Eye-witness testimony in the Bible and Hadith

 

Lizzie and Paul Williams discuss eyewitness testimony in the Bible and Hadith. Paul brings up Matthew 27:52 which he says Christian scholars claim is legendarised; Lizzie brings up the fact no-one witnessed Muhammad’s revelations at all.

Matthew 27:51-52

“51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.”

The Hadith of Gabriel:

Umar ibn al-Khattab said: One day when we were with God’s messenger, a man with very white clothing and very black hair came up to us. No mark of travel was visible on him, and none of us recognized him. Sitting down before the Prophet, leaning his knees against his, and placing his hands on his thighs, he said, “Tell me, Muhammad, about submission.” He replied, ‘Submission means that you should bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is God’s messenger, that you should perform the ritual prayer, pay the alms tax, fast during Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to go there.” The man said, “You have spoken the truth.” We were surprised at his questioning him and then declaring that he had spoken the truth. He said “Now tell me about faith.” He replied, “Faith means that you have faith in God, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and that you have faith in the measuring out, both its good and its evil.” Remarking that he had spoken the truth, he then said, “Now tell me about doing what is beautiful.” He replied, “Doing what is beautiful means that you should worship God as if you see Him, for even if you do not see Him, He sees you.” Then the man said, “Tell me about the Hour” The Prophet replied, “About that he who is questioned knows no more than the questioner.” The man said, “Then tell me about its marks.” He said, “The slave girl will give birth to her mistress, and you will see the barefoot, the naked, the destitute, and the shepherds vying with each other in building.” Then the man went away. After I had waited for a long time, the Prophet said to me, “Do you know who the questioner was, ‘Umar?” I replied, “God and His messenger know best. “He said, “He was Gabriel. He came to teach you your religion. ”

Find us on YouTube and Facebook

Polygamy in the Qur’an

Man with four wives
Photo courtesy of lifeinsaudiarabia.net

In our last post, we discussed polygamy in the Bible. In summary, polygamy was permitted under God’s sovereignty during Old Testament times, but even then it contravened His blueprint for marriage given in Genesis 2:24. Jesus re-instates monogamous, heterosexual marriage in Matthew 19:4-6, even using the analogy of the Bridegroom (Christ) being united with his Bride (the church) in an exclusive, faithful, lasting covenant in the new creation. Nor was polygamy taught or practised by the early church, although there was debate about divorce and re-marriage (1 Corinthians7.)

Jesus summarises the Christian view of marriage in Matthew 19:4-6:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

One man and one woman are joined together spiritually by God, just as they become one through sexual intimacy. It’s a holy union, which is why dissolving it is such a serious matter. Compare this with Sura 4:1

“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.” (Sahih International)

Adam and Eve come from one (genderless?) soul for the purpose of procreation rather than relationship. Allah is distant, to be feared. Always watching, he creates them, but doesn’t celebrate their gender distinction or their coming together as ‘one flesh.’ The ‘wombs’ in this verse, according to the tafsirs, aren’t referring to the wife’s unique reproductive function, but more loosely to ‘ties of kinship’, meaning something like ‘remember your family ties’. Verses 2 and 3 continue:

“And give to the orphans their properties and do not substitute the defective [of your own] for the good [of theirs]. And do not consume their properties into your own. Indeed, that is ever a great sin.” (Sahih International)

“And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].” (Sahih International)

It’s not clear from the text who the man is to marry in verse 3 – whether the orphans themselves or more wives to act as additional guardians for the orphans. Influential twentieth century scholar Maududi takes the latter view, that these verses were sent down as a corrective to the pre-Islamic practices of marrying orphans and plundering their inheritance (verse 2) to support an unlimited number of wives – hence Allah limits the number of wives to four. And if you can’t do justice to four, then better stick to one wife. But this doesn’t include “those your right hand possesses” i.e. your slave girls. So even if you decide to stick with one official wife, you can have an unlimited number of sex slaves. A far cry from the exclusive sexual intimacy between man and wife Jesus teaches about. Notice also the lack of mutuality – it’s all about the man’s requirements, not what’s best for the man and the woman.

Not only that, the Qur’an actually contradicts itself on this issue within the same Sura. Sura 4:3 tells believers to only marry one wife if they are afraid they won’t be able to treat their wives equally. But Sura 4:129 tells men they will never be able to treat their wives equally!

“Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire: But turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air). If ye come to a friendly understanding, and practise self- restraint, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. – 4:129″(Yusuf Ali)

Maududi summarises the classical tafsir writers’ interpretation of this verse, that while the husband is bound to provide equally for his wives, he will never hold them in equal affection:

“Allah made it clear that the husband cannot literally keep equality between two or more wives because they themselves cannot be equal in all respects. It is too much to demand from a husband that he should mete out equal treatment to a beautiful wife and to an ugly wife, to a young wife and to an old wife, to a healthy wife and to an invalid wife, and to a good natured wife and to an ill-natured wife. These and like things naturally make a husband more inclined towards one wife than towards the other….

In such cases, the Islamic law does not demand equal treatment between them in affection and love. What it does demand is that a wife should not be neglected as to be practically reduced to the position of the woman who has no husband at all. If the husband does not divorce her for any reason or at her own request, she should at least be treated as a wife. It is true that under such circumstances the husband is naturally inclined towards a favorite wife, but he should not, so to say, keep the other in such a state of suspense as if she were not his wife.”

Allah is clearly not that bothered by the wives’ emotional needs. Not only that, but Muhammad, the best example to mankind (Sura 33:21) flagrantly disregarded Allah’s injunction to show “self-restraint” and come to “a friendly understanding” with his wives, for example in this hadith. (More on Muhammad’s special privileges in another post.)

Are we just taking these verses out of their historical context? Don’t they only apply to 7th century Arabia? Have they been abrogated? No. Polygamy is acceptable in both Sunni and Shi’a schools of Islamic law. Polygamy matchmaking service Second Wife , quotes Sura 4:3 on its website. “We believed this is a Sunnah we needed to revive,” it says. Apparently it has 100,000 users.

The reason polygamy persists in Islam, apart from the fact that it is sanctioned forever by Allah’s eternal speech, the Qur’an, is because Allah is not a personal, covenantal god. Allah doesn’t make men and women in his image or interact with them personally, let alone make or keep his promises to them. The Qur’an’s teaching on marriage is confused, over-sexualising men and diminishing women. And there is no great wedding feast to look forward to in a new creation. Just as Allah prioritises men’s sexual needs on earth, Islamic paradise is more of the same – lots of sex for men (Sura 55:70-6). How different to the God who kept His covenant with us, died to rescue us and waits as a faithful Bridegroom for all who love Him.

“Hallelujah!
    For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7)

With grateful thanks to James M. Arlandson for his article, from which all the Maududi quotes come.

Why Jesus is like Sleeping Beauty (according to Islam)

Sleeping Beauty

The recent debate between David Wood and Shabir Ally on ‘Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?’ exposed an uncomfortable fact for Muslims – that despite the Qur’an’s claim to be a ‘well-explained confirmation of the previous Scripture’ (Sura 10:37 ) neither it nor any of the other Islamic sources remotely explains what happened to Jesus. What you get instead is a big, confused mess.

There is only one ayah (out of 6,236) that mentions Jesus’ crucifixion, Sura 4:157 (Sahih International):

And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

Most Muslims presume from this that Jesus didn’t die by crucifixion; instead they go along with one of two theories. Substitution theory – that someone else died on the Cross,  disguised to look like Jesus while Jesus himself was raised to heaven alive; or Swoon theory, where Jesus passed out on the cross after which he was either taken up to heaven alive (Shabir Ally’s position) or he was laid in the tomb but revived, stumbled on his bloodied, nail-pierced feet unwitnessed and unassisted to Kashmir, where he continued to preach Islam until he eventually died (the Ahmaddi position.)

The earliest tafsir writers support substitution. So who went on this cross in Jesus’ place? According to Ibn Abbas (d.687 AD), it was  the Jew’s ‘man’,  Tatianos. Who is Tatianos? If Muslims were able to identify this person 7 centuries later, how come Christians have never heard of him? Or maybe Ibn Abbas got the wrong story.

Ibn Kathir (d.1373 AD) tells it differently. In his account, Jesus asked one of his friends to volunteer. He chooses a young, rather insistent chap- lucky him.

“Who volunteers to be made to look like me, for which he will be my companion in Paradise” A young man volunteered, but `Isa thought that he was too young. He asked the question a second and third time, each time the young man volunteering, prompting `Isa to say, “Well then, you will be that man.” Allah made the young man look exactly like `Isa, while a hole opened in the roof of the house, and  ‘Isa was made to sleep and ascended to heaven while asleep.

