Islam in Biblical Perspective - Allah in Islam and the incarnation of God
I. ALLAH IN ISLAM AND THE INCARNATION OF GOD IN JESUS CHRIST
Islam is a theocentric culture. All facets of its existence revolve around one central point - Allah.
In the confession of faith every Muslim testifies, "There is no God except Allah." The oneness of Allah in Islam is the eye of the needle through which all other opinions and attitudes of God must pass. This unity should not be confused with the union of equivalent deities. Allah is only a single person. All other gods are nothing and, in the eyes of a Muslim, whoever acknowledges the existence of other gods besides Allah is a blasphemer.
Whoever inquires about the attributes of Allah finds a list of his 99 most beautiful names, 72 of which are used in the Qur'an 1,286 times. Sometimes they contradict and even cancel each other out. As a result, the Islamic theologian Al-Ghazali wrote that Allah is everything and nothing. He cannot be grasped by the human mind and is greater than we can comprehend; He rules and governs all and is the sole controller of the universe.
This is the exact meaning of the Islamic call to faith and battle, "Allahu akbar", uttered on innumerable occasions on the lips of Muslims. This call resounds 40 times a day over the rooftops of the cities and villages from loudspeakers attached to minarets. It sums up the Islamic faith: Allah is greater, stronger, wiser, more beautiful and cleverer than we can imagine; he is more cunning than all the cunning and the best of all judges in the day of judgement; he is totally different and incomprehensible; he is beyond all, a distant, great and unknowable God. Every thought about him is insufficient and false. He cannot be fathomed, only worshipped.
Islam is a religion of worship. During the five daily prayer times a Muslim prostrates himself before Allah up to 34 times: each time his forehead touches the ground. The bowed back of any Muslim worshipping is the visible interpretation of the Arabic word "Islam", which means "deliverance", "surrender" and "submission".
This unreserved devotion to Allah does not guarantee entrance to free grace. It is part of their righteousness by works based mainly on their commitment to the testimony of their creed, daily prayers, official fasting during Ramadan, set offerings and a pilgrimage to Mecca. In the Qur'an, performing religious duties is seen as paying a debt, as if it were a business transaction with Allah (Sura al-Fatir 35:29-30). The Almighty counts quickly and precisely the good and bad deeds of every person; he weighs all words and thoughts against each other, and presents an error-free account on that great day of judgement.
Anxiety over the Day of Judgement, the climax of the Islamic religion, increases the Muslim's fear of Allah. He stands respectfully before the unknown ruler of creation, and fears the everlasting judge. No Muslim knows exactly what awaits him on the "day of religion". A dark future lies ahead of him.
According to Islamic faith, Allah is the unquestioned ruler and despot who reigns arbitrarily. No one knows why he leads some to paradise, or why hell is the destiny of others. A Muslim prostrates himself on the ground before Allah like a slave before his master, who does not know whether he will be apportioned life or death, grace or damnation. He longs for mercy and his honest intent to worship the only true God earnestly brings no assurance of everlasting life.
Allah - No Triune God
Every Muslim knows from childhood that Christians believe in three Gods. He is constantly warned about committing this "sin of sins". The fact that there is a Father, Son and Holy Spirit sounds like blasphemy to a Muslim and is synonymous with breaking the first commandment: "You shall not have any other gods before me." Anyone who confesses that there are one or two god-like persons beside Allah commits an unforgivable sin. This coincides with the sin against the Holy Spirit (Sura al-Nisa 4:48 and 116).
A Muslim does not know the reality of the triune God, nor does he want to know it. He rejects it decidedly. A Muslim feels repelled when Christians try to explain the Trinity to him. "Three cannot be one, and one is not three," is their stereotyped answer. Allah in Islam does not need a helper, mediator or partner. He alone is great. No one is like Him.
A divine triumvirate could, in the eyes of a Muslim, bring the possibility of an insurrection of one God against the other. Jealousy, ambition, hate and criticism would be unavoidable. At the head of a Muslim country there is usually just one ruler. Rivals are executed. In the same way Allah can only be one.
