Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Christianity as the Pathway to Refinement for a Muslim

By: Timothy Abraham (Ibrahim Arafat)


Ever since I was a little Muslim boy, I heard everybody around me admonishing each other to go after “refinement”. A mother would admonish her son who acted embarrassingly, “khalīk Rā`ī خليك راقي”, which is: Be refined! As Arabs, we have always admired Western countries for their phenomenal achievement in technology, liberty, democracy and definitely their “ruqyy-ee  رقيّ” (refinement). We have always hoped for something better than what was already the norm, frustrated terribly by the marginalization of the individual. In classic Egyptian movies, we have been charmed by their “refined” habits of etiquette and how a lot of families spoke French even at home, in order to cultivate higher standards of refined living. On the other hand, there was the screaming shouting of the Muslim call to prayer and people yelling at one another, which is an every day occurrence in the Muslim world.

Jesus Christ has come to bring refinement and elevate us as Arabs to a refined humane behavior. He is described in the prophecy of Isaiah 42 in these words,

“He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Verses 2-3) 

He also identified himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and such was his living as people witnessed his going about doing good to all without differentiation (Acts 10:38). While some people are greedy for power in this world, Jesus simply declares that “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He is not coming to set up a theocracy of Christian ideology but rather reigns by His redeeming love over human hearts, thus cleansing them. Muhammad, on the other hand, came to rule and dominate, for he was hungry for power. Scholars of “modern” Islam run up against a wall as they reduce Islam to a mere spirituality as those of Buddhism and Christianity. But Islam is both dogma and ideology, a Quran and a sword, faith and politics, faith and Shari’ah  شريعة. Islam without the Islamic law الشريعة الإسلامية would be a mutilated religion, not the real thing; a pathetic, gutted, emaciated form of religion that has nothing to do with the real Islam that is explicitly stated in the Quran. The modern movement to attempt to modernize Islam, to bring it up to the level of other faiths, forces the stripping of the core of the teachings of the Quran, leaving Islam bared. Islam’s basis and foundation is not about the spiritual relationship with Allah, but that of an agenda, an ideology and a political movement. The embellishment on the part of Western academic institutions has been but a futile attempt to civilize it.

Even if we concede Islam to be a form of spirituality amongst all these religions of the world, I venture as a former preacher of Islam to confidently state that Islam is the most degenerate form of spiritualities. When we are terrified into obedience out of fear and intimidation by Hellfire, where Allah is bribed with prayer, fasting and austere practices, what is that compared to a God we meet in Christ who gently knocks at the door and simply says, “If you will let me in, I will enter”? (Revelation 3:20) If we shut the door in God’s face in the Bible, He will not fume with anger. He will simply move on in sadness (Luke 4:30) as the loss will be only ours, left behind.

While Jesus came to offer “life”, Islam came to offer “death”. Jesus spoke extensively about this rich term “life” that is almost another name for God Almighty. To believe in Him guarantees us “eternal life”, i.e. life that flows directly from God and is as eternal as God is. It is “life” that has the adjective “eternal” for coming with it. In Jesus’ statement of purpose, he defines for us the reason of his coming, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). As a Muslim, I did everything out of terror of Allah and for the sake of the Hereafter with no certainty or security about anything. But now that I am a Christian, I know that my present matters a great deal to God and I don’t have to do everything in the hope of a “prize” in the end but the present as it is matters immensely to my Lord. Christ wants to make my present life so meaningful; he wants me to live life to the full and not just pay my dues so that I might have a “cushioned seat” in a fancy train. He wants me to enjoy life and to be “fully alive” by having my life joined to His life, as we become “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones” (Ephesians 5:32- 33). Everything in Christianity is about life and how to live it with enjoyment to the full and in the presence of God. He wants us to have life in relationship with him, not in fear of him.

