'If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee....' (Surah, 10, Yunus, verse 94)
A Christian Response to Muslim Beliefs
Rev. Andrew Abraham
Table of Contents
2. CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO BASIC BELIEFS OF ISLAM
A. BELIEF IN ALLAH
B. BELIEF IN ANGELS OF ALLAH
C. BELIEF IN BOOKS OF ALLAH
D. BELIEF IN PROPHETS OF ALLAH
E. BELIEF IN THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT
F. BELIEF IN SUPREMACY OF DIVINE WILL
G. BELIEF IN LIFE AFTER DEATH
Some people think that Christianity and Islam have so much in common that it does not really matter which of the two religions one adheres to. The purpose of these pages is to compare the fundamental beliefs of both to establish whether this view is true or not.
2. A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO BASIC BELIEFS OF ISLAM
A. Belief in Allah
'Say: He is Allah. The One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.' (Surah 112, Al-Ikhlas, verses 1-4)
Most important to Muslims is the belief that Allah is One, Almighty, All-powerful, beyond comparison. The Bible too confirms that truth (Deut. 6:4). However, the concept of the name 'Allah' in Christianity is different from that of Islam in two areas:
i) The origin and meaning of the word
While Arab Christians view the name 'Allah' as a common name for the divine (i.e. 'God' in English, 'Theos' in Greek, 'Eloah' in Hebrew and 'Alaha' in Aramaic), Arab and Orthodox Muslims consider it as the very personal name of God allegedly revealed to Muhammad in the Quran. This view contradicts the Bible. According to Exodus 3:15, the eternal (personal) name of God is 'Yahweh'. It is never translated as 'Allah' in any Arabic Bible. The personal name of God is either kept as 'Yahweh' or translated into to 'Rrab' ('Adonai' in Hebrew, 'Kyrios' in Greek and 'LORD' in English). 'Yahweh' is never mentioned in the Quran nor does it appear in the Hadith. Therefore, Christians and Jews refused to accept him as a prophet based on Deuteronomy 18:20, where 'Yahweh' said, '...a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.' 'Allah' is not known as a common or personal name for the divine in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, the languages the Bible was first revealed in. Linguists and experts in Semetic languages are not sure if 'Allah' is a contraction of 'al-ilah' (the-god), a transliteration of 'alaha' (the-god) in Syriac or a derivation from the Babylonian 'Enlil'. There are about twenty different views as to the derivation of the name 'Allah.' The most probable is that the root is 'ilah', the past participle form, on the measure fi'al, from the verb 'ilaho' (to worship), to which this article was prefixed to indicate the supreme object of worship.' (Muheet-el.Muheet, dictionary) According to the opinion of some Muslim theologians it is infidelity (kufr) to hold that the word has any derivation whatever! But history establishes beyond the shadow of a doubt that even the pagan Arabs, before Muhammad's time, knew their chief god by the name of 'Allah' and in a sense, proclaimed his unity. (Ibn Hisham, earliest biographer of Muhammad, Sirat, Part II., p. 27) Centuries before Muhammad the Arabian Kaaba, or temple at Mecca was called 'Beit-Allah', the house of God, and not 'Beit-el-Alihet', the house of idols or gods.
ii) Allah and Yahweh God have different attributes
The description of Allah in the Quran is deistic. He is completely separate from his creation. The central Christian teaching of God's entrance into the world or of any sort of human fellowship with him is totally absent in Islam.