Al Jalalyn ( two writers, d.1459 and 1505 AD) say “he, the one slain and crucified , who was an associate of theirs the Jews was given the resemblance of Jesus.” Some Muslims argue it was a watchman, or Judas (some say Iscariot, others not.) For more detail on who Muslims think might have taken Jesus’ place, read this article by Sam Shamoun.

Identity issues aside, substitution theory creates a serious theological problem:  if it  wasn’t Jesus on the Cross, why did Allah allow millions of Christians throughout the centuries to believe he was? Allah must be very malicious to do that. And it goes against Allah’s own teaching – that no-one will bear the burden of another (Sura 6:164). This is why Shabir Ally doesn’t hold to the Substitution argument, although it remains the most commonly-held position by Sunni Muslims.

Ally’s position, that Jesus was taken up to heaven alive, is based on the verse following Sura 4:157, Sura 4:158:

Rather,  Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.

This verse doesn’t say explicitly that Jesus didn’t die, so Dr. Ally is relying on an argument from silence. But the Qur’an isn’t silent, because in three other verses, it says Jesus dies. Sura 3:55 (see also Sura 19:33 and 5:117)

Lo! God said: “O Jesus! Verily, I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto Me

(Note,  not all English translations have this phrase, but it is there in the Arabic– mutawaffeeka.)

Dr. Ally speculated that this verse doesn’t have to be interpreted chronologically: it could mean Jesus was exalted (taken to heaven), and will return one day after which he will die – only there are no other verses that support this interpretation. If anything, the chronological view is supported, as the same formula (reminiscent of the creed in 1 Cor 15:3) is applied to John the Baptist in Sura 19:15:

“And peace be upon him the day he was born and the day he dies and the day he is raised alive.”

No-one doubts that John the Baptist died. Instead Dr. Ally, like Ibn Kathir, speculates that Jesus was taken to heaven in his sleep, according to Sura 6:60

“And He it is Who takes your souls at night, and He knows what you earn by day, then raises you up therein that at an appointed term may be fulfilled. Then to Him is your return, then He will inform you of what you did.”

So Jesus was taken to Paradise in his sleep? Is he still sleeping, like Sleeping Beauty, until Allah wakes him up in time for judgement day? Or did he actually die? The Qur’an strongly suggests it. When he died, was it on the Cross? If not then and there, then where and when? Also, why does the Qur’anic Jesus get to be with Allah in heaven (despite being hopeless at preaching Islam) when Muhammad, the perfect example to mankind, wasn’t sure where he was going? And if Jesus was miraculously rescued from death, how come the same privilege wasn’t extended to Muhammad? Muhammad was fatally poisoned, only Allah didn’t swap him for a lookalike at the eleventh hour.

Dr Ally conceded that not everything in the Qur’an was meant to be interpreted historically, that a bit like “the Hulk shopping for stretchable underwear” (he really said that) just because something didn’t really happen doesn’t make it not true (or words to that effect).

Nice, humorous, vague sentiment – only the Qur’an doesn’t allow itself to be so loosely interpreted. What does Sura 10:37 say again?

And it was not [possible] for this Qur’an to be produced by other than Allah, but [it is] a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of the [former] Scripture, about which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds.

What’s most tragic about this question is that it’s not something the Qur’an even needed to explain, because the Bible presents the death and resurrection of Jesus as historical fact. Not only does the Qur’an fail to explain these facts – it actively ignores them in favour of conflicting, unhistorical, unsubstantiated reports, therefore proving by its own logic that it can’t be from Allah.

David Wood quoted David Hume – “a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence” – and all the evidence for what happened to Jesus is in the Bible. The Bible also tells us why Jesus chose the Cross.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 (John 3:16)

Our Muslim friends at Speaker’s Corner tell us often how ‘logical’ Islam is. Isn’t it logical to go where the evidence leads?

Radicalism – root and fruit

3 tree drawings

Last week, Darren Osborne was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Makram Ali after intentionally driving his vehicle into worshippers at Finsbury Park mosque in June 2017. In her sentencing, the Judge said Osborne had been

“rapidly radicalised over the internet, encountering and consuming material put out … from those determined to spread hatred of Muslims on the basis of their religion.”

So what kind of content is she referring to? Tommy Robinson tweets apparently- despite their content being reasonable criticism rather than hate speech as demonstrated in his Newsnight interview. But apparently these weren’t the main factors in Osborne’s ‘radicalisation’. The Guardian tells us:

“The court also heard that the catalyst for Osborne’s descent was the BBC drama-documentary Three Girls, which focused on the grooming and sexual abuse of young girls in Rochdale by British-Pakistani Muslim men.”

