‘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)
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.
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, please note that different Quran translations may have different verse numbering systems. Therefore, it may be necessary to look up the surrounding verses.)
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 Semitic 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 6:115) 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.) 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 because he is the best of those who plot and conspire. Had he wanted Allah could have guided all on the right path. From this it follows that he must have deceived some into going the wrong way. Allah gives grace only to those whom he will. (Surahs 8:30, 3:54, 16:9, 14:11, 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 (peace_be_upon_him) 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 (peace_be_upon_him) 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. It speaks of Allah being the light of the world. Commentators differ in explaining the mystical teaching of the parable in which the verse is found.
In the Quran (Surah 112:4) and 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:
‘How could God have been self sufficient and loving before the creation of angels and of the earth?’ Since true love needs an object to whom it can give, if the Trinity of God did not exist, there would have been a time when he was incomplete, being unable to have the attribute of self giving love. This can not be true because God has always been and always will be perfect.
‘Is God selfish?’ Since love is described as having ‘…no envy;…no high opinion of itself,….no pride;…no thought for itself…(1 Corinthians 13: 4-5) some unbelievers, like John Stuart Mill, Mark Twain or Pablo Picasso have come to the conclusion that God is utterly selfish. They say that by asking us to worship nobody else but God, he himself commits the sin of seeking glory for himself only for which he condemns man. Bible believing Christians find the answer to this apparent contradiction in the Trinitarian nature of God. There he shares his glory among himself.
‘Is God limited?’ Of course that can not be but he who thinks of God as an absolute unity where there is no room for multiplicity at all, is forced to believe in a god who does not know himself. Self-knowledge demands a distinction, a multiplicity, between knowledge and the one who acquires it. Self-consciousness, the recognition of a creature by itself as a ‘self’ can only exist in contrast with an ‘other’, a something which is not the self. Only a Trinitarian concept of God allows for such a vital distinction.
B. Belief in Angels of Allah
Muslims believe in angels as messengers and servants of Allah. In that respect the Islamic concept differs little from the Christian one. However, in Islam angels act also as mediators for the transcendent God. Allah is not omnipresent, rather He dwells locally. Islam had to express the divine immanence in some other way. In the Islamic system, angels fulfil this function. Thus, many of the actions that Christian associate with Christ or the Holy Spirit are performed by angels – e.g. scriptural inspiration (the Holy Spirit in Islam is Gabriel), creation (in the Bible it is described as an act of the Triune God whereas in Islam angels are involved in it.)
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) According to many commentators the Quran denies the historical fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection and numerous 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) For an in-depth study of the matter please see www.domini.org
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).
Muslims are commanded in the Quran to believe in the books of the Jews and the Christians, the Torah and the Injeel (Surah 4, Al Nisa, verse 136). But are they not changed or in part forgotten? If that was the case when should it have happened, how and by whom? What excactly has been distorted and why? Muslims best look up their Quran to find out what it says about such serious charges.
‘And 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)
‘Those who have been reading ‘the book from before thee’ are Jews and Christians! It would make no sense for Allah to command doubters to ask people for guidance whose Scriptures had been corrupted! Several verses in the Quran bear witness to the truth that the Torah was unchanged at the time of Jesus. In Surah 19, Maryam, verse
12, Yahya, who lived at the time of Jesus was told ‘to take hold of the Book, (the Torah).’ Surah 3, Ali’Imran, verse 48 tells us that Jesus was also taught in the Torah.
Numerous verses attest to the truth that the Torah was uncorrupted in the time of Muhammad, the sixth century AD (Surah 34, Saba, verse 31, Surah 35, Fatir, verse 31). The Arabic phrase ‘bain yadaihi’ which is used in these references to the Torah literally means ‘between his hands.’ This usually is an idiom for ‘in his possession,’ or ‘at his disposal’. Some Jewish contemporaries of Muhammad are called ‘those who guide and do justice in the light of truth,’ besides many others whose reputation was not so favourable. (Surah 7, Al Araf, verse 159) The very fact that they were commended so highly shows that they were in possession of the uncorrupted Torah.
‘…Say, ‘Bring ye the Law and study it, if ye be men of truth.’ (Surah 3, Ali ‘Imran, verse 93)
In this specific incident the Jews are asked to bring their own Law, the Torah. They are commanded by God to study it in order to find the right answer to a particular question.
‘But why do they come to thee for decision, when they have (their own) Law before them? -Therein is the (plain) command of Allah;..(Surah 5, Al Ma’idah, verse 43)
Maududi comments on this verse: ‘…sometimes, when their own law did not suit them, they would take their cases to the Holy Prophet in the hope that they might obtain a more favourable decree from him than they could from their own law.’ (‘The meaning of the Quran’, 12th Edt. 1992, S.A. Maududi, Isl. Publ., Pakistan) This shows clearly that even corrupted Jews would never change the written Torah! They were only prepared to conceal the meaning of it. In spite of their wickedness, they did not dare to change the written form of the Torah! That is why, according to the Quran, Allah told them to look up their own law in which is the plain command of God!
