GOD IN HIS RELATION TO SIN AND SALVATION
ONE would think, after a study of God's relation to Man as unfolded in the Muhammadan doctrine of fate, that Islam could have no doctrine of sin or plan of salvation; for if all human actions have been decreed and necessitated ages before the creation, then it would seem to logically follow that all distinctions between virtue and vice are at an end, and that the terms reward and punishment cease to have any meaning. Yet, far from this being the case, it is one of the paradoxes of Islam that it has a detailed doctrine of sin, and an elaborate scheme of rewards and punishments. What Carlyle called the “wearisome, confused jumble” and, may we add, the hopeless inconsistency of the Qur'an is nowhere more manifest than in its teaching concerning sin and salvation. On the one hand, as we have seen, Muhammad taught a bold doctrine of fate which robbed man of all freewill and left him a piece of passive clay in the hands of the Potter, and yet, on the other hand, he found himself unable to suppress the longings of the human heart for reconciliation with God, or to quench its belief in the reality of Man's responsibility and freedom. The gross inconsistency of the whole doctrine of fate has been forcibly expressed by the immortal 'Umar Khayyum in his Rubaiyat, where he says,
“Oh Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin
Beset the road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with predestined evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my fall to sin.”
In studying the Muhammadan doctrine of God in His relation to sin, one is struck with the almost complete divorce between religion and morals which it reveals. It is not so much righteousness which God requires as ceremonial purity. Inner sanctification is little urged, but the performance of a mechanical routine of allotted works is all important; thus sin is not so much the violation of an eternal moral law of righteousness as the infraction of some arbitrary command. This is seen in the character of the Moslem trader, who often scrupulous to a fault in the observance of the daily prayers, will yet often continue meanwhile to lie and cheat without any sense of the inconsistency of his conduct. Generally speaking, the European who lies and cheats makes no pretence of piety at all; and his conduct at least has the merit of consistency.
One has only to take up a collection of the traditions of the Prophet, or a law-book of Islam, such as the Hidayah or the Fatawa Alamgiri, in order to see to what an extent the purely ceremonial has usurped the place of the spiritual, and how few are the calls to inner sanctification compared with the number of injunctions to the proper fulfilment of certain mechanical observances. All this has an important bearing upon the Moslem idea of God, and leads the worshipper further and further away from real spiritual worship. No better illustration of what we have written above could be obtained than that afforded by the liturgical prayer service of Islam. We have no hesitation in saying that, in that service, it is a scrupulous attention to every detail of a minute and often ludicrous ritual which is the first great requisite. Let the worshipper be ever so sincere, his motives ever so transparent, yet the efficacy of his prayer—which to the great majority of Moslems must be made in an unknown tongue—depends upon the correct performance of certain lustrations and genuflections, the slightest infraction of which will mar the efficacy of the whole prayer. Upon this point the teaching of the Prophet is explicit that,
«إنَّ اللهَ لَا يقبَل صَلَاة بِغَيْرِ طُهُورٍ».
“Verily God accepts no prayer without ablution,” and,
«مَنْ تَرَكَ مَوْضِعَ شَعَرَةٍ مِنْ جَنَابَةٍ لَمْ يَغْسِلْهَا فُعِلَ بِهَا كَذَا وَكَذَا مِنَ النَّارِ».
“He who leaves the place of the hairs impure and does not wash them it will be done for him in like manner with the fire (of hell).” It is striking that the necessity for moral purity is scarcely ever alluded to, whilst, on the other hand, all Moslem books of the description alluded to above contain page after page of minute instructions for the right performance of the prescribed ablutions. Prayer, in short, becomes a mere mechanical act as distinguished from a mental one; thus in a dozen places of the Mishkat —to mention but one well-known collection of Traditions—it is clearly laid down that water will wash away sin. We can find space for only one illustration here; the reader may see others for himself in the chapter on Ghusl (bathing). In the Kitabu't-Taharat, part I, we read:
«إِذَا تَوَضَّأَ الْعَبْدُ الْمُسْلِمُ أَوْ الْمُؤْمِنُ فَغَسَلَ وَجْهَهُ خَرَجَ مِنْ وَجْهِهِ كُلُّ خَطِيئَةٍ نَظَرَ إِلَيْهَا بِعَيْنَيْهِ مَعَ الْمَاءِ أَوْ مَعَ آخِرِ قَطْرِ الْمَاءِ فَإِذَا غَسَلَ يَدَيْهِ خَرَجَ مِنْ يَدَيْهِ كُلُّ خَطِيئَةٍ كَانَ بَطَشَتْهَا يَدَاهُ مَعَ الْمَاءِ أَوْ مَعَ آخِرِ قَطْرِ الْمَاءِ فَإِذَا غَسَلَ رِجْلَيْهِ خَرَجَتْ كُلُّ خَطِيئَةٍ مَشَتْهَا رِجْلَاهُ مَعَ الْمَاءِ أَوْ مَعَ آخِرِ قَطْرِ الْمَاءِ حَتَّى يَخْرُجَ نَقِيًّا مِنْ الذُّنُوبِ».
