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Apologetics

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the same God?

Book Review/Summary, �REVELATION: Do We Worship The Same God? Jesus, Holy Spirit, God in Christianity and Islam� (Dr. Mark Durie, CityHarvest Publications, 2006).

A couple of days ago this report was circulated to the world�s media: �ALMOST a quarter of British Muslims say the 7/7 bombings can be justified because of the Government’s support for the war on terror, according to an opinion poll.

�And nearly half of those polled, or 45 per cent, believe the 9/11 attacks on New York were a conspiracy between the United States and Israel. The survey, for a Channel 4 documentary, found Muslims under 24 were twice as likely to justify the 7/7 attacks as those aged over 45. It found 24 per cent either agreed or tended to agree that the 7/7 bombings were justified, although 48 per cent said they “strongly disagreed”.

�A third of those questioned said they would rather live under Sharia law in the UK than British law.� [1]

Now the average human mind, to deal with �cognitive dissonance� on this issue asks: �Who taught these young people all this?� And when a former London police chief, Lord Stevens, is also quoted this week (News of the World) as asking �When will the Muslim community in this country accept an absolute, undeniable, total truth: that Islamic terrorism is their problem?� that strikes a chord in people�s minds too.

In an open letter to PM Tony Blair � also last week � Muslim leaders urged him to alter his political stance on the Middle East, which they said �provided ammunition to extremists who threaten us all�.

Historically, when an individual or group wants to �do you in� you can either (a) ignore it and get on with your life (the ostrich syndrome); (b)

follow a Chamberlain-like �appeasement� strategy; (c) negotiate with the aggressive party; (d) confront the aggressors and �defeat� them; or (e)

develop conspiracy theories which may or may not bear any relationship to the truth of the matter.

Dr. Mark Durie suggests another course of action in this just-published book: understanding the essential nature of Islam as we discern that from their primary written sources and representative interpreters. Mark Durie is an Anglican theologian, human rights activist, and academic. He�s held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA, Stanford etc. and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992. His professional areas of expertise, about which he�s written many articles and books, include the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations, and religious freedom.

Here�s an all-too-brief summary of �Revelation� which provides the essence of Dr. Durie�s apologetic:

1. �A careful study of the scriptures of Islam and Christianity shows that the LORD God of the Bible and Allah of the Quran� can be said to have some attributes in common but in other ways are so profoundly distinct that to claim they are the same god would only be misleading.� (pp. 1-2)

2. �The teachings of Islam tend to treat Jews and Christians as a single category of people, so when the Quran speaks of �people of the book� this could refer to Jews, Christians, or both.� (p.13)

3. �The Quran repeatedly says that Christians and Jews have corrupted and concealed the original form of their scriptures and have done so at least partly deliberately.� (p. 14)

4. �Isa (Jesus) was a miracle-working figure� [but] to believe in the death of Jesus on the cross is to discredit his status as a prophet� for the Quran teaches that those who follow Allah should experience success, and not degradation or humiliation.� (pp. 18-19)

5. �Christians and Jews who disbelieve in Muhammad will� go to hell.� (p. 21)

6. �Muslims are repeatedly told not to take unbelievers, including Christians and Jews, for friends. They must fight against Christians and Jews who refuse Islam until they surrender, pay the jizya tribute willingly and are humiliated.� (p.22)

7. �Isa will return and will be the pre-eminent Islamic ruler in the end times� He will outlaw Christians and destroy Christianity, together with all other religions, [and will] implement Islamic (sharia) law.� (pp. 25-27).

8. �[Unlike Muhammad] Jesus never instructed his followers to kill their enemies, but did command love for enemies (Matthew 5:43-45).� (p. 37)

9. �Christians accept the Hebrew Scriptures [as the Word of God]� [but] the traditional mainstream Islamic treatment of the Bible is one of complete disregard. The Bible is not a part of the traditional curriculum of imams.� (p. 48)

10. �The Quran normally does not allow human beings to have any participation with Allah� That Allah�s [�spirit�]/�breath� could go �into� someone reflects the Biblical understanding of a God who can indwell people, not the predominant understanding of Allah in the Quran.� (p. 60)

11. �It is a core doctrine of Islam that Allah is the God of the Bible: to be a true Muslim one must believe they are the same.� (p. 75) �Although many Arabic Christians today refer to YHWH as Allah, there is no evidence that the Arabic name Allah (or any dialect variant of it) was used by Arab Christians or Jews in Arabia as the personal name of God before the time of Muhammad.� (p. 79)

12. �In a sense YHWH and Allah certainly claim to live at the same address: �the creator of the universe�� They are both said to be the creator, all-powerful, merciful, and the judge of humanity.� (p. 85)

13. �Jesus spoke against stoning adulterers, but Muhammad insisted that adulterers must be stoned.� (p. 89)

14. �In Islam Allah is never specifically or distinctively present in time, space or human affairs. The conception of Allah is too transcendent for this.� (p. 98) The Quran has no conception of the Holy Spirit as the presence of God with people.� (p. 100) �The Quran conceives of relationship with Allah � in terms of obedience to his commands.� (p. 101) �According to the Biblical world view the people of God� are exiles in this world� In Islam, however, the world itself becomes domain for faithful Muslims to impose the sovereignty of Allah. There is no distinction between secular and sacred, or between church and state.� (p. 103)

15. �In Christian theology the �wow� factor in heaven is all about being in God�s presence� Although mentioned in a hadith and the Quran, Allah�s presence is not centre-stage in the Islamic vision of paradise. Instead, most Islamic references to paradise focus on the theme of eternal success: there will be an absence of stress and trouble, many great delights and pleasures, including, according to many authorities and the Quran itself, sexual partners. This is the �oasis� view of heaven.� (p. 103)

