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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Common Christian Concerns regarding Islam (CCCI)

Introduction

We live in an age of false news and deliberate misrepresentations. So much information, facts and half-truths are in wide distribution via all media outlets regarding any possible subject of importance. With this in mind, we seek to address, in particular, the concerns that members of the Christian community have regarding Islamic beliefs, doctrines, and Muslims in general.

This brief article is not intended as a polemical device, nor is it sugar coating the facts. It is intended for educational purposes only, to foster proper understanding by sharing correct information. It is intended to form a basis for discussion between members of the two respective religious communities, and is composed with the supplication of Prophet Muhammad ( peace be upon him) in mind, in which he prays : "O God, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it, and show us falsehood (FT.1) as falsehood, and give us the ability to abstain from it."


What is Islam?

The term "Islam" itself is a word, a verbal noun, that means "submission to God". The one who does the act of "submission" is called a "Muslim". Notice that both of these terms are rather generic. These terms denote action, something which is far superior to a particular label. Labels have been associated with particular places and personalities, Christianity after the personage of Christ, Buddhism after the Buddha, Judaism after the Jewish tribes and so forth. Our argument, based upon the Qur'an itself, is that it is the action which is important to God. Thus, it says "Verily, the deen (Ft. 2) in God's sight is Islam" (Qur'an 3:18).


The Bible and the Qur'an

The term Bible means " a collection of books". It can also be rendered "a library". It is a collection of writings that were by and large never intended by their respective writers to be placed in a single text, and it is quite doubtful that they viewed their writings as "scripture". In any case, it has acquired a sacredness for Christians, highlighted by the text which reads "all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." ( 2 Timothy 3:16, NIV).

The Qur'an is viewed by Muslims as God's own words. It is only God's words. The word Qur'an is a verbal noun, meaning "the recitation" or "the reading". One definition is "something that is to be repeatedly read". It was sent to Muhammad The Prophet over a twenty-three year period via the Angel Gabriel. It's texts are used in prayers (Ft.3) and is the main source of Islamic theology and practices.

In terms of how the Qur'an perceives the Bible, three points should be made [1] God did sent forth messages to various messengers. Among them are persons such as Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and the others, God's peace be on them all. The Qur'an says: " Say: We believe in God, in what has been sent to us, and in what has been sent to Abraham, Ishmael, Issac, Jacob and the tribes, in that given to Moses, Jesus and the Prophets from their Lord. We make no difference between them, and we belong to him as those submissive." (Q 3:84).   [2] While Muslims accept, on the basis of the above Quranic verse [as well as other verses] that God has sent teaching to these figures, and hold these persons in great reverence, the Qur'anic position is that interpolations, misunderstandings and outright misrepresentations have taken place, falsely attributed to the blessed personalities such as Jesus. Some of these things have been minor, and some quite major. This has also affected the Bible itself as a text. This is quite understandable when we consider that "Bible" itself is a collection of various writings, the authors often themselves being unknown. This is the overall conclusion of the scholars of Biblical textual criticism, and is increasingly being recognized by Christian religious leaders themselves. Even in the widely read English translation known as THE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION STUDY BIBLE [NIV] we read, in the preface to the book of Numbers " It is not necessary ...to claim that Numbers came from Moses' hand complete and in final form. Portions of the book were probably added by scribes or editors from later periods of Israel's history."( Ft. 4). The same source tells us of another purported source of history, that being the book of Joshua, that it was not put into writing till 800 years after the events it is supposed to be recording. (pg.288, NIV, 2002 edition).

We have to ask ourselves how a text  written almost a millennium  after the event be seen as an authoritative source?

[3] The Quranic assessment is that in light of all of this confusion, the Qur'an comes along to address the most important of points of contention [Q 27:76].  For Muslims, the Qur'an is primary source, and whatever theological teachings that go against that, it is ultimately rejected, whereas whatever goes along with it, is accepted as the probable truth! Even with that said, one will find that in general, worldwide, Muslims will treat the Bible, should they encounter it, with respect. Indeed, many Muslims find Western Christian's treatment of their text as strange, things such as throwing the book around, leaving it on the floor, writing in it, even reading it in the bathrooms.


Jesus

Muslims revere Jesus as the Messiah, as one sent by God Almighty to correct certain attitudes that the Jews of his age had. This subject has been dealt with in greater detail by this writer at http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2008/01/jesus-in-islam.html . For the moment, we can summarize by saying that while Muslims accept Jesus, upon whom be peace, he is not seen as God incarnate! Moreover, the metaphorical language ascribed to Jesus in the Bible as "God's son", is not used by the Qur'an or by Muslims because we seek to avoid any language which can cause confusion on God concept.

Violence

The emergence of political insurgencies in various places within the Muslim world has created the image of Islam as an inherently violent religion, ready to explode at any moment. The issue of political rebellions and terrorist groups is something beyond this article, for the simple fact that each place has it's own unique set of circumstances and historical backround. In terms of Islam as a religion, the notion that it promotes murder and mayhem is totally false.

Thus, the Qur'an says:  "And do not kill the soul, which God has eternally forbidden [Harrama], except in justice. And whoso is killed unjustly, God has given his heirs authority, [yet even then], so do not be excessive in the retribution, as he [the heir] is assisted [legally]" [Q 17: 33]".
The issues of violence in the name of religion, as well as the related issues of Jihad, have been addressed in greater detail in the panel discussion Responses To Violence In The Abrahamic Traditions  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUjTm7infHI and more briefly in Spotlight On Religious Violence here.