'The thunder hymneth His praise and (so do) the angels for awe of Him. He launcheth the thunderbolts and smiteth with them whom He will while they dispute concerning Allah, and He is mighty in wrath' (Surah 13, Al-Rad, verse 13)
This verse is a good introduction to the study of Allah's attributes; it expresses the effect Allah's attributes are intended to have and do have on His worshippers. Through fear of death and terror of Allah's mighty power the pious Muslim is all his life subject to bondage. In contrast Biblical Christianity teaches to respect God, to be in awe of him and to obey him joyfully out of thankfulness for what he has done in Jesus. The most common division of Allah's attributes are: Isam-ul-Jalaliyah and Isma-ul-Jemaliyah, terrible attributes and glorious attributes. The former are more numerous and more emphasised than the latter, not only in the Quran but in tradition and in daily life. The net total of the moral attributes is only found in two verses, which mention that Allah is Holy and Truthful in the Muslim sense of those words. God is only called once 'the Holy' in the Quran (Surah 59). Unlike in the Bible the term does not signify moral purity or perfection, 'just the complete absence of anything that would make him less than he is.' (Beidhawi) The Arabic word 'tahir' is only used in the Quran to define outward purity of the body. The Biblical idea of moral purity and utter separation from sin as a prerequisite to approaching God is unknown to the vocabulary in the Quran. Both concepts are of doubtful significance in Muslim theology while they are found throughout the Bible. What a contrast is found in it where God himself is at least 29 times described as holy. (Lev.11:44,45, 19:2, 21:8, Joshua 24:19, etc.) At least 8 times God is mentioned as being the truth. (Genesis 24:27, Exodus 34:6, etc.) While the God of the Bible is called 'just' at least 5 times (Deut. 32:4, Job 4:17, etc.) this attribute is completely missing in the account of the Quran. 'El Adl' - The Just. is only put in the list of his 99 names as found outside the Quran in traditions. The word 'Adl', Justice, occurs twelve times only in the Quran and is never used of the righteous acts of God and only once (Surah 5:115) of His words. In every other case it refers to human equity or faithfulness (Surah 4: 128). It seems Allah does not say about himself that he possesses justice as an attribute. Unlike the Biblical concept of God being inherently good (Psalm 34:8) Allah can therefore do whatever he pleases, be it good or bad. Another attribute of Allah is 'El-Hak,' the Truth. (Surah 22:62) Unlike in the Bible the Islamic concept of truth depends on the situation. According to tradition, a lie is justifiable in three cases: 'To reconcile those who quarrel, to satisfy one's wife and in case of war' (Sur. 16:106. El Hidayah, Vol. IV., p.81).
The Quran gives the reader in a measure a correct picture of God's power as displayed in nature but it has to say very little about his justice and holiness. Consequently the Islamic picture of the nature, origin, consequences and remedy of sin is almost non-existent. Sin, according to the Quran, (Surahs 4:30, 2:80, etc.) is a wilful violation of known law or a conscious act committed against known law; wherefore sins of ignorance are not numbered in the catalogue of crimes. Out of this understanding great and small sins were distinguished. Some Muslim commentators say there are seven great sins: idolatry, murder, false charge of adultery, wasting the substance of orphans, usury, desertion from Jihad, and disobedience to parents. Others say there are seventeen, still others catalogue seven hundred! Small sins are regarded with utter carelessness and no qualm of conscience. Lying, deception, anger, lust and such like are all smaller and lighter offences; all these will be 'forgiven easily' if only men keep clear from great sins. The most common word used in the Quran for sin is 'thanib'. Another common term used for sin is 'haram' (forbidden). It indicates that nothing is right or wrong by nature, but only becomes such if Allah says so. What he forbids is sin, even if he forbade what seems to the human conscience right and lawful. What Allah allows is not sin and cannot be sin at the time he allows it, though it may have been before or after. (E.g.: Muttah, 4:28, the marriage of convenience still practised by Shias today, direction of prayer, 2:119, 2:145, number of daily prayers, 30:17, 11:116, drinking of alcohol, 2:216, 5:92 etc.) Muslims are forbidden to worship anyone but Allah and yet the same Allah punished Satan for not being willing to worship Adam (Surah 2:28-31) He reveals truth to his prophets, but also abrogates it, changes the message, or makes them forget it. (2:105) This practice is utterly opposed to the idea of God's immutability and truth. Allah is not subject to an absolute moral standard. He can do what he pleases. He mocks and deceives (Surahs 8:29, 3:53, 27:51, 86:15, 16:4, 14:15, 9:51)
Muhammed-al-Burkawi says: '...if all the infidels became believers and all the wicked pious he would gain nothing. And if all believers became infidels it would not cause Allah loss.' It is therefore no wonder that the Quran has no word for 'conscience'. The lack of all distinction between the ceremonial and moral law comes out most of all in the traditional sayings of the prophet. These sayings, we must remember, have nearly equal authority with the Quran itself. Take two examples:
'Allah's Messenger (P.B.U.H) said, 'A dirham which a man knowingly receives in usury is more serious than thirty-six acts of fornication.' Ibn Abbas's version adds that he said, 'Hell is more fitting for him whose flesh is nourished by what is unlawful.' (Ahmad and Daraqutni transmitted it. Bayhaqi transmitted in Shu'ab al-Iman on the authority of Ibn Abbas.)
