Archive for the ‘Islam’ Category

True Feminism is not about special privileges for women, but about equal dignity, value and opportunity for all people, regardless of gender.

Last week it was claimed on national television that ‘Islam is the most feminist religion.’ Since that claim, many have been debating its accuracy.

Sometimes that best way to disprove a claim is not to show why it’s wrong, but simply to point out an alternative that clearly trumps it.

So, here’s a few things Biblical Christianity gives women:

  1. A knowledge that they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This means women and men may equally be representatives of God – ambassadors of His authority in ruling over creation, and communicators of His character in their love and care for other creatures and fellow human beings. No other religion contains the concept of ‘The Image of God,’ being applied to all people.
  2. As ‘Daughters of Eve,’ women have a wonderful and unique privilege of giving life in a way a man cannot. ‘The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.’ (Genesis 3:20). It’s significant to see that this statement is made immediately after the man is told that because of the curse of sin, he will labour and toil, and eventually die and return to the dust. As an act of faith, he knew that this was not a final word, since God would show His ongoing patience, care and love for humanity through Even and all her daughters; and ultimately in her descendant who would be the saviour of the world (Genesis 3:15).
  3. In Old Testament Israel, women were often given special protection under the law, in recognition of the fact that they were more likely to be the victims of violence from men (eg. Deuteronomy 22:25-29). To our modern 21st century western ears some of these laws seem patriarchal, however if we understand them in the cultural context of the time, they are laws that are pro-woman. These laws have provided some basis for the Western legal system that allows liberty, equality and protection for all citizens.
  4. Jesus welcomed, healed, taught, ate and drank with women, may of whom were considered outcasts by the culture of the time. (John 4:1-45) His confrontation of a gang of men about to stone a woman caught in adultery exposed their hypocrisy in assuming her guilt, and their moral superiority. (John 8:2-10) As far as Jesus is concerned, women and men are to be given equal opportunities to receive grace and forgiveness; as well as in the gracious call to repent and turn from a sinful lifestyle.
  5. In Christian gatherings men and women sit together. This may not sound significant to us today, but in the first century it was a radical departure from the Synagogue practice of separating men and women. Not only this, but women were active participants in the worship, both praying and prophesying in church – also a radical liberation of women (1 Corinthians 11:5-16 – The caveats in this passage about head coverings are to do with cultural sensitivities, as well as honouring the God-given distinctives between genders.)
  6. In Christ, women and men are ‘Joint heirs of the grace of life,’ (1 Peter 3:7) and ‘all one in Jesus Christ,’ (Galatians 3:28). Neither gender deserves grace any more or less than the other, since grace is not about deserving, but about God giving freely without partiality.
  7. The Christian hope for the New Creation is that many aspects of this world that give rise to discrimination, bigotry and oppression (not just between genders, but also between race, class, role, etc.) will pass away. ‘Heaven’ will not be populated by men served by virgins (Islam) or women as child-producers for new worlds (Mormonism); neither will it be populated by homogeneous, gender-neutral angels (A culturally popular idea, started by Swedenborgianism, the religion of Helen Keller). Rather, the New Heavens and Earth will be filled with the glory of God as Men and Women, both transformed into the image of Jesus, love and serve God and one another in full freedom and holiness. Adam’s words of Genesis 3:20 will be somewhat reflected in that this renewed humanity will be called ‘The Bride, the Wife of the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:9) An incredible dignity and honour will be bestowed on women by having attributes of their gender bestowed on this redeemed, eternal community.

So I wonder. Which religion is the most feminist?

“Not another blog post on this question!” I hear you say.

Initially I decided that I would not post anything in response to the current debate in the US about the potential dismissal of a professor from a leading Evangelical college over her claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Many people have written on this, a large number defending the college’s evangelical commitment. Many have pointed out that trinitarian Christians and unitarian Muslims do not worship the same God, since each of their affirmations and denials about the nature of God are an anathema to the other (eg. Christians affirm the divinity of Jesus, which is blasphemy to a Muslim; Muslims deny that God can have a son, which is heresy to Christians.)

However to date, I have not seen (maybe I have missed it) a writer wrestling with two verses in the New Testament which on the face of it may seem to lend support for the professor’s statement:

‘You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.’ (John 4:22)

‘What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.’ (Acts 17:23)

I have singled these two out because both of them use the word ‘worship’ – implying that both the Samaritans’ and the Athenian’s approach is not merely about conceptual knowledge or confession of beliefs, but also about devotion and piety. They don’t simply have an idea in their heads about God, but practice it in acts of devotion and worship.

Similarly, both make a statement about the worshipper being ignorant in some way, and needing a fuller, correct revelation; this fuller revelation will bring a reformation of their worship.