Muhammad The Prophet



Muhammad ibn 'Abdullah, may peace be upon him,  was born in 570 C.E. in the city of Makkah, on the Arabian peninsula. Known for his exceptional honesty and trustworthiness, he received the revelation of Qur'an over a period of twenty-three years, beginning at the age of forty. He faced war, attempts on his life, the persecution of himself, family and followers. His teachings include things found revolutionary in Arabian society, such as the forbidding of female infanticide, that women are to have inheritance rights, that a life of discipline and abstinence from thing such as alcohol, intoxicants, gambling. He also was able to create a brotherhood between various peoples and classes. In his final speech, he said "There is no virtue of Arab over a Non Arab, or a white over a black, or a black over white. The only criterion for virtue is in reverence for God." 

The words of Muhammad are recorded in sources known as the literature of Hadeeth. It is important to note that they do not have the same value as the Qur'an, and that our scholars have long recognized that there are misunderstandings and fabrications in that genre that have to be pointed out. In addition to this, even accurately recorded reports in the hadeeth literature may not be always a full report, meaning that the context in which a statement was made or an action done may not be present in the particular report.

The broad details of The Prophet's life are well known and established in light of history. His battles, his marriages, his birth and death place, treaties, his particular mode of worship and the like. His merciful attitudes, his personality, all are well known. Theologically, he is seen as God's universal messenger, a Prophet who completes the process of Prophethood. He is also seen as a fulfillment of predictions made before his advent. The Bible itself reports Jesus as saying that one would come after him to "speak all truth" (John 14:26). Rather than seeing this as a vague  "holy spirit of inspiration", our reasoning is that Muhammad fits this description more than any other historical figure. Jesus's ministry was only three years, some say 6 1/2 years. He was never one who addressed political or military affairs, and barely -if we take the canonical Gospels as evidence- addressed social ills on a wide scale. Muhammad, however, did, and his successes are well recorded in the Qur'an and in historical memory.

The Qur'an depicts Muhammad as a mercy to mankind {Q 21:107} and all reports surrounding him need to be seen in that overall light. Moreover, the particular reports about particular incidents or statements, one needs to consult specialists in the subject. There is much about him and about what is attributed to him which is beyond this particular article, our suggestion would be to conduct a serious study on him. A wonderful work is The Life of Muhammad by Muhammad Husayn Haykal.


Who are Muslims ethnically?


Muslims currently make up 1/5th of the human population. The Arab world is only 20 % of the Muslim world population, so that would make Arab speakers a minority in the Muslim world. Indeed, the biggest population of Muslims in the African continent is not an Arabic-speaking nation, but rather Nigeria!

The world's largest Muslim population is Indonesia [261 million], located in South East Asia. Muslims are composed of many cultures, languages, and historical diversity.

Islam has- from it's primary sources, addressed racism in a firm way, which, in my view, has contributed to it's wide acceptance.

In an American context, it's a bit harder to quantify the number of Muslims. A 2016 estimate puts the number around 3 million [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_the_United_States], however there are also estimates that go as high as six or seven million Muslims in the United States. 

Ethnically, it is said that 25% of American Muslims are from Asia, typically the Indian Subcontinent [India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh], whereas 24% of American Muslims are said to be African-American, and Arabs constitute 18% of American Muslims. http://muslimgirl.com/25021/majority-race-muslim-community/

Islam in the black experience has a profound and fascinating history. Figures such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali need no introduction.


Basic values of Islam

The basic values of Islam are also those shared by the Christian and Jewish traditions. The Qur'an says:

 Your Lord has decreed: (i) Do not worship any but Him (ii) Be good to your parents; and should both or any one of them attain old age with you, do not say to them even "fie" neither chide them, but speak to them with respect,  and be humble and tender to them and say: "Lord, show mercy to them as they nurtured me when I was small." Your Lord is best aware of what is in your hearts. If you are righteous, He will indeed forgive those who relent and revert (to serving Allah).(iii) Give to the near of kin his due, and also to the needy and the wayfarer. (iv) Do not squander your wealth wastefully, for those who squander wastefully are Satan's brothers, and Satan is ever ungrateful to his Lord. And when you must turn away from them - (that is, from the destitute, the near of kin, the needy, and the wayfarer) - in pursuit of God's Mercy which you expect to receive, then speak to them kindly.Do not keep your hand fastened to your neck nor outspread it, altogether outspread, for you will be left sitting rebuked, destitute.Certainly Your Lord makes plentiful the provision of whomsoever He wills and straitens it for whomsoever He wills. He is well-aware and is fully observant of all that relates to His servants. ( Q 17:23-30)

Footnotes

[1] The word translated as "falsehood" here is الباطل   Baatil. It carries a wide shade of meaning, including that which is ridiculous or valueless.



[2] Deen is usually translated as 'religion', however the usage in Quranic language is much greater than our typical understanding of constitutes religion. It is with regret that modern Arabic uses deen as 'religion' [with the plural being adyaan, which never appears in the Qur'an]. It is interesting that Urdu, which has the word 'deen', nonetheless does not use this term, but rather the term mazhab
[Arabic :  madh-hab], a term which, even in it's original Arabic, seems to better fit the modern understanding of what constitutes 'religion'.

[3] The core text for Muslim worship is Soorah Al- Faatihah, the first chapter of the Qur'an.

[4] Zondervan, NIV STUDY BIBLE (Grand Rapids, 2000) page 185.

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