In Islam, on the other hand, this life is to be despised since الدنيا لا تساوي عند الله جناح بعوضة i.e. “Life for Allah is not even worth the wing of a mosquito”. Khalid Ibn Al Walid, chiefly commanding the army of Mohammad, acknowledged death as the driving force for practicing Islam. One of his famous statements calling on the infidels to convert to Islam is this:

 “Submit to Islam and be safe. Or agree to the payment of the Jizya, and you and your people will be under our protection, else you will have only yourself to blame for the consequences, for I bring the men who desire death as ardently as you desire life.1

No wonder, then, when a Muslim becomes so devout in his Islamic belief, he would desire death as ardently as we, Christians, would desire life. This has been true of Islam throughout the centuries since its ominous inception. As Samuel Zwemer eloquently put it, “From the outset it [i.e. Islam] had in it the germs of death – a neither the character of the Koran nor of its Prophet have in them the promise or potency of life that will endure.”2 Is it any surprise, then, that the more religious a Muslim becomes, the more somber and gloomy he looks? Muslims will achieve this “ruqyy-ee  رقيّ” (refinement) progress and civilization as they value the present for its worth, as a gift of God to receive from the hands of Christ, Giver of life, in that each day is a gift of the Lord and we do not have to wait till the end of life in order to realize the purposes of God.  Because Muslims believe in the here and the now, believe in the sanctity of life and the autonomy of the individual instead of utilitarianism, then we can, indeed, hope for a better life in the Muslim world. To force our values on others produces nothing but hypocrites. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, as the son is on his way out of the door, we do not see the Father getting in his way and trying to force Him to do what is right. In Christ, our Maker respects our free will and He allows us to make the choice. Even when He created man in the beginning, he knew fully well that this man would some day oppose His will and fight against His design. Nevertheless, He went ahead and created man. Let us make man in our image, He said.

The first time I got the gospel of Luke in the mail from my American pen friend, it didn’t have the word “Bible” on the cover. Rather, the cover had this interesting title “Joyous News of the Greek Physician Luke” الأخبار المفرحة للطبيب اليوناني لوقا. I could not help but wonder, “Who in the world is this Luke? And why would a Greek physician take interest in me as a person?” And what type of “joyous news” would he have to share with me, Ibrahim Arafat? Finally it dawned on me, the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, the coming of God in person in Christ, is, indeed, this joyous news. That is why the apostle of the heart set free, Paul, would make it a commandment, even an order to “rejoice” always as he says in Philippians 4:4.

As a Muslim, I have often wondered to myself why most of the “pious” Muslims came out of the mosque with frowning, gloomy looks while everything I encountered in Christianity was always about joy. I got jealous and wanted to be like them and have what those Christians have. Their Savior, in His most excruciating moments on the Cross, lifts His eyes towards the Father and intercedes in prayer for them, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This was the manifesto for the civilization of forgiveness, founded not by fanciful, dreamy, all-too-platonic mottos, but it cost Christ His own redeeming, saving, atoning blood. He practiced first what would be preached later on. It is Christ who is the actual standard for Christianity, not Caesar or Prince Charles or President Bush, for Christianity is only Christ, the person in all He said and did.

As a Muslim, I have always longed to live as a refined human being, like those we would see in Western media. But how can that ever be when Islam is all about oppression? Refined people have responsible freedom as their starting point, not oppression or fear. Allah in Islam is all about subjugation. To be a Christian happens by willingly and joyfully submitting to Christ. Allah in Islam, however, subjugates people to follow Islam. One American brother who converted to Sufi Islam and found his “niche” there told me over the phone that Allah says in the Quran “وَلَهُ أَسْلَمَ مَنْ فِي السَّماواتِ وَالأَْرْضِ طَوْعاً وَكَرْهاً” i.e. All creatures in heaven and on earth were subjugated to Him, whether they like it or hate it (Family of Imran 3:83). I once said to a dear friend of mine, a former Muslim who was groomed to be a Muslim scholar, that I resent mostly in Islam that aspect of subjugation and oppression, to which he replied, “يا أخي والله محمد أجبرنا على الإسلام وما لنا من خيار وأجبرنا على دخول الجنة مكبلين بالسلاسل دون اختيار منا لذلك” i.e. “Oh brother, Mohammad forced Islam upon us and we had no choice; he forced us to enter paradise shackled in chains and we had no choice in the matter”. Actually, there is a famous hadith (tradition) narrated by Mohammad that states that, “عجبت لأقوام يساقون إلى الجنة بالسلاسل وهم كارهون‏” i.e. “I have marveled at people who are led to Paradise shackled in chains while they resent it”. People thrive better as they operate out of freedom, not oppression. How can we dream of a civilized Muslim world when people are stripped of the simplest of things, to choose their own actions without being stoned for it? While I love purity of heart as through it I get to “see” the Lord (Matthew 5:8), I don’t want anybody to “make” me pure; I don’t want it to be the pressure of religion or society but I would rather have it develop as the fruit of the longing of my heart for the Lord whom I love and wanted to be united with. It has to come from within. In Matthew 23:25, Jesus denounced that false “show” of external morality, “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed.”