‘Let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel.’ (Surah 5, Al Ma’idah, verse 47)
This command is given to Muhammad’s contemporaries, it is written in the ‘present’ tense which in the Arabic language can also refers to the future! If the Gospel (Injil) was corrupted at that time then surely Allah would never have asked the people of the Gospel, the Christians, to believe in it!
‘If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course…’ (Surah 5, Al Ma’idah, verse 69)
The fact that there were Jews and Christians ‘on the right course’ in Muhammad’s time confirms the Torah and the Gospel to be unchanged in the 6th century AD! Certainly, they could never have been described in such an honourable way if they had ‘stood fast’ by corrupted Holy Books!
‘Say: O People of the Book! Ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord….’ (Surah 5, Al Ma’idah, verse 68)
WHAT ABOUT ‘TAHRIF’?
The Arabic word used by Muslim scholars to describe the supposed corruption of the sacred Scriptures is ‘Tahrif’. A distinction is made by them between a corruption of meaning or of words. All the most celebrated among the earliest commentators on the Quran speak only about the first corruption of meaning. (e.g. Imam Muhammad Ishmail al-Bukhari. He formed his opinion on the authority of Ibn Abbas. Ibn Mazar and Ibn Abi Hatim mentioned only the first type of corruption on the authority of Ibn Muniyah in the ‘Tafsir Durr-i-Mansur’. The same opinion is also held by Shah Waliyu ‘Ilah in ‘Fauzu l Kabir’ and by Imam Fakhru ‘d-din. ‘Dictionary of Islam’, T.P. Hughes, Asia Publishing House, London 1988). Contrary to these authorities modern Muslim commentators hold the view that only parts of the Bible remained unchanged. Faith is only put in those statements which are supposed to confirm one’s own opinions. Some Jews did the same in the days of Muhammad. Surah 2, Al Baqarah, verse 85 condemned them for doing so. There is no reason why that judgement for such a view should not apply anymore today.
DOES QURAN SAY THE BIBLE HAS CHANGED?
The Quran nowhere explicitly states the Injeel (Gospel) was changed! But what about the Torah? History shows that whenever God revealed Himself, most of His people fell into disobedience after a period of time. So it was with the Jews. In spite of this sad fact Surah 7, Al A’raf, verse 159 states there were always good Jews who remain true to the book God gave them:
‘Of the people of Moses there is a section who guide and do justice in the light of truth.’
God’s word is truth and good Jews surely would never have changed the meaning or even the words of their Holy Book!
‘There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: (as they read) you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, ‘That is from Allah,’ but it is not from Allah: It is they who tell a lie against Allah…’ (Surah 3, Ali ‘Imran, verse 78)
In the verse quoted above the Jews are reading parts of their Book wrongly while the written words remain unchanged.
‘But because of their breach of their Covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard: They change the words from their (right) places and forget a good part of the Message that was sent… (Surah 5, Al Ma’idah, verse 13)
The phrase ‘They change the words from their (right) places’ could mean that they tampered with the text of the Book. However, the second possibility, that the true meaning was distorted, not the text itself, will have to be given preference in the light of the wider context mentioned above:
-The unchanged Torah was with the Jews of Muhammad’s time.
-It was referred to by the Prophet in matters of dispute.
-The unchanged Torah was with the Jews of Muhammad’s time.
-It was referred to by the Prophet in matters of dispute.
In Surah 2, Al Baqarah, verses 75-79 (in verse 75 Jews are listening to the Quran being recited); Surah 4, Al Nisa, verse 46;, the Jews are accused of changing, writing down wrongly, what Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) said. After checking all these references it becomes clear that the Torah remained unchanged!
The Quran makes it clear that it has not been changed before the time of Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) Otherwise God would have demanded to believe in and follow Scriptures that were already corrupted. If we assume that changes were made while or after the prophet’s time, we can simply compare a twenty first century copy with one that was written before the sixth century. The result will be that all the teaching remained the same! Muslims who say that the Bible is corrupted contradict their own book. Therefore, follow the Prophet of Islam’s advice when he said, ‘seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave’, by learning what the Torah and the Injeel says.