16. �Any dictionary or encyclopedia of the Bible will include a long article on holiness, with discussion of the holiness of God. Yet it is a remarkable fact that McAuliffe�s �Encyclopedia of the Qur�an (2001-2004)� which reflects the very latest scholarship in Quran research, includes no entry for �holy� or �holiness�� As at April 2006, Wikipedia�s entry on �holiness� included no reference to Islam.� (p. 105) �In contrast to the hundreds of references to the holiness of YHWH in the Bible, in the Quran Allah is referred to as holy only twice� In the Bible the people of God are called �saints�� �holy ones�, dedicated and consecrated to YHWH. In contrast, in Islam believers are known as �Muslims�� �submitters�� The concept of submission emphasizes the otherness of God from humanity; the concept of holiness emphasizes God�s identification with his creatures. �You shall be holy , for I YHWH your God am holy� (Leviticus 19:2, cf. 1 Peter 1:13-16)� According to the Quran, the idea that people should be like Allah, or seek to become like him in any way, is regarded as blasphemy. Allah is incomparable� unique and apart.� (pp. 107-113)

17. �The apostle Peter instructs Christians not to return abuse, nor to threaten those who cause Christians to suffer� If they achieve this� they will be following Christ�s example� The attitude of Islam to enemies, expressed in many Quranic verses and hadiths, � and especially in textbooks dealing with the doctrines of jihad, is quite the opposite. It is the right and duty of Muslims to be strict in exacting retribution against their enemies, who are also the enemies of Allah.� (pp. 116, 117)

18. �The love of Allah of the Quran is conditional. The love of YHWH of the Bible is a gift of grace. The concept of� God�s faithful love to sinners� is central in the Christian faith, but not in Islam. The closest equivalent in Islam would be Allah�s mercy shown to the righteous, that is, to those who submit to him.� (p. 128)

19. �Allah acts as he pleases. He is under no obligation to be truthful or fair to human beings� A famous example of the �[principle of] abrogation� was the progressive revelation of the call to jihad: � �At first �the fighting� was forbidden, then it was permitted, and after that it was made obligatory� (the Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia)� The doctrine of �taqiyya�, found in both Sunni and Shiite Islam� allows and even requires people to lie under certain circumstances.� (pp. 134-136).

20 �A Final Word: These differences are deep and significant enough to make it reasonable to reject the claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God or honour the same Christ� While Islam venerates Jesus, it does so in the guise of Isa, who is an Islamic Christ with only a tenuous connection to the Jesus of history.� (p. 137).

Dr. Durie concludes his book with an Appendix contrasting the Bible�s and Quran�s depictions of Jesus/Isa, and another with helpful �Conversation Starters for Dialogue with Muslims�, which includes this important introduction: �This is not about winning arguments or scoring points, but about creating a space for dialogue about deeper issues, which ultimately appeal to the conscience and touch the heart� (p. 145).

It�s a small book, and does admirable justice to the one question it seeks to answer. However, other questions fall over themselves.

If Jesus forbad stoning of adulterers, what about the Old Testament YHWH? And, for that matter, is the slaughter of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15) any different in principle to violent jihad?

This raises the deeper issue Dr Durie addresses (pp. 77-78) of modern �Marcionism�. In three paragraphs he dismisses a very big question: �Is the God of the Old Testament the same as the one Jesus told us about?� An anonymous article (by a Christian scholar/philosopher) on our website expresses a contrary position to that of Dr. Durie: �Unlike Jesus, but like Joshua or David in the Hebrew Bible, Muhammad did employ violence against the violence and treachery of his enemies.� (See http://jmm.org.au/articles/17630.htm ) .

Dr. Durie, a �conservative evangelical� has what might be called a somewhat �flat� view of biblical revelation in the Old and New Testaments, and although he wants his book to be brief, it might have been wise to deal with this issue in a couple of pages. He does touch the subject of Christianity�s �revising� the Levitical food laws, but doesn�t address the issue of the Old Testament God�s appearing to sanction violence.

Then there�s Dr Durie�s excellent discussion of YHWH�s unconditional love. But God �chooses Jacob and hates Esau� (in the literal translations) and intelligent folks want to know what�s �unconditional� about that?

Another question has to do with the �psychology of dialogue�. I happen to like Dr. Durie�s �tell it like it is� approach, but the emails I get from Muslims betray a deep sense of inferiority-turned-to-rage which might best be addressed primarily through friendship rather than polemics. For example an intelligent Saudi man emailed me about an article on our website ( http://jmm.org.au/articles/17894.htm ) which contrasts � unfavourably � the number of Nobel prizes won by Muslims and Jews. He wrote, with feeling, �We are humans too!� I wrote an irenic email back to him, but he hasn�t continued the dialogue. Where do we go with all this? I have more questions than answers on that one.

That will do. Dr. Durie has done us all a service by providing an excellent, easy-to-read, introduction to the main issue in Christian-Muslim dialogue. The quotes from the Christian and Islamic Scriptures/ holy books are a brilliant selection. You can buy it at all leading Christian bookshops ($14-95 AUD). Trade enquiries � http://www.cityharvest.org.au

[1] A recent Scripps Howard survey found one in three Americans believe the federal government was complicit in the Sept. 11 terror attacks. http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=51463 )

Rowland Croucher

16th August 2006

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Shalom! Rowland Croucher

�I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity� (Oliver Wendell Holmes)

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