BIBLE DOCTRINE IN ISLAM
IN the previous chapters we have established the fact that the Christian Scriptures have been neither corrupted nor abrogated. They are still, to-day, as they were in the time of Muhammad, ‘guidance and light,’ ‘complete as to whatever is excellent, and an explanation of every question, and a direction and a mercy.’ They are still ‘an admonition to the pious,’ and, as such, will be read and followed by all who seek the highest good. How far, we now proceed to enquire, do the teachings of the Bible find confirmation and corroboration in Islam? To what extent does a study of the Qur'an support its repeated claim to ‘confirm’ the preceding Scriptures?
THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF GOD
The Bible teaches that there is one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts or passions, of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things visible and invisible. So far Islam may be said to be in complete agreement. It is when we come to consider the mode of the divine existence that the first apparent cleavage in doctrine takes place. The Bible reveals this one and only God as manifested in a trinity of personal existences of one substance, power and eternity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus the eternal nature of God is seen to have relation within itself. Their three eternally harmonious wills are seen to co-exist in mutual love and unity, so that within the unity of the Godhead there exists a trinity of persons, somewhat as in the unity of human personality there exists a trinity of mind, soul and spirit. Yet as the human personality is one, not three, so in Christian theology this triune God is uniquely and absolutely one. This great mystery of the Holy Trinity is a revealed truth, contained in that Bible of which Muhammad spoke so highly, and which he taught men to reverence and follow; it is, therefore, of the utmost importance to ask, What was Muhammad's attitude towards this fundamental truth of Christianity? what has Islam to say concerning this triune expression of the Divine nature? Before answering this question, however, let us once more iterate and emphasise that the question is not whether God is one or three. The Bible, equally with the Qur'an, insists upon the unity of God. ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God’ is the foundation truth upon which the Biblical doctrine of God is based. The question with which we are now concerned is the mode of the Divine existence, the expression of the Divine nature.
Now when we turn to the Qur'an and the Traditions for an answer to the question as to what was Muhammad's attitude towards this revealed truth of a triune nature within the unity of the Godhead, we find no reference whatever to the doctrine as held by the Christian Church. Instead we find a laboured attempt to refute a supposed doctrine of three Gods. This is again and again adverted to in the Qur'an in such a way as to make it clear, not that Muhammad was combating the heretical followers of Marcion (supposing there were any such in Arabia at that time) who said there were three Gods: the God of Justice, the God of Mercy, and the God of Evil, but that he (Muhammad) entertained the mistaken notion that the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity involved a doctrine of three Gods. This view is strengthened by the terms in which Muhammad alludes to this supposed Trinity. Thus we find him saying, ‘They surely are infidels who say “God is the third of three”; for there is no God but one God.’ 58 And again, ‘And when God shall say, “O Jesus, son of Mary, hast thou said unto mankind, take me and my mother as two Gods besides God”?’ 59
Muhammad is here involved in a double error. First, in thinking that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity involves a recognition of three Gods; and secondly, in imagining that that Trinity consisted of Father, Son and the Virgin Mary. Nor was Muhammad alone in this misconception of Christian truth, for we find the great Muslim commentators of the Qur'an, the Jalalayn, 60 giving expression to similar views. Thus in commenting on the passage quoted above they say,
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلَٰثَةً أي أحدها والآخران عيسى وأُمّه
‘Verily God is the third of three. He is one of them, the other two consisting of Jesus and his mother.’ 61
We need scarcely point out that no Christian sect has ever held such a monstrous doctrine. Controversies there have been concerning the nature of God, but the fundamental truth of the unity of God has always been held by orthodox Christians in all ages and in all countries. We now put it to the Muslim reader as to whether a Qur'an which errs so egregiously on a simple matter of fact concerning Christian belief is worthy of acceptance as a guide in those deeper matters affecting our eternal welfare. If Muhammad was unaware of the true nature of the Christian doctrine of God, what value can we put on his other utterances when he attempts to point out the way to God?
