Hard Questions

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Archive for May 2008

Christian – Muslims Q & A session

with 51 comments

Dear Bill & Don,

You have asked so many good questions in your latest comments, I decided to collate my answers together in a questions and answers session and give them a separate post, taking the form of a Questions and Answers session.

Background:

Islam emphasizes the reality and importance of the hereafter, The Day of resurrection, where every human will be physically resurrected to face judgement. It is as real as this world we live in it. The resurrection is a corporal and not spiritual one.

The hereafter is the everlasting life. It is what really matters. Our life in this world is insignificant compared to the hereafter. Your ultimate fate is either everlasting paradise or everlasting torment in Hell.

Islam teaches that life on earth is nothing but a very short, temporary existence where people are tried and tested from adolescence till death.

Muslims do not ignore the Grace and Forgiveness of God to the believer, The importance of repentance. As I have said in a previous comment, a Muslim should continually repent and ask God for forgiveness of sins.

Below I will provide my answers to your questions. Where applicable, I will provide the verses from Quran and Hadith that I basing my answers on.

God says in the Quran:

[39:41] Lo! We have revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture for mankind with truth. Then whosoever goes right it is for his soul, and whosoever strays, strays only to its hurt. And thou art not a warder over them.

Q1: What do you mean by Association of partners to God? Do you mean to say that idolatry considered unforgivable (ie, Catholics and Buddists worshiping statues)?

Ascribing divinity to entities other than God is association. Worshiping or invoking deities other than God also falls under the same category, similarly, The Christian Trinitarian theology which says Jesus is also god, The worship of Mary, The Saints, relics, Shrines, Statues, The cross, all these involve the belief that these people/ things can help us in a divine way and are thus idolatry.
God has created us in a perfect way, he feeds and cloth us, protect us, and allowed us to have the intelligence to conquer and utilise the universe. Giving credit to others for all these privileges is unforgivable: He said in the Quran:

[Quran 4:116] Lo! Allah pardons not that partners should be ascribed unto Him. He pardons all save that to whom He will. Whoso ascribes partners unto Allah has wandered far astray.

Q2: Are you saying that no amount of good deeds can make-up for this weighty sin?

That is right. The only thing that negate this sin is to confess before your death that there is no god save Him, for God says in the Quran:

[Quran 3:91] Lo! those who disbelieve, and die in disbelief, the (whole) earth full of gold would not be accepted from such an one if it were offered as a ransom . Theirs will be a painful doom and they will have no helpers.

Q3: Does this mean that certain sins carry different weight?

Yes, different sins carry different weight.

God says in the Quran:

[53:31] And unto Allah belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, that He may reward those who do evil with that which they have done, and reward those who do good with goodness.
[53:32] Those who avoid enormities of sin and abominations, save the unwilled offences – (for them) lo! thy Lord is of vast mercy. He is Best Aware of you (from the time) when He created you from the earth, and when ye were hidden in the bellies of your mothers. Therefor ascribe not purity unto yourselves. He is Best Aware of him who wardeth off (evil).

Q4: Do you need to balance the weight of certain sins vs the weight of certain good deeds?

Generally speaking, there are major sins that could incur severe punishment. These include murder, adultery, false testimony, mistreating parents amongst others. There are also righteous deeds that have higher rewards. However, God alone can determine the weight of both sins and good deeds. There are factors that are important in deciding the weight of a certain deed, and these factors such as sincerity, intentions, are only known to Him. It is His judgement that matters.

Take the example, someone who performs prayers with an absent mind, hoping to finish it as soon as possible and get on with other things. This person can not expect the same reward as someone who reflect in his presence before God, and utter his words with sincerity and strong belief. Someone who helps an old lady cross the road so that other people might see and praise him is not like one doing the same deed solely for the purpose of obeying God command of showing compassion.

[57:29] That the People of the Scripture may know that they control naught of the bounty of Allah, but that the bounty is in Allah’s hand to give to whom He will. And Allah is of Infinite Bounty.

Q5: Who judges us and what happens to us after we are judged?

God alone judges us. He can command any of his creation to execute his judgment, but the judgement itself is His preserve.

