A few nights ago I was eating out with my older son – a weekly practice where the two of us get together to eat and talk about whatever may be on our minds. While we were talking, I showed him a hardback edition of the Abdel Haleem English Qur’an I had purchased recently with gift cards he and my younger son had given me as “Christmas presents”. My son pulled out his “Droid” phone, looked something up, and then looked up Sura 3:54 in Mr. Haleem’s English version of the Qur’an.
While he was looking that up, I picked up his phone to see what he had seen on it. It was a “Facebook” comment by one of my in-laws, in which he quoted the Qur’an as saying that “God is the best of deceivers”, giving 3:54 as the reference. He then compared that to John 8:44 in the Christian “New Testament” in which Jesus (peace be with him) is quoted as saying that the devil has been a liar from the beginning, and is the ‘father’ of lies. My brother-in-law’s conclusion, of course, was that Muslims worship the devil as God. Surely no Christian would ever accuse God of being a deceiver!
But, assuming that the English rendering my brother-in-law used is correct in calling God “the best of deceivers”, does that mean that Islam is obviously inferior to Christianity and is actually guilty of “devil worship”? Not at all; because the Bible also says that God deceives people! 😯 (I’m using the English Standard Version for my Bible quotations).
2Thessalonians 2:9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 2Th 2:10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 2Th 2:11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 2Th 2:12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Even though the false signs, wonders, and wicked deception of the lawless one would be by the activity of Satan, nevertheless Paul said that it would be God who sent the delusion/deception. Paul obviously believed that “God is the best of deceivers”!
Examples of God using deception against unbelievers/the enemies of His people can be found in the “Old Testament”. In Judges 7 there is the story of the Israelites, under the Judge named Gideon, engaging in battle against a large company of Midianites. God had Gideon weed out unworthy soldiers from his forces until only 300 soldiers remained. Then they were told to surround the Midianites’ encampment; and at a signal from Gideon, they were to create a great racket by smashing empty jars, blowing trumpets, and shouting “For the LORD and for Gideon”.
When the Israelite soldiers did this, the Midianites were so startled, frightened, and confused that they immediately fled; and they even turned on each other, confused into thinking that their fellow soldiers were Israelites. Verse 22 says that it was “the LORD” who caused everyone to turn against his fellow and against his own army! So “the LORD” deceived the Midianites into thinking the Israelites were among them and attacking them, when the Israelites were actually still outside the Midianites’ encampment. So God sent them a strong delusion/deception, so that they believed what was false. God is indeed the best of deceivers, it would appear.
Again, there is the story in 2 Kings 6 about the King of Syria (Aramea) going to war with the Northern Kingdom of Israel whose capital was Samaria. Whenever the Syian king would set up an encampment, the Prophet Elisha would inform the king of Israel where the encampment was so the Israelites could avoid that area. When the king of Syria was informed that it was Elisha the Prophet who was giving away his location, he sent his army to Dothan (where Elisha was). But Elisha asked the LORD to ‘blind the eyes’ of the Syrian army so they wouldn’t recognize him or where they were. Then he informed the soldiers that he wasn’t the man they were looking for, nor were they even at the right city. But he said he would lead them to the right place and person. He then led them to the king of Israel at Samaria, and asked God to open their eyes again. Boy, were those Syrians surprised when they realized where they were!
So God’s Prophet, under God’s leadership – or at least with His cooperation – deceived the Syrian army and put them in a very dangerous situation (though according to the story, Elisha told the Israelite king to feed the soldiers and let them return to their home). Again, God is indeed the best of deceivers.
It seems to be usually assumed that this ‘blinding’ of the Syrian army’s eyes was literal blindness. However, if that were the case, it does not seem likely that the army would be able to follow the Prophet as he led them to Samaria. I suspect the ‘blinding’ was that figurative sort of blinding the Prophets frequently spoke of where despite the fact that the ‘blind’ ones could physically see, and ‘deaf’ ones could physically hear, they nevertheless could not perceive and recognize what they saw, or understand what they heard.
Instances of this Divine ‘deception’ using figurative ‘blinding’ can be found in modern day Christian accounts also. I remember reading, when I was in High School back in the late 1960s (and later also, after High School), books about the ‘Bible smuggling’ activities of Christian missionaries. There were accounts of rather interesting incidents where the ‘smugglers’ were carrying Bibles into Communist countries (where Bibles were forbidden); sometimes even though the border guards looked directly at the Bibles, they nevertheless failed to recognize what they were and let the missionaries enter the country with the ‘contraband’. From the missionaries’ perspective, God had ‘deceived’ the guards into thinking the books were legitimate (not Bibles).
Is it true, then, that Jews and Christians actually worship that deceiver – “the father of lies” – the devil? 😯 Certainly not. It only shows that deception is not always evil; it depends on one’s perspective. Obviously Gideon, Elisha, and those modern day Christian missionaries did not believe the deception being carried out was evil.
And it should be kept in mind that the Biblical perspective is that God is Sovereign over all things; even wicked men and the devil cannot act without God’s will or permission. So the plan of God is seen to even include Satan’s deceptions, and God is said to “do” things using the devil as his ‘tool’ (as the quote from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians shows). Even the plots, schemes, and actions of the ‘enemies of righteousness’ against God’s servant Jesus (peace be with him) are said to have been the fulfillment of God’s plan.
