A Presuppositional Apologetic Applied to Islam’s Teaching Regarding God and Salvation

A PRESUPPOSITIONAL APOLOGETIC APPLIED TO ISLAM’S TEACHING REGARDING GOD AND SALVATION

A Paper Presented to Central Baptist Theological Seminary

By Bradley G. Anderson, 15 April 2005


Introduction

One and a third billion people subscribe to the following assertion: “There is no other God but Allah and Mohammed is His Messenger and servant.”1 This confession is often the first sentence Muslim parents whisper to a newborn, and the last words a Muslim hears on his deathbed. When said with full conviction and understanding at least once in one’s lifetime, this simple declaration is all that is required to make one a Muslim. Islam is growing quickly and is currently the world’s second largest religion, behind only Christianity.

Islam has much in common with Christianity and Judaism. All three consider Abraham their progenitor, recognize only one God, emphasize similar moral principles, and stem from the Middle East. Thus, some see Muslims, Jews, and Christians as different branches of the same tree. Some within Christendom even suggest that sincere Muslims do not need to hear the gospel because God accepts all people who sincerely seek him. Islam and Christianity, however, are irreconcilable on many points. Christians should develop a basic understanding of Islam so they will be able to defend Christianity from Muslim claims and effectively point Muslims to Christ. A presuppositional Christian apologetic will be employed to compare and contrast Muslim views on God and salvation with biblical teachings. Both offensive and defensive apologetic elements will be applied in the course of the argument, under the assumption that the reader has a basic knowledge of Islam.

An Apologetic Approach

Christians share some common views with Muslims—monotheism, adherence to standards of morality, belief in an afterlife, and commitment to an authoritative book. In approaching Muslims, therefore, Christians need not argue for the existence of God or undermine the conclusions of secularism as they might do when dealing with atheists. The basis on which the apologetic “game” must be played is the sacred writings of each group. Christians must assert the authority of the Bible and undermine the claims of the Qur’an. One could begin an apologetic encounter by presenting all the reasons the Bible is reliable and all the reasons the Qur’an is not. The aim of such a strategy would be to undercut the Muslim’s confidence in his book and to engender confidence in the Christian book. Such a two-step approach would constitute a monumental task, and few are genuinely qualified to tackle it. An apologist would seek not only to discredit the Qur’an, but also to show that the Bible is trustworthy and qualified to supplant it. A Christian would argue that biblical Christianity accords best with reality and that the Qur’an contains serious flaws rendering it unreliable. The ultimate judge of which set of sacred writings is most trustworthy in this scenario must be the human intellect. No one denies that God can use this approach to draw Muslims to himself, and many apologists find this method fruitful, but a different approach may be even more effective.

A presuppositional strategy requires several assumptions, the first being that Muslims have some knowledge of the true God. This does not suggest they are actually worshiping the true God, but that residing within the heart of every human is some knowledge of the true God. Another assumption of the presuppositional approach is that the Bible is true and authoritative.2 All men have some knowledge of God because the Bible teaches such,3 but like other non-Christians, Muslims suppress and corrupt the knowledge of God they have. A third assumption is that “the gospel . . . is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes;”4 therefore, conversion is the result of the Holy Spirit convincing a human soul of the truth of the gospel. It is not primarily the result of a good argument or effectively marshaled evidence, although such techniques may play a supporting role in the process. A fourth assumption is that God is sovereign in the salvation of a soul.5 All the elect will certainly be saved, because the sovereign, efficacious call of God is what ultimately unlocks the door to an unbeliever’s heart, and not weighty, logical arguments.6 The Lord must open the unbeliever’s heart.7 A fifth assumption is that the proclamation of the gospel is a necessary element in the conversion process, because the elect will certainly be saved, but not without access to the gospel message.8 Muslims, like everyone else, must hear the Word in order to respond to it because “faith comes by hearing.”9 God is pleased to use the “foolishness of preaching” to save those who believe.10 This presuppositional approach will be applied to Muslim teaching regarding God and salvation.

A Presuppositional Approach Applied to Islam

Regarding God

When Mohammed originally entered the Ka’aba in Mecca, he found over three hundred pagan idols. He somehow concluded that none of these idols adequately represented “the God,” Allah. Although Arabs at that time were pagan idolaters, Mohammed, to his credit, rejected such idolatry, perhaps because of his exposure to Christianity and Judaism. When he was about forty years old, Mohammed claimed to have begun receiving revelations about Allah via the angel Gabriel. Miller asserts that the “heart of the message which Mohammed received was that there is no God but Allah, the one true God, who created heaven and earth.”11 Islam is based on the Qur’an, a compilation of these revelations, and the Hadith, traditions based on the life and sayings of Mohammed. Because of the apparent similarities between Allah and Yahweh, many suggest that the two are different representations of the same deity. Muslims, some claim, although gravely mistaken in their worship, are nevertheless seeking after the true God, the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus.12 Muslims believe they are worshipping the same God as Christians and Jews because the Qur’an plainly as much: “We believe in what has been sent down to us and in that which was sent down to you; our God and your God is One; and we are submitted to him.”13 However, closer examination reveals that Allah is so unlike the true God of the Bible that it is impossible to conclude that Muslims are worshiping the true and only deity. Allah is different from the true God in a number of significant ways.

