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.

 

 

 

2018 – the year to speak out

Pope look how we are treated

I’m referring to two documents that were published in the last two weeks to do with Christians and their experience of Islam. One – Open Doors World Wide Watch list was not a surprise.  But it was the other item -an open letter from Catholic ex-Muslims to Pope Francis – that was the real rallying cry.

Because the WWW list is an annual, scheduled publication perhaps we’ve become immune to its shocking data. Like that fact 8 out of 10 of the world’s worst persecution for Christians are Islamic countries. They are not the only places Christians are persecuted, and atheist dictatorship North Korea is still number one: but the main reason Christians are persecuted globally is Islamic intolerance. And it’s getting worse – the top 11 countries are all now classified as places of “extreme” persection for the first time in the WWW list’s 26 year history.

That Islamic intolerance is the driving factor for global persecution of Christians isn’t news – this has been trending for years. And while church leaders, politicians, the Prince of Wales etc have spoken out against persecution per se, they’ve either been coy or in downright denial about who the persecutors are. Pope Francis is in the latter category – last year he got a gong from Cairo’s Al Azhar university for his “defense of Islam against the accusation of violence and terrorism.” With friends like these, who needs enemies?

And if you’ve wondered how Catholic ex-Muslims might feel about the Pontiff’s comments, then their letter to him makes their feelings brutally clear:

“Many of us ‬have tried to contact you, ‬on many occasions ‬and for several years, ‬and we have never received the slightest acknowledgement of our letters or requests for meetings. ‬You do not like to beat around the bush, ‬and neither do we, so allow us to say frankly that we do not understand your teaching about Islam, ‬as we read in paragraphs ‬252 ‬and ‬253 of‭ ‬Evangelii Gaudium,‭ ‬because it does not account for the fact‭ ‬that Islam came AFTER Christ,‭ and so ‬is, ‬and can only be, ‬‬an Antichrist‭ (‬see‭ ‬1‭ ‬Jn‭ ‬2.22‭)‬,‭ and one of the most dangerous because it presents itself as the fulfillment of Revelation (‬of which Jesus would have been only a prophet)‬. ‬If ‬Islam is a good religion in itself, ‬as you seem to teach, ‬why did we become Catholic? ‬Do not your words question the soundness of the choice we made ‬at the risk of our lives? ‬Islam prescribes death for apostates (‬Quran ‬4.89, ‬8.7-11)‬, ‬do you know? ”

The Pope, having previously stated that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” is then reprimanded for his failure to understand Islamic theology:

“In fact, ‬as long as Islam wants us to be its enemy, ‬we are, ‬and all our ‬protestations of friendship cannot change anything. ‬As a proper Antichrist, ‬Islam exists only as an enemy of all: “‬Between us and you there is enmity and hatred forever, until you believe in Allah alone!”‬ (Qur’an ‬60.4) ‬For the Qur’an, ‬Christians “‬are only impurity” (‬Quran ‬9.28)‬,” “‬the worst of Creation” (‬Qur’an ‬98.6)‬, ‬all condemned to Hell (‬Qur’an ‬4.48)‬, ‬so Allah must exterminate them (‬Quran ‬9.30)‬. ‬We must not be deceived by the Quranic verses deemed tolerant, ‬because they have all been repealed by the verse of the Sword (‬Quran ‬9.5)‬.”

And so on. See also Pamela Geller’s excellent article in a previous FB post for more details.

But it’s easy to criticise others for not doing enough. So, Christians, (preaching to myself too), why don’t we make 2018 the year when we not only obey the Biblical injunction to speak up for the oppressed, but clearly identify the ideological source of the oppression. This is what our ex-Muslim brothers and sisters, having converted often at huge personal cost, want us to do. As Martin Luther King put it, “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

You can read the letter in full and sign it here.

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.

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.

Is Barbie Islamic?

Barbie

Mattel has just released its latest Barbie modelled on Ibtihaj Muhammad, the bronze-medal winning Olympic fencer. And why not? A woman who can handle a sword is really cool. Making dolls in the image of super-fit, agile, sword-wielding Olympians is the kind of thing I approve of.  So I was puzzled when I read Muhammad’s tweet earlier this week:

Twitter screenshot

‘Now little girls everywhere can now play with a Barbie who chooses to wear hijab!’?