It has sometimes been ignorantly contended that the doctrine of the Trinity is an after-thought: that it finds no place in the earliest Christian conception of God. But no one can read the New Testament with attention without seeing that everywhere, side by side with an iterated insistence upon the essential unity of God, there is at least an equal insistence upon the Deity of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit. The great command of Jesus Himself to preach the Gospel in all the world was accompanied by explicit instructions to baptize the new converts ‘into the name (not names) of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.’ 62 The doxologies appended to some of the letters of the Apostle Paul point in the same direction, when he craves for his converts in the same breath ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost.’ 63 Then, again, the ancient liturgies of the Christian Church afford conclusive proof that the doctrine of a triune nature within the Godhead was an integral part of early Christian faith. Thus an ancient liturgy of the Church of Alexandria, adopted about the year A.D. 200 teaches the people to respond, ‘One alone is holy: the Father, One alone is holy: the Son, One alone is holy: the Spirit.’ It is recorded that when the venerable Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who was born in A.D. 69 and was himself a disciple of the Apostle John, gave his life for the faith, he closed his prayer at the stake in these words: ‘For this and for all things I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, together with the eternal and heavenly Jesus, Thy beloved Son, with Whom to Thee and the Holy Ghost be glory both now and to all succeeding ages, Amen.’ There is also striking testimony to the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity was held by the early Christian Church in the writings of the famous author and satirist Lucian, who was born in the year A.D. 125. In his Philopatris the Christian is made to confess ‘The exalted God . . . Son of the Father, Spirit proceeding from the Father, One of three, and three of One.’ These quotations suffice to show that from the very days of Christ Himself the Christian Church held the doctrine of One God in three Persons. Far from it being at development of later ages, it finds its foundation in the Scriptures themselves.
It is merely begging the question for Muslims to say they do not understand the Trinity, and therefore cannot believe it. ‘Who can understand the mystery of the resurrection at the last day?’ Yet multitudes believe it. There are many things in the Qur'an which Muslims do not understand, but which, nevertheless, they accept on the sole testimony of that book. Thus, commenting on the verse of the Qur'an which refers to God's sitting on the throne, the Tafsiru'r-Raufi says, the verse is,
"متشہابہات قرآنی سے ایمان ہمارا ہے اس پر اور حقیقت اُس کی اللہ ہی جانتا ہے جیسا وہ بے کیف ہے استو اُس کا عرش پر بلا کیف ہے"
‘One of the Mutashabihat, or hidden passages of the Qur'an. We believe it, but only God knows its reality. As He is unknowable, so His sitting on the throne is beyond comprehension.’
Christians humbly accept the mystery of the Trinity on the sole authority of Holy Scripture. They realize that the finite can never fully comprehend the infinite; for to understand God would be to be God. Muslims would be wise to adopt the same attitude. They already believe in the resurrection and future judgment on the sole authority of what they believe to be revelation; then why not accept the testimony of God's Holy Word with respect to His Person.64
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting from the Father, very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father. This Word took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin (Mary) of her substance, so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and the manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided whereof is one Christ, very God and very man, Who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice not only for original guilt, but for all actual sins of men. The Bible further teaches that this Christ rose from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of God, ever living to make intercession for those who put their trust in Him.