Absolute Singularity vs. Trinity

The essential natures of the God of the Bible and Allah of Islam are vastly different. According to Miller, “Possibly the greatest theological core value of Islam is tawheed, the unity of God. . . . The oneness of God is considered by many to be Islam’s central theological value. Therefore the concept of the Trinity is repulsive to Muslims.”14 In fact, the Qur’an denounces Christian trinitarianism as tri-theism, the worship of three Gods.15 Madany claims that “Muslim theologians ridiculed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, claiming that it was irrational, and had no basis in God’s true revelation in the Qur’an.16 Muslims strongly assert that “Allah does not have a partner or associate, and He did not beget nor was He begotten. Unlike the word God, the word Allah does not have a plural or gender.”17 In fact, one of the greatest sins Islam can conceive of is shirk, assigning partners to Allah. The Qur’an states: “God forgiveth not the sin of joining other gods with Him. . . . [O]ne who joins other gods with God hath strayed far, far away.”18 Christians, who assert the Trinity, are committing an unforgivable sin, which in the Muslim tradition is punishable by death.

Muslims obviously misunderstand or simply reject what the Bible teaches about the triune nature of God. For them, any hint of plurality within the Godhead amounts to polytheism. The biblical God is a Trinitarian being Who is one God in three persons, not one God in three Gods. Several Old Testament texts use plural pronouns to refer to God,19 and God’s name is occasionally applied to more than one person.20 In Exodus 3:1-5, the Angel of the Lord is equated with God and worshiped as God. While the Old Testament does not furnish a sufficient basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, it does contain suggestions consistent with the doctrine. The Old Testament stressed the unity of God,21 and Old Testament saints were strict monotheists. It is highly doubtful that Old Testament saints held any true Trinitarian ideas.

The revelation concerning God the Son and God the Holy Spirit had to wait until the historical appearance of Christ and the works of the Holy Spirit. Several New Testament texts mention the three persons of the Trinity in close proximity. At the baptism of Christ, the Son was in the water, the Father’s voice was heard from heaven, and the Spirit appeared in the form of a dove.22 Luke 1:32-35 mentions the Lord God, the Son of the Most High, and the Holy Spirit. Even the baptism formula “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” clearly states that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all share the same singular “name.”23 Finally, the apostolic benediction, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”24 aligns the persons in close relationship. A multitude of texts assert the unity and equality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.25

Because Muslims claim that Allah can have no partners, they reject the concept of God having a son, especially one who is “begotten.” Like many pseudo-Christian cultists, Muslims misunderstand the entire “only begotten Son” concept. The suggestion that God can be known as Father is blasphemous to Muslims. In their estimation, one must engage in sexual contact with a human female in order to be a father. Such an idea is repulsive to Muslims and is certainly not what Christians imply when they call God their Father. That Jesus is called a “begotten Son” does not suggest any kind of sexual relationship between God and a human female. The biblical terms “father” and “son” do not require a physical relationship or demand sexual activity. For example, Paul called Timothy his “son in the faith”26 without implying physical descent. The sonship of Jesus has nothing to do with physical relationships.

The term ????????? literally means “of sole descent,” an only child, without brothers or sisters.27 The word may refer to physical descent or to a special status or position, just like Isaac was Abraham’s “only begotten son,” even though Abraham had other sons.28 Jesus is the one and only, special, unique, unparalleled, incomparable, dearest, or most beloved Son of God. That alone is why he is called “the only begotten” Son. The term emphasizes the special relationship between the Father and the Son. God has many children, but only one only begotten Son. Muslims seem not to grasp the fact that, as Geisler notes, “[p]aternity can be understood in more than a biological sense.”29

Although Trinitarian doctrine may be denied by Muslims and is perhaps mysterious and confusing to average Christians, trinitarianism is orthodox biblical teaching. Monotheism and trinitarianism are not mutually exclusive ideas. Christians are monotheists who recognize plurality within divine unity. Muslims would be loathe to consider any faith which denies the unity of God, and rightly so. Christians must assure them that orthodox Christianity is monotheistic. The Father, Son, and Spirit are one.30 Christians do not deny the essential unity of God.

Wholly Other Transcendence vs. Knowable Immanence

Another significant distinction between the God of the Bible and Allah concerns a man’s capacity to know the deity. The Qur’an presents Allah as wholly other and ultimately unknowable. Cate asserts that Allah is “distant and impersonal, He does not have a covenant relationship with humans. He is omnipotent, and people cannot get close to Him.”31 Muslims hold that nothing resembles Allah in any respect.32 Allah is an aloof God, unlike Yahweh, who has promised to remain in close personal contact with his people. Geisler maintains that “Allah does not have an essence, at least not a knowable one. . . . There is no nature or essence in [Allah] according to which he must act.”33 Because Allah has no essential nature or character, he is capable of shifting positions. “[Allah] does not have to be merciful; he could be mean if he wanted to be. He does not have to be loving to all; he could hate, if he chose to do so. . . . In other words, love and mercy are not of the essence of [Allah].”34 The essential nature of Allah, if there is one, is ultimately unknowable, even for sincere Muslims.