Can the Guardian seriously be suggesting that the BBC is at fault here? It made an excellent drama based on the lawful conviction of nine men, as part of the well-attested issue of grooming gangs. All the BBC did was dramatise the facts. The BBC – regularly accused of liberal bias – would be the last media organisation on earth to produce material “determined to spread hatred of Muslims on the basis of their religion.”

Maajd Nawaz, head of the Quilliam Foundation, has been honest enough to admit the problem of grooming gangs is an Islamic problem:

“[Grooming gangs] have occurred in Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford, Telford, Leeds, Birmingham, Norwich, Burnley, High Wycombe, Leicester, Dewsbury, Middlesborough, Peterborough, Bristol, Halifax and Newcastle and only in two of those cases were the men not of British South Asian Muslim heritage. All of the victims, in all of those cities and the list was very long, except three were white teenage girls. The fact that 84% of these cases involve British South Asian Muslim men must beg the question, why?”

Alongside some horrible anti-Muslim slurs, Osborne’s rambling letter that was read out in court expressed frustration at politicians and celebrities failure to recognise grooming gangs and terrorism as anything to do with Islam. Darren Osborne’s actions are not justifiable in any way. But from his own evidence, it seems his motive was vengeful retaliation for crimes, the Islamic basis for which are never properly confronted by the media or politicians. Christian doctrine and values are routinely scrutinised and pilloried as bigotry, while the impact of orthodox Islamic teaching is either ignored or denied. But it shows things have gone to another level when the BBC gets the blame, with even the judiciary content to shoot the messenger.

Nor is the BBC the only one accused of producing radical content. In another story, the Alpha Course and J. John’s ‘Just 10’ course material were also in the firing line, following the scandalous dismissal of Pastor Paul Song from Brixton Prison after 20 years service on the basis of an unsubstantiated allegation. Song claims he was ousted following pressure from Imam Mohammed Yusuf Ahmed, the managing chaplain at Brixton Prison, who called his Christian beliefs “extreme” and considered courses (like Alpha) to be “too radical.”

I’ve done an Alpha course. Here is a summary of its ‘radical’ teachings. Believe in Jesus, the Son of God, who died on the Cross for you; pray to God in the Name of Jesus regularly; read the Bible regularly; resist the devil; be filled with the Holy Spirit; tell others about your faith. It is all grounded in consistent, coherent Biblical doctrine (give or take some in house debate on the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, but this is a side issue.)

Is Alpha radical? The word ‘radical’ comes from the Latin ‘radix’, meaning ‘root’. So in a way, Ahmed is right: the Alpha course (and others like it) go to the root of Biblical teaching and the root of the human condition – our separation from God through sin and our reconciliation to Him exclusively through faith in His Son and his death on the Cross.

These teachings are also in direct conflict with what Islam teaches. In Islam, Jesus is no more than a prophet whose mission ended in failure, prayer is to an impersonal, unrelational deity called Allah, to whom you will never be more than a slave. You must obey the Qur’an and the Sunnah, including the harsh treatment of apostates, women, homosexuals and unbelievers.

Here’s the point. Radicalism isn’t just a matter of root, but fruit.

Jesus says in Mark 7 that our hearts are the issue:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Darren Osborne’s heart was filled with the desire for revenge; Islamic terrorists hearts are warped by false ideology. In both cases, pain, trauma, death and grief are the resulting fruit. Both are equally in need of radical, spiritual re-birth- something only Jesus can bring about.

The ‘radical’ Christian teaching Pastor Song espoused had some remarkable fruit. Look how the Times, a secular newspaper, puts it:

Affidavits from prisoners described how Song helped them turn away from crime. Song himself wrote of one inmate who would tell him his only regret was that he had not managed to finish off his intended murder victim, but changed his view after counselling from the pastor.

If only Pastor Song were in post to counsel Darren Osborne – and willing, radical Muslims as well. Let’s pray he is re-instated.

Adnan Rashid’s claims about Islam- part 2

James White and Adnan Rashid

James White and Adnan Rashid had a debate recently on whether or not the Cross is necessary for salvation. In my last post, I analysed the main points raised; in this post, I will hold Adnan Rashid accountable for what he said about Islam.