[28:88] And call not, besides Allah, on another god. There is no god but He. Everything (that exists) will perish except His own Face. To Him belongs the judgement, and to Him will ye (all) be brought back.

Q6: Do people who have good deeds that greatly outweigh their sins receive a greater reward than those who barely squeak by?

In general yes, but as I said above, things like sincerity and intentions are taken into account. It is not just adding the numbers of sins/ good deeds.

Q7: How does doing a good deed pay the price for disobedience?

Q8. the sin of disobedience to God’s commandments remains (Thou Shalt Not Steal). How does praying several times a day, donating money to charity, volunteering for whatever make up for the harm caused infidelity or murder?

Believers must ask God for forgiveness and repent and show remorse. If you are sincere in your repentance, you will no doubt strive to do what God commands, and try to avoid what He dislikes.

You can not pay God to forgive you, but you can humbly ask for forgiveness and show remorse. God is Most Forgiving, Most Compassionate towards believers. There is NO guarantee and you can not get forgiveness from anyone other than God, The Merciful.

God says:

[3:134] Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind;- for Allah loves those who do good; [3:135] And those who, having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring Allah to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins,- and who can forgive sins except Allah?- and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done.

Q9: After we are judged, do we return to the presence of God?

The believers who enters Paradise may dwell in God’s presence. Idolaters can not:

[Quran 3:77] Lo! those who purchase a small gain at the cost of Allah’s covenant and their oaths, they have no portion in the Hereafter. Allah will neither speak to them nor look upon them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He make them grow. Theirs will be a painful doom.

As for the believer in the Last Day, God says:

[75:22] That day will faces be resplendent,
[75:23] Looking toward their Lord;

Q10: God is perfect and no imperfect being can dwell in His presence.

It is for God alone to decide who dwells in His presence. He commanded that disbelievers and idolaters will not dwell in His presence. Believers whose sins have been Forgiven can dwell in His presence, by His permission, and subject to His will.

Q11: Does He issue us forgiveness based on our good deeds and confession of Him while on earth?

God issues forgiveness, subject to a sincere confession of true faith, sincerity, good and sincere deed bases on His knowledge of us and His will.

Q12: why were Adam and Eve cast out of the Garden of Eden and caused to die? As far as we know, they committed only one sin:

The punishment that Adam incurred was limited. He had to endure life on earth for a short time until his death. He repented and God accepted him back. In a rather short time he will be back in Paradise, and for ever.

Adam is prophet because he received revelation from God. He saw paradise and the angles. Death is the destiny of all things. Animals die and they do not sin as they are not responsible in the way humans are, nevertheless, God decreed that they should die.

God says in the Quran:

[Quran 2:37] Then Adam received from his Lord words (of revelation), and He relented toward him. Lo! He is the relenting, the Merciful.

[28:88] And call not, besides Allah, on another god. There is no god but He. Everything (that exists) will perish except His own Face. To Him belongs the Command, and to Him will ye (all) be brought back.

Q13: What do Muslims see as the purpose of Mortality?

Mortality was decreed by God on all things . The purpose of life and death is that people are tried and tested, for God gave us intelligence and a free will to choose between good or evil and between true faith and disbelief. Death signals the end exam time. God says:

[67:1] Blessed is He in Whose hand is the Sovereignty, and, He is Able to do all things.
[67:2] Who hath created life and death that He may try you which of you is best in conduct; and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving,

Q14: Do Muslims view God as a being who loves us and is the father of our spirits?

God loves those who believe in Him. He tolerates the disbelievers and blasphemers, and gives them the opportunity to repent until their time is up. He is the Creators of our flesh , bones and spirits and everything else.

Q15: what is our relationship to him and what is our relationship to each other?

We are God’s servants and He is our Lord. To each other we are bothers. There are various levels of brotherhood between humans: We can be brothers in humanity, Brothers in faith, Brothers in kinship etc.

Q16: Are you denying that when we sin against God our sins are not deserving of an infinite penalty?