The mystery that our God is love remains hidden to Muslims. The Father loved the Son before all time. He is not an egoist who only loves Himself. Through Him, the "Word," He created the universe. After Jesus' substitutionary death of reconciliation, the Father bestowed all power in heaven and on earth into the hands of the risen conqueror. The Holy Spirit today is completing the work of the Son in His church. Muslims see none of this. They also do not understand that the Holy Spirit never glorifies Himself, but the Son, and the Son continually honours the Father, who has set the Victor over sin, death and hell at His right hand. Such spiritual relationships in the Holy Trinity are completely foreign to a Muslim. He does not want to understand the words of Jesus: "I and the Father are one", or "the Father is in Me and I in Him." Love, humility and self-denial, in Islam, do not emerge as roots of every spiritual authority. Allah is different. He is the only one exalted from beginning to end, solitary and unreachable.
With the rejection of the triune God Islam has judged itself. Christians recognise that since the time of Christ's appearance, the former meaning of "God" has changed. Who really exists is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in spiritual unity. Jesus stated in His final prayer, "We are one" (John 17:22). Here, the plural attested to the singular in order to reveal the secret of our God.
Islam refuses to have anything to do with the reality of our Trinity. Muhammad stressed, "Believe in Allah and His Ambassador, and say not, `three', refrain; it is better for you. They are infidels who say, Allah is the third of three" (Sura al-Nisa 4:171 and al-Ma'ida 5:73).
Muhammad received a distorted picture of the Divine Trinity when sectarians told him that Jesus had said, "Take me and my mother as gods, apart from Allah" (Sura al-Ma'ida 5:116). This idea was rejected from the beginning by every Christian church on the basis of the commonly held Nicene Creed (325 BC).
In spite of this refusal, Islam cannot tolerate the divine reality. Allah alone is great, sovereign and glorious. There can be no other god beside him. He does not need a helper. No one is like him. The entire existence of Islam rejects the triune God.
Allah - No Father
The confession that God is a father arouses in Muslims the repulsive idea that God would have slept with Mary and would have begotten a son. The name "father" will not be understood in Islam in a spiritual sense, but only literally. Allah remains the exalted one, the holy and distant God who has no personal contact with man. The idea of Allah being a father evokes rejection and aversion in a Muslim.
This is the precise point where the gospel confirms us. God became flesh in Jesus Christ. He did not remain a distant, foreign and unknown creator, but revealed Himself to be an intimate and loving father. God has bound Himself as a father to each person who accepts Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord.
The Old Testament understanding of God was deepened by Jesus' emphasis on the name, "Father". This was the theological revolution Jesus introduced into the rigid monotheistic faith of the Jews. But the Jews rejected the fatherhood of God as absolute blasphemy (Matthew 26:65; John 10:33-36), just as Islam is indignant about the reality of God the Father.
Has it occurred to you that Jesus did not guide us to pray to Elohim, to Yahweh, to the Almighty God, nor to himself, but revealed His own personal prayer to us? As children we can pray: "Our Father in heaven...The Father's name be hallowed!...Our Father's kingdom come...The Father's will be done." To deny or to empty the very name of the Father would be to tear the heart out of the gospel. "Father" was the first word of Jesus on the cross and it was to the "Father" that He cried out in His last sentence. Jesus revealed the innermost secret of the essence of God to His disciples as the basis and goal of the new covenant.
God did not remain an unfamiliar Lord whom we must address as "master". We have the privilege of addressing our Heavenly Father in the familiar term, "you". The Spirit of God testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. Every sincere Christian has direct contact with God. We are not slaves, but children of the new covenant through the grace of Jesus Christ. Muslims pray, often more than Christians, but their official prayer consists of a prescribed liturgy and not a direct conversation with God. In Islam all men are categorised as slaves that were created to worship Allah. But through Jesus we are not slaves: we are children. The door to our Father stands wide open. Our prayer is a conversation with God straight from the heart full of requests, intercession, thanks and worship. We have a direct line to a Father who hears us at all times. Muslims can also cry out in their own words to Allah, besides the five times of prescribed prayers, but these attempts at making contact are like a call into an empty sky. A Muslim does not know whether anyone will listen and whether his prayer will be answered. Allah is too great to bind himself to his worshipers. A Muslim has no personal contact with God. This remains the privilege of Christians.