I will take four of Adnan Rashid’s statements to which I offer my own suggested rapid-fire responses. Each statement could be a debate topic in its own right, and there are deeper theological answers to all of them. But my experience at Speaker’s Corner tells me that more debates are won through a good come-back than through detailed theological explanation. Muslims use this tactic all the time, whether or not their come-backs have any theological support (they often don’t.) A good come-back sticks in the mind of the person watching; it’s the hook that leads them to dig deeper and is something all Christian debaters (myself included) can learn to practice more. Although (needless to say), for the sake of Christ and his truth, as well as our own personal integrity as ambassadors for the Gospel, our come-backs must also be well-grounded theologically.

I’ll try and keep the responses relative to the debate topic for the sake of brevity – for example with the first one, you could go on and on…

  1. “Islam is consistent with the Old Testament”

Is Islam consistent with Genesis 3:21, where the Lord makes ‘garments of skin’ for Adam and Eve, i.e. animal sacrifice, even before the institution of  the Mosaic law? Why does the Qur’an omit this detail? Why, according to the Qur’an, are Adam and Eve expelled from the garden at all, when the Qur’an says Adam received forgiveness from his Lord (Sura 2:37)?  The Bible doesn’t say Adam and Eve were forgiven, it says they were cursed –  in clear contradiction to the Qur’an. Genesis 3 also says that Eve’s offspring would one day crush the head of Satan. No mere human offspring can crush the head of Satan, so it must refer to a god-man – Jesus. That God can become a man is anathema in Islam.

In Exodus, Moses sprinkles blood on his chosen people as confirmation of God’s covenant with them(Exodus 24:8). The Qur’an mentions that Allah made a covenant with the Israelites as God’s people, but it is a covenant based on works, not on blood:

And certainly Allah made a covenant with the children of Israel, and We raised up among them twelve chieftains; and Allah said: Surely I am with you; if you keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and believe in My apostles and assist them and offer to Allah a goodly gift, I will most certainly cover your evil deeds, and I will most certainly cause you to enter into gardens beneath which rivers flow, but whoever disbelieves from among you after that, he indeed shall lose the right way. S. 5:12

The Qur’an even says explicitly that vicarious blood sacrifice does not make a difference to Allah. Sura 22:37

“It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is piety from you that reaches him.”

This stands in direct contradiction to the whole sacrificial system. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest made atonement for himself and the people through the sprinkling blood before the mercy seat of YHWH. In Leviticus 17:11, YHWH forbids the eating of blood because “it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”  If this system was abrogated by Allah, then how can he disregard  his own law without being inconsistent? If he fulfils it, then how? These questions are not answered according to the ‘clear’, ‘detailed’, ‘well explained’ Qur’an (Sura 12:111). Same goes for the role of the High Priest and the priesthood.

The OT repeatedly mentions that YHWH will come Himself to earth to rescue and redeem his people (Gen 3:15, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Job 19:25, Isaiah 9:6). Again – where is the evidence that Allah is a saviour, a redeemer? Why is it not one of his 99 names, when the theme of YHWH redeeming his people is such a consistent thread running throughout the OT?  According to Islam it is impossible for Allah, a monad, to come to earth.

Islam is not consistent with the Old Testament.

2. “Islam teaches just do the law and you will be forgiven.”

What law exactly does Islam teach? Do you mean the Mosaic law, which the Qur’an says is revealed by Allah (Sura 3:3-4, S29:46, S5:47-8) or sharia law, which doesn’t come directly from the Qur’an but is a man-made extrapolation of Islamic teaching? If you mean the Mosaic law – which you say is consistent with Islam – why are you not still sacrificing animals,  keeping the Sabbath, putting to death anyone who curses their father and mother etc? If you mean sharia, please support your statement from Islamic sources that this guarantees forgiveness?  And what do you mean exactly by ‘doing’ the law? Do you have to ‘do’ all of it? Will Allah forgive you if you keep only some, not all of it?

3. “Simply repent and Allah will forgive you.”

But wait, I thought you said ‘do the law’ and you will be forgiven? Now it’s ‘simply repent’? Which is it, and if you meant ‘repent’, where does the Qur’an say this exactly? The Qur’an even states there are circumstances where ‘simple repentance’ is not accepted, i.e. on your deathbed. Sura 4:18

“And of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil deeds until death faces one of them and he says: “now I repent;” nor of those who die while they are disbelievers. For them we have prepared a painful torment.”

4. “We have been promised forgiveness as long as we die as Muslims.”

Now it gets even more confusing. How do you get saved exactly -through repentance, obeying the law (which law?) or dying as Muslims? According to the verse I just quoted, if you do evil deeds your repentance will not be accepted on your death bed. Presumably it’s possible to do evil deeds and still call yourself a Muslim?

