). They started out as resistance movements.

Pelayo ruled a tiny territory and ran guerrilla raids against the Muslims.

Muslims began moving north.

Al-Semak led the first invasion across the Pyrenees in 721, establishing a base at Norbonne.

He was succeeded by Abderaman, who moved up the Rhone as far as Lyon and Dijon; specially targeting churches and monasteries. Then he moved on to Bordeaux. Between Poitiers and Tours, there was a clash between Abduraman and Charles Martel.

Chapt. 18: The Hammer of the Franks: Tours 732-759 (pp. 116-121)

Summary of the battle of Poitiers (or Tours) where Charles Martel turned back Abderaman’s advance. There was lots of fighting in the south of France (to the west in Langredoc under ibd-al-Malik, up the Rhone river again, east to Piedmont in Italy). The Muslims helped by Christian allies, began quarrelling with each other.

737 – Charles Martel retakes Avignon and continues to recapture Muslim strongholds until in 739 he reaches Marscilles.

741 – Charles Martel dies and is succeeded by Pepin the Short. Te Muslims are effectively driven out of France by this time.

Chapt. 19: The Umayyad Takeover: Spain 756-852 (pp. 122-129)

749 – the end of the Umayyad caliphate in Damascus. The new Abbasid rulers try to kill off all the remaining Umayyads. Abu al-Abbas manages to murder them all, but one, Abd al-Rahman, who escaped to Spain. Al-Abbas sent an army after him, but al-Rahman defeated it and established hi control over al-Andalus.

Charlemagne invaded from the north, but had to return to France to fight the Germans. So Abd al-Rahman was able to consolidate his power over his Muslim subjects.

(788-796) – Hisham I – succeeded Abd al-Rahman. Muslims invaded France, but turned back by the Christians there.

(796-822) – al-Itakam succeeded Hisham I. There was violent and quarrelling dissension even among the Muslim subjects. Notorious for massacres. In 801 Louis I (son of Charlemagne) invaded. Turned back, and also had troubles with the Basques.

(822-852) – Abd al-Rahman II – relatively peaceful, focussed on his 97 children. Exception – execution of nearly 1 dozen Christians of Cordova, who deliberately sought martyrdom by insulting the prophet.

Chapt. 20: The Long Resistance: Sicily 827-902 (pp. 130-134)

Conquest of Sicily began in 827 AD, though it had been raided several times earlier. The conquest took place when Admiral Euphemius of the Byzantine navy rebelled against discipining action for marrying a nun. He joined up with the emir of Tunisia. The campaign was slow and bloody, complete with many massacres. From Sicily they took other islands (Corsica, Malta, Sardinia, Pantellerva), and then marched on to Italy, reaching Rome and pillaging the churches of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s in 846 AD.

In Sicily the Arab occupation lasted 264 years. In 1091 AD the Normans defeated the Saracens.

Chapt. 21: The French Riviera Campaign: St. Tropez 898-973 (pp. 135-139)

Muslim sailors landed at St. Tropez and began a disjointed pattern of conquest. All throughout the Riviera, in the Alps, cutting off France from Italy. Many settled and intermarried. Slowly the tide began to turn and in places Muslims were being pushed out. But a weak and divided Christendom was singularly unfit for the task.


Part Five: For Spain, My Humble Duty

Chapt. 22: The Corpses of Simancas: Spain 912-961 (pp. 143-148)

Incoherent, disorganised battles between Muslims and Christians and between different groups on each side characterised the early 10th century. Abd Al-Rahman III (912-961) decides to establish order. (He was following on the heals of Abdalla (882-912), a notoriously cruel caliph. After the surrender of the Castle of Polei he ordered the decapitation of all Christians unless they converted – only one took that offer and survived.) Abd al-Rahman III re-established the authority of Cordova, putting down insurgent Muslim cities and waging war against Christian kingdoms of the north. But the Reconquista continued to grind on. The Christians won a major victory at Simancas while Abd al-Rahman was preoccupied with Muslim rebels in the south. But the Christians did not follow up on their victory, preferring instead to settle for peace with the Muslims and internal dissension at home.

Chapt. 23: Aurora’s Lover: Santiago De Compostela 967-1002 (pp. 149-152)

Ibn Abi Amir (a.k.a. “Almanzor”) seduced the wife of Caliph Hakim II and became vizier of al-Andalus. He became especially powerful when his lover’s 5-year-old son, al-Hisham II became caliph. In 981 Almanzor lead the Muslim conquest of Zamora and executed over 4000 Christians. As a sign of his religious zeal he copied the whole Qur’an by hand and carried it around with him on campaigns. He also helped to build a mosque with his own hands. In the face of internecine warfare on the Christian side, Almanzor took Rueda, Barcelona, a group of villages in Castile and Leon, the shrine of Santiago De Compostela (reputed burial site of St. James), and Caneles. Each campaign was followed by a massacre of prisoners and civilians, the burning of the town and desecration of churches and monasteries. The great bells of Santiago de Compostela were carried off to Cordova on the backs of Christian slaves to be hung in the new mosque built by Almanzor. In 1002 Almanzor died of illness on the return from capturing Caneles.

Chapt. 24: Exeunt the Umayyads: Spain 1085 (pp. 153-155)

Muslim empire : The Abbasid empire was divided with the Buhaywids in Iraq and Persia, Damanids in China, Fatimids in Syria, Egypt, eastern North Africa, Sicily and the Hijaz. The Spanish Caliphate was the de facto ruler of western North Africa until disunity among Muslims in Spain lead to the fall of the Umayyads in 1031 followed by “taifas,” a collection of ~30 little Muslim statelets each ruled by their own king. In contrast, the Christians were making attempts to unify. But not much was done in the way of jihad or reconquista, though the latter gained momentum in the closing decades of the 11th century, culminating with the reconquest of Toledo in 1085.

Chapt. 25: The Desert Warrior: Zalaca 1085-1086 (pp. 156-160)

1085- reconquest of Toledo stimulates the “taifa” of Seville to ask for help from the Almoravid leader, Yusuf ibn Tashufin. The Almoravids were a puritanical movement, following the Maliki school of jurisprudence. Yusuf, a military genius, came eager to fight against Christians and with the intention of remaining in Spain. The kings of the Muslim taifas chose Islam over Spain, they preferred the suzerainty of Africa rather than the Christian kingdom of Castile. Near Badajoz, at the Battle of Zalaca (a.k.a. Sagrajas), Yusuf defeated the Castilian army of Alfonso VI. >24,000 Christians were slaughtered and their heads shipped to all the main towns of al-Andalus and North Africa. Yusuf then returned to North Africa to tidy up affairs in his kingdom there.

Chapt. 26: Mio Cid: Valencia 1080-1108 (pp. 161-167)

El-Cid, born Rodrigo Diaz de Biuar, one of the heroes of the Reconquista, a tactical genius. He was estranged from Alfonso VI while the king appeared to be making progress against the Muslim taifas, but after Zalaca el-Cid and his knights joined the Christian knights of Leon and Castile in their assault on Valencia. After a 20 month siege Valencia was taken and its ruler burned alive. After that Yusuf and the Almoravids returned from Marrakech to retake Valencia. Their attempt to starve the city into submission failed when el-Cid led his troops in an attack that scattered the invaders. It was not until el-Cid’s death in 1099 that Valencia was retaken for Islam.


Part Six: Deflection in the South

Chapt. 27: Liberation in Lusitania: Portugal 1079-1147 (pp. 171-174)

The French knight, Henry of Burgundy, came to crusade against Islam on behalf of Alfonso VI of Castile and Leon. (Many French knights were at this time answering the appeal of the pontiff in Rome to save Spain from the Saracens). Henry married the daughter of Alfonso VI and was given the fiefdom of Portugal. His son, Alfonso Henrique, freed Portugal from the Muslims with the assistance of a fleet of 164 vessels carrying hundreds of crusaders bound for the Holy Land who stopped in Portugal and decided to stay. After the Christians reconquered Lisbon in 1147 they massacred the Muslim inhabitants and turned their attention against their Castilian overlords. By 1171 nearly all the Muslims had been expelled from Portugal and the Portuguese had established independence from Castile. In 1185 Alfonso Henrique died, king of an independent country.

Chapt. 28: Whence the Greeks and Normans: Sicily 1025-1091 (pp. 175-181)

961-Byzantines had retaken Crete from the Muslims

1035-Byzantine general, Giorgios Maniakes, assisted by the Viking Harold Hadrada, invaded Sicily.

1038-Byzantine victory at Rametta, however, no permanent landing was made because of fighting with the Normans in Italy and intrigues in the Byzantine court. The Normans had been brought to Italy as mercenaries in the wars between little Italian statelets. In 1061 a contingent of >2000 Normans landed on Sicily, ready to fight both with Muslims and Greeks. Initially a war between roving bands, in 1084 it took on more religious overtones for the Christians when the Muslims of southern Italy burned down the churches of Reggio and enslaved the monks of the Rocco d-Asino monastery.

1091-Noto, the last Muslim stronghold in Sicily, surrendered.

After the conquest of Sicily was complete mot of the Muslim population co-operated with their conquerors, some even joining the Norman army. A few rebellions were put down among those who would not co-operate, but a Muslim population remained until 1300 when the remnant was deported or forcibly converted to Christianity.

Chapt. 29: The African Take-over: Spain 1104-1212 (pp 182-191)

Yusef and the Almoravids introduced the North African rule of Spain. Spain became a secondary battlefield when war broke out between 2 rival Berber sects, the Almoravids and the Almorhads. This internecine “jihad” (so-called by the mullahs on each side) were often as fierce as those against the Christians. This infighting finally assured Spanish victory in Spain.

During the 12th century many of the Orders of Christian warriors were founded (e.g. Knights of Calatrava, Knights of Santiago, Knights of our Lady of Montjoie) They began to play a crucial role in the Liberation of Spain from the Moors in the 13th century.

By 1114 the North Africans had taken nearly all the Muslim taifas and were pushing north. This conflict roused Christendom as if it were a crusade, and many knights, veterans of the reconquest of Jerusalem in 1097, poured in to defend Spain. After some back and forth movement (complicated by power struggles between the Christian kingdoms) the tide began to move against the Moors.

The collapse of the Almoravids was not caused by the Christians, but by the Almorhads, who invaded Spain in 1146 and by 1150 were rulers of al-Andalus. (The Almoravids were desert nomads, ancestors of today’s Tuareg, and the Almorhads were peasant farmers and pastoralists from the Atlas mountains. The had little in common but love of Islam, hatred of each other, and the practices of slaver and violence.) Once firmly in power the Almorhads continued the Jihad in Spain.

1195 – Battle of Alarcos – fought between Alfonso VIII of Castile and the Almorhad el-Mansur. Expected Christian victory turned into a terrible defeat, which shook the rest of Western Europe. The pope (Celestine III) then intervened on behalf of Christian unity. He excommunicated the Leonese king who had formed an alliance with the Muslims, demanded the co-operation of rival kings against the Moors, and sent some crusaders to Spain instead of to the Holy Land.

Chapt. 30: The Year of Decision: Las Navos de Tolosa 1212 (pp. 192-196)

King Alfonso VIII of Castile called together the largest Christian army ever assembled in Spain, >100,000 men. This army met the Almohads at Las Navos de Tolosa. After fierce fighting the Moors were routed. After the Christian victory 1 million Moors migrated back to Africa. And the Christian campaign pressed forward.

Chapt. 31:The Muslim Debacle: Spain 1212-1250 (pp. 197-200)

La Reconquista took nearly 800 years to finally rid Spain of the colonial invaders.

Stage I: 710-1080 – retake 1st 1/3 of Iberia

Stage II: 1080-1210 – retake 2nd 1/3 of Iberia, including Portugal

Stage III: 1210-1250 – retake last 1/3 (except Grenada)

Most important battles: Simancas, Zalaca, Alarcos, Las Navos de Tolosa

Key Christian Leaders: Fernando III of Castile, Jaime I of Aragon. Most of the Christian soldiers were knights of military orders. The Muslims helped to destroy themselves. Some joined the Christians as mercenaries, the rest fought among themselves for power (in the 1220’s there were 3 rival caliphs in Spain.) The Spanish Muslims could expect no help from North Africa, which was embroiled in its own civil war. Muslim leaders rose and were swiftly decapitated by their fellows as the Christians moved inexorably south.

Chapt. 32: Five Cities to Go: Andalusia 1230-1248 (pp. 201-205)

The Almohads were expelled from Spain in 1230, after their departure five cities still remained in Muslim hands:

Cordova – reconquered by Fernando III of Castile. The bells of the mosque of Cordova, which had been made for Santiago de Compostela and were carried by Christian slaves to Cordova upon the order of Almanzor, 300 years earlier, were now carried back to Compostela by Muslim slaves upon the order of Fernando III. La Reconquista had come a full circle.

Seville – reconquered by Fernando III of Castile after the Muslim population assassinated their leader for suggesting they surrender. Instead the siege last 2 years and 2 months before the inhabitants finally surrendered and emigrated to Morocco in 1248.

Grenada – became a vassal state of Castile

Jaen – surrendered to Fernando III of Castile by its Muslim governor in exchange for permission to rule Grenada as a vassal of Castile.

Valencia – reconquered by Jaime I of Aragon. The Muslim king quickly capitulated because he wanted to convert to Christianity.


Part Seven: Onslaught from the East

Chapt. 33: The Ottoman Advent: Turkey Mid-1200’s (pp. 209-211)

1250- Turkey – Othman, son of Ertognil, is born. His tribe begins moving into Anatolia fighting the Byzantines on the west and the Mongols on the east. The Mongols had been sweeping across central Asia. In 1258, Hulagu (grandson of Ghengis Khan) took Baghdad. After the adoption of Islam the Turkish advance on Europe became a holy war. In a short time they became the most feared threat to Eastern Europe, twice nearly reaching Vienna.

Chapt. 34: The Mongolian Horde: Russia 1340-1480 (pp. 212-205)

Mongols – during their overrunning of central Asia they had no formal religion, practising a vague sort of shamanism. After conquering Muslim lands they adopted Islam (mid-13th cen,) and then moved north into Russia (at that time ruled by Lithuania in the east and Nougorad in the north.) 1223, Mongol victory by the river Kalka. 1237 – Mongols crossed the Volga and conquered Russian principalities one after another. The society ruled by the Mongols was a mixture of Mongols, Turks, Russians, Armenians and Greeks.

Late 14th century a Russian vassal state ruled from Moscow rebelled against the Mongols. After initial success they were trounced by and Moscow sacked. But the Mongols did not stay so far north for long. They remained in the south where they gradually disintegrated into different states. Those in the Crimea became known as the Tartars.

15th century – Russia was becoming a unified state. 1480 – Russia refused to pay tribute to the Mongols. The two armies faced off and disperse without a battle, effectively a victory for Russia.

1491 – Final battle of Mongols in Europe at Zasalvi in Poldavia, where a Polish army defeated a mixed Tartar-Turkish force.

Chapt.35: Janissaries Ahoy: Thrace 1301-1353 (pp 216-218)

Othman I – gave his name to the Ottoman Empire and little else. He didn’t fight much, just moved his people into sparsely populated areas of Asia Minor.

Orkhan I – son of Othman. Sultan in 1326 and made Bursa his capital.

Byzantine Empire – throne contested by John Cantacuzene and John V (a child, his widowed mother was protecting his claim to his father’s throne). John Cantracuzene invited the Ottomans into Europe to support his claim.

1345 – 1st Ottoman excursion across the Dardanelles

1349 – Byzantines ask for Ottoman help against Bulgaria

1353 – Turks establish their first permanent European settlement in Gallipoli

Orkhan I created the Janissary force – originally drawn from Christian slaves removed from their families as children. They were raised to be an elite fighting corp, loyal to the sultan alone. For the next 300 years, they were the best fighting force in Europe. (Janissaries were generally converted to Islam, sometimes by force, sometimes willingly.)

Chapt. 36: The Gay Revolt: Thrace 1376-1388 (pp. 291-223)

Under Orkhan I the Ottomans conquered Thrace. Europe was in its usual disarray. The French and English were beginning their 100 years war. Genoa and Venice were in a 30 years war. Spain endured internecine warfare between Christian kingdoms. In Germany the Black Death raged. Lithuania and Hungary were fighting over the Ukraine. Russia was fighting the Mongols and the Balkans were resisting Hungarian imperialism.

Murad I (Othman’s son) – began the first serious Ottoman invasion of Europe and tripled the size of the Empire. Pope Urban V, afraid of a renewed Muslim invasion from North Africa and the rising Ottoman threat in the Balkans, called upon Catholic Hungary and Orthodox Serbia to stop the Turks.

1371 –1st important Eastern European response to Jihad. Christians were stopped by Muslims at Cenomen. 1st conflict between Janissaries and their Christian relations, also 1st between Turks and the Serbs. Murad cleverly intervened in the Byzantine civil war between the rival “Johns”, supporting now one, now the other. The sons of John V and Murad began having an affair and also planned to overthrow their fathers. The coup was halted, and Murad was so enthusiastic that he launched a new invasion of Europe. Sofia fell in 1385 and Salonika in 1387.

Chapt. 37: The Field of Blackbirds: Kosovo 1389 (pp 224-230)

King of Serbia (Lazar I), threatened by advancing Ottomans, gathered together a force of Serbians, Wallachians, Bosnians and Albanians to oppose the invaders. The Christian force outnumbered the Muslims, but a well-timed addition of Janissaries to the fight turned the tide and the Ottomans won. Murad was wounded and ordered the execution of King Lazar before himself dying. The new sultan, Bajazet, immediately ordered his brother Yakub to be strangled. Yakub had led the counterattack that turned the battle against the Christians and might have proved a little too popular for the new sultan’s comfort. (The execution of surviving siblings proved to be a common political manoeuvre in the Ottoman court)

Chapt. 38: The Wild Knights of France: Nicopolis 1396 (pp. 231-239)

King Sigismund of Hungary sent envoys to France to plead for protection against the invaders. The 100 years war had just taken a breather and French knights were happy to head off to Hungary with the blessing of the pope. The purpose of the expedition of these ~10,000 knights was to retake Nicopolis on the Bulgarian side of the Danube. The brought no siege equipment, trusting on their courage to route the Turks. Instead, Nicopolis held, waiting for reinforcements, which Bajazet duly brought. Against the advice of Sigismund, the French knights rushed to meet the enemy – straight into a trap, rows and rows of sharpened stakes planed in the ground so the French were forced to dismount or disembowel their horses. Effectively helpless on the ground, the French were massacred, Bulgaria became an Ottoman vassal, and Hungary remained in danger.

One of the surviving French knights returned to France and brought a small force to assist in the siege of Constantinople. For a time the French forced the Turks to lift the siege by land and sea, but the eventual fall of Constantinople was really delayed by the invasion of the Mongol Timurlane who was leading his troops across Asia from Samarkand. He defeated Bajazet and established himself as sultan.

Chapt. 39: The Hungarian Hero: Varna 1444 (pp 240-247)

The Ottoman empire quickly degenerated into a 4-sided civil war. The Serbs foolishly sided with a prince that lost and were massacred in their thousands for their folly. Eventually only one claimant survived, Mahomet I, an exceptionally humane and just ruler. He signed peace treaties with Venice and Constantinople. His son, Murad II, resumed the invasion of Europe. In the Balkans he had been facing two resistance movement, one lead by Janas Hunyadi of Hungary and one led by John Castriot of Albania, and Murad was eager to make up his lack of prestige.

1443- The Hungarians, Poles, Serbs, Wallachians, and Germans untied under the Hungarian king Ladislaus and went out to face the advancing Turkish army. The vastly outnumbered Christians defeated the Turks, but, inexplicably, within sight of the Turkish capital King Ladislaus pulled back and signed a treaty with Murad. A year later the Hungarians changed their mind and started the war again, this time marching as far as Varna (where they were supposed to receive aid from Venetian ships which never arrived.) This time the Christians were soundly defeated by a renewed Muslim force.

Chapt. 40: The Last Agony: Constantinople 1453 (pp 245-259)

In 1453 Constantinople fell, unaided by any European ally except a few hundred troops from Genoa. Beset by internal quarrels, the European states did not notice until it was too late. The next thing they knew, Turkey was the most powerful state in Europe. Suleiman the Magnificent was far more powerful than his contemporaries Elizabeth of England, Charles V of Austria or Francois I of France.

(Pg. 249) “They feared the Turks. The Turks did not fear them. The Turkish threat was for centuries the main concern of all the European nations, and every European man and woman lived in terror of the Turks. They feared the Muslim Turks much more than they ever feared the Nazi Germans or the Communist Russians, and for much, much longer. The Nazi peril lasted 10 years. Soviet imperialism lasted 70 years. The Turkish threat lasted 500 years.”

Since its founding in 658 Constantinople had been besieged 29 times. Frequently by the Muslims (during the initial Arab conquests and then a frequent Ottoman activity), but occasionally by Catholic Christians who sacked the Orthodox city en route to the Holy Land on the crusades. Mahomet II determined to take Constantinople and the few hundred square mile remaining of the once glorious Roman empire. 1st he besieged the city, and waited. He made a treaty with the Catholic Hungarian Janas Hunyadi to ensure peace on his northern front. Mahomet was not a pious man.(rather he was fond of blaspheming the prophet, murder, and homosexual activity) and this war barely pretended to be a Jihad, rather it was straightforward imperialism. The Turks attacked the city relentlessly from 6 April to 29 October. Despite determined resistance and the addition of the Genoese troops, the city walls fell. The night of 28 October the remaining citizens crowded into St. Sophia’s Cathedral for a final service. The next day the city was overwhelmed, the soldiers slaughtered, the civilians enslaved, and the women raped – beginning with the convent. St. Sophia was declared as mosque, as it has remained to this day. But the Ottomans had to make long term arrangements for the surviving Christians throughout the empire, most of whom refused to convert, so they commanded the remaining Orthodox priests to appoint a new patriarch, who could shepherd his little flock at the will of the Sultan.

Chapt. 41: The Road to Rome: Belgrade 1456 (pp 260-264)After the fall of Constantinople, Mahomet II set his sights on Rome and turned his army north toward the Balkans. In the next few years he conquered 12 kingdoms and 200 cities. 1st, Peloponnese, the remaining part of Greece, then Bosnia. At its surrender the king and heir were promised their lives, but shortly they were executed as the Grand Mufti argued that agreements with unbelievers were invalid. The population generally converted to Islam so as to avoid the same fate, a crime for which the Serbs, who remained Orthodox, have never forgiven them. Serbia fell next, but for a time Albania held out under the leadership of John Castriot (a.k.a. Skanderbeg) until 1468. Hungary, still with Janos Hunyadi at the head of the army, stood firm and called for a crusade to protect Belgrade. Hunyadi’s victory there proved a major setback to the Ottomans.

After 15 years of fighting in the Balkans Mahomet II decided to try a sea assault against Italy. But plans went awry when he announced his plans to keep the plunder for himself and his Janissaries refused to attack. Mahomet died before leaving Asia Minor. The pope called for a crusade to protect southern Italy.


Part Eight: By Land and by Sea

Chapt. 42: The Sigh of the Moor: Granada 1492 (pp 267-274)

Mahomet II’s death triggered a power struggle between his two sons, Bayazid and Djem. Bayazid won, exiled his brother and established the Ottoman navy as a significant power in the Mediterranean. Muslim-Christian fighting had very much died down in Spain, as only Grenada and a few sea ports remained in Muslim hands. But Morocco sent a stead supply of soldiers, so the Spaniards decided to retake the last of these towns, but the effort was half heart (distracted by things such as the 100 years war between France and England) and took over a century.

1461 – Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile marry and together unify Spain

1480 – Beginning of the serious campaign against Grenada. The final conquest was completed in 1492.

Chapt. 43: The Ottoman Empire: Selim the Grim 1512-1520 (pp. 275-277)

After the fall of Grenada, Hungary plunged into civil war, the aristocracy brutally oppressed the peasantry which rebelled and then were crushed. But the Ottomans were busy elsewhere for the time being and missed their golden opportunity to take Hungary. Selim I (1512-1520) built up the navy and nearly doubled the size of the empire through conquests in Asia and Africa. He took for himself the title “caliph” which vastly increased his religious prestige. A devout Sunni, he hated the Shi’a nearly as much as Christians. A strong sadistic streak left a record of hundreds of thousands of executions and goulish torture.

Chapt. 44: The Red Danube: Manacs 1526 (pp. 278-284)

Suleiman the Magnificent succeeded his father Selim in 1520. He did fight 3 wars against Persia, his main Muslim enemy, but the general focus of his imperial policy was west, toward Europe. His navy moved to retake the island of Rhodes, which was defended by the Knightly order of St. John of Jerusalem. It fell in 1522 and Suleiman permitted the surviving knights to leave Rhodes unharmed, a gesture he bitterly repented when they moved to Malta and repulsed his attacks 43 years later.

Previous Jihad campaigns destroyed Serbia, Bulgaria, Wallachia and Bosnia, Albania and Greece. Only remaining was Hungary, which Suleiman was determined to destroy. Wracked by internal dissent and ruled by a foolish playboy, (Louis II), Belgrade fell in 1521. Louis II rushed to meet the enemy rather than waiting for reinforcements. The armies met at Mohacs, and the outnumbered Hungarians were destroyed by Turkish guns. During the next two centuries the Ottomans depopulated Hungary (from 4 to 2 /2 million), exporting ~3 million Hungarians as slaves and hunting others like partridges.

Chapt. 45: The Untaken Capital: Vienna 1529 (pp. 285-287)

In 1529 Suleiman moved on Vienna only to find that to his disgust both Charles V and his brother Ferdinand were elsewhere. After 3 weeks of vile weather which prevented the use of Turkish guns Suleiman decided the effort and time needed to take the city wasn’t worth the satisfaction of defeating the unimportant general in charge, so he returned to Istanbul.

Chapt. 46: Sailors, Slaver and Raiders: The Mediterranean 1504-1546 (pp. 288-294)

The Muslim fishermen of Grenada established a thriving piracy business from bases in North Africa. The chief commodity was Christian slaves from Spain and Italy. The pirates considered their actions to be Jihad, citing sura ix: 5-6 “kill those who join other gods with God wherever ye shall find them; and seize them, besiege them, and lay wait for them with every type of ambush.) Slavery was considered to have Qur’anic (and therefore divine) sanction (as compared to Christianity, where, though it has taken place, has nearly always been considered reprehensible.) The pirate Barbarossa, based in Algiers, brought the territory he controlled into the Ottoman Empire and then became head of Suleiman’s navy. 1535 – Charles V sacked Tunis committing atrocities worthy of the Turks. Generally the Europeans were too preoccupied with fighting each other to spend too much effort on the Ottomans.

Chapt. 47: In Arms Always and Prepared for Combat: Malta 1565 (pp. 295-308)

A shipload of luxury goods was captured and taken to Malta. Investors in the enterprise, including several of the sultan’s wives, stood to lose heavily, so they pleaded with Suleiman to attack Malta instead of launching a second attack on Vienna. 1565, the Ottoman fleet set out for Malta (galleys rowed by Christian slaves). To both sides this was a holy war, the struggle of Islam and Christianity. The battle started at St. Elmo, defended by Neapolitan knights who used “Greek fire” and boiling oil against guns and canons. After a month long bombardment, the fortress fell. The siege of Malta continued for 2 ½ months after the fall of St. Elmo. The island reached the breaking point, with even women and children joining the battle to defend their 1500 year old faith, first brought to the island by St. Paul. At last reinforcements arrived from Sicily and the Ottomans lifted the siege and returned to Istanbul. 30,000 Moors and Turks died. 8,000 of the 9,000 knights of Malta died, as did 5,000 civilians. The Ottomans never attempted to attack Malta again.

Chapt. 48: The Rhapsody of Death: Hungary 1566 (pp 309-311)

As Suleiman marched the largest ever Ottoman army north through the Balkans, he was annoyed by the Hungarians who stubbornly and repeatedly rebelled against their Turkish overlords. Suleiman looked on these rebellions as an affront not only to his personal majesty, but also to God, who had given him the right to rule Hungary. The rebels were brutally slaughtered, but the march to Vienna did not continue, as Suleiman died of a heart attack and was succeeded by his son Selim.

Chapt. 49: The Alpujarras Rising: Spain 1568-1570 (pp 312-316)

70 years after the fall of Grenada, 100,000 Muslims still lived in Spain, dreaming of the day Islam would return to rule al-Andalus. They were also persecuted in the Inquisition. A secret resistance movement formed, stockpiling arms to aid an eventual invasion from North Africa. Revolt broke out in the mountains of Grenada, and King Philip II petitioned the Pope for assistance. The Spanish force (for a time led by Don John) beat back the Moriscos, eventually completely uprooting them from Grenada and scattering them all over Spain.

Chapt. 50: The Flaying of Bragadino: Famagusta 1571 (pp. 317-321)

1570 – Selim launched an invasion of Cyprus to get a hold of the vineyards. After a year the defense collapsed and the Ottoman general Lala Mustafa had the governor of Cyprus, Bragadino, flayed to death.

Chapt. 51:A Good Day to Die: Lepanto 1572 (pp. 322-328)

1571 – Pope P ius V founded the Holy League in an attempt to unite Europe against the Muslim invaders. Commander-in-Chief was 25 year old Don John of Austria (who was actually a Spaniard). 1572 – The league sent out a navy of 316 ships which met the Ottoman navy at Lepanto where a mammoth battle took place. The result was a Christian victory that annihilated the Muslim fleet, but bad weather prevented a follow up attack on Istanbul.

Chapt. 52: Colonialism Muslim Style: Eastern Europe 1574-1681 (pp. 329-339)

Turkey was the first major colonial power (100 years before Spain). Following the victory at Lepanto the Holy League fell into disarray, its members preoccupied with quarreling with each other ( e.g. Elizabeth of England and Philippe of Spain). Selim II had fallen down in a drunken stupor and cracked his head. He was succeeded by Murad III who didn’t encourage much Jihad and allowed the Janissaries to degenerate. Revolts broke out in Transylvania, Moldavia, and Wallachia. The Janissaries rebelled several times and engaged in widespread corruption. Mahomet III led a relatively uneventful reign. His son Ahmed I became sultan at age 14 and aside from a brief excursion into Hungary pretty much focused on Persia. Othman II (1618) was jailed and strangled by his own Janissaries (it was during his reign that a British envoy first described the Ottoman Empire as the “sick man of Europe). Murad IV (1623) Sultan at age 11, restored order at the price of 100,000 executions and quelled mutinies by the army and the Janissaries. An alcoholic and sadist (killing was a kind of sport to him), he did a few kind deeds, e.g. Ending the tribute in children which had been demanded of Christian villages, and thus he forced the Janissaries to find a new source of manpower. Ibrahim, (brother of Murad IV) resumed the Jihad in Europe against the Cossacks, assisted by the Tatars. He also broke a treaty with Venice and attacked Crete. The siege of Candia lasted 20 years, when the Venetians in turn besieged Istanbul. The irritated populace and the Janissaries overthrew the sultan. Mahomet IV (1648, age 10) briefly restored the Ottoman empire to its former greatness. He sent an army against the Holy Roman (i.e. Austrian) Empire and defeated the Christian force at the Battle of St. Gothard. In 1672, the Ottomans defeated the Poles and Russians, intervening at the request of the Cossacks. In 1681, the war turned around. The Poles and Russians had retaken all the land lost to them, and had made inroads into Ottoman territory.


