Religious dialogue with Muslims?
(by Francesco Maggio)
In our day and age, it has become more and more common to emphasize our commonalities rather than our differences. If believers are not prepared, they may be confused or erroneously influenced by this idea. In fact, we now see in a way we haven’t previously seen, events and other initiatives facilitating “interfaith encounters.” The Roman Catholic church, for example, distinguishes itself in moving toward others. It is common to attribute to Muslims the following 5 characteristics:
Muslims worship the God of Christianity
They recognize Jesus as a prophet
They honor the virgin Mary
They share the common spiritual heritage we have in Abraham
Islam is one of the three great monotheistic religions
It is assumed that because of these commonalities, viewing Muslims with suspicion or even worse, to see them as unbelievers to be proselytized, is incongruous. The false ideas of our day should be examined, carefully examined so as not to be blown off course.
1. The New Koranic Abraham
It is often said that the one biblical figure who more than any other is looked to by Muslims is that of Abraham. Muslims are happy to point out that their origins go all the way back to Abraham and that they follow the Abrahamic tradition. In light of this, they claim to have a monopoly on the truth. Thus, they claim, that the Quran should replace the Bible, etc.
We remind that Abraham was circumcised in response to the command of Yahweh (the I AM). Contrary to what many may think, the practice of circumcision is not something that was introduced by Islam. We read in the Old Testament that God told Abraham to circumcise his male descendants as a sign of the Covenant.
“And I will give to you (Abraham) and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourning’s, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. (Genesis 17:8-11)
The Jews were the first to have Abraham as their father and the traditions associated with him were given to them. From the Biblical text, we see that Yahweh was speaking of a singular seed or offspring to whom the promises would come, and not of other descendants. It’s well known that from Abraham three different lines were produced: one from his concubine Hagar, one from his wife Sarah, and one from his second wife (after Sarah died), Keturah. We need to ask, why did God speak of one particular offspring rather than a few offsprings or seeds? Yahweh said that the people in whom He would delight would come from the child of the promise, Isaac. That people was the children of Israel. Yahweh commanded the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to adhere to the Covenant stipulated by God and later reconfirmed to David.
Yahweh then extended the Covenant to Gentiles, to those who were uncircumcised in heart and in the flesh, showing to them the same grace that was shown to Abraham. Abraham is the example of faith for Christians. In blessing Abraham, God made him a point of reference for all the generations coming from Isaac and Jacob. The Messiah, Yeshua (Yahweh saves), would descend from the descendants of Isaac and Jacob. Historically, the Islamic world came several centuries after this. Their becoming a people came about not because they put themselves under the commands of Yahweh, but rather as a result of their own initiative. They allied themselves with a god who is external to the Biblical revelation.
2. Are Arabs truly descendants of Ishmael?
God made a covenant with Abraham and with his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. However he also blessed Ishmael because he was one of the sons of Abraham and he was told that he would be the father of a great nation. Many people assume, in good faith, that this promise to Ismael has been fulfilled in his being the father of the Arab people. As the Bible demonstrates, however, the Arabs are neither descendants of Ismael nor of Abraham. We see in the Biblical chronology that Abraham and Ismael were born a few hundred years after the beginnings of the Arab people who are the descendants of Joktan (Genesis 10:26). Adding to the confusion, is the idea that somehow because the Arabs are descendants of Abraham, this legitimizes Islam as being a religion that comes from the same God which is found in the Bible and who spoke to Abraham. This implies two covenants instead of one only and two offsprings or seeds instead of the one seed (Genesis 17:8-11).
But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”[b] Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman (Galatians 4:30-31; Genesis 21.10).
And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and i will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him (Genesis 17:19-20).
3. It’s often said that Islam recognizes the Biblical prophets, the Jewish tradition, and the person of Jesus, and other similar things.
Abraham in Islamic tradition is presented as the prototype of submission to Allah (submission to Allah being the essence of Islam). In their tradition, Abraham’s viewed this way because he professed a strong, undividable monotheism represented by an unconditional submission to the Allah of the Quran. “Surely I have turned myself, being upright, wholly to Him Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am not of the polytheists.” (Quran 6:79)
4. It’s often said that Abraham is the father of the three monotheistic religions.
Again, the idea is that Christians and Muslims have the same faith which is directed to the same God who manifested himself to Abraham and therefore, we adore the same God/Allah. What a great confused mess!
