A Christian Looks at Islam
Posted Thursday 15th October 2015 by John - The Bible
Several years ago I attended a talk given by the diocesan director of education for my area. I was shocked to hear the highly qualified and ordained speaker assure us that if we would only check out certain theologians, we would realize that Jesus was not the only way to God, despite His claims (John 14:6) – and that Islam offers an alternative path, 'another way up the mountain' to God. But I was even more shocked after the talk, when the audience mingled, to hear fellow members of my congregation marvelling at the wonderful talk the man had given. How could a Christian minister make such claims?
How, I wondered, would the Apostles of Jesus view Islam, which claims to be an 'Abrahamic religion', along with the Judaism, and therefore an alternative, and even superior way to God. To find the facts of the situation, I purchased a copy of 'An introduction to Islam', written by Waris Maqsood, a Christian convert to Islam who makes the point that although Jesus is regarded in Islam as a great prophet, he should not be thought of as divine, or as a Son of God, and that he actually survived the crucifixion and so did not die, contrary to the Biblical accounts.
Nevertheless, Maqsood informs us that Muslims do accept many of Jesus' teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount and various parables, plus, of course, the Torah.
The situation seems very reminiscent of that in the Early Church, where some converts initially accepted the Christian gospel, but were then led to embrace unorthodox beliefs such as Docestism (Jesus did not die), Arianism (He was not God in the flesh) and Montanism (a splinter movement with no clergy started by Montanus, who claimed to be a new prophet), subjects worth Googling.
Such was the growing turmoil in the new organisation, that it has been said that the Christian Church at the end of the first century was totally unlike the original.
The Spirit of Anti-Christ?
In his three epistles, the apostle John, whose writings are rejected by Islam, warns in particular of Arianism, the rejection of Jesus' divinity, ascribing it to the influence of the 'Spirit of Anti-Christ'.
He warns: 'As ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists' (1 John 2:18). He continues: 'They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us', adding: 'Who is a liar but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denies the Father and the Son' (verse 22). Such was John's strong opinion.
Peter, whose writings are also rejected, issued a similar warning, saying: 'But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them' (2 Peter 2:1). Arianism endures to this day, in the Jehovah's Witnesses, for example.
Part of the problem in those early days was the circulation of counterfeit and damaging letters claiming to be from Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:2), leading him to comment to Timothy that: 'This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Timothy 1:15). The newly-formed Church was under intense attack already.
As a result, perverted forms of the gospel developed, as Paul tells the church in Galatia: 'I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ'(Galatians 1:6-7). Part of that perverted gospel, which he described as 'a yoke of bondage' (Galatians 5:1), was the need for converts to be circumcised.
Incredibly, we are told, there were even false apostles: 'deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ' (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). As Paul then explains, Satan even has his own ministers who pretend to be 'ministers of righteousness'. Chaos!
Little wonder that Jude, even in the first century, felt the need to send out a pastoral letter urging Christians to: 'earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). So be wary of what is preached today. Think for yourself, and prove all things, as Paul counsels (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
The Christian Calling
Christianity is not just a set of beliefs to be analysed then embraced or rejected. There is a spiritual dimension, as with all religions. As Paul also explains, some religions, despite good intentions, are not worshipping the Creator God at all, but rather 'the god of this world' (2 Corinthians 4:4). As he also explains, this present world is actually ruled by spirit forces, which empower the various religions (Ephesians 6:12).
Of course, there is also a spiritual power behind Christianity, so that people do not become Christians by a process of logical reasoning, but because they have been 'called' to repentance, because they metaphorically 'hear' the voice of Jesus in the scriptures, just as sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd. Jesus Himself explains: 'My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me' (John 10:27).
This calling can happen in many ways, such as the experience of the one-time head of religious broadcasting at the BBC who 'heard' the voice of Jesus when he saw an old man with a long beard walking down the street carrying a placard warning that the end of the world was nigh and it was time to repent. He repented.