Part Nine: The Waning of Holy War

Chapt. 53: Never was there a victory more complete: Vienna 1683 (pp. 343-348)

1682 – Hungarians revolted against Austria, providing a golden opportunity for the Ottomans, who sent a ½ million man army northward. 1683 – The Ottoman army, led by Kara Mustafa, besieged Vienna. Anxious not to damage the city he intended to rule, Kara Mustafa decided to starve out the inhabitants. Leopold I of Austria fled, issuing appeals for help from all over Europe. The pope sent prayers. The French promised not to attack Austria. But King John III of Poland (the same John Sobieski who defeated the Turks in four battles in four days a decade earlier) brought an army. 3,000 Polish cavalry and 18,000 Polish and German infantry set out to meet 500,000 Turks. The Ottoman encampment was lazy and ill-planned, and the Polish force routed them in a single charge. The flight headed by Kara Mustafa himself (who was duly strangled when he returned to Istanbul).

Chapt. 54: The Jihad Totters: Greece and Hungary 1685-1699 (pp. 349-353)

The Ottoman Empire is collapsing in the centre with corruption and mutinous Janissaries and crumbling at the edges as the Austrians moved steadily on. 1685 – Francisco Morosini leads a force to retake much of the Morea (Peloponnese) for the Greeks. Austrian victory at Gran taking Buda. 1687- Russians besiege Azov. Austrian victory at Mohacs taking Croatia and Transylvania. 1688 – Austrians take Budapest. 1690 – Turks regroup, take back Belgrade and renter Kosovo. France, threatened by growing Hapsburg strength attacks the Rhineland. 1691 – Austrians defeat Muslims in battle at Salankeman. 1697 – Battle of Zenta leads to Austrian capture of Sarajevo. 1699 – The treat of Karlowitz as the Turks sue for peace. This is the first time in the history of the Ottoman Empire that it had been forced to send envoys abroad to treat with its foes. This is the turning point. From now on the Turks are on the defensive.

Chapt. 55: The Gravediggers: Central and Southeastern Europe 1716-1770 (pp. 354-361)

Ottoman wars are no longer expansionist, and barely pretend to be religious. The empire is now a major player in European power politics. 1715 – Ottoman navy and army head out to attack the Hapsburgs. They are defeated at Peterwardein (1716) and the Austrians take Belgrade, but instead of taking Istanbul the victorious Hapsburgs sign a peace treaty. Sultan Achmed II (ruled 1703-1730) lost a war against Persia in the Caucasuses. Under Mahmoud I the Janissaries revolted. But the empire did not fall because it was alternately supported by different European nations who were trying to maintain a balance of power. Western European nations did not want a collapsing Ottoman empire to enhance the power of the Austrians or Russians. Turkey and Russia got into a war over Poland (who knows why?). Austria took more of the Balkans and under Catherine the Great Russia moved south toward the Black Sea.

Chapt. 56: The Orloff-Suvarov Duet: The Mediterranean and Crimea 1770-1792 (pp 362-36

1770 – Russian navy turns to assist Greek rebellion against Turkey. The Greeks took the opportunity to massacre the local Turks in particularly hideous ways. But the Ottomans managed to restore order with equal severity. The Ottoman navy was nearly destroyed, but most of the Russian sailors were killed in skirmishes around the Med. Catherine the Great ordered the Russian army to the Crimea which they took from the Tatars. The resulting peace treaty turned Turkey into a semi-vassal of Russia. 1783 – Russia incorporated the Crimea into her empire leading, causing a fresh outbreak of war. The threat of Ottoman collapse concerned the rest of Europe./ the resulting peace treaty (1792) pushed the Russian border further south but left the Ottoman empire alive.


Part Ten: Warriors of a Willing Doom

Chapt. 57: To the shores of Tripoli: North Africa 1798-1830 (pp 370-379)

French occupation of Egypt under Napoleon, who was unable to ally the Egyptians. Instead its Muslim inhabitants fiercely opposed him, calling for Jihad. The Janissaries joined the French, but eventually the Mameluks survived the temporary French presence. Napoleon’s attack on Egypt was an attempt to strike against the British in India, so when the British threatened Istanbul the French joined the Turks, bringing weapons and modern training.

The Americans clashed with the Muslims first over the Barbary pirates who annoyed US merchants and embarrassed the navy by capturing a frigate and holding the sailors hostage. A variety of skirmishes took place, ending with a treaty between the US and Algeria in 1815.

1816 – the British navy bombarded Algiers over its refusal to stop the practice of Christian slavery. 1830 – An exchange of insults between the French and Algerians deteriorated into warfare resulting in a French victory and the beginning of the French occupation of Algeria for the next 132 years. 1880s – The French took Tunisia. This was a disorienting change for the Muslims, for whom the natural order of things was Muslim rulers and Christian slaves. They weren’t quite sure what to do about the Europeans who were quite certain that the opposite situation was the natural order.

Chapt. 58: The Surrogates of Pericles: Greece 1821-1827 (pp. 380-388)

Rebellions in Wallachia and Moldovia triggered a revolt in Greece. Within a few weeks nearly the entire Turkish population of Morea had been slaughtered, and from the Peloponnese the revolt spread. Now Jihad was primarily a defensive concept to the Turks who fought to retain both their Ottoman nationality and Islamic religion. Furious at the deaths of their co-religionists in Greece, Turks turned on Christians throughout the rest of the empire. Simple death was too kind, instead they were brutally tortured, triggering further atrocities by the Greeks in a downward spiral. Philhellics from all over Europe joined the cause of Greek independence.

Sultan Mahmoud II finally managed to free himself from the tyranny of his imperial guard, secretly recruiting a gunner force that destroyed the Janissaries during one of their many revolts. Support from Muhammad Ali, pasha of Egypt (virtually independent for some time), turned the tide against Greece, until Britain, France, and Russia threatened to jointly attack Turkey if it did not sign a peace treaty with the Greeks. A short naval battle persuaded the Ottomans of their sincerity by destroying the Turkish fleet. Greece was finally free.

Chapt. 59: War Galore: The Balkans 1825-1878 (pp. 389-395)

Following the revolt of Greece the Ottoman empire plunged into a series of wars:

Russo-Turkish War (1828-29)

Crimean War (1853-56)

Russo-Turkish War (1877-78)

Balkan Wars (1912-13)

World War I (1914-18)

Russia was Turkey’s greatest enemy, and the Balkan states generally gained their independence because of their relationship with Russia. This growing power intimidated Britain and France enough to join the Ottomans against Russia in the Crimea. The wars were conceived almost exclusively as political struggles by the “Christian” nations, but the rhetoric of jihad still dominated Ottoman propaganda until the mid-19th century.

In the face of revolts in Egypt, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria, and the Russian advance to Edirne (~50 miles from Istanbul), belated military reforms and savage reprisals against rebels could not keep the empire together.

In India, 1877, a gathering of Muslim clerics decided that for their part, jihad against Britain was unnecessary, as long as she permitted the practice of Islam to her subjects.


Part Eleven: The Jihad Returns

Chapt. 60: The Great Unholy Wars: Dar al-Harb 1912-1945 (pp. 399-409)

The new Balkan states created in the first few decades of the 20th century had no experience at self-government. Their only model of government for the last few centuries had been Ottoman corruption and ruthlessness. The new borders were not drawn with intelligible divisions of ethnicity or language.

1912 – 1st Balkan war – Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, Turkey – lots of switching sides. Austria got involved when Serbia claimed Bosnia, and the death of Archduke Francis Ferdinand triggered the 1st World War. Turkey entered on the side of Germany and the sultan/caliph declared universal jihad against the enemy nations. But in general the call failed and few Muslims in these countries rebelled. The British persuaded the Arabs in turn to declare a jihad against the Ottomans. Various rival factions declaring jihad on one another further weakened the empire.

1915-massacre of 1 million Armenians while being deported from Turkey to Syria. Most of the victims died along the way when deprived of food, water and all clothing. e.g. In one group of 18,000 Armenians, only 150 survived to reach Aleppo.

1922-100,000 Greeks massacred at Smyrna

All the victims in both cases were Christian.

With the destruction of the Ottoman empire, after the last orgy of violence in Smyrna, the caliphate and the rhetoric of jihad temporarily disappeared. In fact, the new leader of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (Attaturk) detested Islam. But during W.W.II the first hints of the return of jihad appeared in Bosnia, unrecognised by almost everybody. In the midst of inter-ethnic violence where everybody appeared to be killing everyone else, Muslims began banding together, forming religiously defined defence groups. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem travelled to Yugoslavia to preach jihad against the Jews and other enemies of Islam on the side of Nazi Germany.

Chapt. 61: Terrorism: The West 1980s-1990s (pp. 410-412)

The vocabulary of jihad has returned, justifying terrorist actions of every type. But rather than uniting Islam, jihad today is dividing it as Muslims war against one another. Not all Muslims identify with this violence. Islam is still a political ideology, considering its destiny to rule the world and replace the outdated religions of Christianity and Judaism. Religious submission is demanded of its own people.

Epilogue: An Action in all its Luster (pp. 413-415)

Story about a good relationship between a Christian and a Muslim in the 18th century.

Tawhid: Belief in One God

Apologetic Paper (Jay Smith) – May 1995


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Muslim View
  3. The Christian Response
    1. What the Scriptures say
    2. The history of the word ‘Trinity’
    3. ‘Trinity’ defined
    4. Common misconceptions
      1. Can 1+1+1=1?
      2. Is Jesus not merely human?
      3. The ignobility of God’s humanity
      4. Was Jesus begotten?
      5. Where was God when Jesus was on Earth?
      6. Is Mary God?
      7. Is the concept of the Trinity not borrowed from a pagan source?
  4. Conclusion

 


A: Introduction

A few years ago I received a letter from a colleague in India who had been approached by two Muslim teachers, in Bihar, with the request for: “A statement of Christian faith which would compare with the five principles of Muslim teaching.”

This list concerns The Beliefs of Iman, a group of five to six beliefs which all Muslims must adhere to, and which has, consequently become a sort of ‘Statement of Faith’ for the Muslim religion. The list includes the:

  1. belief in One God (Allah)
  2. belief in the Prophets
  3. belief in the Holy Books
  4. belief in Angels
  5. belief in the Day of Judgment
  6. belief in the Decrees or the Predestination of God (Allah).

I decided to write a Christian response to the six beliefs. This is the first response, concerned with the belief in one God (Tawhid). Because this paper is initially written for Muslims, it must be made understandable to them. For that reason I have left out many Christian religious terms which they would not be familiar with, and have kept the parameters of my response within the context of the positions espoused in the six beliefs of Iman. It is, therefore, not comprehensive; and for some Christians, perhaps simplistic. My desire is, however, that my position will be helpful in creating a platform from which both Muslims and Christians can begin a dialogue, with the hope that further discussion will ensue.

Let me commence by outlining their position, and then follow up with a Christian response to that position.


B: The Muslim View

The first and greatest teaching of Islam is proclaimed by the Shahada: “La Ilaha illa-l-lah, Muhammadun rasulu-l-lah.” (“There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the apostle of Allah.”) It is this very confession, which, once uttered sincerely, makes one a Muslim. This is the phrase all new converts are asked to say upon conversion. For those who take the pilgrimage, or the Hajj, it is requisite that they repeat this phrase with belief before they enter into the holy city of Mecca.

Allah, for a Muslim, is one (Wahid), and has no partners, no equal. In the Qur’an, Sura 28;88, we read: “And cry not unto any other god along with Allah. There is no god save Him.” Thus, Allah is totally other, totally distinct, totally unique. He created and maintains the world. Since He is one, no one else can share even an atom of His Divine power and authority. The Qur’an makes it clear that Allah has no son, no father, no relative, and no associates.

A few years back I did a survey on the attraction of Islam amongst North American converts to Islam, and I found that the greatest attraction was this view on Monotheism, or the belief in the oneness of God. Alongside this belief must be included the problems Muslims have with the trinity, the fact that Islam has no intercessor, and the belief that “Each person has a choice in his/her salvation.”

In the Hadith, Muhammad is reported to have related the ninety-nine names of Allah, to express some of His attributes. A number of these are: that He is merciful (that he provides humanity with food, drink, the means of movement, and all the necessities of life), that He is all-powerful (omnipotent), that He is wise and all-knowing (omniscient), and that He is eternal (has no beginning and no end).

The belief in the uniqueness of God (Tawhid) is repeated time and again in the Islamic institutions I have visited.

A number of my friends in an American mosque which I frequented questioned me as to why we needed an intercessor, and specifically one who was human? They felt that in giving Jesus deity we had diluted the power of God, in that God would then be dependent on someone else to fulfil His purposes on earth. “Islam,” they felt, “corrected that perception, and put God back in His rightful place, where He belonged.”

In my conversations, the relationship of Jesus to God caused concern as well. The administrator of the Masjid Ul-Haqq, in Baltimore, asked, “How could we believe that God would ever let Himself be killed?” and “Where is Jesus now?” “If he is sitting at the right hand of God, then that would imply that there are two gods, and that Jesus never went back into his original form (one with God).” It was this idea, which directed this administrator, the son of a second generation Baptist minister, to accept Islam as, “The Only True Religion,” and to become probably the most eloquent defender of Islam of those whom I met in the U.S.

Obviously, it is clear that the belief in the uniqueness of God, and the rejection of Jesus as the Son of God have a strong appeal for Muslims.


C: The Christian Response

From the outset, we need to say that perhaps no other category is as important to deny, from the Christian perspective, as the Islamic misconception that Christians believe in and worship three separate gods. This accusation is the one issue we must center all our energies on to condemn. Obviously, it is this “polytheism” which disturbs the Muslims the most. How can God be both THREE and ONE? Is this not illogical? Yet, God is beyond all human reason. Too often humans have tried to reduce God to a level that they could understand for themselves. They try to make God like themselves. We must reject such thought as quite ungodly.

Because God is beyond all human understanding we should expect to find aspects of Him that seem strange to us. Any explanation of God which is fully clear to human understanding must be wrong because He is far more than our little minds can grasp. Therefore to best understand who He is we are dependant on revelation. In other words we must go to our scriptures, to our authority to best understand who God is. It is there that we find the trinity revealed.

C1: What the Scriptures say

Christians and Muslims, alike, worship the God of Abraham. Furthermore, Muslims and Christians, alike, are Monotheistic, believing in only one, righteous, and transcendent, creator God. Muslims must understand that we echo them on this point.

The key verse of the Torah of the Prophet Moses states that: “The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

God is one and He commands us to love Him totally.

Muslims are quick to point out that the Hebrew word ELOHIM, used in Deuteronomy 6:4 must not be translated “Gods,” as this is an example of a ‘royal plural.’ Yet, anyone who is trained in linguistics will tell you that in both Hebrew and Arabic, there is no such thing as a royal plural. Elohim can only mean “Gods,” which is plural. We find this plurality of God expressed in Genesis 1:26; and in Genesis 11:7 as well. In the Deuteronomy 6:4 passage it is especially clear, where we read, “Jahweh Eluhenu Jahweh echad,” which literally translated means, “The Lord our Gods, the Lord is one.” Because this is not acceptable in English grammar, we leave the “s” out in our English text. But that does not take away from the fact that the plural tense is there in the original Hebrew text.

Jesus Christ, speaking more than one-thousand years after the prophet Moses says:

      “The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”

(Mark 12:28-30 and Matthew 22:37).

Remember that this is the man, Jesus, who claims to have equality with God who is speaking.

The New Testament provides us with only small clues to the mystery of God as THREE in ONE. In John 1:18 we find that the only-born God who is Jesus Christ, is in the heart of God. God is in God!

The Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-12) is also in God. So, God the Son, is in God the Father, and God the Spirit is in God the Father. As strange and mysterious as this is to the human mind, yet the Bible, as the very Word of God, tells us these things.

Thus, both the Torah and the Gospel (Injil) agree that God is one. We are commanded to love one God. Only He has the right to require our ultimate loyalty. All other gods which man invents are totally false (Hosea 13:2,3).

C2: The history of the word ‘Trinity’

Thus, what is the correct definition of the trinity? To our Muslim friends we say, that from the scriptures we find revealed a Divine unity of three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These make up the trinity.

Muslims probably have approached some of you, asking where in the scriptures the word trinity appears. We must say from the outset that the word “Trinity” never appears in the Bible. Not Once! It is a word which did not even exist at that time.

The word trinity is in fact a theological term adopted later by Christians to define what the Bible teaches concerning God. The word “trinity” in the early church simply meant “three persons”, but was always undergirded with the unity of God.

To correspond with Biblical revelation, the Christian must equally emphasize that God is one and three. Today the church has adapted the word to mean three in unity (or tri-unity). Though God is immensely complex, and cannot be exhaustively known, He has so revealed Himself in scripture that He can be truly known. The early church theologians wrestled with the difficulty of defining God from what is revealed in scripture with the limitations of the human language which had no word to express the reality of one God, who is three (even this definition in English seems illogical, and illustrates my point).

For centuries theologians adopted many words to try to express God’s revelation of Himself as three in one (for instance, words such as three prosopon, hupostasis, and trias), yet they were all inadequate. As an example of the difficulty which concepts like these engendered, the early church theologian, Tertullian (145-220 A.D.) created 590 new nouns, 284 new adjectives, and 161 new verbs to help explain this and other theological ideas found in the scriptures; ideas which because of their sophistication needed new terminology for us to understand them. It was Tertullian who came up with the word “trinity” over five hundred years before the writing of the Qur’an, the very book which tried to dispute its validity. Over the years the word trinity became the accepted definition.

C3: ‘Trinity’ defined

It is impossible to fully define the mystery of God as “triune.” That there is only one God, yet that the One God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the most basic Christian belief of all. All Christian beliefs depend upon the truth of that single statement.

The word trinity is simply used to express what the scripture delineates as God comprised of three Persons, who are infinite, yet personal, in complete unity of will, purpose, action and love, yet who cannot be separated though they have different functions.

The scriptures speak of God the Father who is the co-Creator with God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; who blesses (Ephesians 1:3-4), initiates (John 17:2-9) and sends (John 17:3,18).

The scriptures also speak about God the Son, who speaks-out the creation (John 1:1), and acts into history, both during the time of the prophets (Genesis 32:25-30; Exodus 3:2-5; 13:21; 33:9-11; Judge 2:1), and later when He was physically incarnated as the savior, the historical Jesus Christ (John 1:14).

And finally, the scriptures speak of God the Holy Spirit, who is resident within the disciple of Jesus Christ, who guides, instructs and empowers him (John 14:16-17), and who mediates Jesus Christ and His atoning work (John 15:26).

Jesus referred to this ‘Trinity in Unity’ when He commanded His apostles to go everywhere and to persuade men to become His disciples, and to baptize believers “…in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

It is important that God as “Father” must not be viewed within a biological context. Christians share with Muslims the prohibition against conceiving of God in the form of an image (made by man). God as “Father” refers, rather, to a relationship; a description of the covenant and fellowship relationship between God and humanity.

C4: Common misconceptions

C4i: Can 1+1+1=1?

Possibly the greatest criticism against Christians by Muslims is the false view of the plurality of God. Christians have often been accused by Muslims of worshipping 3 gods (Sura 5:73). Many of you have probably been asked the question, “how can 1+1+1 equal 1,” assuming that 1 represents a separate god. Obviously this is not what Christians believe. God is not made up of three separate gods, but three “functions” expressed in the one God. It would perhaps be more correct to ask, “can 1x1x1 equal 1”?

All Christians strongly believe that there is but ONE God, and He alone must be the object of our worship and service. The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly tells us that there is only ONE God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; Romans 3:30; 1 Timothy 1:17; James 2:19). Perhaps 1 Corinthians 8:4 says it best, “There is no God but ONE”.

C4ii: Is Jesus not merely human?

Muslims state emphatically that Jesus was merely a human. They point to Suras 4:171; 5:116; and 6:101, which maintain the impossibility of God having a son, or that any human could be divine.

Our scriptures also speak emphatically of Jesus’s humanness. They speak of His powerless in Mark 13:32, 11:12-13, and John 5:30. They point out that He was tempted in Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:13. Mark speaks of His humanness quite plainly in 1:35, and 6:3. In other passages we find that Jesus was violent, that He was fearful, helpless, and that He could and did die.

Yet our scriptures are also replete with examples of Chest’s uniqueness. The book of Matthew speaks of his genealogy in the Davidic line in Matthew 1:1; that He was the Son of Man in 8:20, and 11:19; that He had wisdom and miraculous powers 13:54-56, and 17:24-27; and that He was a King in 21:5. Luke mentions his fulfilled and miraculous birth in 2:21; and that He was more powerful than John the Baptist in 3:16. John states clearly that Jesus, the Word was God in 1:1; that He created all things in 1:2; and that He was the fulfilment of the many prophecies concerning the Messiah in 1:45, 12:15, and 19:23-24.

Ironically, the Uniqueness of Jesus is found in the Qur’an as well: the virgin birth is mentioned in Sura 19:16-35; that Jesus is the Spirit of God is referred to in Sura 4:171; that He was the Word of God is found in Sura 4:171; that He is faultless can be seen in Sura 19:19; that He is illustrious both here and in heaven is spoken about in Sura 3:45; that He would be taken to heaven can be found in Sura 4:158; and that He will come back to judge is quoted in Sura 43:61. Even the resurrection of Jesus is mentioned in the Qur’an, in Suras 4:157, and 19:15,33.

There are many more Biblical scriptures which we could refer to that point out Jesus’s uniqueness. What is important, however, is to note that our scriptures (like the Qur’an) points to both His natures, His humanity and His divinity. This can be best summarized by Philippians 2:6-8, which speaks specifically of His Godly nature, as well as His appearance as a man.

C4iii: The ignobility of God’s humanity

A further stumbling block for many Muslims is the implications which this doctrine entails. The fact that God the Son, who is fully God, became a human being, and lived in all the limitations and restrictions of human life, finally dying a human death, in all the pain and suffering associated with crucifixion is too much for them to comprehend. How would the almighty God allow such a thing to happen?

This is not so much a question about Jesus, but about the very nature of God himself. Christians believe that God is totally free, All-powerful, and able to do anything He wants to do. The only thing impossible for God to do is to sin, because by His very nature He cannot sin. It is not, however, sinful to be a human being. For God to be a human being He must accept the limitations of human life, but He does not have to stop being God. When God the Son became a human being, according to Philippians 2, He changed from being in the form (“shape”) of God and took the form (“shape”) of a servant (i.e. a human being). One of the basic Christian teachings is that the greatest action a person can do is to serve others, even to the point of dying for them. This selflessness, humility and self-sacrificial love is at the very heart of the God who is trinity. God is so great that He humbled Himself and became a servant, washing the feet of His disciples. The Creator of the Universe showed His greatness in humility, service and love.

While that may sound threatening to a Muslim, the implications of that act alone are life-changing and eternal.

C4iv: Was Jesus begotten?

Along this same vein, Muslims ask how could Jesus have been “begotten” of God (Sura 112:3, 19:35,88-92)?

In John 1:18 the New Testament describes Jesus as the Only-born Son of God. The Greek word used is Monogenes. What does this word mean? It is one of several Greek words used to translate the Hebrew word Yahid. In the Septuagint, an early translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, Yahid is sometimes translated Agapteos (beloved), and sometimes it is translated as Monogenes”(unique or special child). For instance, Isaac is Abraham’s Yahid son (in Arabic the word Farid, meaning unique, is used).

How can such a term be used of Jesus of Nazareth? When was Jesus produced by God as Abraham produced Isaac?

In the Old Testament one of the most famous of all prophecies reads: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given (this presupposes that He was already existing, as one cannot give something which is not existing) And His name will be wonderful, counsellor, mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). A Son would be given. That presupposes that the son already exists. Jesus Himself prayed to the Father that He be given the glory that was His before the world began. Christians do not believe that in some way God gave birth to Jesus, or that God had some female partner who gave birth to Jesus.

No, Christians believe that God the Son became a human being, was born as a human being, through the work of the Holy Spirit upon the Virgin Mary. Jesus was not the illegitimate offspring of God, produced by an associate: NO! This idea is blasphemous to both Christians and Muslims alike.

God has no consort and He does not produce children by any kind of reproductive activity. He is not like some Greek or Roman god who is mixed up with sordid and sinful human relationships. That is not the claim of the Bible. Of course we produce sons and daughters in a physical union. But we are not God! His Son has always existed; yet, became human through the power of god the Spirit.

“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and caring of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, the following utterance was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This my Beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased'”(2 Peter 1:16-17)

Therefore it was God the Father who called Him His son, not later Christians. For this reason the virgin birth is a unique birth, described in both the Bible and the Qur’an alike.

C4v: Where was God when Jesus was on earth?

Many Muslims have difficulty understanding who it was that ran the universe while Jesus (as God) was on earth. The question by its very nature presupposes that God’s omnipresence is limited, an idea which is contrary to their own beliefs. When God was in Christ, being omnipresent, He was still everywhere else, much as the Holy Spirit, who is God is amongst us and yet everywhere. One must remember that it was God who became Christ, and not the other way around.

It might be helpful here to point out that this was not the first time that God, the son, (whom some delineate as the second person of the trinity) came to earth. There are other recordings of His appearance in the scriptures, such as God’s appearance before Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3), or the angel of God who appeared to Abraham and told him of the impending ruin of Sodom, and of the miraculous birth of his son Isaac (Genesis 17-18).

Though the reasons for His appearances were different, they were nonetheless examples of God appearing on earth to man in time and in space, while simultaneously remaining as God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit. The fact that God as Son came before helps us accept that He also came in the form of Jesus the Christ 2,000 years ago.

When Christians explain The Trinity to a Muslim as I have above, they neutralize the criticism levelled against Jesus as being totally other than God. The function of Jesus the Redeemer, as intercessor, rather than diluting the power of God, brings into context the price of sin, that we cannot pay for the consequences of sin. That only God can do for us. Jesus, the Christ, by taking on Himself that substitute responsibility, not only proved Himself to be deity and to be equal with God, but proved Himself to be worthy of our thanks and worship, in that He has now eradicated the consequences of sin.

Perhaps the problem between Muslims and Christians has been accentuated due to the “Christian” environment in which transplanted Muslims find themselves; an environment which Muslims have incorrectly assumed is polytheistic. The prophet Muhammad had similar circumstances during his tenure in Mecca, where the polytheistic practices of the local religion caused him to speak out clearly and often against idolatry. Therefore, it stands to reason that the reactionary concept of God as one unit would be the focus of the Muslim evangelistic thrust.

In the bookstore of the Islamic Center, on Massachusetts Avenue, in Washington D.C., I counted six books which dealt with the subject. I took special note that these had been strategically placed near the door to attract the attention of any browser who happened to enter. Above the entrance of the Dar Al Hijrah Mosque, in Falls Church, Va., inscribed into the facade, is a quote from the Qur’an reminding the adherents that God is unique (one unit). This is the first inscription every individual sees when they come to do their prayers.

I wonder whether this same emphasis would be evident in a Pakistani or Middle Eastern Mosque, where, due to the small number of Christian churches present, the doctrine of Trinity is not so pronounced.

C4vi: Is Mary God?

A further problem arises with the Qur’anic misconception concerning who exactly makes up the godhead. In Suras Ma’Idah 5:73; and 5:116, we find Jesus questioned as to why He and His mother are to be worshipped, inferring their divine status by Christians. In Sura 6 (Cattle) line 101ff. it is said that there are those who believe that God has produced sons and daughters, as if God had a consort. Here is a distortion of what Christians believe. It must be made clear that God the Son was not produced by a sexual union of God the Father and Mary (as was mentioned above). Such an idea is as blasphemous to Christians as it is to Muslims.

The Bible teaches that God the Son has always existed, yet He became a human person by means of the virgin birth through Mary. Though she is highly honoured as the vehicle by which God used to come to earth, it is quite wrong to afford her divinity, which the Qur’an erroneously states Christians have done.

Muslims, mistakenly believe that Christians consider Mary to be “God the Mother”, who produced God the Son, by God the Father. This is completely false, as the Bible NEVER says anything remotely like it. According to the gospels, Mary was not at all divine, but was an ordinary sinful human who was used by God to bear Jesus Christ into the world as a human.

Somehow the “author” of the Qur’an got it awfully wrong, claiming something which the scriptures never even alluded to, while at the same time contradicting the theology of the church both before and after Muhammad’s time. This obviously puts suspicion on the veracity of the Qur’anic sources. If these were direct revelations from the all-knowing God, why did He not know what His previous revelations said, or at least what those who received it believed?

So how did this misconception creep in to the Qur’an? Though there is evidence of certain Maryamiyya cults in the 5th and 7th century who believed this doctrine, the Choloridian sect is the group which is more likely to have had influence on Muhammad’s thinking, as they espoused this form of trinity, and were known to have frequented the Arabian peninsula during Muhammad’s lifetime. Both groups, however, were small and insignificant in comparison to the larger Christian world at that time.

The fact that Muhammad used the word “trinity” in Sura 5:73 shows that he must have heard it from a group who were close at hand. Had Muhammad been literate, he would have read the scriptures and probably would not have made such an erroneous claim concerning the trinity.

C4vii: Is the concept of trinity not borrowed from a pagan source?

Many Muslims contend that early Christian writers merely borrowed their view of the trinity from surrounding pagan beliefs. The two most popular examples which have been suggested are: the ancient Egyptian pantheon, and the Neo-Platonic philosophy:

  1. The ancient Egyptians believed in the three gods: Osiris the father, Isis the mother, and Horus their son, who rose up to killed his father Osiris. Obviously this is not at all like the Christian trinity. The Egyptian three are quite separate gods (one even killing another), and remain simply a gross pagan polytheism. The Biblical Jesus (God the Son) has always existed equal with the Father, in loving relationship.Athanasius, a great leader of the early Christian church, in 318 A.D. condemned the worship of Osiris,
    Horus and Isis as “straining impiety to the utmost… worshipping pleasure and lust, as do the pagan Romans and Greeks”.
  2. Platonic Philosophy stated that God (the one) was totally distinct from matter and could have no contact with the material world. Thus an intermediary (the demiurge) had to emanate from him to give form to the material world, which then was given life by another emanation, the world-spirit.Again, this bears no resemblance to the Christian trinity, as neither the Demiurge nor the world-spirit are divine, and have no equality with the one. Whereas in the Biblical trinity God the Father loves the Son in unity with the Spirit, there is no sense of unity in the Platonic scheme.

D: Conclusion

Christians have only ever believed in One God. Yet, the Bible tells us that this One God has acted in history, showing Himself to be God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There is no question of the divinity of Mary, or of any sexual union between God and Mary. Such ideas are blasphemous, and have always been rejected by Christians as heretical.

The challenge is: what is God Almighty like? Is He to be judged by any human logic or is He to be free to reveal Himself as He is, beyond all human understanding or imagination?

As we mentioned earlier, the word Trinity is shorthand for the concept of three and one. It is God the Father who loves and saves the world by God the Son through God the Holy Spirit. If we say less than this we are guilty of unbelief in the words of the Bible. If we say more than this we are guilty of speculation, putting our own ideas into the Bible. “We must not only say ‘no’ where God has said ‘no’ but we must also say ‘yes’ where God has said ‘yes'” (Barth)

We must not be misled by those who have not read or understood the scriptures. Do not be confused by false accusations. Examine for yourself the historical birth, life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, following the story on into the Acts of the Apostles. Only then will you be able to judge the Biblical proclamation of one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

“… Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature (form) of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)

Six Muslim Beliefs (Iman) and a Christian’s Response

For a Muslim Enquirer

Apologetic Paper by Jay Smith (with help and advice from Marietta and Joe Smith) – May 1995


Contents

A preliminary discussion, using a Muslim’s criteria, on the Six Beliefs (Iman)

  1. Belief in One God (Allah)
  2. Belief in the Prophets
  3. Belief in the Holy Books
  4. Belief in Angels
  5. Belief in the Day of Judgment
  6. Belief in the Decrees or the Predestination of God (Allah)
  7. Sources

A: Belief in one God (Allah)

A1: The Muslim View

The first and greatest teaching of Islam is proclaimed by the Shahada: “La Ilaha illa-l-lah, Muhammadun rasulu-l-lah.” (“There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the apostle of Allah.”) It is this very confession, which, once uttered sincerely, makes one a real Muslim.