How can we hope for a civilized Muslim world when the woman is permitted to be beaten in the Quran (Women 4:34)? In surat Sād 38:44 in the Quran, Job is ordered by God to beat his wife, “‘Take in thy hand a bundle of rushes, and strike [your wife] therewith, and do not fail in thy oath.’ We found him a steadfast man. How excellent a servant he was! He was a penitent.” As usual, Allah is invoked in the Quran too many times to gratify the wishes of the male, even if this is to reduce the female to such a demeaning position. One has to just look in Western Medieval art and see how woman is portrayed in all of her beauty without any insecurity on the part of the male. Societies thrive as man securely allows the woman to be empowered and achieve her highest potential, fully acknowledging her individuality as a human being. Christianity has made this possible as in Christ there is no male or female but Christ is all in all (Galatians 3:28).

It is only when the dignity of the human being is fully honored, regardless how sinful and filthy this human might be, that we can, then, hope for a civilized, progressive society. Every time Mohammad was brought a woman who committed adultery, he ordered that she be stoned. Jesus, on the other hand, would look with full compassion on the woman who was caught in the act of adultery and confront her enemies, “Which of you is without sin, let him stone her first.” Then, he gently looks at the woman and says, “Go and sin no more.” Christianity keeps human dignity and elevates it while Islam in the Islamic law reduces the individual to a fly or a mosquito or a despicable nothing. As we are clothed with Christ, we look at sinners in all walks of life with deep compassion. This sinner is I. Sin is residing in all of our hearts and that is why the Blood of Christ cleanses us. The difference between me and the worst sinners is not that I am “better” or “holier” than them but that this “other” person had the chance to act out their sins while I am just guarded by and carried along by the grace of Christ. Christianity teaches me to escape this self-righteous attitude of Islam towards sinners and gently put myself in their shoes. Those “others”, unpleasant and sinful as they may be, are actually I. Arthur Rimbaud puts it beautifully, “Je est un autre” i.e. “I am the other”, the other is I. Christ fulfilled this when He, the Word of God, took on our human flesh and shared our humanity to the fullest degree, except for sin of course, and permitted us to receive his own “life” and take part in His divine nature. This is only to say that the greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that God who made man is actually fully siding with man, for man, and it delights Him that man be fully alive, not a crushed maggot or a slave as it is the case in Islam. St. Irenaeus eloquently expresses that, “Vivens homo gloria Dei; vita hominis, visio Dei.” i.e. “The glory of God is the living man and the life of man is the manifestation of God.” When we say that we want to give glory to God, in Islam this means that man is a negligible thing while in Christianity this means God’s longing for man/ woman to be alive, actually fully alive. His ego in Islam is inflated by crushing man while in Christ God experiences Kenosis, i.e. self-emptiness, that is, He Almighty actually empties Himself of glory and takes on the form of a servant and dies for man on the cross. This is the ultimate expression of His divine solidarity with humans. He comes down all the way to their level and manifests Himself as the All-Humble God (Philippians 2:7), as much as He is the Almighty, all-powerful God. People don’t have to work too hard to earn His approval but they are loved as they are, and His atoning love is all they have to receive, live by and enjoy forever.       

My friends, please, I would be delighted to hear from you.


1 John Clark Ridpath, LL.D., History of the World, Volume IV [Book XII. The Mohammedan Ascendency], 1910, page 463. This statement is contained in a letter that was written by Khalid, from his head-quarters in Babylonia, to the Persian monarch before invading Persia. Arabic sources: e.g., Al-Kāmil (الكامل ص), p. 383; Tārīkh Al Rusul wa Al-mulūk (تاريخ الرسل والملوك للطبري –ص), Tabari, pp. 684-685.

2 Samuel M. Zwemer, The Disintegration of Islam (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1960), p. 7.