Posted by: mystic444 | April 17, 2010

Islam’s Relationship to Judaism and Christianity

Say: ‘We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us, and in what had been sent down to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their offspring, and what had been revealed to Moses and to Jesus and to all other prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction between them, and we submit to Him and obey.’ And whoever seeks a way other than submission to God, it will not be accepted from him, and he will be a loser in the world to come.” (Qur’an 3:84 and 85; translation by Ahmed Ali. This translation of the Qur’an can be found here.)

I used to think that Islam considered Judaism and Christianity to be false religions. This idea goes so far back in my life that I can’t remember for sure whether it was something I was taught, or whether I just assumed it based on what I was taught. I think, however, that I was actually taught this in ‘Sunday School’ classes in the fundamentalist Christian churches in which I was raised. The idea was that Muslims believe that the Jews got things backwards; it was Abraham’s son Ishmael who was God’s chosen, and Isaac was rejected. The descendants of Ishmael (the Arabs) were the ones who were blessed by God. This supposedly has been a bone of contention between the Jews and Arabs ever since.

Now I don’t know for sure whether or not Jews and Arabs have been fighting with each other for time immemorial (though I know they’ve been fighting since the Jews occupied Jerusalem and Palestine following World War II, and forced the Palestinians – both Christians and Muslims – out of their homes and land); but if they have, it was no doubt because of an arrogant misinterpretation by some Jews of the covenant their Scriptures say God made with Abraham, and then by extension with Isaac, Jacob and their offspring. Although many Jews have thought that God had selected the line of Isaac to be ‘His (only) people’, and had ‘cast off’ everybody else (including of course the descendants of Ishmael) – it was believed that everyone else would eventually be the slaves of the Jews – in fact the covenant with Abraham had an entirely different aim. The descendants of Abraham were to bring God’s blessings to everyone else. It was Abrahams faith in God which was singled out as important, not his genes. Israel, as the ‘servant of God’, was to be a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6). In Christian teaching, of course, this purpose was (and is) fulfilled in Jesus as God’s anointed – His true and faithful servant – and in the followers of Jesus the anointed. What Jesus actually fulfilled, though, was what Israel was supposed to be doing.

So far as the Hebrew Scriptures are concerned, God never in fact rejected Ishmael and his descendants. God promised Abraham that He would bless Ishmael and make a great nation of his descendants (Genesis 17:20); and he confirmed this promise to Hagar (Ishmael’s mother) in Genesis 21:18. Then verse 20 specifically says that “God was with the lad (Ishmael)”. No, God blessed, and was ‘with’, both Isaac and Ishmael – though He established a specific covenant with Isaac.

It is obvious from the above quote from the Qur’an that the ‘revelation’ given to Muhammad confirmed this blessing on both of Abraham’s sons. The Islamic Scriptures do not insist that the Jews ‘got it wrong’, and it was Ishmael who was chosen instead of Isaac. Muslims, if they are faithful to the Qur’anic ‘revelation’, have great respect for the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and for the Jews and Christians who really believe and practice those Scriptures. “Submission to God” (the One and Only) is what is important in Islam, and all who believe in God and obey him are accepted as belonging to one family, “the people of the Book”.

The Qur’an mentions rather frequently the continuity between it and the Hebrew and Christian ‘revelations’. The Torah (Hebrew Law) was acknowledged as the Law of God. In chapter 5, verse 42, Muhammad was instructed as to how he should respond if Jews came to him asking for his judgment about a matter. Then verses 43 and 44 say: “But why should they make you a judge when the Torah is with them which contains the Law of God? Even then they turn away. They are those who will never believe. We sent down the Torah which contains guidance and light, in accordance with which the prophets who were obedient (to God) gave instructions to the Jews, as did the rabbis and priests, for they were the custodians and witnesses of God’s writ. So, therefore, do not fear men, fear Me, and barter not My messages away for a paltry gain. Those who do not judge by God’s revelations are infidels indeed.”  The Torah contains the Law of God, so the Jews ought to judge by that; if they don’t they’re really infidels (not because they have rejected the Qur’an, but because they don’t act in keeping with the Law God had previously given them).