“When a Moslem servant or a believer performs his ablutions and washes his face, all the sins which he had looked upon with his two eyes come out from his face with the water or with the last drop of water; and when he washes his two hands, all the sins which his two hands have committed come out from his hands with the water or with the last drop of water; and when he washes his two feet all the sins towards which his two feet have walked come out from his feet with the water or with the last drop of water, until he comes forth cleansed from (his) sins.”31
The formal and legal character of Islam is nowhere more clearly seen than in its treatment of the subject of sin. This failure to recognize the true character of sin which is such a prominent feature of Moslem theology may be directly traceable to its perverted idea of God. In Islam God is depicted, not so much as a righteous Judge upholding the majesty of the law, as a fickle despot whose good-will can be gained by the punctilious observance of certain mechanical laws. Even the simple repetition of the famous ninety-nine names is sufficient, as we have already seen, to secure salvation. Another tradition, preserved by Tirmidhi and Nasai, relates that the Prophet said:—
«مَنْ قَرَأَ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ مِائَتَيْ مَرَّةٍ: «قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ» مُحِيَ عَنْهُ ذُنُوبُ خَمْسِينَ سَنَةً».
Whoever recites (the words) 'say, He is one God ' two hundred times each day, the sins of fifty years will be blotted out from him.” (Kitab Fazailu'l-Qur'an.) 32 The pernicious doctrine that the performance of certain ceremonial works will blot out sin is repeatedly taught, and a pilgrimage to Mecca is held up as a certain passport to heaven.
A saying of the Prophet preserved by both Muslim and Bukhari, and recorded in the Mishkat in the chapter on the names of God, well illustrates the strange moral confusion which existed in the mind of Muhammad on the subject of sin and its pardon. The tradition runs as follows:—
«قَالَ رسولُ اللهِ صَلعَ إِنَّ عَبْداً أذنب ذَنْبًا فَقَالَ رَبِّ أَذْنَبْتُ فَاغْفِرْه فَقَالَ رَبُّهُ أَعَلِمَ عَبْدِي أَنَّ لَهُ رَبًّا يَغْفِرُ الذَّنْوبَ وَيَأْخُذُ بِهِ غَفَرْتُ لِعَبْدِي ثُمَّ مَكَثَ مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ ثُمَّ أَذْنَبَ ذَنْبًا فَقَالَ رَبِّ أَذْنَبْتُ ذَنْباً فَاغْفِرْهُ فَقَالَ أَعَلِمَ عَبْدِي أَنَّ لَهُ رَبًّا يَغْفِرُ الذَّنْبَ وَيَأْخُذُ بِهِ غَفَرْتُ لِعَبْدِي ثُمَّ مَكَثَ مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ ثُمَّ أَذْنَبَ ذَنْبًا قَالَ رَبِّ أَذْنَبْتُ ذنباً آخَرَ فَاغْفِرْهُ لِي فَقَالَ أَعَلِمَ عَبْدِي أَنَّ لَهُ رَبًّا يَغْفِرُ الذَّنْبَ وَيَأْخُذُ بِهِ غَفَرْتُ لِعَبْدِي فلْيَفْعَل مَا شَاءَ».
“The Prophet said, Verily a certain servant (of God) committed, a grievous sin and said, O, My Lord, I have sinned forgive it. His Lord said, Doth my servant know that he hath a Lord who forgives the sins and also punishes; I have forgiven my servant. Afterwards he delayed as God wished, and then again he sinned a grievous sin and said, O, My Lord. I have sinned grievously; forgive it. He said, Doth my servant know that he hath a Lord who forgives the sins and also punishes; I have forgiven my servant;. Then he delayed as God wished and again sinned grievously and said, O, Lord I have sinned grievously again, forgive it for me. Then He said, Doth my servant know that he hath a Lord who forgives the sins and punishes them; I have forgiven my servant; therefore let him do what he likes!” 33 Such teaching constitutes a direct incentive to sin, and we do not wonder that, under the circumstances, Muslims have not felt the need of an atonement or realized the heinousness of sin. Sin which is easily forgiven is lightly committed; but let a man realize, with the Christian, that forgiveness cost the death of Jesus upon the cross, and he will learn to hate and avoid it.
