Letters to a Muslim Friend — Letter 4

May God’s peace and blessings be with you!

On my trip to Qatar I had the pleasure of visiting the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. This was a wonderful experience. They have a collection that spans the Islamic world, from the first centuries to the present. It presents, above all, a testimony to the nature of Islam as a religion of peace–for who would take such care in decorating doors, and pottery, and carpets, and glassware, and books, and scientific instruments, but a people who valued peace, and leisure, which provides the time to hone one’s skills as an artisan, and the safety in which to enjoy beauty? There is a small exhibit of Islamic art from the al-Sabah collection of Kuwait at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston from now until January–it is small, but representative, and I took my wife to see it when I was home. 

Now, you had asked for testimony that we might use from external sources about the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible. I wish I had a list of non-Christian authors who give testimony to the Bible as you asked for. I haven’t been able to come up with something exactly equivalent. But a number of Christian apologists have written about issues such as the internal evidence, external evidence validating the Biblical witness, and evidence of the reliability of the manuscripts. I cannot provide you with any original writings of mine on the subject, but here are some links I can provide that I think address the issues.

Permit me now to comment on some of the articles you sent.

“Selected verses from the Quran”

I think this a very nice collection, and it includes verses I use when I teach about Islam. There are some Christians who think that Islam does not honor the Bible or the Biblical prophets. And so I refer to texts such as,  “Say ye: ‘we believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and given to (all) Prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them and we bow to God (in Islam).” (Q* S. Baqara 2:136), and  “Those who believe (in the Quran) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians and who believe in God and the last day and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.” (Q* S. Baqara 2:62). The texts you cite about God’s justice echo statements in the Bible. For example, Micah 6:8–“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  

In one of our events with local religious leaders, one speaker addressed the topic of family, and focused on the Quran text, “Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. ” He explained, “It says, ‘Do not say, ‘Oof!’ to them”–meaning the kind of rolling of the eyes and sigh of exasperation that a teenager might use of his parents–do not do that to your elderly parents!  It makes me think of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, 6:1-4–“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

These are excellent verses which emphasis the duty to God and to our neighbor that all People of the Book agree on. If only more of our people would live by them! Our families and our societies would then know the peace that the Creator of all desires for us!

“Selected Bible verses.” 

Now, let me turn to the Bible verses. Let me say first that I, as a Protestant, and as a Seventh-day Adventist, agree with many of the criticisms Islam has made about how Orthodox and Catholic Christianity developed. By the time of Muhammad, these Christians had their large, ornate churches filled with images and icons, engraved depictions of God, and the saints, and the angels, and they bowed down to them. They carried statues around, and dressed them in fine clothes, and lighted candles in front of them–these are practices that the Bible clearly condemns as idolatry. The Ten Commandments are clear: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” The Christian church violated this commandment, and the Catholic and Orthodox churches continue to do so to this day. Christianity became powerful, and compromised with paganism, and adopted pagan practices that are contrary to God’s clear command. And I think Christianity was judged by God for this.

From the middle ages to this day have been reformation movements that have sought to purify Christianity of error, and return it to the Bible’s teachings. St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century led one such movement, and the Waldenses and Hussites in the centuries that followed; Luther began the work of reformation in the 16th century, followed by Zwingli and Calvin, and by the Anabaptists. Each went further in purifying the church.

My church sees itself as standing upon the shoulders of these movements, and going further. We reject the union of church and state that came with Constantine, and return to the teachings of Jesus that “my kingdom is not of this world.” We reject the use of violence in the name of Christ, believing that we are to do as Jesus said, and “turn the other cheek.” We reject the use of pork, which the Bible clearly forbids. We abstain from the use of wine and fermented beverages, for the Bible says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). And, “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things.Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast.” (Proverbs 23:31-34).

We believe that God has a final message of judgment, that we are to bear to the world now, as I may have mentioned to you. From the New Testament, Revelation 14:6ff–“And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation.”

