THE WORLD OF ISLAM
The story of Muhammad Idn Abdullah—and indeed it is a story—began with a zealous leader of Arabia. He was a trader from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. When he was twenty-five years old, he married a woman who was fifteen years older. When he was eventually expelled from his hometown of Mecca because of his teaching, one of his followers brought him his six-year-old daughter to marry, which marriage was not consummated until the child was nine-years-old. Muhammad eventually added more wives as he grew older. So what would we think a religious leader would do to justify such multiple wives? You guessed it, write some scriptures that justify one’s behavior. aS Surah 33:50,51 of the Qur’an, Muhammad wrote,
O Prophet! We [Allah and his messenger] have permitted to you your wives to whom you have given their dowries, and those you already have, as granted to you by Allah …. … if the Prophet desires to marry her, exclusively for you, and not for the believers. We know what We have ordained for them regarding their wives and those their right-hands possess. This is to spare you any difficulty. You may defer any of them you wish, and receive any of them you wish. Should you desire any of those you had deferred, there is no blame on you.
The story is told that when Muhammad was forty, he was praying in a cave on Mount Hira, and subsequently had a surreal emotional experience. While in prayer, the angel Gabriel supposedly appeared to him and said that he was now the messenger of God. He was commanded by Gabriel to write, but Muhammad refused. It is said that Gabriel squeezed him to the point that Muhammad thought he would die. Muhammad then began to recite the first verses of what is now called the Qur’an. Since it is believed that Muhammad could not read or write, he dictated words to a scribe who in turn transcribed his words on any writing material that could be found. Muslims affirm that because Muhammad could not read or write that this is evidence that his words were directly dictated to him by Allah.
The beginnings of Islam thirteen centuries ago was among the Arab tribal groups, who were at that time mostly polytheists. The Arabs worshipped tribal gods and had no sacred history as the Jews and Christians. They also did not have a sacred text of Scripture. Neither did they have a supposedly common sacred language. The Jews had Hebrew into which their sacred text came to them from God. The Christians had Koine Greek into which their sacred text was transcribed. But the Arabs had none of those things that Muhammad considered to be necessary to start and maintain a new faith, and thus be the identifying characteristics of one’s religious faith.
The Jews and Christians believed in one God. The Jews had holy prophets, and the Christians had holy apostles. But the Arabs had neither one God, a sacred text of Scripture that was written in a specific language, nor a holy city as Jerusalem, Rome and Constantinople. What Muhammad did was bring to the Arabs all that the Jews and Christians had that he believed gave identity to their faith.
Until his death in 632, Muhammad sought to bring to the scattered Arabs a faith they could claim as their own. He was so successful in this quest that he and his followers united under his teaching, and subsequently, became a strong military force. In one hundred years after his death, so many people and civilizations united under his teaching that at the height of Islamic influence, Islam stretched from north Africa to southern Europe in the west, and to the countries of India and western China in the east. At its zenith, the great Islamic Ottoman Empire was formed in 1258, which extended throughout all the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire lasted until World War I when it was eventually broken up by the victorious Allied powers after the war. Segments of the Empire were subsequently signed over to be governed by prominent Arab leaders.
One of the significant nations that eventually came from the Ottoman Empire was Saudi Arabia. What is unique about this sparsely populated desert nation is its Islamic influence throughout the world today. In the eighteenth century, a Muslim scholar by the name of Wahhab sought to teach a pure form of Islam to the Arabian tribal groups of the Arabian peninsula, which is today modern Saudi Arabia. In the 1930s, the al-Saud family took control of the area, and thus it is called Saudi Arabia today. This nation became the birth place of Wahhabism.
Wahhabism is taught throughout Saudi Arabia, which nation also promotes the building of mosques throughout the world where the same teaching is propagated, especially in America. Those Muslims who promote Wahhabism, therefore, would be considered very strict in their implementation of Qur’anic teaching. They would be pure or orthodox Muslims, or those who are true to the legal dictates of the Qur’an. Subsequently, no other religious faith may be practiced in Saudi Arabia. This form of Islam is very aggressive in establishing mosques and Islamic schools throughout the West today.