'Allah's Messenger (p.b.u.h.) said, 'Usury has seventy parts, the least important being that a man should marry his mother.' (Abdullah ibn Hanzalah; Abdullah ibn Abbas narrated it in Mishkat al-Masabih, Hadith number 2825)
Sin, according to Islam, is after all a matter of minor importance. It is the repetition of the creed that counts, and not the reformation of character. The repetition of the 'Kalima' makes one a true believer, so much so that if one says it accidentally or by compulsion, it would make them a Muslim. It seems that Allah does not appear bound by any standard of justice.
Allah is also described as 'El Awwal', the first, 'El-Akhir', the last, 'El-Dhabir', the substance and 'El-Batin', the essence. These four titles are known as the mother of the attributes, being regarded as fundamental and all-comprehensive. All four occur together in Surah 57:3 which makes it a great favourite among the Sufis, the mystics of Islam. With it they justify their pantheistic thoughts that God is the inside and the outside of everything. He is the phenomena (Dhahir) and the power behind the phenomena (Batin). In that the Sufis agree completely with the Hindu followers of the Vedanta school. There is only one verse, Surah 24:35, in which Allah is described as seemingly dependent on or indebted to something outside of himself. No Muslim really understands the meaning of it.
Unlike the Quran in the Bible we are asked to look at God's Oneness in terms of uniqueness rather then simply as a numerical unity. The Biblical understanding of God's Oneness can also be defined as Multiplicity within Unity, (Isaiah 46:16, 1 Timothy 3:16) a very common phenomena in creation too. (Time = past, present, future, universe = space, matter, time, nature = incredible diversity yet harmonious unity). Man has one mind, which is capable of thinking thoughts and expressing them in words. Mind, thoughts and words are one yet not exactly the same. No one can say that God has no Mind that expresses itself in Thoughts and Words. God in Mind and Thoughts and Words is one God and He never claimed that there would be two other gods beside Him or that He, the numerically One God, would reveal Himself in three parts or modes! The Unity of God in Christianity is truly representative of the Mind of God (or God the Father), His Thoughts, (or God the Holy Spirit) and His Word (God the Son). All are of the same divine essence, coequally and coeternally God, yet they have different functions.
As Christians grew in numbers the need for protection against false teachings arose. Therefore, Tertullian, a leader of the early church, summarised the biblical teaching on the nature of God by introducing the word 'Trinity' at the end of the 2nd century after the birth of Christ (AD). It is derived from the Latin 'trinitas,' being a combination of the words 'tri' for 'three' and 'unitas' for 'unity.' The Church adopted the doctrine of the Trinity at the council of Nizea in 325 and in its final form at the council of Constantinople in 381. (See also, 'The Illustrated Bible Dictionary' by F.F. Bruce, IVP Leicester, 1962, 'Trinity') The Christians definition of Trinity is based on the Bible and expressed in the Athenasian Creed as: 'We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding (mixing up) the Persons; nor dividing the Substance (Essence)' The word 'Person' is here used in the sense of 'self with a particular function.' ('The Illustrated Bible Dictionary' by F.F. Bruce, IVP Leicester, 1962, see 'person') It has to be stated emphatically that Christians do not worship three gods but one God because each member of the Godhead, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, in some sense indwells the other, without diminishing the full personhood of each. The essential unity of the Godhead, then, is found both in their inmost equality of divine characteristics and also in the intensely personal unity that comes from mutual indwelling. Thus when Jesus died at the cross, God did not cease to exist but was separated from himself regarding the relationship within the Trinity not regarding his essence. To think that God gave up a perfect relationship for a time shows how great his love towards us is!
