Questions for Muslims at Christmas

Jesus' Birthday Cake

Last week was officially our last Sunday at Speaker’s Corner in 2017. We wanted a carpet of snow, a beautiful sunset, perhaps a spontaeous rendering of Silent Night performed by a Muslim-Christian choir marking a seasonal cessation of hostilities, and a birthday cake for Jesus. God in His Sovereignty gave us torrential rain, and the choir remains a beautiful dream (next year, boys?) At least the cake came off: all our Muslim friends got a slice even if the candles refused to light and the icing looked  a bit Hallow’eeny.  Add a litany of technical failures and it all made for a wet, rather shambolic afternoon.

But none of the above could shake our joy at what we were there to celebrate – Jesus Christ, God himself come to earth as a vulnerable baby, all because He loves us and would go to any lengths to rescue us. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14.) The same divine, eternal Word that spoke with Abraham (Genesis 15) and Samuel (1 Samuel 3), the Word that will come back in judgement (Revelation 19:13) was Jesus in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes two thousand years ago. Wow.

So what is Allah exactly? Does Allah have a body, a spirit? No one knows. Allah is not a person. To say that he has personhood is heresy. He (and you can’ t really call Allah a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ or an ‘it’ – they are all inadequate) only reveals his/her/its will, not who he/she/it is. You cannot have a relationship with Allah: you exist to do ‘his’ will, pass ‘his’ test. Allah is your master and you are his servant. Compare this with Jesus, who, while we still hated him, became a servant for us – despite being “in very nature God” (Phillipians 2.)

Is Allah a moral being? His 99 names include “the loving” and “the merciful,” but the Qur’an also calls him “the best of deceivers” (S8:30) and says that  “all deception (al-makru) is Allah’s. (S13:42). In His sovereignty the God of the Bible uses Satan’s deceptions to fulfil His plans, but He Himself is not a deceiver – in fact Scripture says it is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). YHWH God is, in nature, love.

Does Allah love humans? He doesn’t care if you go to heaven or hell. Some people he has created for hell (S7:179) before they are even born:

“…[Allah] created for Paradise those who are fit for it while they were yet in their father’s loins and created for Hell those who are to go to hell. He created them for hell while they were yet in their father’s loins.”  (Sahih Muslim 33:6436)

Allah is not interested in rescuing or redeeming his creation. The Qur’an ignores the redemption metanarrative of the Old and New Testaments. But YHWH God makes a way for everyone to go to heaven through sending His Son to die on a Cross for us, as prophesied from the beginning in Genesis 3:15 and throughout the OT.  He doesn’t want anyone to perish but wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), while allowing us the  freedom to choose Him or not.

These are our Christmas questions for Muslims. Allah is not personal, but you are personal – why not worship a personal God? Allah’s love is an attribute, along with deception: neither define who Allah is. You know love and deception don’t mix- why not worship a God who is love?  Allah can’t and won’t rescue you – getting to him (but he’s not ‘him’ remember?) is obscure and complex. But you would rescue someone smaller and weaker than yourself, like a toddler on the road – why not worship a rescuing God? It all starts with that baby in Bethlehem.

 

The route to Islamic salvation – part 3

Traffic pile up

In the last two articles we looked at salvation in Christianity; how it is won for us by Jesus on the Cross and how it is accessed by repentance and faith in Him. Now we turn our attention to Islam. Is obtaining paradise the same thing as salvation? How do you even get to paradise? Is it guaranteed?

I am hesitant to call the Islamic equivalent of salvation ‘salvation’. Why? Because Allah doesn’t save anyone. Among his 99 names are the Benificent and the Merciful, but not the Rescuer. Allah creates and reveals his will, but Allah doesn’t personally go out of his way for mankind in any way – except for Muhammad whom he grants special rights and privileges, for example when Muhammad is allowed an unlimited number of wives, (Surah 33:50) whereas his followers have to make do with “two or three or four” (Surah 4:3).