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 distinction 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 Judgment
Christianity and Islam alike teach that there will be a day of judgment. Muslims believe that most of them, except those who die in Jihad, and all of the non-Muslims will be sent to Hell. (Surah 19:71, Arberry, Rodwell and Dawood translate the Arabic phrase “wariduha”in this construction as “will go through it” meaning that Muslims will go down to hell. Verse 72 supports this rendering in all translations by saying “…we shall leave the wrong-doers therein”. The following tradition in the Mishkat of Tirmidhi and Darimi confirm this by saying: “Ibn Masud said that the Prophet of Islam said: ‘All people shall enter hell. Then they will come out of it according to their works…'” This is also expressed in Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 532c see also Surah 11:118-119, 18:51, 19:89, 20:76). Whereas unbelievers will be in hell forever (Surah 43:74-78), Muslims will be punished for their evil deeds (Surah 23, Al Muminun, verse 103) but eventually they will be able to go to heaven, God willing. 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. 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.
Salvation by faith in Jesus is believing with the intellect that the Bible is right about our sinful condition, about who Jesus is and about what he did on the cross for us. Passages that speak about judgement according to works have to be read in the light of what true faith means. This is confirmed when their immediate context is considered. (e.g. Joh 5:28-29, compare with verses 23-24, Mat 16:27 with verses 21-26, 25:31-46 with 23:37-39, Jam 2:14-26). As the German reformer Martin Luther used to say ‘the faith that saves is never alone.’ True faith in Christ shows itself in four ways:
1. Out of thankfulness followers of Jesus do what he tells them: To love God and man. This is the essence and test of true obedience. They desire to follow the moral law set out in the Old Testament and summarized in what is known as ‘the 10 commandments.’ (Exo 20:1-17)
2. Genuine faith in Jesus produces a desire to become more like him, to do what is right and just.
3. Saving faith creates the awareness that this new obedience can only come through faith in Christ. It does not come from focusing on the law, the desperate attempt to meet its demands. Instead it comes from continually fixing one’s eyes on Jesus and his work, by remaining connected to him through being in his presence with one’s thoughts.
4. Lastly, Biblical faith generates a constant abiding in and reliance on Jesus by faith. In this way only the Holy Spirit of God supplies the power for a changed life and lasting fruit. (Rom 8:13, Joh 15:5)
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 absent from all but the seventh of the Islamic heavens according to traditions of the prophet of Islam’s journey from Makkah to Jerusalem and afterwards to the heavens (http://www.sunnahonline.com/ilm/aqeedah/0039.htm#3). Quranic passages regarding paradise are dominated by descriptions of sensual delights waiting for the faithful. To be sure Muslims are told they would see Allah in heaven. (Surah 9:72-73; 10:26; and especially 75:22-23). The Hadith confirms this, and emphasizes that the sight of Allah is the crowning glory of paradise. (Suhayb ibn Sinan ar-Rumi Sahih Muslim). In the light of Islam’s emphasis on God’s transcendence this came as a great surprise to many Muslims as the following hadith shows:
The people said, “O Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him)! Shall we see our Lord on the Day of Resurrection?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Do you have any difficulty in seeing the full moon on a clear night?” They said, “No, O Allah’s Messenger.” He said, “Do you have any difficulty in seeing the sun when there are no clouds?” They said, “No, O Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him).” He said, “So you will see Him, like that.” (Abu Hurayrah Sahih al- Bukhari)
In contrast the Biblical view of heaven not only promises the believers that they will see God but more so that He will have a personal, ongoing relationship with them:
‘I heard a loud voice shout from the throne: God’s home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people. He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.’ (Revelation 21:3-4)
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.
H. BELIEF IN WAR
Generally speaking, Islam differentiates between three kinds of war, called ‘jihad’ (lit. struggle) in Arabic. War against the temptations raging within one’s soul, defensive and offensive jihad. It is the duty of every Muslims to engage in the first two types. Defensive war becomes necessary when Muslims are treated unjustly. Innocent civilians are not to be targeted. However, Al Qaida maintains that people are not innocent if they pay taxes to an oppressive government and vote for it during elections. Offensive war can only be called for by a caliph, the legitimate leader of a Muslim country. (Fiqh: 3988 Al-Hedaya Vol. II, chap 1 Hanafi manual)
The Christian approach to war and peace is found in the character of God. The Bible describes Him as the ‘God of peace’ (Heb 13:20). But it also calls Him a ‘Warrior’ (Exo 15:3). How do we reconcile these two apparent opposites? The answer is found by identifying His enemy.