For a Muslim, Allah is one (Wahid), and has no partners, no equals. According to the Quran, Sura 28;88, it is stated: “And cry not unto any other god along with Allah. There is no god save Him.” Thus, Allah is totally other. He created and maintains the world, and since Allah is one, no one else can share even an atom of His Divine power and authority. Islam makes it clear that Allah has no son, no father, no relative, and no associates.

In the Hadiths, Muhammad is reported to have related the ninety-nine names of Allah, to express some of His attributes. A number of these are: that He is merciful (that he provides man with food, drink, the means of movement, and all the necessities of life), that He is all-powerful (omnipotent), that He is wise and all-knowing (omniscient), and that He is eternal (no beginning and no end).

A2: The Christian Response

Christians and Muslims worship the God of Abraham. As do Muslims, Christians believe in only one righteous and transcendent creator God. The key verse of the Torah of the Prophet Moses states that: “The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4). God is one and He commands us to love Him totally.

Jesus Christ, speaking more than a thousand years after the Prophet Moses says: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:28-30 and Matt.22:37).

Thus, both the Torah and the Gospel (Injil) agree that God is one. We are commanded to love one God. Only He has the right to command our ultimate loyalty. All other gods which man invents are totally false (Hosea 13:2,3).

Perhaps the greatest criticism against Christians by Muslims is the view of the plurality of God, that God is three; and consists of “God the Father, Mary the mother, and Jesus the son.” This view is as repugnant to Christians as it is to Muslims, and has its origins in a heretical Christian sect (called Choloridians) who had contact with Muhammad during his tenure in Mecca.

We must say, however, that from the Scriptures we find revealed a Divine unity of three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, commonly known as the “trinity.” It is impossible to express the mystery of God as “triune.” In fact, this word is not found within Scripture, but was coined three centuries later by the Church, to express what Scripture delineated as God comprised of three Persons, who are in complete unity of will, purpose, action and love, yet cannot be separated though they have different functions. The Scriptures speak of God, the Father, who as the co-Creator, blesses (Eph.1:3-4), initiates (Jn.17:2-9) and sends (Jn.17:3,18). God, the Son, speaks-out the creation (Jn.1:1), and acts physically into history, both during the time of the prophets (Gen.32:25-30; Ex.3:2-5; 13:21; 33:9-11; Judge 2:1), and as the savior, Jesus Christ (Jn.1:14). And finally God, the Holy Spirit, who is resident within the believer, guides, instructs and empowers him (Jn.14:16-17), and mediates Jesus Christ and his atoning work (Jn.15:26).

Jesus referred to this ‘Trinity in Unity’ when He commanded His apostles to go everywhere and persuade men to become His disciples, and baptize believers “…in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

It is important that God as “Father” must not be viewed within a biological context. Christians share with Muslims the prohibition against conceiving of God in the form of an image. God as “Father” refers, rather, to a relationship; a description of the covenant and fellowship relationship between God and man.

Christians accept all the 99 names of God which Muslims repeat in praise to God. Even the name Allah is affirmed by Christians as one of the names of God, the same Arabic name which the Prophet Abraham used in Hebrew as “El” or “Elohim.”


B: Belief in the Prophets

B1: The Muslim View

Islam makes a distinction between a messenger (rasul) who is sent with a Divine Scripture to guide and reform mankind, and a prophet (al nabbi) who simply carries information or proclaims Allah’s news. Therefore, though all messengers are prophets, not all prophets are messengers.

The number of Allah’s prophets is said to be 124,000, yet the Qur’an mentions only 25. Adam was the first prophet, followed by others, some of whom are: Abraham, Jacob, Ishmael, Isaac, David, Solomon, John the Baptist, Jesus, and also Muhammad, the final and greatest of the prophets; or the “Seal of the Prophets.”

Allah raised up these prophets, among every nation (Sura 16:36), to provide mankind with firm and constructive guidance, so that they could walk the straight path of Allah, could live happily in this world, and could be prepared for life after death. Their fundamental message (Islam) was identical, remind- ing mankind of Allah’s unity; the reward of a good life; the day of judgment; and the terrible punishment for unbelievers.

Their witness was not always received well, and sometimes with total rejection, even in their own communities (Sura 17:94). Yet, Allah promised to protect them from serious sins and from bad diseases. Thus, the belief that a prophet could never be killed; and their denial that Jesus, a prophet, died on the cross.

B2: The Christian Response

Christians believe that God appointed prophets and others to speak to mankind His Word, the story of His redemptive acts in history. God revealed (nuzul) the interpretation of His acts to prophets, who passed it on to man by preaching, teaching, and writing.

Of the thirty or so prophets who are listed in the Bible, many are well known to Muslims, such as: Abraham, Moses, David, and John the Baptist; while others are not, such as: Miriam (Moses’s sister), Nathan, Isaiah, Jonah, Joel, and Daniel; all of whom came before Christ. Others, like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul, wrote after Christ’s departure, and, though not recognized by Muslims, they are, for Christians, believed to be the last of the prophets.

We know as well, that all of these prophets were descendants of Abraham and Isaac, sent down over a period of 2,000 years, chiefly to the people of Israel, whom God had chosen to be His Covenant people; in order that from them the Truth of God might be made known to all the people of the world.

They came from different classes of society, some rich, others poor, young and old; some scholars, and others with little education. Not all wrote books (Elijah, John the Baptist), but they all heard God’s word, either through angels, by means of visions, by God’s voice, or by receiving the message in their minds and hearts.

We know also that the prophets were not sinless, but were believers who knew their sins were forgiven. To some the power was given to perform miracles, which verified the message. Yet, others, such as John the Baptist, performed none.

Their message was profound, but clear. They defined the character of a righteous God, and what He requires of them, warning of His judgment on rejecting Him and His Law, yet, assuring them of his forgiveness and blessing if they accepted them.

The prophets most important message, however, was that since there are none who could obey the Law fully, they remained still in sin, and so deserved death. Yet, they need not despair, because God had promised to take upon Himself the guilt of their sins, by incarnating Himself and dying on the cross, thus taking upon Himself that penalty, and so freeing Him to forgive them from those sins, which then brought them back into a personal relationship with Him.

In evaluating whether Muhammad was a prophet, a Christian must see Muhammad in light of the total Biblical witness culminating in Jesus the Messiah. To the extent that the prophet Muhammad 1) fully accepts the former Scriptures, and 2) points to the central significance of Jesus as redeemer, and 3) to the extent that the life and teachings of Muhammad exemplify suffering redemptive love, which is demonstrated by Jesus the Savior, Christians should, and will affirm the Prophet Muhammad. (Unless my Muslim brothers can show me otherwise, I find him lacking in all three.)


C: Belief in the Holy Books

C1: The Muslim View

Whenever chaos, confusion, or evil filled human society, Allah sent a message, via His prophets, to reform society. These messages were contained in the Holy Books of Allah, of which 5 are accepted by Muslims today: the Suhuf (Scrolls), revealed to the prophet Ibrahim, and now lost; the Taurut (Torah), revealed to the prophet Musa (Moses); the Zabur (Psalms), revealed to the prophet Daud (David); the Injil (Gospels), revealed to the prophet Isa (Jesus); and the Qur’an (Koran), the Holy Book, or “final message to mankind,” revealed to the prophet Muhammad. Each Scripture confirmed the preceding revelation, with the purpose of reforming mankind.

Yet, according to Muslims, the first three existing revelations (Tawrut, Zabur, and Injil) include teachings which are confined to a particular tribe, community, or nation, and to a specific period. Furthermore, they believe that human imperfections, or abrogations have been introduced. The Bible, they say, seems to be a mixture of history and revelation. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to separate the true revelation in the Bible from that of history and human personality.

Thus, the Qur’an, they believe, was sent as the perfection and culmination of all the truth contained in the earlier Scriptures. Though sent down in Arabic, it is the Book for all times, for all mankind. It guards the previous revelations by restoring the eternal truth of Allah (Sura 3:3-4a), and clears up all uncertainties.

C2: The Christian Response

Christians believe that the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, is the inspired Word of God (2 Tim.3:16,17). By inspired, they mean that the messages of God were relayed to His chosen men who spoke or wrote them, using their own language, personalities and thought forms. (Inspiration, thus, does not mean divine dictation.) David wrote as an inspired poet, and Jeremiah spoke as an inspired preacher, and so on.

The sixty-six Holy books, divide into two sections; the Old Testament and New Testament. The Old Testament, which means old covenant or sacred promise (between God and His chosen people), records God’s revelation of Himself to them, while processing them to receive Himself as the Redeemer Messiah, who would be born as one of them.

The Old Testament prophets recognized that the redemption for the world would be fulfilled through this Messiah (Jeremiah 31:31,33). Thus, they prophesied His coming hundreds of times, even speaking specifically of when and where His birth would occur, why He would come, how He would die, and that He would rise again; all hundreds of years before the events.

The New Testament (new covenant) 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), explanations of Christian beliefs and conduct (Epistles), and a description of the end times, when God’s purpose for mankind will be fulfilled (Revelation).

Christians accept only the Old and New Testament in the Bible as God’s inspired written Word, consisting of teachings by more than thirty prophets and apostles, written in times of tremendous change and diversity, spanning more than 1,500 years, yet holding a common unifying idea; that God is at work in history with the intent to redeem and save mankind from death.

The Bible has been translated into over 1,600 languages, so that 93% of the world’s population can read it in their mother tongue. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Bible continues to be the best-selling book in the history of mankind.


D: Belief in Angels

D1: The Muslim View

Muslims believe that Allah created a host of angels, all of whom are sinless, do not eat or drink, and have no determining sex. They, like humans, will die and be resurrected.

The angels have differing ranks, but there are four who are the mightiest of all, and are known as the four archangels. They are:

  1. Gabriel, Allah’s chief messenger, or intermediary, who is referred to as the “Holy Spirit” in the Qur’an;
  2. Michael;
  3. Izrail, the Angel of Death; and
  4. Israfil, who will blow the trumpet on the last day to awake the dead.

When Adam was created, Allah commanded all the angels to bow down to him. All the angels did so, except Iblis (Satan), who refused, saying, “He was made of clay, but I was made of fire, so I am better then he” (Sura 15:28-33). For his refusal, Allah cursed him and threw him out of paradise. From that time till now Iblis has become man’s chief enemy, and is the leader of all the demons and evil jinn, who harass and torment mankind (Sura 15: 34-46).

The chief responsibility of the angels is to praise Allah, and to do his will. They do His will by watching over believers, interceding for them and aiding them in their battles (thousands were used at the great battle of Badr).

Many Muslims believe that all individuals on earth have two angels who are positioned above each of their shoulders, as ‘recording angels’; one to record the good deeds man does, and the other to record his sins. At the time of death, two fierce black angels visit each corpse in the grave and ask him, “Who is thy Lord? What is thy religion?” and “Who is thy Prophet?” Depending on the response, the angels take the souls of the believers, and cause them to either fall into the fiery pit (Gahenna), or they send them across the razor sharp bridge, to paradise.

D2: The Christian Response

In the Bible there are many references to beings, other than men, who were created by God and were usually referred to as angels. They are God’s messengers, and were often sent by God to make His will known to the prophets and to help believers.

Angels appeared in human form to Abraham, Moses and others. The names of only two of God’s angels are given in the Bible: Michael and Gabriel. The angel Gabriel was the one who informed Mary that she would have a son named Jesus.

In addition to the holy angels who are obedient to God, we are told, in Scripture, that there are other created spiritual beings who were disobedient, who are enemies of God; the chief of whom is called Satan, the Devil, the dragon and serpent (Rev.12:3-9).

Many Christians think that Satan was created good, but because of pride disobeyed God. As a result, he, and the spirits who followed him, fell from their high and holy position in heaven. They are now doing all they can to destroy God’s work on earth.

Satan deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden, and ever since he has been trying to turn people away from the living God. He even tried to persuade Jesus Christ to disobey God three times (in the wilderness), but failed.

Satan has great power, which is not equal to God, and in fact is limited by God. Thus, Christians do not need to fear him or his evil spirits who harm so many people, because of Satan’s defeat through the historical death on the cross by the redeemer, Jesus Christ (Col.2:14,15). Because of that historical act, all believers have the strength, given by Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to resist and repel Satan and all his cohorts. God will finally cast Satan out of the earth and into the eternal fire, from where he will never bother man or God again.


E: Belief in the Day of Judgment

E1: The Muslim View

For a Muslim, sin is a private matter. The idea that one’s sin is binding from one generation to the next does not exist. This is because Satan is the root of all sin; and Allah, who is all-merciful, will forgive those who ask for forgiveness. There is one sin, however, which is unforgivable, that of “shirk,” the practice of associating anyone or anything with Allah.

Thus, the sin of Adam and Eve (Adam and Hauwa), was not really their fault, as they were tricked by Satan, and they asked for forgiveness. Furthermore, their sin is not hereditary. Adam, having repented, was made Allah’s first messenger on earth. How could Allah entrust such a high office to an evildoer?

For the Muslim, salvation is attained not by faith, but by works, in observing the Five Pillars of Islamic practice, as well as avoiding the major and minor sins. Tradition indicates that on the Judgment Day, once the person is buried, the two recording angels appear, and the dead person sits up to undergo an examination. If he says the “Shahada” (“There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the apostle of Allah”), he lies down peacefully and awaits his judgment. If he refuses the “Shahada,” he is severely beaten for as long as Allah pleases.

Each individual is then put on a scale where his good and bad deeds, taken from their “book of destiny,” are weighed. Yet, Allah reserves the absolute right to send the individual to wherever He pleases. If the book is placed in his right hand he is saved and crosses a razor sharp bridge as narrow as a hair.

On the other side is paradise, a perfumed garden of material and sensual delights, surrounded by rivers and flowing fountains, populated with black-eyed virgins, who are there to serve them with all variety of fruits (Suras 47 & 56).

On the other hand, a vivid hell (Gahenna) awaits those who fail the above test, a hell which consists of boiling water, gore and fire, a hell of extreme physical pain (Suras 4, 38, & 50).

E2: The Christian Response

According to Scripture, any sin is an abomination to a holy God, because it is, in essence, a rejection of His character. We believe, as Muslims believe, that Satan does tempt us. Yet, we are responsible for our own sins, and not Satan. We have the choice to reject Satan’s tempting. But, the Scripture insists throughout, that the wages of sin is death, and since we are all guilty, therefore, we all deserve death. God, however, in His mercy, has not left us in that guilt, but has offered payment 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 redeeming death on the cross, and repent of their sins, are saved from eternal separation (John 3:16,17); while those who reject Him will be eternally condemned.

Before His ascension into heaven, Christ promised to return a second time to judge the world. He warned his followers against false Christs and false prophets, saying that the whole world will know when He comes again; and that He will come as He was taken up (Acts 1:11). When He returns, He will raise all the dead to life (John 5:28-29), and will separate those who believe from those who reject, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats.

Those rejecting Christ, will live in eternal punishment, in total isolation from God; because, in rejecting God’s Son, they have rejected God the Father and God the Holy Spirit as well, and no sin is greater than this (1 John 2:22-23).

Those who have truly believed in Christ the redeemer, will not fear Christ the Judge, and will have eternal life (John 5:22- 24; Acts 17:30-31). This does not mean that they will go into a garden full of carnal pleasures, which, as we know in this life, separates us from God, but they will go into the presence of God Himself, to 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.”


F: Belief in the Decrees or Predestination of God (Allah)

F1: The Muslim View

“Islam,” the word, means submission to the will of Allah. A Muslim, therefore, is one who submits, much as a slave submits to his master. The reason for this submission is found in the belief that everything, including good and evil, faith and unbelief, is preordained. As a religion, Islam is a code of political, ceremonial, civil, and criminal law, as well as moral and religious precepts, all promulgated in Allah’s name, while leaving nothing to the believer’s initiative.

Muslims believe that Allah is in control of all of history. This belief embraces the doctrine of predestination, an acceptance of destiny, and resignation to fate (Kismet). Allah is sovereign. Thus, anything that happens is the will of Allah, and so is attributed to him. It explains why the phrase In sh’allah, “If Allah wills it,” is so common in the Muslim world. For some, this idea that Allah has total control over history leads to fatalism and passivity. For others, it sets the mind at liberty from matters over which they have absolutely no control. Kismet makes the Muslim fanatically self-sacrificing in war, resigned in defeat, in bereavement and disaster, and inactive in the presence of preventable evil, such as epidemics, because these could be called the “Will of Allah.”

Furthermore, Allah is not bound by any moral obligation, as this would limit his sovereignty. Therefore, it follows that Allah is also the author of evil. He is under no necessity of his nature, to be right or just or merciful. Allah does not will an act because it is good; rather, it is good because he has willed it.

F2: The Christian Response

For the Christian, God’s attributes are found in His holiness, grace and love (1 John 4:16). For a Muslim, Allah “loves” only those who do His will. Yet, we find that the God of the Bible not only loves those who are good, but He loves those who are sinners as well, 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 God with whom no one can have a personal relationship, the Biblical view of God is one who very much wants a personal relationship with His creation (John 1:11-14;15:9-15).

In the Qur’an, as was mentioned above, Allah is considered as the author of evil. Yet, in the Bible we find just the opposite. God is infinitely righteous and holy (Psalm 77:13;99:9). His “eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Habakkuk 1:13).

If we take these three attributes of the Biblical God (a God of selfless love, in relationship with His creation, unable to create or accept evil), we will find in these three the relation- ship that He seeks with His creation as well.

God doesn’t seek total blind obedience from His creation. This is not true love. True love seeks the best for the other at one’s own expense. It is best exemplified in Christs’ own sacrificial act on the cross. It is this love which God desires of us, both in our relationship with Him, and with others.

The Bible tells us that man was created in God’s image (Genesis 2:27), a view which is in direct contrast to that of the Muslim ideal, of man as slave. Man was never created to be a slave to God, but was meant from the very beginning, to be His son, in perfect relationship with Him. This assumes, however, freedom of choice, in that man can accept to be in relationship with His creator, or reject Him.

And finally, by God’s very nature, He cannot create nor tolerate evil. Thus, He has not brought about, nor can He tolerate the evilness of man. Sin is of man’s own doing. But God has made a way by which sin can be forgiven, so that man can, once again, be brought back into relationship with God, as was intended from the very beginning, with Adam and Eve. Our fate, therefore, is never predestined. We can, by simply acknowledging Christ as our Lord and Saviour, be assured that we will be once more reunited with God, in heaven, for eternity.


G: Sources

  • A Guide to Islam, Angus Nicolson, Sterling Tract Enterprise, 1951
  • Islam-The Basic Truths, Ja’sfar S. Idris, Muslim Welfare House, London
  • A Christian’s Response to Islam, W. M. Miller, Presbyterian & Reformed Publ. Co., Philipsburg, New Jersey, 1976
  • Beliefs and Practices of Christians, W.M.Miller, Masihi Isha’at Khana, Lahore, Pak.
  • Islam, A Christian Perspective, M.Nazir-Ali, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1983
  • Islam and Christianity, Badru Kateregga and David Shenk, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1980

Mutual Misconceptions

Christian Misconceptions About Islam and Muslim Misconceptions About Christianity

Keith Small


Introduction

All of us know the personal hurt of being misunderstood. It is all the more tragic when misunderstandings and misconceptions are elevated to national and cultural levels extending the hurt to millions. In these days of increased travel and communication we have the opportunity of diminishing misconceptions that have plagued us, sometimes for centuries. We have the opportunity to talk to and listen to each other as never before. Let us not squander this opportunity. I hope my contribution today will be a small part of overcoming some of the many misconceptions that have arisen between Muslims and Christians.

To truly understand each other we must talk and listen with as much fairness and objectivity as we can muster. It is too easy to yield to prejudice when we are confronted with something difficult to understand or something contrary to what we expect or contrary to what we want to believe. Such prejudice does no one any good. It only reinforces inaccurate stereotypes and prolongs and deepens misconceptions. Modern science at its best strives to overcome ignorance and misunderstanding with impartial research. We would do well to adopt this attitude of impartiality toward the more difficult issues that science cannot address that are addressed by our faiths.

This is a short attempt to address some of the major misconceptions between Muslims and Christians about each other and each others’ religions. I prefer to say that the misconceptions are between Christians and Muslims rather than between Islam and Christianity because fundamentally, misunderstandings occur between people, not systems of belief.

I. Christian misconceptions about Islam.

These are things those of us who are Christians need to take to heart.

A. Many Christians see all Muslims as extremists, terrorists, or intolerant.

There is a tendency to see all Muslims as religious fanatics instead of normal, pious people. I think there are three main reasons for this.

  1. Many Christians believe media bias which often shows extremism. They don’t realize that they are being given an incomplete picture. Many are often ignorant of the variety within Islam that there are peaceful groups as well as violent ones, spiritually motivated groups as well as politically motivated ones.
  2. Many Christians don’t understand the political side of Islam. Christians tend to be ignorant of Muhammad’s role as political ruler in Medina and the enormous amount of teaching and law in the Qur’an and Islam regarding politics. Many tend to simplistically look at Muhammad through the example of Jesus who did not have a political agenda.
  3. Although Jesus grew up under an oppressive imperialistic power, Western Christians don’t know the experience of being dominated by a another political or economic power. Note I have said Western Christians and not Middle Eastern, African, Eastern European, and Chinese Christians to name a few. Western Christians find it hard to appreciate the hurt much of the West’s involvement in the Middle East has caused Muslims. They don’t understand the frustration that fuels much of the violence the extremists commit. Western Christians often don’t understand poverty and oppression because their lives have been relatively free from injustice and want.

These are the reasons why I think Christians often make unfair generalisations as to what Muslims are like.

B. Many Christians don’t understand Muhammad’s place in Islam, and it leads them to two kinds of misconception concerning Muhammad.

  1. Often Christians out of ignorance tend to think that Muhammad holds the same general place in Islam that Jesus holds in Christianity. They don’t realize that Muslims don’t see Islam as “Mohammed’s” religion, that is, a religion that Muhammad began. Muslims see Islam as the basic religion that all prophets proclaimed, Muhammad happening to be the last prophet. This is why the term “Mohammedanism” is offensive to Muslims and is more properly replaced with “Islam”. The misconception here is over-estimating the importance of Muhammad to Muslims in the religion of Islam, almost believing they worship him.
  2. On the other hand, Christians also undersestimate what Muhammad means to Muslims. This is seen in that many Christians don’t understand the current attitude toward Muhammad as expressed in the Salmon Rushdie affair. While Muslims don’t worship Muhammad, Christians often don’t understand the place of affection and devotion he does have so that they understand the hurt defaming remarks cause. Muslims see Muhammad as the last and greatest of the prophets and so accord him the greatest amount of respect that they give to any man. It is like the hurt Christians feel when they hear Jesus called “just a good teacher”, “just a man”, or even “just a prophet”. To Christians, Jesus is so much more, and to call Him something less is blasphemy. Christians need to understand the emotions involved in others’ beliefs and be sensitive to Muslims.

C. Many Christians have misconceptions about the roles of politics and religion in Islam.

  1. Christians can tend to believe that Islam is exclusively spread by the sword. They are often ignorant of world history that shows that much of Islam’s spread in the world was the result of traders and Muslim Sufi missionaries. This is especially true for Islam’s spread in Asia. Western Christians tend to know more about the wars with Islam that occured around the Mediterannean and in Europe.
  2. Also, many Christians are ignorant of the political nature of Islam so they think it should not be involved in politics today. Throughout history Islam has seen political means as being appropriate for accomplishing the spread of the religion since the religion of Islam is meant to embrace the whole of life. Christians often don’t realize that the Qur’an and Islamic law embrace not only personal religion but family law, civil law, and criminal law.
  3. Christians also forget that for much of the history of Christianity, the Church shared this view that it was to be intimately involved in politics. The Church has for much of its history seen the sword of political authority as a necessary and proper support for its position. Only in recent years has this expectation been overturned .

D. Many Christians see Islamic culture as backward and unrefined.

  1. Christians are often ignorant of Islam’s rich and full cultural heritage. They don’t know that Muslims have extensive bodies of literature in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. They don’t know that Islam has a long and full history in architecture, calligraphy, poetry, philosophy and science. This leads to Christians not understanding why Muslims often take more pride in their Islamic cultural heritage than in the cultural achievements of the West.
  2. Like the West in general, Christians often tend to judge other nations in terms technological progress, or they slip into simple prejudice at something that they don’t understand.
  3. Christians are often ignorant of the influences Islam has had on our own culture. They don’t realize that our knowledge of Platonic and Aristotelean philosophy came through Arabic translations of these texts. Many are ignorant of the debates and discussions in theology that took place between Islamic and Christian scholars for hundereds of years. They don’t realize that all of our sciences and especially mathmatics, medicine and astronomy were influenced by Medieval Islamic books and research. Many don’t realize that all of our fine arts have been profoundly influenced by Islamic fine arts, from painting and literature to architecture and music. In general, many Christians are ignorant of the long and varied history of contact and influence between Islam and Christianity.

These are just some of many areas where Christians need to become better informed concerning Islam.

II. Muslims’ misconceptions about Christianity.

Please accept this as an outsider’s view. These are misconceptions I have encountered personally.

A. Many Muslims view all Westerners as Christians.

  1. Because culture and religion are so intertwined in Islam, I think Muslims have a hard time realizing that all Westerners are not Christians. The West has a Christian cultural heritage, but in the main our culture and society have left that heritage to pursue a more secular course. Religion in the West has been moved out of public life to be a mostly private affair. Crime, immorality, drug abuse, and drunkenness are not things that Christianity promotes or allows. It is adamently opposed to them for the sins that they are in themselves, and for the hurt and tragedy they foster.
  2. Many Muslims have a hard time understanding that most countries in the West do not allow the Church to have dominant political power. The limiting of the Church’s power is a reflection of the biblical teaching that coercion and true religion do not go together. Muslims tend to confuse Jesus with Muhammad and think that He left a law and political agenda similar to Muhammad’s. Jesus didn’t do these things. The law He left is the Law of love summed up by what is called the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what youwould have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12, NIV). It is this teaching, which still operates to a great degree in the West, that is behind people being allowed to freedom of speech, even to the degree where Muhammad is insulted in The Satanic Verses, and Jesus is degraded in The Last Temptation of Christ. This alsocontributes to why the West views it as wrong for even blasphemers to be injured or killed. Christians are also taught to love their enemies and pray for their repentence.
  3. Also, Muslims tend to misunderstand that, according to the Bible, becoming a Christian is primarily a personal decision, not a cultural or family identity. No one is born a Christian. Everyone must decide for themselves that they will trust in Jesus’ death for them on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) A culture becomes “Christian” only secondarily after many people choose Christ and obey His teachings, and it affects the way they live.

B. Many Muslims view the basic message of Christianity and Islam as the same, that in essence they teach the same thing.

  1. I appreciate the tolerance that this sentiment is trying to express. But it is not fair to Christianity or Islam to say they teach essentially the same thing. Islam claims to be the final religion. This is the claim of the Qur’an itself (Surah 61:9, “As-Saff” or “The Ranks”): “He it is who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may makeit conqueror of all religion however much idolaters may be averse.” (Pickthall’s translation) Likewise, Jesus claims to be the only way to the Father, and His teachings the most authoritative statements of truth given by God to mankind (John 14:6): “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”(NIV)
  2. Such statements, though well intended, only confuse the issue of truth. In order for both Islam and Christianity to be true at the same time, then major parts of each would have to be viewed as wrong. For instance, Islam holds that sincere repentence is enough for God to grant a person forgiveness. Christianity holds that repentence is not enough but must be united with trust in the atoning death of Christ. These are very different views. They involve differing views of the nature of sin, of God’s character, and of forgiveness. Neither side can yield its view without giving up essential foundational doctrines.

C. Many Muslims assume that the Bible has been corrupted, that is, that it’s content and meaning have been intentionally and radically changed.

Most Muslims I have talked to are convinced that the Bible has been corrupted so much that it cannot be trusted. This matter in itself is of such great importance that it should not be treated lightly by anyone but should be searched out with care and objectivity. The Bible and the Qur’an each claim for themselves to contain the truth that will lead to eternal life. Yet they donot agree with each other. Here are four issues that are commonly misunderstood by Muslims concerning the Bible:

  1. The existence of so many different translations of the Bible means that there are many different versions of the Bible, meaning different Bibles. This is completely wrong. There is only one Bible, in the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. There are many different translations of this one book because of the nature of language. Language changes, so translations need to reflect these changes. Language is also rich in meaning. Additional translations bring out nuances that might be missing in others. The basic meaning in all these translations is the same. This situation is the same as is found with English and Urdu translations of the Qur’an. There are many different translations of the same book. Also, there has never been a hesitation in Christianity to translate the Scriptures. The original languages have never been regarded as divine languages defying translation. The Bible presents that revelation can be adequately conveyed in human languages. Revelation is meant to be understood, loved, and obeyed (Deut. 30:11-14). That is why Christians take so many pains to see the Bible translated and translated accurately.
  2. It is often believed that since there are four gospels in the New Testament that there was originally one which the Church corrupted. There is no historical evidence that this was ever the case. There is no evidence that Jesus left a book to His disciples called “the Gospel.” In fact, Jesus promised, not to leave a book, but to guide the disciples into all the truth as they wrote of Him. Jesus left the task of recording Scripture to His disciples whom He would guide by the Holy Spirit (John 14:25,26; 15:26,27).
  3. It is often remarked about the Bible that since there are variations in the manuscripts that the text must be corrupt. I have found that most Muslims do not realize that their own book, the Qur’an, is in a similar situation. In the reliable Islamic traditions it is recorded that many of the companions of Muhammad had collections of the Qur’an that differed from each other. These differences have been preserved. The Qur’an collections differed in many respects, for example, the number and order of Surahs, the spelling of words, and the use of different words in the exact same contexts. If one examines these variations fairly, they will realize that the situations for the Bible and the Qur’an are the same. These variations in detailsdon’t affect the overall reliability of the text. There are small areas that are in doubt as to the exact reading, but none of the variant readings affect any major or minor doctrine in Islam or Christianity. Both books are amazingly accurate as regards the historical preservation of their texts. The significant difference between the two books is in their message, not their textual history. It is a misconception to believe that one has been corrupted beyond reliability in the transmission of its text while the other has not.
  4. Also, Muslims are often ignorant of the history of the transmission of the Bible that bears this out. The Old Testament of the Bible has been the holy Scriptures of the Jews since before esus, and they still are to this day. The New Testament has been the holy Scriptures, with the Old Testament, for the Christians since the days of the Apostles of Jesus. In the five centuries preceding Muhammad this same Bible that we have today was the Scripture of the Christians. It’s content and meaning have not been changed either before Muhammad or after.

D. Many Muslims believe Christians have made Jesus out to be God, that is, that they have elevated a man to deity.

All that the Christians believe about Jesus being God comes from Jesus’ own words and actions in the Gospels, and the testimony of Jesus’ closest disciples as preserved in the New Testament. Christian belief is based on what Jesus said about Himself and did to prove it and what the disciples had seen of Jesus and what they had been taught by Him. If you read the Gospels fairly you will see that Jesus identifies Himself as God and does many things that are the perogative of God alone. Christians have not made Jesus out to be God. We have only accepted what Jesus revealed about Himself. Christians are as sensitive to blasphemy as any Jew or Muslim. We have only accepted Jesus as God by examining the evidence left by Jesus Himself. These are some of many areas where I have found Muslims could be better informed.