When asked the question “how do you get to paradise?” Muslims will usually answer along the lines of “as long as your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, you’ll be fine.” The Qur’an also seems to say so on first reading:

“And give glad tidings (O Muhammad) unto those who believe and do good works; that theirs are Gardens underneath which rivers flow; as often as they are regaled with food of the fruit thereof, they say: this is what was given us aforetime; and it is given to them in resemblance. There for them are pure companions; there for ever they abide.” (Surah 2:25,-see also Surah 2:81-2 and Surah 33:55)

But is it as simple as that? Is paradise guaranteed if you clock up enough good deeds? Not according to the hadith which says the opposite – that good deeds are NOT your ticket to paradise:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “The good deeds of any person will not make him enter Paradise.” (i.e., None can enter Paradise through his good deeds.) They (the Prophet’s companions) said, “Not even you, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “Not even myself, unless Allah bestows His favor and mercy on me.” So be moderate in your religious deeds and do the deeds that are within your ability: and none of you should wish for death, for if he is a good doer, he may increase his good deeds, and if he is an evil doer, he may repent to Allah.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 70, Number 577)

Hence most Muslims will qualify their answer to the question with insh’allah – if Allah wills. Does repentance guarantee his mercy? Allah in the Qur’an takes a dim view of deathbed repentance and says you must renounce evil deeds :

Repentance with Allah is only for those who do evil in ignorance, then turn (to Allah) soon, so these it is to whom Allah turns (mercifully), and Allah is ever Knowing, Wise. And repentance is not for those who go on doing evil deeds, until when death comes to one of them, he says: Surely now I repent; nor (for) those who die while they are unbelievers. These are they for whom We have prepared a painful chastisement. (Surah 4:17-18)

But Muhammad also says renouncing evil deeds aren’t that important, as deathbed repentance is acceptable as long as the person recites the shahada. Bukhari 7:72:717

“…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 if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft? He said. “Even If he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft….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.”  

In short, the way to Islamic paradise is very confusing. Good deeds? Allah’s mercy? Repentance? The Shahada? Or is it all pre-destinated anyway? After all “many are the Jinns and men we have made for Hell” (7:179). You can live a life full of great deeds, but they won’t help you if Allah has made you for hell.

A common Muslim objection to Christianity is that Jesus didn’t need to die for our sins – why should the innocent die for the guilty? The Qur’an also states that no person will bear the burden of another (Surah 35:18). But again, this is contradicted by Muhammad in the hadith:

“Abu Burda reported on the authority of his father that Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: No Muslim would die but Allah would admit IN HIS STEAD a Jew or a Christian in Hell-Fire.” Sahih Muslim 37:6666

Jews and Christians are substitutes for Muslims in hell? So much for Allah being consistent, let alone just.

There is one route to Paradise that is exalted in over 100 verses in the Quran – jihad. Here’s one example:

“So let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter. And he who fights in the cause of Allah and is killed or achieves victory – we will bestow upon him a great reward.” (Surah 4:74)

And while the Qur’an doesn’t use the word “guarantee”, the hadith does:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

I heard Allah’s Messenger saying, “The example of a Mujahid in Allah’s Cause– and Allah knows better who really strives in His Cause—-is like a person who fasts and prays continuously. Allah guarantees that He will admit the Mujahid in His Cause into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely with rewards and war booty.” (Bukhari 2787)

This time last year Mahmoud Shafiq Mohammed killed 29 people and injured 47 others at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Cairo. His note to his accomplice read “thank you for the good hospitality and I will meet you in Paradise.” When will our governments and media stop pretending these attacks aren’t theologically motivated?

The saddest thing of all is that Muslims are trusting in a man who himself had no idea about his eternal destiny:

“Say,(O Muhammad) I am not sending something original 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 not but a clear Warner.” (Surah 46:9)

Compare this with Jesus, who was never in any doubt about his identity or purpose, and knew exactly where he came from and where he was going:

“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:13)

Happy Advent everyone.