All this may sound like the professor is onto something. Maybe even the Pope was onto something when he said the Muslims and Christians are brothers and sisters.

However, when we take a closer look at these verses, we will see that they do not, in fact, support the idea that there are non-Christians who worship God, albeit in a faulty or deficient way.

The first thing to notice is that the two words translated in our English Bibles as ‘worship’ and ‘know’ are different in each verse. This reflects the two different contexts: in one (John 4:22) Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan, and in the other (Acts 17:23) Paul is speaking to Greek philosophers. Straight away that should indicate to us that we cannot take these two verses out of their context and throw them together as if they are identical in their meaning.

John 4:22

Jesus has been speaking to the Samaritan woman, and she has raised the issue of where true worship of God is supposed to take place – since the Jews had the temple in Jerusalem, and Samaritans had their own alternative temple in Samaria, which they set up after the retuning exiles from Babylon in the 5th century BC rejected their help in rebuilding the Jerusalem temple.

Jesus dismisses this as the key issue, instead saying that true worship of his Father will be in the power of the Spirit, and is not tied to location or architecture. His statement ‘salvation is from the Jews’ is an affirmation that, up to this point, Jerusalem is the correct location for the Temple and therefore worship of God; it is the centre of His presence with His people. However, this is about to change now that the true temple, priest and sacrifice has appeared in his person. The coming of Jesus does away with both right places of worship (such as the Samaritan temple) and the right place of worship (the Jerusalem temple) as people now come to the Father through faith in Jesus.

Jesus however is not invalidating all that the Samaritans did in their worship. They held firmly to the first five books of the Scriptures, and so both their theology (understanding of who God is) and form of worship was orthodox. However their understanding of God’s purposes was deficient since they did not acknowledge the rest of the Old Testament – the Prophets, Psalms and historical books.

When Jesus says, ‘you worship what you do not know,’ the word here for worship refers to the physical act of bowing down or prostrating oneself (and is sometimes used in this literal sense) that forms part of a worshipper’s actions. And the word for ‘know’ means a knowledge that comes from seeing and experiencing – rather than a conceptual knowledge. In other words, the Samaritans go through the motions, but their experience of God is lacking, because they do not come to the true seat of His presence in Jerusalem.

Jesus on several occasions, both in practice and in his teaching, appeared to be affirming the Samaritans in their identity as the ten Northern tribes of Israel, who were one day to be reunited with their Southern Jewish brothers (See Ezekiel 37). This is fulfilled when Samaritans are included in the experience of Pentecost in Acts 8. In that sense, the Samaritans were ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ whom Jesus the Good Shepherd has regathered into the flock through his death and resurrection. The Gospel has dispelled their ignorance, and brought them into the full revelation of the Father and His plan so that they may be one with their Jewish brothers in worshipping Him.

Acts 17:23

Paul’s address in Athens begins with an acknowledgement that the Athenians are ‘very religious’ – and he uses a word that may also be translated, ‘superstitious’. The word he uses for ‘worship’ (twice in 23) is one that means ‘pious’ or ‘devoted’ – which ties in with his description of Athenian religion as superstitious. It’s a word often associated with idolatry.

When he says that they ‘worship’ that which is ‘unknown,’ he uses a word from their own philosophical vocabulary – the word from which we get our English word ‘agnostic’. This is an ignorance that comes either from lack of learning, or from the sheer incomprehensibility  of the thing that is unknown. It’s a statement of conceptual knowledge, rather than experiential knowledge.

The Athenians took pride in the fact that they were able to acknowledge the reality of something of which they had no knowledge. They knew they did not know everything, and so  there was a distinct possibility that there was, out there, an ‘unknown god.’ This was a ‘dark matter’ god – one deduced by human reason, yet not encountered in human experience. Paul devastates their intellectual pride by equating this lofty philosophical learning with superstitious religion.

Paul’s claim is that the message he brings of Jesus and the Resurrection is one that will cut through this superstitious ignorance, replacing it with a clear and present truth that will call for a response of repentance. The God he describes to the Athenians is one that demolishes and replaced both the superstitious god of paganism and the deistic, conceptual god of the philosophers.

Conclusion

Neither John 4:22 nor Acts 17:23 can be used to support the claim that adherents of the monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity worship the same God. The former refers to those who, in a sense, were already ‘in’ the true people of God; the latter refers to those whose worship is false, arrogant and idolatrous.

ef21d1d84ea14ba82a5045a3e48bb114Christmas is a time of year when we hear a lot of hopeful talk. Despite our culture’s loss of understanding about the real meaning of Christmas, there is still a strong sense that it has something to do with hope, peace, harmony. Something that’s often said is, ‘If there’s anything the world needs at the moment, it’s hope.’ The thing is, that’s what people say every year, and nothing much seems to change in the world. We have a sentimental, mushy sense of, ‘Maybe things will work out one day, if those other people in the world who are causing problems get their act together and change,’ and then a few days after Christmas is over we go back to living our own regular, self centred lives, and nothing much really changes.