I. Roots of an Islamic world view:
We often hear of Muslims being called to jihad (holy war). Jihad is defined as “holy war.” By most Muslims today this is a principle of warfare by which the Islamic faith is to be extended throughout non-Islamic peoples. Some moderate Muslims will often define jihad as one’s personal inner struggle for spiritual growth. But in the historical context of the origin of the word, this definition is far from the thinking of Muslims, especially those in the Middle East. In the Middle East today, jihad is always defined as it was during the military struggles of Islam in the seventh century. It is warfare against the unbelieving nations of the world until the world is totally Islam. Western residents must not forget this point, and subsequently be deceived into thinking that jihad is something personal with the Muslim. It is personal only in the sense that individual Muslims seek to unite together in order to take the world for Islam.
We witness on the news media constant conflicts in the Middle East, conflicts that are usually generated by some brand of Islamic radicals who zealously promote their Islamic denomination. In the last few decades, “terrorism” has been a primary weapon of Islamists who seek to impose either judgment on the “infidels.” They have also terrorized those they assume to be Muslim apostates. But to be fair and clear, not all Muslims are terrorists. But it seems that all terrorists in the world today are Muslims seeking to impose judgment on the “unbelieving” world of infidels. What all civilizations considered absurd years ago (the suicide bomber) has become a common “weapon” of Islamists in their jihad against the infidels of the world.
For the Islamist, the killing of innocent people justifies the end result of jihad against the infidel. In November 2014, a German reporter made his way into the ranks of the ISIS movement in Syria. He interviewed the ISIS fighters in order to determine the basis of their world view. In a BCC interview with the German reporter, he stated that one jihadist ISIS soldier responded to his questioning, “We will kill as many people as possible in order to accomplish our goal. Whether we kill thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of millions, five hundred million, we will do so to accomplish our goal.”
People wonder if the root of this radicalism is seated in the pages of the Qur’an. We often make judgments concerning the Islamic faith by the conflict that is constantly portrayed on the news. But we would urge viewers to be cautious about making such judgments concerning a particular faith that is based on the radical beliefs and practices of adherents who have hijacked a faith for their own political and economic agendas. Such happened in the history of Christianity during the ages of the Crusades, which political maneuvers by the Catholic Church were used to judge and condemn people who were not Christians according to their definition of Christianity. We would correct ourselves not to do the same in our judgments concerning another faith. Hijackers of faiths must never be consulted in order to determine the true beliefs of any faith.
There are certainly sprinkled throughout the Qur’an verses that incite violence against the unbelievers, as one surah states, “Fight them [unbelievers] so that Allah may punish them at your hands, and put them to shame.” However, peace is promised for societies that conform to the teachings of the Qur’an. The preceding surah of the Qur’an certainly does not say that a Muslim has a right during times of peace to take the initiative to generate a fight with unbelievers. However, it is unfortunate that the radical Islamist feeds on the calls for violent aggression (jihad) regardless of the passive nature of the unbelievers among whom he lives.
But we must not forget that when the Qur’an uses the word “peace,” a different world view is defined for the Muslim than what the Christian would understand the word to mean. The Qur’an would define the word “peace” to mean that when the world becomes Muslim, then there will be peace. All will live under because in obedience to sharia law.
The Qur’an is a book that focuses on prayer and good deeds. There are rules for acceptable prayer and religious rituals to be followed whereby the adherents may focus on a spiritual life. The Qur’an establishes rules for married life, divorce, community relationships, and how to raise children. There is a great deal of wisdom in the Qur’an for daily living since the Qur’an is meant to be the absolute law for an Islamic state.
The common denominator between Christianity, Judaism and Islam is that all three faiths trace their roots back to Abraham. Abraham was not a Jew, but a Gentile, and thus his identity was not determined by race, but by faith. As both Christians and Jews, Muslims also go beyond Abraham to Adam in their spiritual lineage. Both the Bible and the Qur’an call for faith in one God who is the creator and sustainer of the world. And in reference to salvation, both the Bible and the Qur’an call for repentance on the part of the sinner in view of an impending punishment of the disobedient in a fiery hell, but a reward for the righteous in Paradise or Heaven.