The Bible reveals the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This great doctrine, like that of the Blessed Trinity, is entirely a revealed truth of Holy Scripture. The sonship therein spoken of is a spiritual and eternal relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity. Christ was always the Son, loved of the Father before the foundation of the world. He did not become the Son in time; He is necessarily and eternally the Son. The term thus defined connotes Deity, and the Holy Bible is full of passages directly or indirectly teaching this great truth. When Christians, therefore, speak of Jesus as the Son of God they do so on the express authority of those Scriptures of which Muhammad spoke so highly. Thus, at His baptism, we read, a voice was heard from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ 65 Long after, when Jesus was put upon his oath in the court of the Jewish high priest, the latter asked Him saying, ‘Art thou the Christ; the son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus answered and said, ‘I am, and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.’ 66 It was, indeed, the constant complaint of His enemies the Jews that ‘He said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.’ 67 One of the prayers of Jesus recorded in the lnjil contains a clear reference to His pre-existence, in these words, ‘And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.’ 68
How far, we now proceed to ask, does the Qur'an ‘confirm’ this view of the Messiah's person? What has Muhammad to say concerning the Divine sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed to us in the Injil? A study of the Qur'an reveals the fact that Muhammad knows nothing whatever about it. What he does do, again and again, in the pages of the Qur'an, is to combat an imaginary doctrine of physical sonship involving gross ideas of a carnal generation, such as was never held or taught by Christians at any period of the Church's history. For Muhammad, the sonship of Christ involved a grossly physical view of His relation to God the Father, carrying with it the blasphemous suggestion of carnal intercourse. Thus we find him saying, ‘In ignorance they have ascribed to Him sons and daughters. Glory be to Him! and high let Him be exalted above that which they attribute to Him. Sole Maker of the heavens and of the earth, how, when He hath no consort, should He have a son?’ 69
The reader will scarcely need to be reminded how very far this grotesque view of the sonship of Christ is removed from the spiritual doctrine revealed in the Bible and briefly expounded above. This idea of a carnal sonship is as repellant to the Christian as the Muslim, and it has no place, and never has had a place, in Christian theology. It was Muhammad's misfortune that he never had expounded to him the orthodox doctrine of the sonship of Christ. The heathen Arabs attributed daughters to God; and when Muhammad heard the title ‘Son’ given to the Messiah, he seems to have assumed that that sonship was equally carnal with the relationships posited by the idolatrous Arabs between the Supreme and their inferior deities. In face of such a serious error on the part of Muhammad as to a general matter of fact, how, we ask, is he to be trusted when he undertakes to teach us the fundamentals of religion?
THE DOCTRINE OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST
Another basal doctrine of Christianity is that the Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cross in order to make atonement for the sins of the world. He Himself said, ‘The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ 70 Not only is the death of Jesus related in circumstantial detail in the lnjil, but it is also foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures of the Jews. These latter, it is well known, refused to acknowledge Jesus as their promised Messiah; yet their Scriptures clearly prophecy His death. For example, the prophet Isaiah foretold the death of Christ in these startling words, ‘He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people was he stricken; and he made his grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death.’ 71 The prophet David, also, wrote of the Messiah, 'The assembly of the wicked have inclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones; they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.’ 72 This remarkable prophecy was completely fulfilled when Jesus was killed, not by the Jewish method of stoning, but by crucifixion, the method of capital punishment employed by the Romans.
It should be remembered, further, that the life and death of Jesus are part of Roman history, having taken place under a Roman Governor, and having the attestation of historical records. Under these circumstances we are not surprised to find by a reference to the history of those times wonderful corroboration of the Biblical accounts of the death of Christ. For example, the celebrated Roman historian, Tacitus, who was born about A.D. 55, in his history of the Roman Empire from A.D. 14 to 68 speaks of the Christians thus: ‘They called them Christians. Christ, from whom the name was given, had been put to death in the reign of Tiberius by the Procurator Pontius Pilate.’ 73 Another famous author of those times was the Greek writer, Lucian, who, writing of the Christians, says, ‘They, in sooth, still worship that great man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced into the world this new religion.’ Other non-Christian historians might be quoted, but the testimonies given above are sufficient to show that when the Injil relates the death of Jesus on the cross, it is relating, not only the fulfilment of prophecy, but a well-established fact of history.