Next, in verses 46 and 47 of chapter 5, reference is made to Jesus and the Gospel as having come from God: “Later, in the train (of the prophets), We sent Jesus, son of Mary, confirming the Torah which had been (sent down) before him, and gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light, which corroborated the earlier Torah, a guidance and warning for those who preserve themselves from evil and follow the straight path. Let the people of the Gospel judge by what has been revealed in it by God. And those who do not judge in accordance with what God has revealed are transgressors.” Christians are responsible to live by the Gospel which came through Jesus (who was sent by God); if they don’t live by that Gospel, they are transgressors.

Then verse 48 has this to say about the ‘revelation’ given to Muhammad: “And to you We have revealed the Book containing the truth, confirming the earlier revelations, and preserving them (from change and corruption). So judge between them by what has been revealed by God, and do not follow their whims, side-stepping the truth that has reached you. To each of you We have given a law and a way and a pattern of life. If God had pleased He could surely have made you one people (professing one faith). But He wished to try and test you by that which He gave you. So try to excel in good deeds. To Him will you all return in the end, when He will tell you of what you were at variance.” The Qur’an is not seen as being opposed to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and religion, but as confirming them (just as the Gospel confirmed the Torah), and weeding out any corrupting influences which had crept in through the errors of men. The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah (8:8) had commented on the corruptions introduced into the Law by scribes: “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? For behold, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.” Note that in this Qur’anic verse, points of variance between the different faiths would be cleared up by God at the Last Day. So if you’re going to compete with each other, let that competition be in each trying to outdo the others in doing good.

Now notice the assurance given in the Qur’an to Jews and Christians who are faithful to their Scriptures: “Surely the believers and the Jews, Nazareans [Christians] and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and whosoever does right, shall have his reward with his Lord and will neither have fear nor regret” (2:62). This statement is repeated in 5:69. Sabians were a monotheistic group who had some ‘questionable’ beliefs and practices, but were nevertheless recognized as being true followers of the One God and they would be accepted by Him.

It is an interesting fact of history that the Jews had not been permitted to live in Jerusalem for about five hundred years (except for a brief period from 614 to 628 A.D. when the Persians ruled there) – until the Muslims conquered Jerusalem under Caliph Umar in 638 A.D. Umar then not only permitted Jewish families to once again establish residence, but he actually invited 70 families to reside there. So not only is Islam not anti-Semitic; there is a great respect for the Jewish faith and people inherent in Islam.

However Islam is also very realistic. Although the Muslims bore no ill will toward Jews or Christians (though they did decry some of their teachings, especially the teachings of some Christians – the Trinity and the Deity of Jesus – which are today ‘Orthodox’), it was recognized that some of the ‘people of the Book’ did bear strong ill will toward the Muslims. “You will find the Jews and idolaters most excessive in hatred of those who believe; and the closest in love to the faithful are the people who say: ‘We are the followers of Christ’, because there are priests and monks among them, and they are not arrogant. For when they listen to what has been revealed to this Apostle, you can see their eyes brim over with tears at the truth which they recognize, and say: ‘O Lord, we believe; put us down among those who bear witness (to the truth). And why should we not believe in God and what has come down to us of the truth? And we hope to be admitted by our Lord among those who are upright and do good?’ God will reward them for saying so with gardens where streams flow by, where they will live for ever. This is the recompense of those who do good” (5:82-85). It indeed was the polytheists and Jews who were the main persecutors of the Muslims. The polytheist ‘idolaters’ in Mecca had mercilessly persecuted Muhammad and his followers, until in 622 they were offered refuge in Medina. Some of the Jews in Medina then joined with the Meccan polytheists in attacking the Muslims, and it was at this point, in Medina, that the Muslims began to fight back in self defense. But they only fought against those who first attacked them. (See this article).

While Muhammad and the Muslims were still in Mecca, being persecuted by the idolaters, Muhammad sent messengers to Ethiopia to see if the ruler would permit some of the Muslims to take refuge there. This was where there was an example of Christians responding with tears in their eyes to the reading of part of the Qur’an (which was only partially revealed at that time). The portion recounting the birth of Jesus to Mary was read, and the Christian listeners were so overwhelmed by the beauty and ‘truth’ of the passage that they wept and welcomed the Muslim believers into their country. Nestorian Christians, who did not believe in the Trinity or the Deity of Jesus, also at a later time recognized truth in the Qur’an and were welcomed by the Muslims and given protection.