The hijab makes her cool? Not the Olympic, blade expert female Zorro part? Oh. Well as long as Barbie’s happy, that’s the main thing. Are you happy, Barbie? Was it not enough for little girls to fashion a hijab for you out of an old hankie if they didn’t think you were dressed appropriately? Barbie? Oh, wait: Barbie’s a toy and can’t talk, let alone exercise choice. Bit like the 40 million women in Iran who can’t choose whether or not to wear the hijab either, except they’re not made of plastic. But this is not about Barbie’s Right To Choose, rather Mattel’s need to tell the world how much they love success and female empowerment and Muslims too, Mr Trump! Love success – good; love Muslims – good too (though not their religion); but female empowerment? When will corporations cotton on to the fact the hijab represents the opposite of female empowerment? That in Islamic countries, like Somalia and Afghanistan even if it’s not actually illegal not to wear it, in practice it is  impossible for women to go outside without covering because of the harassment they experience. Where there’s no choice, there’s no empowerment.

But if Ms Muhammad, a Muslim who obviously chooses to wear the hijab, used this opportunity for a little da’wah, so what? After all if Mattel wanted to make a Lizzie Schofield Barbie, I’d make sure she wore a cross necklace and tweet that it’s because Barbie knows in her little plastic heart that Jesus died for her. However I wonder if Ms Muhammad realises that it’s a matter of debate among Islamic scholars whether girls playing with dolls is even allowed? (Notice the gender: for boys it’s haram, end of.)

Some say it’s OK, because it helps little girls develop their maternal feelings, and because Muhammad’s child wife Aisha used to play with dolls.  According to Sahih Muslim, ‘she was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her.”  Yet many scholars agree that playing with dolls in only appropriate for pre-pubescent children: by the time they reach puberty, they can understand that dolls are images of humans, and human images are haram. (The fact that she had dolls  with her demolishes the argument that Aisha had reached puberty by the time of her marriage.)

Muhammad Ibn Adam of Darul Iftar, Leicester, takes the view that Aisha’s dolls would have been primitively made, without features, unlike the dolls of today. He writes

Picture-Making of animate things has been prohibited by many narrations of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). In a Hadith recorded by Imam al-Bukhari in his Sahih, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said:

The most severely punished on the day of Qiyamah will be those who make (animate) pictures.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Therefore, if the dolls are fully structured, meaning they have the head with the eyes, ears, mouth, etc, then it will be impermissible to acquire them, give them as a gift or for small children to play with them. However, if the dolls do not have a head, meaning they do not have eyes, ears, nose and mouth which make them incomplete, then it will be permissible to make them and give them to small children.

Does Barbie have a head, eyes, nose and mouth? Hmmm. So for Barbie to be truly Islamic according to Muhammad Ibn Adam, she needs serious maiming, if not beheading. If she ‘chooses’ to wear the hijab after that, she should continue to wear it round her neck, as that is her juyubihinnya (Arabic for body, face, neck and bosom, according to Sura 24:11) and still requires covering. Or maybe, in her little plastic heart, she might decide Islam isn’t for her.

Salvation in Christianity and Islam. Part 2: Repentance

Jesus said repent

by Lizzie Schofield

I said in part 1 that I would write about salvation in Islam in part 2, but there are a few thoughts I wanted to add on the Christian side before moving on. Apologies, and watch out for part 3.

In part 1, I asserted that salvation in Christianity starts from the basis of belief in Jesus, in his death on the Cross for our sins. But belief doesn’t simply mean unqualified theoretical assent: after all, even the devil believes in God. James 2:19:

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”

Belief that leads to salvation isn’t simply a matter of intellectually affirming that something is true, but is something we act upon: I get on the plane because I believe the pilot can fly it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t get on the plane. So if we say we believe in Jesus, but allow Him to have no impact on our lives, we don’t really believe Him. When Jesus announces the start of his public ministry, he couples belief with repentance: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) If we say we are Christians, and have not taken our sin seriously enough to repent, we need to examine ourselves to see if we are really in the faith, just as Paul meant in 2 Cor:13-5-6.

Repentance is the bit we like to skate over because we feel awkward about the sin part.  Let’s skip to the good bit, the assurance of eternal life. Thank you Jesus!  Why dwell on the negative? But this is dangerous. By glossing over how catastrophic sin is, we gloss over God’s drastic, radical, uncompromising, torturous solution to it is – the Cross – and how it is the only cure to a deadly sickness that affects us all. Let’s not pretend that just because we’ve never punched anyone and always submitted our tax return on time that our sin isn’t that bad – the Cross says it is. Let’s not pretend that the unarticulated bitterness towards a family member doesn’t matter because it stays in our head – the Cross says it does. We might have been a Christian for years, but find some sins just too comforting to give up. The Cross says “I gave up my comfort for you.” And then this one (James 4:17): “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” Anyone else starting to feel a bit uneasy?