Teaching of the Torah (Old Testament)
God is passionately opposed against all forms of injustice, wrongdoing and sin. He is deeply immersed in battle against these forces of evil which hold captive the people He created. In the Old Testament we read the story of how He selected the Jewish people to set them free from the evil one and his influence. Ultimately this blessing was to come to the whole world (Gen 12:3) through the Jewish ‘Messiah’ translated as ‘Christ’ in English. God re-conquered the land of Canaan from the evil powers that had claimed it for themselves by force of arms and reliance on idols. At that time national and political entities were viewed as the creation of the gods and living proofs of their power. By practising child sacrifice, religious prostitution and divination the Canaanites had become so terribly sinful that punishment was unavoidable. (Gen 15:16, Deut 18:9-12). God commissioned the Jews lead by Joshua to take the land in His name out of the hands of the idolatrous inhabitants. It was later known as Israel and Palestine. The Lord’s triumph testified to all nations that the God of Israel is the one true and living God, whose claim on the world is absolute. It was also a warning that the irresistible advance of the kingdom of God would ultimately disinherit all those who opposed it, giving place in the earth only to those who acknowledge and serve the Lord.
The battles the Israelites fought in the Old Testament were therefore the Lord’s holy war, undertaken at a particular time in history. God gave His people under Joshua no commission or licence to conquer the world with the sword but only a unique, limited mission. The conquered land itself would not become Israel’s national possession by right of conquest, but it belonged to the Lord. So the land had to be cleansed of all remnants of paganism. Its people and their wealth were not for Israel to seize as the booty of war from which to enrich themselves (Jos 7). On that land Israel was to establish a commonwealth faithful to the righteous rule of God and thus be a witness and a blessing to the nations. If Israel herself became unfaithful and conformed to Canaanite culture and practice, she would in turn lose her place in the Lord’s land. That is exactly what happened later.
Teaching of the Injil (New Testament)
War is a terrible curse that the human race brings on itself as it seeks to possess the earth by its own unrighteous ways. But it pales before the curse that awaits all those who do not believe in God and His word. The meaning of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua’ is ‘God saves.’ The English version of that name is ‘Jesus’. For a time He now reaches out to the whole world by calling everyone to believe that He died for their sins at the cross. Those who trust in Him by doing what He says are guaranteed eternal life in heaven (1Joh 5:13) Soon, however, Jesus himself, the second Joshua, will wield the sword of His judgement at His second coming upon those who do not believe in Him (Rev 19:11-16).
Since we still live in the time of God’s undeserved favour where His Good News is preached let us examine the ministry of Jesus to see what kind of warfare He modelled for His followers. In His works He was in conflict with the various disorders which imprison people; in His words He battled with sin, especially the hypocrisy and practical godlessness of religious people. The final showdown came in His death when He met the full fury of evil and ‘made peace through the blood of His cross’. His first words to His disciples after his resurrection were ‘Peace be with you’, signalling that His victory had brought harmony and reconciliation between God and those who accepted it. Jesus’ followers too are involved in God’s present kind of war. They need to be very disciplined like soldiers (1 Tim 1:18), and are part of God’s army fighting against all that opposes his rule. There will only ever be real peace when sin is defeated in human relationships, in social life and in political structures. Just as Jesus was not slow to speak out against all that oppressed people, so his followers should not be afraid to oppose sin in whatever guise it comes. They use the weapons of peace as He did: clear teaching which confronts hypocrisy and wrongdoing, a willingness to speak to their ‘enemies’ and address them with love, understanding and respect; a desire to negotiate rather than drive people away. When it comes to advancing the kingdom of God on this earth, war is now forbidden:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36, Luke 22:36 and Matth.10:34 mention the sword figuratively to expect hard times where they would have to make provisions and when the meesage will bring division.)
When it comes to maintaining law and order in this world, force may be used as a last resource by the governing authorities:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4)
This passage does not contradict earlier ones which forbid revenge and ask to overcome evil with good (12:14.21). Those verses are directed to private, individual Christians. However, at the same time they can also be state officials. In the latter role, followers of Christ who work as police or prison officers, as judges or soldiers become God’s agents in the punishment of evil doers. One way in which He executes His judgement on them is through the state. In some emergency situations, when no policeman is present, it may be right for a Christian to intervene in a fight, protect an innocent person against assault or arrest a burglar. Then he would become temporarily an arm of the law. Members of the ruling authorities who became followers of God were not encouraged to leave their positions (Luk 3:14, Act 10) Those who became Christians in the early Church were discouraged to join the army mainly because of its involvement in the Roman camp cult religion, called Mithraism. The statement ‘rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong,’ is describing the proper, ideal function of rulers. It does not mean that this will always be the case. When civil rulers overstep their proper function, followers of Jesus are to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:18-19; 5:29-32).
Violence will always be the last resort. When evil comes in its starkest forms which will not listen to the voice of reason, which refuse to negotiate, and which trample down the innocent and defenceless, then there may be cause for self defence. This view known as the ‘Just War’ argument is held by a majority of Christians today. It asserts that war is only ever justified when four conditions are met. The cause must be just; war must be absolutely the last resort, when all other avenues to avoid conflict have failed; conflict must not involve non-combatants (Prov 6:16-17); war should be limited in its scope, avoiding unnecessary loss of life and destruction. It is a large question whether these last two conditions can ever be met in modern, especially nuclear warfare.