But when reading the text of both the Bible and the Qur’an, there is a vast difference between the world view that is explained in both documents. The Qur’an is like driving onto a California freeway. While driving down this freeway one will often come across an exit to a command of God, and then an exit to an outburst in prayer, then some theological pronouncement, or a story of some early prophet. Throughout the 114 surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an there are descriptions of judgment and punishment. There is no single focus on a theme in any surah.
When Muhammad supposedly recited the contents of the surahs, his words were transcribed on various writing materials at different times, and then eventually, over one hundred years later, brought together into one book from the longest surah to the shortest. There is no chronological order of either the surahs or statements as they were transcribed over a period of time, and eventually collected together as the book of the Qur’an. Since this collection of the surahs took place over one hundred years after Muhammad died, it can be understood why the Qur’an gives the presentation of a collection of sayings, instead of a document that was specifically written to for people to understand clearly. (More later.)
II. Bible and Qur’an differences:
In reference to messages from God, the Christian and Muslim view their holy books from different perspectives. The Christian views the Bible from the perspective of what Peter wrote: “For the prophecy did not come in old time by the will of man, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt 1:21). God allowed the writers of Scripture to use their own vocabulary and writing styles, as the Hebrew and Greek texts clearly reveal. But He inspired through the Holy Spirit that which was to be communicated and written down. As a result, the Bible is a collection of the writings of about forty men over 1,500 years of history. As the Qur’an, Bible literature was collected together into one book as we have it today. But throughout this “collection” there remains one central world view of the Bible, that is, the salvation of men through the cross of the Son of God.
Muslims regard the Qur’an after the meaning of its name, “The Recitation.” Muslims believe that their scripture came as a direct dictation from Allah to Muhammad. Muhammad then recited the “word” to a scribe who wrote down the exact words that came from Allah. Muhammad was only a medium through whom Allah communicated his words to man. Since Muhammad was a self-proclaimed messenger of God, it would only be natural for him to make such a claim in order to guard against others adding to his “scriptures.”
For the above reason, the Muslim considers the actual book of the Qur’an sacred in and of itself. It must not be desecrated in any manner. Christians, on the other hand, seek to know the message of Jesus and the God who is beyond the words of the inspired book. One can burn Bibles, but he can never destroy the message that is revealed through the Bible. The actual book of the Bible is not an idol to the Christian. But if the Qur’an would be burned, then it is a desecration to the religion, not just the book.
Muslims do not consider any translation of the Arabic to be regarded greater than the actual Arabic script, the language that Allah ordained to be the language to communicate his dictates to man. Translations of the Qur’an, therefore, are only interpretations. They are not to be considered God’s original words. When Muhammad gave his supposed divine words to be inscribed in Arabic, he forgot that God had used Hebrew words two thousand years before to do the same for the Jews, and six hundred years before in His use of Greek for the Christians. And when Jesus quoted from the Old Testament during His ministry, as well as when the Holy Spirit quoted from the Old Testament in writing the New Testament, both quoted from the Greek Septuagint, which was a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Translation is accepted by God, and thus, there is no holiness in the “words,” but in the message the words convey. Christians are concerned about accuracy in translation of the biblical text. However, they accept the art of translation of the Hebrew and Greek texts into any local language as sufficient to convey the message of salvation that is the theme of the Bible. This cannot be said of the Muslim’s view of any translation of the Qur’an.
What Muhammad’s claim does reveal is the fact that the Qur’an was culturally seated in the era of his own Arabic time capsule. By focusing on the Arabic language, the Muslim is trying to keep the Qur’an where it originated, in Arabia. As stated in a previous chapter, this actually added to the acceptance of the Qur’an by the Arab people, and continues to do so today. However, it continues to be a stumbling block for the propagation of Islam to the rest of the world. If one would be an accepted scholar of Qur’anic teaching, he must be able to study the Qur’an in Arabic.