Conclusion

  1. As I said at the beginning, these are just a few of the major misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians. If you feel I have not been fair, or that I have left out any of greater importance than these, please say so and help me to learn.
  2. My burden is that we discuss our faiths fairly, clearly, and with respect and sympathy. We would all agree that God is to be served with our entire lives and hearts. Let us approach each other sincerely and seek to correct our mutual misconceptions.
  3. Thank you for allowing me to address you. May God bless you as you seek Him and seek out truth.

Given by Keith E. Small, 18 February 1997, Bradford University, Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Qur’anic Introduction

The Qur’an itself


I. Introduction

In this time I am going to give a brief overview of the orthodox Islamic view of the Qur’an and, in addition to this I want to concentrate on why it has such a place of devotion and awe in the hearts and minds of Muslims. It is easy for us as outsiders to treat the Qur’an academically and miss how much it fills the hearts and minds of our Muslim neighbours. I want you to understand how Muslims feel about the Qur’an as well as how they think about it.

After talking about the Qur’an, I will then go on to present two areas of the Qur’an’s teaching that have special importance to us as Christians seeking to share the gospel with Muslims: 1) how the Qur’an presents Jesus and 2) how the Qur’an views Christians. By surveying these three things, the Qur’an itself, it’s view of Jesus, and its view of us, I hope you will better understand the difficult terrain we find ourselves in when we speak to Muslims about Jesus and the Gospel.

The Qur’an is central to your Muslim friend’s heart and mind. He has probably been raised to view it as the most precious thing given to mankind. He has heard its words and rhythms prayed, chanted, spoken, and recited in his home, in the mosque, and in his community since infancy. It has always been treated as the most holy object in the family’s possession. It is never to be questioned and felt and thought to be the best, most noble, most complete, perfect revelation from God. Your Muslim friend has had this book implanted in his mind and it is always there, regardless of how much Western education may have been added. It is essential that you realise this book makes up the fabric of Muslim minds in order to be able to respond to your friend wisely and effectively.

Miscellaneous Qur’an facts:

The Qur’an is comparable in length to the New Testament. It has 114 chapters, called Surah’s. They are arranged roughly according to their length, the longest ones coming at the beginning of the Qur’an and the shorter ones coming toward the end. There is no thematic or chronological progression in the Qur’an. Portions of varying length and content are mixed together in the Surahs often without any unifying theme or progression of thought. The names of the different surahs do not usually refer to the content of the surah but are taken from a prominent word or thought in it. When referring to a certain surah, Muslims will use its name not its number. The Qur’an is also divided into 30 equal parts called “juz'” in order for the whole to be recited over the 30 days of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Individual verses are called “aya’s.” The length of verses varies like the length of surahs, some being very long and some being very short.

Modern translations of the Qur’an will also have information in the heading as to what part of Muhammad’s career the surah was supposedly revealed. Those that came to him while he lived in Mecca are called Meccan. Those that came to him in Medina are called Medinan.

The overall style of the Qur’an is that of a rhyming prose, often with an underlying rhythm of stresses of similar sounds. There is no fixed meter like in much of English poetry. Also, most of it is cast in a dramatic form of someone addressing Muhammad, rather than Muhammad addressing his fellow men. It is held to be the direct speech of God to Muhammad and it presents the Qur’an as having come to Muhammad from outside of himself either directly from God or through an angel.

II. Where the Qur’an came from: the Orthodox View

I am presenting to you the main view you will probably hear from Muslims in the West. There are many variations of Muslim belief, particularly among Shiite Muslims you may meet from Iran, but the majority view being promoted the most is as follows:

Qur’an’s Origin

It is considered to be divine in origin. It is the earthly edition of an eternal book preserved in heaven called the ‘eternal tablet’ (Surah 85:21,22). It was revealed to Muhammad in fragments over a twenty-three year period generally through the angel Gabriel. The language it was revealed in was Arabic which is considered to be the sacred language. It is held to be the very word of Allah in both word and spirit.

Muhammad’s Revelations

Allah revealed the contents of the Qur’an through three methods of divine inspiration. ‘Wahy’ is the Arabic term for inspiration. Surah 42:51 tells of the three methods:

  1. by direct inspiration,
  2. by Allah speaking from behind a veil,
  3. through an angelic messenger.

The Qur’an does not record much on how Muhammad experienced these revelations though the traditions (Hadith) list many ways they occurred. Here is a partial list: through dreams while asleep, through visions while awake, an angel appearing in the form of a young man, an angel appearing as an angel, through rapture, and like the sound of a bell. These experiences also tended to be physically painful and oppressive.

The contents of the Qur’an in heaven were dictated to Muhammad through the above mentioned means. They are regarded as Allah’s words and in no way are regarded as coming through the personality or mental faculties of Muhammad himself. Muhammad was only a divinely appointed receiver of the text of Qur’an.

These revelations were then recited by Muhammad to his followers who would in turn memorize them. Some portions were written down on various media (leather, palm leaves, bones, pottery pieces, etc.). Some modern Muslim scholars allege that there was a complete written copy of the Qur’an in existence before Muhammad died but there is no written evidence from the early years of Islam to justify that assertion. Muhammad himself is reputed to have been illiterate and not able to have written down a single bit of the Qur’an. Regardless of how much of the Qur’an was written down originally, it appears that memorization was regarded as the more important method of retention over writing.

The Qur’an’s Compilation

The work of organizing the Qur’an into a complete written document was probably not accomplished in Muhammad’s lifetime because of the above mentioned situation and the additional condition that new revelation or changes could have been given to Muhammad until his death. Muhammad died in 632 AD In 633 AD several of the Muslims who had memorized the Qur’an were killed in a battle. This motivated Muhammad’s successor, Abu Bakr to authorize the formal collection of the Qur’an. He appointed one of Muhammad’s secretaries, Zaid Ibn Thabit, and one of Muhammad’s close companions, Umar, to accomplish the task.

Zaid assembled the portions of the Qur’an from the various written materials he collected as well as the memories of many Muslims. He made a wide search for portions and required each portion to be attested by two witnesses. The sheets he produced were first kept with Abu Bakr, then Umar, and then Hafsa, Umar’s daughter. Zaid was not, though, the only one to possess a written collection. Other Muslims had collected most or all of the Qur’an for themselves. the traditions relate that there were as many as fifteen of these collections. These collections differed in length, spelling, voweling, choice of words, and the number of surahs. These different collections led to differences in the recitation of the Qur’an. These differences grew to threaten the unity of Islam in the reign of the Khaliph Uthman (Khaliph after Umar and Abu Bakr).

Uthman formed a committee (c. 653 AD) to create an authorised version from the divergent versions. He is reputed to have used the copy entrusted to Hafsa as the basis for the new version. When this was completed copies of it were prepared and sent to all the important cities of the empire with the orders that all variant and/or old copies were to be burned. Though there was some resistance to this measure and many continued to recite their old versions, Uthman’s version prevailed. The orthodox Muslim view is that this version represents the Qur’an revealed to Muhammad perfectly, and has been passed down to the present without change.

This is the view most Muslims on your campus will assert and defend. For now, keep it tucked away that there are many problems with this view. Within the most authoritative Islamic traditions there are many other accounts that contradict this view. Outside of Islamic traditions there is no evidence to support this view of the history of the Qur’an’s text. The historical value of the Islamic traditions is also open to serious question because they contradict each other and were mostly written at least 150 years after the events they record. Though there is poor evidence to support the orthodox Islamic view of the Qur’an, Muslims passionately believe it to be true and find it very hard to consider the historical evidence.

III. How the Qur’an affects your Muslim neighbour’s daily life

This book affects his thinking in all areas of life:

  • personal devotion to God
  • public religious practice
  • personal hygeine marriage
  • family life
  • community life
  • work
  • politics
  • other religions and cultures
  • the afterlife

It is believed to be God’s revealed will for mankind for all areas of life. Muslims make a big point of saying the Qur’an provides a complete way of life. By this they mean that the Qur’an and the traditions give them a complete set of rules to guide every facet of daily life. It gives a Muslim his values for what is good and bad, for what are righteous deeds and sinful deeds, and gives him all the norms for his daily life. Though in reality the Qur’an is enormously supplemented by other Islamic traditions, it is viewed as the basis and final authority for all Islamic life and law.

IV. How your Muslim neighbour feels about the Qur’an

To a Muslim, when he hears the Qur’an recited it is God’s voice to him instructing him in his duty. When he recites its words he believes he is reciting the very words of God, eternal words having their origin in heaven itself. Because of this idea of its origin Muslims believe the Qur’an is above criticism. To them it is the holiest object in this world and they surround the Qur’an with an aura of mystery, power, and magic. The sound of it being chanted can be hypnotic and moving. They believe it retains its heaven-borne majesty, nobility, and incomprehensibility. They approach the Qur’an with fear, humility, and awe. They do special washings and prayers before reading it. They put it away on a high shelf so it is the highest thing in the room. They won’t put it on the floor or where anyone is apt to sit.

Also, the Qur’an spoken and written is used in treating illness, in warding off evil spirits, in getting protection in all kinds of circumstances, in gaining blessings and in making curses. It is seen to be a powerful book and its uses in granting the Muslim spiritual power are more important to the average Muslim than understanding the meaning of the text.

V. Addressing the Qur’an’s agenda: problems with the Orthodox View

The main problem with the orthodox view is its assertion that it perfectly preserves the Qur’an revealed to Muhammad. Muslims claim it to be perfect because their faith rests in its being dictated by Allah to Muhammad. Their theological doctrine of inspiration requires them to have a perfectly recorded and transmitted revelation. They think that any human contribution would necessarily introduce errors. Unfortunately for them, the evidence to support the claim of perfection is wanting.

A. Perfection of the Qur’an’s text cannot be maintained

Claims to perfect transmission of the text do not stand up to scrutiny, either from within existing Islamic traditions or from the viewpoint of Western critical studies. John Gilchrist’s books and booklets are excellent for documentation on this. Another useful book is Ahmad Von Denffer’s book, ‘Ulum Al-Qur’an, published by the Islamic Foundation which documents variations to the accepted text of the Qur’an. From these four lines of argument against the Qur’an’s perfection emerge, just from within authoritative Islamic traditions.

  1. The traditional accounts contradict each other on the precise manner of the gathering, preservation, editing, and transmission of the Qur’an text. There is no way to determine what really happened.
  2. There is no firm evidence that Uthman’s version was better than the ones that were incinerated. Rather, there is good evidence that some of the ones burned were better versions.
  3. The Arabic script at the time of Muhammad was imprecise and this introduced ambiguity over precise choices of wording in numerous places in the Qur’an.
  4. There are no Qur’an manuscripts dating back to the time of Muhammad or even Uthman that can act as an objective standard for faithfulness of the preservation of the Qur’an’s text until today.

B. Evidence from outside the Islamic tradition casts doubt on the reliability of the text of the Qur’an

There are details about this elsewhere on this site e.g. the historical topic. Instead of supporting the Muslim’s view of the Qur’an, contemporary scholarship in archaeology, textual analysis, and related disciplines is confirming a very human picture of the Qur’an’s origin, rather than a divine one.

C. Borrowing from other religions in the Qur’an

The stories and teaching in the Qur’an show much borrowing from the religions that were present in and around the Arabian peninsula in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. Jewish traditions and apocryphal books, Christian apocryphal books and heretical groups, Zoarastrianism, and Arabian tribal religion provide the sources for many of the accounts in the Qur’an. The one group conspicuously absent is orthodox Christianity, which also fits the time of the Qur’an’s origin because Arabia and the Middle East were the places heretical Christian groups looked to for escape from the control of the Byzantine Empire.

D. The Qur’an is never seriously subjected to criticism

The thought of the Qur’an being a perfectly preserved book from heaven is the basis to a Muslim that Islam is superior to all religions. This strongly asserted idea, believed to be fact, is the main support for the Muslims’ belief in the Qur’an’s supremacy and uniqueness. Key ideas tied with this are the beauty of its language and the idea that the Qur’an is too sublime to imitate. These are the bases of belief in the Qur’an’s superiority over the Bible, not that it has a better historical basis for its text, nor that its claims to confirming prior scriptures stand scrutiny. To avoid these historical questions that undermine its authority Muslims have manufactured other criteria for justifying their belief in the Qur’an like:

  • problems with the Bible
  • scientific facts revealed in the Qur’an
  • Muhammad fulfilling Bible prophecy
  • The Qur’an being inimitable

When confronted with the hard questions about the Qur’an they will often try to turn the discussion to attack the Bible or pursue a line of reasoning with the Qur’an that is subjective, unreasonable, or irrelevant.

VI. Considerations for Christian understanding and witness

Arguments for the Qur’an’s perfection are used to bolster Muslim’s faith in the superiority of their revelation over the Bible. Because Christians do not present the Bible as a perfect copy of a heavenly book Muslims feel theirs is superior. They are taught that the Qur’an supersedes the Bible and corrects the corruptions that Christians introduced. When they see discrepancies between the Bible and the Qur’an they assume the problem is with the Bible since they think their Qur’an is perfect. Yet they are wrong. The Bible accurately presents what the disciples said Jesus did and taught. The Muslim must face that the Qur’an says it confirms the prior scriptures yet presents those same scriptures in a false light. Then he must make a choice of faith: faith in a book without historical evidence to support its claims or faith in a book that has survived and overcome centuries of honest investigation.

The Christian view of the inspiration of Scripture honestly faces the issues of textual transmission and preservation and the involvement of fallible humans in the giving of divine revelation. It faces them and provides a sound basis for faith. The Islamic view does not honestly face these issues and Muslims seek to bolster its weaknesses with dogmatism, ignorance, and bravado. May we as Christians show our strength with humility, honesty, and patience as we ask God to open the eyes of our blind friends.

Recommended Books

Burton, John, The Collection of the Qur’an. Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Gilchrist, John, Jam’ Al-Qur’an, The Codification of the Qur’an Text. Jesus To The Muslims, PO Box 1804, Benoni 1500, Republic of South Africa, 1989.

The Qur’an, The Scripture of Islam. MERCSA Muslim Evangelism Resource Centre of Southern Africa, PO Box 342, Mondeor. 2110. South Africa, 1995.

Von Denffer, Ahmad, ‘Ulum Al-Qur’an, An Introduction to the Sciences of Qur’an. The Islamic Foundation, 223 London Road, Leicester, LE2 1ZE.

Watt, W.M., Introduction to the Qur’an. Edinburgh University Press, 1970.

But Wasn’t Jesus a Muslim?

Peter Saunders


This is the transcript of a talk given by Peter Saunders, Student Secretary of the UK Christian Medical Fellowship, at Manchester University on Tuesday 24th February 1998.

I didn’t choose the title of this talk and you may think it strange even to ask the question ‘wasn’t Jesus a Muslim?’ After all, Jesus Christ is the central figure in Christianity and the name Christian was first used to describe his followers (Acts 11:26).

But Jesus is a very important figure in Islam too. He’s regarded as one of the greatest prophets, the forerunner of Muhammad and the one to whom God revealed the ‘Injil’ or Gospel.

In the broadest sense of the word Jesus was a Muslim because the word Muslim simply means ‘one who submits to God’. Jesus certainly submitted to God and perhaps uniquely could ask ‘who accuses me of sin?’ and silence all his critics. In fact the world Islam simply means ‘submission’.

But we’re asking a far deeper question. We’re asking whether or not Jesus embraced the same faith as Muhammad. Would he, for instance, have recognised Muhammad as ‘the seal of the prophets’? Would he have believed that the Qur’an was the word of God? Would he have prayed towards Mecca, fasted at Ramadan, recited the Creed or indeed denied his own divinity?

If by saying ‘wasn’t Jesus a Muslim?’ we’re asking these far deeper questions then Muslims and Christians find themselves strongly at odds in their answers.

Both Christianity and Islam have been tremendously influential. About one quarter of the world’s population at least nominally, would regard themselves as Christians. A fifth would call themselves Muslims. Yet for most of the last thirteen centuries the two religions have developed in parallel in separate parts of the world. Islam has mainly been centred in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, Turkey, India and South East Asia (especially Indonesia and Malaysia). By contrast Christianity has been confined largely to Europe, North and South America, Africa and the former Soviet Union. And yet both have been, and still are, growing rapidly.

Now, perhaps for the first time in world history, Christians and Muslims can meet and talk in a way that they’ve never been able to before. This is especially possible in schools, university forums like this, and on the internet where Muslim Christian dialogue is taking place on an unprecedented scale.

In many ways Muslims and Christians find themselves as co-belligerents in a common battle against the modern world. The West is now not Christian but rather post-modernist. It’s characterised by an obsession with media technology (consumerism and entertainment), a radical relativism which asserts that we can all have our own private truth, an ego-centrism (which looks after number one) and a religious pluralism which asserts all religions are the same. This way of thinking has led to escapism and cynicism in society generally.

By contrast both Christianity and Islam find themselves running against this ideology. They share a concern for community, service and absolute truth: involvement rather than escapism, hope as opposed to cynicism. While postmodern society holds that man is simply a clever monkey, the product of matter, chance and time in a Godless universe, Muslims and Christians are together in asserting that man was made to enjoy a relationship with God.

Similarities between Islam and Christianity

Before exploring the differences between Islam and Christianity its useful to map out our common ground. There are seven common strands that are clearly evident.

First, that Islam and Christianity share a common ethical code, one which underlies respect for marriage, a belief in the sanctity of life, and a respect for property. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament are very similar to Islamic ethics and as Christian doctors we find ourselves agreeing with Muslims on many ethical issues. For example members of the Christian Medical Fellowship work together with members of the Islamic Medical Association within HOPE (Healthcare Opposed to Euthanasia).

Second, Christianity and Islam share a common geography and history. The two religions date back to the Middle East and in particular come together in the person of Abraham and his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac.

Third, we share a belief in one God. This may seem a surprise to Muslim listeners, but both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible assert God’s oneness. ‘The Lord is one’ says Deuteronomy 6:4. ‘There is One God…’ says 1 Timothy 2:5.

Fourth, we share a belief in prophets – men throughout history chosen as God’s mouthpiece who spoke God’s Word. Many of these prophets are shared in both religious traditions. For example: Moses who brought us the Torah (Taurat), David who brought us the Psalms (Zabur), and of course Jesus who preached the Gospel (Injil). There are several other biblical prophets who are also mentioned in the Qur’an.

Fifth, we share a belief in angels: heavenly beings who are used as God’s messengers throughout history. Gabriel in particular plays a prominent place in both religions. Muslims believe that Muhammad was visited by Gabriel and of course Christians believe that Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus Christ.

Sixth, we share a belief in Scriptural authority. We accept that God’s revelations throughout history have been recorded in books, and while we may disagree about the degree of divine inspiration of the various books in our religious traditions, we nonetheless both share a profound respect of the authority of ‘Scripture’.

Seventh and finally, we share a belief in the day of judgment. Both, Christians and Muslims, hold that on this day God will divide everyone who has lived on our planet into two groups; one group consigned to heaven and the other group consigned to hell. While we differ on the criteria by which that judgment will be made, we nevertheless concur on the fact that there are only two possible destinations for human beings after death.

Similarities between Muslim and Christian views of Christ

So, there are many similarities between the two religions, in fact even when we come to the person of Jesus Christ there are some common strands. There is very little in the Qur’an about Jesus. When we consider that the Qur’an is about the same length as the New Testament but only mentions Jesus in a few of its 114 chapters (whereas by contrast the whole of the New Testament of the Bible is about Christ) we can see that there is little balance in the quantity of material. However, what little there is in the Qur’an affirms a lot of what we know about Jesus from the Gospels.

This is particularly evident in three areas.

First with regard to his birth. The Qur’an deals with this in Sura 19:16-23, 29-33 and in Sura 3:42-47, 59. These verses affirm that an angel visits Mary (cf Luke 1:26,27), and indicates that God has chosen her and singled her out (cf Luke 1:28). She is said to be blessed among women (cf Luke 1:31-33) and great things are spoken of the son she will bare (cf Luke 1:31-33). The Qur’an in Sura 3:59 likens Jesus to Adam, (as does the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 5:22, 45-49 and Romans 5). Most importantly the Qur’an repeatedly affirms the fact of the virgin birth (Sura 19:20). Interestingly Jesus is the only one of the prophets mentioned in the Qur’an who is said to have had a virgin birth. When we consider that Jesus was male, and that he therefore had a Y chromosome, we see that the only explanation for its origin (since it could not have come from Mary herself) was that God must have created it afresh. This is probably what the Bible means when it affirms ‘a body you have prepared for me’ in the book of Hebrews. Certainly there is no suggestion in the Bible or in the Qur’an that God had intercourse with Mary or implication that even the X chromosome came from her. This creation of a body for Jesus was a unique act (although Jesus himself, we believe, was existing before time began).

Second, there are similarities in the Qur’an and the Bible with regard to the life of Christ. Like the New Testament, the Qur’an affirms that Jesus performed miracles: in particular that he restored sight to the blind, healed lepers and raised people from the dead (Sura 3:49, 5:11). The Qur’an also affirms that Jesus brought ‘the message of the Gospel’ and that he committed no sin (Sura 3:46).

Third, there are similarities between the titles given to Christ in the Qur’an and those in the Bible. The Qur’an calls Jesus ‘the statement of truth’ (Sura 17:24), a similar claim to Jesus calling himself ‘the Way the Truth and the Life’ in John 14:6. Similarly, the Qur’an calls Jesus the Word (Sura 10:19 cf John 1:1), the Apostle (Sura 19:31 cf Hebrews 3:1) and the servant or slave of God (Sura 4:172 and 19:31 cf Isaiah chapters 42, 49, 50 and 53). The servant of God was one of Jesus’ favourite terms for himself and he clearly taught that he was the person talked about in the prophet Isaiah’s ‘Servant Songs’ written many centuries before. Most remarkably, the Qur’an refers eleven times (for example Sura 3:45, 4:71, 5:19, 9:30) to Christ as the Messiah. This is particularly interesting because Messiah (or Christ in Greek) is the title repeatedly applied to Jesus throughout the Bible. In fact, much of the Old Testament is devoted to explaining the characteristics and qualities that the coming Messiah will have.

So we see that there are similarities between the person of Jesus as painted in the Qur’an and the Bible. But there are huge differences too.

Differences between Muslim and Christian Views of Jesus

Some stories we find in the Qur’an about Jesus are not in the Bible at all.

For example the Qur’an tells us that a palm tree provides anguish for Mary after Jesus’ birth (Sura 19:22-26). We are told that Jesus created pigeons from clay and then threw them into the air whereupon they turned into real birds and flew away (Sura 3:49 and 5:11). The baby Jesus is alleged to have talked from the crib (19:29-33) and perhaps most surprising of all we are told that God, Mary and Jesus together constitute the Christian trinity (Sura 5:116).

These ideas to Christians sound quite bizarre, but now with the benefit of archaeology we have some idea as to what their sources may have been. At the time of Muhammad the New Testament had not yet been translated into Arabic and so he didn’t have access to the New Testament manuscripts when recording the Qur’an. However, we know that he was in contact with a number of groups who, although calling themselves Christian, had quite bizarre beliefs. Some people suggest that Muhammad may have been influenced by this and simply incorporated ‘heresy’ into the text of the Qur’an and there is, in fact, very good support for this view. The story of the palm tree is found in an apocryphal document called ‘The Lost Books of the Bible’. Similarly the story of the pigeons comes from ‘Thomas’ Gospel of the infancy of Jesus Christ’. The story of baby Jesus talking is remarkably similar to that found in an Arabic apocryphal fable from Egypt named ‘The First Gospel in the Infancy of Jesus Christ’ and the false belief about God, Mary and Jesus making up the trinity was also peddled by a heretical sect called the Choloridians which had been banished to Arabia at the time.

So there are similarities but also differences.

If we want to know more details about the life of Christ, then we need to look at sources other than the Qur’an. The Qur’an was not written down until at least 600 years after the death of Jesus but the New Testament was recorded by eye-witnesses within a few years of his death. Not surprisingly we can also learn a reasonable amount about Jesus from late first and early second century documents written by non-Christian Jewish and Roman historians. Let us look at some of these latter documents first because they predate the Qur’an by at least 400 years.

Early non Christian sources about Christ

First there is Tacitus. Tacitus is of particular interest to us in England because he was the son-in-law of Julius Agricola, who was once the Roman Governor of Britain. In approximately 110 AD Tacitus, one of Rome’s most famous historians, recorded this about Christ:

‘Therefore to dispel rumour, Nero substituted his culprits and treated with the most extreme punishments some people, popularly known as Christians whose disgraceful activities were notorious. The originator of that name Christus had been executed when Tiberias was Emperor by order of the procurator Pontius Pilatus. But the deadly cult, though checked for a time, was now breaking out again not only in Judea, the birth place of this evil, but even throughout Rome where all the nasty and disgusting ideas from all over the world pour in and find a ready following.

Tacitus was by no means a follower of Christ but he did nonetheless record and confirm the basic facts about his life and death.

Similarly Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived from AD 37 to 90, wrote the following in his ‘Antiquities of the Jews’.

‘And there arose about this time a source of new trouble, one Jesus. He was a doerof marvellous deeds. This man was the so-called Christ and when Pilate had condemned him to the Cross, those who had loved him did not cease – for he appeared to them, as they said, on the third day alive again.’

There was also Lucian of Samosata, a Satirist – a ‘John Cleese’ of the early second century who referred to Christ as ‘the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced a new cult into the world’. Seutonius refers to Christians as being ‘given over to a new and mischievous superstition’. Pliny the Younger gives advice to Trajan about killing Christians and Thallus and Phlegon are two first-century historians who debate the cause of the darkness in the middle of the day which occurred at Christ’s crucifixion.

This brief excursion into Jewish and Roman history is simply to show that the consensus among non-Christian writers was that Jesus existed, performed miracles, was crucified under Pilate when Tiberius was Emperor, and was believed by his followers to have risen from the dead. If we’re wanting more detailed evidence then it is to the Gospels in the New Testament that we must turn.

The Gospels in the New Testament

The New Testament consists of 27 books all of which were almost certainly written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The New Testament is all about Jesus and as mentioned is about the same length as the Qur’an. Therefore we have a tremendous amount of material to examine.

The first four books in the New Testament are four biographies written by two of Jesus’ twelve disciples (Matthew and John), another man (Mark) who was a close follower of Jesus and one of the leaders in the early church, and a Greek doctor (Luke) who although he never met Christ personally interviewed the eye-witnesses and became an early Christian leader himself.

Their parallel accounts, although recording different details, show a remarkable degree of consistency. There was clearly no change in the story through a chain of oral tradition, simply because there wasn’t such a chain. It was eye-witnesses who recorded these events. Also, the fact that we have very early manuscripts and fragments of New Testament mean that we can be confident that what we have today is what the original authors first wrote . The earliest fragments that exist include the John Ryland fragment in the John Ryland Library in Manchester which dates from 125 AD, and the Magdalen fragments which date from about 65 – 70 AD and are housed in the Magdalen College Library in Oxford.

What is remarkable is that these date from either the life-time of the Apostles (in the case of the Magdalen fragment) or from the life-time of those who knew the Apostles personally. This is despite the fact that they were written on papyrus which easily disintegrates.

There are also complete manuscripts of the New Testament from the first three centuries after Christ including the Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Sinaiticus in the British Library and the Codex Vaticanus in the Vatican Library in Rome. In fact there are over 230 New Testament manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament (in about eight different languages) which pre-date the time of Muhammad. In addition to this there are 88,000 quotes from the New Testament in the writings of the ‘church fathers’, 32,000 of which date from before the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.

We find nothing like the documentary evidence for the New Testament in any other literature from antiquity. For example, we know of Julius Caesar only from ten documents, the earliest of which is a copy written 1,000 years after his life-time. Apart from the New Testament the best documented literature in antiquity is Homer’s Iliad of which have only 643 copies, the earliest written 500 years after the original.

Clearly, the New Testament manuscript evidence is extremely reliable.

Has the New Testament been changed?

It is often said by Muslims that the Bible has been changed, but when could it have been changed in relation to the writing of the Qur’an? It cannot have been after the Qur’an was written since we have New Testament manuscripts pre-dating the Qur’an as I have already said.

Equally, it cannot have been changed before the Qur’an was written because otherwise the Qur’an would say so. Interestingly the Qur’an does not say that the Bible has been changed at any point. In fact, to the contrary, the Qur’an encourages its readers to compare its own teaching with the Old and New Testaments of the Bible in order to confirm the truth of the message. This makes sense when we understand that the New Testament was not translated into Arabic until after the Qur’an was written. Therefore there was no opportunity for Muslims to realise that there was any clash between the teaching of the two books. This explains why Muhammad used to refer to the Bible for guidance (Sura 5:43, 46 and 6:34 and 10:64).

Most importantly how could God have allowed the Bible to be changed when Jesus himself said that ‘Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35). Why would anyone have dared to try and change it when faced with the truth of the warnings of the consequences of doing so in the Bible itself.

It is significant that the early Muslim commentators Bukhari (Al-Razi) were all agreed that the Bible could not be changed since it was God’s Word and several centuries passed before Muslims claimed that it had been changed. Surely if the Qur’an was indeed written by God, as Muslims claim, it would record the plain fact that the Qur’an and New Testament disagree. Instead – the Qur’an affirms the Bible.

Jesus Christ in the New Testament

What then do the New Testament documents tell us about the person of Christ? As mentioned, they agree with some of what the Qur’an teaches but provide much more detailed eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ teaching, miraculous deeds and claims about himself. For example, the Sermon on the Mount which makes up three chapters of the Gospel of Matthew consists entirely of Christ’s direct teaching on a multiplicity of different subjects. Many miracles showing Christ’s mastery over diseases and natural phenomena are described in all four Gospels and the Apostle John tells us that Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which were not recorded. John’s comment on this is to say that ‘if everyone of them were written down I suppose that even the whole world would not have had room for the books that would be written’ (John 21:25).

The New Testament confirms that Christ gave wonderful teaching and performed many miraculous deeds. In stark contrast to the Qur’an it claims that Christ was crucified by the Roman authorities.

Probably the most remarkable thing recorded about Christ in the New Testament is the claims that he made. He claimed that he was the only way to God (John 14:6) and this claim was confirmed by the Apostles – in particular both Peter (Acts 4:12) and Paul (1 Tim 2:5). More than this, when asked to reveal God the Father to the disciples he simply asked them ‘have I been with you so long and you don’t know me?’ (John 14:9) He followed this up by saying that anyone who had seen him had seen the Father. It was this astounding teaching that Jesus and God were one that marked him out as unique.

That this is what he was claiming is very clear from the New Testament where his divinity is directly stated in at least eight passages (John 1:1,2; John 1:18; John 20:28; Acts 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1) and strongly implied in others (Matt 1:23; John 17:3,5; Col 2:2; 2 Thess 1:12; 1 Tim 1:17).

His claims to be one with God were further confirmed by the fact that he called himself ‘I Am’ (John 8:58) a title which God used in the Old Testament to describe only himself (Ex 3:14). He accepted the title Lord (Hebrew Yahweh ‘ Greek Kyrios) and accepted worship (John 9:38) while being intimately aware of the Old Testament laws about idolatry. He claimed to have the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:5), which only God can do and also to be the Judge on the Day of Judgement (John 5:22). On top of this he affirmed that he existed even before the world was made (John 17:5).

