Letters to a Muslim Friend — Letter 3

Ramadan Mubarak!

May God’s blessings be with you during this holy month.  For me to be here and to see how the whole culture is formed by Islam is fascinating. I visited the Grand Mosque of Kuwait a week before Ramadan started–it was in the final stages of renovation prior to being reopened by the Amir at the start of Ramadan. We did not go into the main prayer room, which holds 10,000, but we did get to look in the door. They have a full-sized reproduction of the Qur’an of Othman which is in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul–very interesting to see.  I had two of my Kuwaiti friends speak to the chaplains about Ramadan, and it was a wonderful presentation, focusing upon the themes of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

I have been reading the papers that you sent.

The first one, on the Friendship of Faith, is beautifully written, and a very strong affirmation of what we share in common. Thank you. Often, Christians speak as if we have more in common with Judaism, but you highlight that Islam shares with us the belief in Jesus as a prophet, and that “Besides Christianity, Islam is the only religion on earth, which accepts the miraculous birth of Jesus (P*) through its scripture.” And that he is Messiah, and son of man, and the Word, and that God has raised him up.

I mentioned to my Kuwaiti friends that I do not eat pork, or drink alcohol, that I agree with them that there should be no pictures of divine things in our houses of worship, that we should not bow down to pictures or statues, and that I believe in preparing now for God’s judgment. I quoted to them from the book of Revelation (14:6) God’s final message to the world: “Fear God, and give Glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come. And worship Him who made heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” And they were amazed, saying they had never known a Christian who believes in these things, or speaks in this way.

You go on to draw parallels between what the Bible and the Qur’an say about how to live. If only more of those who go by the name of Christian and Muslim would go by the words of the prophets, and the revelation in our own Book on these points, the world would be a very different place.

In your paper on Criteria of Revealed Scripture, I believe you have outlined authentic criteria for judging prophets and books. I will raise an argument about one point, however, and that is where you quote from an introduction to the Revised Standard Version, “Yet the King James Version has grave defects. … that these defects are so many and so serious as to call for revision of the English translation.” “This means,” you argue, “that the Holy Book was either not revealed by God or altered later on by man.” I don’t think so, since we are dealing with two different English translations of writings that were written down in Hebrew (the Old Testament, or “Tanakh”) or Greek (the New Testament). Just as different English translations of the meaning of the Qur’an may vary, and not call into question the Qur’an itself, so I would argue that different English translations of the meaning of the Bible may also vary, and not call into question the Bible itself. And that is why most of us preparing for ministry have had to study the original languages. But I think most Christian churches have failed to emphasis this. In my own preparation, I studied the Greek of the New Testament, but I never had to study Hebrew to know better the Old Testament.

And yes, there have been additions. That was one of the charges that the Protestant Reformers made of the Catholic Church in the 16th century–and they weren’t original. Humanists such as Erasmus made the same point. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians did not accept the Hebrew Old Testament used by the Jews, but accepted a Greek translation of it, the Septuagint, that had been prepared in Alexandria. This Greek version added a number of books, and added lengthy passages to a number of other books, including the book of the prophet Daniel. The Protestants sought to purify the church of these human additions, so they said only the books as they were in the Hebrew original of the Old Testament were to be used. That is why Catholic and Orthodox Bibles differ from Protestant Bibles today. Protestants restored the Bible to its oldest form. Protestants also purified the church of many other abuses–they took out the statues of the Catholics and the icons of the Orthodox; they eliminated the priesthood, and the idea that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice that can be offered to God. Protestants eliminated the unBiblical teaching of vows of celibacy. So I will agree–we need to study to make sure that what we present is the book as it was revealed, and that the teachings we present are grounded in it, and not in human tradition.

I have not forgotten your request, “I would like to request you to please send me the GOOD comments that non-Christian scholars and famous people made about Prophet Jesus (P), the Bible, and Christianity. I shall feel obliged and grateful.” I will get that to you still.

But for now, in closing, I think of a scripture from the prophet Isaiah that I read by way of introducing our recent speakers who presented on Ramadan. 

The Word of God came to the prophet, to criticize how the people were observing God’s fasts.

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
   and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
   and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
   and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
   only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
   and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
   a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
   and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
   and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
   he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
   and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
   like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
   and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
   Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

And that echoes what Islam says about the fast–not just a time to not eat, but a time to do justice, and to exercise compassion and forgiveness. If we do these things, we will be like those who repair broken walls. We will be restoring those old things that the prophets once taught, that men have forgotten.

May God bless you, my friend, in the remaining weeks of Ramadan.