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What I Learned about Islam Yesterday
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Sermons -- Audio Version
Trinity XV - 09/12/10
Ex. 2:1-22; Psalm 15; Gal. 6:11-18; Mt. 6:24-34
NOTE: the conference referred to below was put on by
www.MinistryToMuslims.com See also, www.TheCenterForReligiousDebate.com
See Addenda attached below on how to use this material
"An Extended Response to Muslims..." & Islam Library
Yesterday was the conference on how to help Muslims who are open to discussing the nature of the Christian faith, and, at the same time, the nature of their own religion, Islam. All of the three presenters did an extraordinary job of explaining their material.
So, what did I learn yesterday? I have been slowly growing in my awareness of the kind of religion Islam is and gathering thoughts on how and why it is so radically different from Biblical religion. Yesterday my suspicion was confirmed by the testimonies of the three speakers.
So, what did I learn? I learned that Islam does not have a whisper of a chance of standing up with intellectual, moral, or spiritual integrity. None at all.
That is a serious charge, which I will try to explain. Islam does have a certain, and important, similarity to Biblical religion, but in certain other very crucial respects, Islam is in absolute contradiction with Biblical faith. There is no possible alliance between the two. The deities of the two move in precisely opposite directions.
The differences can be discerned by holding up the standard: "No compromise of truth, and no dilution of love."
'God' & 'Allah'
First a bit about names. Christians and Jews have, in English, take the generic word 'god', we have capitalized it, and made it into the proper name of the particular god we worship. We call Him God, not generically, any god, but the specific God to whom Abraham, Moses, and the prophets gave testimony, and, for Christians, the God who sent His son Jesus, to reveal Himself in a one-to-one relationship.
Muslims have done the same thing with the word 'allah' (small 'a'). They capitalize it (at least in English), and use it as the proper name, 'Allah', not generically, any god, but the specific god to whom Mohammed gave testimony. Arabic Christians use the word 'Allah' to mean what western Christians mean by 'God'. So, in effect, these Arabic Christians have adapted 'Allah' to be the proper name for the God of the Bible, not the God of the Koran.
Similarities & Differences
What, then, are the similarities between the Bible and the Koran? Both religions believe that God, or Allah, is the absolute and only creator of all else that exists, the Creator-ex-nihilo. And being the creator of all that exists, He is therefore also the Sovereign over all that exists. There is no thing, no circumstance, no age or era, over which God or Allah is not 100% sovereign.
That makes Biblical religion chronologically first, and Islam second, the only two religions in the world which have this radical notion of a Creator ex-nihilo. Other religions may have gods or goddesses who create worlds, but not, ultimately, out of nothing. They create, or construct, out of material which was already there.
So Islam and Biblical religion have that common cosmic foundation of a Creator God upon whom the whole universe depends. What, then, are the differences?
The differences lie in the kind of person the Biblical God and the Muslim Allah are. So then, how can we define those differences?
Very simply. The Muslim Allah does not bind Himself to either reason or morality. Allah can and will do whatever pleases Him at the moment, He binds Himself to no promise of dependability or predictability, not even about salvation. He can and will be, from our point of view, utterly unreasonable, and utterly immoral about anything or everything. But there is no creature who can call Him to account, and He will not bind Himself to any such arrangement of dependability with His creation.
That means that there is no commitment to "No compromise of truth, and no dilution of love." Neither truth nor love (love being the highest moral standard) are available as objective standards in Islam -- if Allah neither exhibits nor commands them.
[Note: I first came across this truth about Islam from comments made by Pope Benedict XVI. See http://www.theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/33Rlg/Islm/00Islam.htm#Papal_Challenge_to_Islam_ ]
The Biblical God similarly, as Job points out, has no judge or legislator over Him who can require obedience from God. There is no judge who can call God to account, no cosmic officer who can drag God before a court higher than God Himself. So, what is the difference between the two.
Our God does hold Himself accountable to both reason and morality. He does not have to do so. He is not required to do so, because there is no one who can do the requiring. God is totally and absolutely the sovereign, just is the Muslim Allah.
But the Biblical God has made a commitment within Himself, a decision, with the whole of His being, that He will love His neighbors just like He loves Himself.