While Christians often speak of knowing God or growing in the knowledge of God, Muslims rarely use such language. They are not interested in knowing Allah himself, only in submitting to his will. Thus, as Geisler notes, “the Islamic view of God involves a form of agnosticism. . . . God’s names do not tell us anything about what God is like but only how God has willed to act. God’s actions do not reflect God’s character.”35 Muslims freely admit as much. Muslim philosopher Abu-Hamid al-Ghazali taught that “the end result of the knowledge [for Muslims] is their inability to know Him, and their knowledge is, in truth, that they do not know Him and that it is absolutely impossible for them to know Him. . . . It is impossible for anyone to really know Allah except Allah (Himself).”36 Muslim intellectual Isma’il Al-Faruqui admits that “[Allah] does not reveal Himself to anyone in any way. God reveals only His will.”37 Muslims seem to ignore the contradiction between the claim that Allah is unknowable and the assertion that he has revealed his will. Any communication from Allah would reveal something about his person. If Allah is truly unknowable, Muslims should not propose any statements about him. Even the statement, “Allah is unknowable,” asserts something about Allah. On the other hand, if descriptions of Allah are true, Muslims should not claim that he is unknowable. Ironically, the claim that “the ultimate goal (for man) is to know God” is not foreign to Islam.38 One may seek to know Allah, but such a search will only yield frustration, because in the end, He is unknowable.

Christians believe that they know God because God is knowable and has revealed himself in ways the human mind can grasp.39 Because humans reflect the image of God, they have the capacity to know God. Christianity asserts that God has certain attributes, and these attributes truly describe God’s nature and essence. As Erickson states, “Attributes are permanent qualities of the entire Godhead, constituting God what He is.”40 Unlike Allah, the true God will never contradict his essential character. God has revealed not only his will, but also himself, to mankind in the form of Jesus, who is the ultimate expression of God to man.41 God has revealed himself via the Word of God and the Son of God. Christians maintain that God is ultimately incomprehensible, but not that he is unknowable.

Capricious Command vs. Stable Sovereignty

Muslims and Christians disagree about the nature of God’s sovereignty. The cry “Allahlau Akbar,” meaning “God is the greatest,” is loudly heralded from minarets throughout the Muslim world several times a day. As Cate notes, Islam teaches that “God has complete power and can do whatever He wants to do. He has predestined every day of each person’s life.”42 Allah’s predestination of all things includes the unbelief of the infidel and the wickedness of the sinner. The Dictionary of Islam says that “[Allah] willeth also the unbelief of the unbeliever and the irreligion of the wicked and, without that will, there would neither be unbelief nor irreligion.”43 Sovereignty for Muslims means that Allah may change his mind and even commit acts that would be sinful for humans. Cate states the following:

Three times the Qur’an teaches that God deceives. These same three verses say that God is the best deceiver (Surah 3:54; 8:30; 10:21). English translations of these verses use words like “plot,” “plan,” or “the best planner.” But these translations do not reflect the full meaning of the original makara. Hans Wehr’s standard Arabic dictionary says that makara means “deceive, delude, cheat, dupe, gull, or double-cross” and makir is defined as “sly, cunning, or wily.”44

Muslims worship a God who is not only unknowable, but also unpredictable. If he chose to be hateful and inhumane, that would not contradict his essential character because he has none. Interestingly, the Qur’an teaches that Allah is directly responsible for disasters, crimes, and all manner of evil. Nearly twenty passages in the Qur’an teach that Allah leads men astray.45 Yet Muslims never describe Allah as wicked or evil. But if Allah is described by his actions, it would seem consistent to describe him as evil and wicked, as well as good. That Allah is essentially unknowable means one can never be sure how Allah will act or what he will do.

Christians agree with their Muslim friends that God is omnipotent and sovereign over his creation. But the true God cannot sin or act in a way contrary to what he has revealed about himself. The true God is no deceiver46 and will never act inconsistently with his holy character.47 God is not the author of sin,48 although he is capable of using the sinful actions of evil men to achieve his own ends.49 As Berkhof remarks, the true God is “devoid of all change, not only in His Being, but also in His perfections, and in His purposes and promises. . . and is free from all accession or diminution and from all growth or decay in His Being or perfections.”50 As the psalmist says, “[T]hey shall be changed: but thou art the same.”51 Jesus Christ, the supreme revelation of God to man, is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”52

Animistic Superstition vs. Confident Faith

Another notable distinction between Christianity and Islam centers on the quality of the believer’s faith. Pagan superstition, rather than a confident trust in the goodness and power of Allah, prevails within Islam. For example, Muslims believe that the black stone meteorite in the Ka’aba was originally crystal clear but became pitch-black through taking the sins of the Muslims who kiss it. Any form of veneration of a dead stone—especially to the extent of bowing down and kissing it—can only be identified with pagan idolatry rather than pure monotheistic worship.53 Cate avers that “Muslims strongly believe in a personal Satan and demons, called jinn. From the jinn come the powers of the evil eye. The fear of the evil eye, the jinn, and curses given by those with special power can lay a heavy toll on Muslims.”54 A long list of common Muslim superstitions could be listed. Cate mentions a few:

In children’s first years they are frequently kept very dirty, even in clean houses by clean parents, because a clean child could attract the evil eye. No one is to compliment a baby or a young child, because this could open the child up to being zapped by the evil eye. If a compliment is given, then Masha Allah (“Praise God”) is said in order to block the power of the evil eye from harming the child. Verses of the Qur’an are pinned to children’s clothing to ward off the evil eye. And a kerosene light might be kept on all night in a village home in order to keep jinn away. . . . Muslims flock to the tombs of saints, believing in the powers at the tomb of the dead bones of that saint to intercede or to answer their prayers. Muslims may walk around the tomb, touch it with their hands, and then put their hands on their face to pass the blessing from the saint onto themselves. . . . Many amulets are worn to ward off the power of the evil eye and the jinn. Many Muslims believe that some form of magical power helps them maintain equilibrium or balance with the spirit world.55

In one particularly absurd example of Muslim superstition, the Hadith has Mohammed saying, “If anyone of you rouses from sleep and performs the ablution, he should wash his nose by putting water in it and then blowing it out thrice, because Satan has stayed in the upper part of his nose all the night.”56 Another tradition alleges that Satan plays pranks on those who sleep when they should be praying.57

The Bible teaches that Satan roams the earth seeking to destroy whomever he can, but it mentions nothing about him lodging overnight within someone’s nostril. Christians acknowledge the power of Satan and demons, but they also recognize that such powers are ultimately under God’s sovereign control. Christians overcome Satan and evil spirits because God is greater than “he that is in the world.”58 Christians can sleep sweetly and soundly, knowing that they have nothing to fear when God is the source of their confidence and security.59 The impersonal, distant, unknowable God of Islam does not engender confidence or security in his followers. Christians fear no spirits, devils, jinns, or evil eyes. A spirit of fear and timidity is replaced with “power and love and discipline.”60 As Cate suggests,

Christians should never forget that they worship a personal God, who hears and answers prayer, who has created the world, who has all power, who has defeated Satan on the cross, who will ultimately defeat Satan, and who can solve the problems with which any Muslim is wrestling.61

True Christianity banishes superstition, while Islam is replete with it.

Regarding Salvation

In addition to their differing views regarding the nature of God, Christians and Muslims disagree on the requirements for salvation. Like Christians, Muslims are interested in securing a place for themselves in heaven. Muslims believe that earthly life is preparation for eternity, either in heavenly bliss or in damnation of hell.62 The Qur’an contains many warnings regarding the coming Judgment Day in which all will be held accountable for their faith and actions. While Christians agree with Muslims regarding the reality of a future judgment and the existence of heaven and hell, the two faiths differ drastically in their teachings regarding the nature of salvation and the conditions for achieving it.

Weakness vs. Depravity

The sinfulness of man is a significant area of disagreement between Christians and Muslims. Islam teaches that man is weak, sinful, and ignorant, but not spiritually dead. Man needs a teacher and guide, not a savior. Man is fully capable by his own will and efforts of pleasing God. Kateregga asserts that “Islam does not identify with the Christian conviction that man needs to be redeemed. The Christian belief in the redemptive sacrificial death of Christ does not fit the Islamic view that man has always been fundamentally good, and that God loves and forgives those who obey his will.”63 Accordingly, man needs only a shove in the right direction, not a total renovation of his nature or regeneration of his soul. Man’s ultimate purpose in life is not to know God, glorify God or to enjoy him forever, but to understand Allah’s will and become more obedient to his commands.64

Although Muslims believe the basic outlines of the fall of man as revealed in Genesis, they also hold that Adam’s sin did not change his nature, and that the fall did not have any impact on succeeding generations. As Rhodes notes, Muslims believe that “Adam was the same after the fall as he was before. He was still perfectly able to obey God.”65 Mahmoud A. Ayoub states the following:

Islam insists, both in the Qur’an and prophetic, hadith tradition, that every human being is born with an innate knowledge of God. This knowledge is not so much awareness or information, rather it is a state of innocent faith, a state (fitra) of the original creation expressed anew in every child.66

Islam asserts that every child is born as innocent as Adam was before the fall. Muslims see Adam’s sin as a “minor slip-up,”67 not a foundational corruption of human nature passed down from Adam to the whole human race. Kateregga claims that “Muslims . . . do not accuse Adam and Eve of transmitting sin and evil to the whole of mankind. The two were absolved of their sin, and their descendants were made immune from its effect. Sin is not original, hereditary, or inevitable.”68 Adam made a mistake—he forgot about God’s prohibition against eating the fruit of the tree. But he repented, God forgave him, and all was restored to a pre-fall condition. Muslims believe that people sin, not because of a sin nature inherited from Adam, but because of human weakness and forgetfulness. Sinners needed the prophets to supply continual reminders of Allah’s laws. Oddly enough, the Qur’an claims that Satan reminded Adam about the results of sin during the temptation. This tradition contradicts the Muslim teaching that Adam simply forgot God’s command not to eat of the fruit.69 Islam recognizes that men will sin, but those who seek to obey Allah’s will find forgiveness. Man’s heart is not utterly depraved; it is merely distracted. Muslims do not describe salvation in terms of conversion or deliverance from sin, but as remembering or returning.70

If sin is such a minor matter and so easily overcome, why do sinners merit the drastic punishments Allah threatens against them? Allah’s extreme reaction against transgressors is inappropriate if sin is no more than forgetfulness and distraction. Further, the Muslim view of sin cannot account for the depths of human depravity. It is hard to believe that root of idolatry, greed, and hatred is simple memory lapse. Reminders and appeals to return have little power to curb the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.