This is the key idea in the current dialogue with Islam. The idea, however, is not sustainable even for Islam, because the Abraham that is described in the Quran doesn’t correspond to the Abraham of the Biblical account. For instance we read in the Quran:
Abraham was not a Jew nor a Christian, but he was an upright man, a Muslim; and he was not one of the polytheists. (3,67) Those whom you serve beside Him are merely idle names that you and your fathers have fabricated, without Allah sending down any sanction for them. All authority to govern rests only with Allah. He has commanded that you serve none but Him. This is the Right Way of life, though most people are altogether unaware. (12,40)
From the verses listed above, it’s obvious that the view of the Quran is that Abraham is the father exclusively for Muslims. At the same time the Quran dismisses the true historical Abraham who is the father of the Israelites and of Christians as he had the same faith we have. The Quran excludes a priori the inclusive and pluralistic ideas coming from some Evangelical Christians.
The following points can be made regarding Islam:
Judaism and Christianity are not recognized as religions that have their faith placed in the true God
Abraham is not the father of the other monotheistic religions.
Islam refuses to acknowledge the existence of other “Abrahamic faiths”.
In reality, the Islamic Abraham would have believed in a god who doesn’t correspond to the God (Yahweh) of the Covenant of the Old Testament. This is clearly set forth in the verses cited from the Quran (3:67, 12:40). Referring to Abraham as the prototype of all Muslims in reality excludes from the outset both the Old and the New Testaments and cancels Jews and Christians as the recipients of the promises made to Abraham. The Quran states: “This day have those who disbelieve despaired of your religion, so fear them not, and fear Me. This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor to you and have chosen for you Islam as a religion.” (Quran 5:3)
The Quran declares that Islam is a religion of an entirely different character from the Jewish and Christian faiths. It doesn’t view itself as “among the three monotheistic faiths” but underlines it’s departure from the Biblical revelation. It doesn’t view itself as having anything in common with the God (Yahweh) of the Bible. And in this, Islam is right. The God of the Bible cannot be compared to or substituted with Allah. Religiously speaking, there is no point of contact. The Quran claims that the Christians have corrupted the “pure” monotheism which it attributes to Abraham, by making “Jesus, the son of Mary” divine and calling him God!
5. Jesus/Yeshua or Isa (عیسى)?
It is said that the Quran gives great honor and value to both the virgin Mary and Jesus. While it doesn’t recognize Jesus as God in the flesh, it recognizes him as a prophet and it recognizes Mary as a virgin, who at times is invoked with devotion even by Muslims. (Declaration On The Relation Of The Church To Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate 3.1) But this doesn’t present the reality of how Jesus is presented in the Quran. Isa, the son of Mary (Isa ibn Mariam – عیسى بن مریم) in the Quran does not die on the cross, but Allah elevated him to heaven while he was still alive. Allah had another unfortunate person crucified in his place. This strikes at the heart of Christianity!
The Muslims believe in the day of judgment, but they believe that Isa will return to the earth to condemn the Christians and wage war against the antichrist. This he will do to bring about the triumph of Islam, the one true religion. Furthermore, in their view, Christians are polytheists to whom Muhammed accredited the heresy of believing in three gods, having confused Christianity with a gnostic sect, probably the Basilidians. In doing this, he put Christians in the same category as pagan polytheists. The sources from which he learned his imprecise information about Christianity came from the accounts and legends of his time (books like the apocryphal gospels, such as the Gospel of James, and the Gospel of Thomas).