It is unfashionable to talk about sin these days, even in church. When not completely ignored, it is hastily brushed under the carpet,  The emphasis of church these days is inclusion. People need to understand how inclusive Jesus was. This did the rounds on Facebook recently, as an example of the “best’ church welcome notice ever (courtesy of All Saints Lutheran, Aurora, Colorado):

“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, black and proud, y no habla Ingles.

We extend a special welcome to those who are new-borns, poor as dirt, skinny as a rail, got a hitch in their git-along, or just plain can’t sing. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up, or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Lutheran than Luther, or more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Maria’s confirmation.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 40 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters, and people who stay up too late at night. If you’re having problems, or you’re down in the dumps, or you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too. If you blew all your offering money at Black Hawk, you’re welcome here.”

This church wants to welcome everyone because  Jesus meets us where we’re at! Grace for all, right? Because Jesus died once for all this means I can believe and then 5 minutes later carry on sinning as much as I like, right? (This objection is frequently raised by Muslims.). Hebrews 9:26 says no, you can’t:

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”

A church that is faithful to Christ welcomes people as they are, but should never expect them to stay that way. A Biblical church doesn’t water down or ignore Jesus’ call to repentance.  God isn’t a heavenly waiter who hovers ready to meet our spiritual demands. If we say we believe him, but carry on in our sins, it’s like saying you love your wife while having an affair with the neighbour and wondering why she might have a problem with that. Our sins cost Jesus His life; hence we should own up to them, and deal with them actively, ruthlessly. Who do you need to apologise to? What habits do you need to confront? (Personally, I can think of at least one in each category.)

And yet it is also true that Jesus died “once for all” (Hebrews 10:26). When we repent and believe in Christ, his sacrifice is enough for the sins of tomorrow as well as those of today. The fact I will (no doubt) sin tomorrow doesn’t change my salvation: but will I acknowledge my need of Christ to cleanse me on a daily basis in order to please him? Wilberforce used to keep a list of character flaws which he would pray through and monitor on a weekly basis.

The 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon put it this way:

“Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed….A spiritual experience which is thoroughly flavoured with a deep and bitter sense of sin is of great value to him that has it. It is terrible in the drinking, but it is most wholesome to the bowels, and in the whole of the after life.” Spurgeon, c.1890, autobiography.

The fact that God cares so passionately about sin is good news. He hates the anger, greed, lust, slander and malice that ruin His world and there will be no sin in heaven because Jesus has dealt with all of it. He wants us to hate it too. Allah on the other hand, is not bothered by sin. As the South London Imam told the audience during a discussion on the topic last week, sin to Allah is in fact “not really a big deal.” So what exactly are Muslims saved from? How is sin dealt with? And what are the implications for Islamic paradise?

More in Part 3.

 

 

 

Salvation in Christianity and Islam

The point of any religion is to make sense of life’s big questions: why does the universe exist and what is it for? Does God exist and if so, what is He like? Do we all just get one short, eternally meaningless life before being eaten by worms? Christians and Muslims share similar starting points: we believe in God and in life after death, ultimately in heaven or hell as determined by God our supreme Ruler and Judge. The sticking point is what YHWH/Allah’s criteria are for where we end up. Let’s start with what the Bible teaches on salvation.

YHWH of the Bible is a God with a rescue plan. He rescues his people from slavery in Egypt, he rescues His people from the Midianites and the Philistines (and other tribes), he rescues his people from exile in Babylon. But these rescues are just a foreshadow of his ultimate rescue, which is predicted at the very beginning. After the fall of man, when sin comes into the world and all our problems begin, the LORD God speaks to the serpent (Satan) in Genesis 3:15:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

In other words, a male offspring of a woman (he), will one day come and crush the head of Satan. Is a mere human creature powerful enough to crush the head of Satan? This must be referring to a He who is both human and divine! Who does it sound like? Hint -it can’t be Muhammad, who bent over backwards to stress his humanity: “I am only a mortal like you” (S18:110), “Am I anything but a man, a messenger?” (S17:93)

In contrast, notice what the New Testament says about  Jesus Christ:

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8)

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

We fear death. But YHWH God doesn’t want us to be slaves to the fear of death!  That’s why he sent Jesus, Hebrews continues, “in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”  If God himself has paid for our sins, how should we respond? Hebrews again, and note the repetition of belief:

“See to it brothers, that none of us has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12)

The Lord Jesus says it Himself:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not die, but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the Name of God’s one  and only Son.” (John 3:16-17)

How will we respond to what Jesus has done for us, with belief or with scepticism? Will we believe he really died for our sins? If we do, Jesus tells us, we will have eternal life. If we don’t, we stand condemned. Prayer,fasting, helping the homeless, volunteering at the food bank, paying the right amount of tax: none of this makes a difference to our eternal destiny. YHWH God teaches your eternal destiny is not affected by what you do, but by whether or not you believe Jesus died to save you. Paul agrees:

“But now a righteousness from God apart from the law, has been made known, to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Romans 3:22) On the other hand, God

“will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and the majesty of his power, on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10.)