If we have any doubts about what Jesus said we can tell from the reactions people had to him that they knew what he was claiming. They either worshipped him (Matt 4:33) or accused him of blasphemy (John 10:33). He was crucified simply because he claimed at his trial to be ‘the Son of God’. From Psalm 2, the Jews at the time knew this to be an implicit claim to Divinity. Their response was to say ‘you have heard the blasphemy’ and then to condemn him as worthy of death.

Mad, Bad or God?

What should we think of someone who claims to be God? There are only three alternatives. If the claim is false and the person making the claim does not know it to be false then we would have to say that they are suffering under a delusion and probably psychotic. On the other hand, if the claim is false and the person making it knows it to be false, then we would have to say that they are a deceiver trying to lead people astray. On the other hand, if the claim is true then we should recognise that person as both God and act accordingly. Would it be possible for God to become a man? If God can do anything then it must be. Why would he want to? Jesus said that he came to save the lost. In other words his visit to our planet had a purpose. He was both revealing his true identity and also dying on the Cross in order to make it possible for our broken relationship with God to be restored. The central message of Christianity is that the only way we can be put right with God and forgiven of our sins is by accepting that Jesus Christ has taken the punishment for our sins on our behalf. If we put our faith in him he will then grant us forgiveness and give us a new life so that we can approach the Day of Judgement with confidence.

Is it possible that Christ could have been psychotic or an evil deceiver? Certainly Muslims believe neither of these possibilities. How could he be mad when he gave such profound teaching? Similarly, how could someone who lived a life of virtue be evil?

He must have been God

Let us turn the question around. If it were possible for God to become a man, what sort of man would we expect him to be? We would expect him to have an unusual entry to life and both Qur’an and Bible confirm his virgin birth. We would expect him to be morally perfect and to perform extraordinary deeds, again facts confirmed in both Qur’an and Bible. We would expect him to speak the greatest words ever spoken and for him to have a profound effect on people. Furthermore we’d expect his influence to be universal and lasting and for his life to fulfil in minute detail the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament of the Bible. This is exactly what we find. Finally we would expect him to exercise power over death and again this is confirmed by the eye-witnesses through his resurrection and rising from the dead.

We simply have to look at the evidence and come to our own conclusions. To return to our original question of ‘Was Jesus a Muslim?’ – we would again say ‘Yes he was’ if we simply mean by this that he was submitted to God. If however, we mean would he have denied his divinity and claims as recorded in the New Testament, then Jesus clearly was not a Muslim.

Despite the similarities between the two religions we are left at the end with them being completely irreconcilable with regard to their beliefs about Christ. The greatest sin in Islam is to associate anything with God. To do this is a certain route to judgement and everlasting hell.

By complete contrast in Christianity unbelief in Christ’s divinity and resurrection is the path to judgement and hell.

Clearly both religions cannot be equally true. Despite the similarities the answer must turn on the identity of the person of Christ. You can compare Islam and Christianity to two bank-notes, both similar, but one of which is a valueless counterfeit. In deciding which one is counterfeit we need to ask which gives the true picture of Jesus. Ultimately this means that we either accept the testimony of the eye-witnesses who knew him, or accept that a ‘revelation’ received by someone 600 years after the events of the first century is more accurate. I simply leave you with a quote from St Paul: ‘even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we have preached to you, let him be eternally condemned’ (Gal 1:8). I am being deliberately provocative here, but you can see that I have no choice but to be. Either Christianity is a counterfeit or Islam is, and we must make our decision on the evidence available and act accordingly. I challenge you as one who has read the Qur’an and yet chosen in favour of the Bible. I pray that if you are a Muslim you will take up my challenge and read the New Testament Gospels with an open mind, praying that God will show you whether Christianity or Islam is true. Thank you.

The Attitude of the Qur’an and Sunnah to the Christian Scriptures

Antoin MacRuaidh


1. Introduction

Islam is a prophetic-revelatory religion whose faith and practice centres on its holy book, the Qur’an. Muslims believe that there have been one hundred and four revelatory books – ten to Adam, fifty to Seth, thirty to Enoch, ten to Abraham, one to Moses, one to David, one to Jesus and one to Muhammad. All but those of Abraham, Moses David, Jesus and Muhammad have been taken up to Paradise, and the Book of Abraham is no longer extant. Those that remained, apart from that of Muhammad, are those revealed to Moses, the Tawrah (Torah), to David, the Zabur (Psalms), and that given to Jesus, the Injil (Gospel). The Mosaic and Davidic books mentioned in the Qur’an resemble the Jewish structure of the Tenak (Old Testament) – the Torah, Nebi’im and Kethubim – the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, the last-mentioned often termed ‘the Psalms’ after the first book in the section. Of course, there is no reference in the Qur’an to the Nebi’im, although Islam’s holy book does refer to a number of the prophets mentioned in the Bible, nor is there any reference to the Kethubim, and the reference to the Psalms being given to David indicates that only the individual book of that name is concerned, rather than the entire section of the Tenak sometimes denoted by the term.

The Muslim, as opposed to Qur’anic, charge of corruption against the Bible usually refers to al-tahrif al-lafzi, changing the actual text, rather than al-tahrif al-ma’nawi, misinterpreting such. It should be said at the outset that nowhere does either the Qur’an or the Hadith present us with the idea that the Books of Moses, David and Jesus have been lost, removed or even corrupted, despite the view of many Muslims on the issue. However, as we study the sources of Islamic revelation, we find that while there are similarities between the Jewish-Christian Scriptures and the Books mentioned in the Qur’an, there are also important differences. These distinctions, together with the obvious differences in theology between the Bible and the Qur’an, lie at the heart of the controversy over Scriptural identity between Islam and Christianity.

2. The Nature and Status of the Qur’an

The most difficult aspect of understanding the traditional Muslim view of the Christian Scriptures is caused by the distinct point of reference. Obviously, the Muslim looks at the Bible from the standpoint of that with which he is familiar – his holy book. A Muslim coming to the Bible for the first time finds it difficult to understand what he is encountering. It is not just that he has been continually regaled from infancy with tales of how the Bible has been changed. It is primarily because the nature, structure and teaching of the Bible do not adhere to that of the Qur’an. The Muslim, from his reading of the Qur’an, has a fixed idea not simply about the content of divine revelation (i.e. Islamic doctrine), but also its form and character. He looks at the Bible through the lens of the Qur’an, which he believes to be the ultimate inscripturated revelation from God. The holy book of Islam sets the pattern for the characteristic of an inspired Scripture. In order to see why the charge of corruption against the Bible has arisen among Muslims, we must first understand the nature of the Qur’an in Islam.

2.1 The Nature of the Qur’an

The Qur’an is believed by Sunnis (though not by Shi’is) to be the eternal, uncreated word of God. The source of this belief is found in the Qur’an itself, in the concept that there eternally exists in Paradise (and is therefore free from human influence) the Preserved Tablet, (Lawh-i-Mahfuz), the eternal Word of God, from which revelation descends to humanity. It is termed ‘The Mother of the Book ‘ (Umm-ul-Kitab). The Muslim Qur’anic translator and commentator Yusuf Ali says:

For: 43. 4

…The Mother of the Book, the Foundation of Revelation, the Preserved Tablet (Lauh Mahfuz. lxxxv. 22), is the core or essence of revelation…The Mother of the Book is in Allah’s own Presence…

The Islamic scholar Mawdudi states:

‘Umm al-Kitab’: the ‘Original Book’: the Book from which all the Books sent down to the prophets have been derived. In Surah Al Waqi’ah the same thing has been described as Kitab-um-Maknun (the hidden and preserved Book) and in Surah al-Buruj: 22 as Lauh-i Mahfuz (the preserved Tablet), that is, the Tablet whose writing cannot be effaced, which is secure from every kind of interference…Different Books had been revealed by Allah in different ages…they brought one and the same Din (Religion). The reason was that their source and origin was the same, only words were different…they had the same meaning and theme which is inscribed in a Source Book with Allah, and whenever there was a need, he raised a prophet and sent down the same meaning and subject matter clothed in a particular diction according to the environment and occasion…

Hence, according to Islam, there is a certain degree of progressive revelation, but not in the Christian sense of the unfolding drama of redemption whereby purely temporary physical phenomena such as the Temple, the Levitical priesthood, the political state, etc., were superseded by the New Testament Church, the common priesthood of all believers (based on the eternal priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchizedek) and the present Messianic Reign, or with respect to the gradual disclosure of Messianic prophecy. In the view of Islam, each book brought the same message, without any typological scaffolding such as prospective sacrifices for sin, etc., the major difference between the Books of Islam being that the previous scriptures predicted the coming of Muhammad, which the Qur’an records as fulfilled. Further, the nature of inspiration was the same, revelation being ‘sent down’ from the Eternal Tablet, and so, as we shall see in my other paper The Compilation of the Text of the Qur’an and the Sunni-Shia dispute, Muslims naturally affirm that the process of canonical compilation was also identical.

It should also be noted that Mawdudi’s point about a prophet bringing ‘…subject matter clothed in a particular diction according to the environment and occasion…’ in itself points to a difficulty Muslims experience with the Christian Scriptures. The ‘Great Commission’ in Matthew 28:18-20, where Jesus enjoins the universal proclamation of His message, contradicts Islamic dogma that all prophets prior to Muhammad were merely local messengers. As one Muslim author puts it,

…God was sending different prophets to the different nations. Jesus was one of these national prophets.

Necessarily, therefore, His Scripture was of purely local and temporary concern. This being the case, a further point in this regard which is often raised by Muslim apologists is the language of the gospels. We know that a principal reason for the New Testament being in Greek was because the Christian message was for all humanity, and Greek was the lingua franca of the Roman and Near Eastern world, comparable to the contemporary position of English today. Furthermore, Palestine itself had been heavily Hellenized since the time of Alexander the Great, as Martin Hengel has demonstrated. When Christ entered the Greek-speaking area of Tyre and Sidon, the Decapolis, or spoke to Roman officials such as the Centurion or Pontius Pilate, he evidently spoke in Greek, as it is most unlikely that the latter in particular would know either Hebrew or Aramaic. However, the usual Muslim position is that the true gospel must have been in Aramaic, since Jesus was a purely local prophet, and against all the evidence, Muslim polemicists hold that Jesus, as a Palestinian, would not have known Greek. Moreover, Muslims hold that revelation suffers in the translation, hence the reason that translations of the Qur’an are always qualified by titles such as ‘The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an’ (emphasis mine). Thus the Gospels are held to be unreliable simply because they are not in Hebrew or Aramaic.

Muhammad, however, being the Seal of the Prophets, was the universal Messenger for Mankind, S. 7:159; 21:107, and as his message was essentially the Qur’an, the same is true of his scripture – it alone was for all humanity. As the New Testament stands, the climactic and universal claims of Jesus give to Him, and thus to the New Testament itself, what Muslims hold in this respect belongs to Muhammad and the Qur’an. There is no theological and eschatological basis for future prophets and scriptures in the New Testament. Quite apart from the doctrinal problems this produces, it presents a picture of the previous Scriptures that does not tally with the Islamic idea of the characteristic of an earlier holy book. The Bible is self-sufficient and a complete, final revelation, and it is thus incompatible with the Qur’an on this basis.

2.2. Status of the Qur’an

Following from the idea that the Qur’an descends from an eternal Tablet in Paradise, we can see that a major problem is Christian-Muslim dialogue is the misunderstanding about comparison. Christians and Muslims often compare Muhammad to Christ, and the Qur’an to the Bible. Persons and Scriptures are compared with each other. On the Christian side, we make the point that the Bible reveals Christ – that it discloses him as the Word of God and the eternal Son of God, and that through faith in Him, and thus what is revealed about Him in the Bible, we receive eternal life, John 20:31. ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us., John 1:14, and He ‘…came from the Father, full of grace and truth.‘ However, in Islam, it is Muhammad who reveals the Qur’an, the uncreated, eternal Word of God, which became a Book and is recited among us.

Moreover, the Qur’an, in its instructions to men, is the key to the knowledge of salvation – necessarily so, for it is the revelation of God giving them the sign of how to walk the Straight Path of obedience to the divine will – Islam. It is often said of Muhammad by Muslims that ‘his life was the Qur’an.’ It can be seen that on this basis the Qur’an is not exactly equivalent to the Bible in the Christian understanding: rather, as the means of salvation, it stands in Islam where Jesus stands in Christianity. Just as Christians believe that the impartation of spiritual life by the Spirit of Christ enables us to walk in conformity with the will of God, Romans 8:9, so the internalization of the Qur’an enables the Muslim to live the life of perfect submission to God, as exemplified by Muhammad. The true contrast is between Muhammad and the Bible on the one hand, and Jesus and the Qur’an on the other. It is noteworthy that Islam calls Jesus Kalimat’Allah (‘a Word from God’) and Ruh’Allah (‘the Spirit of God’). The concept is clearly linked to the idea of revelation, and of prophets as instruments of this What is interesting in this regard is that the title ‘the Spirit of God’ is also applied to the Qur’an in the Hadith. This being the case, Christians can understand from their own concept of the Holy Spirit what is the nature of the Qur’an for Muslims.

The Qur’an, in its instructions to men, is the key to the knowledge of salvation – necessarily so, for it is the revelation of God giving them the sign of how to walk the Straight Path of obedience to the divine will – Islam:

Surah: 2. Baqara Ayah: 135

135. They say: ‘Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (to salvation).’ Say thou: ‘Nay! (I would rather) the religion of Abraham the true and he joined not gods with Allah.’

136. Say ye: ‘We believe in Allah and the revelation given to us and to Abraham Isma`il Isaac Jacob and the Tribes and that given to Moses and Jesus and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord we make no difference between one and another of them and we bow to Allah (in Islam).’

AL-MUWATTA of Imam Malik

Malik ibn Anas

The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘I have left two matters with you. As long as you hold to them, you will not go the wrong way. They are the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet.’

This is often difficult for Evangelical Protestants to understand, given their belief in Original Sin, Free Grace and spiritual regeneration effected by the Holy Spirit on the basis of Christ’s salvific work on the Cross. Since Islam does not regard Man as innately corrupt, but rather as morally neutral, spiritual regeneration is unnecessary. Further, in Islam, sin is not a matter of lack of conformity to the nature of God, but concrete acts which contravene the divine will, as revealed in Islamic law (Shari’ah), based upon the Qur’an and Sunnah. On the same basis, the salvific effects of Christ at Calvary are likewise redundant, because Man, in obedience to the Islamic law, can indeed ‘save’ himself with the help of God in the Qur’an and Sunnah. It follows therefore that what is needed is purely the revelation of God instructing Man on how to walk as the Creator would have him behave. Hence the emphasis on the Qur’an as being the Guide to salvation. There is no sense of Substitutionary Reconciliation or Federal Headship in Islam, because there is no concept of one being saving another. Nor is there the same inter-action between God and Man on the earthly scene. Rather, the transcendent deity sends down the Divine Guidance to salvation through angelic and human intermediaries, and the rest is up to Man himself. We may infer from this that the ultimate answer to Muslim attacks on the Bible is not textual, but Christological.

This being the case, it can be understood why a Muslim, looking at the Christian Scriptures in the light of the nature of the Qur’an, cannot fathom their character, especially given the absence of ‘legalism’ in the New Testament. The Qur’an points to itself as the ultimate revelation of God and means of relation to Him, whereas the Bible points to something – or rather someone – external to itself in this respect. Given, the nature of the holy book of Islam, it is incumbent upon a Muslim to revere the Qur’an. We can see why Salman Rushdie ‘s book, The Satanic Verses, caused so much offence – he committed the equivalent of blaspheming Christ. Islamic jurisprudence states that the Qur’an must not be treated with disrespect, so one must not write in it, or place in on the floor, etc.

A further point worthy of note in this regard is that the nature and status of the Qur’an flow from the belief that it is the miracle of Islam and Muhammad. Muhammad is said to have received revelations during a trance, and that extraordinary phenomena were associated with this, such as strange sounds, being gripped by an angel, perspiring in winter, etc. This indicates that both the act of inspiration and the contents thereof were miraculous. Muhammad himself specifically denied that he performed any miracle, other than conveying the Qur’anic revelation. Many Muslims believe it is impossible to read the Qur’an – at least in Arabic – without being converted to Islam. The claims to its being miraculous mainly relate to its language and style (hence the importance of its being read in Arabic). This in itself makes it difficult for a Muslim to accept the Bible as true Scripture, since its style in so many places is different from his holy book. Unlike the Bible for the most part, the Qur’an is written in a kind of rhythmic prose. This purportedly makes it easier to memorise. von Denffer uses the example of Surah 112 Al-Ikhlas:

Qul huwa llahu ahad

Allahu samad

Lam yalid wa lam yulad

wa lam yakun lahu kufuwan ahad

Thus, an encounter with the Qur’an is similar to the experience of Paul on the Damascus Road when the Christophany (manifestation of the Risen Christ) revealed the Son of God in his life, transforming him therein. The Qur’an is its own self-authenticating miracle, the evidence that Islam is the revelation of God. We may compare the way the Resurrection of Jesus is presented as the authenticating miracle of God which demonstrates the truth of His claims to Divine Sonship, Romans 1:4. Again, Muslims do not see the Bible as making quite the same claims about itself (although Paul makes the claim for the gospel that it is the power of salvation, Romans 1:16).

3. The Nature of the Books of Moses, David and Jesus

3.1 The Character of Inspiration and Authorship

In many ways the subject matter of this section belongs under the previous heading, since the character and mode of the inspiration of the Qur’an is crucial to understanding why the Books of Moses, David and Jesus mentioned in the Qur’an do not conform to the Muslim model of Scripture. However, in order to give a more immediate comparison with the Christian Scriptures, it is pertinent to address the issue here.

Whilst there are examples of Divine dictation in the Christian Scriptures, notably the command to inscripturate the Decalogue, Exodus 34:27-28, such is not the norm with respect to the entire Bible. The Christian concept of Scriptural inspiration is theanthropic – a coterminous work of God and Man, the latter being protected from error by the influence of the Holy Spirit, a concept usually called supervision, referring to the condescension of God in revealing His mind and will through human instrumentation and personality. To give an analogy from music, a ballad played on an Irish harp gives the sound of the strings, but the melody it expresses is that of the composer. Likewise, the same is true of a dirge by the same composer performed on Scottish bag-pipes by another player. The tune, theme and performer may be different in each case, and the personality of the individual musician will be obvious in the performance, but the composer is the same in both cases, and with respect to the Scriptures, we can be sure that God has chosen adequate performers!

The Scriptures are ‘God-breathed’ (qeopneustos – theopneustos) 2 Timothy 3:16, but are simultaneously the genuine work of human beings, as indicated by the reference in 2 Peter 3:15-16 ‘…just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave himHis letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.’ Hence, Both God and Paul were the Authors of Paul’s epistles, the former supernaturally inspiring the latter. 2 Peter 1:21 expresses it perfectly – ‘For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’

This view is difficult for Muslims to understand. The Christian idea of supervision is analogous to the concept of hadith in Islam – the words of the Prophet, often with commentary by the narrator, true, divinely protected from error, and expressing the mind and will of the Almighty, but not usually direct revelation from the mouth of God. Hence, to a Muslim, the Gospel of Matthew at best seems a mish-mash of hadith and direct revelation – the words of God the Father, Jesus and the Historian writing the book. The Christian apologetic writer William Campbell addresses this issue by presenting how, for example, Luke 8:19-21 would look if presented in Islamic fashion:

According to James, the half-brother of Jesus (may God be pleased with him) the occasion for the revelation of Luke 8:21 was as follows,

Now my mother and brothers and myself came to see Jesus, but we were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’

And then the verse was revealed, ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’

This Hadith was transmitted by Luke and Mark in their books, which (along with those of Matthew and John) are the most valuable among the collections of Hadiths.)

Only the portion in bold would be regarded as Injil, and this would be recorded as a separate book from the hadith material.

Ahmad Deedat, viewed by many Muslims as their most effective anti-Christian apologist, presents the idea of ‘three grades of evidence’ – the Word of God, the Words of a Prophet of God, and the Words of a Historian. He goes on to claim

The bulk of the Bible is a witnessing of this THIRD kind.

{It should be noted that Deedat ignores elements in the Qur’an where others than God are held to be speaking in the first person – the classic case being Zechariah and Mary in Surah 19 Maryam, as well as other texts where Iblis, the jinn who became Satan, the Quraish, the prophet Jesus, whom Islam denies to be divine, and others, all speak. Moreover, as explained in my other paper The Compilation of the text of the Qur’an and the Sunni-Shia dispute, Muslims themselves hold that the Qur’an is incomplete without the Sunnah, revealed in the Hadith literature, which comments upon and explains the Qur’anic text. To deny the central import of the Sunnah is heresy, as can be seen from the words of a Muslim scholar on the subject:

…whoever believes in the Qur’an… must rely on… these reports of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet… a very large number of these Traditions form a valuable explanatory supplement to the Qur’an.

The nature of the Hadith is parallel to those very aspects of the gospels (and even epistles) which Deedat derogates – inspired historical comment and explanation. Whilst Evangelical Christians state that their source of authority is the Bible alone, Muslims always refer to their sources of authority as the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Thus, the complete authority for Islam is analogous to the Bible itself! Deedat is hung on his own petard.}

With regard to the Islamic view of the inspiration of the Qur’an, however, the nature and mode of inspiration was dictation, through the agency of the Archangel Gabriel. Essentially, the mode of revelation to Muhammad, apart from when the angel appeared to him, was usually one of trance. Again, we can see a major difference between the Christian and Islamic concepts of the mode and nature of inspiration. Apart possibly from the Apocalypse, the Christian concept is one whereby the agent of revelation is consciously involved in the formation of the scripture, although under divine guidance and protection from error. In the Islamic schema, however, the very fact that the recipient of revelation is in a trance indicates that he is merely a passive instrument of the divine will, like the pen of a writer, naturally so since a trance-like condition precludes conscious activity. The very word ‘Qur’an‘ probably derives from qara’a – to read or recite; the word iqraa – ‘speak’ is related to it. We see examples of this in the command to read or recite in the text itself, for example, the first text to be revealed, Surah: 96. Iqraa Ayah: 2. Hence the Prophet merely recited what had been dictated to him.

This is directly pertinent to our theme. In many ways the essence of Islam is the claim of Muhammad to be the ultimate prophet and apostle of God, in the line of Adam and Abraham. The collegiality of the divine messengers is a central tenet of Islamic faith. The nature of prophetic inspiration is necessarily the same with regard to all the messengers of God, as Surah 4 Nisaa Ayah 163 implies (q.v. footnotes). Hence, if Muhammad was a passive instrument in the revelation of the Qur’an, it follows that the same was true of other prophets. They did not participate in the authorship of the Books associated with their names; rather, they simply recited what was dictated to them. This can be seen in Surah 57 Hadiid Ayah 27, with its reference to Jesus having the Gospel ‘bestowed’ (Arabic aty’na’hu) on him; note also the role Gabriel played in bringing revelation to Jesus:

Surah: 2. Baqara Ayah: 87

87. We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of Apostles;

We gave Jesus the son of Mary clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit..

Hence, the Muslim idea is that Gabriel, the Holy Spirit, inspired Jesus the same way he revealed Scripture to Muhammad. It can be seen that a great deal of confusion is caused when Christians and Muslims tell each other that they both believe that Scripture comes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit; both the nature of inspiration and the identity of the Holy Spirit are very different in the distinct religious schemas. The references to the Book of Moses and the Psalms of David in the Qur’an likewise reflect this concept. Thus, for Muslims, the superscription in Psalm 51 ‘A psalm of David’, which claims authorship for David himself, and the text of which actually demonstrates this claim, illustrates that whatever the Biblical books may be, they are not the texts to which the Qur’an refers. For example, Ahmad Deedat states:

The Tauraat we Muslims believe in is not the ‘Torah’ of the Jews and the Christians… Moses was not the author of the ‘books’ attributed to him by the Jews and the Christians. Likewise, we believe that the Zaboor was the revelation of God granted to Hazrat Dawood (David)… but that the present Psalms associated with his name are not that revelation… What about the Injeel?… of the 27 books of the New Testament, only a small fraction can be accepted as the words of Jesus.

Mawdudi similarly states:

There exists a common misconception about the Torah (Taurat) and the Gospel (lnjil) for the people generally take the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) for the Torah, and the Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament) for the Injil. The misconception creates doubts about Revelation itself and a question arises, ‘Are these books really the Word of God? And does the Holy Quran really confirm all their contents?’ As a matter of fact, the Torah, which the Quran confirms, is not the Pentateuch but is contained in it, and the Injil is not ‘the four Gospels’ but is within these books.

The Taurat consists of those commandments and injunctions which were given to Prophet Moses (Allah’s peace be upon him) during his Prophethood, which lasted for about forty years. Of these were the Ten Commandments which were inscribed on stone tablets and delivered to Moses on Mount Tur: as regards the remaining Commandments and injunctions he himself had put down in writing. Then he handed one copy of the Torah to each of the twelve tribes of Israel for guidance. One copy was entrusted to the Levites for safe custody, which along with the stone tablets, was deposited in the Ark.

That Taurat remained quite safe and sound as an entire book up to the first destruction of Jerusalem. But, by and by, the Israelites grew so indifferent to and negligent and unmindful of it that when the Temple of Solomon was under repair during the reign of Josiah, Hilkiah, the high priest came across it by chance but did not know that it was the Torah; he thought it was only a Law book and passed it on to the Royal Scribe as a curio. The latter presented it to king Josiah who tore his clothes and ordered Hilkiah and others to consult the Eternal about the terms of the book. (2 Kings, 22:8-13). Such was the condition of the Israelites when Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, and they lost for ever even the very few copies of the Torah which had long lain neglected in some forgotten niches. The Old Testament was compiled by Ezra, when the Israelites returned home to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon and built the Temple anew. Ezra gathered together some prominent men of his community, and with their help compiled the whole history of Israel which now comprises the first 11 books of the Bible. Of these Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy tell the life history of Prophet Moses and include those verses of the real Taurat which became available to Ezra and his assistants, who incorporated them in those books at appropriate places in the chronological order of their revelation. Thus it is obvious that the Pentateuch as a whole is not the Taurat but includes it. The real Taurat comprises those verses which are scattered all over the life story of Prophet Moses, and it is not difficult even today to locate and recognize them. Such portions where the author says, ‘God said to Moses,’ or Moses said ‘the Lord your God says,’ the Taurat begins, and where the narrative of the life story is resumed, there that part of the Taurat ends. At those places the author of the Bible has inserted certain things by way of explanation or commentary, and it is here that the ordinary reader fails to distinguish the real Taurat from the commentary. However, those who have an insight into the nature of Divine Scriptures, can distinguish, to some degree of exactness, the explanatory notes from the revealed verses.

According to the Quran, only such scattered portions in the Pentateuch are the Taurat and it confirms them alone. And this can be testified by putting together these verses and comparing them with the Quran. Here and there one might come across a minor difference in their details, but one cannot find even the slightest difference between the fundamental teachings of the two. Even today one can see clearly that both the Scriptures have come from the same source.

Likewise, the Injil is the name of those inspired discourses and sayings which Jesus (Allah’s peace be upon him) uttered as a prophet during the last couple of years of his life. We have no means now of ascertaining whether these pious utterances were recorded and compiled during the lifetime of Jesus. In the introduction to his translation of the Bible, Moffat says, ‘Jesus wrote nothing and for a time his immediate disciples felt no impulse to write any account of him. The data of the historical Jesus, therefore is based on the vivid recollections and traditions of the primitive Palestinian disciples. How soon their materials took written shape we cannot tell, but at least one written record of them was probably in existence by about A.D. 50.’ Anyhow, when, long after his recall, the stories of Jesus were compiled in the shape of four Gospels, (the period of the composition of Mark, the first to be composed was 65-75 A.D.), some of his written or inspired sayings were also inserted at appropriate places in the historical sketches. Thus it is obvious that the first four Gospels are not the Injil, the discourses and sayings of Jesus, but they contain it. . We have no means of recognizing them from the works of the authors except this; Wherever the authors say, ‘Jesus said so or taught so and so’ there the Injil begins and whence they resume the narration, there it ends. According to the Quran, only such portions are the Injil and these alone are confirmed by it. If these portions are compiled together and compared with the Quran, one will find no serious difference between the two, and, if somewhere a trivial difference appears, it can be removed very easily with unbiased thinking.

However – and this must be emphasised – this commonly-held belief among Muslims about the corruption of the Biblical text is not supported by the Qur’an itself. Nowhere does the Qur’an distinguish between the Zabur and the Biblical Psalms of David, or between the Taurat and the Pentateuch, or between the Injil and the New Testament. It never advocates that the original books of the Prophets associated with Moses, David and Jesus have ceased to exist or been textually distorted. As we shall see, the Qur’an throughout presumes that the books to which it refers remain extant and in the possession of the Jews and Christians, and continuing to be the authoritative holy scriptures of the earlier Abrahamic confessions among whom the nascent Muslim community co-existed. Whatever the nature and mode of revelation and prophetic inspiration, the Qur’an clearly holds that the books of the three prophets were actually those in contemporary use by the People of the Book.

3.2 The Content of the Prophetic Books

As we have seen, a fundamental belief of Islam is the unity of the prophets. Surah Al-i-Imran 3:67 claims that Abraham was a Muslim rather than a Jew or a Christian. As Muhammad is considered as an Abrahamic Apostle, perfecting but reiterating the kernel of the revelation given to those who came before him, it is essential to claim that all prophets were Muslims with identical messages – specifically Islam, and that this was the religion of the Patriarchs (Surah Baqara 2:135-136). Muhammad is presented as being in the Patriarchal tradition, and the prophets are seen as prototypes of the Last Prophet. Linked to this idea is the crucial concept of Muhammad as the Seal of the Prophets. Just as the prophets all brought the same message, it follows that the essential teaching of their scriptures is the same. If this is the case, then when Muslims discover something in the Bible which contradicts Islam, it necessarily follows in their minds that Jews and Christians have altered their Scriptures, since there is a uniformity in divine revelation, as can be seen from the Qur’anic exposition of the ministry of certain prophets. To a Muslim, whatever Muhammad preached must be, in essence, what Abraham, Moses and Jesus proclaimed. There cannot be any distinction in their messages. For example, they all preached about the Antichrist (Ad-Dajjal al-Masih).

At times we can hear echoes of Biblical themes and stories in the Qur’an, but the differences in the contents of the biographical and kerygmatic material in the latter do not match the former. A crucial difference is the concept of Prophetic impeccability in Islam – ‘isma – prophets are free from sin. Sunnis and Shia dispute over the extent of the privilege of ‘isma: the former apply it from the time the prophetic ministry begins, whilst the latter view it as effective from birth. Certainly, however, it would be impossible for a man to sin once his prophetic ministry was in operation. For this reason alone, Psalm 51, being a text of repentance and supplication for forgiveness of the sin of David with respect to Uriah the Hittite is incomprehensible to Muslims. There is no reference in the Qur’an to David’s adultery with Bathsheba or murder of Uriah. The very idea horrifies Muslims, and is used in their propaganda against the Bible.

Most obviously, the idea that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, or God Himself, clearly contradicts the Qur’an, which explicitly denies these assertions. The Qur’an also contains material about Jesus not present in the New Testament; for example, it refers to the miracles of Jesus as an infant, such as creating clay birds, Surah Al-i-Imran 3:49, and speaking whilst yet in the cradle, Surah Maryam 19: 29-30. There is no support in the canonical scriptures for these assertions. It is possible that these ideas originated with the visit to Muhammad of the Christian delegation from the Arabian state of Najran. In the sira (biography of the Prophet) of Ibn Ishaq it is stated that the group was sixty strong, and included the political leader of Najran, Abdu’l-Masih, an administrator called al-Ayham, and a renowned bishop and theologian named Abu Haritha. The Mawdudi states that verses 33-63 of Surah 3, Al-i-Imran, were revealed at Medina at the time of the visit. According to the sira, they informed the Muslims that Jesus was God; the son of God; the third person of the Trinity ‘…which is the doctrine of Christianity.’ They supported their claims by pointing to his miracles. These apparently included making ‘…clay birds and breathe into them so that they flew away; and all this was by the command of God Almighty, ‘We will make him a sign unto men.”