Christians believe the problem of sin is far more extensive than Muslims. The Bible regards Adam’s iniquity as more than a trivial slip-up. By his disobedience, Adam plunged the whole race into sin and brought the world itself into the “bondage of corruption.”71 The sin of the one man passed down to all men.72 The Bible teaches that the one sin of the one man Adam somehow influences the whole race. Man sins because he is sinful, and sin has penetrated every part of every person. People are sinners by birth and by choice. Sin is rebellion against God, a violation of his law, and failure to meet God’s standard, not merely weakness and forgetfulness. Christianity does not identify with the Muslim idea that man is fundamentally good.

Christians believe that the solution to the sin problem is not reminders or redirection, but total renovation. Man needs a new “heart of flesh” to replace his heart of stone.73 Jesus came into the world as a Second Adam to reverse the effects of the fall for believers. Those “in Christ” are new creations74 who have the Spirit-given capacity to turn away from sin and live holy lives. Man’s slavery to sin has been broken; sin has no more dominion over the believer.75 The Christian has been justified, legally pardoned based on Christ’s substitutionary atonement. He is no longer found guilty; his sins are forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him.76 God, through Christ, solves one’s sin problem judicially and gives the believer the capacity to overcome sin practically.

Faith Plus Works vs. Repentant Faith Alone

Muslim ideas of faith and works are radically different from Christian views. Muslims are quick to point out that their system of faith is far easier to believe and practice than the complicated and abstract faith of Christianity. Islam has only three basic elements of faith: belief in the oneness of God, belief in the prophecy of Mohammed, and belief in life after death. These three are commonly expanded to include belief in Allah and his attributes, the teaching of the prophets, the sacred books, resurrection, the angels, and Allah’s sovereign control over everything.77 Whoever denies any of these elements is assumed to be kafir, an unbeliever. Islam, as popularly understood and practiced, boils down to the following simple ideas: “spread peace, feed people food, and do some devotional practice, and you’ll enter paradise without any trouble.”78

Islam affirms the biblical truth that “faith without works is dead,”79 but unlike Christianity, it holds that good works are a necessary, meritorious element of salvation. Islam emphasizes the following “pillars” or good works that the faithful are expected to carry out and without which salvation is impossible: confession, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s life. Some Muslims also include jihad, holy war or some other kind of exertion for the cause of Islam.80 No salvation exists in the Muslim world apart from practicing the pillars, described by the Arabic word ibadat, from the root “slave. Miller notes that these pillars or works “are the services a slave renders to his Owner.”81 One American convert to Islam found that faith attractive because it “puts the onus of salvation on the believer.”82 On the final Judgment Day, Allah will weigh one’s good works against his evil works. The Qur’an states, “Then when the Trumpet is blown, . . . those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy—they will be successful: But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls, in Hell will they abide.”83

Muslims must believe the right things and do the right things if they are to maintain any hope of a blissful afterlife. Faith alone will not save anyone; works are also required. Many passages from the Qur’an assert the necessity of both faith and works for salvation:

It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness—to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and give Zakat (regular charity); to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God fearing. . . . To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath God promised forgiveness and a great reward. . . . But those who believe and work righteousness—no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear—they will be Companions of the Garden, therein to dwell (for ever). . . . As to those who believe and work righteousness, verily We shall not suffer to perish the reward of any who do a (single) righteous deed.84

Christianity teaches an entirely different understanding of faith. Christians believe the Word of God,85 in which they find revealed the person and work of Christ.86 This revelation leads to faith in Christ himself.87 Sincere, repentant faith that apprehends the proper object is salvific; nothing else is required. If a person “has” Christ, he has eternal life.88 The object of saving faith is the prophet—Jesus Christ. Not so in Islam. Muslims believe that Mohammed is Allah’s prophet, but not that Mohammed is divine or that his work is the basis of salvation. Mohammed revealed Allah’s will and set a good example, but he did not purchase salvation for anyone other than himself. In Islam, every individual must purchase his own salvation through faith and good works. Belief in Mohammed is not trust in him to forgive sin or provide salvation. In contrast, Christian faith requires the believer to trust the person and work of Christ to save him. Christ is the Savior; Mohammed never claimed to be a savior.

Further, Christianity takes a radically different view of good works than does Islam. Biblical authors repeatedly deny the idea that works are meritorious in salvation.89 Christians claim to be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, while Muslims seek to merit God’s favor through obedience. The Bible asserts that one can trust in God’s grace for salvation or seek to earn God’s approval through good works, but not both.90 The good works of the unregenerate, although they are good in a sense, are nevertheless non-meritorious. Works will naturally surface in the lives of genuine believers, but works do not aid or secure salvation for Christians. Faith without works is dead, but so is faith that depends on works to bring salvation.