Since Islam rejects the fatherhood of God, it sets itself on the road that leads to destruction. Muslims must accomplish everything alone when preparing themselves to give account before Allah on the Day of Judgement. Their god is an incorruptible witness and judge, before whom there is no regard of kinship or person. All sin will be mercilessly uncovered. It is terrible to fall into the hands of Allah. He hardens whom he will, and saves whom he will. No one knows exactly what Allah will decide to do with every individual. But the gospel reveals the will of our Father to us, and we know that He desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. So we can approach the Day of Judgement with great comfort, for the judge is our Saviour.
God sent His only Son into this evil world that He might reconcile all men to Himself. Christ bore the sin of everyone and suffered the punishment in our place. The Father did not break the holy law when He justified sinners, but fulfilled it through the substitution of Christ's death. Only through the crucified One did we receive the privilege to call God our Father. He has given all judgement to his Son, who will judge in complete unity with His Father. Everyone who believes in the Father through the Son has already been rescued from judgement (John 3:16-19; 5:22-23).
Allah - No Son
In contrast to the other world religions, Islam rose after Christ lived on earth. Muhammad had often inquired about Jesus and collected information about the New Testament from Arabic Christians, as well as from foreign Christian slaves. Waraqa Ibn Nawfal, a cousin of Muhammad's first wife Khadija (also a distant relative of Muhammad), probably was the leader of a house church in Mecca. Muhammad analysed the life of Jesus and accepted certain assertions that harmonised with his system of belief. Everything he did not understand, or that did not suit him, was renounced as erroneous or false. In this way the Christology of Islam became limited to 93 verses in fifteen suras of the Qur'an.
Muhammad testified in several verses in the Qur'an that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. His marvellous birth is not only a Christian belief, but also an Islamic dogma. Muhammad called Jesus the "Word of God" incarnate and a "spirit from Him" (Sura Al Imran 3:45 and al-Nisa 4:171). The difference between Islam and Christianity in the understanding of Christ's birth is reflected in Muhammad's teaching: Christ is not "born" from Allah, but has been "created" in Mary, out of nothing, through the Word of the Almighty. Allah can never be understood to be the Father of Jesus, but only as His Creator. Christ is not the Son of Allah in Islam, but only a marvellous person, a special prophet, and an authorised ambassador of Allah. This contradicts the faith of all churches who agree with the Nicene Creed that Christ is "God of God, light of light, very God of very God,begotten, not created, being of one essence with the Father."
The Qur'anic Christology shows that ideas from a doctrinal dispute over the nature of Christ, that arose between the third and sixth century in the churches of the Mediterranean region, had advanced as far as Mecca. Resident Jews may also have influenced Muhammad with their rejection of Jesus' divine Sonship. Thus Muhammad denied the heavenly nature of Christ with a cutting sharpness. In Sura al-Ikhlas 112 we find the core of Islam in the command for the Muslim confession, "Allah begets not and was not begotten." This phrase is impressed upon every Muslim from childhood - God is not a father and never had a son. In Sura al-Tawba 9:29,30 Muhammad gave a more radical argument to this theme. He ascertained: "The Christians say, `the Messiah is the Son of Allah.' That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming with the unbelievers before them. Allah kill them! How they are perverted!" With this curse Muhammad asserts that anyone who believes that God is a father and Christ is His Son, must be annihilated by Allah. Who can deny that this is a manifestation of an anti-Christian spirit? In Islam a real incarnation of God in Christ is unthinkable. In 1 John 2:22-23 and 4:2-3 the signs of the Antichrist are made obvious: "This is the Antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either... Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God, and this is the spirit of the Antichrist."
At the beginning of 1984 Qaddafi published an open letter to the leaders of the Christian world, in which he summarised the thoughts of Islam in a daily Indian newspaper. We have reprinted this letter in English in the appendix. It is a typical example of the entire Islamic Christology.
Muhammad analysed the person of Jesus. He believed in his wonderful miracles. The Qur'an says that Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, healed lepers and raised the dead. Muhammad reported that Jesus moulded birds out of clay, breathed into them and they flew away. Besides that, He freed His disciples from the observance of some difficult laws and instituted new commands. Muhammad saw in these acts and words of Christ no sign of His divine authority and power, but rather proof of His weakness. He said several times that Allah strengthened Christ through the spirit of holiness, so that He could do such miracles (Sura al-Baqara 2:87, 253; al-Ma'ida 5:110). In the eyes of Muhammad, Jesus was an instrument in the hands of Allah, through which He revealed His greatness. Muhammad did not understand Christ's meekness when He said, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do: for whatever He does the Son also does." Jesus revealed Himself as gentle and humble of heart. Such a spirit is foreign to Islam. One of the "99 most beautiful names of Allah" is "the proud one". Therefore, Muhammad saw in the humility of Jesus a sign of weakness and incapability, not recognising the source of His power and authority.