The delegation pointed out Jesus had no human father, and that He ‘…spoke in the cradle…’ Further, they argued that Jesus is ‘…the third of three in that God says: We have done, We have commanded… if He were one he would have said I have done… but He is He and Jesus and Mary.’ The text goes on to say that the Qur’an (i.e. Surah Al-i-Imran) came down in answer to these assertions. The references to ‘clay birds’ derives from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas and the ‘cradle’ story is taken from the so-called Gospel of the Infancy which is itself dependent upon the Gospel of Thomas.

The Qur’an asserts that holy war – jihad – is enjoined both by itself and by the Law and the Gospel. Whilst obviously the wars of the People of God in the Old Testament are somewhat analogous to this concept, especially the conquest of Canaan, there is no corresponding New Testament idea of sacred physical violence. The idea of ‘Crusade’ commands no support from the New Testament, and is indeed forbidden. Rather, the Christian ‘Holy War’ is specifically spiritual in nature – against demonic forces, not against human beings. Probably the most serious problem is that the Qur’an states that the advent of Muhammad was prophesied in both the earlier holy books. It is frequently claimed by many Muslims that Christian and Jews know this truth but have changed their Scriptures to conceal the predictions of Muhammad. Appeal is made to texts which impeach the character of Jews and Christians on the grounds that they are perverted transgressors. Yusuf Ali makes this assertion in his commentary. Considering the centrality of the prophethood of Muhammad for Islam, specifically in his role in bringing the Qur’an, we can see how glaring an omission this is for Muslims.

Nonetheless, whatever the differences between the Qur’an and the Bible, there is no evidence that the former is aware of any distinction between either the content or identity of the Christian holy books and the Qur’anic Taurat, Zabur and Injil.

3.3 The Identity of the Gospel

The crux of this matter will be addressed in the next section. One problem is that the Qur’an speaks of a single Injil, yet Muslims are often puzzled by the presence of four gospels in the New Testament, all ascribed to the evangelists rather than directly to Jesus Himself. This in itself has led some Muslims to believe in the textual corruption of the Christian Scriptures. For example, Yusuf Ali says in his textual commentary

The Injil…spoken of by the Qur-an is not the New Testament. It is not the four gospels now received as canonical. It is the single Gospel, which, Islam teaches, was revealed to Jesus, and which he taught.

However, it is likely that the term Injil was used in a technical sense for the whole New Testament, as Torah can be used for the whole Tenak. This is especially likely when we consider that the earliest definitive contacts of Muhammad with Christians were with a monk in Syria called Bohira. The Syrian Church had a translation of the gospels into Syriac, called the Diatessaron, made by Tatian the Assyrian around 172 A.D. It is most probable that the existence of a single document with which Muhammad was familiar is responsible for the Qur’an presenting the Christian Scriptures in the singular.

In passing, it should be noted that Ahmad Deedat commits a faux pas in this respect, and seems actually to contradict the Qur’an. He says ‘In his life-time Jesus never wrote a single word, nor did he instruct anyone to do so.’ Yet the Qur’an implies that the Injil had indeed been reduced to written material, and since the Muslim view of authorship would require either Him or an assisting scribe to inscripturate the revelation, it would seem that Deedat will have to revise his assertion.

4. The Integrity of the Bible in the Qur’an and Hadith

4.1 Qur’anic Testimony for the Extancy and Integrity of the Bible

All Qur’anic references to the books of Moses, David and Jesus seem to assume that the original revelation was still with the ahl-i-kitab. It is inconceivable that the People of the Book could read the Scripture with the right reading unless they possessed the uncorrupted text. It is clear that the ahl-i-kitab still possessed the original revelations from God – and these must have been the texts which we call the Bible. Yusuf Ali’s commentary says of Surah 2 Baqara Ayah 87/89:

The Jews, who pretended to be so superior to the people without Faith – the Gentiles – should have been the first to recognize the new Truth – or the Truth renewed – which it was Muhammad’s mission to bring because it was so similar in form and language to what they had already received. But they had more arrogance than faith. It is this want of faith that brings on the curse, i.e., deprives us (if we adopt such an attitude) of the blessings of God.

A similar verse makes the same point. Yusuf Ali’s commentary says of this ayah

I think that by ‘the Book of God’ here is meant, not the Quran, but the Book which the People of the Book had been given, viz., the previous Revelations. The argument is that Muhammad’s Message was similar to Revelations which they had already received, and if they had looked into their own Books honestly and sincerely, they would have found proofs in them to show that the new Message was true and from God. But they ignored their own Books or twisted or distorted them according to their own fancies…

For the ahl-i-kitab to look ‘into their own Books honestly and sincerely’ and thereby discover the ‘proofs’ therein they must have still possessed the original true Books of God. The text nowhere indicates that they changed or distorted the truth of God, simply that they ignored such.

Surah 3:113 refers to the ahl-i-kitab who were continuing to recite ‘the revelations of Allah’. Surely, the ‘revelations of Allah’ which they recited were the Jewish holy books, i.e. the Bible (or at least the Old Testament – the reference is to the Jews of Medina) – indicating the extancy of the Scriptures of Moses and David. They scarcely recited the Qur’an, else they would not be called ahl-i-kitab, since they would have become Muslims. Later, v119 states that Muslims believe in the ‘whole Book’, which Mawdudi renders as ‘…all the revealed Books.‘, indicating, as he himself states, that the reference is to the Torah. The concept looks back to the idea of the Qur’an as the completion of the revelatory process which bestowed the earlier Scriptures. This view of continuing extancy is confirmed by texts indicating that both the Taurat and the Injil were still in contemporary existence at the time of Muhammad, and still being used by the People of the Book, the most telling being Surah 5 Maida Ayah 43ff. The text of v43 implies that the Torah is sufficient for judgment, not needing the Qur’an, and that it was extant ‘…they have the Torah…’ Moreover, v44 indicates that it was the same text by which the Prophets, and other officials of the Israelite religion judged the people. In saying this, it is naturally affirming that the contemporary holy book was the same revelation used in Biblical times. Further, it is identified as ‘Allah’s Scripture‘. With respect to v47, it is surely obvious that in order for Christians to ‘judge’ in this way, the true Gospel must still have been in common possession, and thus the Injil must be that to which Christians refer as the New Testament. Note that the text says ‘the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light’ – indicating the continued presence of the true Gospel. Similarly, Surah 5:69 bemoans the failure of the People of the Book to adhere to the Bible. In order for the ahl-i-kitab to ‘stand fast’ by the Torah and Gospel, such must have been extant in its original form. It is significant that Mawdudi identifies the Torah references as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. The text attacks them for failing in their conduct to follow their revelations, not for distorting the text thereof. Indeed, v71 goes on to warn the Jews and Christians that they have no ground upon which to stand, unless they follow the guidance in the Torah and Gospel. Given the fact that modern Muslim polemics engage in attacking practically every distinctive tenet in the Bible, and arguing that the texts are corrupted, one would have expected the Qur’an to say that the ahl-i-kitab will have no secure ground until they ignore the guidance in ‘their distorted‘ Torah and Gospel! The imperative in the Qur’anic text is incomprehensible if the Scriptures had indeed been falsified.

A very telling text in support of Biblical integrity is Surah 16 Nahl Ayah 43. The text calls upon pagans to question the possessors of earlier divine revelations about the prophets. Yusuf Ali’s Commentary on 16. 43 says;

If the Pagan Arabs, who were ignorant of religious and other history, wondered how a man from among themselves could receive inspiration and bring a Message from Allah, let them ask the Jews, who had also received Allah’s Message earlier through Moses, whether Moses was a man, or an angel, or a god. They would learn that Moses was a man like themselves, but inspired by Allah…

Mawdudi agrees with this interpretation:

‘… people who possess Admonition’ are the scholars of the people of the Books and others, who…had sufficient knowledge of the teachings of the revealed Books and were acquainted with the stories of the former Prophets.’

The point is, if the Torah had been corrupted by this time, it would surely be unhelpful to ask the People of the Book for help in this respect. What is even more startling and even more problematic for those Muslims purveying the idea of Biblical corruption is Surah 10 Yunus Ayah 95, where Muhammad himself is enjoined to question the ahl-i-kitab if he has any doubts. There would be no point in such an action unless the Scriptures they held were genuine and in common possession Similarly, the confession of faith in the Books of God in Surah 29 Ankaboot Ayah 46 is incomprehensible if the Biblical text had been distorted.

In several places the Qur’an accuses at least some of the ahl-i-kitab of concealing the truth of Scriptures, e.g. 2:101, 140, 146, 159, 174; 3:70, 71; 3:187; 6:91, 92. However, the emphasis in these texts seems to be on the Israelites suppressing in their own lives the authority of the Scripture by their misconduct. The Christians are probably not the subject in these verses. The text of Surah 6:91-92 is significant in this respect:

Surah: 6. An-aam Ayah: 91

91. Those are they whom Allah guideth, so follow their guidance. Say (O Muhammad, unto mankind): I ask of you no fee for it. Lo! it is naught but a Reminder to (His) creatures.

92. And they measure not the power of Allah its true measure when they say: Allah hath naught revealed unto a human being. Say (unto the Jews who speak thus): Who revealed the Book which Moses brought, a light and guidance for mankind, which ye have put on parchments which ye show, but ye hide much (thereof), and by which ye were taught that which ye knew not yourselves nor (did) your fathers (know it)? Say: Allah. Then leave them to their play of cavilling.

Apparently, the Jews still possessed the Torah on parchments – as was their common practice in Biblical times.

4.1.1 Changed Words?

What references there are to changing words, as in 2:59; 2:211; 7:162; all seem to indicate that the Children of Israel did not abide by what was revealed, but rather followed their own desires, and in each case it is said that God punished them for so-doing. Surah 2 Baqara Ayah 58 is an example of this. Yusuf Ali’s commentary says:

This probably refers to Shittim. It was the ‘town of acacias,’ just east of the Jordan, where the Israelites were guilty of debauchery and the worship of and sacrifice to false gods (Num. xxv. 1-2, also 8-9); a terrible punishment ensued, including the plague of which 24,000 died. The word which the transgressors changed may have been a pass-word. In the Arabic text it is ‘Hittatun’ which implies humility and a prayer of forgiveness, a fitting emblem to distinguish them from their enemies…

The only ‘Ayah’ (verse) that may support the idea of distortion is Surah 4 Nisaa Ayah 44. It should be noted that nowhere in this verse is there a claim of falsification of scripture; rather, as Yusuf Ali’s commentary explains, the reference is to Jews who opposed Muhammad by mispronouncing words:

A trick of the Jews was to twist words and expressions, so as to ridicule the most solemn teachings of Faith. Where they should have said, ‘We hear and we obey,’ they said aloud, ‘We hear,’ and whispered. ‘We disobey.’ Where they should have said respectfully. ‘We hear,’ they added in a whisper, ‘May you not hear,’ by way of ridicule. Where they claimed the attention of the Prophet, they used an ambiguous word apparently harmless, but in their intention disrespectful…. ‘Raina’ if used respectfully in the Arabic way, would have meant ‘Please attend to us.’ With a twist of their tongue they suggested an insulting meaning, such as ‘O thou that takest us to pasture!’ or in Hebrew. ‘Our bad one!

Yusuf Ali’s Commentary on 2:75ff says

The Jews wanted to keep back knowledge, but what knowledge had they? Many of them, even if they could read, were no better than illiterates, for they knew not their own true Scriptures, but read into them what they wanted, or at best their own conjectures. They planned off their own writings for the Message of God. Perhaps it brought them profit for the time being; but it was a miserable profit if they ‘gained the whole world and lost their own souls’ (Matt. xvi. 26). ‘Writing with their own hands’ means inventing books themselves, which had no divine authority.’

It is noteworthy that Yusuf Ali does not contend that the Jews changed the Torah. Rather, the Qur’an seems to imply that the Jews added to Scripture, and misinterpreted such. Moreover, there is not necessarily reference to all Jews everywhere here (it refers to some Medinan Jews) and certainly none to Christians.

4.2 The Testimony of the Sunnah Concerning the Bible

The testimony of the Sunnah is important for our understanding of the Qur’an, since the Sunnah of Muhammad is viewed by Islamic theologians as the sacred and ideal model. This concept derives directly from the Qur’an. Further, Muhammad’s speech was no ordinary converse; rather, it was divinely inspired. Muhammad was given the responsibility of explaining the Qur’an. The Sunnah of Muhammad was therefore the enacted exposition of the Qur’an, the essential hermeneutic of Islam’s Holy Book. Hence, the attitude and practice of Muhammad to the Scriptures used by the Jews and Christians of his time present an authoritative declaration of the trustworthiness or otherwise of these revelations.

4.2.1 Recitation of the Torah

There are several cases where Muhammad refers to the contemporary recitation of the Torah. There is nothing in these texts to suggest that Jews and Christians have corrupted the Bible. In one case the allegation is simply that they do not practice what is enjoined therein. For this hadith to have any meaning, the ahl-i-kitab must have still possessed the uncorrupted Bible. In another, Muhammad simply refers to the fact that the Jews sought to dazzle the Arabs with their knowledge of the Book in its original language and the latter were unable to refute their interpretations because of it. He does not say that the Book held by the Jews was false – indeed, he calls it the Torah.

4.2.2 The Presence of the Torah

There are a number of ahadith which refer to Muhammad calling for the Torah and having it read to him. Muhammad recognized the scrolls that were presented before him as Tawrat. These ahadith are incomprehensible unless the Torah was still extant and uncorrupted. Muhammad even instructed the Jews to act upon a moral imperative in the Torah (stoning for adultery). The same is true in a similar case. The respect and reverence Muhammad showed for the Torah in this situation precludes any idea of it being a distorted book. Indeed, he stated his faith in the book presented to him. In other cases it is clear that the Muslims had the Torah in their possession. This being so, unless the Muslims later lost the true Torah, it must have been the same book used by the Jews and Christians. Further, if the Torah had been corrupted, it is strange that they did not use this opportunity to expose the Jews for distorting the text. We have seen that the Qur’an holds that Muhammad was predicted in the Torah. A tradition elaborates on this belief. Whether Muhammad is indeed described is not the issue. The fact is that the genuine Torah was still available.

4.2.3 The Presence of the Injil

The earliest reference to the Gospel in the prophetic career of Muhammad is the story of his wife’s uncle, Waraqa, a Christian who translated the Gospel. Khadijah brought her husband to her uncle in order to assure him that his visions were not delusions or the onset of insanity. The different presentations of this story show that the true Injil was in the possession of Christians at this period. Likewise, the story of Salman, who is introduced as a believer in the two books, the Injil and the Qur’an, is clear testimony to the fact that the true Gospel was still extant at the time of Muhammad. Islamic eschatology upholds belief in the Second Coming of Christ, and a tradition states that at His return, Jesus will judge by the Qur’an, rather than the Injil. The emphasis here is on the fact that the Qur’an supersedes the Gospel, not upon its genuineness. The only text implying corruption is the following:

Abdullah ibn Abbas SAHIH AL-BUKHARI

Ubaydullah ibn Abdullah narrated that Abdullah ibn Abbas said, ‘O group of Muslims! How can you ask the people of the Scriptures about anything while your Book which Allah has revealed to your Prophet (peace be upon him) contains the most recent news from Allah and is pure and not distorted? Allah has told you that the people of the Scriptures have changed some of Allah’s Books and distorted them and written something with their own hands and said, ‘This is from Allah,’ so as to have a minor gain for it.

Won’t the knowledge that has come to you stop you from asking them? No, by Allah, we have never seen a man from them asking you about that (the Book al-Qur’an) which has been revealed to you.’

In Islamic hermeneutics, as in Christian exegetical interpretation, the rule is that one interprets the lesser in terms of the greater, and there are far more ahadith testifying to the veracity and existence of the Torah and Injil than this one which may question such. Possibly, the reference is to Surah 4:44, where individual Medinan Jews are berated for corrupting isolated texts in their speech. However, the usual meaning of corruption is perhaps best explained by the following text:

Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-‘As MISHKAT AL-MASABIH

Allah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) heard some people disputing about the Qur’an. Thereupon he said: It was because of this that those gone before you had perished. They set parts of the books against the others (whereas the fact is) that the Book of Allah has been revealed with one part confirming the others.

Therefore, do not falsify some parts with the others and speak only that which you know; that which you do not know, refer it to one who knows it well.

Transmitted by Ahmad and Ibn Majah.

Clearly, ‘falsification’ refers to misinterpretation of Scripture, especially if deliberate distortion, rather than the corruption of the actual text itself. Bukhari, in ar-Rad, says:

‘They corrupt the word’ means ‘they alter or change its meaning’. yet no-one is able to change even a single word from any Book of God. The meaning is that they interpret the word wrongly.

This confirms the fact that the accusations against Christians in the Qur’an and Hadith are simply that they misunderstood or misrepresented the doctrines of the Scriptures, not that they changed the actual text.

4.3 The Testimony of the Shari’ah Concerning the Bible

The testimony of the Shari’ah appears to accept the veracity of the Jewish and Christian holy books, since the official ruling states that they are the books of God. Likewise, with regard to miraculous healing, it is inconceivable that Jews and Christians would use the Qur’an, so the ‘revelation from Allah’ must refer to the Torah and Gospel, which therefore must be extant. It is noteworthy that the official jurisprudence on the issue nowhere alleges the distortion of the Jewish-Christian Scriptures. If the Christians were consciously swearing on a corrupted Scripture, it is doubtful that a Muslim court could take seriously the evidence offered.

4.4 The Testimony of Muslim Scholars

Muhammad ‘Abduh (Egypt) – the charge of corruption

… makes no sense at all. It would not have been possible for Jews and Christians everywhere to agree on changing the text. Even if those in Arabia had done it, the difference between their book and those of their brothers, let us say in Syria or Europe, would have been obvious.

Mawlawi Muhammad Sa’id (Pakistan) –

Some Muslims imagine that the Injil is corrupted. But… not even one among all the verses of the Qur’an mentions that the Injil or Tawrat is corrupted… it is written that the Jews -… not the Christians… alter the meaning of the passages from the Tawrat while they are explaining them. At least the Christians are completely exonerated from this charge. Hence the Injil is not corrupted and the Tawrat is not corrupted…

Sayyid Ahmad Husayn Shawkat Mirthi –

The ordinary Muslim people…believe through hearsay…that the Injil is corrupted, even though they cannot indicate what passage was corrupted, when it was corrupted, and who corrupted it. Is there any religious community…whose lot is so miserable that they would shred their heavenly Book with their own hands…? To say that God has taken the Injil and the Tawrat into heaven and has abrogated them is to defame and slander God…

5. Conclusion

It can be seen from our study of the sources of Islamic authority – the Qur’an, the Hadith and the Shari’ah that the view of the Bible promulgated by some Muslim polemicists is merely an inferential prejudice, nowhere upheld in the holy texts of Islam. The Qur’an and Sunnah uphold the veracity of the Christian Scriptures, and it is obvious that what references there are to the books known as Tawrat, Zabur and Injil clearly refer to the canonical Old and New Testaments. In fact, if a Muslim fails to believe in the previous revelations, he effectively apostatises. Yet it is the very fact that Muslim sacred writings do regard the Jewish and Christian Scriptures as true which causes the problem, since any Muslim can tell that they do not agree with the Qur’an in doctrine or in form. Hence the inference that the Jews and Christians have conspired to change their sacred texts.

On our part, Christians have sometimes failed to properly comprehend the nature and role of the Qur’an in Islam, and so have responded inadequately to Muslim criticisms of the Bible. Because they do not understand the Muslim point of reference, they do not know from where the Muslims are coming in their criticisms of the Bible, and naturally any answer to Islamic polemics suffers as a result. It is essential for Christian scholars to acquaint themselves with a proper appreciation of the Muslim concept of Scripture in order to express more adequately the truth of Biblical revelation. The irony is that Muslim sacred texts actually uphold the veracity of the Christian Scriptures. This in itself is a useful point to make to our Muslim friends, especially those involved in apologetics. One of the greatest evidences to present to Muslims that the Bible has not been corrupted is the assumption of the Qur’an that the ‘previous scriptures’ are both extant and reliable. After all, if the Gospel had indeed been changed at the Council of Nicaea, it is remarkable that nearly three hundred years after the event, the Qur’an never alludes to it, nor charges the Christians with corruption of text.

6. Bibliography

A. Guillaume, Ibn Ishaq’s Life of Muhammad, 9th impression, OUP, Pakistan, 1990

A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary, Leicester, The Islamic Foundation, 1975

Ajijola, Alhaj A. D., The Myth of the Cross, Islamic Publications Ltd., Lahore, 3rd edition 1978

Baagil, H. M., Christian-Muslim Dialogue, Islamic Propagation Centre, Birmingham, 1984

Campbell, William, The Qur’an and the Bible in the light of history and science, Arab World Ministries, USA, 1986

Deedat, Ahmad, Is the Bible God’s Word?, 1987 UK reprint, Islamic Propagation Centre, Birmingham

von Denffer, Ahmad, ‘Ulum al-Qur’an, Islamic Foundation, Leicester, 1983

Dimashkiah, Abdul Rahman, Let the Bible Speak, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, 1995

Ghiyathuddin Adelphi, and Hahn, Ernest, The Integrity of the Bible according to the Qur’an and the Hadith, Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies, Hyderabad, India, 1977

Gibb and Kramers, Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1974

Hengel, Martin, Judaism and Hellenism, SCM, London, 1974.

Mawdudi, S. Abul A’la, The Meaning of the Qur’an, Islamic Publications Ltd., Lahore, 1993 edition.

Pickthall, Muhammad Marmaduke, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an, Nusrat Ali Nasri for Kitab Bhavan, 1784, Kalan Mahal, Daryaganj, New Delhi, New Delhi-110 002, India, 5th Reprint 1993 (first published in Hyderabad, 1930).

The Holy Bible, New International Version, New York International Bible Society, Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, USA, Eleventh Printing July 1980.

Tisdall, Rev. W. St. Clair, The Sources of Islam, T. & T Clark, Edinburgh


An Explanation of the Trinity for Muslims

Gerry Redman


Introduction

Undoubtedly one of the hottest areas of debate in discussions between Christians and Muslims is the Christians dogma of the Trinity. Almost invariably, Muslims are convinced that Christians believe in three, separate deities, whilst Christians are adamant in affirming their absolute commitment to monotheism. Without question, the concept of the Triune deity – indeed, the whole doctrine of God – is difficult to understand, but this difficulty is unnecessarily accentuated if an uninformed or incorrect view of Christian dogma is held by Muslims. The purpose of this paper is to set the record straight, and also to compare and contrast aspects of the doctrine of God in both religions.

1. Divine Ontology

1.1 The Biblical Doctrine of God

The Bible reveals a God who is personal. We encounter a Being Who thinks, wills, loves, etc. 1 Corinthians 2:11 is clear in presenting a Being Who has thoughts. He loves – 2 Corinthians 13:14. He has a will – 1 Thessalonians 5:18. The essential qualities of personality are mind, will and emotion, and the Bible presents a God possessed of all these faculties. God is personal. The impersonal deity of Hinduism – ‘Brahman’ – is not the deity presented to us in Scripture.

God is a Spirit; this is the clear testimony of Scripture, stated plainly in John 4:24 – God is a spirit. The Mormon doctrine of a deity possessing bodily, physical parts is wholly contrary to Scripture. The words of Jesus in Luke 24:39 are emphatic; a spirit does not have flesh and bones. If God did have a body, the comment of Colossians 2:9 about Jesus in would be redundant – the Scripture is marvelling at the mystery of the Incarnation – God taking a body; He thus did not previously possess one. 1 Timothy 3:15 speaks of the ‘household of God’ and ‘the church of the living God’, and v.16 then says ‘He appeared in a body’, to indicate that this is ‘the mystery of godliness’ – that God could take human nature and thus a body alongside His divine nature and essence. The deity of the Word already having been established in John. 1:1, John 1:14 says the ‘Word became flesh’ – therefore He was not flesh beforehand.

It is true that Scripture does speak sometimes of God having limbs, but both the context and the teaching of Scripture as a whole – the Analogy of Faith – clarify that this is purely figurative terminology e.g. Ezekiel 3:14, 22ff, 8:1-3, 37:1 etc. use ‘Hand of YHWH’ and ‘Spirit of YHWH’ interchangeably. The term is employed because the ‘hand’ is the ‘power’ of the body (e.g. ‘you’re in my hands’), and the Spirit is the ‘power’ of God.

Other attributes of God include aseity (self-existence) – John 1:1-3 indicates that He is the uncaused eternal, self-existent being, and that everything is dependent upon Him. The divine Name YHWH indicates this – ‘I Am Who I Am’: His ground of entity rests in His own being – John 5:26 – ‘the Father has life in Himself.’ Linked to this is the fact that He is eternal – Psalm 90:2, Ephesians 3:21, a point pregnant in the name YHWH itself. He is infinite, unlimited by space or time. He is omnipresent, filling all things, 1 Kings 8:27; Acts 7:48-49. Hence, God is both transcendent and immanent. Another attribute is omniscience, Psalm 139:1-12, which is linked to His perfect wisdom, Daniel 2:20-21.

It follows from all this that as God is perfect in every way, Matthew 5:48, He is immutable, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17. Thus he cannot, in the strict sense, ‘repent’ i.e. change His mind, 1 Samuel 15:29. It is true that Jonah 3:10 does speak of His doing so, but what happened there was that because of the wickedness of Nineveh, God was going to destroy the city, but when the situation changed, the attitude of God and thus His action – i.e. wrath and destruction, which were directed to an condition of sin, were no longer operable. In other words, God did not change, the situation did so. Likewise, in the Incarnation, God did not metamorphose into humanity, nor did he cease at any time to be God, He simply took another nature as well as His divine nature. The babe in a Palestinian manger 2000 years ago remained the Creator of the world.

It need hardly be said that God is omnipotent and sovereign, Genesis 18:14, Luke 1:37. He is holy, Isaiah 6:5, true – John 14:6, Hebrews 6:18, and Love – 1 John 4:8.

1.2 The Islamic Doctrine of God

1.2.1 The Nature of God In Islam

Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) says the following about the nature of God:

AL-RISALA (Maliki Manual)

Chapter 1

On that which tongues shall utter and hearts believe of the obligatory religious affairs.

1.01 GOD

That includes having faith at heart and uttering with the tongue that Allah is the one God and that there is no other god apart from Him. There is none similar to Him, and He has no equal. He has no son, father or wife. Besides, He has no associates.

His earlier existence had no beginning and His future existence shall have no end. His true nature cannot be described by anyone, nor can thinkers imagine that nature.

To know Him one considers His signs, but one does not think about His essence. None learns anything about His knowledge, except that which He wills. His throne spreads over the heavens and the earth and the upholding of both the heavens and the earth does not burden Him. He is the Exalted and the Great.

He is the Knower, the Knowing, the Organiser, the Powerful, the Hearing, the Seeing, the Exalted and the Great. He settles upon His glorious throne with His essence. He is everywhere with His knowledge. He created man and knows what his soul is whispering. Allah is closer to a man than the man’s jugular vein. A single leaf does not fall down except that He knows of it. Neither would a grain in the dark recesses of the earth nor a wet or dry object exist without being in the Clear Book.

Allah has settled upon the throne and holds sovereignty. He has the most beautiful names and most exalted attributes. He continues with all His attributes and names. He is too Exalted for these attributes to have been created and for his names to have occurred at a given time.

He addressed Moses with His words which are the attribute of His essence, and not a creature from His creation. He appeared before the rock and it became flat because of His Majesty.

God’s seven principal attributes are Life, Knowledge, Power, Will, Hearing, Sight, Speech. He is self-existent – this is the import of S. 112. It follows from this that God is the creator, omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent, eternal. The immanence of God is not emphasised as in Christianity, but the Qur’an does hold that God is nearer to man than his own jugular vein, S. 50:15. In this respect we discern a parallel with the Christian idea of divine personality. Among the differences, we find that in Islam God is not omnipresent, and thus Christianity has a greater emphasis on divine immanence than does Islam. In Islam, Allah resides in the heavens, above His creation. He does not directly interact with it. His inspiration and sovereignty is effected by the mediation of angels. This idea conforms to the Muslim emphasis on divine transcendence.

From this we can understand that the effecting of divine sovereignty by angels corresponds to a large degree to the Christian concept of the function of the Holy Spirit, and it may not be coincidental that the Ruh al-Qudus (Holy Spirit) in Islam is the archangel Jibril (Gabriel). The Biblical idea of Covenant is thus impossible for Islam (at least prior to the end of the world) since its essence is that ‘I will be their God, they will be My People, and I will dwell in their midst‘ (e.g. Genesis 17:7-8; Exodus 6:7; 2 Corinthians 6:6). Nor is the Biblical concept of the Spirit of God indwelling an individual possible. In Islam, God is locally confined (by His own nature), and thus the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is infeasible, whereas the Christian emphasis on divine immanence and omnipresence allow for its potential.

It follows that the Biblical concept of Incarnation, being a logical consequence of the Covenant as well as one of its climactic acts, is out of question to Islam not just because of the incompatibility of deity and humanity, but because God simply does not descend to live with His creatures (apart from at the eschaton, when the spiritual condition of Mankind and the earth will be metamorphosed for the divine presence.): rather, the reverse is true – Man ascends to Paradise. The Muslim idea is that Allah condescends for a time to allow His power to descend to the earth to effect His will. As opposed to indwelling His creation, He visits it.

1.2.2 The Most Beautiful Names

The name of God in Islam is Allah, which is the Essential Name of the Deity. It corresponds to the Biblical name Yahweh as opposed to Elohim, which indicates that Allah is the proper name of the Deity rather than the generic description. The Islamic scholar Mawdudi, after stating that the Arabic word ilah corresponds to ‘God’, states ‘The word Allah, on the other hand, is the essential personal name of God.’ Islam gives the name Allah the title of ism ad-dhat – ‘the Name of the Nature’. All Other titles, such as Rabb, ‘Lord’, are regarded as attributes. Apart from the Essential Name, ninety-nine Other names are to be discovered in the Qur’an and Hadith, and these are termed the ‘Names of the Attributes’, or ‘the most beautiful names’ in several ayat of the Qur’an. The Hadith corpus lists the ‘Most Beautiful Names’:

AbuHurayrah MISHKAT AL-MASABIH

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, ‘Allah Most High has ninety-nine names. He who retains them in his memory will enter Paradise.

He is Allah, other than whom there is no god, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the King, the Holy, the Source of Peace, the Preserver of Security, the Protector, the Mighty, the Overpowering, the Great in Majesty, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner, the Forgiver, the Dominant, the Bestower, the Provider, the Decider, the Knower, the Withholder, the Plentiful Giver, the Abaser, the Exalter, the Honourer, the Humiliator, the Hearer, the Seer, the Judge, the Just, the Gracious, the Informed, the Clement, the Incomparably Great, the Forgiving, the Rewarder, the Most High, the Most Great, the Preserver, the Sustainer, the Reckoner, the Majestic, the Generous, the Watcher, the Answerer, the Liberal, the Wise, the Loving, the Glorious, the Raiser, the Witness, the Real, the Trustee, the Strong, the Firm, the Patron, the Praiseworthy, the All-Knowing, the Originator, the Restorer to Life, the Giver of Life, the Giver of Death, the Living, the Eternal, the Self-sufficient, the Grand, the One, the Single, He to Whom men repair, the Powerful, the Prevailing, the Advancer, the Delayer, the First, the Last, the Outward, the Inward, the Governor, the Sublime, the Amply Beneficent, the Accepter of Repentance, the Avenger, the Pardoner, the Kindly, the Ruler of the Kingdom, the Lord of Majesty and Splendour, the Equitable, the Gatherer, the Independent, the Enricher, the Depriver, the Harmer, the Benefactor, the Light, the Guide, the First Cause, the Enduring, the Inheritor, the Director, the Patient.’

