Monotheism, Part 3: Islam
by Hieromonk Job Gumerov, Pravoslavie — July 23, 2014
"Islam, having arisen in Arabia in the seventh century, appeared as the religion of the law six centuries after the God of the chosen people of the religion of the Law fulfilled its purpose."
Jibril (Gabriel) appears before Mohammed, drawing
The religion of the Law, which for 15 centuries prepared the chosen people for the coming into the world of the its Savior, the Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ, preceded New Testament religion. According to the Holy Apostle Paul, "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" (Gal. 3:24). It was all in all only "a shadow of good things to come" (Heb. 10:1). When the Savior came into the world, Old Testament religion had fulfilled its purpose. Our Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us the mystery of the Heavenly Kingdom and established the New Covenant, which was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:31-33).
Man was redeemed from original sin and its consequences by the voluntary death on the Cross of Jesus Christ as Savior of the World. He entered into an entirely new period in terms of his relationship with God in comparison with the Old Testament: instead of the law, there was a free condition of sonship and grace. Man received new means for achieving the ideal set for him of moral perfection as a necessary condition for salvation.
Islam, having arisen in Arabia in the seventh century, appeared as the religion of the law six centuries after the God of the chosen people of the religion of the Law fulfilled its purpose.
The difference between the Old Testament religion of the Law and Islam is not only that the latter emerged more than two thousand years after God gave on Mount Sinai the Ten Commandments and other precepts that governed life for the chosen people. The most important difference is that the Law of Moses has a Divine source. The book of Exodus gives a narrative of the majestic Epiphany. "And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up" (Exod. 19:17-20).
The founder of Islam, however, did not have a Divine revelation.
"Mohammed puzzled over whether a demon or angel visited him..."
How did Islam arise? We read about this in the Hadith “Al-Jamii al-Sahih”. A mysterious being began to visit Mohammed. He slept in a cave on the slope of Mount Hira. On the night of the 24th of the month of Ramadan in year 610 someone appeared to him in human form. This event is considered the beginning of Islam. This story about it is from the Sunnah: “[A]n angel appeared to him and bade him 'READ!' 'I am no reader!' Mohammed replied in great trepidation, whereon the angel shook him violently and again bade him read. This was repeated three times, when the angel uttered the five verses that commence the 96th chapter: 'READ! in the name of thy Lord, who did create—who did create man from congealed blood. READ! for thy Lord is the most generous.’” Mohammed puzzled over whether a demon or angel visited him. He confided his experiences in his wife Khadijah. I will introduce more of the story of Mohammed's biography, generally accepted by Muslims: “She said to the messenger of God, ‘O son of my uncle, are you able to tell me about your visitant, when he comes to you?’ He replied that he could, and she asked him to tell her when he came. So when Gabriel came to him, as he was wont the apostle said to Khadija, ‘This is Gabriel who has just come to me.’ ‘Get up, O son of my uncle,’ she said, ‘and sit by my left thigh.’ The apostle did so, and she said, ‘Can you see him?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. She said, ‘Then turn round and sit on my right thigh.’ He did so, and she said, ‘Can you see him?’ When he said that he could she asked him to move and sit in her lap. When he had done this she again asked if he could see him, and when he said yes, she disclosed her form and cast aside her veil while the apostle was sitting in her lap. Then she said, ‘Can you see him?’ And he replied, ‘No.’ She said, ‘O son of my uncle, rejoice and be of good heart, by God he is an angel and not a satan’” (Ibn Hisham, Biography of the Prophet Muhammad).
“It is surprising, how easily [Muhammad's] question had been answered with the help of a woman, which in the spiritual realm is a question of life or death.”
It is surprising how easily and, gently speaking, naively this question, which in the spiritual realm is a question of life or death, had been answered with the help of a woman. Before all else, an Angel is a bodiless being, and for his sight there are no actual barriers: one can see through even clothes. Clothes hide nudity only from the eyes of man. Even so, the body of man in and of itself is not something perverse or shameful. It is a creation of God. The lust of man is sinful as well as is carnal desire, but not the body. In paradise the progenitors were naked and were not ashamed (see Gen. 2:25). The nature of an Angel is inviolate. They are alien to passions of man. But if this was a demon, then he could easily resort to trickery. Knowing how they tested him, he especially would be able to take leave of himself, so that they would take him for an Angel.