The claim that the words of the Qur’an are the exact words of God is often confusing to Christians. But compare this to what actually happened when God transcribed directly on stone the ten commandments for Moses to give to Israel. The actual words were written in Hebrew by the “finger” of God. The writing, therefore, was the oral words that God dictated to Moses who gave them to Israel on tablets of stone. Israel considered the words so sacred that they preserved the two tablets in the ark of the covenant.
If we would compare this to New Testament teaching, it would be somewhat similar to Christ being the revealed “word” that came to man. Christ was the word that was revealed (Jn 1:1-14). After His death and ascension, He is revealed to us today through ink and paper (Jn 1:1-14). He is only revealed to us with words that describe who He was and is as the revealed word of God. But the book of the Qur’an was the revelation of Allah through the Arabic words. In comparison to the two tablets of stone, the Qur’an is sacred. It is the book of recorded words that are the revelation of Allah himself. Muhammad was only the medium through whom the words of the book (Allah) were communicated.
This somewhat explains the beautiful Arabic art of Islamic countries. Because Muslims abhor any form of idolatry, they used the written words of the Arabic language to portray the revelation of Allah through Arabic art. The art depicts episodes in the life of Muhammad. Because Arabic words from the Qur’an depict the presence of Allah, through the use of such words Allah is portrayed through art in order to reveal his presence. Arabic art is the ever present revelation of Allah, for the artistic words are Allah in definition.
The rest of the religious world perceives an inconsistency by Muslims in reference to their vehement teaching against idolatry. Every definition that is used in any dictionary to define idolatry could be used to explain the Muslim’s reverence toward the book of the Qur’an. They idolize the Qur’an, while at the same time condemn idolatry. The same can be said of the Muslim’s idol reverence for the Kabah of Mecca, to which each Muslim must make at least one Hajj (pilgrimage) in his lifetime in order to march around this stone monument (idol). The black stone cube of the Kabah is supposedly where the pantheon of past tribal gods of the Arabs is confined. If this is not idolatry, then we will have to come up with a different definition of idolatry for our dictionaries. Many in Africa clearly understand this thinking, for many came out of animistic beliefs that spirits dwelt in stones and trees. But when they became Christians, they realized that such inanimate works of creation are not the dwelling place of the spirit world.
In comparison to simple Christianity, the true disciple of Jesus is far less of an idolater than the Muslim. We must not confuse this with the Catholics’ use of the cross as an idol, for the New Testament places absolutely no emphasis on using material things or clothing as symbols of faith.
III. The “people of the Book”:
The Qur’an distinguishes “the people of the book” from nonbelievers. Both Jews and Christians are acknowledged as “people of the book.” However, the phrase “the book” is not a direct reference to the Bible, but to a heavenly text of Scripture that was written by God, of which, the Qur’an is called the only final and perfect revelation of this word. Throughout history, God revealed Himself as “the book” to His prophets in order to reveal His will to man. The Qur’an also claims that the revelation of “the book” of Allah were revealed to other religious people who are not mentioned in the Bible. In other words, Allah revealed himself to other people as he revealed himself to Adam, Abraham and Israel.
The Qur’an affirms that the revelations of “the book” were corrupted by the Jews and Christians, or at least the revelations were greatly misinterpreted. They could not, therefore, gain a clear understanding of Allah through the Bible. The Qur’an, however, supposedly corrected all these misinterpretations, and thus, only the Qur’an can be trusted as the true revelation of Allah to man.
IV. Source of authority:
Muslims have always had an unresolved conflict for establishing authority between secular state and religion. The problem is not in the Qur’an, but in how it is interpreted and applied to civil society. Muhammad envisioned a society wherein everyone was Muslim, and thus, in submission to Qur’anic (sharia) law. In this way, the Qur’an would be the authority for the governance of the state and faith of the people. But throughout history, Muslims have never been able to resolve the conflict between religious authority through the Qur’an and the authority of an Islamic government with democratic principles of function.