Uncertainty vs. Certainty

In spite of all its bold assertions about the requirements for salvation, Islam conveys little certainty that the faithful will ever attain it. Because salvation in Islam is based on a comparison between one’s good and evil works, the typical Muslim is unsure of his eternal destiny. For Muslims, affirming their own righteousness is presumptuous because it is impossible for anyone to know whether his good deeds outweigh his bad deeds until Judgment Day. When a Muslim is asked if he is a believer or if he will attain heaven, he will commonly answer, “If it be the will of God.”91 No assurance of salvation is possible for Muslims, at least not one based on faith and good works. The only people who can be absolutely assured of heaven are those who lose their lives fighting in a jihad, which explains why so many Muslims are willing to give their lives in Allah’s service. Sura 3:195 states, “Those who have . . . fought or been slain—verily I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into gardens with rivers flowing beneath.” Since the majority of Muslims do not die during jihad, they can have no confidence of eternal life. Muslims commonly attempt to do additional good works such as fasts, prayers, gifts to charity, and pilgrimages, in the hope of shifting the scales in their favor. But ultimately, a blissful eternity is dependent upon the arbitrary will of Allah, and no one can predict what Allah’s decision will be.92 One authoritative tradition suggests that Mohammed himself was unsure of his eternal destiny.93 Like all other Muslims, even the prophet could only hope for the best.

Unlike Muslims, Christians can be assured of their eternal destination. The Bible repeatedly asserts that one can know he is saved.94 One’s sense of assurance is based on biblical promises, the presence of certain evidences, and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. If a believer has sincerely repented of sin and turned to Christ for forgiveness, he has fulfilled the biblical requirements for salvation. Shortly after salvation, fruit should start appearing in the life of a believer. This fruit, or evidence of spiritual life, may take many forms, such as obedience to Christ’s commands, love for the brotherhood of believers, a desire to be baptized, and union with a church. Those without such evidence have good reason to question their salvation, but the presence of such evidence should give the believer increased confidence that he is genuinely saved. The Holy Spirit has promised to indwell the believer and witness to him internally that he is a child of God.95 This internal witness is admittedly a subjective, personal experience and not to be considered apart from biblical promises or the presence of evidence. If one has followed the biblical guidelines, is experiencing the common evidences of salvation, and is enjoying the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, he should be confident that he is saved.

Fanciful Speculation vs. Spiritual Worship

The Muslim view of existence after death differs drastically from the Christian view. Muslims believe that at the point of death the soul of a faithful Muslim is clothed in sweet- smelling garments, taken through the seven heavens, ushered into the presence of God, and then returned to the physical body to wait for the future Judgment Day. The soul of the unbeliever is wrapped with a foul-smelling garment, brought to heaven but turned away, and then is returned to the body to wait for judgment. While in the grave, Muslims are visited by angels who examine them regarding their faith. If a dead person claims Allah, Islam, and Mohammed, the angels make the person comfortable and “open a window through which they can gaze at the Garden and receive the winds and odor of Paradise.”96 Unbelievers, on the other hand, are subject to great discomfort and feel the hot winds of hell and other torments while in the grave. Although some Muslims reject the idea of punishments and rewards before the judgment, the popular viewpoint maintains both. Some believe that souls sleep, while others hold that souls are fully conscious and active. Some suggest that the dead do not interact with the living, but others claim that the dead speak and even visit their friends. Perhaps spirits temporarily hover near their homes and observe how their affairs are being discharged. Departed spirits possibly wander the earth or visit the Garden. Islam asserts no uniform teaching on the activities of the dead at this stage, and most educated Muslims do not speculate about the exact nature and details of the afterlife.97

As Geisler notes, “the fact of bodily resurrection is a cornerstone of Mohammed’s early preaching.”98 Muslims believe that at the final judgment, the angel of death, Israfil, will blow a trumpet, after which God will resurrect the dead. Allah will recreate each person’s body in its original shape and will rejoin every soul to its body. All people will be called to stand before Allah to await judgment, and this waiting period may last for a thousand years. Eventually, he will begin judging everyone based on his deeds, intentions, and desires, which have been recorded by two angels. Allah will employ a scale to weigh one’s good deeds against his bad. Everyone will be forced to cross seerat, the bridge over hell. The faithful will cross quickly and easily, while unbelievers will fail to cross and will fall into the abyss of hell. During this process, some will implore Mohammed to intercede for them; and he will agree, allowing many who were destined for hell to enter heaven. In fact, some who fell into hell will be released through the prophet’s intercession. Most Muslims believe that only the musrikun, those unbelievers who have committed the worst sins, such as impugning the unity of God, will suffer the eternal torments of hell. Geisler condenses the Qur’an’s description of hell:

[The inhabitants] will be given a mixture of boiling water. Then shall their return be to the (blazing) fire” (37:62-68). . . . Furthermore it has fierce “boiling hot water” (55:44), with “a fierce blast of fire and boiling water, and in the shades of black smoke” (56:42-43). “When they are cast therein, they will hear the (terrible) drawing in of its breath even as it blazes forth, almost bursting with fury” (67:7-8). The people of the fire are sighing, wailing and wretched (11:106). Their scorched skins are constantly exchanged for new ones so that they can taste the torment anew (4:45). They drink festering water and though death appears on all sides, they are not able to die (14:16-17). . . . Boiling water will be poured on their heads, melting their insides as well as their skins, and hooks of iron will drag them back should they try to escape (22:19-21).99