In fact, there is a sahih Hadith that supports this statement, despite  contradicting the Qur’an. Bukhari 7:72:717:

Narrated Abu Dharr:

I came to the Prophet while he was wearing white clothes and sleeping. Then I went back to him again after he had got up from his sleep. He said, “Nobody says: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah’ and then later on he dies while believing in that, except that he will enter Paradise.’ I said, “Even It he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft.” I said. “Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft? He said. ‘Even If he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft,” I said, ‘Even it he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and thefts.’ He said, “Even If he had committed Illegal sexual intercourse and theft, inspite of the Abu Dharrs dislikeness. Abu ‘Abdullah said, “This is at the time of death or before it if one repents and regrets and says “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah. He will be forgiven his sins.”

Conclusion

So we see that despite Adnan Rashid’s attempts to make it sound simple and straightforward, every one of his statements about Islam is highly problematic. Islam doesn’t confirm the OT, but in fact either contradicts or denies it, while offering no clear means of salvation whatsoever as an alternative. This is hardly surprising, given Muhammad himself wasn’t sure of his eternal destiny. Sura 46:9 states:

“Say, (O Muhammad): “I am not a new thing among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain Warner.”

Compare this to how Jesus fulfils the OT, as summarised so beautifully in Hebrews 9:11-14  while simultaneously demonstrating the necessity of the Cross:

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here,[a] he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Placeonce for all by his own blood, thus obtaining[b] eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,[c] so that we may serve the living God!

We continue to pray and implore Muslims to see Jesus as He really is.

Thank you to Sam Shamoun for helping me understand this topic better. He has done his own rebuttal to Adnan Rashid here.

James White and Adnan Rashid debate – part 1

James White and Adnan Rashid

The recent encounter between James White and Adnan Rashid on “Is the Cross necessary for salvation?” was predictable enough. Dr White did OK on the apologetics, and preached the Gospel beautifully at the end to his credit. But this was not a debate. Everything was so terribly polite, with lots of rather pointed comments about how respectful everything was (subtext: not like nasty Speaker’s Corner!) The cross examination was more like a polite exchange of views – hardly worthy of the name. An hour in (trying not to nod off) I was still waiting for things to get a bit more feisty, more passionate, more real. You can respect someone and still be confrontational, right? They seem to manage it at the  House of Commons and Channel 4 News well enough – even at Speaker’s Corner, that’s always our aim. Vigorous debate is much more honest and engaging, and my own experience of debating Adnan Rashid is that he can certainly handle it.

James White’s first objective was to “demonstrate the centrality of the Cross in divine revelation…beginning with the writings of the Apostles.” I wasn’t sure why he didn’t start with Jesus himself – the many times He predicts His death, Jesus statement in Mark that He would give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), the Last Supper. He dwelt on the fact (Acts 2:36) of the crucifixion rather than its necessity (Acts 4:12) . JW elaborated on Paul’s teaching  on the power of the Cross (1 Cor 1:17) to reconcile mankind to God (Ephesians 2,Colossians 1:19-20) and how the suffering of the Messiah is prophesied in the Old Testament (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53) as stated by Jesus himself (Luke 24:44). This seemed to be slightly off-topic, as the central issue is atonement, not the suffering of the Messiah or his identity – the Qur’an states Jesus is the Messiah, so that shouldn’t be an issue for Muslims (although it does open for them a big can of worms.) There was no mention  about the necessity of blood sacrifice in the Mosaic law, fulfilled in Christ and explained at length in the book Hebrews. Although he made some strong points about Jesus’ identity, it felt like he missed the main meat of the argument, which was a shame.

Adnan Rashid argued that only Paul taught salvation by faith in the Cross of Christ, but that the OT doesn’t teach the necessity of blood sacrifice. It does! Exodus 24:3, Leviticus 17:11 and Hebrews 9:22:

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Instead his argument relied heavily upon cherry-picked, de-contextualised verses and appeals to scholarship. He tried to turn every reference from the Gospels into either an authorship issue or a textual criticism issue, for example asking why does Luke omit Mark 10:45? (As Lydia McGrew argues in her excellent lecture, “sometimes a variant is just a variant,” and an ‘omission’ presupposes the author’s intention, when they just might have remembered things differently.) The Mosaic law, the Last Supper, Hebrews etc were all,again, conspicuous by their absence.  His most interesting argument was whether or not the Book of James teaches salvation by works, therefore contradicting  the letters of Paul?