When Islamic religion spread throughout the ancient world, it enveloped many peoples of different civilizations. However, it had great difficulty in bringing all these civilizations under the governance of a common system of Islamic law. As a result, there arose scholars of the Qur’an who in many of the conquered states settled disputes through fatwas (opinions) that were handed down to the people from the religious leaders. But in the Islamic democratic states today, the fatwas of the religious leaders do not have much authority. The result of this lack of Qur’anic authority taught by the imams through fatwas has left the door of interpretation wide open for the speculative interpretations of every Islamic leader who would assert himself to restore obedience to true Qur’anic teaching. The most radical Islamists would lead radicalized groups to establish a supposedly true Islamic state, and by doing such, seek to behead all other Muslims who would not conform to the prominent spiritual leader’s interpretations of the Qur’an. Only in this way could true peace be established among the people.
Radical Muslims (Islamists) do not consider those Muslims who have modernized interpretations of the Qur’an to be true Muslims. And the modern Muslim would be the first to condemn radical interpreters of the Qur’an as Osama bin Laden and the present ISIS movement in the Middle East. The fact is that under the umbrella of Islam there are all sorts of groups of Muslims, from the most modernized to the most radical Islamist. This assortment of sects that reside under the umbrella of the Qur’an is so vast that it is simply impossible today to define what is true Islam. The problem is that among all these groups, the spiritual leaders have their own unique way of interpreting the Qur’an.
We must not forget that moderate interpreters of the Qur’an have voiced their condemnation of those who would interpret the Qur’an to support their own selfish agendas to gain political dominance and commit genocide. Moderate Muslims condemn terrorist activities and suicide bombers. They condemn the murder of innocent victims by indiscriminate bombing. Muslim scholars of the West have experienced the benefits of democracy, free speech, and human rights since the first Muslims came to America as slaves, and then were freed. They, as South African Muslims, never wanting to go back to any form of bondage or apartheid. The majority of the Islamic scholars who have grown up in free societies believe that the Qur’an is open for interpretation in reference to a pluralistic society of different religious faiths. Even on the subject of women’s rights, the modern Muslim movement seeks to promote the legalization of women’s rights in the environment of democratic governments. The Malay Muslims of South Africa fought so long during the time of struggle against the oppressive apartheid government, that they never want to return to any oppressive form of government of the people.
In many areas of faith, both the Bible and the Qur’an have some common ground. Both teach that there is one God. Both teach the dignity of the human individual who must submit to the revelation that God has given to man. And both teach that the spirit of the humble life is the key to one’s cohabitation with other people that God created to be culturally different. The problem often comes from radicals in the Islamic camp to seek to establish their radical interpretations of the Qur’an. And it is the radicals with hidden political agendas who lead themselves to believe that violence is justified as a means to an end to promote one’s faith. Any means to accomplish the end is justified in the minds of the radical Islamist, and for this reason, the true Islamist is validated by the Qur’an to deceive the infidel in order to accomplish conquest over the infidel.
There have always been radical “Christians” throughout history. However, there is a vast difference between radical Christians who become cults and radical Muslims who become murderers. Radicals as Jim Jones and David Koresh sought to isolate their followers from society. Radical Muslims as Osama bin Laden seek to conquer and control society through violent means. The radicals of both Christianity and Islam manifest the nature of what either group considers divine authority. We would certainly conclude that the radical Islamist to commit murder leads us to believe that his source of authority is from man and not God.
Our plea to the moderate Muslim is that he reconsider the Christians’ source of authority. What we would urge is that Muslims must not judge someone to be “Christian” if he simply calls on Jesus as the Son of God, but behaves after his own agenda. Christians would call such a person a religionist, but not a Christian. Such were the people of the Crusades and the religion that was promoted by the Crusaders. It was a religion of man, not of God, and thus, not Christian.
And we would call on all Christians not to assume that one is following Qur’anic teachings when he straps on a bomb vest in order to murder innocent people. Any religious faith can be hijacked by radicals in order to gain a following for political or personal purposes, and subsequently, cause pain and suffering in the lives of the innocent. This is exactly what Muhammad did with the invention of his religion. But supposed Christians are not innocent. The supposedly “Christian” liberation theologists of the 60s and 70s carried guns to overthrow Central American governments. Such a theology made its way into South Africa during the days of apartheid struggle. But these were not Christians, even though they carved the name Jesus Christ on their guns. They were religionists with a political agenda who sought to hijack Christianity for their own political means. There are Islamists who do the same today with Islam. But because they have promoted misinterpretations of their holy book does not mean that they are interpreting in their lives the spirit of the Qur’an. In times of peace, the preacher, as well as the Islamic imam, will find it hard to declare “holy war” on the basis of teachings of either the Bible or the Qur’an.