The Muslim Allah uses His sovereignty to tyrannize over His created order of persons. The God of the Bible uses His sovereignty to bless and enrich His people with the wealth of His own majesty and glory. As St. Paul says in Ephesians 1:5-6:
He destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us.
For us humans, it cannot get any better than that. That is, God desires to draw us, His neighbors, into the good, the riches, the beauty, the power of life which He Himself enjoys. He has dedicated all of His almighty power to do that. He is under absolutely no obligation or compulsion to do that, but in His surveying all the infinite number of possibilities that He could choose, He has decided that the two highest laws in the cosmos will be that His creatures first will love Him with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strength.
That means that they will love the truth, beauty, and goodness, His very nature, those qualities by which they will be blessed.
And secondly, they will love their own neighbors just like they love themselves, and that He, the Creator of all of them, will love them with the same love that He requires of them towards one another.
That decision is the foundation of all Biblical theology of grace. That freely made decision on the part of God to love His creatures unconditionally, to invite them into His realm of bounty and goodness, is the meaning of grace. The invitation to the creatures is not a compulsion, it is a gift. Grace. If God is compelled, either by His own nature, or by some external authority higher than Himself, we would not have a God of grace, a God of freely giving, and therefore not a God of love, which is always a free gift.
The Allah of Islam is totally free, but also totally unself-disciplined. That makes Him a poor candidate for a personal relationship, such as we hear about in the Bible. And Allah offers no such incentive as truth or faithfulness.
Calling Allah 'father' would be blasphemy to a Muslim, an arrogant approaching to the father, totally out of order. (That, by the way, is why we say, before reciting the Lord's Prayer, that we are "bold" to say... "Our Father..." Why "bold"? Because we dare to do the unimaginable -- to call God our Father. We do so at His own invitation.)
Allah is distant, not loving, and one's only relationship to Him is one of blind obedience. The word 'islam' means 'I submit'. There is no reasoning in the matter, no reasoning or proof offered by Allah that He either loves us or offers to be reasonable or morally committed to us. There is no sense in which humans can call the Muslim Allah "faithful and true" (let alone "Father"), attributes commonly ascribed in the Bible to God. And, again, for the creatures of Allah to expect such faithfulness or truthfulness from Him would be blasphemy against His sovereign, unaccountable nature.
The Great Deceiver
Allah is called in the Koran, the "Great Deceiver". What then can we creatures make of that? How are we ever to know whether anything Allah says is the truth? How can Muslims have any idea of either the truthfulness or loyalty of Allah? Allah is said in their own texts to have deceived the Jews into believing that Jesus was crucified, when in fact Jesus was transported to heaven -- and Judas inserted in the place of Jesus on the cross. Yet their own texts say that the Christians and Jews, the people of the Book (the Bible) had the true religion, and that the Muslims were to listen to these people of the Book.
So there is a direct contradiction between the Muslim writings saying that Allah deceived the Jews (and thus also all the early Christians) about Jesus but that they, the Muslims of 600 AD, should listen to the people of the Book - who are said to have the true religion, even though they are so deceived.
What possible reason, then, can Muslims give to the rest of the world that their Allah is not deceiving those Muslims themselves? How can one possibly know when Allah is deceiving and when He is telling the truth -- when He refuses to discipline Himself, hold Himself accountable to both truth and morality.
On the human level, would we not consider a person growing into adulthood with that life-style to be a spoiled brat, irresponsible, and unfit for adult responsibilities? All the more when such a deity commands things which are known to be criminal activities, such as willfully killing innocent persons.
The logical fact is that, if our Creator and Sovereign does not hold Himself accountable to both reason and morality, then we instantly lose all possibility of making a reasonable decision to worship or not worship such a deity. And then there is, on that same account, no possibility of reasoning, debating, discussing with Muslims themselves in a rational, meaningful manner about my saying, "I submit. Islam." The decision is a totally, 100% leap into the dark.
We can be grateful that there are Muslims who do want to prove their case and who will enter into honest debate and discussion. Sometimes we humans have enough common sense to live above what we say we believe.