Muslims who successfully cross the bridge over hell will arrive safely in heaven, the “Gardens of Felicity.”100 The faithful will be given delicious drinks and are promised the companionship of young and beautiful women. In fact, each man may have seventy-two beautiful maidens at his disposal.101 Kripalani asserts that “Mohammed’s conception of Paradise is well known to be materialistic and voluptuous,” a place where all physical desires may be fully satisfied.102 Everyone will be content, peaceful and secure. The Qur’an says that the faithful “will enjoy gentle speech, pleasant shade, and every available fruit, as well as the cool drink and meat they desire. They will drink from a shining stream of delicious wine,” wear gold and pearls, robes of finest silk, and be waited on by servants.103 A tree in Paradise is so large that a rider can travel in its shade for a hundred years. Spectacular views of fountains, pavilions, and rivers delight on every side.104 One tradition asserts that each man in heaven will inhabit a hollowed-out pearl, sixty miles long, in which he will have a number of wives, none of whom will see the others.105 But the spiritual joys of heaven will exceed the physical pleasures of the place. “[T]he greatest bliss is the good pleasure of God: that is the supreme felicity.”106 Muslims differ on whether the descriptions of heaven and hell should be interpreted literally or symbolically.

A simple description of the Muslim view of the afterlife exposes it as a weak link within the system. Pleasant or foul-smelling garments, graveside views of heaven or hell, angelic visitors, disembodied spirits hovering nearby, the bridge over hell, sensual delights of heaven, barbaric descriptions of hell—many such elements were likely plagiarized from earlier religions such as Zoroastrianism. Christians agree that heaven and hell exist, but the biblical description of these places has little in common with the fanciful imaginations rife within Islam.

The Bible teaches that upon death the soul immediately leaves the body and eternally resides ever after in a state of bliss or punishment. The soul does not remain in the grave with the dead body, nor does it sleep or haunt its old neighborhood. Absent from the body, one’s soul is “present with the Lord”107 or experiencing the just desserts of sin.108 Christians will be judged for their works, but their entrance into heaven is not based on this judgment. Viewpoints regarding the eschaton differ within Christianity, but all agree that there will be a future resurrection and judgment for the just and the unjust. The just will enjoy eternal bliss while the wicked will suffer eternal torment. Then all things will be made new and the eternal state will commence.109 Noticeably absent from Christian belief are the more gruesome descriptions of hell or the sensual and fanciful descriptions of heavenly bliss, but Christians can agree with their Muslim friends that “the greatest bliss is the good pleasure of God.” Worship, not the fulfillment of physical desires, will be a primary activity for those in heaven.110 Intimate, unbroken, perfect fellowship of believers with their Creator and Redeemer will be the ultimate reward.

Conclusion

While Islam and Christianity share some common views, they are not compatible faiths. Muslims worship a different God and seek salvation through different means. Allah has little in common with the true God revealed in the Bible. God is a Trinity, not an absolute singularity. God has revealed himself to man and is knowable, not wholly other and essentially unknowable. God’s character and nature are stable, not arbitrary and contradictory. The Christian faith precludes superstition rather than encouraging it. Likewise, the Christian view of salvation differs radically from Islam. Christianity takes the problem of human sinfulness far more seriously than does Islam, asserting that the natural man is utterly depraved, not just distracted. Man is saved by repentant faith alone, not by faith plus works. The Christian may be confident and secure in his salvation, while even a sincere, faithful Muslim has no genuine assurance that he will ever attain heavenly bliss. Christians look forward to an orderly and worshipful afterlife, not a chaotic, sensual one.

The Qur’an claims that Allah told Mohammed, “When in doubt ask those who read the previous scriptures.”111 Some Muslims may follow this advice and be receptive to the Christian message. Since the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation,” and since “faith comes by hearing,” the best approach to employ when encountering Muslims is a simple proclamation of biblical claims. The Qur’an says, “You will find those who are nearest in love to [Muslims] to be those who say, ‘We are Christians’ because among them are men devoted to learning and self-denial, and they are not arrogant.”112 A humble, compassionate, educated explanation of “the previous scriptures” may be the most effective strategy in reaching Muslims.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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1The composition of this statement may take various forms such as, “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his apostle.”

2John 17:17; 1 Tim 3:15-17; 2 Pet 1:19-21.

3Rom 1:18-25.

4Rom 1:16.

5Rom 9:15-16.

6John 6:37, 40, 10:28.

7Acts 16:14; 1 Cor 2:13-14.

8Rom 10:9-17.

9Rom 10:17, cf. John 5:24.

101 Cor 1:21.

11William M. Miller, A Christian Response to Islam (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1976), 21.

12Miller, Christian Response, 75. “When Muslims worship their Creator, they are surely worshiping the true God.” Miller concedes that much of what Muslims believe about God is incorrect.

13Sura 29:46.

14Patrick O. Cate, Islamic Values and the Gospel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (1998): 357. Version 2.1b. 2000-2004.

15Miller, Christian Response, 73. Cf. Sura 5:116.

16Bassam M. Madany, “The Trinity and Christian Missions to Muslims,” Reformation and Revival 10 (2001): 120. Version 2.1b. 2000-2004.

17A. Zahoor and Z. Haq, “Biography of Prophet Mohammed,” n.p. [cited 26 Mar 2002]. Online: http://users.erols.com/zenithco/Mohammed.html.

18Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 20.

19Gen 1:1, 1:26; 3:22.

20Ps 110:1; Isa 48:16, 61:1.