It is not for me , you or anyone else do decide what a certain sin deserve in the way of penalty. This is God’s judgment and I can only say a certain sin is deserving of a particular penalty based on what God says. I can only say that God decreed that a disbeliever who dies whilst denying God or associating partners will not be forgiven. Anything else is subject to God’s will and mercy. God said:

[39:53] Say: O My slaves who have been prodigal to their own hurt! Despair not of the mercy of Allah, Who forgiveth all sins. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.
[39:54] Turn unto your Lord repentant, and surrender unto Him, before there come unto you the doom, when ye cannot be helped.
[39:55] And follow the better (guidance) of that which is revealed unto you from your Lord, before the doom cometh on you suddenly when ye know not,
[39:56] Lest any soul should say: Alas, my grief that I was unmindful of Allah, and I was indeed among the scoffers!
[39:57] Or should say: If Allah had but guided me I should have been among the dutiful!
[39:58] Or should say, when it seeth the doom: Oh, that I had but a second chance that I might be among the righteous!
[39:59] (But now the answer will be): Nay, for My revelations came unto thee, but thou didst deny them and wast scornful and wast among the disbelievers.

Q 17: How do you propose that we will compensate God for sinning against Him?

See the verses from the Quran just above this question for answer

Q18: The only difference is what they define good deeds to be.

Nope. The definitions of good and bad deeds are more common between Muslims and Christians than you might think.:

On good deeds, summed them up saying:

[16:90] Lo! Allah enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbiddeth lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorteth you in order that ye may take heed.

And on evil deeds He said:

[6:150] Say: Come, bring your witnesses who can bear witness that Allah forbade (all) this. And if they bear witness, do not thou bear witness with them. Follow thou not the whims of those who deny Our revelations, those who believe not in the Hereafter and deem (others) equal with their Lord.
[6:151] Say: Come, I will recite unto you that which your Lord hath made a sacred duty for you: That ye ascribe no thing as partner unto Him and that ye do good to parents, and that ye slay not your children because of penury – We provide for you and for them – and that ye draw not nigh to lewd things whether open or concealed. And that ye slay not the life which Allah hath made sacred, save in the course of justice. This He hath command you, in order that ye may discern.
[6:152] And approach not the wealth of the orphan save with that which is better, till he reach maturity. Give full measure and full weight, in justice. We task not any soul beyond its scope. And if ye give your word, do justice thereunto, even though it be (against) a kinsman; and fulfil the covenant of Allah. This He commandeth you that haply ye may remember.
[Pickthal 6:153] And (He commandeth you, saying): This is My straight path, so follow it. Follow not other ways, lest ye be parted from His way. This hath He ordained for you, that ye may ward off (evil).

Q19: The Bible says even our righteous acts are like filthy menstrual rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6) if we are doing them to earn God’s favour.

The Quran says righteous deeds are for the benefit of the person who does them. They do not benefit God, but He loves those who strive to be righteous

Q20: what happens to those who never had the opportunity to learn of the one true god before they left this earth? Are they also out of luck?

This is a question where there is no agreement between Muslims scholars. I personally am inclined towards the opinion which says that, All nations have actually received a revelation at some point in their history, and that All humans are capable of finding true faith of monotheism and discover the falsehood of idolatry practices if they use their brains to think about the creation, its organisation and splendour. God says in the Quran:

[2:164] Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of night and day, and the ships which run upon the sea with that which is of use to men, and the water which Allah sendeth down from the sky, thereby reviving the earth after its death, and dispersing all kinds of beasts therein, and (in) the ordinance of the winds, and the clouds obedient between heaven and earth: are signs (of Allah’s Sovereignty) for people who have sense.

and He says:

[35:24] Lo! We have sent thee with the Truth, a bearer of glad tidings and a warner; and there is not a nation but a warner hath passed among them.

Q21: If you commit a sin that harms someone else, how can you atone for that sin?

Islam puts a great emphasis on personal responsibilty. Every human is accountable for his own actions. You can not get someone else to pay the price of your misdeeds. God says in the Quran:

[35:18] And no burdened soul can bear another’s burden, and if one heavy laden crieth for (help with) his load, naught of it will be lifted even though he (unto whom he crieth) be of kin. Thou warnest only those who fear their Lord in secret, and have established worship. He who groweth (in goodness), groweth only for himself, (he cannot by his merit redeem others). Unto Allah is the journeying.