The Law and Religion
Atheists like to blame 'religion' for the world's troubles, but what is 'religion'? The practically minded apostle James tells us that: 'Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world' (James 1:27), in other words, doing good. As he explains in the context, we demonstrate our 'spirituality' and 'religion' by our actions, by the way we treat other people, not by rituals or conforming to regulations. Jesus likewise tells us to be a light to the world by doing good (Matthew 5:16). On that basis, it would be very hard to claim that the crusaders of the Middle Ages were religious. For although they claimed to be Christians, they actually destroyed whole towns and villages in some cases, killing all the inhabitants. How could they begin to reconcile such actions with Jesus's injunction to love our neighbours as much as we love ourselves, and to even love our enemies?
The Thinking Person's Religion
True Christianity might well be described as the 'thinking person's religion' because it is not a list of 'Thou shalt nots' as some scoff. Far from it. Rather than acting on the basis of a list of black and white, rights and wrongs, Christians are required to think, understand and act
accordingly, to be decision makers or executives. As Paul explains: 'Now the end (intent) of the commandment is charity (love) out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned' ( 1 Timothy 1:5). So that love is the guiding principle, the company policy of Christianity, so to speak
As Jesus tells us, worshipping God is not about temples, vestments and washings, rituals and regulations. He says: 'But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth' (John 4:23). Apparently, Jesus explains, God is actually searching for people wiling to do this, adding: 'For the Father seeketh such to worship him'.
Do's and Don'ts
In addition to the difficulties mentioned above, there was another serious problem in the Early Church. Namely that for some converts to Christianity, Jews in particular, worshipping in the spirit was not good enough. They wanted to embrace Christianity but also keep the physical requirements of the Law. A similar situation exists today, where some people seem to need a list of do's and don'ts to obey in order for them to be or feel or appear 'righteous'. But as potential future world rulers (1 Corinthians 6:2), Christians are apparently being trained to think and interpret and apply the Godly policy of love in everyday life, as explained above. Not to apply regulations and commandments of men. No wonder Jesus warned that it is possible to worship in vain (Matthew 15:9).
In any society there will be talented people who, for various reasons, have not discovered their gifts, and some such early converts, especially glib talkers and eloquent orators, no doubt, evidently saw, in this new organisation, the Christian Church, the opportunity to be somebody and become 'leaders' (Jude 1:16). Although they found some personal success, Paul tells us that they had 'swerved' and 'turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm' (1 Timothy 1:6-7). They were evidently charismatic and convincing, but talking rubbish.
As Paul further explains, 'We know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully. In other words, the Mosaic law was a guide, a detailed list of do's and don't drawn up for the detailed guidance of the bunch of debased and debauched slaves that God delivered out of Egypt. But it was meant to be temporary.
In Galatians, Paul explains that the Law of Moses was a 'schoolmaster' to lead the people of Israel to God, saying: 'Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster' (Galatians 3:24-25).
Even today there are Christian religious sects that treat their followers like children – requiring them to follow physical rules of 'righteousness' that are not required by God. But as with schoolchildren, I suppose that can result in certain good habits and attitudes being instilled, a kind of 'hidden curriculum'. Hopefully, those 'children' will later 'grow up'. As Paul again explains, the Law was added temporarily, and no doubt, had the Israelites responded to their divine calling, it would soon have been removed and replaced by true spirituality. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the Law came to be seen as an end in itself, rather than as a temporary measure.
The Law of Moses made much of washings and cleanliness, which, as we know, are metaphors for spiritual righteousness, with dirt and filth representing sin. Cleanliness is
good, but it does not impart righteousness, and nor does any ritual or routine
As also explained above, true religion is not about rules, rituals and regulations, but about becoming a new person, a new creation (Galatians 6:15, 2Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 3:10, Ephesians 4:24).