Do you have a hope for the future of the world? If so, what is it?

And is your hope merely wishful thinking – ‘It would be really great if it were to happen,’ – or is it a hope that is grounded in a sense of certainty – ‘Despite the present circumstances, I know for sure that all will work out for good in the end.’?

I put it to you that we all, in some way or other, have some kind of perception about what the future holds, and some kind of longing or yearning that that future be good. Even ISIS is a movement based on a sense of hope. We might find that difficult to comprehend, however if we were to speak to any ISIS fighter and ask them why they do what they do, they would speak about their vision of a future world in which there is peace and harmony when all people everywhere submit to the rule of Islam.

World leaders recently gathered in Paris to discuss the issue of climate change. For some people this was probably an ethical issue – that it’s just plain wrong for human beings to disrupt the world’s finely tuned ecosystem, while for others – and I suspect the majority – the problem is that our future is at stake. They have an intrinsic sense that the future for humanity and this world should be a positive one. I think much of what motivates human beings to take action and world for a cause is the desire to remove any threats to a future that is good and positive for us and for the world in which we live.

Our passage this morning is about this hope. It tells us not only what is in store for the future of creation, but that that future is a good one. It tells us how that future will be accomplished. And the events that took place at the first Christmas are right at the heart of this promising story of future hope.

 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister
(Colossians 1:11-23 ESV)

Paul, who wrote these words, is telling the Colossians – the Christians who received this letter – that they have an excellent reason for living in hope. He prays that they will be strengthened by God the Father so that they may have endurance and patience – words that speak of waiting for something good that is yet to come. And in this patient waiting, they are to have the attitude of joyful thankfulness. This not just grinning and bearing it, or stoically facing tough times just for the sake of it. This waiting is done with a deep sense of joy and gratefulness, knowing that what the Father has in store for us not only makes the waiting worth it, but actually gives a sense of purpose and glory in the waiting. This is because the hope Christians have is that we ‘share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.’ (12) I don’t have time or space now to to unpack all that that means; but those words alone show us that the future the Father has in store is pretty glorious, and far above all that we can ask or imagine.

This glorious hope has to do with a rescue mission, in which we are transferred from a kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his Son; a rescue which is accomplished by the forgiveness of our sins. (13)

There is a reason why human beings universally have a sense, or longing, for a future for the world which is only good. It’s because that is actually God’s design or plan for creation. And as part of this creation, we have been designed for this good and glorious future. We live with a sense of awryness in our lives because deep down we know that this world, and we, are not the way we should be. And so most, if not all of human endeavour is all about us trying somehow to bring things back to the way we know they should be. Yet in all that there is a deep sense of dissatisfaction, because no matter how hard we try, the world and the future we long for always seem elusive, just over the horizon or just around the corner.

The Bible tells us that Jesus is the answer to this unfulfilled longing; the solution to a world and a human race that is not what it should be.

Verses 15-18 tell us many things about who Jesus is – ‘Image of the invisible God,’ ‘firstborn over creation,’ ’Before all things,’ ‘In him all things hold together;’ ‘Head of the church,’ ‘The beginning,’ ‘firstborn from the dead,’ the one who has ‘Supremacy in all things.’ Each of these things are tied together and summarised in the astounding statement, ‘God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him.’ (19) The complete fulness of God, dwelling in one man. The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.

At a point in history, a little over 2000 years ago, something took place which would change the nature of the world forever. A biological process was miraculously triggered in the uterus of a young woman, and a human being began to form inside her. At this point, God Himself invaded this world, not with the armies of heaven or in visible power, but in a dividing cell, that nine months later would be born as a helpless child. As the old hymn says, ‘Our God contracted to a span.’ As many like to put it today: 100% God, 100% human.

God in his fullness entered this world as he had never done before, and we’re told that he was pleased to do two things: to dwell (19) and to reconcile (20).

At the heart of God’s covenant with His people was the promise that he would dwell with his people. This was more than just being present in some philosophical way. To dwell is to make your home; to pitch your tent. God looked at this world in all its awryness and brokenness and rebelliousness and said, ‘I will come and make my home here.’

The end result of this coming to dwell is all things – and all means all – will be reconciled to himself. He is not saying here that everyone will be ‘saved’ or ‘go to Heaven’. He is using the word ‘reconcile’ in the sense of everything being put into its proper place, so that there is justice. It is bringing about a harmony, where all who oppose God and his loving rule are finally put in their place, and in the words of Revelation 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!”

The entry of God into this world in the person of Jesus is the guarantee that both God’s promise, and our yearning, to see this world retuned to the way it is supposed to be will be fulfilled in him.

