Wrestling with the truth

When your name has been stained, what can you do? Can you adopt another name or change your identity? What if you are trying to approach someone that you have offended, who has the authority to prosecute you? In this case, you would have to approach that person in someone else's name… a mediator who is on good terms with that man. But, what about approaching Allah? Isn't your name stained by sin? Haven't you offended Him with your moral pollution, and doesn't His divine justice require your prosecution? Thankfully, there is a Name given to us whereby we may approach Allah. That Name is perfect, holy, and righteous. The One who bears it will certainly not refuse you. He is the Mediator between Allah and human beings.

I waited all day in front of Haroun's apartment. Several times, I knocked at the door, in case he had already come back and I had somehow missed him. But, there was no answer. So, I sat down, changing positions every once in a while to keep my legs from falling asleep. What was keeping him away? Was he going to spend all day at the shelter? Were they talking about me? Probably. After all, I had caused quite the scene… Was Mariam chiding him for bringing me along? Hopefully she wasn't trying to turn him against me. I didn't have anywhere else to go… I didn't know anyone else. There was only one thing left to do: pray. I asked Allah to give me favor in Haroun's eyes; I prayed that He would help me to find answers; I thanked Him for helping me so far; I confessed my sins and asked Him for strength to follow His commandments.

After a long time, I finally heard someone's footsteps coming up the stairs. I wasn't sure what to expect. Part of me was afraid, and part of me was happy. So, I just waited for the person to approach, sitting by the door, unwilling to move. To my great relief, it was Haroun. When he saw me, he paused for a second, as though he had just seen a ghost. Then, he nodded his head and approached me quietly. He motioned for me to be silent, which I was glad to do until we got inside. He carefully unlocked the door, as though he didn't want to disturb his neighbors. As soon as we entered the apartment, he locked the door and stared at me. He wasn't saying anything… He was just standing there, awkwardly waiting for me to say the first word.

Moe – You know… my name isn't Mohammed.

Haroun – I figured that, by now.

Moe – What did they say?

Haroun – Who?

Moe – Those who were at Pastor Tallat's place. Did anyone say anything?

Haroun – Not at first… not while the visitors were still there. Pastor Tallat knew that it wouldn't be wise, so he redirected the conversation. He told Richard and Mariam not to worry about it, so they kept quiet and didn't draw any more attention to you.

Moe – Who's Richard?

Haroun – The man who spoke to you at the shelter.

Moe – Oh… who is he?

Haroun – You don't remember him either?

Moe – No.

Haroun – He works for HeartCry.

Moe – What's HeartCry?

Haroun – HeartCry Missionary Society. They help pastors and evangelists to spread the Good News across the world. He's one of their church planters in France. Because he knows how to speak Arabic, he often visits the Middle East to encourage the laborers.

Moe – What laborers?

Haroun – The workers of the gospel in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan.

Moe – Is Pastor Tallat one of those workers?

Haroun – Yes, he is.

Moe – So, how does he know me?

Haroun – I'm not sure. He wouldn't give me too much information. He only said that he knew you from before, and he wanted to know how I had met you. He told me that I should send you to Pastor Tallat if I saw you again.

Moe – Okay. Can we do that?

Haroun – Right now?

Moe – Yes…

Haroun – It's kind of late. They have to get ready for tomorrow's service.

Moe – Are we going there tomorrow?

Haroun – No. That's not where I usually go on Sundays.

Moe – Can you make an exception?

Haroun – Oh… I don't know if I should… The brothers in my congregation depend on me. I don't want to let them down.

Moe – Okay, then. Can we go after the service?

Haroun – Sure, let's do that.

Haroun went into the kitchen and started preparing some tea. He poured some water in a metal pot, placed it on the stove, and took out two ceramic cups. He placed them on the counter, waiting for the water to boil. After taking out a jar of tea leaves, he grabbed a book and sat down in his sofa chair, motioning for me to sit down as well. As soon as I did so, he leaned over and crossed his arms, as though he was getting ready to interrogate me.

Haroun – Tell me, what is your name?

Moe – I don't know… Some people call me Mojza. Richard called me Wasef and Adam.

Haroun – He called you two different names?

Moe – He did, but I don't know why…

Haroun – What do you want me to call you?

Moe – Whatever you want.

Haroun – Okay… I'll call you Adam, for now.