The attitude of Islam towards the Bible
Islam emerged as something syncretic out of several sources: ancient Arabic cults, Judaism, Christianity, Hanifism (a pre-Islamic monotheistic movement in Arabia) and Mazdaism (an ancient Iranian religion). There is no doubt that the Old Testament holy books and the Gospel had an influence on the formation of Islam. In the Quran many people and events from biblical history are mentioned. However, these stories are presented completely arbitrarily and inaccurately.
According to the Quran, man was created from water. "It is He Who has created man from water: Then has He established relationships of lineage and marriage: for thy Lord has power (over all things)" (25:54). In another surah, it says: "Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood" (96:1-2). In another part it speaks about clay, "He created man from sounding clay like unto pottery" (55:14).
In contrast to the Bible, the Quran does not say that man was created in the image and likeness of God. This discrepancy is most profound. With God's image and likeness, man is summoned to commune directly with his Creator. He can become one with the Lord. This is not so in Islam.
The book of Genesis tells the story of how the entire family of the patriarch Noah (in Arabic, Nuh) was saved in the Ark. The Quran speaks about the death of Noah's son: "So the Ark floated with them on the waves (towering) like mountains, and Noah called out to his son, who had separated himself (from the rest): ‘O my son! Embark with us, and be not with the unbelievers!’ The son replied: ‘I will betake myself to some mountain: it will save me from the water.’ Noah said: ‘This day nothing can save, from the command of Allah, any but those on whom He hath mercy!’ And the waves came between them, and the son was among those overwhelmed in the Flood" (11:42-43). Another surah tells it somewhat differently: "(Remember) Noah, when he cried (to Us) aforetime: We listened to his (prayer) and delivered him and his family from great distress" (21:76).
There is no need to provide more examples. In the Quran, things are especially distorted when discussing New Testament events. Here the differences are purely fundamental. The Incarnation, the Crucifixion on Golgotha, and the Resurrection are all denied. Even the event of the Nativity of Christ, known to the whole world, is described very strangely. It is alleged that Maryam retreated to a faraway place and gave birth to a Son under palms (19:23). In this surah, called Maryam, She is called the "sister of Harun," i.e. Aaron. He indeed had a sister named Miriam, but she lived 15 centuries before the Nativity of Christ.
Probably due to so great a number of errors and distortions, many representatives of Islam, in order to escape from this quandary, allege that the modern Holy Scripture of Christians has been distorted (a circumstance known as tahrif). Immediately, the question arises: what evidence do they provide? There is no evidence. Characteristically, the view of Muslims toward the Bible has undergone significant change over the course of several centuries. Early Islamic writers such as al-Tabari and ar-Razi believed that the distortion comes down to tahrif bi'al ma'ni, i.e. the corruption of the meaning without changing the text. However, later authors such as Ibn Hazm and Al-Biruni introduced the idea of tahrif bi’al-lafz, i.e. the corruption of the text itself. At that, both of these positions have been preserved to the present day. Thus, the level of acceptance among Muslims of the Bible depends on one's understanding of tahrif. The very existence of these fundamentally different positions indicates that there is no concrete evidence.
It is impossible to ignore one interesting feature of the attitude that representatives of Islam have toward the Biblical text. In that they do not have their own "undistorted" biblical text, they cite our canonical text as undistorted. However, when they need to support a point, for example, negative examples from the life of Banu Isra'il (the children of Israel) with a reference to parts that do not conform to Islam, they proclaim the text to be distorted.
Muslims allege that the New Testament (Injil), which the Quran refers to positively, is not in fact the current four Gospels. We have already said that they do not provide any evidence. The falsehood of the accusation that Christians distorted the Scriptures stems from the internal inconsistencies of the very Islamic authors who wrote on this theme. According to the Quran, the New Testament was originally a true, sacred text. "And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah" (5:46). In another section: "Say: ‘O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord.’ It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy" (5:68). This excerpt clearly demonstrates that the Quran itself does not speak of the distorted Scripture, but about "rebellion and blasphemy" related to misunderstanding.