But, upon what, then, do persons base their decision to become Muslims? It must be either on a very unfortunate misunderstanding of Islam being better than it really is, or some emotional lock driving the adherents. There is no possible rational reason for becoming a Muslim. The very nature of the deity in question renders the making of a reasonable choice for that deity impossible. Yet the irrationality of Allah is considered a good thing, a sign of His power and authority, standing supremely above all His creatures.
One has to suspect that many Muslims are trapped in an overwhelming fear of being judged by such a deity. There is no "love which casts out fear" in such a religion. You are just stuck with a bad situation, relieved only by the sense of "belonging" to a religion with imagined power over others. All of the speakers yesterday indicated such.
One said that Muslims are obsessed with the fear that Allah spends great amounts of time writing down their sins, implying that Allah Himself is more interested in our blind obedience than in drawing us to Him with love or compassion. Those are two qualities which cannot reasonably be said to be a part of their notion of Allah.
It may be blasphemy to deny that the Muslim Allah is loving or compassionate, but that does not change the facts or the logic. The charge of blasphemy in the total absence of evidence and reason tells us that we are having our minds tampered with. We are the object of mind-control, not by the real God, not by the real Allah, but by human or demonic entities who want to control other persons.
We must challenge Muslims, gently and gracefully, as to why they attribute criminal behavior to Allah. Why do they attribute to Allah a command for men, women, and even children to commit suicide by strapping bombs onto themselves to kill other innocent persons? Does it not seem suspicious that the only substantial assurance of heaven offered by at least some Muslim clergy is that one must die in the act of killing an infidel? Does not that play into the hands of evil-minded persons who are not interested in the truth of things, but want rather to maintain a tight control over their people, and who use fear, and intellectual and spiritual blindness to do so?
Beginnings of Islam
What do we find when we look into the beginnings of Islam in the early 600's? What kind of person was Mohammed -- by their own testimony? What started out as an apparently reasonable and gentle spiritual leader when he was without power and influence, turned into a driving, militaristic, conqueror after he moved from Mecca to Medina and got political power. He had gotten few converts while he was gentle. Political power is about military power, about coercive power. It was only then that his converts began to multiply. And political power harnessed to the will of an inscrutable, irrational deity soon becomes a terribly destructive and eventually demonic force.
The problem is the nature which Muslims ascribe to their deity. If one ascribes to one's deity a scorn for holding Himself accountable to either reason or morality, then there is not a shred of hope for "Come, let us reason together...". We become like that which we worship. We become unreasonable and immoral -- and then justify that immoral and criminal behavior as the will of Allah.
What greater blasphemy can be done?
We Christians also have not typically been truth-seekers for at least the last five centuries, and have paid a dear price for it. We became afraid of truth-seeking as represented by science, when we should have been among the best scientists available. We have ourselves slandered God by implying that God does not bind Himself to truth or morality -- which is clearly taught by Scripture. In doing so, we have lost our public credibility and our public witness. And so we have become sitting ducks for manipulators and charlatans. And so few Christians have known how to challenge Muslims (or anyone else) to a higher spiritual life.
Islam vs. the Bible
Moses, in our Old Testament lesson, was born and being raised up by God for the freeing of the Hebrews from the domination of Pharaoh. Pharaoh represented that kind of irrational authority dedicated only to his own will, typical of paganism. Many, if not most, of the decisions of Pharaoh were arbitrary, made by himself without consulting the people. That kind of government, not under the authority of the real God, almost guarantees the abuse of the people.
Paul writes, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
Islam can accept almost anything said in the New Testament, but it cannot accept two things: either that Jesus is the Son of God, or that Jesus died on a cross for the salvation of mankind. That, of course, cuts the guts right out from the Christian faith. Who benefits from such a position? Who but the anti-Christ? How can Muslims explain the difference between the so-called Great Deceiver and Satan himself, the father of lies (John 8:42-44)?
It is as if Satan were finding a way to pretend to agree with all of the Christian faith in order to seduce people -- but destroying the very center itself, that which makes the Christian faith effective in setting us free from our bondage to brokenness and to sin -- destroying a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. There is no personal relationship with God in Islam, only a distant and abusive legal relationship.