But the Christian’s primary commitment is, of course, to peace, and it should be their earnest desire to play a full part in God’s battle against the visible and invisible forces which tear this planet apart. Christians are called to be the light of the world (Mat 5:14). If they do not shine by doing good deeds it is no wonder that the darkness of terrorism prevails. As well as asking for forgiveness they urgently need to stand up for the oppressed! The good news is that God is going to have the last word. Sin, death and evil will ultimately be defeated through Jesus Christ and God’s reign of peace in all its fullness will one day be a reality. (Isa 2:1-4)
Questions regarding the Quranic view of holy war
1. The Quran seems to contain numerous verses that promote violence, such as: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Surah 9:29, transl. Yusuf Ali) Why do moderate Muslims say these are not to be taken also as physical fighting in the light of Islamic history? Reliable, early Muslim sources state that the prophet of Islam commanded his followers to kill Ka’b ibn Ashraf and Abu Rafi with pretence and deceit because they did not accept his claim to be a prophet. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.4, p. 168, Vol.5, pp 253-254) He also attacked his opponent in the battle of Badr and the settlement of Ta’if which had rejected his message too.
2. Some Muslims say that the Quran only allows for a defensive war. According to the above examples is it correct to say that those who verbally disagree with Islam already provide a reason to be fought against physically? This view seems to be confirmed by the fact that Islam’s initial fight for Europe was only halted at the battle of Tours, France, in 732 AD? Surely, in those days Europe did not pose a threat to the Islamic world against which Muslims had to defend themselves.
3. The ‘Dictionary of Islam’ states that those unwilling to pay ‘Jizya’, a poll tax imposed on citizens who refuse to become Muslims in a conquered nation, are killed. (T.P. Hughes, 1988, “Jihad”, see also Surah 9:29 quoted above) Does that not contradict the Quranic verse, ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion…'(Surah 2:256) or has that passage been replaced by later commands from Allah?
I. BELIEF IN JESUS
The Injeel, (New Testament) which according to it’s own statements and that of the Quran is ‘a guidance for all people’ (Mat 28:18-20, Surah, 3:4), gives a detailed account of who Jesus is. One description of him (Heb 1-2) consists of several quotations from the Torah (Old Testament) and the Zabur (Psalms). All three of God’s revelations agree on his nature and work described below:
Jesus, the Word of God
To people from the middle east into which the Holy Bible was revealed, a name stood for the full character of a person in all he was and did. The Greek name ‘Jesus’ is a derivation of the Hebrew ‘Jeshua’. It means ‘God saves!’
‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matt 1:21)
Like the Quran, the Bible calls him also an apostle and a prophet (Heb 3:1, Mat 11:7-9, 12:41-42). Yet he is more then that. According to the Injeel (Joh 1) ‘Jesus’ is the proper name given to ‘the word of God’ after he became a man and dwelt on this earth. The Quran calls him uniquely in that way by addressing him as ‘Kalimatu’llah’ (3:39). He is God’s eternal Word who has taken the form of a servant to speak and demonstrate God’s ways to men. Profoundly, the eternal and the temporal, intersect in him. It has to be emphatically stated that Jesus is not another god besides God. As the word of God he can not be separated from God. Similarly, Muslims believe that God gave expression to his eternal and divine word through the pages of the Quran within this finite world. Here too, the created and the uncreated meet. Why then should it not be possible for God to give expression to His eternal Word through Jesus?
The Quran too calls Jesus ‘al Masih’, ‘the Messiah’ (Surah 3:45). However, it does not explain the meaning of the term. Neither does it provide the reason why the title was exclusively given to him. In contrast to that obscurity, the Messiah fulfils a central role in the Biblical revelations. The Hebrew word means ‘anointed one’, translated into Greek as ‘Christ.’ The term has been used on different occasions mapping out the work of the one to come, foreshadowing the ultimate Messiah. He is chosen by God, saves his people, judges God’s enemies, and will rule the nations. In all his work God is the one who acts through the Messiah (Isa 41-47). The ultimate Messiah to come is described as a godlike figure, who became a man. He will rule the whole world in justice and righteousness for eternity. (Isa 9:6-7, Dan 7:13-14) During all periods of Hebrew history, numerous Biblical verses in the Torah and the Zabur mention prophetic promises of a coming Messiah. Those passages are divided into two parts. At his first coming the Messiah is described as performing numerous miracles and as teaching about God. Both, the Bible and the Quran confirm that Jesus fulfilled those prophecies (Luk 4:18-21, Surah 5:110). Moreover, it was foretold that the Messiah would be suffering, dying and raising from the dead (Isa 53). These prophecies too had been fulfilled by Jesus. (Luk 23-24) Once he came, the ceremonial law (e.g. sacrifice, food, etc.) which had granted exclusive access to God for the Jewish nation only, was fulfilled in him. As for the moral aspect of the law (e.g. 10 commandments), the Messiah explained the full meaning of it. (Matt 5-7) These perfect commandments are still valid but can only truly be observed through the help and forgiveness of him who ultimately fulfilled every aspect of them (See also Surah 3:50). From the time of his first coming the way to God was granted to all nations by faith in the work of the Messiah. (Isa 2:1-3) At the Second Coming he will appear as King who will defeat and judge Satan and his followers. Jesus fulfilled the former and soon will make the latter prophecies come true too.