Notice that there is not only a global, universal dimension to this. Not only will ‘all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.’ be brought back to their proper place, but so will individual people. In fact, this personal work in you and me is the foundation for the global work.

Our awryness, our disfunction and alienation from God and one another is a result of our sin (22). Because we have refused to live in loving obedience to God, we deserve God’s wrath, and so we live our lives running and hiding in the shadows, instead of coming into the light. Notice that he says we are ‘enemies in our minds’ – the problem is not merely that we do ’naughty’ things, but that in our minds – the word encompasses thinking, feeling and desiring – we stand apart from God and refuse to acknowledge or come to him. Jesus solves this personal problem by bringing together in himself – literally – a union between God and humanity. So the reconciliation he brings gives us not only a ‘big picture hope’ for the world, but also an intensely personal and individual hope.

How can it be that the arrival of Jesus – God among us – heralds the solution to both the problems of the world and the problems of our own hearts? Our passage tells us it was ‘through his blood, shed on the cross’ (20) and ‘by Christ’s physical body through death’ (22). What actually happened in Jesus’ death is unpacked in chapter 2:13-15:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

In Jesus’ cross (his death) he accomplished both personal and global reconciliation. His death was the payment for the debt we owe to God – the debt of sin which makes us stand guilty before him, and which gives Him every right to justly and fairly banish us from his life-giving presence forever. By taking our place and dying the death we deserve, he has opened the way for forgiveness and a re-entry in to a warm, intimate relationship with the Father. Not only that, but the cross was the ‘D-Day’ for the defeat of all evil in the world. Evil has been ‘disarmed’ (15), and like an ancient king who returned from victorious battle dragging his captors behind him for his citizens to mock and deride, the cross shows up all spiritual and human evil for the empty, foolish and pointless sham that it is, and it marks the downfall of all who choose to stand in opposition to God.

When God the Father raised Jesus from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit, he not only secured the future of all who will put their trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but he also guaranteed the eventual renewal of this world and all human systems so that peace and justice will reign forever.

The question for all of us is, which side of the cross do I stand? Do I stand on the side that simply displays my rebellion and sin – sin so serious it required the death of the Son of God for payment? Or do I stand on the side that means peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation – a reconciliation that was accomplished not by my efforts or good works, by by the lavish grace and mercy of this loving and merciful saviour who gave himself for me?

I urge you – if your faith is not in Jesus Christ, to come to him – flee to him and his abundant mercy, and know renewal of your soul and a hope for the future. Take the opportunity this Christmas to prepare him room, so that he may come and make his dwelling with you.

revelationI recently ran a workshop exploring worldviews. We began by discussing and defining our worldview as Christians, being careful do describe it in a way that is distinctly and uniquely Christian. Later, we explored the Islamic worldview, based on information gleaned from Muslim websites, chats with Muslims, and verses from the Quran that were quoted by Muslims to support their views.

Each worldview is broken down into eight key areas, based on James Sire’s worldview questions in his book ‘The Universe Next Door’.

Have a read.

You will see that, while there are some areas of connection between Christianity and Islam, in reality they are worlds apart. Any notion that they are essentially the same at heart is ignorant at best and deception at worst. Nevertheless, the few points of connection should be seen as open doors – opportunities to engage with our Muslim friends and neighbours to begin a conversation that can lead to speaking the Gospel.

A good way to start such conversations is to ask lots of questions – genuine questions. Actually be interested to know who they are, what they believe, and what they value. In other words, love them. This post is by no means an exhaustive summary of Muslim beliefs, and just as in Christendom, there will be a diversity of beliefs and emphases depending on the background of the Muslim person you are speaking to. So take the time to learn and appreciate and understand and respect, instead of going straight for the jugular. The Muslim worldview, way above many others, provides great opportunities for us to talk about things that really matter.


The Christian Worldview

What is the foundation of all reality?

God, who is Triune: One God eternally existing in in three persons, united in Love. God is personal, relational and very close to all people, and He wants people to be in relationship with Himself. Love is at the heart of His character, and all He does is in love.

Truth: Can it be known – and if so, how?

We can know the truth. It is a gift from God; revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, not dependant upon our ability or intelligence. The full, final revelation of the truth of God is found in Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life.

What is the nature of the world?

The physical world was created by God, and is under His authority. It was made good and with purpose, but is now flawed, being under the curse of sin; and it is awaiting renewal that will take place when Jesus returns. God values creation so much that He was willing to enter into it in the person of Jesus.

Anthropology: What is a human being?

We are made In God’s image: designed to be sons of God, to rule and care for creation, and to be part of God’s plan for the whole universe. Ultimately we exist for God’s glory. True humanity is exemplified in Jesus, however we are is sinful, needing salvation.