Every human has a personal account. In this account, righteous deeds are rewarded with credits whilst sins are debited. obviously, certain deeds have higher rewards than others and likewise for sins.

If you commit a crime against another person, you are also required to compensate that person, either in this world or in the hereafter. So, in the case you mentioned, of a criminal harming someone you love, if that criminal is caught and the Law applied to him, that is his punishment. If the victim forgives him, she gets credits for that, if his crime goes undetected, he will face his victim in the hereafter and pay for his crime from his personal account. If he does not have enough credits to pay, then he takes debits from the victim’s account. There is an accurate Balance, and nothing is unaccounted for. There is Absolute Justice.

Abû Hurayrah relates in Sahîh Muslim:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked us: “Do you know who is bankrupt?”

We replied: “The one among us who is bankrupt is someone who has neither gold nor silver nor any provision.”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) then said: “Among my people, the one who is bankrupt is the one who – after praying, fasting, and paying charity – arrives on the Day of Judgment having cursed one person and slandered another, assaulted another, and misappropriated the wealth of someone else. Then those people will be given of his good deeds, and if his good deeds run out before redress is made, then some of their sins will be taken from them and put upon him. Then he will be cast into Hell.”

This why we need to do righteous deeds. It is the only currency acceptable in the hereafter, it constitutes your most important ‘pension fund’.

N.B: Q21 is taken from my post: Islam Views on Salvation, see link below

Related Posts:

Written by Rasheed Gadir

May 23, 2008 at 10:11 pm

Islam Views on Salvation: A Fine Balance

with 7 comments

Dear Bill,

You are wrong in assuming that righteous deeds are but bribes we offer to our Creator. We understand that doing good deeds does NOT benefit God, nor do our sins harm Him. This is a fundamental part of any Muslim’s creed and is clearly stated in the Quran:

Quran 3:176] And let not those grieve you who fall into unbelief hastily; surely they can do no harm to Allah at all; Allah intends that He should not give them any portion in the hereafter, and they shall have a grievous chastisement,

What then, is the purpose of doing righteous deeds ? you may ask, well, it is the sense of personal responsibility for one’s deeds that derives a man to try.
Every human has a personal account. In this account, righteous deeds are rewarded with credits whilst sins are debited. obviously, certain deeds have higher rewards than others and likewise for sins.

If you commit a crime against another person, you are also required to compensate that person, either in this world or in the hereafter. So, in the case you mentioned, of a criminal harming someone you love, if that criminal is caught and the Law applied to him, that is his punishment. If the victim forgives him, she gets credits for that, if his crime goes undetected, he will face his victim in the hereafter and pay for his crime from his personal account. If he does not have enough credits to pay, then he takes debits from the victim’s account. There is an accurate Balance, and nothing is unaccounted for. There is Absolute Justice.

This why we need to do righteous deeds. It is the only currency acceptable in the hereafter, it constitutes your most important ‘pension fund’.

Certain sins can never be redeemed: Idolatry and Association of partners to God. If you leave this world whilst not recognizing the One True, Eternal God, then you are beyond saving. You had your chance but did not take it.

God says in the the Quran:

Surah (chapter) 21:

And We set a just balance for the Day of Resurrection so that no soul is wronged in aught. Though it be of the weight of a grain of mustard seed, We bring it. And We suffice for reckoners. [21:47]

Surah 11:

Establish worship at the two ends of the day and in some watches of the night. Lo! good deeds annul ill-deeds. This is reminder for the mindful [11:114] .

and in Surah 17:

[17:13] And We have made every man’s actions to cling to his neck, and We will bring forth to him on the resurrection day a book which he will find wide open: [17:14] Read your book; your own self is sufficient as a reckoner against you this day.

and Surah 42:

And the recompense of evil is punishment like it, but whoever forgives and amends, he shall have his reward from Allah; surely He does not love the unjust [42:40]. And whoever defends himself after his being oppressed, these it is against whom there is no way (to blame) [42:41]. The way (to blame) is only against those who oppress mankind and transgress on earth unjustly; these shall have a painful punishment [42:42].
And whoever is patient and forgiving, verily, is (of) the steadfast heart of things [42:42].