The main stream of Christianity throughout the world believes in one God, the Holy Trinity. It is indeed a mystery, as God Himself is. Many attributes of Him are accepted, yet are simply not fully comprehensible to the human mind. We all accept that God has no beginning, yet do we understand this? 'Impossible!' the sceptic cries out, yet true. Then why should it be such a problem if there is some aspect of God's essential nature (his Trinitarian existence) which is difficult for us to grasp? C.S. Lewis, professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University said: 'If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.' ('Mere Christianity', Macmillan Company, New York, 1943, page 145)
The Trinity alone answers difficult questions about the nature of God:
B. Belief in Angels of Allah
Muslims believe in angels as messengers of Allah. The Islamic concept differs little from the Christian one.
C. Belief in Books of Allah
Muslims and Christians believe that God revealed His will to mankind by sending prophets and messengers with revelations. Muslims believe that they are found in the Tawrat (Torah) of Moses, the Zabur (Psalms) of David, the Injil (Gospel) of Jesus and the Quran of Muhammad. The understanding of revelation is, however, fundamentally different. Unlike Christians, most Muslims make a distinction between the following three progressively inferior kinds of revelation:
1) The Word of God (passages where he speaks directly as found in the Quran). 2) The words of a Prophet of God (e.g. passages where Muhammad speaks. They are found in the traditions of Islam, known as Hadith). 3) The words of a historian (passages where things are said about the prophet by others as found in books like the Tasfir and the Tahriq). This view is inconsistent also with Muslim sources. Here are only a few examples: In Surah 3, Al Imaran, verse 40, the prophet Zakariya questions how he can have a son. In Surah 19, Maryam, verse 64 an angel speaks to Muhammad about Allah. In Surah 19, Maryam, verses 22-23 we find a historical narrative identical in form to that in the Bible (Mark 11:13). In the Hadith Qudsi, the divine sayings, Sahih Muslim, vol.4, Allah speaks directly.
Muslims hold that the Quran is Allah's ultimate revelation to mankind because it came down directly (nazil), word for word, to Muhammad via the angel Iibril. In contrast Christians believe that God inspired prophets to reveal information about Himself. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we read that all Scripture is inspired. The Greek word for 'inspiration' is theopneustos, which means 'God-breathed'; indicating that what was written had its origin in God Himself. In 2 Peter 1:21 we read that the writers were moved by God. Thus, he used each individual, including their personality and background to accomplish a divinely authoritative work. Yet, his ultimate revelation came to us when he entered humanity in Jesus. (Hebrews 1,10:5) Christ said in John 14:9, 'He that has seen me has seen the Father.'
The proof for the authority of God's revelation which the Bible emphatically demands are completely absent in the Quran. Its prophet did not speak in the Name of God, Yahweh (Exodus 3:1-6,13-15; Psalms 72:17-19; and Revelation 1:8,17); Its message does not conform to revelation which has gone before (Deuteronomy 4:1-2; Isaiah 8:20; Matthew 5:17-18; 24:35; and Revelation 22:18-20) Muhammad did not make predictions which are verifiable (Deuteronomy 18:21-22; Isaiah 43:9; and John 13:18-21). Signs and wonders did not accompany his revelation in order to give him authority as having come from God. Consequently, Muslims believe that all books, except the Quran, have been corrupted and changed wherever they disagree with it. Christians believe that there are some major problems with this Islamic view:
i) The Quran was written about 600 years after the Gospels. Why should we believe a witness that is so far away from when the actual events happened?