The revolt of the Islamic spirit against God and Christ reveals itself, finally, in the denial of the crucifixion of Jesus. In Sura al-Nisa 4:157 it says, "We (the Jews) slew the Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary, the messenger of God - yet they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them."
Muhammad lived in Mecca in great distress, persecuted by the merchants of his city. It was difficult for him to hear their biting ridicule about his mission. Their threats made it clear to him: "just as the Jews killed Christ, the son of Mary, the Ambassador of Allah, so it is possible that they can kill you too, the troublemaker and deceiver, if you will not stop propagating Islam. Allah did not save Jesus from the hands of the Jews and he will not deliver you from us either." But Muhammad trusted in the omnipotence of Allah. It was unimaginable for him that the sublime God would allow his persecuted servant to perish. Therefore Muhammad rejected and denied the vexation of the cross and said, "Impossible! Allah is faithful. He must have saved His faithful Christ, even if it appeared to the confused masses that he was crucified. It is not so that he really died on the cross, but was raised up alive to God."
Fear and despair may have caused Muhammad to reject the crucifixion of Jesus. He wanted to obscure the cross and let it vanish from the face of the earth. He did not directly deny the substitutionary work of Christ, nor the justification by grace or the new birth through the Holy Spirit, but he nullified for his followers the basic requirement of the second and third articles of our faith. In Islam there is no room for the cross of Christ and its spiritual fruits. Muhammad's anti-Christian spirit denied the very core of the gospel. Perplexingly, he testified in the Qur'an of many miracles, acts of power and names of Christ. He also confirmed the ascension of Jesus and his existence today at the right hand of God. But he rejected Jesus' divine incarnation, the indispensable condition for the atoning death of Christ on the cross, and tried to erase the hour of reconciliation of the world with God from the history of mankind.
The rejection of the death of Christ for all men is a logical consequence in Islam. Allah does not need a mediator or substitute for men. The possibility of the blood offering in the Old Testament that shadowed the expiatory death of Christ has not been received in Islam. Allah is sovereign. He forgives when he will, whom he will and where he will. He does not need an atoning "lamb". The existence of a mediator and redeemer would diminish the majesty of Allah in the eyes of a Muslim. He alone is great.
Thus, in Islam, there is no place for the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The consequence is that Muslims are not certain about the forgiveness of their sins. They can read 111 times in the Qur'an that Allah is a forgiver who generously pardons and turns himself towards the repentant, but the impersonal Allah gave no clear sign for a Muslim to recognise whether the forgiveness is in fact valid for him or not. When a Muslim is asked if he really has forgiveness of sins, he can only answer, "If Allah wills!" Whether Allah wills only becomes visible at the Day of Judgement.
This understanding shows anew that no Muslim carries in his heart the certainty of forgiveness of sins. He lives unredeemed and stands under the burden of an accusing conscience. "Allah does not love sinners" is written 24 times in the Qur'an: he only loves those who fear him. Who is so devout that he can no longer be considered a sinner? On the contrary, our gospel declares, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Christ has come to seek and to save that which was lost. The Good Shepherd prefers to leave the 99 righteous who think they do not need to repent and seek the single lost sinner, who is searching for righteousness, until he finds him (Luke 15:2-7). The forgiveness of God in the Gospel is valid for every sinner; the forgiveness of Allah in Islam is possible only for his true worshipers - even for them it is uncertain. Muslims do not know the comforting certainty that their sins are forgiven, because they reject the crucified one, who is the only way for us to receive God's grace and peace.
Allah - No Holy Spirit
Twice in the Qur'an Allah is referred to as the "holy one". The meaning of this name in Islam is unclear. It has probably been taken out of Judaism and signifies the majesty and loftiness of Allah.
The Arabic word for "spirit" is closely bound to the meaning of "wind". Just as the wind comes and goes where it wants and cannot be seen, so also the spirit is incomprehensible. In Islam the "Holy Spirit" is understood as a created spirit that stands at the level of angels and demons, who were all created by Allah out of nothing. The Qur'an does not know a revelation that "God is Spirit" or that "the Spirit is God". No one can comprehend who and what Allah really is. In Islam the Holy Spirit is understood as the angel Gabriel who was sent by Allah to Zechariah, Mary and Muhammad in order to convey special messages to them(Sura Maryam 19:17).