Jesus in the Gospel tells us not to be anxious for what we put on, or drink, or eat. We are to trust and obey, but not in a blind leap into the dark, like racing out into the darkest night to our swimming pool, and leaping head first from our diving board without checking to see if anyone filled the pool. That is not faith, that is stupidity.
The God of the Bible would say the same about the kind of faith which Muslims think their Allah requires. Jesus says to behold how the Father in heaven feeds the birds. Jesus points to evidence of the goodness of God, evidence they can see. He reasons with them. And then ends with that constant theme of Biblical history: "Seek ye first His Kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." We can know the Way to the Father, Jesus Himself.
We are the ones who lock ourselves out of the presence of God, God does not lock us out. But we can do that seeking and finding because God has indeed bound Himself to those qualities which invite us, and open the door for us, into His presence.
The answer to Muslims is an invitation to become truth-seekers rather than position-defenders, to put truth-seeking as the highest of all obligations. Only then can truth-seeking become the Royal Road to God, the real God, whoever He might be. Only if we want to know the truth, at any cost to ourselves, only if we invite those who disagree with us into that arena, each admitting that we could be wrong, and that if we were wrong, we would want to know, can we ever have hope of either finding the truth for ourselves, or of creating a community built on the real truth. That is the Way of the God of the Bible -- "Come, let us reason together..."
Let us pray....
ADDENDA: to explore how we can use the above material with "no compromise of truth and no dilution of love".
Rather than a head-on challenge as though besieging a fortress, it would be better to invite a Muslim into a thought experiment, that is, to ask him to imagine a person who would be interested in Islam, making an inquiry, and putting some of the above issues before the Muslim. We, ourselves, might take that role.
Speaking to the Muslim:
Suppose I come to you seeking guidance on my spiritual life. I am interested in Islam because, for whatever reasons, I have become dissatisfied with my life up to now. I have read or heard many discussions back and forth between Christians, Jews, and Muslims, each supporting their own view, and each having reasons why the other two views were inadequate. I have narrowed down to these three out of all the possible religions I have run into, and want to make some decision.
So, I ask, What good reasons can you give for me to prefer Islam over the other two?
(Asking honest questions for clarification is a non-threatening way of getting a conversation going. He may start off by trying to show how the other two religions are not adequate. But we can guide the issue back to why Islam is adequate, rather than get off on rabbit trails.
What is it about the Koran which recommends it over other sacred scriptures? What is it about Mohammed which suggests that he is wiser or more in touch with the real and true God than the others?
(If we come at the issue indirectly, not as a "position-defender" trying to defend Christianity or disprove Islam, but as a neutral inquirer and truth-seeker, there will likely be less defensiveness on the part of the Muslim, and we might better be able to keep the focus on whether Islam can meet reasonable standards.)
If Allah does not even claim to do be reasonable, then again, what reason can be given to me (or anyone) for saying "I submit" to Allah?
What reason can a Muslim give for believing that "there is one God, Allah, and that Mohammed is His prophet"? How can we test that assertion? (That is their creed)
(He may reply with a challenge: "Well, how can we test it for Jesus?" That is irrelevant, and the discussion needs to be brought back to Islam. We can agree that the question should be answered by both Christians and by Jews. But we are now talking about Islam and Allah.)
What is it about the Koran, since that is your only testimony to the reality of Allah, that recommends it as the truth? How is the truth of the Koran to be verified? What makes it more likely to be true than the Bible?
Can we talk of how the Koran got written, the history which is written in right in Muslim writings? Can we ask, with this history which Muslims themselves espouse, what is there about the Koran which makes it reliable as a witness to the true God?
(In other words, we must keep pressing him gently for the evidence for Muslim claims. Eventually, the unwillingness of the Muslim Allah to hold Himself to either truth or morality must be addressed, and how that leaves the inquirer with a quandary.)
Is it true that Allah does not hold Himself accountable to either truth or morality? Is there anything in the Koran about that?
If Allah does not hold Himself accountable to be truthful and righteous, what does that do to our ability to trust Him? How can people like me, or even yourself, ever know that Allah is not deceiving both of us right now?
(Press for evidence from the Koran that Allah is a truth-speaker and a just Sovereign over all.)
What is your best recommendation to me that I should say, "I submit"?
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