21Deut 6:4-5.

22Matt 3:16-17.

23Matt 28:19.

242 Cor 13:14.

25John 6:27, 20:17; Heb 1:8; Titus 2:13; John 1:1, 5:23; Acts 5:3-4; Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14.

261 Tim 1:2.

27Büchsel, “?????????,” TDNT. Version 2.1b. 2000-2004.

28Heb 11:17.

29Geisler, Answering Islam, 139.

30John 10:30, 17:22; Acts 5:3-4.

31Cate, “Islamic Values,” 357.

32Mohammed Abdul Rauf, Islam: Creed and Worship (Washington D.C.: The Islamic Center, 1974), 2.

33Geisler, Answering Islam, 140.

34Geisler, Answering Islam, 141.

35Geisler, Answering Islam, 141.

36Fadlou Shehadi, Ghazali’s Unique Unknowable God (Leiden: Brill, 1964), 37.

37Isma’il Al-Faruqi, Christian Mission and Islamic Da’wah: Proceedings from the Chambesy Dialogue Consultation (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1982), 47-48, quoted in Geisler, Answering Islam, 142.

38Shehadi, Unknowable God, 37.

39Jer 9:24; Phil 3:10; 1 John 2:3.

40Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 265.

41Heb 1:1-3.

42Cate, “Islamic Values,” 357.

43Abdiyah Akbar Abdul-Haqq, Dictionary of Islam (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1980), 147, quoted in Emir Fethi Caner and Ergun Mehmet Caner, More than a Prophet (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003), 41.

44Cate, “Islamic Values,” 358.

45Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2002), 99.

46Titus 1:2, literally “the non-lying God.”

47Isa 47:4, 57:15.

48Jas 1:13.

49Acts 4:27-28.

50Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), 58. Version 2.1b. 2000-2004.

51Ps 102:26-27.

52Heb 13:8.

53John Gilchrist, “Our Approach to Islam: Charity or Militancy?” n.p. [cited 20 Dec 2004]. Online: http://answering-islam.org.uk/Gilchrist/charity.html.

54Cate, “Islamic Values,” 362.

55Cate, “Islamic Values,” 362-363.

56M. Muhsin Kahn, trans. Sahih Bukhari, n.p. [cited 24 Jan 2005]. Online: http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/ fundamentals/hadithsunnah/ bukhari/054.sbt.html.

57Kahn, Sahih Bukhari, n.p. Someone told the Prophet about a man who had kept on sleeping until morning and had not got up for prayer. The Prophet said, “Satan urinated in his ears.”

581 John 4:4.

59Prov 3:23-26.

602 Tim 1:7.

61Cate, “Islamic Values,” 364.

62Geisler, Answering Islam, 109.

63Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk, A Muslim and a Christian Dialogue (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1997), 175.

64Rhodes, Reasoning, 233.

65Rhodes, Reasoning, 235.

66Mahmoud A. Ayoub, “Revelation and Salvation: Towards an Islamic View of History,” n.p. [cited 17 December, 2004]. Online at: http://al-islam.org/al-serat/rev-salv.htm.

67Rhodes, Reasoning, 234.

68Kateregga, Dialogue, 141.

69Sura 7:20.

70Caner, More than a Prophet, 123.

71Rom 8:21.

72Rom 5:12-19.

73Ezek 11:19.

742 Cor 5:17.

75Rom 6:14-22.

76Rom 5:1; 2 Cor 5:21.

77Geisler, Answering Islam, 125.

78Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Mohammed: Legacy of a Prophet on DVD, n.p. Kikim Media and Unity Productions Foundation, 2002.

79Jas 2:17.

80Geisler, Answering Islam, 126.

81Miller, Christian Response, 57.

82Kevin James, Legacy, n.p.

83 Sura 23:101-103.

84Sura 2:177, 5:10, 7:42, 18:30.

85Rom 10:17; 1 Thess 2:13.

86John 20:30-31; 1 Thess 4:14.

87John 12:44; Acts 16:31.

881 John 5:12.

89Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5.

90Rom 11:6.

91Geisler, Answering Islam, 128.

92Rhodes, Reasoning, 236.

93Caner, More than a Prophet, 125.

941 John 3:14, 4:13, 5:10-13.

95Rom 8:16.

96Geisler, Answering Islam, 111.

97Geisler, Answering Islam, 114.

98Geisler, Answering Islam, 117.

99Geisler, Answering Islam, 122.

100Sura 37:43; 52:34; 56:17; 74:19.

101Rhodes, Reasoning, 268.

102Raj Kripalani, “The Doctrine of Heaven (Paradise) Behind the Veil of Islam,” Conservative Theological Journal 6, no. 19 (2002): 351. Version 2.1b. 2000-2004. “As for the righteous, they shall surely triumph. Theirs shall be gardens and vineyards, and high-bosomed virgins for companions: a truly overflowing cup.” Sura 78:31.

103Sura 37:45-47.

104Rhodes, Reasoning, 257.

105Kripalani, “Doctrine,” 358.

106Sura 9:72.

1072 Cor 5:8.

108Luke 16:19-31.

1092 Pet 3:9-13; Rev 21:5.

110Rev 4:10-11, 15:4, 22:9.

111Sura 10:95; 16:43.

112Sura 5:85.