Moe – Sounds good.

Haroun – So, tell me, Adam, where do you stand?

Moe – What do you mean?

Haroun – Who do you think that Jesus is? Have you placed your trust in Him for salvation?

Moe – I don't know. I'm thinking about it.

Haroun – But?

Moe – But… I still need more time.

Haroun – What's keeping you from believing in Him?

Moe – Well, it goes against what I've always believed…

Haroun – But, if it's the truth, shouldn't you submit to it?

Moe – Yes, of course. But, how do I know that it's the truth?

Haroun – Come on, Adam! Just think about this for a minute. You have two documents with competing claims about Jesus. On the one hand, the Bible says that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the grave; on the other hand, the Qur'an says, "And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but another was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, Allah raised him to Himself." (Surah 4:157-158) Both of these are historical claims that have profound spiritual impacts. Now, we must determine which one of the two is historically accurate.

Moe – Sure.

Haroun – Let me ask you this: Is the account written in the first century correct, or is the account written in the seventh century correct? Should we trust those who were eyewitnesses, or should we trust the one who never saw these events and never even read the primary sources written about these events?

Moe – Well…

Haroun – How do you explain the beginning of Christianity if the disciples were lying concerning these things? What would motivate them to die for a lie? It's not like they would gain anything from it. And, if they were wrong about Jesus dying, either because someone else died in His place or because Jesus survived the crucifixion, then how do you explain the fact that Jesus Himself appeared to His disciples to confirm that He had really died on the cross and resurrected from the dead?

Moe – I don't know.

Haroun – It seems to me that at the very least, the account of the disciples should be taken at face value. The only other option is that Jesus deliberately deceived them. But, that just doesn't fit the picture. His whole life was immaculate. He proved it by the way that He ministered to them, lived a sinless life among them, and performed great miracles among them. Allah even gave His own attestation to Jesus from above. Plus, even if He had somehow survived the crucifixion, He would be in pretty bad shape. He would be full of blood, sores, ripped flesh, and a big hole in His side. That's hardly what would convince His disciples that Allah had performed a great miracle! That's hardly what would motivate them to die for Him. And, I doubt that His own mother would be duped if somehow, they had switched the bodies and someone else had died in His place on the cross. She was at the foot of the cross when this happened… staring into the face of her beloved son as He was dying in front of the crowd. She was on that hill, and so was the apostle John. And, three days later, Jesus appeared in perfect shape to both of them. Not only that, but He appeared to all of the disciples and ate with them to prove that He wasn't a ghost or something. He even appeared to a crowd of five hundred people before He ascended into heaven, so that others could testify that the disciples of Jesus weren't making up stories.

Moe – I can agree to that.

Haroun – Good, because you gain nothing from denying these things. You only lose what Allah has accomplished for our salvation, and you're left with nothing but your own pathetic efforts to uphold the law… Either Allah did something in history to deliver us from our sins, or He didn't do anything, and you are still in your sins.

At that time, Haroun noticed that the water was boiling in the kitchen. So, he got up and poured some of it in the cups. He then took some of the tea leaves and placed them in a strainer. After that, he carefully stirred it in the cups, as though he knew exactly how long they needed to seep in there. Once he was done, he walked towards the refrigerator and grabbed some fruit, which he placed on a cutting board and started slicing them into cubes. All the while, I sat there, stunned by his words. My mind was racing back and forth, trying to figure out what to make of his argument. Plus, I was wrestling with many questions related to our previous conversations.

First, I was struggling with the dichotomy between performing our own meritorious religious duties and the seeming arbitrariness of Allah's decision to absolve our sins. Namely, on what basis would Allah pronounce a verdict upon my life? Was it based on anything that I had done, or not? I guess that in theory, it was Allah's decision; but in practice, it depended on my works, although I could never know whether I had done enough. It seemed to cheapen Allah's standards and call into question the basis upon which He upholds justice. Also, it seemed naïve to think that our sins could be absolved without actually dealing with the problem of sin; that is, making full restitution for our moral debt. However, the gospel seemed to address the problem, inasmuch as justice would be perfectly satisfied, and at the same time, forgiveness of sins would be given under the clear condition of Jesus's merits and our trust in Him. Because of what Jesus had done, we could have both the assurance that Allah would uphold justice and the assurance of our acceptance before Him.