Tirmidhi and Bayhaqi, in Kitab ad-Da’wah al-Kabir, transmitted it, Tirmidhi saying this a gharib tradition.

An obvious point of reference between Christianity and Islam is that in Christianity, it is revealed that God is Love, whilst one of the names of God in Islam is ‘the Loving’. God is described as ‘loving’ in the Qur’an, S. 3:76; S. 19:96, although the principal Muslim expression and stress is on the related concepts of compassion and mercy is found in the bismillah – Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate, which adorn all but one Qur’anic Surah. Ar-rahman describes His intrinsic merciful character, and ar-rahim, explains His merciful action. The British Muslim convert Gai Eaton states:

It is said that the former describes God as He is in His eternal nature and that everything is brought into existence through the overflowing of this innate “Mercy”, while the latter – al-Rahim – refers to the blessings He pours out upon His creatures.

1.2.3 Arab polytheism in relation to ‘Allah’

Islam holds that the pristine, true worship of Allah in Arabia was distorted by Arab polytheism. A frequent polemical assertion of the Qur’an is that Allah has no ‘partners’ or ‘offspring’. This was particularly pointed since in practice the supposed progeny of Allah were the effective objects of worship rather than Allah Himself, and indeed, the Qur’an refers to the three favourite deities of the Meccans – Lat, Uzza and Manat as the binat’Allah – ‘the daughters of Allah’. It can be seen from this that the original reference of this assertion was not to any purported Christian view of Trinitarianism or divine sonship, but rather to the polytheistic Arab idea of Allah’s paternity of the Meccan pantheon. Yet Islam tends to associate the Biblical dogma of the eternal Sonship of Christ with pagan ideas of divine progeny. In commentating on Surah 66:12, Yusuf Ali, the great Qur’an translator, states the following:

The virgin birth should not therefore be supposed to imply that Allah was the father of Jesus in the sense in which Greek mythology makes Zeus the father of Apollo by Latona or of Minos by Europa. And yet that is the doctrine to which the Christian idea of ‘the only begotten Son of God’ leads.

Similarly, S. 19:88 purportedly attacks the Christian concept of divine sonship. Yusuf Ali states:

Here the Christian attitude is condemned, which raises Jesus to an equality with Allah: in some cases venerates Mary almost to idolatry: attributes a physical son to Allah: and invents the doctrine of the Trinity, opposed to all reason, which according to the Athanasian Creed, unless a man believes, he is doomed to hell for ever.

Yet what Islam is condemning in this text is a naturalistic idea of the eternal Sonship of Jesus, proposing a concept of God behaving like the gods of Greece and Rome, seducing humans and producing demi-gods. This is not how Biblical and historic Christian dogma has presented the idea of divine sonship in its understanding.

2. The Unity and Uniqueness of God

2.1 Biblical Data

The Bible is adamant in contending for the unity and uniqueness of God. The Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4 expresses this succinctly ‘the Lord our God, the Lord is one’. It is probably best to understand this as stating ‘the Lord our God is Lord alone’ i.e. unique, thus reflecting the First Commandment which forbids the worship of rivals to YHWH (such as Baal). This is fundamental to Biblical faith. Mark 12:29 reiterates this, emphasising this before elaborating our duty of attitude to God. The Shema is the basic tenet of faith of Hebrew religion; its creed, in fact. This truth is re-emphasised in Galatians 3:20 ‘God is One’ and James 2:19 ‘…there is one God’. Christianity is monotheistic – believing in one God who is undivided.

Further texts of note include Deuteronomy 4:35 – ‘YHWH is God: beside Him there is no other’. Deuteronomy 32:39 ‘there is no god beside Me’. These Scriptures express the uniqueness of YHWH; He alone is God. The Bible wholly rejects polytheism, and the Decalogue jealousy reserves worship for YHWH. Throughout the Old Testament, a running battle is fought against attempts by Israel to syncretise their religion; e.g. to mix Baal-worship with the adoration of YHWH. 2 Sam. 22:32 rhetorically queries ‘who is God besides the Lord?’ Hezekiah likewise states ‘you alone are God’. Isaiah 43:10 emphatically declares that before YHWH there was no god, nor will one follow Him. Isaiah 44:6 states that He is the First and the Last – there is no God apart from Him.

It is true that the word ‘god’ is sometimes used of other beings, e.g. Satan – 2 Corinthians 4:4; Moses – Exodus 7:1; the Judges – Psalm 82:6; but such is purely metaphorical and is qualified by adjectival phrases e.g. ‘god of this age’, a god ‘to Pharaoh’, (possibly, ‘as God to Pharaoh’), whilst Psalm 82 is clear that Judges are metaphorically termed ‘gods’ because they exercise governing authority in His name.

2.2 The Islamic View

Given that Islam viewed Hejazi polytheism as the distortion of the pristine faith, it can be understood that Muhammad saw his prophetic mission as seeking the restoration of the primal, undiluted and unique worship of Allah alone. That is, Muhammad was directing his polemic against polytheism, and thus the fulcrum of his message concerned the unity and uniqueness of God, termed in Islam as tawhid. The Shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith, demonstrates this emphasis in the words La ilaha illa llah – ‘there is no God but God’. The first clause of the Shahada is termed nafi – what is rejected, and the second clause as ithbat – what is established. This is based on the teaching of the Qur’an on this issue. Islam stresses that Allah is self-subsisting, and sufficient, without need for forebears, offspring or equals. The Islamic doctrine of shirk, ‘association’, which is the unforgivable sin in Islam, thus concerns the polytheistic practice of ‘associating’ other beings with God.

Islam holds that Christianity offends in this matter by virtue of its belief in the Trinity and the eternal Sonship of Christ. However, it should be stated in response that this accusation would only be true if Christians believed in Tritheism or in the deification of a human being, similar to the way the Romans raised figures to the position of divinity such as Romulus (who was deified as Quirinus) or Augustus. Islam accuses Christians with promoting a mere human being – Jesus, viewed simply as a prophet – to the status of deity. However, the Christian position is actually the opposite to some degree: Man did not become God, God took human nature alongside His divine nature without ceasing to be God. Deity and humanity are not confused in the One Person of Christ. Deity is not diluted, nor humanity elevated.

Moreover, what the Qur’an attacks is Tritheism, belief in three Gods. Such a dogma is completely absent from the Christian Scriptures and from orthodox Christian tradition such as that stated at the Councils of Nicæa (325 A.D.) and Chalcedon (451), which professed belief in the Triune nature of the Godhead, as opposed to any tritheistic ideas. For this reason Christians can sincerely plead ‘not guilty’ to the accusation of shirk, since they do not believe in a divided divine essence. They do not believe in three gods. They believe in three Persons sharing the same divine essence. On this basis, Christians are not ‘associating’ any being with God, since they are not shattering the single divine essence or proposing that there is a plurality of divine essences; rather they are affirming an inseparable distinction within the unique divine essence. Nor is the generation of the Son to be viewed in terms of a temporal distinction between the First and Second Persons of the Trinity. There was never a time when the Son did not exist, nor is His essence different from that of the Father (or the Spirit). The charge of ‘association’ demands a division of the divine essence, or a plurality of such essences, and neither proposition has ever been held by Christians.

3. Relationship of Persons in the Trinity

3.1 Definition

Before discussing the evidence for the Trinity, it is well to define what we mean by such. Scripture does not reveal three gods (Tritheism), or three ‘modes’ or ‘manifestations’ of the One Person of God (Sabellianism). Rather, it teaches the existence of the One God eternally present in three Persons – Father, Son and Spirit. There is one divine essence – the quality of ‘being’, the ontological nature of deity, the quality of ‘Godhood’.

3.2 One Essence, Distinct, Inseparable Subsistence

As human beings, we all share a common quality of Humanity. We possess a human nature. Similarly, the three divine Persons commonly possess the quality of deity with the difference that in their case it is a single nature, indivisible and not separate, whereas humans possess a common nature that is differently present in each individual. It is never fully and infinitely present in a single individual.

The divine Persons are distinct but not separate. They commonly possess the one nature, one mind, one will, one energy. Individual men possess only individual parts of human nature, whilst the Persons of the Trinity each possess it wholly and indivisibly, and equally. The Persons possess an essence which is numerically one. The term ‘Persons’ is inadequate, but nought else suffices. They are not separable. They exist in, through and unto each other. There are three different modes of existence or subsistence within the divine essence, distinguished by their properties and offices – Paternity, Filiation and Spiration.

3.3 Eternal Generation And Spiration

The Father is unbegotten, and He is the Source of the generation of the Son and thus ultimately of the Spiration of the Holy Spirit. Women bear, men beget. This is what is meant when we say that the First Person begets or generates the Second. The Son is begotten of the Father. Generation is the act whereby the Father is the Ground of a second personal subsistence like His own, and puts the Second Person in possession of the whole divine essence – all this as one indivisible act.

The difference with human fathers and sons is that with God, the generation is eternal – there was never a time when the Son was not in existence, and it is a necessary act – it was not an act of choice or will – it was unconditional. God would not be God if He were not a Trinity. The Father has only one begotten Son, unique – John 3:16. The same basic process is true of the Spirit, save that it is a joint act of the Father and the Son, equally eternal and necessary – only termed Spiration, for whereas the Son being in the image of the Father received the property of communicating the entire divine essence to another Person (in conjunction with the Father) but the Spirit receives no such property. The Spirit is the completion of the Godhead, and is the ‘bond of love’ between the other two Persons – Matthew 10:20 – ‘Spirit of the Father’, Galatians 4:6 ‘Spirit of the Son’.

3.4 The Trinity According To Islam

There are major difficulties for Muslims with regard to their understanding of the Trinity. The Qur’an attacks belief in a Trinity comprising three gods, and declares that the Trinity consists of God, Mary and Jesus. The object of the Islamic polemic in this respect does not reflect the Biblical and historic Christian concept of the Trinity as being three hypostases sharing the same essence. What Islam attacks is Tritheism, something which Biblical Christians have never advocated. Devotion to Mary was certainly an increasing feature of the time in which Muhammad began his mission, and intercessory powers were attributed to her, in contradiction to the Holy Scriptures. In later ages this elevation became more extravagant, and the Protestant Reformation was a return to the Biblical position on this. However, the onus is on Muslims to prove that any Christian group ever explicitly declared her to be a deity.

The problem for Muslims is that Christians are not guilty of the accusation hurled against them with respect to Tritheism. Christian Trinitarian doctrines are not to be equated with pagan ideas of divine paternity. Tritheism would undermine the Biblical position on the unity and uniqueness of God, since, as we have seen, Christianity is aggressively monotheistic, and eschews any idea that the Godhead is divided. Three hypostases yes, three gods, no! The Biblical and historic Christian position found in the Creeds and Confessions of faith clarify that Christianity believes in one single divine essence shared by three hypostases, and definitely not three separate deities – i.e. three independent essences.

Whilst we should not discount the possibility of the existence of a heretical group of Christians holding these beliefs, we would have to make two points in this regard: firstly, the onus is on Muslims to prove the existence of such a group, and secondly, such views were not those held by orthodox, historic Christianity. It should be remembered that Muhammad actually met a Christian delegation from Najran, which contained a leading theologian in its ranks, and we know he had some other contacts with Christians, not least with the Negus of Abyssinia. It is most unlikely that any believed in the kind of physical sonship akin to that of pagan deities with which the Qur’an accuses Christianity.

This can be illustrated by examining what occurred at the time of the Najran visit. This visit is recorded in the Hadith. The aim of the deputation was to engage in theological debate and also to resolve some political issues, which are not pertinent to our theme. The Sirah of Ibn Ishaq states that the group was sixty strong, and included the political leader of Najran, Abdu’l-Masih, an administrator called al-Ayham, and a renowned bishop and theologian named Abu Haritha bin ‘Alqama. The delegation were said to be ‘…Christians according to the Byzantine rite…’, although this is unlikely. More probable is that they were Monophysites, as opposed to the Chalcedonian Orthodox of Byzantium, given their proximity to Abyssinia. According to the Sirah, they informed the Muslims that Jesus was God; the son of God; the third person of the Trinity ‘…which is the doctrine of Christianity.’ They supported their claims by pointing to his miracles. Purportedly, the ayat in Surah Al-i-Imran referring to Christian beliefs came into existence at this time, and Muhammad stated them to the Najran delegation.

The German Muslim scholar Ahmad von Denffer refers to the Sirah and states that the delegation argued ‘…that God was three in one.’ Hence, the Najranis did not argue for three separate deities. von Denffer also comments that Muhammad received Christian deputations form Yemen and Bahrain. It is possible that some of these were Nestorians, but whether the Christians involved were Monophysites, Nestorians or Chalcedonians, none of them would have believed in Tritheism – the tripartite division of the divine essence, as opposed to tripersonal distinction within the same divine essence. Nor would any of them have held to the deity of Mary, or that the Trinity was God, Mary and Jesus. It is hard to imagine that Muhammad could have been unaware as to the true Biblical or historic Christian position. Indeed, von Denffer states ‘…one wonders why even today some people raise the objection that Muhammad, as they put it, did not know the Christian scriptures well enough…’

4. Biblical Data for Plurality in the Godhead

4.1 Trinitarian Texts

To Muslims, it seems contradictory to speak of a ‘Trinity’ and yet hold to the doctrine of one God. Of course, we are not advocating Tritheism, but Triunity. Moreover, there is Old Testament evidence that God is not unipersonal. The general term for ‘God’ is Elohim, whereas YHWH (i.e. ‘the LORD’) is His personal name. There are three possible personal numbers in Hebrew: singular, dual, and plural, the last-mentioned indicating three or more, and Elohim is of this kind – plural. It would be natural then to translate it as ‘gods‘, save that it is followed by a singular verb, and there is interchange between singular and plural pronouns e.g. Genesis 1:26-27 – ‘God said, let Us make man in Our image after Our likeness..and God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him.’ (cf. Genesis 3:22; 11:6-7.)

Further evidence is found Isaiah 6:8 ‘I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’. cf. Zechariah 2:8 with v 9 and v 11 – the Lord sends someone who is the Lord! Hence there is a distinction within God. Isaiah 48:12-16 presents God as speaking, concluding with the expression ‘The Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit’ – One God in plurality. Malachi 3:1 speaks of ‘the Lord you are seeking… the messenger of the covenant you desire’ – but the one speaking is the Lord. Zechariah 13:7 has the Lord speaking of the ‘Shepherd of Israel’ and ‘the Man next Me’. The German theologian Hengstenberg, along with many commentators, renders this as ‘fellow’ or ‘neighbour’, which in the usage of the time implied ‘brother’ i.e. one of the same quality of nature – cf. Leviticus 19:11, 15, 17; 24:19; 25:15-17; 6:2. It is the equivalent of John 10:30 – ‘I and the Father are one’. These all indicate that the Old Testament sees a plurality in the Godhead, a distinction of persons within God.

The Theophanies – the manifestations of God in human form – presage the Incarnation, the distinction being that with the latter, we are dealing with a permanent theanthropic entity. The Angel of YHWH in the Old Testament is to be distinguished from angels in general. This is demonstrated by Genesis 1:18ff where three men (the number itself is significant) visit Abraham. Two of them are angels – 19:1, but the other is the Lord – v10, 13, 22. The Angel of YHWH appeared to Moses in Exodus 3:2. and in v6 introduces Himself as the God of the Patriarchs. Likewise, we should consider Genesis 16:7-13, 21:17-18, 22:11, 48:15-16, Judges 2:1-5, 6:11-22, cf. v14 and v16. Cf. also the Captain of the host of the Lord before Joshua, Josh 5:13-15 – who is the Lord, 6:2, and we should note that like the Theophany who appeared at Sinai to Moses, the Theophany here commands the human subject to remove his shoes in reverence.

Isaiah 63:7-10 presents the three together – ‘the LORD … and the angel of His Presence … but they … grieved His Holy Spirit’. Cf. Isaiah 48:12-16. The Aaronic Benediction in Numbers 6:24-27 perhaps points to the Trinity:

The Lord bless you and keep you:

The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you:

The Lord lift up His countenance and give you peace. (cf. 2 Cor. 13:14)

The threefold ascription of praise to God is significant – Isaiah 6:3 ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts’. (cf. Revelations 4:8)

The New Testament, being the fulfilment of the Old, is also the fuller revelation, since Biblical revelation is progressive up to the first coming of Christ. The Father is God: Matthew 6:8, 7:21, Galatians 1:1. The Son is God: John 1:1 – Greek scholars all reject the Jehovah’s Witnesses’s New World translation perversion. The Word was God. The syntax of John 1:1 is instructive in this regard, by virtue of placing the definite predicate before the verb but without the definite article (‘Colwell’s rule’):

‘En arxh ‘hn

 

o logos, kai logos ‘hn pros ton qeon, kai qeos ‘hn o logos.

Not only does it affirm that Jesus (the Word) is God, it also demonstrates that the Godhead is not exhausted in Jesus, that is, that Jesus is not alone God, but rather there are more persons than the Son in the Godhead.

Romans 9:5 presents Jesus as ‘God over all’ – the context of sorrow over Israel’s fall precludes a doxology, and such does not usually appear in the middle of a passage. Doxologies usually refer to someone mentioned in the preceding sentence – Romans 1:25; 11:26; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Galatians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:18. Whenever euloghtos (‘blessed’) is used in an independent doxology, it always stands at the beginning of a sentence, e.g. 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:1; 1 Peter 1:3. As it stands, ‘God over all’ balances ‘concerning the flesh’. Christ is God over all.

Romans 14:10 refers to the Judgment Seat of God, and 2 Corinthians 5:10 ascribes it to Christ. John 1:18 speaks of Jesus as the unique (monogenes) God. Acts 20:28 speaks of the Church of God purchased with His blood – thus Jesus is God. Jesus, in John 5:22-23, states that all men may give Him equal honour as to the Father, and since the honour we give to God is worship, Jesus must be God. It is is clear from John 5:18-19 that the Jews recognized Jesus as claiming deity. John 8:58 presents Him as claiming the personal name of God, ‘I am’ (YHWH). Cf. also Colossians 1:15; 2:9; Philppians 2:6-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; Hebrews 1:8-10; 1 John 5:20. Titus 2:13 speaks of the ‘great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, as does 2 Peter 1:1. If God and Jesus were distinguished, there would normally need to be a definite article before ‘Saviour’, but it is absent, so the exts affirm Christ’s deity. Revelation 1:17, 18; 2:8; 22:12, 13, 16 all refer to Jesus as Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End – used of God in Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12.

The Spirit is God: Mark 3:29 – only God can be blasphemed. Acts 5:3-4 – Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit who is God. 2 Corinthians 3:7-16 refers to Exodus 34:29-35 when Moses communed with the Lord, whom the New Testament scripture equates with the Spirit. Hebrews 9:14 says that the Spirit is eternal, and only God possesses that attribute.

The three are one – Matthew 28:19 – baptism is in the name (singular) of the Trinity. It is implied in the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14 – it would be illegitimate to so construct the text unless the three were equal and one. It is essential to guard against tritheism – three gods – and Modalistic Monarchianism – the idea that God is uni-personal (rather than, as we have seen, tri-personal) and that the names Father, Son and Spirit are simply different manifestations of the same Person e.g. as a man may be at the same time a husband to his wife, a son to his mother, a father to his children – thus the Son is God in His redemptive capacity, the Spirit is God in His sanctifying office, the Father is God in His electing role. That there are distinct offices in the Trinity, we would accept, but they are performed by distinct Persons It can be seen that Modalistic Monarchianism (Sabellianism) is erroneous from the evidence of inter-Personal communication in the Trinity – the Father loving the Son, commissioning Him, speaking to Him etc. John 3:16; 15:26; Mark 1:11; Matthew 11:25; Romans 8:26; John 1:1, 4, 5; 16:14.

The Persons co-operate in the activity of redemption: the Father planned it, Ephesians 1:4, 9, the Son procured it, Ephesians 1:7, the Spirit applies it, 2 Thessalonians 2:13. This is essential, because God is revealed in His acts, as much as His propositions, e.g. the Decalogue. When God brought destructive miracles upon the Egyptians, they were revelations to both the Egyptians and the Israelites as to the person and character of God – e.g. Exodus 6:7, 7:5, 8:22, and the miracles of Jesus are called signs – John 20:30. The miracles of Jesus demonstrate His unity with the Father – John 14:9ff. There is a relationship between the functional and ontological aspects of deity – what God does reveals who He is. His works reveal a Being who is active, loving, holy, faithful and saving. In Acts 7 Stephen reviews the historical acts of God to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah. In this respect, Luke 10:21-22 provides us with an insight to the relationship between the Trinity and revelation. The disciples, commenting on the miraculous power of Jesus against demons, v17, are answered by Jesus, and then the text goes on to state ‘At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said “…no-one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom Son wills to reveal Him”‘

Two related concepts indicating the reality of the Trinity are resurrection-power and divine grace. The power of God gave resurrection to Jesus, Romans 4:23-25. It is said in Galatians 1:1 that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. In John 2:19-22 and 10:17-18, it is indicated that Jesus would resurrect Himself. According to Romans 1:4; 8:11, the Spirit was the Agent of the Resurrection of Christ. Moreover, it is indicated in Romans 6:4-5 that the Father resurrected Jesus and will do likewise with us. The voice of the Son of God will effect resurrection, John 5:25. In John 6:40 and 11:25 Jesus stated that He is the Resurrection – He has the power of resurrection, a divine function. The power of the Spirit will renew the bodies of believers – that is, grant them resurrection bodies – Romans 8:19-25. Hence, resurrection is a triune event.

Linked to this is the concept of divine grace. Indeed, divine grace and power are virtually synonymous; in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 we are presented with a parallel structure –

…arkei soi

 

h= xaris mou/ gar dunamis en asqeneia teleitai…kauxhsomai en tais asqeneiais mou, ina ‘episkhnwsh ‘ep’ ’eme h dunamis tou Xristou.

From this, we infer that at least one aspect of ‘grace’ is that it is a power. Grace is ascribed to God, Romans 5:15; it is used with respect to the Father, Romans 1:7, simultaneously in the same verse of Jesus, in itself and indication of divine identity; it is used of Jesus alone, Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Revelations 22:21, and of the Spirit, Hebrews 10:29. Grace is a triune divine activity.

Moreover, all God’s actions are related to His promises, especially the Abrahamic Covenant. His actions with regard to the Exodus were in fidelity to His promise to Abraham, Exodus 2:24, and the expression of this is the divine indwelling – we see an indication of this in the Theophany on Sinai when YHWH introduces Himself as the God of the Patriarchs, 3:6, and the very purpose of the Exodus was that God would dwell among His People, 29:46. The coming of Christ was also in fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant, Luke 1:54-55, 72-73. Not only was He God, John 1:1, He was the Word who was God dwelt among us, v14. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be in the disciples, John 14:17, and so would the Father and Jesus Himself, v23, in itself pointing to the Triune nature of God.

The presence of the Spirit – i.e. the indwelling of God – establishes a relationship of fellowship between God and Man which effects the moral transformation of the believer, 2 Corinthians 6:16 – it makes the recipients of the divine indwelling holy, the People of God. When God reveals Himself, He transforms the person – Saul the persecuting Pharisee became Paul the Apostle – Galatians 1:15. The Holy God sanctifies. God’s actions in redemption are climaxed in the divine indwelling, and these actions in this regard point to the unity of Father, Son and Spirit – the divine action reveals the nature and identity of God. The very fact that Father, Son and Spirit unitedly take part in the action of divine indwelling points to their common divine essence, as only an eternal, infinite being could indwell the multiplicity of human beings. The common actions of the Three Persons reveal they possess a common divine essence.

4.2 The Incarnation

4.2.1 The Subject

Not the entire Godhead, but rather the Second Person of the Trinity is incarnated. We see evidence of communication between Father and Son in John 12:27-28; upon the baptism of Jesus the Spirit descends from heaven to rest on Him, and the voice of the Father in heaven speaks with respect to His son – Matthew 3:16-17, which verses indicate that the Other two divine Persons remain in heaven, and are distinguished from the Son, so are not incarnated with Him.

However, all three persons collaborate in effecting the incarnation – Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35; John 1:14, Acts 2:30; Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:7. Berkhof makes the vital point that since the Son was active in this process, this points to His pre-existence. These points are amplified when looking at the pre-existent Mediator and His activity. By this we can understand why it was the Son rather than the Father or Spirit who is incarnated.

John 1:1 speaks not only of the Logos as being pre-existent, but identifies Him as the Agent of Creation. John 8:56 identifies Him as the Agent of Revelation to Abraham (and 1:18 indicates that this remains his work). Since it was the angel of YHWH who appeared to Abraham, and since this figure is represented as an agent of revelation and redemption in the Old Testament, e.g. Genesis 48:16, we may identify him with the pre-incarnate Son. The Son is the Agent of Revelation and Redemption, so it had to be the Son who was incarnated.

Other texts which indicate His pre-existence are John 6:38; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:6-8. The essential element is that the Second Person of the Trinity, without diminution of His deity, divests Himself of heavenly glory to enter the realm of Mankind as a man, and subject to the limitations and obligations thereof – Galatians 4:4 stresses His birth into a Jewish family and thus His obligation to adhere to the Torah. The Giver of the Law became subject to it.

4.2.2 The Nature Of The Incarnation

John 1:14 indicates that the Son became a true human being, and entered the human scene, but He is not thereby metamorphosed – rather, He is rendered theanthropic.

4.2.2.1 The Virginal Conception And Birth

The Seed of Promise in Genesis 3:15 is specifically stated to be the seed of the woman. This should not be overstressed as evidence for the virgin birth, but it is an indication. The birth of Isaac, although not virginal, provides some clue to the unique supernatural character of Jesus’ birth. Obviously, the principal text is Isaiah 7:14, which predicts the birth of One who would be the fulfilment of the covenantal promise of divine presence – ‘I will dwell in the midst of you’ – Immanuel, ‘God with us’. The Hebrew word almah is often broadened to include any young woman, specifically of marriageable age, though it should be pointed out that the word is usually translated as ‘maiden’ in Proverbs 3:19. The LXX translated the word by parthenos, and this term seems restricted in meaning to ‘virgin’ – cf. Matthew 25:1, 7, 11; Acts 21:9. Thus Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:27 do fulfil Isaiah 7:14 in exactitude – Christ was born of a virgin.

It is more exact to speak of virginal conception, rather than birth, for the latter, together with gestation, was normal, save in respect that Jesus was preserved from defilement. The conception of Jesus was miraculous in that no man was involved in this act – it occurred through the power of the Holy Spirit ‘overshadowing’ Mary, Luke 1:35. In passing, it must be stated that the Muslim and Judaistic conception of what this means is not the right interpretation of this act – it does not imply marital intimacy between God and Mary and the production of a demi-god: it is simply that the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit miraculously caused the implantation of life in the womb of Mary. (See also Matthew 1:18, 20; Galatians 4:4.)

4.2.3 The Baptism

The baptism of Jesus is often problematic for Muslims. To explain, we must consider the whole nature of the plan of salvation. The Old Testament prophets predicted a Restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile which would have the character of a Second Exodus, Isaiah 11:11ff, and will reflect the divine requirement of faith in that only a purified Remnant will return – Is 10:22; Ezekiel 11:18-21; 20:34-38. The latter text, together with Isaiah 40:3-5 stresses the importance of the desert in this process – as the avenue by which the Restoration will be accomplished and the Judgement essential to this act effected. (In this respect it is a pattern of the Final Judgement which effects the entry of the Righteous into their inheritance, the Kingdom.)

Isaiah 52:7 builds on 40:3 by stating that God will return with the exiles as their King. Other texts, e.g. Ezekiel 37:24 indicate that the Reign of God will be mediated through the Davidic King – the Messiah, whose reign will be over a righteous people who adhere to the New Covenant, cf. 36:25-27; Jeremiah 31:33-34. Jeremiah 31:2, 7 underline this, as 23:6 and 33:15-16, which identify the King with the People – specifically Jerusalem. Although a Remnant did return from Babylon, the Reign of God through Messiah was as yet unrealised.

Mark 1:2-5 (and parallels in Matthew 3:1-11; Luke 3:2-16) reveal the fulfilment of these texts, specifically represented by Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 – the preparation for the arrival of God in Canaan. This occurs through the ministry of John Baptist in the desert, v 4, where a purging takes place – only those confessing their sins will share in the End of the Exile. The rest will suffer the Judgement – vs. 7, 10, 12 of Matthew 3. John is preparing a refined people for the One who will effect the Return from Exile under the Reign of God, which will see the Baptism of the Spirit, Matthew 3:11. The Bestowal of the Spirit is the evidence that Jesus is the Davidic King, Acts 2:30, 33, 36. So with the manifestation of Jesus, the Exile has ended and the Reign of God has arrived – Mark 1:15/Isaiah 52:7.

This sets the scene for understanding the Baptism of Jesus.

    1. Jesus had no need to repent – note how John was reluctant to baptise Him, and Jesus had to tell him to ‘permit’ it – Matthew 3:15.
    2. In saying this, John recognized that the One whom he was to baptise in water was the One who would baptise in the Spirit, v 14. That is, Jesus was the Messiah.
    3. The fact that Jesus does not contradict John’s assertion is evidence of His own belief in His sinlessness.
    4. Jesus gives as His reason for submission to baptism as being right to ‘fulfil all righteousness’. ‘Fulfil’ in Matthew is used mainly of Jesus’ relation to the predictions and patterns of the Old Testament’ e.g. 5:17. Thus Jesus was accomplishing fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, which ties in with John’s own ministry. ‘Righteousness’ in Matthew is linked to the idea of the Kingdom, e.g. 5:10, 20; 6:33; 21:31-32. It has the sense of ‘obedience to the will of God’ and thus of ‘submission to the Reign of God’ – cf. Romans 14:17.Jesus, by being baptised, is thus identifying with the people who are preparing for the reception of the Reign of God and probably there is a reflection here of Isaiah 53:11, where the Servant represents the people. We should also note the ‘Moses’ typology theme in Matthew, and the fact that Israel was ‘baptised’ into Moses, so the Spirit will ‘baptise’ the people into Christ – i.e. identifying them. The idea is that the fulfilment of the Old Testament Hope, with which the people are identifying, is realized in Jesus.
    5. Unlike Pentecost, the Spirit is not represented by fire, which would imply cleansing, but by a dove, indicating purity and the creation of something new – cf. Genesis 1:2.

John 1:33 seems to imply that the One on Whom the Spirit abides is the bestower of the Spirit, and v 34 indicates that this evidences that Jesus is the Son of God. Cf. also Ezekiel 1:1; 2:2.

  1. The heavenly voice calls Jesus ‘beloved Son’, reflecting Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1 (and possibly Genesis 22:2 LXX) – He is the Davidic King, Servant and true Israel – cf. Mark 1:11 with 12:1-11. He is the embodiment of the Old Testament Messianic Hope, of the Kingdom of God and of the New Covenant. All these things help us to understand the significance of the Temptation.
  2. As Jesus begins his ministry after this, we can see that the bestowal of the Spirit was the divine ‘call’ or ‘ordination’ – the King and the Servant were to characterised by the anointing with the Spirit. John 1:33 and 3:34 seem to underline this.