Where then, are the Grace, Mercy and Compassion of God ?

God is Merciful to the believers in the hereafter. He is Merciful and Generous to all in this life.

God says in the Quran:
Surah 7:

(O mankind!) Call upon your Lord humbly and in secret. Lo! He loves not aggressors [ 7:55]. Work not mischief on earth after the fair ordering (thereof). and call on Him in fear and hope. Lo! the mercy of Allah is near unto the good [7:56].

The believer should tread humbly on earth, try to save for your hereafter and please your Lord, for He rewards you with credits, that you will need. Do not transgress on other people, for you will, no doubt, pay them back.

The rules for Salvation in Islam are:

  • Avoid unforgivable sins by adopting the true faith, and Invoke God to help you,
  • Do your best to please God, and accumulate credits and to avoid debits,
  • Always remember that your ultimate fate is in the hands of God.
  • This is what Islam is all about: submit yourself to God.

Related Articles:

Written by Rasheed Gadir

May 20, 2008 at 7:56 pm

My difficulties with the trinity concept

with 35 comments

Dear Don,

I have been thinking on how best to carry this conversation forward. Bill was right about the futility of arguing over the validity and authority of different Scriptures. I accept that we do not regard each other’s scripture’ as wholly authoritative. So we have to find a way to discuss Scriptures and doctrine, whilst taking into account our disagreements.

I always try not to judge the authenticity and reliability of Bible passages on the basis of my own convictions, however, I think it is reasonable to draw on the opinion of learned, non-Muslim, prominent Biblical scholars. So, If I say a passage is probably not authentic, this would not be based on my perspective as a Muslim, but rather, on the judgement of some prominent Biblical scholars.

Let me start by defining some areas where I think there are fundamental differences, and allow each other to explain, robustly, why we think one position is more valid than the other.

The first such point is our knowledge about GOD. Leaving aside arguments about His name, Muslims understand GOD to be The One, Eternal, Living, indivisible Creator of everything. We do not accept the idea of a triune Godhead, whether it being as defined by the Nicaean Creed or your definition of distinct Persons in the Trinity.

The concept of the trinity, is an interpretation, and was developed/articulated -depending on you theological stance- a long time after Christ ministry. One of the problems I am finding with the concept, is that I think it raises so many questions and possibilities, that can not be answed except by applying a certain amount of “guesswork“.

The concept of The Father and The Son, somehow imply a chronological order, for its inconceivable for a father not to have existed Before his a son. If this is the case, then they can not be equal. If, as you say, the Son is subordinate to the Father, than that will will also negate his status as god, for a god is Omnipotent and can not be a subordinate. Frankly, I find the believe in a hierarchy of distinct persons that form a Godhead, closer to the beliefs of polytheists than what we know of the faith of Abraham and the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

To illustrate my point about the need of “guesswork” to explain the Trinity, I list of some of various understandings of the Trinity. All these thoughts were advocated by learned Christians in the first 7 centuries AD:

from : Synopsis of Ancient Heretics

  • Monarchianism were people who overly stressed the unity of God in opposition to the teaching that the One God had three distinct personalities.
  • Paul of Samosata. He taught Christ was not divine, but a good man, who achieved divinity at his baptism along with saviorhood.
  • Sabellianism came to us from a man named Sabellius. He taught what is called Modal Monarchianism. To him the One God manifested Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit, but were in reality just One God. God assumed various modes but was not really three-in-one
  • Arianism Arius denied the full deity of the preexistent Son of God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. He held that the Son, while divine and like God (“of like substance”), was created by God as the agent through whom he created the universe
  • Nestorianism A 5th-century Christological heresy, Nestorianism takes its name from Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople (428-31), who argued against the Alexandrian use of the title Theotokos, meaning “God bearer,” or “Mother of God,” for the Virgin Mary. Nestorius believed Mary was the mother of Christ only in his humanity. Nestorius taught that Christ had two natures adivine and human nature. Nestorius was condemned by the Council of Ephesus (431; see EPHESUS, COUNCIL OF), which was convened specifically to settle the dispute.
  • Monothelitism was a 7th-century Byzantine doctrine that accepted the teaching of two natures in JESUS CHRIST, as defined (451) at the Council of CHALCEDON, but declared that he had only one will or mode of activity (energeia). The Monothelitic formula was adopted (624) by Byzantine Emperor HERACLIUS as a compromise that might be acceptable to the Monophysites (see MONOPHYSITISM) of Egypt and Syria
  • Adoptionism, was a theological doctrine propounded in the 8th century by a Spanish bishop, Elipandus of Toledo. Concerned to distinguish between the divine and human natures of Christ, Elipandus held that in his divinity Christ was the son of God by nature