We also believe in modest dress, and in proper respect of women, as in 1 Peter 3–“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham,calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

Even in this country, Muslim merchants try to get me to buy skimpy outfits for my wife and daughter–I tell them, “I’d rather they wear an abaya than what you are trying to sell me! I do not want to parade my wife and daughter in those skimpy outfits!”

You post some quotes about original sin. That’s a teaching that Roman Catholicism introduced, claiming that we are born not merely with the consequences of Adam’s sin (weakness, sickness, mortality, temptation), but they say we are born with the actual guilt of someone else–as you’ve shown, this is not the Bible’s teaching. Yes, the earth is cursed, and we have pain in childbirth, but we do not bear the iniquity of another. Each man receives his own reward and punishment.

You cite some hard verses under the mercy of God–verses showing how God told Israel to slaughter their enemies, including women and children. I point those out to Christians who would condemn the Quran for having similar verses. Of course, the Quran also has verses proclaiming God’s mercy and forgiveness to those who repent, as does the Bible. For example, the very commandment that condemns idolators (Exodus 20) says God is loving, “shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

And Psalm 103:

Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them. The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.

Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure. Bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the Lord, O my soul.

And 1 John 1:8-9–“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

You quote Paul on eating of meat, from 1 Corinthians 10–in context, he is speaking of food that has been offered to idols. He doesn’t believe that the idols are anything, and so he himself was not bothered by food that might have been offered to idols. But he says, if someone comes to you and says, “This was offered to idols,” then do not eat it.There are differences in the Old Testament and New Testament on circumcision–it was a sign setting apart Jew from Gentile, but it was abrogated in the New Testament when the gospel was to be proclaimed to all men, not merely to Jews, and to show that men do not have to become Jews first in order to believe in Jesus as God’s Messiah. Jesus himself was circumcised, as a Jew, faithful to the entire covenant with Israel. But now the covenant is expanded, which is the point of Paul’s letters to the Galatians and to the Romans.

You are right in pointing to the teachings of Jesus emphasizing obedience to God’s commandments. A lot of Christians think the commandments are not to be kept by Christians. Some, such as the Catholics and the Orthodox, ignore the commandment against idolatry and bow down to images. Much of Christianity raised armies, to kill in the name of Jesus, instead of turning the other cheek. In the early centuries, Christians began to drink wine, and to eat pork, and to worship on Sunday, instead of on the seventh day, all to gain favoritism of the pagans. Christians turned the simple Lord’s supper of bread and unfermented wine into a sacrifice that was to be offered for the living and the dead. All of these things are contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

Yes, Jesus said he came not to bring peace, but a sword. And he explains what he means, Matthew 10: 34ff “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  

Whenever one chooses to believe God, and to follow him, he will find opposition. That was the experience of the first Muslims. They were hated by their parents and loved ones, and driven from Mecca, and they found refuge, among other places, among the Christians of Ethiopia. Persecution and hatred will come, even within families, but we are called to submit to God and follow him, regardless of the consequences that might come. We can’t choose peace with parents or children over obedience and submission to God. We must be faithful, even if martyrdom is the cost. I believe the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Islam agree on that point. We have peace of mind and peace in our heart, and peace with God when we submit to him–but it often stirs up strife among men, and that will only cease when God’s peace prevails upon earth after the final judgment.

Well, my friend, I hope I have done justice in these few words to our commitment to dialogue. Next time, I will pick up by talking about Jesus as the son. I’ve focused on what we share in common, and where I (along with my church) agree with many of Islam’s criticisms of Christianity as practiced through history. But we do disagree about Jesus. When I get back to my office I will send you some things I have written on that topic, which perhaps may present matters in a different way than you have heard before.

I read in the news that the pilgrims in Mecca have set off for Mina today. I hope to invite my friends from the Kuwait military to give a presentation to my soldiers about the Hajj in the near future.

Blessings on you and your family, in the days to come. Eid mubarak!