The human story: What’s the point?

God is overseeing and controlling human history, ensuring that it fulfils His purposes. All that God is doing in human history is with the aim that people will come to know Him. History will culminate in every nation acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord.

Mortality: What happens after death?

Human beings die once, after which they will face judgement. At this judgement they will either be condemned or vindicated, depending on their relationship to Jesus Christ. After death all people will continue to exist forever, either in the loving presence of God or separated from His favour.

Morality: How do we know how we should live?

God reveals what is good and evil through His commands, which are recoded in ‘hard copy’ in the Bible. All humans have a conscience, which is flawed by sin, but for those in Christ the conscience is renewed through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus shows us true and right human living.

Convictions: What personal, life-orienting core commitments flow from all this?

Knowing all this gives us the conviction to live in a right way, in the power of God’s grace, with a desire to honour and love God and love our neighbour. What drives us is the sure hope that we have in God’s promises about our future, and the call to proclaim the Gospel in the whole world. Jesus Christ is at the centre of everything, and our supreme goal is to glorify Him.


The Islamic Worldview

What is the foundation of all reality?

Allah, the Creator and sustainer of all. Allah cannot be associated or connected with anything human or created.  

1 Say, “He is Allah, the One. 2Allah, the Absolute. 3 He begets not, nor was He begotten 4And there is nothing comparable to Him.” (Al-Ikhlaas (Sura 112))

Truth: Can it be known – and if so, how?

Only by revelation from Allah. Ultimate truth is in the Quran, given through Mohammed.

51It is not for any human that Allah should speak to him, except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal by His permission whatever He wills. He is All-High, All-Wise. 52 We thus inspired you spiritually, by Our command. You did not know what the Scripture is, nor what faith is, but We made it a light, with which We guide whomever We will of Our servants. You surely guide to a straight path. (ash-Shura (Sura 42))

What is the nature of the world?

Created by Allah. We cannot know the reason for creation, but must glorify Allah for it. There are seven ‘heavens’ (containing paradise) and seven ‘earths’ (containing hell). Above all is Allah’s throne.

189 To Allah belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. Allah has power over all things. 190 In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, are signs for people of understanding.191 Those who remember Allah while standing, and sitting, and on their sides; and they reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth: “Our Lord, You did not create this in vain, glory to You, so protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” (Ali ‘Imran (Sura 3))

Anthropology: What is a human being?

A creature made to worship Allah. Born morally neutral, life is a ‘probation.’

56 I did not create the jinn and the humans except to worship Me. 57 I need no livelihood from them, nor do I need them to feed Me. (adh-Dhariyat (Sura 51))

2 He who created death and life-to test you-as to which of you is better in conduct. He is the Almighty, the Forgiving. (al-Mulk (Sura 67))

The human story: What’s the point?

For all to come to a knowledge of and submission (salaam) to Allah, in an islamic society governed by sharia law. The course of history is determined by humanity, under Allah’s guidance. History will culminate in the day of judgement.

47Every community has a messenger. When their messenger has come, judgment will be passed between them with fairness, and they will not be wronged. 48And they say, “When will this promise be fulfilled, if you are truthful?” 49Say, “I have no power to harm or benefit myself, except as Allah wills. To every nation is an appointed time. Then, when their time arrives, they can neither postpone it by one hour, nor advance it. (Yunus (Sura 10))

Mortality: What happens after death?

Every human being will be judged based on their balance of good works and bad works.

26 Say, “God gives you life, then He makes you die; then He gathers you for the Day of Resurrection, about which there is no doubt. But most people do not know.”  27 To God belongs the kingship of the heavens and the earth. On the Day when the Hour takes place, on that Day the falsifiers will lose. 28 You will see every community on its knees; every community will be called to its Book: “Today you are being repaid for what you used to do. 29 This Book of Ours speaks about you in truth. We have been transcribing what you have been doing.” 30 As for those who believed and did righteous deeds, their Lord will admit them into His mercy. That is the clear triumph. (al-Jathiya (Sura 45))

Morality: How do we know how we should live?

God’s perfect law is revealed in the Quran, supplemented by the Hadith (recorded sayings and actions of Muhammed)

176 That is because Allah has revealed the Book in truth; and those who differ about the Book are in deep discord.177 Righteousness does not consist of turning your faces towards the East and the West. But righteous is he who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels, and the Scripture, and the prophets. Who gives money, though dear, to near relatives, and orphans, and the needy, and the homeless, and the beggars, and for the freeing of slaves; those who perform the prayers, and pay the obligatory charity, and fulfill their promise when they promise, and patiently persevere in the face of persecution, hardship, and in the time of conflict. These are the sincere; these are the pious. (al-Baqarah (Sura 2))

Convictions: What personal, life-orienting core commitments flow from all this?