Of course, relations have not always since been so amicable between Muslims and Christians. Militant Christian ‘Orthodoxy’ felt it had the right to compel adherence to Christian doctrine, or kill those who refuse to convert (something which is anathema to the Qur’an, and also to the Bible – particularly the New Testament), so eventually they felt they must ‘reclaim’ Jerusalem from those infidel, heretical Muslims (and Jews) by military action. And when Muslims are attacked, they have Qur’anic authority to fight back. So ‘Orthodox’ Christianity and Islam have had ‘strained’ relationships for quite a long time now. It seems to me though that the primary reason for this is the bitter anger of Orthodox Christians at the Muslim ‘heresy’, leading them to slander and sometimes physically attack the ‘infidels’. (This is certainly not to ‘whitewash’ all Muslims, as though there were never any vicious attacks against Christians.)

There is an interesting account of St. Francis of Assisi going to visit a Muslim ruler to try to convert him to the Christian faith. Francis was very polite and courteous, arguing in a reasonable manner. The Muslim ruler, although he did not convert, was very impressed with St. Francis’ courteous presentation, and commented to the effect that if all Christians were so courteous the conflicts between Muslims and Christians would soon be resolved! This was just the type of discussion which the Qur’an itself enjoined: “Do not argue with the people of the Book unless in a fair way, apart from those who act wrongly, and say to them: ‘We believe what has been sent down to us, and we believe what has been sent down to you. Our God and your God is one, and to Him we submit’” (29:46). It is my desire to see Muslims, Christians, and Jews put aside the bitter enmity that has been shown so often over the centuries, and learn to relate to each other in love and courtesy as did St. Francis and that Muslim ruler. There will no doubt remain differences (some perhaps considered ‘major’); but as a Qur’anic verse previously quoted said, God Himself will clear those up in the ‘Last Day’ (5:48).

While I have sought to present Islam in a positive light, in opposition to what appear to me to be misrepresentations and (sometimes) slanders of its character and teachings, I should probably make it clear that I do not embrace the Muslim religion myself. My thought still has more of a ‘Christian’ framework, and I’ll no doubt spend more time dealing with Biblical teaching and practice. But as I have made clear that I don’t accept any concept of Biblical inerrancy or infallible authority, neither do I accept the Islamic concept of Qur’anic inerrancy or infallible authority. While meaning no disrespect for Muslim friends (which I hope is obvious from my articles), the 2 main ‘problems’ I find in the Qur’an are: (1) its emphasis on a very literal sounding hell and ‘eternal torment of the damned’; and (2) the heavy emphasis in Islam on ritual – the “5 pillars of Islam” including ritual prayers (performed in a precise manner 5 times a day, with the necessity of facing toward Mecca when praying), obligatory fasting during the month of Ramadan, obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime if one is physically and financially able, etc. I understand that it’s even considered very important that the dead be buried facing Mecca. Certain foods are considered unclean. I reject all such emphasis on outward things, and insist that it is ‘the heart’ that is of primary importance. “The kingdom of God is within you”; God doesn’t dwell in ‘temples made with hands’, and is to be worshiped “in spirit and in truth” rather than in particular physical locations and with outward ceremonies. “The kingdom of God doesn’t consist in what you eat or drink, but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”. Concerning ‘hell’ and ‘eternal torment’, my position is still what I have previously written in articles on reincarnation, universalism, and the metaphorical meaning of ‘everlasting punishment’. While I can approach the Qur’anic teaching about ‘the Last Day’, and the terrible torments God supposedly has in store for unbelievers, with the same non-literal understanding I have of the Bible, I still find the very heavy emphasis on this in the Qur’an to be oppressive. I actually find it personally offensive to even suggest that God would torture and torment any of His creation in the manner the Qur’an depicts it. I can’t use such language concerning God’s actions myself, and have to metaphorically ‘hold my nose’ when I read those descriptions of ‘hell’ and try to allegorize them. So I definitely have my ‘reservations’ about some aspects of Islam. Nevertheless I find an awful lot to be admired in that religion, and will do my part when I can to counter misrepresentations and slander.