No one today likes hearing about condemnation, hell and judgement, and they didn’t like it in the first century either. But that didn’t stop Jesus talking about it, not because he enjoyed scaring people, but to show them that by believing him, they have a clear, guaranteed way of escaping it. It is His kindness and mercy that makes Him so black-and-white. If you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian, why not respond to Jesus now in your heart? Don’t leave it too late.

We’ll look at salvation in Islam in Part 2.

The Qur’an’s unbroken chain of narration (not)

Broken chain

by Hatun Tash and Lizzie Schofield

In a previous article we provided evidence of how different versions of the Qur’an contain words with different meanings, due to the different dot patterns and other markings. Bang goes the Muslim claim that “not a dot of the Qur’an has changed.” Now let’s consider the Muslim argument that this doesn’t matter anyway (strange that Muslims would insist on the Qur’an’s pristine preservation for centuries if it wasn’t that important, but hey). At this point they fall back instead on oral tradition, the Qur’an’s beautiful, golden, unbroken chain of narration since the time of Muhammad. But is it actually a golden, unbroken chain of narration or a melted plastic chain of confusion? (Spoiler alert.)

Qur'an's chain of narrators

 

The names just under Muhammad (Uthman, Ali, Zayd ibn Thabit, Ubay ibn Kaab and Ibn Masud) supposedly took the Qur’an from Muhammad by oral tradition. Islamic tradition tells us 3 people in this line disliked each other and disagreed on what needed to be in the Qur’an. Ubay Ibn Kaab’s Qur’an was comprised of 116 chapters; Ibn Masud’s Qur’an had 111 chapters; Zayd Ibn Thabit’s had 114 chapters. So even those closest to the Prophet of Islam weren’t sure about which verses should make the cut. To make matters worse, Shia’s believe that Ali’s Qur’an is the only correct one. Not looking good for that beautiful chain.

Let’s move to the next line in the melted plastic chain of confusion. Abi Abd al Rahman Abd Allah bin Habeeb al Solmi, took the Qur’an from the people above him who couldn’t agree among themselves what should be in it. We will never know (but Allah knows) whose version he used and why. Were there any eyewitnesses at the time who confirmed his narration? Which other Muslims considered him reliable? How many non-Muslim witnesses can confirm any of this? In the same line we have Zirr ibn Hubaysh. Same questions apply to Mr Zirr ibn Hubaysh.

From these mysterious individuals we move to Abi Bakr Aasem ibn al Njood al Asdi al Kufi,who took the Qur’an from Al Solmi and Ibn Hubaysh. Let’s get to know him through Islamic tradition. Tradition tells us that he is blind; he misses off letters; his ahadith are untrue; his memorisation is lacking; he is not trustworthy; he is confused at the end of his life and suffers from delusions. Islamic tradition doesn’t give us a great impression of him yet Muslims consider him part of the golden chain of reliable narrators. Whose opinions shall we trust? The early Muslims or the 2017 Islamic da’wah team?

Abi Bakr Aasem ibn al Njood al Asdi al Kufi, passed the ball to Hafs whose Qur’an we have today and is read by the majority of the Muslim world in 2017. Islamic tradition tells us he doesn’t have a very good reputation. He makes up ahadith, is accused of lying and is considered untrustworthy; his conversations are disputed; he’s considered disloyal; he borrows people’s books, copies them without verifying the contents and then fails to return them. Hafs narrations don’t make it into the hadith collections because he is considered untrustworthy but somehow when it comes to the Qur’an, the eternal word of Allah, he is trustworthy! How does that work?

Putting their dates together, yes it’s possible that these people might have met each other. However, given he was born 67 years after his death, we can be certain that Hafs never met Muhammad. We can be certain Hafs never met the first generation of witnesses, Uthman or Ibn Kaab or Ali, to check out whether what he received was correct. They were dead too. Which of Muhammad’s eyewitnesses confirmed the 114 chapters and 6236 verses of the Hafs Qur’an (or any of the Hafs Qur’ans)?

The Gospels don’t need a chain of narration because (three of them anyway) were taken from eyewitness testimony. Matthew was one of the twelve apostles. Mark took his account from Peter. John is identified as “the beloved disciple” who wrote, “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.” In contrast, Islam hangs on one man’s spiritual experience with an angel (if it was an angel) which no one else was party to – whatever any of the narrators say.