  1. Belief in Allah as the one true God.
  2. Belief in angels as the instruments of God’s will.
  3. Belief in the four inspired books:  Torah, Psalms, Gospel, and Quran, of which the Quran is the final and most complete.
  4. Belief in the twenty-eight prophets of Allah, of whom Muhammad is the last.
  5. Belief in a final day of judgment.

The 5 pillars (Key moral obligations)

  1. Confession: There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.
  2. Prayer: 5 times/day, facing Mecca
  3. Ramadan
  4. Almsgiving
  5. Pilgrimage to Mecca
  6. (Jihad – holy war – literally, or against sin and weakness)

Last week at Flinders Uni was Islam Awareness Week. I thought it would be appropriate to be aware of Islam (more that I am normally) by seeking to reflect on what is being communicated by our Muslim friends, and to give some responses and some questions from a Christian perspective. This third post is a repost from May 8, 2014.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

This is something that Muslims and Christians must categorically agree about, otherwise both are being untrue to their own faith:

‘They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary”, while the Messiah has said, “O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.” Indeed, he who associates others with Allah – Allah has forbidden him Paradise, and his refuge is the Fire. And there are not for the wrongdoers any helpers. They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the third of three.” And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment.’ (The Quran, Surah 5:72-73)

While the Quran here gives an inaccurate representation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, it nevertheless refers to Christians who claim Jesus is divine, a member of the trinity. The orthodox Muslim view is that Christians will end up in Hell unless they repent and confess ‘Allah is One and has no Son’.

‘Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.’ (1 John 2:22-23 ESV)
‘The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.’ (John 3:35-36 ESV)

The orthodox Christian view is that Muslims remain under God’s wrath unless they repent and confess Jesus as the Son of God.

From a Christian perspective, Muslims are not like the Athenians of Acts 17:23 who had an altar to an ‘unknown god’. Islam states categorically who Allah is and what He is like; it does not feign ignorance or an openness to being enlightened as to who this unknown God is whom they worship. Likewise, Christians can and should say very clearly that our God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only true and living God. Muslims do not worship, acknowledge or pray to this God, but rather to a god of Mohammed’s own devising. To affirm in any way to a  Muslim that there is an affinity between our God and theirs is to add to their deception.

So don’t come at me with any of that nonsense about us worshipping the same God, just in different ways. Not only does it dishonour God, but it also dishonours your Muslim friend.

This last week at Flinders Uni was Islam Awareness Week. I thought it would be appropriate to be aware of Islam (more that I am normally) by seeking to reflect on what is being communicated by our Muslim friends, and to give some responses and some questions from a Christian perspective. This is the second of a few posts I will be making over the next few days.

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an accomplished Quran scholar, and to be honest, I always find most English translations of the Quran grammatically awkward and difficult to read. So I am willing to recognise that my interpretation of this Sura may not be entirely sound. However, I have been trained – and have taught for many years – the principles of Biblical interpretation, which can mostly be applied to any piece of literature.


Sura 8:11-18, with a depiction of the Battle of Badr

Sura 8:11-18, with a depiction of the Battle of Badr

Sura 8 (suras are the equivalent of books in the Bible) contains a verse often quoted by Islamic ‘extremists’ to justify their terrorist actions:

‘I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.’ (8:12, Yusuf Ali – the version quoted throughout this post)

On the face of it, it seems a pretty clear command for Muslims to terrorise, behead and disfigure non-Muslims. However, it is also claimed by many Muslims that this verse needs to be seen in its textual and historical context.

Fair enough. I say the same thing often to those who quote Bible verses out of context, and it is an important principle in Biblical exegesis – and if fact in understanding any piece of literature. ‘A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext’ (D.A. Carson). So, let’s look at the context.

Firstly, we need to see that what is quoted above is only part of the verse. The full verse reads:

‘Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers…”

The word ‘remember’ should highlight to us that Muhammed is being reminded of something – an experience he has had in the past. If we look earlier in the Sura, we read:

Behold! Allah promised you one of the two (enemy) parties, that it should be yours: Ye wished that the one unarmed should be yours, but Allah willed to justify the Truth according to His words and to cut off the roots of the Unbelievers; (verse 7)

This is a reference to an event that happened early on in Muhammed’s time in Medina. The prophet, having been rejected in Mecca, had gone to Medina, where he had managed to gather a band of followers – at this point it was 313 men, called ‘Muslims’ because they had submitted to Muhammed and his religion. The future of Islam seemed tenuous – many surrounding people opposed them, including the leaders of Mecca, the Quraysh. One day in 624, after a year of conflicts with the Quraysh, news came that a caravan of gold belonging to the Quraysh would be passing by, guarded by 40 unarmed men. News also came that a Quraysh army was on the way from Mecca to defend this caravan, as the Muslims had a history of raiding caravans. Muhammed faced a choice of two options: Raid the caravan and get the 50000 pieces of gold it carried, or ride out against the Quraysh at great risk to his and his men’s lives, trusting that Allah would give victory. He chose the second option, and was successful in this battle, which took place at Badr. This was the key turning point in his battle to conquer Mecca, and it confirmed in the eyes of many that Muhammed was indeed the rightful leader and prophet of Islam.