  1. Sure! That’s a good idea, actually… Please do so I can start composing my reply 🙂

  2. So sorry that came up in pretty much one whole ugly looking block. I didn’t format it right, I guess, and there’s no edit button 😦

    • Maryam D – Peace and blessing to you. Not to worry about the ‘formatting’. It’s what you said that’s important. I wish there was an “edit” button for commenters on this and other blog sites. I can edit my own posts and comments, but if there’s a way for others to edit their comments, I’m not aware of it. Believe me, it’s not deliberate on my part. 😆

      I have written several posts on the concept of reincarnation – but they were among my earliest posts. The first one was entitled “Reincarnation and Near Death”; I just reread it, and I haven’t changed in any way yet. It’s still representative of my belief about life and ‘judgment’. I have to really resort to metaphor and hyperbole to fit it in with some of the Biblical and Qur’anic accounts, but I believe it’s feasible. The next several articles dealt with “Reincarnation and the Bible” and “Reincarnation and Predestination”. (All of those articles were before I did any reading about Islam. But as I said, my beliefs haven’t changed.)

      My “Christianity”, such as it is, is obviously mystical and ‘liberal’ – a far cry from the “evangelical” Christianity in which I was raised. I gave up such concepts as ‘original sin’, salvation through the ‘vicarious and substitutionary sacrifice’ of Jesus Christ, and ‘eternal hell’ for those who haven’t “accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior” a long time ago. I also gave up belief in the Trinity and the Deity of Jesus long ago. Initially I thought I was abandoning the Bible and Christianity altogether; it was only after many years that I came to realize those teachings which I associated with the Bible were in reality not Biblical at all. The Bible definitely teaches that we will be judged according to our works; “faith without works is dead, being alone”. Jesus said, “why do you call me Lord, but do not do the things I say?”

      Concerning ritual prayers (or ritual motions while praying), I expect you’re right that they can have salutary effects in keeping one focused on God; but the really important thing, I believe, in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is that a person pray – and that from the heart, not just ritualized repetition of phrases and motions. Whether one is standing, sitting, lying down, walking, running, or driving the car doesn’t matter. It’s the fact of heartfelt prayer, not the position of the body, that really matters. If you do both spontaneous prayer, and the formal prayers, that too is great.

      I’ve never been in churches that practice formalized prayers; for a good many years I simply didn’t pray at all (after I ‘apostatized’ from evangelical Christianity). Recently I have been striving to remain conscious of God throughout the day, and regularly pray at night before going to sleep – after spending about an hour reading in the Qur’an. I repeat Sura 1 as the initial part of my prayer (in English, though; I don’t “know a lick” of Arabic 😆 ), and then mentally go through a list of everyone I know and can think of – trying to put a face to the name in my mind – presenting them to God seeking their ‘blessing’. If I know of specific needs they have (such as one ‘niece-in-law’ who has cancer) I mention that; otherwise it’s just a matter of saying “You know all about them; please place your blessings on them and guide them in the right path”.

      Although I’ve come to greatly admire the Qur’an and Islam, I’m not ready to “commit myself” to formal membership in the “Religion” known by that name. One reason for this would be that I don’t want to ‘join’, just to be immediately labeled a ‘heretic’ for my reincarnational and mystical viewpoints – which perhaps aren’t consistent with ‘traditional’ Islam. (Also, as my article “The Death of Jesus in the Qur’an” shows I believe the death by crucifixion, and resurrection, was a real historical event which it appears to me is consistent with the statements in the Qur’an – but that’s not exactly traditional Muslim belief).

      Another reason would be that I’m just not ready to commit myself to those rituals. If I’m not mistaken, those ‘salat’ prayers are supposed to be done in Arabic, and I just don’t believe God needs to hear my prayers in a language unfamiliar to me; English is quite sufficient – I’m sure God understands it. 🙂 While it would be interesting to be able to learn Arabic (both to read and speak it), I don’t believe it’s necessary in order to communicate with God; and at 59 years of age, I’m not sure how well I would do at learning a new language.