Once again, we ask, what has Islam to say with regard to this great central truth of Christianity? How does Muhammad refer to it in the pages of the Qur'an? As is well known to all students of the Qur'an, that book, instead of confirming the testimony of the Bible with regard to the death of Christ, asserts that He did not die, but was taken up alive to heaven. The words of the Qur'an are these, ‘For their saying, “Verily we have slain the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, an apostle of God.” Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not, but they had only his likeness.’ 74 We have here, surely, a touch-stone with which to test the value of the Qur'anic testimony. On the one side we find the great prophets who preceded the Messiah prophesying his death, and in the lnjil we have the clear testimony of a number of eye-witnesses, some of whom laid down their lives for their faith. Closely following them we have the valuable, independent testimony of non-Christian historians—all affirming that Jesus was crucified; whilst on the other side we have Muhammad, who lived several centuries later, denying that Jesus died, and affirming that He was taken up alive into heaven! Surely no unprejudiced reader will have any difficulty in choosing whom to believe.
As we have before remarked, Muhammad probably never read the Bible himself. It is possible that he had met heretical followers of Mani, who said that Jesus had not died; and he may have thought that their opinions represented the teaching of the Bible. Be that as it may, when the Qur'an is convicted of such hopeless error on a simple matter of historic fact, who will be found willing to risk his eternal salvation by following its teachings concerning the forgiveness of sins? This latter subject we now proceed to briefly discuss.
THE DOCTRINE OF THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS
The Bible teaches that through the atoning death of Christ, whereby full and complete satisfaction has been made for sin, the guilty, but repentant, sinner may obtain full and unconditional pardon, thereby securing reconciliation with God and acceptance into His heavenly kingdom. The cross is thus seen to be the supreme manifestation of Divine love. God ‘gave,’ in the language of Scripture, His only-begotten Son, to be ‘the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’ (1 John 2:2.) Thus God met the fall with a gift of redemption immeasurably great and wonderful. This gift is available for all who will forsake sin and yield themselves to the sovereignty of Jesus in a spirit of whole-hearted surrender to His will. The Bible pictures God as One Who ‘willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth,’ 75 as ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ 76 The Scriptures represent Him as saying, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’ 77 Thus God is revealed as a loving Father yearning over His erring children, and longing for them to accept His invitation to return to the Father's home. That invitation is extended to all, and ‘whosoever will’ may ‘take the water of life freely.’ 78 This, then, is the Divine plan: provision for forgiveness and reconciliation with God, together with an invitation to all to repent and accept the proffered gift in Christ.
Yet there is another and awful alternative, and the Bible speaks in solemn warning of another way which leadeth unto destruction. This, too, is a matter of human choice, for the Bible knows no compulsion to evil. ‘Choose ye’ is the Divine appointment; and personal responsibility is the keynote in all scriptural delineation of human affairs. Such a scheme is worthy of a God who is Love, for it makes it possible for all men to be saved, and thereby magnifies the infinite mercy and grace of God. It does more: it provides an incentive to holy living by kindling within the heart of the repentant sinner feelings of gratitude and love.
Now what has Islam to say to such a scheme of redemption? How does Muhammad treat the question of sin and salvation in the pages of the Qur'an? Does the latter book, does Islam as a system of religion, ‘confirm’ in this respect the teaching of the preceding Scriptures and offer a salvation full and free to all who will turn from sin to righteousness? For answer we propose to let the Qur'an and Traditions speak for themselves. It will be found, when their testimony is examined, that, instead of a gracious provision for the salvation of all men, Islam speaks of an inexorable fate which condemns multitudes to hell-fire even before their creation. According to the Qur'an, every act of man is necessitated by the express decree of God, and man treads his predestined path—whether for heaven or hell—robbed and cheated of that joyous hope of salvation which is the heritage of every Christian. That this is not a distorted view of the teaching of Islam we now proceed to show by quotations from both the Qur'an and the Traditions.
