Relating To Questions Raised By Muslims
By Faysal Y. Sharif
In an Islamic society, a person becomes a Muslim by birth as long as he or she is born of Muslim parents. Such a person becomes a Muslim by inheritance and has no choice of a religion or knowledge of other religions except what is taught by Islam. He knows only Islam and what he is taught by Islam about Christianity, Judaism and paganism (all considered to be forms of idol worship).
What a Muslim learns about Christianity and Judaism is based on the teachings of Islam, that the existing holy books of these two religions have been corrupted, and therefore do not represent the original revelations from God. According to Muslim theology, the true faith has always been Islam from the beginning, starting with Adam and down through all the prophets, including Jesus (Issa), and ending with Mohamed. They believe that the Israelites, the chosen people of God, rebelled against God and the teachings of the prophets, including the denial of Jesus as the Messiah. With regards to Christians, the corruption of the Gospel (Injeel) happened when the truth was corrupted by:
- The Trinity (Muslims claim this to be polytheism, thinking that the Christians worship three gods - God the Creator, Jesus, and Mary).
- Divinity of Jesus (rather just being a prophet, as Muslims believe).
- The teachings of the epistles in the New Testament being not inspired by God, especially those of Paul. (They claim that Paul was the master corruptor of the Bible.)
Taking into consideration these very fundamental Muslim beliefs about the corruption of Christian theology, any outreach attempt to Muslims causes them to raise many questions based on the above. The following are very common questions raised by Muslims:
- The Quran (the holy book of Islam) clearly says that Mohamed is the final prophet, and Muslims believe that he was mentioned in both the original Old and New Testaments. They ask, "Why do you deny the prophethood of Mohamed, and what do you have in Christianity that is better than what we have in Islam?"
- The Quran says that Jesus (Issa ) is a great prophet. Muslims ask, "How can you say that he is the Son of God and God at the same time?"
- Muslims say the Bible was written by men on the basis of only inspiration, which is questionable, and therefore is it not possible that the author(s) made mistakes and enforced their personal opinion - especially Paul?
- Muslims ask, "How can you prove that the Bible, in its entirety, is the Word of God? What evidence do you have to support your claim?"
- Muslims believe in something called the law of clarity and simplicity, which states: "If a man cannot explain what he teaches to a ten-year old child, then he does not know what he teaches." In terms of such a law, how does your concept of God compare to that of other religions and philosophies?
- Muslims ask, "How do you know if your belief system of Christianity is true? Are the teachings of your belief system rational? Do they conform to the norms of human reason and intellect?"
- Muslims say, “Allah, the Creator in Islam, is rational. Is the Creator of your belief system rational?"
- Muslims say that Islam presents to humanity only the true knowledge of God and ask, "Does your belief system contain superstitions and myths?"
- Muslims say that Islam can and does relate to modern science and ask: "Can your belief system relate to the discoveries and claims of modern science?"
- Muslims say that Islam is accurate in all its claims and prophesies and ask, “How accurate are the prophecies and predictions of future, from the beginning of time, of your belief system?
- Muslims say that no one has ever been able to imitate the writings of the Quran , although many have attempted over the centuries. They ask, "Could a person have devised your belief system?"
- Overall, Muslims ask, "What convinces you that what you know of your religion is the truth? If so, where did you get that message and what makes you sure that your source is authentic?"
- Muslims say that God creates but that "He was not begotten nor does He beget." They ask, "How can you say that God's prophet, Jesus (Issa ), is the 'son of God'?" They believe that this is a blasphemy because you "downgrade God, who is a spirit, to be human flesh and bones that bear children through sexual relationship between man and woman."
- Muslims believe that only God forgives whom He desires to forgive and ask: "How can you believe that all your sins are forgiven just by believing in Jesus (Issa ), a prophet?"
- Muslims say that God knows that mankind is capable of committing sins, and so, to restrain mankind from sin, He does not let anyone know before judgment day if their sins are forgiven. Therefore, they believe man has to work to gain forgiveness. They ask, "How can Christianity say that man is forgiven his sins just by grace and faith in Jesus as a Savior?"
- Muslims ask, "How can Christians claim to be followers of God when culturally you practice all kinds of sins, which are morally unacceptable to God?"
- Muslims believe that sin is not by nature but is learned and that is why people become accountable when they reach maturity at the age of puberty. They ask, "How can you say that an innocent infant is born with sinful nature?"
The above are questions with which Muslims commonly challenge Christians . The Muslim's understanding of Christianity is based on indoctrination by Islamic theology. Any attempt to explain Christianity will only lead to back-and-forth argumentation. As a former Muslim, I used to raise similar questions. Now, as a believer and servant of our Lord Jesus Christ reaching out to Muslims, I am facing similar questions by Muslims.
For a Muslim to understand and accept Biblical theology, first he needs to understand how Christianity relates to the fundamental human needs for relationship with God and how God has established a reconciliation process through Jesus Christ to redeem mankind from his rebellious and sinful nature - that includes getting people out of worldly bondage.