      So far as the ritual bowing and prostrating, I have a physical condition with my legs which makes it necessary for me to always hold on to something steady when standing. I use a cane when walking, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to walk even with that. I simply would be unable to stand and bow. I could get down on my hands and knees, but I would have extreme difficulty getting back up. I think the ritual motions would be difficult to impossible for me to do. And like I say, I don’t believe it’s necessary. I wouldn’t for a minute discourage you or anyone else from doing ‘salat’, or any of the other ‘Pillars’, though.

      I would enjoy further discussions about these subjects, or anything else for that matter. Because these comments are pretty lengthy, though, do you think it would be a good idea to continue discussions by e-mail? If you think that’s a good idea, just post a comment here and I’ll send you an e-mail (your e-mail address shows up on my page, though not in the comments on the blog post itself). Otherwise, probably no readers will be offended if we continue the discussions in the comments section. 🙂

  3. Thank you, and I’ll try to maintain that…
    Well, that’s very understandable. The way you put it at the end, I guess, is pretty much enough. What I would just like to add to that would be:
    * Just as you said yourself, putting it in the cultural settings helps. The Meccans were no “prissies” and if they were going to be punished in the afterlife an extremely graphic and lifelike description was needed. It’s a rude jolt to awaken to, that’s true, but I think it’s mostly putting whatever just punishment God has in store for us into human perspective. It’s saying that this is not a joke… That what we’re dealing with here is more than life and death, and it’s very serious. That God does have a punishment for us is something that Muslims must believe, metaphorically or otherwise; a just punishment that will be no more than what we deserve.
    You said: “I still don’t know, though, whether my understanding or reincarnation will fit into any ‘accepted’ school of Islam” – so you believe in reincarnation? Can you elaborate? (Excuse me if you’ve already said something about your beliefs about reincarnation on your blog, I’ll look for it right after I post this.)
    About the ritual actions:
    Well, that’s the thing. In Islam good deeds and good works is doing what pleases God. So yes: every single thing you listed is a good deed in Islam that you are elevated with towards God.
    (In fact, every single thing you EVER do – even eating, drinking, sleeping, even making love to your wife – can be considered a good deed if you make a conscious intention for it to be for the sake of God. For example, why do you eat? You eat to give your God-given body strength, so that you can do good deeds for the sake of God. So if you make your intention through that, eating itself becomes a good deed. Anyway, end of side-track.)
    As you say, the thing is that for you: ritual action doesn’t really have a tangible point, symbolism to the side. So what I would ideally be able to accomplish would be to illustrate just how valuable a ritual is – the ritual of salat in particular being what we’re outlining here.
    You’ve probably heard of how salat was grounded in Muslim beliefs. When the Prophet Muhammad was taken on the Isra’ and Mi’raj – the ascension to heaven – (most scholars have always held that his journey was one of the mind and not of the body) it was when he was taken into the Divine Presence that the command for salat was first given. So what is salat? Literally, the word salat means connection. Prayer in this form is a special connection, straight to God. You know, all the good deeds you mentioned were in relation to fellow human beings. You mention that “my consciousness of God and love for Him” directs you in what you do.
    (In this you are an exception, and I am speaking from experience when I say an exception from most Christians. Because, if anything, doing good deeds for most people is just out of their own basic God-inspired human conscience and not through awareness of God. My mother is a convert to Islam from Christianity, and one of the foremost “problems”, if you will, that she found with Christianity was that there were no clear guidelines on how God wants us to live. If “the law has been abolished” and “you have your ticket to heaven right here”, etc., like so many churches teach, she thought: what was the point of living “good”? You have probably encountered the verse in the Qur’an that describes the Muslim nation as a “moderate nation” (2:143). There’s an understanding that the moderate quality of Islam comes from walking the middle path between the strict law of the Jews (that Jesus came to lighten for them: sorry, I can’t find the exact verse but it’s in the Qur’an somewhere :P) and between the “laissez-faire” of Christianity – so to speak, of course, that’s taken from the “if I believe Jesus is my savior I have my ticket to heaven no matter what I do” attitude. Once again I stress that I’m taking this from experience with my own family’s Christianity; and I stress again the Qur’anic principle: “The people of the book are not all alike.” 3:113-117… I’ve gone off on a tangent again! Back to salat.)
    The point I was making earlier was that all the good deeds mentioned earlier were good deeds in relation to our fellow humans. What about good deeds for God? That’s basically the five pillars of Islam… Things that you do for God and God alone – and, if you do them right, will vastly improve your own dealings with your fellow humans! Remembrance of God five times every day, in a specifically set routine, will yank you back from this material world, make you remember that there will be a Last Day (as Surat al-Fatihah, that we recite in every unit of prayer, specifically mentions), and from there influence your dealings with your fellow humans as you do what God would want you to do.