The New Testament reveals to us that the deep piety in Islam, which manifests itself in prayers, fasting and pilgrimage, is far from signifying the new birth or sanctification. Jesus' word is like a sword which separates false piety from the reality of salvation. Only "He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him" (John 3:36).
Muslims get a slight glimpse of the power of the Holy Spirit in connection with the miracles of Christ, but His power and gifts remain unknown to them. In the culture of Islam no fruits of the Holy Spirit are found. The fruit of the flesh reigns there (Galatians 5:19-26). We admit that Arab hospitality shames Westerners. Their politeness, sensitivity and refined manners are appealing to every guest. Whoever lives in the Middle East for a long period of time knows that these virtues often serve unconsciously to build up the honour of their own clan or are influenced by an unconscious striving for righteousness by works.
Islam is a religion that can arouse in its followers an entire life controlled and modelled by religiosity. But the individual is not renewed in his essence and character. After his submission to Allah a Muslim can generally remain the same as he was before. If he had previously married several women, his conversion to Islam is not a problem, for in Islam polygamy has been legalised by Allah. Islam is a comfortable religion for men.
Also, if theft is not commonly practised in some Islamic countries and fewer crimes are committed than in Western countries, it is not due to a better Muslim character, but to a deep fear of severe punishment.
The expiatory offering of Christ for the unworthy is not very appealing to people in an Islamic culture. Instead, the majesty and sovereignty of Allah has become the guiding principle. The generous dictator rewards his worshipers if he so desires. The thought of reward for good works, not devotion out of gratitude, characterises the Islamic everyday life. Regal power, princely splendour and legendary wealth are the principles that resulted from Allah's example. Christ, however, has encouraged His followers to be humble, meek, poor, self-denying and to bear the cross. Islam produces exalted and proud masters; Christ forms humble and diligent servants.
Muhammad personally met real Christians, for he wrote, "You will surely find the nearest of them who love the believers (the Muslims) are those who say `we are Christians'; that is because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud" (Sura al-Ma'ida 5:82). This is a testimony by Muhammad about Christ living in Arab believers at that time. Muhammad had seen the spiritual "body of Christ" and testified to its existence, but had not understood the spirit of Jesus. Christians confessed to him clearly that they were sons of God and His beloved ones, but Muhammad sharply rejected this statement and questioned their spiritual existence and privilege when he stated in return, "Why then does he chastise you for your sins? No, you are mortals out of his creating; He forgives whom he will, and he chastises whom he will. You are nothing except created slaves for his adoration" (Sura al-Ma'ida 5:18).
The spirit of Islam is opposed to the spirit of Jesus Christ in life and teaching. Muslims do not consider themselves to be children of God and have not received the gifts of grace, which the triune God granted to the members of His New Covenant church. Islam rejects, through the Qur'an, Christian dogmas and service ordinances, factors that are all essential contents of the Christian message. Whoever is acquainted with Islam either through the practical ministry or through a knowledge of Islamic law and theology, is forced to recognise this religion as an antibiblical and anti-Christian power. Muslims are immunised against the salvation of Christ. The already quoted Sura 112 is a compilation of their revolt against God and His anointed One:
Allah begets not = Allah is no Father
and was not begotten = and is no Son,
and no one is like him = and is no Holy Spirit.
Every true Muslim knows this Sura by heart and prays it repeatedly in silence during his five daily times of prayer. He carries these words tenaciously like a shackle in his unconsciousness, and excludes himself from salvation in Christ by this confession.
It is hard for us to comprehend that, in spite of its piety, Islam is not the way to salvation, but a straight road that leads to hell. The daily hardening of 900 million Muslims should stir Christians and drive them to prayer. Especially when we recognise that under the cloak of Islamic devoutness there hides a spiritual bondage and a collective obsession which, for more than 1,300 years, has defied nearly all Christian attempts at missions. In the world of Islam the rejection of the holy Trinity is propagated a thousand times daily from the minarets creating a continuous echo from the Muslims' repetition, "There is no God besides Allah; Muhammad is the Ambassador of Allah."
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