Son of God
Christians do not believe that Jesus is the son of God in a physical sense. God forbid that he should take a wife! That would be blasphemy. However, they do believe that Jesus is the Son of God in a figurative sense. Arabs, for example, are commonly known as ‘sons of the desert.’ They know the desert in and out; they are one with it, that is why they are called in such a figurative way. The Arabic word ‘ibn’ is sometimes used in a figurative sense (Surah 2:177) as opposed to ‘walad’ which is always used in a physical way. The latter word is used when a protest is brought about ‘Allah having taken unto himself a son’ (Surah 2:116). It shows clearly that the Islamic denial is directed only against a physical, not a figurative sonship of Jesus. Let us now investigate the true Christian doctrine in more detail:
1. Jesus is called the Son of God because He is one with Him in essence. Jesus calls himself ‘Son of God’ (Luk 22:70) because he knows Him in a profound way. Jesus is the Eternal Word who has always been One with God. (Joh 1:1-18; Phil 2:5-11) Just as a person is forever one with his words, so God and Jesus Christ are eternally One. (Joh 14:8-10)
2. Jesus is called the Son of God because He is like God. Jesus has God’s holy and sinless character and his mighty attributes. The Quran calls Jesus ‘a holy son.’ (19:19; 3:46). While it speaks of the other prophets’ need of forgiveness (38:24; 48:1), it never attributes a single sin to Jesus. Also, it uniquely ascribes to Jesus supernatural powers that God alone possesses. (3:45-51; 5:110-112) Like Father, like Son. (Heb 1:1-9; Mat 17:5) In ancient Jewish customs, the firstborn son also represented the father and was regarded as being equal to him. Any time Jesus used this term publicly for himself in the Gospels, the Jews were absolutely certain that he claimed to be God. In his official trial by the Sanhedrin, this was the very charge brought up against him: Blasphemy. He claimed to be God’s Son and in that made himself God. (Joh 5:18, 19:7)
3. Jesus is called the Son of God because He came from God. (Isa 7:14; Luk 1:34,35) Similarly, the Quran teaches that Jesus came directly from God, that He was born of a virgin, that He had no earthly father. (3:47; 19:20). Unlike Adam, who was formed from dust because prior to him the human species did not exist, the Messiah came from heaven. In the Quran Jesus too is set apart from all other prophets by calling Him the Messiah which means the Anointed One. (4:157) Because God is so much greater than man, He chooses to express Himself in human terms so that we can understand Him. When Surah 22:61 says that Allah sees and hears, it does not mean He has ears and eyes. Rather He is expressing a truth in a way we can understand He is All-knowing. Similarly, behind the title ‘Son of God’ is a profound truth expressed in human terms. The Bible calls a number of people ‘sons of God’ but Jesus is addressed as such in a particular way:
‘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.’ (Joh 3:16)
The Greek word for ‘one and only son’, ‘mono-genes’, means literally, ‘one in kind, unique’ and has sometimes been incorrectly translated into English as ‘only begotten’. This rendering is wrong because ‘mono-genes’ is also used in Hebrews 11:17 to describe Isaac as Abraham’s ‘one and only son’, namely the one who was promised by God to Abraham and his wife Sarah. (Gen 15) Since Ishmael too was Abraham’s son, but through his servant Hagar (Gen 16), the term ‘one and only’ distinguishes Isaac as being unique in his kind but not as the only begotten. Furthermore, the Hebrew word used to describe Isaac in the Old Testament story as ‘only son’ in Genesis 22:2 is completely different from the word ‘begotten’ used, for example, in Psalm 2:7:
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’
‘In the ancient Near East the relationship between a great king and one of his subject kings, who ruled by his authority and owed him allegiance, was expressed….also by ‘father’ and ‘son.’ (N.I.V. Study Bible, Zondervan Bible Publishers, USA, 1985, footnote) Psalm 2:7 is applied to the relationship between God and Jesus in a filial not in a carnal sense in Acts 13:33 as having been a fulfilled prophecy through his resurrection. Just as other people are called ‘one and only sons’ in the Bible because of their uniqueness in some ways, Jesus too is called exclusively ‘one and only son of God.’ On a number of occasions he made statements to prove this fact (Luk 10:22, Joh 5:22-23, Luk 20:9-19). Jesus, the Son of God, has come to show us what God is like. (Joh 1:18)
‘Indeed, they are disbelievers who say, ‘Surely, Allah is none but the Messiah, the son of Mary,….’ (Surah 5:73)