The fact is, one searches in vain in the authoritative writings of Islam for any reasonable or consistent theory of salvation. To the cry of the human heart which realizes its own sinfulness and cries out, “What must I do to be saved?” Islam makes no satisfactory reply. In that reply, indeed, one can see the utter incompleteness and inadequacy of the Moslem idea of God. Without a true and worthy view of the character of God, it is not strange that Muhammad should have failed to conceive of a scheme of salvation worthy of Deity. His answers to the question “What must I do to be saved?” are as numerous as they are mutually inconsistent. Thus it would be an easy matter, did space permit, to quote texts showing that salvation will be administered on a strict basis of justice, when man's every act will be weighed in the scales and judgment given accordingly. Other texts teach just as unequivocally that every man's salvation, Muhammad's included, depends absolutely upon the mercy of God. The Traditions, again, in contradiction to the Qur'an, teach that the intercession of Muhammad is the great hope for sinners; and, finally, there is the great doctrine overshadowing and nullifying all others that the final destiny of every man for heaven or for hell was decreed and fixed long before the creation of the world. A gloomy creed indeed.
One of the names given to God in Islam is “al-'Adl” “the Just.” In another place He is called “ar-Rahim” “the Merciful”; but Islam fails to explain how the Supreme can be, at the same time, both just and merciful. Justice demands the punishment of sin, and no scheme of salvation which does not provide for this can be either reasonable or true. On the other hand, room must be left for the exercise of the mercy of God, so that both these attributes of the Almighty find full expression. Islam in failing to satisfy these two conditions has failed to satisfy the hopes of its votaries, and, in spite of a way “made easy” for believers, history shows us that the best and noblest of the Prophet's followers have approached the grave in fear and uncertainty. Thus of the Khalifa 'Ali it is related that a friend visited him and said, “How does the Prince of Believers to-day?” To which the Khalifa replied, “Like a poor sinner living the lot which has been assigned to him, and waiting its dreadful termination.” Concerning 'Umar Ibn'Abdu'llah, one of the Companions, we are told that he was wont to fast the entire day, and spend whole nights in prayer. On such occasions he would be heard by his neighbours shrieking out in the stillness of the night hours, “Oh my God! The fire of hell robs me of sleep! Oh pardon me my sins. The lot of Man in this world is care and sorrow, and in the next judgment and the fire. Oh! Where shall the soul find rest and happiness?” 34
Islam brings no assurance of salvation because it offers no substitution for the sinner, and provides no remedy for sin; yet the human soul cries out for a propitiation, and longs for some assurance of forgiveness. The Biblical doctrine that “without shedding of blood there is no remission” 35 finds a ready response in the human heart, and in the Shi'ah doctrine of the expiatory death of Hasan and Husain we see the expression of a deep-rooted conviction of the human soul.
When Islam is able to conceive of God as Love, then, and not till then, will the Moslem come to perceive the sweet reasonableness of the atonement of Christ. Islam admits the doctrine of original sin, and believes that through Adam's sin all men became transgressors; why, then, should Moslems think it unreasonable that by the obedience of one, Jesus Christ, all men should be made righteous? This the great central truth of the revelation made by God in the Injil, nay rather it is the Injil, and in it millions have found peace. Let the Moslem reader, then, turn to the Holy Bible for God's revelation of Himself, and he will find that He is not an inscrutable Despot punishing man for the sins which He Himself compelled him to commit, but a loving Father who desires not the death of one of His creatures, and in words of sweet persuasiveness invites all to turn to Him and live. This God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and it is only by the way of the cross of Jesus that sinful man can approach the holy God. On that cross the claims of justice were met, and the way prepared for the exercise of divine mercy, so that now whosoever will may come and take of the water of life freely. He who would know God must know Jesus Christ, the Word of God, for “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared Him.” (John 1:18.) “He that hath seen me” said Jesus “hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). “I am the way, and the truth and the life: no one cometh unto the Father but by me.” (John 14:6.)
34. Quoted in Osborn's “Islam under the Khalifs of Baghdad,” p. 88.
35. Hebrews 9:22
PRINTED AT THE S.P.C.K. PRESS, VERPRY, MADRAS — 1903