This state of affairs is eloquently described in the Quran, where Allah says in Chapter 19 “Mary”:

[19:34] Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt.
[19:35] It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is.
[19:36] And lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So serve Him. That is the right path.
[19:37] The sects among them differ: but woe unto the disbelievers from the meeting of an awful Day.

I acknowledge the fact that religious factions exist within Islam and Judaism too, but in both of these religions, there is near unanimity on their understanding of GOD, I do not know of any noticeable Muslim sect that disagreed on their understanding of Unity of God or his attributes. The major differences were between those who understood God’s attributes as literal and those who insisted they are figurative. Other disputes arose between sects who believed The Quran was created by God (Mu’tazilah) and others who insisted it was His Words.

Written by Rasheed Gadir

May 15, 2008 at 9:43 pm

Testimony of a Victim of Intolerance: Macarius, The Patriarch of Antioch

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Anyone who is interested in the history of religious tolerance/ persecution and the history of the spread of Islam should read the excellent book published in 1913 : “The Preaching of Islam“, by Sir T W Arnold, Professor of Arabic at University College London.

having studied thousands of books, letters, papers etc, in 10 different languages, Prof. Arnold produced a mass of evidence that discredited the myth that Islam was spread by the sword. He argued that Muslims, in general, have been very tolerant towards people of other faith. The author did not shy away from citing the few occasions where some Muslims have in fact persecuted their subjects .

In support of this thesis, I will reproduce several testimonies, written mostly by prominent  Christians, at different stages of history starting by an example from the not too distant past:

Writing in the 17th. century, at the height of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, Macarius, the Patriarch of Antioch wrote a moving piece, describing the suffering of Russians of the Orthodox Eastern Church. He was cursing the infidel oppressors, and invoking God to help those who delivered the Orthodox Christians in the East from the tyranny that befell their brethren. But the oppressors he referred to where not the Muslims or their agents. They were in fact Christians: Catholic Poles. He wrote:

We all wept much over the thousands of martyrs who were killed by those impious wretches, the enemies of faith, in these forty or fifty years. The number probably amounted to seventy or eighty thousands souls. O you infidels! O you monsters of impurity ! O you hearts of stone ! What had the nuns and women done ? What the girls and boys and infant children, that you should murder them ? … and why do I pronounce them accursed ? … Because they have shown themselves more debased and wicked than the corrupt worshippers of idols, by their cruel treatment of Christians, thinking to abolish the very name of Orthodox. God perpetuate the empire of the Turks for ever and ever ! For thy take their impost and enter into no account of religion, be their subjects Christians or Nazarenes, Jews or Samaritans: whereas these accursed Poles were not content with taxes and tithes from the brethren of Christ, though willing to serve them; but they subjected them to the authority of the enemies of Christ, the tyrannical Jews, who did not permit them to build churches, nor leave them any priests that knew the mysteries of their religion.

Source: The Preaching of Islam by Professor T W Arnold, University College London- published 1913.

The Patriarch clearly acknowledged the tolerance of the Muslim Ottomans, which, he said, was extended to all Christians and Jews. He also betrayed his anti-Semitic feelings in the last paragraph whilst exonerating Muslims of the same.