The Quran is right to speak out against this false teaching which Christians also condemn. The view described in that verse was held by a heretical group called the ‘Patripassionists’ during the early days of Christianity. They identified God with Jesus to the extent that they spoke of the sufferings of the Father at the cross. Whereas Christians say the Messiah is God they do not say that God is the Messiah. The difference will become clear through the following illustration: It is all right to say that all Shias are Muslims but not all Muslims are Shias. God and Jesus are essentially the same. However their roles are different as expressed in the doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, the question raised, ‘How is it possible for God to die on the cross like Jesus did?’ is answered accordingly: The essence of God resides in all three aspects of the Trinity. When Jesus died on the cross, the essence of God did not cease to exist or operate during the time between his death and his resurrection. Furthermore, the spiritual nature of God is such that it does not become less by assuming a human nature in Jesus. In their doctrine of unity, Muslims tend to conceive of unity as a mathematical unity. According to such thinking one orange plus one orange equals two oranges, etc. That is the order of mathematical and material unity. However, the order of spiritual unity is different. God’s love does not become less because it is given to people. His essence is not reduced or divided when it abides in the Son and in the Holy Spirit along with the Father. When reading Quranic verses as quoted before, one easily gets the false impression that a mere man has been made into God. However, the Biblical teaching speaks about the very opposite.
The belief that God appeared in flesh is not illogical. To prove the point let us think about an illustration. Nobody has ever seen a square circle. Since both belong to the same world of shapes it is logical that they are mutually exclusive. One can only have either a circle or a square but not a combination of both. However, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that a green circle exists since the combination is made up of a part belonging to the world of colours and of a part belonging to a completely different world of shapes. Similarly God and man come from different worlds and therefore it is not against logic to say that Jesus is both God and man. The Creator can become part of his creation and yet still be above it since nothing is impossible to him. Therefore, according to Philippians 2:6-8 it is true to say that Christ was 100% God and 100% man at the same time. ‘How can this be? Is that not a contradiction?’ The following illustration may help: A lively small boy loves to wrestle with his father. It is quite a fun game. In order not to hurt him the father deliberately does not use the 100% strength he has as an adult. He puts himself on his son’s level by taking on the 100% strength of a little boy his age. He chooses not to use his capacities for his little boy’s sake. After all, he loves him and that is the only way he can show it to him in these circumstances. Similarly God too has become a man in Jesus because he loves us. Jesus became a man like other men and was dependent upon the same resources as other people.
Some may object by saying it is impossible for God to enter into humanity. But what about the belief that God made himself known through the Quran, his allegedly eternal, uncreated word? Or think about the Prophets of old. To some of them God spoke directly in an audible voice. Surah 20:11-13 confirm that Moses heard God speak to him, from within the fire. This conversation took most probably place in his own Hebrew language because God wanted his message to be understood. Truly, nothing is impossible to the Creator. If he has limited himself inside a voice in the past he surely can embody a human being in order to communicate more directly and fully with his creation. That is exactly what he has done in Jesus.
Sacrifice for sins
According to Jesus’ own words he came to die for our sins (Mat 20:28). Why is such a sacrifice necessary? Could God not just forgive us? Jesus told a story to clarify the matter:
‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no-one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:11-32)
In this mysterious but marvellous story the father stands for God, the elder brother for the Pharisees, the religious people in Jesus’ day, and the younger son represents obvious sinners. From a middle eastern perspective into which it was spoken, some very strange things happened indeed. The male head of a family would not disgrace himself by the undignified action of running towards his rebellious son. Nor would he have disrupted his son’s words before a full display of repentance. It is unthinkable for him to command such a luxurious outpouring of affection for a son who shamed him in full view of the community. The father’s behaviour illustrates God’s amazing patience, forgiveness and love for his ungrateful children. The robe, ring, shoes, and fatted calf which await the son’s return all highlight the extent of his restoration. But it came at the expense of his father’s honour. The shame brought upon the family through the sinful son, was profoundly carried by his father. Why would he do such an outrageous thing? The Torah tells an equally intriguing story of how God created Adam and Eve and later the Israelites to be his people. We learn how he loved them like a father loves his children. Time and time again, however, we read with great sadness how his chosen ones break his commandments, how they become guilty of lawlessness. Even more disturbing is the fact that their rebellion is only a fruit of a conscious rejection of the Almighty God. His own people spat in his face and brought shame upon him before the very nations they were supposed to be witnessing of his honour and glory. They were not even ashamed of themselves (Jer 3:3-5).