The New Koranic Jesus
With regards to “Isa, the son of Mary,” in Islam, he’s a prophet and only a man, a creature created by Allah. He’s not God who took on human flesh nor is he the Son of God, nor is he the Christ who died on the cross. His place on the cross was taken by a substitute. This Jesus/Isa described in the Quran is a precursor to the greatest prophet of Islam, Muhammed. Islam claims that Muhammed was predicted by Jesus in the gospel of John (the Paraclete of chapters 14&16). The Islamic Jesus, called Isa, has nothing to do with the true Jesus of the Gospels. He is instead like the Jesus of the apocryphal gospels, an imposter. The “Christology” given in the Quran is inaccurate, differing greatly from the authentic description of the Bible.
Some of these inaccuracies are:
Muslims don’t believe in the divinity of Christ. For them, such an idea is blasphemy.
Jesus is now in the presence of Allah and on the Day of Judgment he will return to earth to give testimony to Muhammed, converting the whole world to Islam. Jesus will condemn Christians to eternal judgment because they worshipped him as the Son of God.
The Quran gives no explanation regarding the significance of the virgin birth of Jesus.
Another important issue is that the Quran doesn’t speak of sin’s entrance into the world through the sin of Adam. Because of the imputation of sin to the descendants of Adam, the virgin birth of Jesus was necessary so that he could be born without the sin of Adam being imputed to him.
Why is this important? When Adam was tempted, he fell into sin. Christ never sinned. His birth is as unique as the absence of any sin in him at all. Adam was created by God from the dust of the earth and he was given life by the breath of God. Christ was born of a virgin conceived by the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit caused the Christ child to be formed in the womb of the virgin Mary. Because of his virgin birth, Jesus Christ was exempt from inheriting original sin which has been imputed to the rest of us. The Word of God became flesh!
The vision of God presented in the Scripture is blasphemy to Muslims. Even the Judeo-Christian idea of the fatherhood of God is deemed a blasphemy by Muslims, as it calls into question their view of the absolute unity of Allah.
For you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us,
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is your name. (Isaiah 63:16)
6. Is it really possible to pray with Muslims?
There are some who suggest Christians should pray with Muslims. Others go so far as to invite Muslims into Evangelical churches to give an Islamic sermon from the pulpit. In some churches, Muslims have been allowed to use the building for their prayers during Ramadan. This, however, comes with problems. It is well known that Muslims pray to Allah 5 times per day. The first surah of the Quran (Al-Fatiha) is recited as an Islamic liturgical prayer at the beginning of these prayers and at the beginning of every Muslim service (salat). It’s a requirement of Islam to begin prayers by saying:
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate one, the most Merciful (2) Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, (3) Most Compassionate, most Merciful, (4) Master of the day of Judgment, (5) You we worship and you we ask for help. (6) Guide us on the strait path, (7) the path of those whom you have favored; not the path of those who have earned your anger nor of those who have gone astray.
In verse 7, those who have earned God’s anger, according to the common Islamic interpretation of this verse, are the Jews who are called “cursed by Allah.” Those who are have “gone astray” are the Christians. With the assumptions outlined in this opening prayer of the first surah of the Quran, praying with Muslims is an absurd idea. It makes no sense for Christians. And it doesn’t make sense for Muslims either because how can they pray with the Christians who have “gone astray”?
Even allowing Muslims t
o use our church buildings is a mistake. It is equivalent to desecrating the buildings in which we worship. Naturally those Evangelical leaders who have made these gestures of friendship without first carefully considering the significance of these actions, do not realize the full implication of what they are doing.
Because the Son of God has come to us to bring eternal salvation, there is no need for another religion to come and overturn previous revelation or add another sacred scripture.
The apostle Paul warned us against another gospel and against another Jesus saying that if anyone preaches another gospel, “may he be accursed.” The Christology of Islam is a false Christology. It is used by the Quran in an attempt to overturn the plan of salvation of the Savior, Yeshua!
Muhammed denied some crucial aspects of the person and life of Jesus/Yeshua. The Quran speaks of the birth of a Christ from a virgin, a person called Mary (which the Quran describes as the sister of Aaron ), but denies that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and ignores the reason for his virgin birth. The vision of the Quran destroys from its inception the idea of Christian ecumenism. The next time we hear of statements supporting ecumenism from the many Evangelicals and Catholics who affirm these ideas, we should ask them to give empirical evidence for their assertions.