Secondly, I was struck by the richness of the Judeo-Christian background on which the Qur'an depends, although I had to admit that it does not give credit where it is due. I now understood where some of the regulations came from, such as the dietary laws and the ritual washings. Also, I liked the idea that the law was pointing to a greater spiritual reality, and that it was looking forward to the fulfillment of Allah's plan of salvation. Moreover, the simple question of Jesus's identity as the Messiah made sense in light of the anticipation for the coming of Allah's Servant, whom He anointed to perform the divine task which had been assigned to Him from the beginning. I had to admit that Jesus's character is congruent with the position that Christianity attributes to Him. Jesus is clearly superior to any other human being, both in terms of His accomplishments and in terms of His role in Allah's divine plan. All of these elements matched perfectly with the theological framework of Christianity.

Haroun – Don't let your doubts keep you from coming to the fountain of life. Instead, face your doubts. Submit to the truth. Humble yourself and accept the fact that you'll have to change the way that you think about these things.

Moe – Are you always so blunt?

Haroun – Adam, what else do you expect from a guy who went from darkness to light? I have found the truth, and I know how important it is for you to accept it. This is a matter of life and death. Your eternal destiny depends on it. And, because I care about you, I can't make light of these things. In fact, it would be unloving for me to do so.

Moe – I guess so.

Haroun – Just think about this. Imagine if I knew that a sandstorm was coming our way, and you told me that you were about to go for a hike in the desert. What would be the loving thing to do? Shouldn't I try to convince you to stay indoors and find shelter? Now, what if you were so skeptical that you just wouldn't believe my word? Shouldn't I pursue you and argue my case, perhaps even offend you for the sake of saving your life? Well, what is more important: your fleeting life on earth, or the eternal destiny of your soul? What is more dangerous: a sandstorm, or the Day of Judgment?

Moe – I see what you mean. It would be unloving for you to simply let me perish without trying to save me from the impending disaster.

Haroun – Yes. It's out of love that I am so blunt with you. It's out of conviction that I have found the truth concerning Allah, and concerning His plan of salvation.

Moe – Okay, then, where can I find answers to my questions?

Haroun – Well, I have just given you many answers, but if you want to do more research, I can give you a few names.

Moe – Go ahead.

Haroun – Have you ever heard of a man named Ravi Zacharias?

Moe – No.

Haroun – Well, that's a good place to start. Look up his name on the Internet. You can find some of his videos on YouTube and you can visit his website at www.rzim.org.

Moe – What's so special about him?

Haroun – He's a Christian apologist. He has had many conversations with leading Muslim figures. He even had a public discussion with Sheikh Hussein about the historical claims of Christianity and Islam. At the end of their conversation, Sheikh Hussein was so moved that he said something that no one ever expected would come out of his mouth…

Moe – What did he say?

Haroun – He said: "You know, professor, I think the time has come for us in the Islamic world to stop asking 'if' Jesus Christ died, and to start asking 'why'." Now, do you realize how serious these words are? He basically admitted that he could not argue against reason, in spite of the fact that the Qur'an denies that Jesus died on the cross!

Moe – That's impressive. I think I'll look him up. Do you have anyone else to recommend?

Haroun – There is someone else, but he's a little bit of a controversial figure. His name is James White. He's the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries.

Moe – Why is he controversial?

Haroun – He probes into issues that make people uncomfortable.

Moe – Like what?

Haroun – Like doing textual criticism of the Qur'an to demonstrate that the Qur'an did not perfectly preserve the sayings of Muhammad.

Moe – How did he demonstrate that?

Haroun – He did so by showing that different versions of the Qur'an were destroyed by Caliph Uthman, although a few variant manuscripts survived because people like Abdullah ibn Masud refused to hand over their copies to be burned. He argues that having a controlled edition of the text actually hinders the preservation of the original, since the text is only as good as the editor who compiled it. That was the case with the Qur'an. By contrast, James White argues that having a decentralized proliferation of the text ensures the preservation of the original, since there is no way that a man could add or remove anything to Allah's word without leaving a trace that can easily be corrected by cross-referencing with other manuscripts. In other words, the presence of textual variants prevents the corruption of the original text. That was the case with the Bible. Along the same lines, James White also demonstrated that many of the people who had memorized the Qur'an actually died in battle before it had been collated into one written text. Thus, not only did Uthman corrupt the text of the Qur'an, but there were also many verses that perished on the battlefield along with those who had memorized them.