James White should have recognised this for the clever tactic it was, rather than allow for side-tracking  with his ‘just-read-my-book’ answer. This rather pompous response doesn’t work in a debate situation; a failure  to give a simple answer comes across like you have something to hide. But there is a reasonable, simple answer to the Paul vs James objection, which  John Piper summarises very well:

When Paul teaches in Romans 4:5 that we are justified by faith alone, he means that the only thing that unites us to Christ for righteousness is dependence on Christ. When James says in James 2:24that we are not justified by faith alone he means that the faith which justifies does not remain alone. These two positions are not contradictory. Faith alone unites us to Christ for righteousness, and the faith that unites us to Christ for righteousness does not remain alone. It bears the fruit of love. It must do so or it is dead, demon, useless faith and does not justify.

This was James White’s response, but not very succinctly put. It was unfortunate the rebuttal and cross-examination time were unnecessarily dominated by this issue.

Otherwise, while James White did correct some of Adnan’s misapplication of verses quite skilfully, he bypassed others. For example he didn’t refute Adnan’s claim that Psalm 91 “says the Messiah will be saved.” This is the Psalm quoted by Satan during Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4: 5-7:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[a]

How does Jesus respond? By rebuking Satan for misquoting scripture!

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[b]

Why is Adnan using an argument from Satan on which to base his objection?

 In conclusion the debate (still not the right word for it) was fine, neither a triumph nor a disaster from an apologetics perspective; but the real disappointment  was how very one-sided it was. The Islamic perspective was mentioned only occasionally, let alone challenged. Statements like “Islam is consistent with the Old Testament”; “Islam teaches the law and you will be forgiven”; “simply repent and Allah will forgive you”; “we have been promised forgiveness as long as we die as Muslims” all slipped by unchecked. But check it we will – in our next post.

 

 

 

Justice for Zainab – but not Islamic justice

 

Zainab

Earlier this month, a 6 year old girl, Zainab, was abducted after attending a tuition centre near her home town of Kasur in Pakistan, then raped, killed and thrown on a rubbish heap. This appalling case has gone viral, along with a petition on change.org.

Citing another case of child rape in Iran, the petition is asking the Supreme Court of Pakistan to hang the culprits “in front of a large crowd, so that other potential rapists learn a lesson.” But it goes on:

“Also we want the punishment to be a little harsher. As Pakistan is an Islamic country, so the rapist should first be stoned until he breathes his last and then he should be hanged.”

As horrific and shocking as this case is, since when was justice best served through such barbaric punishment?  There is no doubt it is Islamic – Muhammad ordered the stoning of a rapist, as well as the stoning  of adulterers, and stonings are still common in some parts of the Islamic world. But stoning is execution by torture and goes against the UN declaration of human rights. As such it also violates change.org’s community guidelines on inciting violence (I flagged it.) And while in this case, change.org is hosting a campaign for this Islamic punishment to be enacted, it supported an appeal for clemency in another, in the case of grandfather Karl Andrew who was sentenced to 350 lashes in Saudi Arabia for being caught with home-made wine in his car. Thankfully, the sentence was never upheld. So much for the activist website’s consistency on human rights.

Does the man  who raped and tortured a little girl to death deserve death himself? Yes. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Should they be stoned to death? The mother in me says “do it.”

But thank God the UK justice system doesn’t revolve around my feelings. Thank God for its Christian foundations, in which “mercy triumphs over judgement.” Jesus stopped a stoning in its tracks  with a simple challenge to the crowd: “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:11 ). In so doing  he also overturned the Mosaic law on stoning.

Is Jesus, God made flesh, being inconsistent here? No. He is reminding us that ultimately, justice is His job, not the job of sinful human creatures. Paul reminds us in Romans 12:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord”.

Thank God that “he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).  How shocking that instead, God poured the wrath we all deserve out on His own Son on the Cross, and that Jesus hung there willingly. It is the only place we find justice and mercy – even for the most  horrific criminals. 

May Zainab indeed get justice. May her killers go to prison for the rest of their lives to think about what they’ve done. May the God who is familiar with suffering, comfort her family.  But may mercy triumph over judgement.