This tale of Islamic tolerance, highlights a long period of history, when the Islamic world was a real beacon of hope for the oppressed everywhere. It is hard to imagine now but hopefully, by highlighting some of the brighter aspects of Islamic history, we can move towards achieving certain objectives:

  1. Remind Muslims of the tolerant attitude of Islam towards other faiths. This can enhance our experience as Muslims living in the West, brings us closer to other communities that form, with us, the increasingly diverse countries we live in.
  2. Expose the lies of the war mongers and Islamophobes who portray our religion in the worst possible light, and continually try to frighten everyone from Islam and Muslims, thus fostering an atmosphere of mutual mistrust and suspicion.
  3. Respond to elements within the Muslim communities that advocate an isolationist agenda, by teaching young Muslims that we have a long tradition of co-existing peacefully with people of different faiths.

The following verse from the Quran was said by Abdullah, son of Masood, a companion of the Prophet (ص), to sum up what Islam is about (Tabarani 8659):

[Quran 16:90] Lo! Allah enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbiddeth lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorteth you in order that ye may take heed.

Below you will find another book by a harsh critic of Islam who could not but acknowledge the tolerance Muslims afforded their subjects.

Further Reading: Online Book: The Heresy of Muhammad – annotated page

Related Posts:

Muslim Christian Dialogue: Where do we start ?

The Ebionites: True followers of Jesus who converted to Islam

with 53 comments

Burning of heretics Books by Papal Mandate

Burning of heretics' books by Papal mandate

We look today at the Jesus movement in Jerusalem formed by early followers of Christ, and headed by the disciple James. Their understanding of Christianity differed fundamentally from the religion later formulated by Paul, whom they considered to be a false teacher. They had a gospel written in Aramaic which is now lost to us . Modern scholars have described their theology in terms that closely resembles the religion preached by Muhammad (ص).

This group of early Christians, known as The Ebionites (the poor) and sometimes Nazarenes (Some scholars believe the Nazarenes to be a different group from the Ebionites, others maintain they are the same)- were labelled ‘heretics’ and persecuted by the Orthodox church which adopted the teachings and interpretations of their arch rival Paul of Taurus.

According to Biblical scholar Barrie Wilson, the main features of the Ebionite’s theology can be summerised in the following:

  1. Jesus was a created human and not divine
  2. Jesus was a teacher
  3. Jesus was the expected Messiah
  4. The Law of the Torah must be observed
  5. Theirs was the earliest congregation of followers to Jesus, starting from around 30 AD

Several church fathers described how Ebionites rejected The Divinity of Jesus and The Atoning Death of Jesus. According to those church fathers, the Ebionites emphasized the oneness of God and the humanity of Jesus. They considered Paul an apostate of the law who corrupted Jesus’ message.

Church father Irenaeus, wrote in “Against Heresy”:

Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practise circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God.

What is really significant, from the Muslim point of view, is Dr. Barry Wilson suggestion that, the Ebionites survived until the Muslims’ conquest of the Middle East, when they [the Ebionites] were absorbed in Islam.

This can help explain why the Christians of Syria and Egypt were converting to Islam en-mass in the 7th. century AD. It is possible that, people who were in contact with Ebionites or, were Ebionites themselves, recognised as truthful, the revelation of the Quran.

The Quran, with its uncompromising monotheism, its insistence on humanity of Jesus, and rejection of the trinity closely echoed the Ebionites beliefs, and was in complete harmony with what they new about God and Jesus [The only exception is the virgin birth which the Quran confirms and the Ebionites were said -by their opponents -to reject] . They probably recognised Islam as a continuation of the same message of God delivered by Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and the prophets.

Allah describes the reaction of some Christians and Jews in the Quran, chapter 28:

[Quran 28:51] And now verily We have caused the word to reach them, that haply they may give heed.
[28:52] Those unto whom We gave the Scripture before it, they believe in it,
[28:53] And when it is recited unto them, they say: We believe in it. Lo! it is the Truth from our Lord. Lo! even before it we were of those who surrender (unto Him).
[28:54] These will be given their reward twice over, because they are steadfast and repel evil with good, and spend of that wherewith We have provided them,
[28:55] And when they hear vanity they withdraw from it and say: Unto us our works and unto you your works. Peace be unto you! We desire not the ignorant.

There is little doubt that the church in Jerusalem pre-dated the churches established by Paul in Roman cities. There is no doubt that the church members in Jerusalem were the ones who actually saw and heard Jesus directly, unlike Paul, who never met Jesus.

I, therefore, have no doubt that the teachings of the Ebionites on Jesus are closer to the truth.