ii) The Quran denies the historical fact of Jesus' death and resurrection and many other things that had been foretold in the Old Testament (Torah, Psalms). Did God contradict Himself and history in what is alleged to be His last revelation, the Quran?
iii) The Quran states that the death of Jesus on the cross was only 'made to appear to them'. (Surah 4, Al Nisa, 157-159) Such a view would turn the Holy and Righteous God into the greatest deceiver of all! From a Christian point of view it is totally unacceptable to think that He would be responsible for misleading 1.3 billion people who call themselves Christians today! Is a God who allegedly deceives his people worthy to be worshipped?
iv) Today's translations of the Jewish Scriptures, known as the Old Testament, are based on the Masoretic text the standard edition of the Hebrew Old Testament. It was prepared by Jewish scholars, called Masoretes, mainly from 500 to the 950 AD (See, 'The World Book Encyclopaedia', Volume 2, 1982, USA, page 222b) Furthermore the translators compared it with a number of other sources still in existence today. The most important of which is the Dead Sea Scrolls, written in Hebrew at about 100 BC. They were discovered in the late 1940's and early 1950's in Palestine. Among the fragments are complete copies or parts of every Old Testament book except Esther, and the variations in the text after a thousand years of copying are minimal. The manuscript evidence for the Christian Scriptures, known as the New Testament (NT), is equally strong. Approximately 5500 partial or complete copies of it are still in existence. That is by far the most evidence we have of any ancient work. Further witnesses include: -About 18000 copies of early NT translations into different languages. -About 86000 citations of different parts of the NT in the writings of early Church Fathers within 250 years of its composition. The oldest known copies of almost half of the New Testament that are still in existence, are dated about 200 AD, that is 130-174 years after they were originally written. It is important to realise that all the main Christian doctrines are contained in them! The oldest copy of the complete New Testament (Gospel) which still exists today is dated around 350 AD, that is 280-324 years after it was first written down. This time span is minimal when compared to most ancient works. No wonder that Sir Frederic Kenyon, former director and principal librarian of the British Museum, a leading expert on ancient manuscripts, wrote: '...the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.' (Cited in 'Answers to Tough Questions', by J. Mc Dowell and Don Stewart, 1980, USA page 6)
v) Muslim belief is that the Bible, accepted as being God's word, is not reliable any more. The Quran contradicts this when it says in Surah 10, Yunus, verses 64-65:
'Those who believe and (constantly) guard against evil; -- For them are Glad Tidings, in the life of the Present and in the Hereafter: No change can there be in the Words of Allah. This is indeed the supreme Felicity.' (also Surah 2, Al-Baqarah, verse 85; 7, Al Araf, verses 159; 10,16).
D. Belief in Prophets of Allah
Islam and Christianity agree that God sent prophets to reveal his will since human beings are sinful and need His guidance. In opposite to Christians, Muslims are told that these prophets did not commit any (big) sins. However, even the Quran says that, Adam disobeyed God knowingly (Surah 20:119), Moses killed an Egyptian (Surah 28:16), Muhammad, Noah and Jonah asked for forgiveness of their sins (Surah 47:19, 48:1-2, 11:47, 21:87, 71:29) Contrary to them Jesus is called sinless, even in the Quran (19:19)! Since no ordinary human being is without sin Jesus must be God in the flesh.