There is one part of the Quran (10:94) which is very problematic for Islamic commentators: "If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee: the Truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord: so be in no wise of those in doubt." This ayat refers the Muslim "in doubt" to the authority of the biblical Holy Scripture. Abdul-Haqq writes: “The learned doctors of Islam are sadly embarrassed by this verse, referring the prophet as it does to the people of the Book who would solve his doubts” (Abdul-Haqq, A. A. (1980). Sharing Your Faith With A Muslim. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers. As cited in Geisler, N.L. (1999). Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group). According to the logic of this verse, the biblical Scripture was undistorted in the 7th century at the time of the Quran's creation. Then one must recognize that the current text is also correct, since we use manuscripts written over several centuries prior to the Quran.
Textual criticism of the New Testament has achieved outstanding breakthroughs in the 20th century. Currently, there are over 2,328 manuscripts and manuscript fragments in Greek, coming to us from the first three centuries of Christianity. The most ancient New Testament manuscript, a part of the Gospel of John 18:31-33, 37-38, is the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, dated 117-138 in the era of the reign of emperor Hadrian. Adolf Deissmann acknowledges the possibility of the emergence of this papyrus even under the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117). It is preserved in Manchester. Another ancient New Testament manuscript is the Papyrus Bodmer, P75. The 102 surviving pages contain the texts of the Gospels of Luke and John. "The editors, Victor Martin and Rodolphe Kasser, date this copy to between 175 and 225 A.D. It is thus the earliest surviving known copy of the Gospel according to Luke available today and one of the earliest of the Gospel according to John" (Bruce M. Metzger. The Text of the New Testament. p. 58). This precious manuscript is located in Geneva.
Uncial script on parchment: leather codices with uncial script, (in Latin uncia means inch) letters without sharp corners and broken lines. This script is distinguished by its great refinement and precision. Each letter is disconnected. There are 362 uncial manuscripts of the New Testament. The most ancient of these codices (Codex Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus) have already been mentioned.
Scholars complemented this impressive collection of ancient New Testament manuscripts with the New Testament text, which consisted of 36,286 excerpts of the Holy Scripture of the New Testament found in the works of the holy fathers and teachers of the Church from the first through fourth centuries. This text is lacking only 11 verses.
Scholars of textual criticism in the 20th century did a tremendous job on the collation of all—several thousands of—New Testament manuscripts and identified all textual discrepancies caused by scribal error. An evaluation and typologization was performed. Precise criteria for determining a correct variant were established. For those familiar with this rigorous scientific work, it is obvious that allegations of the distortion of the current holy text of the New Testament are unfounded. In terms of the number of ancient manuscripts and the brevity of time separating the earliest surviving text from the original, no one work of antiquity can be compared with the New Testament.
“Accusations that the Bible's text is distorted are puzzling. How could it actually have been done? How could Christians and Hebrews have come together to do this?”
Accusations that the Bible's text is distorted are puzzling. How could it actually have been done? How could Christians and Hebrews have come together to do this? Everyone knows the degree of their mutual [doctrinal—Ed.] alienation. And yet both Christians and Jews use one and the same canonical text of the Old Testament. Furthermore, the entire New Testament was preserved in the Chester Beatty Papyri, composed in approximately 250 A.D.
It is inconceivable to accept that under the conditions that existed in Christian society, hundreds of exemplars of the New Testament text were miscopied for the purpose of distortion.