V. Influence of Hadith interpretations:
Other than the Qur’an, Muslims also have another source from which they derive information for teaching and interpretation of the Qur’an. After a century of the Islamic faith, the first dynasty of caliphs in Damascus (661–750) sought to draw allegiance to their ranks in the early conflicts between Muslims, as well as conflicts between Muslims and the opposition of Jewish/Christian forces. But primarily because the Islamic leaders sought to acquire as much information as possible of the deeds and sayings of Muhammad, a search was made to collect as much of the oral information as possible concerning Muhammad who lived over one hundred years before. This collection of oral sayings and traditions was collected together into what became know as the Hadith, or “prophetic traditions.”
In the collection of the material, it seemed that there were no scruples about falsifying information concerning the life and teachings of Muhammad. Those who gathered the material did what many “miracle working” preachers do today. They go about digging up any rumor of a miracle or mysterious event, write a book, and then hope to draw the gullible to their ranks in order to fill church coffers. So from Damascus, “pseudo-researchers” went from village to village in order to find information about the deeds and teachings of Muhammad. Now keep in mind that this search took place over one hundred years after Muhammad died. By this time in history, the only information that Muslims had of Muhammad came from word-of-mouth stories that were more often fantasy than truth. In fact, the Hadith, according to some Muslim scholars, contains contradictions, some absurd traditions, and according to some, outright blasphemous traditions.
Because the Hadith was used to write commentaries on the Qur’an, and determine interpretations, the Shi’ites and Sunnis accept two different bodies of Hadith. The largest sects of Islam (Sunni, Shi’ite and Ibadi), rely on their compilation of Hadith to determine sharia law, Qur’anic interpretations, and the early history of Muhammad and Islam.
The zeal of the early composers of the Hadith moved them to search beyond the facts concerning the early beginnings of Islam. They were actually too far removed from the early beginnings of Islam to gather many facts, and thus had to rely on oral traditions. The writings that were brought together were often copies of copies of their original autographs. The facts had already been corrupted through word-of-mouth communication for over a century.
What these eighth and ninth century redactors did do was construct a picture of the past as they believed it should be. They wanted to present the ideal of what they believed Islam would produce if one were obedient to the mandates of the Qur’an.
This search turned into a business as fanciful stories of Muhammad’s sayings and deeds were collected and sold. And as the gullible person in search of a miracle laps up hearsay concerning some wonder that was worked in some far off country, so gullible Muslims eagerly received any tale about Muhammad and his sayings. As the demands increased for these tales of teachings and deeds of Muhammad, the accumulation of the material of the Hadiths increased.
The early history of the Islamic faith is based in the material of the Hadiths, depending on what sect of Islam one is studying. But as the faith of the “miracle research” of some religionists is based on supposed wonders that were not personally witnessed, so the faith of some Muslims is based on the fanciful stories of the Hadith. Depending on how serious a particular Muslim scholar considers the authority of the Hadith, will determine the foundation for his interpretation of the Qur’an. In recent years, however, there has been a general rejection of the authority of the Hadith in reference to Qur’anic interpretation. In fact, many recent Muslim scholars have rejected any authority of the Hadith, relying only on the authority of the Qur’an itself.
As with the Damascus caliphs who sought for fanciful stories to gain allegiance to their cause, so it is today with some Muslims who seek justification for unrighteous ways. We would caution Christians at this point not to underestimate the true nature of even the moderate Muslim who finds justification for barbaric practices in the pages of the Qur’an through the medium of interpretation by the Hadith. We must not forget that the Hadith justifies that Muslim women are subject to polygamist marriages, the right of husbands to beat their wives, female circumcision through genital mutilation, and the justification for “honor killing” (murder) of a daughter who would date a Christian. These are the realities of even “moderate” Muslims within democratic societies. All these moral injustices find their validation in the Hadith.