In just the same way as a baby is physically conceived, so a Christian is spiritually 'begotten' by the action of God's Holy Spirit and then has to grow. Thus, the act of human reproduction is a metaphor for God's plan for mankind. Continuing the metaphor, at this time Christians are in the 'womb', but will at Christ's coming and the resurrection, be 'born again'.
As Jesus explains: 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit' (John 3:6). Although many Christians claim to be 'born again' already, the physical facts suggest otherwise. Jesus explains that: 'The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit' (John 3:8).
Paul explains these same matters in the last dozen or so verses of 1Corinthians 15, saying: 'Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God', adding that: 'And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly'. We now have physical bodies, but they will be changed to spirit bodies at Christ's coming. These same facts are also made clear elsewhere (Philippians 3:21, 1 John 3:2).
With these matters in mind, would I want to embrace Islam? Maqsood, a Christian person who did turn to Islam, tells us that one of the 'pillars of Islam' is prayer. She explains that: 'Allah requires those who submit to carry out this prayer five times per day, at set times'. Those times are related to the movement of sun. However, because sunset and sunrise were observed by pagans, Muslims are forbidden to pray at those exact times. To simplify matters for believers in various parts of the world, special timetables are issued.
Before praying, hands should be washed up to the wrist three time, and the mouth washed with water thrown into it using the right hand. The face should also be washed three times. And if wind is accidentally passed during prayer, the believer must perform the washings again. When praying elsewhere, believers still have to be physically clean and in a clean space, if possible. Prayer mats are an aid to cleanliness. Their clothes should also be clean and shoes removed.
She also describes the practice of 'rakah', a series of bodily movements and recitations, constituting 'eight separate acts of devotion'. First, they stand to attention and raise their hands to the level of their shoulders. Second, they place their right hand over the left on their chest and recite a short prayer.
Then, after reciting some verses from the Koran, comes the bowing over with hands on knees and the back straight. After repeating some prayers, the believers then prostrate themselves upon the ground, touching it with their hands, forehead, nose, knees and toes. Another short statement of praise is then repeated three times. More repetitions follow. These practices provide detailed guidance and clearly require great care and diligence.
Jesus, of course, sets no such requirement for His followers, beyond warning against making a show of praying in public, saying: 'But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret' (Matthew 6:5-8). Even the 'Lord's Prayer', which people frequently recite as if it were a ritual prayer, is actually an outline to be amplified as appropriate by the person praying. Although no special times are specified, a Christian person will pray frequently, as and when necessary for advice and guidance, as Paul explains (Philippians 4:6, 1Peter 4:7, 1 Thessalonians 3:17).
There has been much discussion in the western media of the matter of religious dress, and the wearing of the 'burqa' and the 'veil' by some Muslim women. According to Maqsood, the specific and sensible requirements are for women to 'cover their bodies from the neck to wrist and the foot', in loose-fitting garments that do not reveal the shapes of their body parts, with various groups adding more detailed requirements, some even affecting choice of colours.
The Christian approach, as explained by Paul, is simply that: 'women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array(1 Timothy 2:9). Just what constitutes modesty in various situations is left to the wisdom of the individual. That said, although some would claims that Britain is a Christian-influenced society, all concept of modesty in women's dress seems to have been lost. What is your opinion?
The Arabic word 'haram' means 'forbidden', and alcohol is haran for Muslims, even when present in a medicine. According to the Koran, 'intoxicants . . . are the lures of Satan . . . you must keep away from these things'.
However, Jesus clearly drank wine, and not just at the Last Supper, and the scriptures suggest that God also enjoys wine (Judges 9:13). Properly used, alcohol is clearly a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, as it helps impart relaxation and peace, so that every public house is a figuratively a 'church'. Although many Muslims make use of drugs, they are required to avoid alcohol, probably the most dangerous drug, especially in Britain.
. . . So, Islam or Christianity, the choice is yours. If you require more information about the requirement of Islam in order to make up you mind, I would refer you to the source already cited: 'Islam – An Introduction' (Teach Yourself series – McGraw Hill), by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, an English convert who makes the case for Islam.
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