    I’ve run out of time again. 🙂 One last thing I want to say is, there you have WHY we pray. The why we pray the way we DO was answered previously: because it cements the idea of that body and soul are one and that we worship with all that we are.

    I think I’ve left a lot of stuff unanswered. Hopefully this will be OK. Incidentally – do you even want to continue discussing this? Leaving it at “God knows best” is OK, but I would still want to continue if you would like to do so also.

    Thanks 🙂

  4. Peace to you, mystic 444 and iSherif 🙂

    To begin with, I respect the work you’re doing here. Well-intentioned and reasoned, I hope word about this blog spreads as far as possible (I found the link to it on the commendable Loonwatch myself) and, especially in these times, more people like you are needed.

    I would like to offer some thoughts concerning the
    reservations you recorded toward what is said in the Qur’an. I understand completely about point #1, the description of hell, and I’ll address that second. First, let’s deal with the importance of ritual worship in Islam – or, rather, the way Muhammad Asad deals with it, for he put it far better than I ever could in his remarkable autobiography The Road to Mecca (which I wholeheartedly recommend).
    I’m assuming you know of him, because you’ve cited his translation of the Qur’an a couple of times. His other writings are just as excellent.

    On page 94, in the chapter entitled Winds, the young Muhammad Asad (still Leopold Weiss at this time, before he changed his name) is in Palestine. He sees a man praying in the Islamic way – bowing and standing, together with others in a row like soldiers, combining obviously real prayer and entreaty to God with seemingly mechanical movements. Leopold asks: Do you really think God expects you to show you respect by repeated movements? Might it not be better to pray to God in the stillness of one’s heart? And so the man replied: “How else should we worship God? Did He not create us body and soul together? And this being so, should a man not pray with his body as well as with his soul?”…
    This reasoning, I think, goes also for all forms of outer Islamic worship. We worship with all that we are. Why should God be concerned with the spiritual aspects only of our being? How does God want us to live? “Faith without good works is dead,” says the Bible in James 2:20, and in the Qur’an to mention “the believers” is to mention those who “do good works”. All aspects of the human being are taken into account: the spiritual, the physical, the material…

    As for your second apprehension, of the description of hell:

    First of all, taken from an idea in the book Even Angels Ask by Jeffery Lang, the ideas of Paradise and Hell expressed in the Qur’an are taken from the normal Arab Bedouin experience from the seventh century. Paradise is whatever we want – supported in the Qur’an – and it’s described in the Qur’an as cool, as having never-ending sources of fresh fruit, as having pleasure-companions (houris); e.g. the standard Arab’s paradise. Paradise is different things to different people. For example, for someone living in cold Alaska, Paradise would be a nice sunny tropical beach! So the descriptions in the Qur’an are by no means iron-clad.
    Secondly, particularly in the description of hell, the fact that you are so shaken by is perhaps proof of its effectiveness. Think about it.
    Thirdly, if God is, by the attributes in the Qur’an itself, always just, then in any case the way God will punish the transgressors cannot be in itself unfair…

    I’m in something of a hurry so please excuse anything untoward, and please reply with what you think, and thank you.

    • Maryam D. – Thank you for that thoughtful and polite reply. I found nothing “untoward” in it at all, and it’s just the kind of comment I love to see. I wish comments at other sites (such as Loonwatch) consistently maintained the same ‘spirit’ you display.