On the Monotheism of Islam
Historians and religious scholars regard the three "Abrahamic" religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as monotheistic religions. For the researcher, the doctrinal principles that representatives of each of these three religions formulate are sufficient. However, on a theological level, the insufficiency of such a formal approach becomes clear. Monotheism is a necessary but not sufficient condition for true religion. Only a religion that has Divine revelation as a source has the true and spiritually accurate doctrine concerning God. Christianity not only maintains that God is the living, absolute source, "the only true God" (John 17:3; 1 Thes. 1:9; cf. John 5:20), but also teaches thoroughly and in depth of the nature of God as without beginning, without end, and of a perfect Spirit. The chief characteristic of the Divine nature is love. "God is love" (1 John 4:16). These words of the apostle contain the principal idea of the New Testament as the good news of salvation. The ineffable goodness of God created the world. The Lord housed man in paradise. Even after the Fall, God continued to love mankind. The greatness of God's love was revealed when the incarnate God died a most agonizing death for us. Christians know from not only the Holy Scripture, but also through the power of spiritual experience, that God is all-knowing and all-wise. The apostle says: "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13).
God knows not only all that has happened, and all that is, but he has also perfect knowledge of the future. The mirror of the supreme Wisdom of God is the universe which He created, astounding man with its extraordinary complexity, beauty, and harmony. God demonstrates his ineffable Wisdom also in the dispensation of our salvation. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out" (Rom. 11:33).
“True religion is not limited by the demand of worship for the Creator. Its ultimate goal is the spiritual unity of man with God.”
True religion is not limited by the demand of worship for the Creator. Its ultimate goal is the spiritual unity of man with God. The Savior speaks about this in a prayer to his Father before his suffering on the cross: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21).
From the aforementioned characteristics of the Divine follows the concept of true, Christian monotheism. There can be only one all-powerful and all-just God.
The concept of God in Islam does not have a source of divine revelation. It developed on the basis of ancient Arabic religion. The word “Allah” was used in the polytheistic pantheon of Arabs to denote “God”: Allah (al - the definite article; ilah - god). Among the pagan Arabs, prior to their adoption of Islam, Allah was the supreme lunar deity, worshipped in north and central Arabia. The father of Muhammed, who was a pagan, was named Abdullah ("Servant of Allah").
In pre-Islamic times, the crescent moon was the symbol of the worship of the moon-god among the Arabs. This is confirmed by archeological evidence. The crescent moon was carried over as the main symbol of Islam.
Arabs of the Syrian desert called the wife of Allah as Al-lāt, and in the south of central Arabia, Al-‘Uzzá. In other areas of Arabia, they, along with Manat, were worshipped as the daughters of Allah. This genetic trail was preserved in the Quran. There is mention of this in the 53rd surah: "Have ye seen Lāt, and ‘Uzzā, and another, the third (goddess), Manāt? What! For you the male sex, and for Him, the female? Behold, such would be indeed a division most unfair!" (53:19-22).
In Islam, Allah is a created religious image by the human consciousness. He does not express the real almighty divine personhood. Consequently, monotheism in Islam is imagined. In a number of places in the Quran, he is endowed with intrinsically human characteristics and traits. Allah says:
- "Those who reject Our signs, We shall soon cast into the fire: as often as their skins are roasted through, We shall change them for fresh skins, that they may taste the penalty" (4:56);
- "...There is no help Except from God, the Exalted, the Wise: that He might cut off a fringe of the Unbelievers or expose them to infamy, and they should then be turned back, frustrated of their purpose: (3: 126–127);
- "The Hypocrites—they think they are over-reaching God, but He will over-reach them" (4:142);
- "And (the unbelievers) plotted and planned, and God too planned, and the best of planners is God" (3:54);
- “Many are the Jinns and men we have made for Hell: they have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle,—nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning)” (7:179).
What a great difference! Christianity teaches that God "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4), while Islam maintains that Allah created many people for Gehenna.
The idea of monotheism, (tawhid, from the verb wahhada—to reckon something as one) was formulated in the Quran in several surahs. For example, in the 16th surah, "The Bee": "For We assuredly sent amongst every people an apostle, (with the Command), "serve God, and eschew evil" (16:36). In the terminology of the sharia, anything people worship except for Allah is "taghut". Since Islam does not know of direct revelation, nor the holy Manifestation of God to the world, nor the unification of man with God on the foundation of love, its monotheism is imagined, formalistic and abstract, requiring not that man change himself or his way of life, but only worship and daily prayer.
Hieromonk Job (Gumerov)
Translation by Tatiana Ozerova