Related Posts: On Jewish Christianity, Islam and The Gentiles

Atonement: Can You Really Be Certain of Salvation?

with 14 comments

I often hear my Christian friends say that one of the chief attractions of Christianity is the guaranteed salvation and atonement of sins offered to Christians. The Christian Doctrine of Salvation stipulates that the death of Christ on the cross was a sacrifice that atoned the sins of believers in Jesus divinity and crucifixion for their sake. Some have suggested that the absence of assured salvation in Islam is a serious handicap and a clear proof of the superiority of Christianity over Islam and of Jesus over Muhammad. Does Islam offer a solution to the problem of sin? Do we have an answer to the Doctrine of Atonement? How can a Muslim be sure of Salvation? they ask.

I will start by saying the belief that one will be saved is NOT in itself sufficient to guarantee salvation. The doctrine itself must be true before it can be used as a blank cheque and a season ticket to Paradise. It is, therefore important that the doctrine of salvation is scrutinised to determine its legitimacy and authenticity.

There will be nothing worse than a person indulging himself sure in the knowledge that he will be saved, only to discover that he was deluded and that he will have to answer for his deeds.

I have a few problems with this doctrine that I would like to discuss:

  1. Can we trace the doctrine reliably to Jesus himself? In other words, has Jesus himself ever said he was going to be crucified to atone for the sins of his followers?
  2. What is the fate of the righteous followers of previous prophets, like the older generations of Israel who lived and died without knowing Jesus? Why are they denied salvation? What about the Patriarchs themselves? They have never professed the trinity nor the doctrine of atonement.
  3. This doctrine in particular is very alien to natural justice and the universal virtue of individual responsibility. I mean, what would you say of a justice system that punishes the innocent and reward the guilty?
  4. What, according to the Gospels, are we to be saved from? Many New Testament passages speak of the saved entering the kingdom of God, so what is the fate of the non-saved? It appears to me that, there is a distinct lack of clarity with regard to the unsaved.

The real teaching of Jesus on Salvation is in full agreement with the teaching of Islam, both advocate personal responsibility and obedience to God. According to the synoptic Gospels, when a man asked Jesus saying Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus replied … You know the commandments.. Mark 10: 17-25, Mt 19: 16-24, Lk 18: 18-25

Why didn’t Jesus say to the man Just have faith in me as your lord and Savior, and rest assured that I will die for you to be saved?

The renowned biblical scholar and Dead Sea Scrolls expert Geza Vermes wrote in his excellent book “The Resurrection”:

In sum, whilst the idea of the resurrection lay in the periphery of the preaching of Jesus, based on the idea of the kingdom of God, St. Paul turned it into the centrepiece of his mystical and theological vision, which was soon to become the essence of the Christian message.

I believe what Vermes said here to be accurate. This doctrine was invented by Paul who was attempting to make sense of the perceived crucifixion and ascension of Jesus. Because of its human origin, it was liable to have holes in its integrity. Paul convinced his early followers that the risen Christ will return during their lifetime and they will all join him in the kingdom. When some of the faithful died without realising their hope of joining Christ, it became a problem that needed the doctrine to be fine tuned. So Paul made amendments and included the dead early Christians in the proposed salvation. Later, when the question of what will happen the righteous of older generation including the Patriarchs, another fine tuning was necessary, and a passage in 1 Peter suggested that during his stay in the tomb, the dead Jesus went and saved the prisoners of sheol ‘The domain of the Dead’.

Islam has a very simple and logical doctrine: Everyone will be raised from the dead to be judged according to his own deeds. Those who believed in The One God, and believed his messenger and were righteous will be saved. Others will be punished in proportion to their “balance sheet”. Forgiveness of sin is subject to the Will of God alone, and is only possible, though not guaranteed, for those who did not worship other gods besides The One God.

These principles are universal, and they apply to all human past and present, fairly and justly.

There is an incentive for people to act righteously and a deterrent for those who indulge in evil.

Related Posts:
On Jewish Christianity, Islam and the Gentiles
Thoughts on The Crucifixion

Written by Rasheed Gadir

May 2, 2008 at 2:45 pm