This puts this verse into context. Muhammed is being reminded of Allah’s promise to him as he rode, outnumbered 3 to 1, to attack his enemies – those who had rejected his religion and so were ‘unbelievers’. It comes after another promise in verse 9:

“I will assist you with a thousand of the angels, ranks on ranks.”

…which Muslims believe actually happened, and was the reason for these first Muslims’ victory.

So, to be fair, it seems I should use the same principles that I myself use when I read about battles in the Old Testament and God’s commands to destroy all the people in a city (eg. Joshua 6:17) I say, ‘This command was given for that battle, in that time and place, and applied to the Israelites as they were conquering the promised land; it is not to be taken as a command for me today as a Christian, nor for any nation today that claims to be Christian.’ This is the approach taken by many Muslim scholars in understanding Sura 8:12

However, there are a few problems that I see with treating this verse in the same way as I do similar Old Testament passages.

Firstly, unlike the Bible, the Quran does not actually provide the historical context of this verse, or in fact the whole of Sura 8. The Quran does not contain lengthy sections of narrative equivalent to the Old Testament narratives; it’s as if the book assumes knowledge of the stories of both the Bible and of the events of Muhammed’s life. So, while the commands to Joshua about Jericho are firmly grounded in the story of the Israelites entering the land, these commands to Muhammed are not set against a backdrop of a Quranic account of the battle; all that extra information has to be gleaned from extra-Quranic sources.

Secondly, the Quran, unlike the Bible, does not have a two-testament structure of promise and fulfilment. The Old Testament dealt with national, ethnic Israel, as the people out of whom would flow His blessing to all nations. With the arrival of the Messiah Jesus, the season for national Israel was ended, as all the promises, types and shadows found their fulfilment in the reality of the Messiah. God now deals with people from every tribe, tongue and nation who relate to Him by faith in Jesus; the commands and principles that applied to national Israel either no longer apply, or are understood in the light of these spiritual realities. (For example, see 1 Peter 2, where Peter applies promises relating to the Temple and to the choosing of Israel directly to Christians who worship and testify to Jesus.)

The Quran does not have this structure, but instead has a uniformity of application across all Suras to all Muslims; one cannot draw an ‘old vs. new’ distinction.

This has meant that many Muslims have taken the sura to contain commands and principles that apply at all times to all Muslims:

‘This surah enunciates general principles of war (one aspect of Jihad) and peace while reviewing the Battle of Badr and uses them for the moral training of the Muslims.’ (Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi – Tafhim al-Qur’an – (The Meaning of the Qur’an) http://englishtafsir.com/Quran/8/index.html accessed Oct 11, 2014)

This interpretation seems, to me, to be supported by the verses that follow:

13 This because they contended against Allah and His Messenger: If any contend against Allah and His Messenger, Allah is strict in punishment.

14 Thus (will it be said): “Taste ye then of the (punishment): for those who resist Allah, is the penalty of the Fire.”

15 O ye who believe! when ye meet the Unbelievers in hostile array, never turn your backs to them.

16 If any do turn his back to them on such a day – unless it be in a stratagem of war, or to retreat to a troop (of his own)- he draws on himself the wrath of Allah, and his abode is Hell,- an evil refuge (indeed)!

17 It is not ye who slew them; it was Allah: when thou threwest (a handful of dust), it was not thy act, but Allah’s: in order that He might test the Believers by a gracious trial from Himself: for Allah is He Who heareth and knoweth (all things).

Verse 13 is a warning to anyone (not just the Quraysh) of the severity of Allah’s punishment for resisting Islam.

Verse 14 seems to use this incident as a precedent for future conflicts with unbelievers: their defeat in battle against the Muslims is a foretaste of the punishment of Hell that is to follow; Allah is using them to punish the unbelievers.

And verse 15-17 appears to be addressing not Muhammed at the battle of Badr, but those whom Muhammed is addressing and teaching in the principles of war: he tells them to never give up when fighting against unbelievers; if they do they themselves will end up in Hell with the unbelievers; and that their slaying of their enemies is ultimately Allah’s actions.

So, if my interpretation of Sura 8 is correct, this leads me to ask some sober, sincere and respectful questions of my Muslim friends; (and in asking I trust that we will be able to remain friends).