 

 

Iran and why “Christian theocracy” is unbiblical

Iranian protesters

When it comes to Iran, Donald Trump is right. This is something arch atheist Sam Harris and I agree on:

Trump's Iran tweet

The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran  is based on  the “one God” -Allah -and “his exclusive sovereignty and right to legislate, and the necessity of submission to his commands.” It is governed through “continuous leadership of the holy persons, possessing necessary qualifications, exercised on the basis of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.” So while Hassan Rouhani is the democratically elected President, it is the religious leadership – Ali Khameni and the mullahs – who wield the real power and influence.

Ray Takeyh from US think tank the Council on Foreign Relations writes

Iran’s conservatives are imbued with an ideology that views the essential purpose of the state as the realization of God’s will on Earth….Given such ideological inclinations, the hardliners are utterly contemptuous of democratic accountability and are unconcerned about their loss of popularity and widespread dissatisfaction with theocratic rule.”

Theocracy is not only justified, but the only legitimate form of government according to Islam. Sura 24:55 states

Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their religion which He has preferred for them and that He will surely substitute for them, after their fear, security, [for] they worship Me, not associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that – then those are the defiantly disobedient.

How is this interpreted by Ibn Kathir, one of the most trusted and reliable Islamic commentators?

This is a promise from Allah to His Messenger that He would cause his Ummah to become successors on earth, i.e., they would become the leaders and rulers of mankind, through whom He would reform the world and to whom people would submit, so that they would have in exchange a safe security after their fear. This is what Allah did indeed do, may He be glorified and exalted, and to Him be praise and blessings. For He did not cause His Messenger to die until He had given him victory over Makkah, Khaybar, Bahrayn, all of the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen; and he took Jizyah from the Zoroastrians of Hajar and from some of the border lands of Syria; and he exchanged gifts with Heraclius the ruler of Byzantium, the ruler of Egypt and Alexandria, the Muqawqis, the kings of Oman and An-Najashi of Abyssinia, who had become king after Ashamah, may Allah have mercy on him and grant him honor.

Allah promises his faithful followers that they will be rulers on earth. So Islamic theocracies are desirable as a sign of the religion’s success. Ibn Kathir also gives Muhammad’s conquests of “Mecca, Khaybar, Bahrayn, all of the Arabian Penninsula and Yemen”  as an example of what success looks like. The Islamic Republic of Iran (although it denies expansionist ambitions) has spent millions of dollars fighting (directly or through its proxies) in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – at the expense of its own citizens’ welfare. These inferences aren’t lost on the protestors: “no more Islamic Republic” has been one of the chants.

Does Christian doctrine also support political theocracy? This is a big topic, but for the sake of brevity, here are three reasons from Jesus’ teachings why it doesn’t:

1. Because Jesus recognised responsibilities to the State, Christian or not

In Matthew 22 and Mark 12 Jesus talks about “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” There is plenty of debate about whether and to what degree Jesus is separating church and state in this illustration – but he is making this point clearly: that even a pagan Emperor is owed his due. Jesus affords even non-Christian government some legitimacy.

2.  Jesus doesn’t impose his divine rule on people who reject him.

Nor does Jesus resist when evil rulers subject Him to their authority. Note Jesus’ reaction to his arrest in John 18:36:

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Muhammad did impose his rule on unwilling subjects, as we see from Ibn Kathir’s commentary – “he took Jizyah [a humiliating tax imposed on non-Muslims] from the Zoroastrians of Hajar and from some of the border lands of Syria.”

3.  Because Jesus’ kingdom is a heavenly, not an earthly kingdom.

Jesus exhorts people to to “repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near!” (Matt 3:2). This phrase “kingdom of heaven” occurs 31 times in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus doesn’t mean ‘God has anointed me for political rule’, but uses this expression to imply his ministry is divine in origin. He is pointing to his divinity. Through repentance and faith in Jesus, we too can be part of this heavenly kingdom.

So how has the earthly Islamic caliphate fared? Historically, the success of Islamic theocracies has always been short-lived. Three out of four ‘rightly-guided Caliphs’ were killed in power struggles;  the Caliphate of Cordoba collapsed; the Ottoman Empire didn’t survive; the Taliban were ousted; Iran’s future as an Islamic Republic is uncertain.

But Jesus’ kingdom has never been limited by politics or geography. For now Jesus’ kingdom is where “two or three  gather in my name  – there I am also” (Matt 18:20). On his return, Jesus kingdom will be fully realised. Through the centuries, Christians have been thrown to the lions, beheaded, burnt at the stake, but none of this has stopped Christianity’s advance. And where in the world  is the church growing fastest?  Iran. Let’s pray for this nation.