      I’m not sure I would say I’m “shaken” by the Qur’anic descriptions of “hell” – perhaps “disgusted” would more closely approach my feelings 🙂 – but I actually think that “disgust” is just a knee jerk reaction due to the very literalistic interpretations of “hell” I was taught in the “Bible thumping” fundamentalist Christian churches in which I grew up. I still struggle to overcome that literalism, despite the fact that quite a few years ago I came to appreciate the use of metaphor and even hyperbole in Scriptural writings. Though I could not bring myself to use the kind of language I find in Biblical and Qur’anic Scripture concerning God’s just judgment, I have learned to put that language in its cultural setting and appreciate the metaphor and hyperbole.

      I have also learned to see all of God’s judgments and punishments as being corrective in purpose; so I see the purpose of the ‘fires of hell’ to be the burning away of all that is offensive, unjust, and evil, and the purifying of the person being judged. I see this implied in the definition given by Abdel Haleem for the Arabic word ‘adhab in 2:7 (“They will have great torment“): “The basic meaning of ‘adhab is ‘to restrain (from doing wrong)‘, extended to mean anything difficult, or painful, punishment, famine (23:78)…” Having learned years ago to view “eternal (age-long) punishment” in the Bible in the light both of metaphor and the corrective purpose, I can now see that in the Qur’an also. I still have the “knee jerk” reaction; but I’m able to get beyond it. [I still don’t know, though, whether my understanding or reincarnation will fit into any ‘accepted’ school of Islam – even Sufism.]

      Regarding ritual, I think you gave as good an explanation (taken from Muhammad Asad) as any I’ve seen. However, I can’t equate ritual actions with ‘good works’ in my mind. Good and righteous works, it seems to me, would refer to how my ‘consciousness’ of God, and love for Him, displays itself in my actions toward my fellow human beings: kindness and helpfulness, and refraining from anything that would bring harm for instance. Feeding the hungry when I’m able to, giving money to the destitute, helping an injured person obtain medical help, etc., constitute good and righteous works. Just responding with a good and kind word – even when I have been insulted by someone else – would fit into the category of doing good works, and serving God with my body.

      Ritual actions though, such as what direction I face when I pray or what positions my body assumes during prayer, are meaningless to me; and I believe they have no essential value with God. My views are formed from the statements of the Prophet Jesus: for instance in John 4. The Samaritan woman, having perceived that Jesus was a Prophet, asked him whether God is supposed to be worshiped on “this mountain” as the Samaritans did, or in Jerusalem as the Jews said. Jesus responded: “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (verses 21 and 23). And as regards prayer, he made this interesting statement in Matthew 6:5 and 6: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” And I’m happy to find that in the Qur’an, despite its establishing of ritual practices, there is this statement (2:177): “True piety does not consist in turning your faces toward the east or the west – but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day, and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets…” and then goes on to talk about the truly pious spending of their ‘substance’ to take care of the poor, orphans, beggars, setting captives free, etc.

      I certainly don’t believe the rituals are evil; I can see that they would have great symbolic value, and would serve to bind a community of like minded believers together. But they don’t have what I would call “ultimate” value; God is not going to be angry at someone who doesn’t face toward Mecca when praying, or go through the bowing and prostrating motions.

      So it seems to me; but “God knows best”. 🙂

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  6. “So if you’re going to compete with each other, let that competition be in each trying to outdo the others in doing good.”

    Amazing thought Mr. Parker!!

    And wonderful article once again. I really enjoy reading your articles here (I’ve read every single one) and your comments on LW 🙂

    With regard to the last para in the article, I do understand it must be difficult reconciling some of the statements in the Qur’an with your position on these 2 issues, and I must admit I don’t have any good explanations to offer either.

    But I will thank you for being very fair and balanced in your criticism and for always sticking up for us against the likes of Spencer and Co 🙂

    On another note, I really admire your style of writing Mr. Parker!! That’s another reason I make it a point to check out this site regularly. Helps me improve my own style and hopefully I will be able to write like you someday!! 🙂

    Tc and God Bless,


    • Actually that statement about competing in doing good was just a paraphrase of the verse of the Qur’an (5:48) where it says: “So try to excel in good deeds”; or as the Abdel Haleem translation renders it: “so race to do good”. I can’t take any credit for it.

      Naturally I find it pleasing that you find such enjoyment in my posts. It presents a problem, though: what kind of diet do I need to implement to keep my head from getting too big?

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