  1. Am I mistaken in any way in my interpretation of these verses? Or, am I right in saying that verses 15-17 are to be applied to all Muslim everywhere at all times?
  2. If the Quran truly is the pure, final message of Allah to humanity through Muhammed, why can this Sura only really be understood by accessing extra-Quranic documents? Does that not make this book insufficient and difficult to understand, and obscure to the common reader who has no access to this extra scholarship?
  3. Do the modern Jidadists who take verse 8 as a literal, binding command upon them today, actually have an interpretive case for doing so? And while you may differ in how you interpret this verse, can you at least acknowledge that they are simply seeking to be true to the revelation from Allah they have received through the words of his prophet, and so cannot be called ‘non-Islamic’?
  4. How, in light of this Sura, can we still strive to live alongside one another with peace, respect and friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims? Is this Sura a hindrance, or a help in achieving this goal?
"Let there be no compulsion in religion" - Sura Al-Baqara (The Cow) 2:256 Is one of the most quoted verses in the Quran. It could be argued that the phrase was actually originally coined by the Christian apologist Tertullian in the second century.

Sura Al-Baqara (The Cow) 2:256 Is one of the most quoted verses in the Quran. It could be argued that the phrase was actually originally coined by the Christian apologist Tertullian in the second century.

This week at Flinders is Islam Awareness Week. It’s kinda like the Muslim Association’s equivalent of our Jesus Week which Flinders Evangelical Students held in August. So, I thought it would be appropriate to be aware of Islam (more that I am normally) by seeking to reflect on what is being communicated by our Muslim friends, and to give some responses and some questions from a Christian perspective. I will be making a few posts over the next few days.

What – or Whom – are we promoting?

One thing that has struck me in observing the activities of Islam Awareness Week is a key difference between Christian and Muslim ‘evangelism’.

For Muslims, what they are promoting is Islam. Their large glossy posters outline the things that Muslims must do, why their system is superior to others, how they promote peace and elevate the status of women, etc. In essence, they are calling people to a religion, a way of living, a belief system.

While they affirm a certain amount of propositional ‘truth’ – statements about Allah and his revelation through Muhammed – the heart of their religion is what they are required to do in order to be a true Muslim – ie. one living in submission to Allah. The path to peace and righteousness, acceptance by Allah, and a civil society is through the faithful observance of the arkān al-dīn, or ‘Pillars of religion’:

Shahadah: declaring there is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger
Salat: ritual prayer five times a day
Zakat: giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and needy
Sawm: fasting and self-control during the holy month of Ramadan
Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if one is able

This faithful observance, along with obeying the other rules of Islam, will (they hope) increase their Sawāb, or merit before Allah.

Good news, not good rules

By contrast, Christian proclamation is about calling people to a Person – the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a way of life that will flow out from a relationship with Jesus, but the focus is on a relationship with the Person, not the religion he taught. Hence, Jesus’ teaching emphasises that those who trust in him will know God as their Father, not merely a sovereign Creator.

When a person becomes a Christian they repent and believe – which is a far cry from taking on board a new set of beliefs or actions. Repentance is recognising that all my actions are actually like filthy rags, and that I can do nothing to earn merit before God – in fact my actions only bring me the condemnation I deserve. And faith is trusting that what I am unable to do myself, Jesus has done for me on my behalf, and he gives me merit before God as a free gift of grace (also known as justification). So, while the heart of Islam is the 5 Pillars – a list of what I must do, the heart of Christianity is the Gospel – an announcement of what Jesus has done.

This is succinctly summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: ‘…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’

Or in 1 Timothy 3:16: ‘Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.’

Or 2 Timothy 2:8: ‘Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.’

All of these are statements, using slightly different phrases, of what Jesus Christ has done for us, not what we must do for him. That makes a huge difference to how we go about evangelism. It is also, I believe, why Islam seems much more culturally bound to Middle Eastern and Arabic thinking and practice, whereas cultural diversity abounds within world-wide Christianity.

This different also has a massive implication for the seeker of truth. Even if, as our Muslim friends insist, Islam is a logical and rational religion; even if the Quran is coherent and unique and reliable; even if Islamic societies are peaceful, and a dedicated Muslim finds a sense of peace and fulfilment in observing their religion, none of that actually proves the truthfulness of the religion nor compels me to even begin to consider becoming a Muslim.

Islam cannot bring me into a personal relationship with God where I know myself to be His beloved son. Islam cannot give me the absolute assurance that my sin has been dealt with and forgiven once and for all time. Islam cannot save me from the burden of trying to make it myself, and to never be sure if I will be good enough. And Islam cannot give me a sure hope for myself or this world.

Only Jesus does that. The Person, not a religion, is the only one who can deliver. He is the Author and Finisher of my faith; all I can do is fix my eyes on him.