Moe – I've never heard of textual criticism of the Qur'an.

Haroun – Of course not. You're supposed to blindly accept that the Qur'an has been perfectly preserved.

Moe – Is he also a Christian apologist?

Haroun – Yes, he is. He has debated prominent Islamic scholars like Shabir Ally. You can find most of his debates on YouTube. He even debated the issue of the transmission of the Scriptures with a man by the name of Adnan Rashid. His mind is sharp, so you have to listen carefully to follow his argument.

Moe – Wow… Have you watched the debate with Shabir Ally? How did it go?

Haroun – Well, they did that more than once, just so you know. And, yes, I've watched one of them. It was pretty good, and both of them were respectful with each other.

Moe – Who won the debate?

Haroun – Haha! There's no winner or loser… Some arguments may be better than others, and the facts may support one position over another, but there's no judge to pronounce a verdict on the debate. That way, they can both save face.

Moe – Interesting… You know, I once met Shabir Ally… face-to-face.

Haroun – Really? How did that go?

Moe – I made a fool of myself. It was embarrassing! However, the Lord used that conversation to make me ask difficult questions.

Haroun – Difficult questions?

Moe – Yeah… dangerous questions… questions that force you to think about why you believe what you believe. That's when I started looking for the truth. That's what led me here.

Haroun – It sounds like Allah has a special plan for you.

Moe – You could say that.

Haroun – And, that's one more reason for you to keep seeking the truth.

Moe – I think you're right. There's no coincidence; everything happens for a reason. And, I truly believe that Allah will direct the sincere heart.

Haroun – What else can I do to help you?

Moe – Could you give me some websites that I should look up?

Haroun – Of course! Pull out that drawer and you'll find a paper pad that you can write on. There should also be a pencil in there. Let me give you a few good websites. Just write them down: "A Muslim Journey to Hope" (www.muslimjourneytohope.com), "Leading the Way" (www.ltw.org), and a teaching series called "The Cross and the Crescent" by Ligonier Ministries (www.ligonier.org). That should be more than enough. In fact, if you look at their resources, you'll find enough information to stay busy for years!

Moe – Wait, I'm still writing… How do you spell the last one?

Haroun – L-I-G-O-N-I-E-R

Moe – Thanks.

Haroun – That being said, Adam, let me be honest with you: I can give you all the answers, but I can't open your heart. I can bring you to the fountain, but I can't force you to drink the water.

Moe – So, what more can you do?

Haroun – I'll pray for you. But, the real question is, "What will you do with what you've heard?" This may be your last opportunity to call upon the Name of the Lord. You may die tonight and have to face Allah in your sins. You would be left with nothing but a fearful expectation of Allah's wrath. Your heart may harden if you decide not to respond to these truths in faith. Now is the time to answer the One who calls you from above, while your heart is tender and your mind is attentive. This is your window of opportunity, and you don't know how long it will stay open.

Moe – What should I do?

Haroun – You just need to call upon the Name of Jesus. Turn from your unbelief, and trust in Him.

Moe – But, I know so little about Him…

Haroun – You know enough to believe in Him… and receive His salvation. Besides, He will teach you as you read about Him in the New Testament. Start with the biographies written by His followers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then, read about the power of Allah displayed in the early Church, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. As a matter of fact… here you go… you can have this Bible. That's my gift to you.

Moe – Oh… thanks.

Haroun – It's my pleasure.

Moe – Thanks for taking the time to talk about these things. Do you mind if I go in my room to think about all of this?

Haroun – Go ahead. You know where to find me.

Thus, I rose to my feet and walked towards my bedroom. For some reason, I had trouble walking and bumped into the table. The lamp started tipping, but I caught it before it could crash on the floor. I breathed out loud and stared at the light for a moment, as if to make sure that it was firmly set on the table. Then, I concentrated to move my legs in the right direction, making sure that I wouldn't bump into anything else. When I finally reached the door, I closed it behind me without looking at Haroun. I was afraid that I might crumble under the pressure if I even looked at him. So, I sat down and opened the Bible to the front index, to find out where I would find the books that he had mentioned. There they were… under the heading of the New Testament. And I started devouring them…