Act 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Act 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, Act 4:28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
And that brings us right back to Sura 3:54 of the Qur’an; because it’s precisely this plotting and scheming of the Jewish rejecters of Jesus Christ (peace be with him) – and God’s ‘counter-plot’ – to which the Qur’an refers here. Beginning with verse 42 of this Sura, the story is told of God’s choice of Mary (peace be with her) to be the mother of the Messiah, God’s servant Jesus. Then the ministry of Jesus is spoken of, leading up to his choosing of disciples to assist him in his ministry due to the disbelief of the Jewish hearers (verses 52 and 53). Then we read this (in the Abdel Haleem version):
3:54 The [disbelievers] schemed but God also schemed; God is the Best of Schemers. 3:55 God said, ‘Jesus, I will take you back and raise you up to Me: I will purify you of the disbelievers. To the Day of Resurrection I will make those who followed you superior to those who disbelieved…’
Muhammad Asad rendered verse 54 this way: And the unbelievers schemed [against Jesus]; but God brought their scheming to nought: for God is above all schemers.
The English version of Yusuf Ali renders verse 54 this way:
And (the unbelievers) plotted and planned, and God too planned, and the best of planners is God.
(Yusuf Ali, in a footnote to this verse, says concerning the word he renders as “plotted” and “planned”: The Arabic Makara has both a bad and a good meaning, that of making an intricate plan to carry out some secret purpose. The enemies of God are constantly doing that. But God – in whose hands is all good – has His plans also, against which the evil ones will have no chance whatever.)
Here are the renderings of a couple more fairly popular English versions:
PICKTHAL: And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and Allah schemed (against them): and Allah is the best of schemers.
SHAKIR: And they planned and Allah (also) planned, and Allah is the best of planners.
Actually, I checked a site that has 36 English versions, and only one of them rendered this word as “deceiver”:
Muhammad Ahmed & Samira:
And they cheated/deceived and God cheated/deceived, and God (is) the best (of) the cheaters/deceivers.
All of the rest consistently used words such as “planner”, “plotter”, “devisor”, and “schemer”. I hope it’s pretty clear that “cheater/deceiver” is not a proper rendering of the term.
Is this not precisely what the “New Testament” affirms? The Jewish and Roman leaders plotted and planned, but God also planned; and God’s planning is so far superior to the plans of men that men’s plots only managed to fulfill the plan of God. This is another proof that in essence there is unity between the message of the Qur’an and the previous revelations in the Torah, Prophets, and the Gospel of Jesus and his disciples.
There is an interesting event in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be with him and his family) also, in which his enemies schemed against him, but God also schemed and delivered the Prophet. After Muhammad had been preaching in Mecca for about 11 years, the polytheists became so ‘fed up’ with him that they plotted to kill him. But Muhammad was made aware of this, and he and his faithful companion Abu Bakr (peace be with them both) fled from Mecca to Medina. On the journey, those two hid in a cave to avoid their pursuers, and a spider wove a web across the entrance to the cave. The pursuers were deceived by the spider web into thinking that Muhammad and Abu Bakr could not possibly be in the cave; so they went on their way, and the servants of God were protected and delivered.
Sura 9:40 speaks of this event: Even if you do not help the Prophet, God helped him when the disbelievers drove him out: when the two of them were in the cave, he [Muhammad] said to his companion, ‘Do not worry, God is with us,’ and God sent His calm down to him, aided him with forces invisible to you, and brought down the disbelievers’ plan. God’s plan is higher: God is almighty and wise. This is precisely what 3:54 claimed with regard to the rejecters of Jesus Christ (peace be with him). The rejecters planned, but God also planned; and God is the best of planners (God’s plan is higher).
This teaching that men plot and plan, but God’s plans are vastly superior to the plans of men, is strictly in keeping with other statements of the Bible. For instance, Psalm 33:10 and 11 says this:
Psa 33:10 The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. Psa 33:11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.
In Proverbs it is written: Pro 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
It seems to me that there are those who have a deliberate and preconceived agenda to disparage Islam and the Qur’an. They will no doubt look for the worst possible translation of a text – one that plays into the hands of their agenda – and/or they will take a verse without its context (or even one short phrase out of a verse, as in this case). Then they will say: “See how evil Islam and its God are?!” All the while, of course, they are deliberately ignoring that the Bible teaches the very thing that they claim their bad translation of that verse or snippet shows the Qur’an teaches! 😆 But as the Proverb quoted above says: Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
Or as Sura 61:7-9 of the Qur’an says (Sura 9:32 and 33 being almost exactly the same as verses 8 and 9) [Abdel Haleem version]:
(7) Who could be more wrong than someone who invents lies against God when called to submit to Him? God does not guide wrongdoers: (8) they wish to put His light out with their mouths. But He will complete His light, even though the disbelievers hate it; (9) it is He who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to show that it is above all [other] religions, even though the idolaters hate it.
[Where Abdel Haleem has put “all [other] religions“, the word is actually singular – religion. God’s religion – the religion of devotion and submission to Him alone – is one throughout the ages. It is the religion of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be with them all). Anything that distorts or is contrary to that religion of “God alone” is false religion; and the religion of God will triumph over it – the counsel of God triumphs, bringing the counsel of the ungodly to nought.]