E. Belief in the Day of Judgement
Christianity and Islam alike teach that there will be a day of judgement. Muslims believe that most of them and all of the non-Muslims will be sent to Hell (Surahs 18:51, 19:89, 20:76). Whereas the latter will be there forever (Surah 43:74-78), the former will be punished for their evil deeds (Surah 23, Al Muminun, verse 103) but eventually they will be able to go to heaven. Islam teaches that the more good deeds one does, the less time one has to spend in hell. However, nobody knows ultimately what Allah looks at as being a good deed. The basic duties of Muslims are:
i) The creed ('I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah') ii) Prayer (Five set times a day in Arabic) iii) Almsgiving (1/40 of income) iv) Ramadan (Fasting for 30 days from sunrise to sunset) v) Pilgrimage to Mekka (once in a lifetime if one can afford it)
It is remarkable that nearly all the references to hell and punishment are in the Medinah Surahs, and therefore belong to the latter period of the prophet's life. The allusions to hell in Mecca Surahs are very brief and are in every case directed against unbelievers in the prophet' mission and not against sin. (Hughes' Dictionary of Islam p.171)
The Bible does not teach salvation by works but by grace through faith:
'For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.' (Titus 3:5)
In opposite to Islam where sin is regarded only as a mistake, a moral weakness, the Bible teaches that sin is rebellion against the perfect God. It can not be paid for with good deeds alone. Complete perfection is an absolute requirement to spend eternity with a completely perfect God. Because of our sinfulness only God himself can satisfy the demands of His absolute justice and holiness. These attributes of His character ask for the punishment of sin. On the other hand, God's love demands forgiveness for the sinner. That is why Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the punishment for our sins on our behalf. God does not cast away all those who believe in Jesus in this way by looking at them as being hidden in Christ whose sacrifice he has accepted.
The driving motivation in Islam is the fear of Allah's judgement and subsequently the obedience of his countless laws. Driving motivation in Christianity is the love of God and subsequently the keeping of the two greatest commandments, 'To love God and to love others.' Islam (lit. 'submission, obedience') is a complete way of life. So is Christianity, provided it is being practised!
F. Belief in Supremacy of Divine will
This very important belief speaks about the absolute decree of good and evil. Orthodox Muslims believe that whatever has, or shall come to pass in this world, proceeds entirely from the Divine Will, and has been irrevocably fixed and recorded on a preserved tablet by the pen of fate. (Surah 54:49, 3:139, 87:2, 8:17, 9:51, 13:30)
'This is an admonition: Whosoever will, let him take a (straight) Path to his Lord. But ye will not, except as Allah wills; for Allah is full of Knowledge and Wisdom. He will admit to His Mercy whom He will; but the wrong-doers, --for them has He prepared a grievous Penalty.' (Surah 76, Al- Dahr, verses 30-32)
Christians believe that all this is total determinism. Man is judged and condemned for what he cannot help doing. This is total injustice! By forgiving whom He wants God would contradict his attribute of justice at the cost of mercy. Moderate Muslims would, in contradiction of all the above verses, go along with the Christian view of predestination. There it is not something arbitrarily decreed or pre-ordered, but resulting from God's foreknowledge. (Romans 8:29)
G. Belief in Life after Death
Muslims and Christians believe in eternal heaven and hell. However, contrary to the Bible the Quran only reveals Allah's will and very little about his character. He is therefore not interested in a personal relationship and is consequently absent from the Quranic heaven in which there are only sensual delights to be found. The meaning of life in Islam is to obey God (Surah 51:56). In Christianity it is to know Him. (John 17:3) Such a purpose of life is much more appealing, especially in the light of the supreme importance of relationships.
Besides having numerous things in common, Islam differs from Christianity in all but one of the above mentioned major beliefs. The logical argumentation used in evaluating the differences upholds the Biblical concept quite clearly. Now the reader is in a good position to make a choice. The author prays it will echo the one of Joshua who proclaimed:
'So now, go in fear of the Lord, (lit. Yahweh) and be his servants with true hearts: put away the gods worshipped by your fathers across the River and in Egypt, and be servants of the Lord. And if it seems evil to you to be the servants of the Lord, make the decision this day whose servants you will be: of the gods whose servants your fathers were across the River, or of the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living: but I and my house will be the servants of the Lord.' (Joshua 24:14-15)
'The Moslem Doctrine of God', S. Zwemer, American Tract Society, USA, 1905
'Islamic Beliefs and Teachings', G. Sarwar, Muslim Educ. Trust, London 1984
Copyright © 2001, by Rev. Andrew Abraham. This publication may be reproduced in part or in full in any form or by any means under the condition that credit is given to the author and that he is notified by e-mail: AAbraham@biblicalchristianity.freeserve.co.uk