We should also note the Trinitarian aspect to the Baptism – the voice of the Father, descent of the spirit upon the Son, and the revelatory miracle as to the identity of Jesus.

5. Was the Bible Corrupted and then Improved?

One of the problems for Muslims is that not only do the Qur’anic depictions of Christian belief about the Trinity not reflect historic and Biblical presentations about divine Triunity, the Qur’an itself considers that the Tawrah, Zabur and Injil were true divine revelations. Of course, many Muslims today hold that the Christian scriptures were later distorted, but this causes a problem for them with regard to the Qur’anic allegation of tritheism against Christians, especially with respect to the idea that Christians ascribe deity to Mary. If the true Injil reflected Islamic dogma, but then the Christians descended into the polytheism of which the Qur’an accuses it, then this declension must have occurred fairly quickly after the Ascension of Christ, because thereafter the Christians improved their position, by removing from the New Testament all Tritheistic references, especially any presentation of Mary as a goddess.

The oldest extant texts of the New Testament include a papyrus fragment of John’s Gospel 18:31-33, 37-38, from Egypt, located in the John Rylands Library of Manchester University, dating from c. 135 AD. It is clear from canonical history that the books comprising the New Testament were around by the end of the First Century, e.g. as demonstrated by the letter to the Corinth Church from Clement of around. 96 A.D., who refers to Matthew,. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Hebrews., James, and 1 Peter. Since nowhere in the New Testament do we find the Qur’anic idea of the Trinity, Muslims are left with several possibilities:

  1. That the Christians first distorted the Injil to present a concept of the Trinity in conformity to the Qur’anic criticism, and then excised this and improved the position to reflect the contemporary Scriptuary presentation – and that this dual tampering took place within 50-60 years, however unlikely that may be. Of course, , the onus of proof for the historicity of this process rests on the Muslims. It should be pointed out that there is no manuscript evidence to support such a thesis, nor is there are contemporary reference in the early Church fathers either to such a process nor to belief in the Qur’anic idea of the Trinity. At any rate, by the time of Muhammad, there was no purported ‘gospel’ presenting the Islamic idea of the three gods including Mary.
  2. That the Qur’an is attacking the views of an unrepresentative heretical group, the onus of proof for the existence of which rests on the Muslims. It has been claimed on the basis of the works of Epiphanius that an heretical group called the Collyridians worshipped Mary, but the historicity of the group is questioned, and at any rate, both in terms of mainstream Christian dogma, historical theology and Biblical data, there is no support for tritheism.The Qur’an may be referring to such a group colloquially as Christians, just as many non-Muslims refer to the heretical Nation of Islam and the Ahmadiyya sect as Muslims. In that case, Biblical Christians have no case to answer, anymore than orthodox Muslims can be held responsible for the NOI’s beliefs about the evil Black scientist Yacub creating an evil race of white people, or that God was incarnated in the person of Fard in the USA in the 1930s.
  3. The hardest option for Muslims is that the Qur’an may simply be wrong.
  4. The Qur’an may be stating that in its eyes, this is how it regards Christian Trinitarianism. Christians may object, but if someone states that whatever people say are their beliefs, he will continue to believe that his impression is what will guide him, then no clarification or discussion is possible. However much Christians state that they do not believe in three separate gods or in the deity of Mary, this is how the Qur’an sees Christian Trinitarianism. Any further debate is useless. Given that Surah Al-i-Imran came into existence at the time of the Najran deputation, it would seem to be quite likely that this option is the most likely, unless Muslims can produce evidence for (ii). All Christians can say is, if someone is convinced that another person believes in Martians however strongly the latter denies it, then we have moved from the rational to the irrational.

This view is also problematic for Muslims in another way. The Qur’an never invites Christians to judge the Injil by Islam, but rather the reverse – S. 5:74 – ‘Let the people of the Gospel judge by what is written therein’. Since the Injil, whether the supposed Islamic Injil the Muslim Messenger ‘Isa is held to have propagated, nor the Christian Scriptures recognized as canonical by the world-wide Church does propose such a Trinity, according to the Qur’an, Christians have the right to critically consider Islam’s Holy Book, and to find it wanting if indeed it is presenting this as the authentic Christian view.

6. Theological Considerations

6.1 Divine Love

There are also considerations which demand the necessity of the Trinity. 1 John 4:8, 16 – God is love. Love cannot exist in isolation. Love demands an object. Since love demands an object, God must have an object for His love: and since love is one of His attributes or perfections, as He is a perfect Being, and as He is an eternal Being, the object of His love must be likewise perfect and eternal. However, only God is both those things! Thus, the object of His love must be divine – and, since He is unique, be within Himself The object of His love is His Son. The bond of their love is His Spirit. Between the three Persons there is eternal love.

This fact is also important to emphasise with respect to divine immutability and self-sufficiency.

6.2 The Attributes and Nature of God

Given that in Islam, God is held to be eternal and to be loving, and given that Love is a transitive action, one that needs an object, the Muslim view of divine unipersonality involves a contradiction which actually endangers the very deity of God! To explain, this, we need to examine what Islam believes about divine attributes. The ‘most beautiful names’ describe the attributes of God in Islam. Islam is adamant that these names and attributes are eternal. At the same time, it vigorously affirms the self-sufficiency of God; indeed, Eaton translates Samad in S.112:2 as ‘utterly Self-sufficient’. Likewise, the Hadith, as we have seen, states that this is one of the ‘most beautiful names’. As Eaton states, ‘This conception of the deity is strictly monotheistic and unitarian. God alone has absolute being, totally independent and totally self-sufficient.’ With this proposition, Christians would whole-heartedly agree. God is infinite and perfect, Psalm 145:3; Matthew 5:48. Hence, He is wholly independent and has no need of anything outside Himself – not even relationships. His incommunicable attributes, such as aseity, demonstrate this.

Moreover, it should be stated that His actions flow from His attributes, without being identical with them. John 3:16 is the classic demonstration of this. The Holiness of God demanded righteous justice upon sinners, i.e. damnation. The Love of God led to the incarnation and reconciliation, based on the Cross, in order to meet the demands of divine justice and holiness, and thus allowed for forgiveness. Forgiveness, however, is not an essential attribute of God, but is a consequence of divine love and holiness. After all, in eternity, before the creation of Man and Angels, there was no-one to be forgiven, nor will there be the potential for the operation of forgiveness after the Last Day.

We have seen that Islamic fiqh regards the names and attributes of God as eternal and uncreated – they are part of His essence (and this is why Sunni Muslims hold that the Qur’an is eternal and uncreated):

Allah has settled upon the throne and holds sovereignty. He has the most beautiful names and most exalted attributes. He continues with all His attributes and names. He is too Exalted for these attributes to have been created and for his names to have occurred at a given time.

He addressed Moses with His words which are the attribute of His essence, and not a creature from His creation.

It is at this point that Islamic monotheism finds itself in difficulty. A cursory examination of the ninety-nine names of God demonstrates that some of them are transitive – they require a direct object. Consider two of them in the light of what we have examined about forgiveness in Christianity – ‘The Forgiver’ and ‘The Forgiving’. If these are essential, eternal attributes of God, they demonstrate that the God of Islam is not self-sufficient, since these are active qualities requiring an object. Since Allah is held to be unipersonal, this means that this object must be external to His Essence, and at any rate, God is scarcely in need of His own forgiveness! Therefore, a consequence of Islamic theology is that God does need His creatures to be God, because His own essence demands it. This is also implied in another of His Essential Names in Islam – the Creator. If ‘Creatorhood’ belongs to His essence, He had to create – He would be diminished without His creation. However, any genuine definition of God requires that He be self-sufficient and independent, which the God of Islam patently is not. It can be seen that most attributes of God in Islam are anthropocentric, whereas for example, the Christian concept of divine love is theocentric.

The same criticism goes for the love of God in Islam. He is called ‘The Loving’ but whom did He love before the Creation? Creation would be a necessary act because God needed someone to love by virtue of His essence. Furthermore, It is clear that the God of Islam only loves Muslims – S. 19:96. Since everyone except Muslims – Jews, Christians and pagans included – are held to be guilty of shirk, which is the unpardonable sin in Islam, this places Muslims in a difficult position with respect to the divine essence before the calling of Muhammad. If there were no Muslims around, God had no-one to love, and so His essence was in contradiction.

Linked to this concept are two other attributes/names – Merciful and Compassionate, which, as we have seen, adorn all but one Surahs of the Qur’an. They are transitive verbs. Yet before the Creation, to whom was God Merciful and Compassionate? In Christianity, however, the love of God as an essential attribute causes no problems, because the triune nature of God demonstrates a mutual, eternal love that is not dependent on the Creation. The essence of God Himself is satisfactory for the operation of this essential quality. Hence, the Christian concept of divine Triunity safeguards the concept of God from any human limitations or requirements, and thus from pagan accretions. Islam does not meet the test of a true definition of God in this respect.

Zwemer also points out that the Qur’an’s comment on the Light of God being ‘lit from a blessed olive tree’, S. 24:35, also makes God’s attributes dependent upon something external to the divine essence. We should also consider two other names – ‘Forgiver’ and ‘Forgiving’. Since these names are attributes, God needed to forgive, and thus needed someone to forgive, so His essence was dependent on something external. Moreover, the divine essence in this respect required people to sin, so that God could forgive. Hence, according to Islam, the divine essence could not exist apart from the reality of sin. The Holy God needed sin to exist!

The same criticism can be made against many other names/attributes of God in Islam. One cannot escape this problem by saying that they only operate after the creation, because then such attributes are created and the divine essence is mutable. Secondly, the critique cannot be obviated through claiming that divine prescience is concerned, because that still makes the divine essence dependent on creation. Thirdly, one must return to the fact that the divine attributes in Islam depend on creation, and if God is dependent on anything outside Himself, He is not God, just a Superman figure.

A further point that needs to be considered is that of divine immutability, which Islamic fiqh affirms of the divine attributes. In the Christian concept of the Incarnation, no change is effected in the essence of God, because human nature is not introduced into the divine essence. However, the Islamic concept of God would seem to imply that a change in the nature of God occurs, since at some point the focus of His attributes is no longer operative. To whom does He ‘give death’ after the end of the world? What will He ‘create’ after this date? Moreover, it surely follows that before the Creation, He was lacking, since as essentially Creator He necessarily, rather than volitionally created. Prior to the creation He was diminished by the absence of His creation. Thus, God changed – according to the logic of Islam, He is mutable.

6.3 The Incomprehensibility of God

Christianity and Islam both affirm the incomprehensibility of God. Job 11:7 rhetorically queries ‘Can you by searching find out God?’ 1 Corinthians 2:11 is adamant that only the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God. After all, if God is God, then He is infinite, as we have seen, and the human mind being finite, cannot fully comprehend the essence or will of God. Thus, God must reveal Himself. Islam, with its emphasis on divine transcendence, agrees with the proposition that apart from revelation, God is incomprehensible. The Christian writer Zwemer mentions a popular song among Muslims which states ‘Whatsoever your mind can conceive, that Allah is not you may well believe.’ Islamic fiqh states, as we have seen, ‘His true nature cannot be described by anyone, nor can thinkers imagine that nature…None learns anything about His knowledge, except that which He wills.’ Gai Eaton, before quoting S. 6:103, states that ‘In the Islamic view, it is impossible for the human mind to form an adequate conception of God as He is in His eternal and absolute being. The creature cannot comprehend the Creator.’ This view is echoed by Suzanne Haneef, who states:

And thus it is clear and certain – as Islam emphatically proclaims – that He is infinitely beyond anything which the mind or senses of man can grasp or comprehend or imagine or explain…

Asra Rasheed agrees with this:

But to have complete knowledge of God is beyond man’s ability. Man is finite and Allah is infinite…The creature cannot comprehend the Creator;

“They (mankind) cannot encompass Him (Allah) with their knowledge”.

Ta-ha, 20:110

Islam preaches that mankind should only refer to Allah as He has referred to Himself. There is no scope what-so-ever for inventing new ideas about Him or thinking of Him in a manner that suits us.

Yusuf Ali comments on S. 112:

The nature of Allah is here indicated to us in a few words, such as we can understand.

The qualities of Allah are described in numerous places elsewhere, e.g., in lix. 22-24, lxii. 1, and ii. 255. Here we are specially taught to avoid the pitfalls into which men and nations have fallen at various times in trying to understand Allah. The first thing we have to note is that His nature is so sublime, so far beyond our limited conceptions, that the best way in which we can realise Him is to feel that He is a Personality, ‘He’, and not a mere abstract conception of philosophy. He is near us; He cares for us; we owe our existence to Him. Secondly, He is the One and Only God, the Only One to Whom worship is due; all Other things or beings that we can think of are His creatures and in no way comparable to Him. Thirdly, He is Eternal, without beginning or end, Absolute, not limited by time or place or circumstance, the Reality. Fourthly, we must not think of Him as having a son or a father, for that would be to import animal qualities into our conception of Him. Fifthly, He is not like any other person or thing that we know or can imagine: His qualities and nature are unique.

Hence, Islam agrees with Christianity that God can only be fully known through His self-revelation, since the finite reason of Man cannot comprehend the infinitude of deity. Naturally, Man would always imagine God in terms with which He could cope and with which he was familiar, such as human unipersonality. The idea of a triune Being has no point of reference in creation. Muslims frequently accuse the Christian concept of the Trinity of being inconceivable to reason. Yet, if God is transcendent and accessible only through self-revelation, it follows that the Christian dogma is indeed credible. The Muslim position indicates that if we could comprehend God, He would not be God, and that all human attempts to comprehend Him apart from revelation are inadequate and doomed to failure. This is indeed the Christian position. Berkhof, the great systematic theologian, states the following:

To Calvin, God in the depths of His being is past finding out. “His essence”, he says, “is incomprehensible; so that His divinity escapes all human senses.” The Reformers do not deny that man can learn something of the nature of God from His creation, but maintain that he can acquire true knowledge of Him only from special revelation, under the illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, the problem between Islam and Christianity starts when we turn to the question of the identity of divine self-revelation. Islam claims it is the Qur’an; Christianity holds that it is found in the Bible and supremely in Jesus Christ as the Word of God. The point is, Muslims can scarcely object to the idea of the Trinity because it does not conform to their ideas of human reason, since we should not expect finite human reason to be capable of the exercise of comprehending the essence of God.

There is another problem for Muslims in this regard. As we have seen, Islamic fiqh states ‘To know Him one considers His signs, but one does not think about His essence.’ Hence, if Muslims object to the Trinity on the basis that what they see as their revelation denies it (though in reality what it denies is not the Christian Trinity, but tritheism), that is legitimate, but if they object because their considerations of the divine essence will not accept it, they are actually going against their own faith, because they should not be considering the divine essence in the first place!

6.4 Revelation and the Trinity

The Christian view of the Trinity is also demonstrated by the fact of divine revelation. Human beings are finite, let alone liable to sin. The finite mind cannot fathom the mysteries of God. Although various historical philosophical arguments such as the Cosmological argument may point to the existence of a divine being, they do not definitely establish either the character of such a being – for example, they do not help us with the problem of evil – nor do they definitely reveal a unique deity, as opposed to a polytheistic pantheon. Hence, God must reveal Himself to provide an adequate and genuine knowledge of Himself and His will. Ultimately, all instruments that provide divine revelation are inadequate because all such instruments are finite, whether they be angels, or miracles, although of course what they reveal is infallible. The only totally adequate revealer of God is God Himself, who can express the infinite. Yet the infinite must be expressed in terms of the finite because it is revealed to the finite. Hence, the Incarnation is a necessary action because of revelation alone – God, taking human nature alongside His divine nature, expresses the infinite in terms of the finite.

In this respect Jesus reveals what God is like in His holiness, His love, His power, and His revelatory action. For this reason Jesus is the supreme revelation of God – He reveals the Father, John 1:18; whoever has seen Him has seen the Father. He who is God is also the Word of God. He is the climax of revelation, Hebrews 1:1-2. To encounter Him is to encounter God Himself, and thus experience the infallible revelation. This is what Paul experienced on the Damascus Road, as we have seen, and it was sufficient to transform Him. However, the bodily revelation of Jesus is itself not the completion of the divine revelation, because He is not eternally bodily present on the earth, and because the transformation He works is not complete apart from the divine indwelling, which is effected by the Holy Spirit. Since all three persons share the same essence of deity, whenever the Spirit indwells a person, the latter has experienced the inward revelation of the Triune God.

The Father reveals the Son by sending Him, the Son reveals the Father by His presence and work, (Matthew 11:27), the Spirit reveals the Son and thus the Father by applying this work with His presence. In this way Paul came to know the true revelation of God as a result of the Damascus experience. Only God uniquely and fully knows God, and thus only he may reveal Himself fully. On this basis, revelation points to the Triune nature of God. We know what God is like when we experience the Father, by the Holy Spirit, revealing the Son in our lives. This revelation is in conformity to the way God made men – as beings capable of intelligent relationship, especially love. Man is made in God’s image, and is social – made for relationship and fellowship. The expression of divine love and desire for fellowship is effected through divine revelation. The theanthropic Person of Jesus is the climactic expression of revelation in that in a unique way, God comes to Man. The perfect Man who is also God can express in human terms the mind of the Creator.

Islam, by contrast, cannot wholly address this issue. Sunni Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the uncreated, eternal Word of God, which is almost a part of God – His Speech in fact. Shia Muslims reject the idea that the Qur’an is uncreated because of the danger of ditheism – by definition, what is uncreated and eternal is God. The purported revelation of Qur’an, according to Sunnis, is virtually equivalent to the Incarnation in Christianity, only that in the case of Islam, the Word became a Book, rather than flesh. However, as any Muslim will affirm, the Qur’an only truly exists when untranslated; that is, it is only really the Qur’an when it is in Arabic. The language of the Qur’an is an essential part of the revelation – S. 12:2; 13:37; 16:103; 41:44; 42:7; 43:30. Thus, despite its claim to be ‘mercy for mankind’, the Qur’an is contextually limited by time and space, especially in terms of accessibility. There is not the same revelatory action of interaction between God and Man, especially since the Qur’an is effectively limited to those who know Arabic. Jesus, however, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, is universally accessible, whatever the language or ethnic group, and this is demonstrated by His easy movement from Aramaic to Greek when He deals with Gentiles like the Centurion, and through the Spirit He still speaks to people of any language. The Word became Man, not specifically Meccan/Quraish (or any other language).

6.5 An Islamic Trinity?

Although Islam denies the ontological Trinity of Christianity, it does not escape a functional Trinity which verges on tritheism. Apart from God Himself, it is essential for Muslims to believe in the angels. Their function is so vital that belief in angels is a fundamental tenet of Muslim faith, equated with belief in Allah and the Qur’an. Although their function is similar to Christian concepts in certain ways, in many aspects they actually resemble the function of the Holy Spirit in Christianity, especially with respect to Gabriel. They act as mediators for the transcendent God. This is necessitated by the Islamic concepts of the nature of God and revelation. The Muslim dogma of God does not present Him as omnipresent in the Christian sense, stressing rather His transcendence and majesty. The Incarnation is rejected not just because God assumes Human nature, but because God interacts with man on the terrestrial scene – the idea of the Word dwelling among us is rejected by Muslims. Islam thus must accommodate the divine immanence in another fashion.

In Islam, angels are the agents of divine immanence. It can be understood that in Islam, many functions that Christianity ascribes to the Son or the Holy Spirit are expressed by angels. Angels act as divine agents in Creation, Revelation and the Last Judgment. To illustrate how parallel their functions are to that of the Spirit in Christianity, we should note that Islam believes that when a person becomes a Muslim, he is coterminously supported by Allah, Jibril and the angels. It should be remembered that pre-Islamic Arabs regarded the angels as gods, the offspring of Allah, S. 17:40ff. Islam believes that the angels are those ‘nearest’ to Allah, S. 4:172, perhaps an echo of the pre-Islamic era.

It is well known that the Islamic equivalent to Jesus is not Muhammad, but the Qur’an. The Qur’an is believed by Sunni Muslims to be the eternal, uncreated word of God, inscribed on the Preserved Tablets in heaven and thus free from human influence. Christianity has the Incarnation, but Islam has what we may call the ‘Inliteration’ – the commencement of revelation in Laylat al-Qadr, ‘the Night of Power’, during the month of Ramadan when the portion of the Tablet descended to the ‘House of Protection’ in the lowest of the seven heavens, revealed by Gabriel, S. 97. The Qur’an is the means of salvation, revealing how to live in obedience to the divine will, S. 2:136. Since Islam does not believe in original sin, there is no basis for the atoning death of Christianity, rather, all that is required is obedience to divine revelation. Thus, it can be said that just as Jesus is the Saviour in Christianity, the Qur’an performs that function in Islam.

Effectively, therefore, Islam has a functional Trinity of God, the Qur’an and angels (especially Jibril) which corresponds to the Christian functional Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the Christian system this functional Trinity reflects the ontological Trinity, who share the single divine essence. Islam, however, actually verges on a tritheistic emphasis, since Islam, unlike Christianity, holds that the angels were created from the Light of God Himself. Although Muslims would undoubtedly deny it, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they owe their origins to the essence of God Himself, especially since one of the names of Allah, and thus His attribute, is ‘the Light’.

Further, we have seen that one of the attributes of Allah is Speech, and that for Sunni Muslims, the Qur’an represents the eternal, uncreated Speech of God. Since Speech is an attribute of God, and as Islam views the attributes of God as part of His essence, if the Qur’an is distinguished from the essence of God, it can be said that Islam divides the essence of God! This is all the more emphasised when we consider what we have examined about the origin of the angels. If the Qur’an is not so distinguished, then ironically, we encounter something similar to what Christians believe about the relationship of Father and Son, so that we are presented almost with a di-personal being. These beliefs undermine Islam’s claim to undiluted monotheism.

6.6 Trinitarian Emphasis

Given that the Qur’an engages in sustained, aggressive condemnation of polytheism and assertion of divine unity, some Muslims often comment that they feel that there is a lack of multiple emphases in the Bible about the Trinity. Of course, this is often special pleading, being usually a polemical jibe against the Bible and Trinitarianism. As we have seen, there is abundant evidence for the doctrine. However, unlike the Qur’an, we never find the Bible saying ‘They do err who deny the triune nature of God’, because of several factors.

Firstly, the Bible is revealed in a historical context. Its denials and rectifications occur when the situation demands it. Thus, in the Old Testament, the frequent attacks on idolatry and polytheism, and thus an affirmation of monotheism, arise because of the pagan practices of the Canaanites and neighbouring peoples were snares to the Israelites, and thus the warnings and polemic against them reflect the historical context. There was no need to emphasise the tripersonal nature of the divine essence in such contexts, because the necessity to assert the uniqueness of the divine essence – i.e. monotheism. In the New Testament, there was no need for Trinitarianism to be asserted, because the Jews were at this time free from idolatry/polytheism for the most part; nor was the triune nature of God a complete innovation, as we have seen.

When pagan ideas need to be addressed, as in the Gentile cities, we do find polemic against their beliefs – e.g. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, and at the same time, an affirmation of the deity of both Father and Son. Elsewhere, as in 1 John, the polemic is against heresy that denies the full import of the Incarnation – docetic ideas arguing against the true humanity of Christ. Had there been anyone arguing for the Muslim idea of God or engaging in the Islamic polemic against the Triune nature of God, no doubt there would have been comments against such. In this respect, it should be remembered that Christians do not have the same view of the Bible as uncreated and eternal as do Sunni Muslims – that is the position of Christ in Biblical faith.

We need to remember that this is true of Islam as well. Islam arose in a polytheistic environment, one which believed in God having physical offspring. Since a major part of the message of Muhammad’s message involved an assertion of divine uniqueness, and a refusal to accept pagan ideas of divine offspring, we should not be surprised to find the emphasis on aggressive monotheism. Further, as we have previously noted, Islam views the ministry of Muhammad as one of purging the Hejazi cultus from the polytheistic corruption of the purported pristine Abrahamic faith of Ishmael – from the idols that the Arabs, as well as the people of Noah’s time, worshipped.

Hence we would expect to find an overwhelming emphasis on monotheism over against polytheism, simply because that was Muhammad’s major emphasis and principal problem in the context of Mecca. In this respect Muhmmad’s activity resembles that of Elijah, who demanded the purging of the Israelite cultus from Baalist syncretistic accretions, and exclusive worship of YHWH. Interestingly, we do not find a large number of references to denials of the Trinity in the Qur’an, and none at all in the early Meccan stage, because Muhammad was not yet in confrontation with the Christians; as we have seen, the texts in Al-i-Imran reflect the visit of the Najranis (and the same goes for texts attacking purported Jewish distinctives).

Secondly, the major emphasis of the Bible is soteriological and eschatological. Sin involves not just disobedience, but a fallen nature, and the message of the Scriptures is the promise and then fulfilment of such with respect to the advent of the Messiah, e.g. Mark 1:15. As previously stated, monotheism was scarcely an issue in first century Palestine, save possibly among some Gentiles in Palestine, like the Romans. Moreover, it should be remembered that the Islamic emphasis on salvation through believing in monotheism is regarded as insufficient by the Bible, since even demons give intellectual assent to that truth, James 2:19, as did Adam and Eve, yet they still fell. Salvation is essentially through trust in Jesus, and this is the emphasis of the Bible.

Thirdly, as we have seen, the Qur’an never invites Christians to judge the Injil by Islam, but rather the reverse – S. 5:74 – ‘Let the people of the Gospel judge by what is written therein’. If Muslims object to the Bible not having the same emphasis on asserting the essential nature of God – albeit primarily in negatives – as does the Qur’an, we can respond that the Muslim holy book never asks us to regard the Qur’an as the basis for critically examining the Bible, but rather vice versa. At any rate, since Christians do not accept the inspiration of the Qur’an, this criticism leaves them unmoved. Moreover, since the supreme revelation is the Person of Christ Himself, His very being affirmed the Trinity.

We should state that there is abundant evidence in the Bible for the affirmation of divine unity and uniqueness – there is only one God. There is equally overwhelming evidence for the deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is corresponding evidence for tri-personal inter-communication and fellowship, indicating a personal distinction. However, texts like Matthew 28:19 and the basic concept of One God demonstrate that Christians are not affirming a divided essence. These facts taken together indicate that God is a triune Being.

To Muslims who argue that 1+1+1=3, we point out that Christians are upholding three Persons (for want of a better human term to express a divine reality). However, we are not speaking of three Gods; we are affirming that God, an incomprehensible being, is tri-personal. At any rate, it is not that Christians are claiming that God is composite; on the contrary, they affirm the undivided unity of the divine essence. For this reason, the criticism of Suzanne Haneef where she represents the Christian dogma as one presenting ‘three parts’, and critiques that ‘God is not like a pie or an apple which can be divided into three thirds which form one whole’, is groundless. Christians do not believe that God is in three parts, and the analogy of the apple is invalid because God is not like an apple, pie or any created substance; He is unique, and without comparison, and problems start when we try to compare Him to anything created.

Haneef actually virtually admits this when she states of the Christian dogma ‘To Muslims this makes absolutely no sense, and even if it is explained as being a “Mystery” too high for any human mind to grasp, belief in the Trinity is regarded by Islam…as a form of polytheism.’ She must resort to denying the doctrine because of Qur’anic dogma, because she earlier affirms of the essence of God that He ‘…is far above anything we can conceive of…’ Ultimately, Islam rejects the Trinity not out of any supposed rational arguments, but because what it believes is divine revelation rejects that which it (wrongly) imagines the Trinity to mean. Equally, Christians uphold the doctrine because they believe in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ set forth in the Holy Scriptures.

7. Trinitarian Development in the New Testament?

Some Muslims claim that there is a Christological and Trinitarian development in the New Testament; specifically, that the later the text, the more the picture of Jesus conforms to the Nicene and Chalcedonian affirmations. Of course, Christians would claim that the Creeds reflect the Biblical data. The assertion about Trinitarian development is based upon a house of sand. Paul is frequently accused by Muslims of being the main culprit in the supposed corruption of pristine Christianity, yet the srcriptures revealed through him are widely held to be the earliest in the New Testament, although oral tradition would have preserved and transmitted the gospel material. The Gospel of John is usually considered the Scripture with the most explicit affirmation of Christ’s deity, yet it has been argued with some force in recent years that it may even have been written before the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70; a modernistic scholar such as John Robinson wrote a book entitled The Priority of John, indicating that its material is not a creation of the later Church, but goes back to Jesus Himself.

We need also to examine the dating of the gospels. There are different theories about their dates, but the gap between them whatever the theory is not large, and certainly not the decades or even centuries some Muslims propose. It is usually, but not universally held that Mark was the first gospel, yet a major emphasis of the gospel is the affirmation that Jesus is the Son of God. Indeed, Mark records the Roman officer stating this at the Crucifixion, Mark 15:39. Luke-Acts, on the other hand, has as a major theme the idea of the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel through the person and ministry of Christ and the Church, the reception of the Gentiles into the restored Israel, and of the opposition this received from the Jewish leadership, often bringing Christians to court on trumped-up charges, as they did Jesus, and so the gospel emphasises the centurion’s exclamation of the innocence of Jesus, Luke 23:47. Yet Luke is usually held to be later than Mark, but it is not concerned to emphasise the Christological confession. It should be said that all the different books of the New Testament have distinct but complementary aims, approaching various aspects of the life and ministry of Christ and the Church.

The aim of the Gospel of John is explicitly Christological and evangelistic, John 20:31 revealing jesus to be God, the divine Son and the Messiah. The Gospel of Matthew wishes to emphasise a Christological-Ecclesiological relationship – as with Jesus, so with the Church, e.g. with respect to persecution, 10:18, 24-25; commission to miraculous activity, cf. 10:5ff with 11:4ff; the one who receives the Church receives Jesus and thus receives God, 10:40; the authority of Jesus is with the Church, 16:18-19; 18:18, and this is the authority of God, 11:27, 28:19. Jesus is the Son of David, 1:1, the Messianic King, 16:16, and Isaiah 22:22 speaks of the ‘key of David’. Jesus gives the ‘keys of the kingdom to the Church, 16:19. Jesus is the Son of Abraham, 1:1, and the Church is the true Israel, 16:18 (qahal is translated by ekklesia), 21:43. Jesus is the unique Son of God, 3:7, 28:19, and because of their relation to Him, the Church are sons of God, 5:9, 45.

Hence, it cannot be argued that there is an escalation of the position of Jesus the later the text; there is no real difference in the Scriptural revelations of Jesus, as is demonstrated by their mutual affirmations. One common prominent feature of the gospels, found also in the Apocalypse, is the title Son of Man. The origin of this term is in Daniel 7:13ff, where a heavenly, supernatural being ‘comes’ to God to receive power and authority over humanity. Jesus clearly employs (c) e.g. Mark 14:61-62; Matthew 26:63-64; Luke 22:67-70; cf. Matthew 24:30; John 1:51, Revelations 1:13. It is more a reference to His deity, than to His humanity, as John 3:13 and 6:62, which ascribe pre-existence to the Son of Man, demonstrate. Equally, the use of the absolute term ‘the Son’ (as opposed to ‘Son of God’) is a case in point, found in Matthew;11:27; 28:19; Mark 13:32; Luke 9:35; 10:22; John 1:35-36; 5:19-26; 6:40; 8:35-36. There are of course many other points of contact which demonstrate both the deity of Christ and divine Triunity, but this is sufficient to demonstrate both Scriptural unanimity and the absence of the alleged escalation of the position of Jesus.