By Prof. Paul Merkley, Special for USDR
Say Not “THREE.
From the beginning, Muslims have taken the view that the Prophet Muhammad’s message contains everything that Allah has given us to know about everything. This belief informs the 240-meter-long inscription that appears around the drum of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and bears the date A.H. 72 (A.D. 691-2). These constitute some of the earliest surviving versions of any texts know to us from the Qur’an.The text reads in part:
O ye People of the Book, overstep not bounds in your religion; and of God speak only truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and His Word which he conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him. Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not “three”. It will be better for you. God is only one God…. The true religion with God is Islam. (As quoted in Garth Fowden, Empire To Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism In Late Antiquity (Princeton U.P., 1003.)
It is far too easy for the Muslim tour guide to dazzle a flock of Christian tourists with descriptions of the magnificence that plays around them. The lesson that serious Christians should be absorbing is usually lost. It is about Islam’s absolute and unqualified confidence in its unqualified right to explain other people’s religion to them. In the case of Christians, they must “Cease to say THREE” and submit to Islam.
Fundamentals of Dogmatic Theology, as Taught by Prophet Muhammad.
When a Christian, intent to enliven his faith with a dose of Comparative theology, opens the pages of the Qur’an for the first time he is likely to be taken aback by the strikingly “fundamentalist” tone of Professor Muhammad’s teaching. Regarding the conception of Jesus, Muhammad proclaims:
Behold! The angels said: O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word From Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company) of those nearest to God. (Holy Qur’an, III: 45)
“O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said: “Even so: God createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a Plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be,’ and it is!” (III: 47.) So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place. (XIX: 22.)
So far, a conservative Christian scholar finds patent agreement of Muhammad with the opening line of the Second Article of the Creed. But matters quickly go off the rail (from the point of view of the Christian scholar):
[On seeing the newborn Jesus, “her people” said:] How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle? He [the newborn infant Jesus] said: “I am indeed a servant of God: He hath given me Revelation and made me a prophet; and he hath made me Blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live .… So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life again!” (XIX: 27-33.)
As for the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection and the Ascension, these are all out: The Jews invented the story about the Resurrection so that they could boast about killing God – the sheerest kind of evidence of their grandiosity and their deceitfulness:
They ([the Jews] have incurred divine displeasure) in that they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus The son of Mary, The Apostle of God.” But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them …. Nay, God raised him up, unto Himself; and God is exalted in Power … (etc) [IV: 155-158. ]
A. Yusuf Ali’s, whose commentary accompanies what I am told is the version of the Qur’an most widely-recommended for Christian beginners today, explains:
The end of the life of Jesus on earth is as much involved in mystery as his birth, and indeed the greater part of his private life, except the three main years of his ministry …. The Orthodox Christian Churches make it a cardinal point of their doctrine that his life was taken on the Cross, that he died and was buried, that on the third day he rose in the body with his wounds intact, and walked about and conversed, and ate with his disciples, and was afterwards taken up bodily into heaven…. The Quranic teaching is that Christ was not crucified nor killed by the Jews, notwithstanding certain apparent circumstances which produced that illusion in the minds of some of his enemies … and that he was taken up to God.
Students of church History will recognize this line about “certain apparent circumstances” as deriving from Docetism – it might be translated “seemingism”- a heresy of the earliest years of the Church that turns on the proposition that Jesus only seemed to be human (he was actually entirely divine); that he only seemed to have been born of a woman; that He only seemed to die on the Cross, etc. There is no reason, in my view, to think that Muhammad read (he was, after all, illiterate) or was inspired by the Docetic teachers; Doceticism follows automatically as a matter of logic from rejection of the New Testament teaching on the identity of Jesus as God. Docetism, in one form or another, underlies most of the best-selling book about Jesus available right now in the best book stores.
One Example of the Consequences of Following Muhammad’s Understanding of the Person and Work of Jesus.
An unlimited number of deviations from historic Christian teaching follow from Muhammad’s inspired teaching. I will take space here for only one. It is the profound disagreement between the Church and Islam on the related matters of the consequences of sin and the possibility of divine forgiveness.
While enthusiasts for comparative religion in our midst are keen on stressing the fundamental compatibility of such insights, the best-trained Muslim teachers insist that scholars from the Christian side who imagine that Islam is about God’s forgiveness are simply misreading the Qur’an. A. Yusuf Ali explains:
Allah is referred to as Rahman and Rahim (Most Merciful) ….. The word gafar, [when] translated “to forgive”… gives us a very limited idea of God’s Mercy when we only use the English word, “mercy”; the Quranic idea implies not only pity and forgiveness but the Grace which protects us and keeps us from sin, and indeed guides us to the light of His “Countenance.”
So far so good. But then,
The “forgiveness” of God is a thing totally different in quality from the forgiveness which a man can give to his brother man: the equation implied in “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” is a misleading fallacy. [The Holy Qur’an. Translation and Commentary by A. Yusuf Ali, Introductory “Commentaries,” p. ix.]
Yusuf Ali is quoting Jesus’ words, as we find them in the Lord’s Prayer. Christians teach that, on His authority as the Son of God, Jesus teaches us that we should ask our Father to forgive us. Furthermore, He tells us that we should seek to apply the example of His willingness to forgive to our own dealings with each other. We need this forgiveness to survive as people. This is an insight that Christianity shares with Judaism. It is typically expressed in Psalm 103, where we are told:
For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
Because He is God incarnate, living a human life among us, Jesus of Nazareth knows experientially the meaning of all human dealings. He experienced rejection by people who imagined that they had been offended by Him and could not forgive Him. He relates all this human experience to the context of our dealings with God our Father. We should love our neighbour as God loves us. If we give this up, we give up everything.
Clearly if we accept this Muslim understanding of mercy, we cannot cling to the Judaeo-Christian understanding of mercy. We certainly cannot split the difference.
There is much talk today about the necessity of “dialogue” with Islam. (The best illustration, to my knowledge of this sort of “dialogue” in full flight is, Awan, Mahmud, “The Faith Community and World Order in the Perspective of Islam,” in al-Faruqi, Isma’il Raji , (ed.), Trialogue of the Abrahamic Faiths. 3rd edition. Alexandria, Va.: Al Sadawi Publications/United Arab Bureau. 1991.}
In the final analysis, the prospect for profitable dialogue with Islam must depend on what is common in their respective visions of the Person of God. The judgment of Pope John Paul II on this matter is as follows:
Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about Himself, first in the Old Testament through the Prophets, and then finally in the New Testament through His Son. In Islam all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside. Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but he is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only majesty, never Emmanual, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of Redemption.
Acknowledging this, Hassan Turabi, a preacher in Sudan, tells us, triumphantly:
Islam can no longer be denied! It is the only force that motivates young people in the developing world. You in the West must understand that. You must not fear it. You had better get used to it. (Quoted in Judith Miller, God Has Ninety-Nine Names (Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 159.]
This is exactly the spirit in which the newly-proclaimed Caliph of all the Muslims is pursuing his instructions to all Christians everywhere to submit to the teaching of Muhammad. Whatever anyone else who calls himself a Muslim may be saying on these matters in Letters to the Editors of our newspapers and journals, the words and the deeds and the Caliph come direct from the desk of Prophet Muhammad.