The Islamic doctrine of predestination or fate occupies large portions of both the Qur'an and the Traditions, so that it is not difficult to arrive at a just appreciation of its true significance and import. It is usually conceived of as the predestination of all things good and evil by which the acts of men were fore-ordained and written down long before the creation. Thus it is written:—
مَا أَصَابَ مِنْ مُصِيبَةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ نَبْرَأَهَا
‘No mischance chanceth either on earth or in your own persons, but ere we created them, it was in the book.’ 79
إِنَّا كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَاهُ بِقَدَرٍ... وَكُلُّ شَيْءٍ فَعَلُوهُ فِي الزُّبُرِ وَكُلُّ صَغِيرٍ وَكَبِيرٍ مُسْتَطَرٌ
‘Verily everything have we created by decree; and everything that they do is in the books; every (action), both small and great, is written down.’ 80 This is somewhat amplified in the Traditions 81 where Muhammad teaches that
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ مَا خَلَقَ اللَّهُ الْقَلَمَ فَقَالَ له اكْتُبْ قَالَ مَا أَكْتُبُ قَالَ اكْتُبِ الْقَدَرَ فكتب مَا كَانَ وَمَا هُوَ كَائِنٌ إِلَى الأَبَدِ
‘Verily the first thing which God created was the pen. And, He said to it, Write. It said, What shall I write? He said, Write down the divine decrees. So it wrote down all that was and all that will be to eternity.’ 82
This decree of God embraces all the acts of men, good or bad; hence some are led astray, whilst others are guided aright. Man thus ceases to be a free agent, and is, consequently, freed from responsibility; for without freedom of choice there can, obviously, be no responsibility. There is a significant passage which recurs again and again in the pages of the Qur'an, which we ask the Muslim reader to ponder. It runs as follows:—
يُضِلُّ مَن يَشَاء وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَاء
‘He (God) causeth whom He will to err, and whom He will He guideth.’ 83 This leads logically to the further doctrine that some are predestined for heaven and others for hell. And so we read,
وَلَقَدْ ذَرَأْنَا لِجَهَنَّمَ كَثِيراً مِّنَ الْجِنِّ وَالإِنسِ
‘Many, moreover, of the Jinn and men have we created for hell.’ 84 The reason for this is given in another Qur'anic passage, where we read,
وَلَوْ شِئْنَا لَآتَيْنَا كُلَّ نَفْسٍ هُدَاهَا وَلَكِنْ حَقَّ الْقَوْلُ مِنِّي لَأَمْلَأَنَّ جَهَنَّمَ مِنَ الْجِنَّةِ وَالنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ
‘Had we pleased, we had certainly given to every soul its guidance. But true shall be the word which hath gone forth from me—I will surely fill hell with Jinn and men together.’ 85
We ask the Muslim reader to compare this terrible picture with the gracious invitations of the Bible. Can it for a moment be believed that both are from that Being whom we call the All-Merciful? Are we to believe that God Himself is the Author of Sin! That the piety of the pious and the infidelity of the wicked are alike ordained by Him! Does the Muslim reader of this little book really believe, can he really believe, that this Islamic doctrine of fate is a revelation from God the All-Merciful? We appeal to every Muslim reader of these lines not to let prejudice blind his eyes. We appeal to him to consider the gracious invitation of Jesus, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’
58. Qur’an Al-Ma’idah 5:73.
59. Qur’an Al-Ma’idah 5:116.
62. Matthew 28:19 (added reference)
63. 2 Corinthians 13:14 (added reference)
64. See further in Christ in Islam, p. 16 et seq. and God in Islam, p. 3 et seq.
65. Matthew 3:17.
66. Mark 14:61-2.
67. John 5:18.
68. John 17:5.
69. Qur’an Al-An'am 6:100-101.
70. Matthew 20:28.
71. Isaiah 53:8-9.
72. Psalm 22:16-18.
73. Annals 15:44.
74. Qur’an An-Nisa' 4:157.
75. 1 Timothy 2:4.
76. 2 Peter 3:9.
77. Ezekiel 33:11.
78. Revelation 22:17.
79. Qur’an Al-Hadid 57:22.
80. Qur’an Al-Qamar 54:52-3.
82. Mishkatu'l Masbih, Kitabu'l-Iman.
83. Qur’an An-Nahl 16:93.
84. Qur’an Al-A'raf 7:179.
85. Qur’an As-Sajdah 32:13.