In my experience in dialoguing with Muslims, I do not start by answering specific questions they raise, because this leads to arguments. They already have answers in their mind to their own questions based on Islamic theology. A more positive approach to answering their questions is a strategy of consensus on specific human issues. For example, one issue is the fundamentals of human sinful nature and the rebellion it has caused against God. This strategy is based on the premise that there can only be one true and one correct way to relate to God. This is a case where not "all roads lead to Rome." Hence, not all religions represent the truth. Some religions may represent some truth, but not all truth. Such religions are in reality pseudo-truths.
There is only one way, and only one truth in life for relating to God by faith. Generally, a Muslim who wants the rational approach to explain Christianity agrees by this methodology.
Based on the above, we start to point out the fundamentals of the human nature related to sin, based on the rebellion of mankind against God. The results of such rebellion lead to sins and create instability in mankind with respect to:
- Fear: Increase in fear is brought about as a result of sins, and the resultant guilt consciousness, thereby destabilizing a person's handle on life.
- Hope: Hope comes about when we have spiritual stability in our relationship with God. Unless God relates to us with His Divine Love, fear encroaches on us to the point that we lose hope and enter the state of despair.
- Assurance of Destiny: When we are in despair, we lack assurance of our destiny, not only the eternal destiny, but also our immediate future, whether an hour or more ahead.
In many of my encounters with Muslims, I find that, fundamentally, they agree to these premises and the fact the Divine role of God is important for mankind to resolve his fear, overcome despair, achieve higher levels of hope, and, subsequently, attain assurance of his eternal destiny. At this point, the fundamentals of Christian faith can be presented to show how Christian faith helps mankind to gain assurance of his destiny.
From such a base, the presentation of Christian theology can be made to show how Jesus brings about spiritual fulfillment in mankind by reconciling us to the Holiness of God through His death on the cross and His resurrection as the final sacrifice for the atonement of mankind from his sins.
With these foundations, the opportunity arises for a believer to refer to Biblical verses to support how Christ answers many of the questions of life and provides the way to spiritual fulfillment.
For others to recognize our attainment of spiritual fulfillment, we must abide in Christ by practicing the faith. Only then will others be able to notice the various attributes of spiritual fulfillment in our lives, including the following:
- HANDLING OF SINS: The distinct ability to recognize human sinful nature and having the self-control not to commit sins. 2 Peter 1: 5-9.
- CONTENTMENT: The ability and strength given by Jesus to withstand greed and temptations of the material world as well as those relating to immediate personal pleasures.
- DISPLACEMENT OF FEAR: How Jesus gives us strength and confidence to displace fear as well as withstand the attacks of spiritual warfare, discouragement and despair. This represents the strength of Christian faith to give hope and assurance of our destiny.
- APPLYING DIVINE LOVE: Our ability to show understanding of God's love and the need for us to reciprocate similar love to others. By the following, we can show what it means:
- Having a heart to place the interest of others before our own. Philippians 2:2-4 and 1 Corinthians 10:24.
- Willingness to lay our lives for others. John 15: 12-17.
- To be able to love our enemies and feed them. Luke 6:27.
- EXPRESSING MATURITY: Our ability to radiate Godly manners, conduct and attributes, which involve:
- The ability to practice and act the Beatitudes, as well as to be "salt and light". Matthew 5:3-16.
- To reflect in our lives the "Fruit of the Spirit" and show that is why we need no laws. Galatians 5:22-23
- The strength to control anger, bitterness and hatred. James 1:20
- To remove the log from our eye before removing the speck from our brother's eye. Matthew 7:3
- Having strength of patience and self-control and being slow to anger, slow to speak and quick to listen. James 1:19
- Practice spiritual wisdom and discernment. 1 Cor. 14: 1; Proverbs 29: 3; Acts 6: 3; Proverbs 16: 21
- Practice forgiveness of others who commit wrongs against us. Matthew 18:21-22
- THE GREAT COMMISSION: The heart filled desire to share the good news of Jesus with others without compulsion but by gentle persuasion (2 Timothy 2: 21-26). Also, we need to express our faith by the promises that Jesus gave us, including "and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28: 16-20.
God's desire is that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9 and John 3:14). He wants to give every human an opportunity to repent, rather than judging them with His wrath to hell. This is the loving God of Christianity, which makes the Christian faith and relationship with God totally different from all other religions in this world. It is the only faith that reconciles mankind to God and by which God has allowed the sacrifice of Jesus to redeem people to Him. This is the true salvation of mankind from his sins and rebellion against God. It is impossible for mankind to attain salvation by deeds. Rather, the Christian faith transforms and regenerates a person's heart, mind and soul to be capable, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to do the good deeds with the assurance of redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ. Thereby, a person is led to use the God given "freedom of the conscience" with right choices.
With such an approach, we are then able to let a Muslim first understand the fundamentals of Christian faith. After that, it is appropriate to address all questions raised by the Muslims. This is the positive approach, which avoids the pitfalls of futile argumentations in outreach to Muslims.
Faysal Y. Sharif is Arabic/Muslim Kingdom Advance Ambassador for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
For more questions about Islam, contact Faysal Y. Sharif.