The people of old did as they pleased because they had lost a sense of shame. While their mechanical, outward ritual acts may still have been in place they were not concerned about God’s honour at all. Repentance, the turning round from one’s evil ways, was later expressed in terms of recognition of shame and disgrace. (Jer 31:19) Likewise, our disloyalty to God, our resistance against his work among us is known and is exceedingly shameful. We too deserve to be punished ever so severely by having to spend eternity in hell. Since God is pure, completely removed from all evil, man’s sin has cut off, effectively killed, the relationship between the two. The warning given to Adam and Eve that they and their descendants would die if they ate the forbidden fruit became a frightening reality (Gen 2:16-17, Rom 6:23).
Only through death God’s honour will be restored. Consequently God introduced an elaborate sacrificial system to the Israelites through Moses. Shame could be removed by getting forgiveness for sins, but only if an animal would die in their place.
‘…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.’ (Heb 9:22)
This all important truth is also reflected in ‘Qisas’ the Islamic law of retaliation (Surah 2:178-179). It consists in doing to the person who has committed a crime the very same thing they have done. The life of someone who is wilfully killed demands the murderer’s life in retaliation. However, the next of kin can accept a financial compensation instead. According to Surah 5:45, retaliation for inflicted wounds is also necessary. A nose for a nose and so on. If a member of the body which is to be cut off in revenge is defective, a compensation will be accepted.
From God’s perfect perspective animal- and all other sacrifices are defective. They can not take away sins but were only serving as a cover and a shadow of Jesus, the Messiah, the perfect sacrifice to come (Heb 10:1-18). He took our shame upon himself through his death on the cross. Through the crucifixion Jesus, our perfect, sinless mediator, restored the honour of God in a most profound and just way. (Joh 5:22-24)
According to the Bible and the Quran (Mat 5, Surah 57:27) the followers of Jesus were asked to practice compassion and mercy. One can only live in such a way when one has experienced it beforehand. Mercy is defined as an undeserved favour. It is the greatest difference between Christianity and all other religions! God offers free, undeserved forgiveness of sin to all who believe in the work of Jesus at the cross. To show their gratitude they are to turn around from their evil ways by becoming compassionate and merciful too. It is one of the greatest tragedies of all when these characteristics are not present in the lives of those who call themselves Christians!
Questions regarding the Quranic view of Jesus
1. Everything God does has purpose and meaning (Surah 30:8). Christians believe that the uniqueness of the virgin birth of Jesus points to the uniqueness of his status. Why did God will this special birth for Jesus alone?
2. According to Surah 3:47, Mary, the mother of Jesus, speaks to Allah about the birth of her son. Why does Surah 19:20, say she spoke to an angel on that same occasion?
3. Muslims believe that the content of the Quran is originally from heaven and not found in any other book on earth. Why are some accounts in it regarding the childhood of Jesus found in apocryphal writings, which were not accepted by the early church? (e.g. Mary nourished from a palm tree at the command of baby Jesus. Compare Surah 19:23-26 with ‘History of the Nativity of Mary,’ etc. for more details see ‘Sources of Islam’ by W. St. Clair- Tisdall)
4. Jesus performed many miracles to give evidence of his status. Why are no miracles attested to Muhammad in the Quran?
5. The Quran rightly condemns the physical concept of Jesus’ sonship (2:116), that Jesus and Mary were two gods besides God (5:117) and that Allah is none but the Messiah, son of Mary (5:73). Does that not keep Muslim from understanding the true Christian teachings since Biblical Christianity never supported those false beliefs?
6. Injeel, Torah (Isa 53) Zabur (Psa 22) and non-Christian evidence all agree that the Messiah died. Why should we believe the Quran which denies it?
7. Most Muslims believe that God made someone to look like Jesus and consequently be crucified instead of him. Is that not unjust and deceiving?
8. If God allegedly saved Jesus from the Jews why did he allow them to kill other prophets according to Surahs 2:91 and 4:155?
9. Surah 4:157 presents the Jews as saying, ‘we slew the Messiah Jesus…’ Which Jew would admit that Jesus is the Messiah they were all waiting for? They might have said ‘we slew Jesus whom others called the Messiah.’ (Joh 19:21) But this the Quran does not say.
10.Christianity is the only religion that gives absolute assurance of forgiveness and eternal life in heaven because God himself dealt with our sins. (Joh 3:36, 1 Joh 5:13) If Muhammad, the messenger of Islam, himself was uncertain whether he would go to heaven (Bukhari, Kitab al-Tafsir) why should we believe in his message?
Besides having numerous things in common, Islam differs from Christianity in all 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